GUIDE TO CHURCH BECK
(Coppermines to Coniston)
NAME OF RIVER: Church Beck.
WHERE IS IT?: The Lake District, it flows through Coniston town into Lake Coniston. Map.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: From Coniston town centre follow the road/ path upstream on the right bank. After about 1 K you will see the gorge on your left. This marks the end of the gorge and the start of the lower non gorge section which is not visible from the road. The take out for the lower section is in Coniston town. Keep heading up hill for about 0.5 K, past a small bridge until the river flattens out, this is the start of the fall/ gorge section (Most sensible people may not yet have seen anything they would wish to paddle!). If you keep going for a further I K there is a short fall lurking behind a spoil tip near the mine which is more friendly.
APPROX LENGTH: About 1 km, of which over half will be unpaddleable for most mortals.
TIME NEEDED: Depends what bits you paddle.
ACCESS HASSLES: Ian Wilson (June 2004)...'Church beck has been closed recently to gorge scrambling groups but a carefully negotiated access discussion with the landowner has reopened it. Please don't jeopardise this; don't park or drive on the untarmac-ed road (to Miners Bridge) and please don't walk or climb on any of the weir structures in the beck. Plus the usual courtesy whilst changing in the village. Access should not be a problem for paddlers because it is not an overused section!'
John Pinn (Jan 2006)...'Also if you do drive up here, I know the access says not to! And you are around the mining area park around the back as lorries come up here and use what look like laybys to turn in. Met a bloke up here who worked up there and he was really helpful! I am not sure if the landowners change further down but considerate parking seems to work!
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: The very top fall will go at any level, the higher the better. The fall/ gorge section is a low to medium level run. The final section is a high water run.
GRADING: The very top fall is G3 or 4, the fall/ gorge section is G5, stunts, portages. The lower section is supposed to be a steep run with three main rapids of G4+ but I have not viewed this section myself yet.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Lots!
Tom Veale [27/03/06]...'There are at least two trees down on the upper section of church beck - We decided not to paddle it - they look pretty hard to get around as they were in the gorge section.'
Starting at the top fall which is hidden behind a spoil heap the main points are:-
An easy 15 ft long bouncy slide into a deep pool.
A walk or drive back to the top of the fall/ gorge section. In anything other than flood conditions this is likely to be too dry to paddle down.
The top section in the fall/ gorge consists of a double S bend with four small drops and a under cut constriction at the end. In very low water these all run separately, at medium water they merge into one section of G 5. Make sure you can stop at the end of this as it leads straight into a nasty drop.
This drop is a smooth slide leading over a 12 ft nasty narrowing fall with boulders at its base. A portage for most. There is currently a tree in this fall, which should make up your mind if in doubt.
The next drop is after the bridge and although at first looks inviting a closer inspection may change your mind. A 15 ft drop with a nasty projecting rock half way down and a very small plunge pool. A portage for most. This drop now has a tree in the river right hand line, which could be cleared with some work.
After this you drop into a deep gorge with extremely steep sides. Safety on the next three drops is just about impossible without very good rope work or running the drop first. It is possible to inspect the drops before entering the gorge on river right if you like hanging over the edge of gorge walls.
The first drop (of the gorge section) drops into the gorge, about 12ft and has been described as a probable portage, and was recommended to stay upright and not get sucked in by the towback if you did run it. We both got flipped and were held upside down by a combination of rock and towback. I also managed to hit the bottom, which didnt help.
The second drop is much nicer than the first but may push you against the right hand wall.
The third drop in the gorge is easier (run on river right/centre) and much deeper but there is a fallen tree straight after which we managed to stop before but could be awkward in very high water! We climbed over the tree to the forth drop, which is a portage due to a tree in the line. This is the first place that it is easy to escape the gorge from. Portage this drop but climbing up the river right bank and back in below the drop.
This is as far as we ran at these levels (low!) but below is a description of what we saw below. This section is a lot less committed.
Easy short slab into a deep pool.
One messy slab with a tree in the obvious line the other lines would have potential for broken legs.
Below this the river turns into more of a rapid nature as opposed to a drop nature and you can work it out for yourself.
The climb up out of the gorge or down into it to paddle the lower section, is steep but manageable.
The remaining lower section follows.
OTHER NOTES: Has anyone else got experience of this river or paddled the sections I describe as portages?
Further down Coniston Water is Torver Beck if it's raining.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Bob Evans, also Ian Wilson and Tom Veale. Re-written by John Pinn, Jan 2006.