GUIDE TO GREAT LANGDALE BECK
NAME OF RIVER: Great Langdale Beck.
WHERE IS IT?: It flows out of Langdale in the Central Lake District.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Start off at the bridge by Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel. Apparently it has been paddled higher up (MUCH higher up, in fact) but I have no experience of this. Take-out in Elterwater Village at the bridge or carry on down into Elterwater Lake which in turn will take you to the River Brathay. This makes for a longer trip, but it's considerably easier from here (assuming you remember to portage Skelwith falls).
APPROX LENGTH: 4 miles.
TIME NEEDED: 2 hours.
ACCESS HASSLES: Unknown.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Needs heavy rain to get going. If it's paddleable at the get-in so will the rest be. Not necessarily paddleable when the River Brathay is paddleable.
GRADING: Grade 2-4.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS:Pillar Falls has been the site of at least one major epic.
Ewen Fraser (19/09/04)...'Andrew mentions a tree above the bridge at Elterwater; this was either gone or completely covered by the flow when we paddled on 18 09 04. There is a branch jammed in the left hand edge of Pillar Falls which looks potentially nasty if you get the line wrong. The main flow takes you wide of this, though.'
Andrew Clough...'Currently (1/7/04) there is a river wide tree across the beck at the end of the last rapid above Elterwater Bridge, easily seen looking upstream from the bridge but VERY DANGEROUS when paddling this normally straightforward rapid.'
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: From the get-in and for the first couple of miles, the river banks have been built up and the river artificially straightened, making for dull paddling (fast Grade 1 and 2). But...remember this is Langdale, not Holme Pierrepoint and the scenery is phenomenal; you get a great view up Dungeon Ghyll on river left (anyone want to paddle this?).
Anyway, when you get to a footbridge the river comes to back to life with a bouldery Grade 3 rapid which is actually quite twisty and technical, something of a shock after paddling the conveyor belt upstream.
After this you slide over Chapel Stile weir (visible from the road on the way up) and reach the most serious section of the river. Time to get out river right and have a peek ahead. Grade 3 rapids lead directly into Pillar Falls, a sudden rock-infested drop (Grade 4). If you choose to portage stay on the right-hand bank. Pillar Falls featured on '999 Lifesavers' or some other such programme dedicated to scaring people off paddling. This was all about an incident in the 80's involving a paddler trapped in a vertical pin here for three-quarters of an hour...not funny! I have a healthy respect for this fall, having skinned my knuckles to the bone here whilst supposedly demonstrating to some Uni Club novices how straightforward it was (yes, they all ran it perfectly).
Below here a narrow gorge heads downhill through Grade 3 water to Elterwater Bridge, a possible get-out unless you want to go on to do the River Brathay. The river is flat as it approaches this small tarn. Paddle across the tarn to join the River Brathay.
OTHER NOTES: A strange trip, as the Grade varies markedly between the top and bottom halves. But still in the most beautiful valley in England, and flowing downriver involves less sweat than slogging up the hills. Perhaps also consider a short trip on Little Langdale Beck afterwards.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley, also Ian Wilson and Ewen Fraser.