GUIDE TO THE RIVER BELAH
NAME OF RIVER: Belah.
WHERE IS IT?: Tucked into a remote corner of Cumbria, below the western slopes of Stainmore between Tan Hill and Brough. Map.PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: A high start is made by taking the road to Tan Hill from Brough via Barras. Park at GR 867 093 where a track leads down into the woods by a small stone bridge. Follow the track a short way but before entering the wood head off down the hill following the wall across some boggy ground to join the river as it exits a gorge below Woofer Gill Scar (1 km).
Egress on the left bank just below Oxenthwaite Bridge. Grid Ref 824 119.
APPROX LENGTH: 5 km.
TIME NEEDED: 2-3 hours.
ACCESS HASSLES: Not known. Access to the put in is OK on high moorland. Most of the run is unseen in a gorge.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: High water is needed to cover the continuous jumble of boulders in the gorge. The best place to judge the level is at the Egress at Oxenthwaite Bridge. Look upstream over the bridge. The river needs to be covering the whole bed across to the bottom of the bridge supports and flowing well. However, flood conditions should be avoided due to the high risk of blockages from tree branches and the stoppers on the big falls.
GRADING: 4/5 depending on flow.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Trees are usually the major hazards with many blockages occurring amongst steep bouldery fast moving water with awkward eddies. There are 3 large falls and several smaller ones. Also a couple of fences to portage or fight with.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: A small beck at the start where the water is collected off the moors, it soon grows and steepens to enter a long series of wooded gorges with some large bedrock falls.
With so much rock in here only the larger vertical falls are noted, giving 3 km of continuous paddling with no respite.
The first obvious horizon line with trees where the beck falls into a gorge is the largest fall of the trip. Belah Falls. (4/5). This big multi tiered 6 m drop with no plunge pools seems to run fine.
Just after a footbridge is a 2m stepped fall.
Soon after this is The Pearly Gates (4). A gap between two enormous boulders shoots over a 2.5 m vertical fall.
One to watch out for is Right Angle Fall (4). Slabs of mossy rock on river left indicate this awkward fall where the water hits the right wall and turns back onto rocks at the base of the fall. This can be nasty in low water but in higher flows a more direct line is possible.
The next horizon line below Powley Close Bridge is a large easy angled chute.
The last 1.5 m fall should be inspected for lines over the rocky projections.
OTHER NOTES: Unfortunately the high number of fallen trees blocking the river and requiring swift action to portage means this run is somewhat spoilt and means the high water levels which would give fantastic paddling would also make it very dangerous. However this is a classic trip in a remote forested gorge.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Stuart Miller, 'White Water Lake District'