GUIDE TO THE RIVER BRATHAY
(Elterwater to Windermere)
NAME OF RIVER: Brathay.
WHERE IS IT?: It flows out of Langdale in the central Lake District.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Do Great Langdale Beck first if it's been raining hard and you want a longer trip, otherwise you are best off starting at Skelwith Force. Starting at Skelwith Bridge makes a great novice trip. Take-out either at Brathay Pool on river right or near the pier on Lake Windermere about a mile south of Ambleside.
APPROX LENGTH: 4 miles.
TIME NEEDED: 1-2 hours.
ACCESS HASSLES: Unknown.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Can be paddled for a long while after rain, even weeks. If it looks like you can float down the rapid at Brathay Pool the rest should be okay. Even if you can't, you'll probably be able to paddle from Skelwith Bridge as it's often very deep.
GRADING: Grade 1-3. Skelwith Force is perhaps Grade 5 but disproportionately dangerous.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Skelwith Force is probably a portage. Some trees to avoid. Windermere may be problematic for novices on windy days.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: If you have started in Great Langdale Beck you will find yourself bobbing around in Elterwater Lake.
From here, flat water leads down through Birk Rigg Park but stay awake...where the river right bank begins to come steeper, you need to get out FAST as below is Skelwith Force, a very dangerous small waterfall. Definitely recommended as a portage on river left. Having said this, it is regularly paddled at Grade 5 with awesome consequences if you stuff it up...choose from the 'necky' boof on river right or the deep(?) centre line.
Putting on below the fall, the compensation is the looping hole, where the river leaves the pool below the fall (I've tried playing in the hole below Skelwith Force itself in stupider, younger times....I had the unique pleasure of trying to swim upwards whilst being pushed downwards, don't try it!). Below this spot the river braids through trees and bushes and flows over some rocky rapids (Grade 2-3) before reaching Skelwith Bridge (the shop/ cafe on river left does great cakes).
The river now becomes easy but swift flowing, until it feeds into wide slow flowing pools. All very scenic, though...remember where you are! These conditions continue for two miles until it narrows and you see another bridge. This is the marker for a small (Grade 1-2?) rapid which leads downstream to a rockier rapid (Grade 2-3) which dumps you into Brathay Pool. Get out river right here or carry on down through a small rapid to where the river joins up with the Rothay.
From here the rivers wind into Windermere, and all that remains is a plod across the Lake to the get-out.
OTHER NOTES: A great novice trip if you miss the section above Skelwith Bridge out.
Chris Hawkesworth (Jan 2004)...'Dear All, Just to advise you that I have been contacted by Nigel Collier of R N L Adventures. 01539 445104 To the effect that an adjacent householder is trying to stop up the put in point known as the "Muddy Lay-by" (We do have original names don't we ?). This Lay-by is situated on the Ambleside to Coniston Road the A 593 at Grid Ref:- Sheet 90 / 352 035 about 1.5 km above the Brathay road bridge. The house has recently changed hands and the land that we have used to access the river for the last 30 years is being claimed by the new owner. Fortunately the land is also being claimed by the very powerful "Friends of the Lake district charitable trust". We use about 10 yards between the road and the river and this Ingress/egress point is in at least one guide book through several reprints. Neil is contacting the National Park Authority with my support with a view to starting the wheels in motion to claim a right of way though long usage over this land. We might not succeed but it could become a useful bargaining counter. I have been told that the Park Authority and the Trust have both come back and said thy support us and our action. In the mean time the new RAO, Mark Davies and the former RAO Colin Litten together with the large outdoor centre on the doorstep Brathay Hall are all communicating together. If push comes to shove we will have to put out an appeal for all paddlers who have used this access point to sign affidavits and any other evidence of long usage, e.g. Club news letters, personal photos (Here's me and the wife at the start) etc.etc. will all be required. Above all I have advised paddlers not to stop using this Ingress simply because of a new sign and a possible shouting match. However, I have also advised that things should not be pushed far enough so that we stand accused of causing a breach of the peace.'
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley, also Chris Hawkesworth.