(Thornholme Farm to Sellafield)


WHERE IS IT?: West Cumbria, flowing out into the sea, through Calder Bridge on the A595, then through Sellafield Nuclear Site. OS Landranger Map 89.


PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: To reach the put-in from Calder Bridge, take the Cold Fell road towards Ennerdale Bridge, after 0.7km the road takes a sharp left hand bend and a small road carries straight on. Follow the small road up to Thornholme farm. Stop just before the farm and carry down the public bridleway to the confluence of Worm Gill and the Upper Calder.

Taking out is possible in three places: 1) River right, 50m above Calder Bridge and follow the public footpath to the car park (at the start of the Cold Fell road on your right hand side). 2) At the sewage works just before Sellafield Nuclear Site, park at the visitors centre. 3) Drive towards Sellafield station, instead of swinging right into the station car-park, turn left and follow a narrow track up the boundary fence. Park when you reach the river.

APPROX LENGTH: 8km from Thornholme to the Sea, 4km from Thornholme to Calder Bridge.

TIME NEEDED: Water level depending, ~2 hours.

ACCESS HASSLES: Above Sellafield: Unknown. To the best of by knowledge the river through Sellafield is public land and you are perfectly entitled to right of way. Dont forget to wave to the security cameras as you enter the gauntlet!

WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: The Calder goes up and down faster than a hookers undercrackers. You need to catch it as it is raining, or soon after. Look at the river from Calder Bridge. If it looks brown and swollen, it is good to go from Thornholme. If youre wanting to do it any lower, have a look at the first rapid after the put-in and make your mind up. If that looks OK, you should be fine on the rest of the river.

GRADING: Continuous grade II/III- down to Calder bridge. Some drops through Sellafield can reach class IV and at some levels are difficult to portage.

MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Fallen trees may be an issue in the upper reaches of the river due to its speed and lack of convenient eddies. Below Calder Bridge are two weirs, at least one of which can produce an even walled in towback at some levels. In the middle of Sellafield site is a weir, just next to the cooling towers, which can create a mean stopper. The tree-lined canalized channel through Sellafield is very fast flowing making rescues and portaging difficult.

Other potential hazards include paranoid men with machine guns and luminous green liquid flowing into the river from the site. Hide any Greenpeace stickers and dont try and climb the fence (especially wearing a BA) if you decide the rapids are too much for you!

GENERAL DESCRIPTION: From Thornholme the river keeps its gradient for the entire section, dropping continuously at a shallow gradient down to Calder Bridge. A few trees may need to be avoided/ducked, but none need portaging (Oct 05). This section is mostly grade II with a few sections touching III in the narrower last kilometre before Calder Bridge.

Following Calder Bridge the river narrows into a small winding gorge, but the difficulty does not really increase at all. A few weirs are along this section, one of which may be worthy of inspection at certain levels.

Your first sighting of the fence is high up on river right, and soon it comes down to join the river at a road bridge. Dont forget to wave at the security camera just upstream of this on the right hand side. From here you are running a gauntlet between two 15ft high fences, topped with razor wire. Walking out is not an option! The first major obstacle is a weir right next to the cooling towers (which are soon to be demolished Oct 05). A small step with a nasty stopper can be run (or portaged) on the right. 15 feet later is a long slide (III+/-IV) with a nasty looking concrete channel just left of centre. Shoot the slide just to the right of this. A featureless fast flowing wave train joins the rapids, taking you under various pipes and more bridges before going through a small stopper river right and down another fun slide with a large breaking wave at the bottom this looks like a nice playwave in good flows if you dont mind the risk of growing a third arm following a capsize. One final significant fall drops under an internal railway bridge, there are a variety of lines, far right arguably being the easiest, centre and left both presenting holes to avoid. 100m later the fences disappear and youre free.

Take out right after the external railway bridge and walk back through the tunnel.

Pictures of the Lower calder

OTHER NOTES: The Upper Calder is worth a blast when it is raining. Other rivers nearby include the Bleng, Irt, Ehen and Esk.

CONTRIBUTED BY: Tim Poke Burne, Amie Young.



Community Forum Comments on this Article
Re: RIVER CALDER (Thornholme Farm to Sellafield) -- Rachel T
2018 Feb 10 05:59:53 PM
Anyone done this recently? Is that huge tree still there or any or other problems know?


Rachel T
Re: RIVER CALDER (Thornholme Farm to Sellafield) -- longview13082
2012 Nov 15 04:58:33 PM
I know you guys have posted about this before but I think its really important to note:

This tree is HUGE and spans from one bank to the other. In med/high flows there seem to be few eddies and even then you'll be clinging onto the bank. Portage on the right if you can. Left hand portage takes about 30 mins (steep bank).

We took a group of 10 down (mainly intermediates) and stopped at the first bridge. There is a right hand bend (with grade 3 feature?) and Calder abbey comes into view..this is the last group eddy River right but risk swimmers floating downstream into the tree. Not worth it in my opinion..

Has anyone reported this to the EA?


Re: RIVER CALDER (Thornholme Farm to Sellafield) -- penrithkeswick
2012 Oct 30 10:12:29 AM
"Poke" wrote:
Update on the tree] The original tree has gone, went in the recent flood, but has been replaced by a monster tree 90 degrees to the flow blocking the river, portage on river right.
[/quote]Or it's possible to get out at the first bridge just before the abbey, maybe a safer option?
Re: RIVER CALDER (Thornholme Farm to Sellafield) -- Poke
2012 Sep 17 06:49:53 PM
Update on the tree:
The original tree has gone, went in the recent flood, but has been replaced by a monster tree 90 degrees to the flow blocking the river, portage on river right.
Re: RIVER CALDER (Thornholme Farm to Sellafield) -- Poke
2012 Aug 20 05:43:09 PM
"Chris Bolton" wrote:
I recommend that paddlers take out at the public footpath by the sewage works upstream of the site (grid ref 036050), and don't attempt to paddle the section that runs through it. This is one of the few sections of river in the UK where there actually is legislation on access - The Official Secrets (Prohibited Places) Order 1994 - and anyone paddling (or fishing or being there at all) is liable to be recorded on CCTV, arrested by armed police and prosecuted. I know access has been tolerated since that legislation was passed but expect it to be enforced in future.

I'd be interested to know where you got this from, as it's the opposite to what I've been told in the past by people in the know...

Anyway, just a quick report that there are trees down about 500m upstream of Calder Bridge, spanning the whole river... Just downstream of Calder Abbey if you know where that is... Portageable on river right, but I don't actually know what the availability of eddies is like as I don't know exactly where the trees are - this is second hand info! Post here if you know more!
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