WHERE IS IT?: It flows out of Windermere in the south Lake District, aimed in the general vicinity of the sea.

PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Either start on Windermere or put in at Newby Bridge near a wide weir. Several parking spots are available in lay-bys on the small road river right at Newby Bridge.

There is a take-out on river-left above Backbarrow, which used to be the only agreed access, however, if you're doing this river you'll want to add Backbarrow Falls and carry on down to Haverthwaite for maximum entertainment.

The get-out is then at the B5278 Road Bridge. We always used to get out on river left below this, but recently the land owners have requested that boaters get out on river right before the bridge to avoid bank erosion. There's plenty of parking room on the river left lane below the bridge, but take care not to block the lane.

APPROX LENGTH: 2 miles, plus another two below the 'Racecourse'.

TIME NEEDED: 1-2 hours.

ACCESS HASSLES: There used to be a highly restrictive agreement where you were only supposed to paddle this on special open days with not all of the river available either. In practice, the entire river is run on most days of the winter by small groups, in particular by local paddlers. I have also run this on a number of days in the summer for the last few years without issue.

Indeed, the relationship with the landowners seems to be much better over the last few years. Considerate parking is a must and avoid going off the path when portaging the big weir below Backbarrow and you should experience no issues.

WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Can be paddled for a long while after rain, even weeks. The river runs highest about 3-5 days after heavy rain.

Adrian J Pullin...'The best guide to level seems to be the number of gates open on river left above the brick chute. If all are open, then the river is high. If all are closed then it is low and may be a bit of a scrape.'

GRADING: Grade 3 in low and medium levels, some grade 4 rapids below the 'Racecourse' section.

MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Some weirs. The only really dangerous bits are AFTER the Racecourse section. In particular the big weir after Backbarrow, which used to be very tricky to run and since the rebuild is even more manky!

Nick Mortimer (Dec 2003)...'Council by-law forbids jumping off Backbarrow Bridge. Sign on bridge, so no seal launching off bridge. By-law to prohibit local kids jumping, in summer (ineffective). Its the Timeshare around bridge against paddlers, as well new hydro electricity plant and land owners. NB Hydro plant has messed up adjacent weir, making it very strong hole in high water. Current practice is to portage, as already out of boat to get round BIG weir.'
Jim Pullen (Sept 2011) Hydro weir is fine in most levels - just head centre and try and avoid the sticky hole on the right!

GENERAL DESCRIPTION: If you have started at Newby Bridge, the weir is the first obstacle. It should present no problems in low/ medium levels but the stopper is quite sticky if you try to play in it! Below this are a series of rapids which offer good play potential...

  • A weir which is usually run between brick walls in the centre...the stopper either side looks uninviting. The centre chute is fun to surf/ play.
  • A sharp two metre drop on the river left side of an island. This can form a big wave/ stopper. Below this you can play in the stopper which ends the river right route around the island.
  • A one metre drop.
  • Some wide surf waves across the river.
  • A more continuous Grade 3 section with a steep two metre drop to watch out for in the middle.

Below what used to be the official egress a short section leads to an easy curving weir on the outskirts of Backbarrow. A tongue normally exists on river right. Shortly after this the river drops steeply through Backbarrow Bridge, from the angle of approach it looks like there is barely enough head clearance sometimes, but it's normally enough. This is worth looking at beforehand to avoid getting off if its OK. In really high water it looks nasty and I've just portaged to below the next weir.

The next weir is runnable, under certain conditions, but I've never fancied it myself. A portage immediately upstream on river left is possible in most water conditions. There are some holes just upstream of the portage get-in which can give ends. Immediately after this there is another drop, the stopper of which will hold boats. (see Steve Ed's comments below) If you've portaged around both bridge and weirs, you can get in just downstream of this, but only by climbing into the pumping station compound.

More fast water leads under a huge roadbridge to a small weir. Next obstacle is a pipe bridge which I have rolled under in big water (now just a pipe after the floods of 2009 - Jim). I've portaged this once at high levels, but usually its OK. A huge weir follows giving a choice of a slide or some fishladder steps on river right. Some playholes are formed by the fishladder, but they are hard work to get (and not advisable in big water! - Jim). There is a nice little wave and eddy river left before the fisherman's bridge island. River right of the island consists of a rapid on a left hand bend followed by a narrow shoot with overhanging trees on the left. Left of the island in spate consists of colossal wave trains in a narrow channel between overhanging trees (reverse ferrying to avoid trees whilst freefalling off the backs of waves is an interesting move but great fun!). You then have to paddle back through the trees to the RR side (not difficult) and there are a few ledge holes/ waves which play nicely. When you see the arched stone road bridge immediately below last flowing bit you've reached the get-out.

Steve Ed adds more info about the second weir below Backbarrow Falls (March '00)...'the 2nd weir after Backbarrow Bridge is changing each week as building work is been done, in high water you don't want to take it on the right as its got a very nasty hole, there's a sort a tongue in the middle and the left has a hole which would give you a bit of a work over but you would get out.'

Video of the Leven (7 megs) showing Fisherman's Bridge. From Mark Benson.

OTHER NOTES: After this, perhaps consider paddling some of the rivers which enter at the other end of Windermere, for instance the Rivers Brathay and Rothay or even Stock Ghyll if you have a screw loose and there's loads of rain around.

Andrew Clough (Spring 2005)...'Always paddled the 'Fisherman's Island' down river right, it seems to be a better route. Never had any probs there even prior to Jan 05. Heard rumours about it being dodgy but its fine even in big water although it can develop a bit of a grabby hole, having said that I've not swum down it!'

Atti Gray (Nov 2003)...'I paddled this river today at medium high levels and it gives a good trip. The upper section (racecourse) is grades 2 and 3 with play interest all the way down. The lower section is a blast with up to g4 water. The weir after Backbarrow weir is very very sticky, there is a green tongue but my friend got worked here. After this there is several weirs chute's and g3 rapids for a long way until the take out.'

Adrian J Pullin adds...'Did this at at high levels in Feb 2000. The fall river left after the brick chute tends to flatten out, leaving less of a drop but more of a wave. Not a problem in kayak but may swamp unwary open boats. The graveyard section (referred to as the continuous grade 3 section above) becomes a fast bouncy set of waves. It will run anywhere if the rocks are covered, but may catch in experienced paddlers out with it's speed and power. At this level, the hardest part is getting the entry right. A big trough leads into the first wave, which crosses most of the river. Hit it straight and centre and you won't have a problem. Hit it at an angle and it's swim time. Also watch out at high levels for overhanging trees, particularly river right after the graveyard.'

CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley, also Steve Ed, Andrew Clough, Adrian Pullin, Mike Redding, Si Wiles, Dave Hanson, Atti Gray, Mark Davies, Nick Mortimer, David Parton, Philip Skinner and Jim Pullen.