NAME OF RIVER: Whillan Beck.

WHERE IS IT?: It flows into the River Esk in Eskdale at Boot, western Lake District. To get there from Ambleside, you need to cross Wrynose and Hardknott passes.

PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Start off a kilometre upstream of the village of Boot. You have to carry your boat there. From Boot village, follow a track on the right-hand bank (looking upstream) out of Boot, until you reach a farmyard. Walk through the yard, cross the bridge and follow the other riverbank up to a five metre waterfall which you can start above or below. Take out in the village of Boot. If there is enough water to paddle on down into the Esk, you almost certainly do not want to be here!


TIME NEEDED: 1-2 hours.


WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: This is a low water run....we had just enough to scrape under the bridge at Boot. It can certainly be paddled with more water, but portages would be likely. Anything approaching a high flow would make for a grade 6 trip. Rather you than me.

GRADING: Grade 5, although this is perhaps more of a stunt, than a test of your technical paddling abilities! Have a look at the rapid entering Boot and you'll get the gist of the style of paddling.

MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: All of it. There are a large number of tree ducks/ portages, which are not all described here.

GENERAL DESCRIPTION: We started below the 5 metre has a not very pleasant lead-in and we didn't consider to be a nice warm-up rapid!

Dan Heyworth agrees...'We didn't do the top fall on Whillan Beck either, I had a good probe around in the pool and thought it wasn't deep enough at the time, although if it had been the last fall we'd probably have run it, it's not a warm up is it?'

Guy Austin (October 2002)...'I ran the top fall. I got pinned on the very lip eventually I shot the fall, BUT Ant, who had suggested we do this river, refused to run this drop as my head "only just missed the rocks"'

Paddle down to below the first bridge where the first series of drops begins. These, and all falls on the river are rocky pin-ball affairs with shallow or constricted plunge pools. There are too many falls (and tree portages) to describe, but in order the most notable falls you will encounter after these initial drops are...

A rocky waterfall leading into a large pool, above a chicane leading over a ten foot plunge through a slot into a narrow pool.

A long slide in a gorge taking you straight into a rock wall; we didn't paddle this as it was (thankfully) blocked by a large tree.

A 10-15 foot pinball slide with a narrow pool to aim for; this takes an inventive line to avoid the undercut ledge at the bottom.

A small drop with rocks at its base which guarantee a pin in very low water.

A dangerous 10 foot drop where rock juts out from river left...I know, I smashed a tooth in half here and rolled up spitting blood and obscenities. Portage recommended.

A straightforward 10 foot ledge.

The Boot mega-rapid, a hilarious long series of slides and slot drops which all have to be run at once. The huge undercut pool at the top can be avoided with a little imaginative route-planning...

Now you are in Boot. It's now time to leave and find a real know, one you can 'paddle'?

OTHER NOTES: I enjoyed this (tooth loss aside) and found it quite amusing. My paddling companion disagreed, calling it a 'painful rocky horror'. See what you think.

CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley, also Dan Heyworth and Guy Austin.

Community Forum Comments on this Article
Re: WHILLAN BECK -- ollismark
2013 Apr 28 09:53:28 AM
I've spent quite a lot of time in this beck over Easter clearing, gardening and putting together photos for a canyoning guide. Two major tree infestations still exist - spiders web and bush but I have finally cleared most of the wire which always plagued this beck. More at

(I use RR and RL for river left / right as seen from a boat, I also canyon bottom up so the descriptions follow that order, photos should be of use though - I will gps all falls eventually)
Re: WHILLAN BECK -- chriskayaker
2010 Oct 14 10:52:34 PM check this out this is me and some mates running whillan beck couple of weeks back :D enjoy
Re: WHILLAN BECK -- beefy
2010 Apr 10 10:26:20 PM
Just paddled today (April 10 2010)

Most drops were runnable (although I ran a few bigger ones - not the Spiral 1/2 way) Two sections have SOLID log jams, the lower is at Boot but this can be run by getting in below the jam (small space, once on you can control the boat but cannot get out yourself).

LOW WATER good, better because of the sun, may post further photos later.

No access issues, assume the Farmer and Wife passed us on the lug up (500m walk, 60m ascent).

Local bar friendly, and the tourists enjoyed the spectacle!
Whillan Beck update -- beefy
2010 Apr 10 07:39:23 PM
Definitely a LOW WATER run.

On a nice warm day was pleasurable run, few bruises -- hated the walk in from the Boot Inn.

Warning 2 blockages, one on DROP 1 and 3 (from farm), and one at the start of the drop near the get-out at the Inn, this has an interesting twist, you can get in just under the jam and run it; interesting you can hold on at the top with ease, but probably could not get out again!

It is a nice route as portages are straightforward but get ins can be awkward.
No subject -- Jim Pullen
2008 Nov 23 12:44:26 PM
"Tom Woodstone 15/10/06" wrote:
Two of us went to paddle Whillan Beck and met the farmer on the walk up. He was very friendly but was not keen on paddlers being there as they have broken fences etc in the past, as well as portaging through his fields scaring livestock and again causing damage.

Also, you cannot drive your car up the track (it says this in the Lake District Guidebook) as people have in the past. He seemed happy for it to be continued to be paddled provided you fix anything you damage, are considerate and it might be worth trying to contact him in advance (no name or number given). Either way, he let us paddle, which was good because the walk up would have been pointless!
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