GUIDE TO WHILLAN BECK
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!
APPROX LENGTH: 1 km.
TIME NEEDED: 1-2 hours.
ACCESS HASSLES: Unknown.
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 waterfall...it 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 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 river...you 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.