Articles - The 50 Best Whitewater River Sections in the UK - according to Canoe & Kayak UK

50 best whitewater rivers
50 best whitewater rivers
Canoe & Kayak UK Editorial - Posted on 15 Sep 2013
'Canoe & Kayak UK's Best Whitewater Run in the UK?
The River Dart in Devon!
No matter how many times we've run this section it always keeps us coming back for more. From the warm up boulder gardens and the top, through the bigger rapids and drops, The Mad Mile, Euthanasia, Pandora’s Box and the run out down to Newbridge at the end the fun never stops. There are always different lines to run, moves to make and fun to be had, and that’s why the Upper Dart will always have a very special place in our hearts. Full guide to the sections of the River Dart'

We all have our favourite whitewater rivers. Maybe it’s the quality of the whitewater, or the rivers location or scenery? Maybe it brings back memories of good times with good friends. Each rapid is different, and many change character depending on how much water they are carrying. For such a small place the UK boasts more than it’s fair share of excellent whitewater. Read on for our run down of what, in our opinion, are the 50 top, must-do runs for any UK whitewater kayaker or canoeist's wish list…

50 - Garry, Highlands, Scotland. Grade 3 - Go to the guide to the Garry
49 - South Tyne, Northumberland, England. Upper – grade 3/4, Middle – 2/3, Lower – 1/2
48 - North Tyne, Northumberland, England. Upper – grade 2/3 (4), Lower – 3/4
47 - Greta, Cumbria, England. Grade 3 - Go to the guide to the Greta
46 Wye, Ross on Wye to Symonds Yat Rapids, Herefordshire, England. Grade 1/2  - Go to the River Wye guide
45- Teign, Devon, England. Grade 2 (3-) - Read the Teign guide

44 - Etherow, Peak District, Grade 3/4 by Colin Fisher, Canoe & Kayak UK Test TeamerRiver Etherow Whitewater River
The Peak District National Park doesn’t have much whitewater to speak of due to the steepness and overall small nature of the park. Combined with the fact that most of the area’s rivers were dammed to create reservoirs to feed the industrial cities positioned around the national park. But what is does have is lots of opportunities to find non-stop ditch runs. Most of these runs are normally that low that you’ll find it hard to get your feet wet on a summer’s day.

The River Etherow is one of the most commonly paddled due to the location on the river being only 30 minutes from central Manchester. The Etherow rises at Featherbed Moss in the Sheffield district of South Yorkshire before the river broadens into the Longdendale Chain of reservoirs in the Peak District National Park. The river has a watershed of approximately 30 square miles (78 km2), and an annual rainfall of 52.5 inches (1,330 mm). Read the full guide to the Etherow

43 - Washburn, Yorkshire, England. Grade 3. Water info line: 07626 978654
42 - Tummell, Perthshire, Scotland. Grade 3
41 - Lune, Cumbria, England. Grade 3/4 - Guide to the River Lune
40 - West Oakement, Devon, England. Grade 3 (4)
39 - Esk, Cumbria, England. Grade 2/3 - Guide to the Esk

38-  Swale, Yorkshire. Grade 4/5 upper, 2/3 Lower. By Ross Montandon - Coach
The Swale ticks so many of the boxes for modern paddlers. From introducing a group to whitewater, or perhaps perfecting your boof stroke, the Swale has it all. My favourite section of the River Swale has to be the short blast down to Keld. It’s in the middle of nowhere and is tucked well away. The characteristic of the Swale keeps you guessing. One day it could be too dry and the next it’s good to go. From the road you get glimpses of the falls, and the quality of theses drops can be compared with those abroad in more famous paddling destinations. The water is the colour of tea and the gorge is dark and curious with some fun filled horizon lines to keep you on your toes. It’s over too soon, and you finish, twitching for more, as you clamber up to the car park. Ready to go again.

37- Blackwater, Perthshire, Scotland. Grade 4
36 - Eden, Dollgellau, Gwynedd, Wales. Grade 3/4
35 - North Esk, Angus, Scotland. Upper – grade 3+ (4), Main section 2/3/4/4+
34 - Tavy, Devon, England. Upper – grade 4+, Middle (3+), Lower 2+
33 - Gloy, Highlands, Scotland. Grade ¾

32 - River Tees, Northumberland, England. Upper – grade 3/4 (5), Middle – 3/3+ By Nigel ‘Wilf’ Wilford Level 5 Coachwhitewater kayaker on the Low Force on the whitewater River Tees
Is the Tees England’s best White Water River? Well possibly not, but that’s certainly how some people refer to it. As a course provider, it is certainly one of the most useful and serves the North East of England very well. It is a varied and scenic training ground for all inland courses, from river leading to playboating. My favourite section? Wow, that’s tough. The Tees has such great variety on it, but the bit I paddle more frequently than any other is between Barnard Castle and Winston Bridge. Within this section paddlers can expect to find wide, meandering stretches, fast bouncy rapids, narrow secluded gorges, boulder gardens, great surf waves, playful stoppers and things you wouldn’t want to play in.

Abbey Rapids is the first significant section, and is a Grade 2/3 training venue that is usable for most of the year. It’s a brilliant rapid for learning group management or personal river-running skills. It also has an easy footpath along side.
On the way to Whorlton Lido (Grade 3), paddlers are treated to wonderful gorges, boulder gardens and many playful waves. After the drop at Whorlton (which can be used to access or egress the river) the Tees offers one of it’s most playful sections.
Although relatively short, the paddle between Whorlton and Winston offers superb value for money. Bends, rapids, weirs and playful features every few hundred meters. In low-ish water this section is a brilliant training ground for those wanting to develop their playboating skills. When it has rained for a bit it becomes a challenging lead with several tough decisions to be made.
The get-out at Winston Bridge is really easy, and a great pub is only just down the road. What more could you ask for? Read a full guide to the sections of the  River Tees  Video of River Tees

31- Spean, Highlands, Scotland. Lagan Dam – Invalair Falls – grade 3, Spean Gorge – 2/3 (4) - River guide to the Spean
30- Tryweryn, Bala, Gwynedd, Wales. Grade 2/3 (4) (Water info line: 01678 520826 - Tryweryn Guide
29- Roy, Highlands, Scotland. Upper Section (classic) – grade 4, Lower section – 3
28- Hepste, Brecon Beacons, South Wales. Grade 4/5
27 - Sprint, Cumbria, England. Grade 4/5 - River Sprint Guide
26 - Duddon, Cumbria, England. Upper – grade 4, Middle 3/4, Lower – 3 (4) - Middle Duddon Guide

25-  River Leven, Kinlochleven, Highlands, Scotland 4/5 By Ed Smith,  Dagger Kayaks and Palm Equipment Team Paddler
The Leven is a small step up from the well-known Upper Nevis and one of the most accessible sections of relentlessly steep, continuous whitewater in the UK. It could be regarded as a Scottish test piece… If you run all the drops!
A considerable but pleasant walk in gives you chance to wind up any mates who haven’t run it and two thirds of the way up you’ll see a trib on the left. This is your first opportunity of the day to fall off something. Don’t expect a warm up, but it does give you a heads up on what’s to come. The Leven is a bedrock run with some fun ledges before it tightens up and you need to get your game on. An ominous horizon line marks the first drop of ‘End of the World’, a series of five drops in quick succession where falling is the aim of the game and covering distance is not. From here the river keeps coming with ledges and continuous rapids to Mackays Falls, this beautiful twenty foot waterfall comes complete with cave and under cut to keep you on your toes. Once past here you can relax, as any mishaps would only require a plaster.

Why is it my favourite run? Well on my first run of the river I was in a borrowed boat and two mates scared me shirtless on the walk up as I had no idea what to expect, subsequently I also like scaring first timers on the walk in.
But it’s all about End of the World to be honest. It’d be a classic without it but with it, there’s an element of a mental challenge, which is hard to find on home turf and always a good test of your river running abilities. On top of that it doesn’t stop until you’re pretty much at the take out so you get plenty bang for your buck.

24- East Oakement, Devon, England. Grade 4+
23- Kent, Cumbria, England. Upper – grade 3 (4+), Middle – 1/2, Lower – 4/5
22- Blackwater, Perthshire, Scotland. Grade 4
21- Braan, Perthshire, Scotland. Upper – 3/4, Braan Gorge – 3/4 (5)
20- Morriston, Glen Morriston (Loch Ness), Scotland. Grade – 4+

19 – Erme, Devon, England. Grade 4/5 By Ewart Alyward AS Watersports,
The Erme lies on the southern edge of Dartmoor, running into and through the town of Ivybridge. This is a great little run if you don’t have much time, or are progressing with your steeper river running skills. It has lots of great rapids, some of a pool-drop style; some more slide style and some just plain old bolder rapids. A full length run from Harford Bridge down will require more water as the top section is pretty shallow. For most people a short walk in to ‘The Slot’ is usually the order of the day and this is where the best of the action is.

Putting in just above the Slot gives you all of 30 seconds to warm up before you hit one of the harder rapids on the river, depending on water level this goes well, badly, amusingly or expensively! Get the throw ropes and camera out! From here on in the run is just great with slides and drops all the way to town! Not too much opportunity for playing on this stretch but you can always find a new boof, splat of launch pad. With the river never far from the footpath you always get some spectators to laugh at your mistakes or be amazed at your hero boater skills. After lots of these fun drops the lead in to the gorge brings a little fear every time, although medium to low water levels go fairly smoothly. In high water it’s best-done right, with some nice high lines on the river left of the dog’s-legs and the right way up! Down there in the gorge with some winter sun in your face (or some summer sun, the Erme can come up quickly after summer rain, be in it to win it) and the high mossy banks and dense green foliage you could be some where much more tropical. Only when you round the corner and start to see buildings again do you know your still on Dartmoor.

Why do we West Country paddlers like it so much? Well at all levels the Erme can offer most paddlers, into their whitewater, some sort of fun. Paddled with a group of mates that know the lines you can bomb down almost racing each other in a boater cross style. Two runs, twice the fun. At low to mid levels although not difficult you still get a good sense of height loss and the enjoyment of steep technical rapids. At high levels its very fast and can be full on. Just the one run please! We have memories of a nice high water run with the editor of this web site & Canoe & Kayak UK Mag, the ‘river play’ kayak test got put off that day for a bigger boat selection!
But really it’s the easy access to the river and the quality of rapids that make it a definite good day out. As part of a Triple Crown day with the Plym, Erme and a ‘Home Run’ down the Upper Dart, a better, wetter day you simply cannot have in England. That’s a challenge!  Video of the Erme

18- Tilt, Atholl, Scotland. Grade 3/4
17 - Nantgrwyd, Snowdonia, Wales. Grade 4 (5+)
16 – Mawdach, Dollgellau, Gwynedd, Wales. Upper – grade 5, Middle – 4/4+, Lower – 1/2
15 - Mellte, Brecon Beacons, South Wales. Grade 4/5
14 - Falloch, Loch Lomond, Scotland. Upper – grade 5, Falls of Falloch to Loch Lomond – 4/5

13 - East Lyn, Devon, England. Brendon – Lynmouth. Grade 3/4/5 By Paul ‘Cheesey’ Robertson Dagger Europe & Palm Equipment Branding ManagerThe East Lyn Whitewater River
Like a good narrative the Lyn has a beginning, middle and end. With the odd chance of a spin off and twist at the finale. At the begging you have Brendon. A small village with a few hardy bigots who try and dissuade you from enjoying a warm up on a truly majestic little class three run of mini-gorges, tight chutes and a few tasty boof moves. Best enjoyed with two or three friends with kit on ready to go. As you meet the confluence with the Hoaroak, at Watersmeet, a little side tale starts with the chance to hike up the trib for a few sweet jumps of the sporty variety to be discovered. Just follow the path and you’ll find them.

Below is the gorge. Well talked about, we’ll walked about (there are a few tricky moves) and sadly run all to often when its low - don’t bother enjoy a cream tea and mini golf in Lynmouth instead. Best wait for a summer storm or two, rustle up a crew and it will deliver you some full on ‘paddling and leave some of your friends speechless (we’ll it was dark and the gauging island had disappeared)
The twist is at the finish. Upon reaching the town you paddle straight into the sea (which is cool) and if you are lucky you’ll find one of the SW’s best point breaks peeling away down the coast – two for the price of one, nice!

Why do I love it? Here’s my recipe for a classic day on the Lyn. 1. Let it rain (it always does as part of a British summer)
  • 2. Is it still raining? Good. Get your kit and boat in the car. Round up friends.
  • 3. Make sure its after 3 pm and set off at high speed. Have a vehicle malfunction en-route.
  • 4. Meet at put in (it always looks lower there) and cajole friends into getting on.
  • 5. Get changed and head to Brendon. Meanwhile ignore unreasonable objections to your doing, so by irrational and locals (they are a bit special in Brendon)
  • 6. Set off and enjoy the 4km class III section with its funky little sneaks, rollercoaster gorges and a few nice boof moves. It’s really quite a classic but should only to be enjoyed with two or three friends, no big groups.
  • 7. Arrive at Watersmeet all content. Hike up Hoaroak and return back to confluence a sh*it load faster than anticipated due to gradient (there are a few sneaky jumps up there if you keep walking) and the by now rapidly rising river levels.
  • 8. In darkening skies, note worried look in friends’ eyes. Ignore, turn and head into the gorge.
  • 9. Arrive at Lynmouth, in the dark, after a thrill a minute ride of class 4/5 proportions. Paddle straight into the sea for karma and then move immediately to pub for ‘karming’ friends’ nerves (now stretched to lack of speech).
  • 10. Go home via the chip shop and off to bed to dream sweet dreams.

12 – Walkham, Devon, England. Upper – grade 5, Middle – 2 (3), Lower – 3 (3+)
11 - Findhorn, Moray, Scotland. Dulsie Bridge – Logie Bridge – grade 3 (4), Logie Bridge – Randolph’s Leap – 2/3, Randolphs Leap – Mains of Sluie 4 (5)
10 - Coe, Glen Coe, Scotland. Coe Gorge section – Grade 4/5
9 - Gamlan, Dollgellau, Gwynedd, Wales. Grade 4/5
8 - Nevis, Glen Nevis, Scotland. Upper section 4+ (5)
7 - Ogwen, Snowdonia, Wales. Grade 4/4+ (5)

6 - Afon Glasyn, Snowdonia, Wales. The Aberglaslyn Gorge – 4/5 By Tom LawsAfon Glaslyn North Wales
So, what’s my favourite UK River? A really difficult one to call, certain rivers always stand out, some are clichéd classics worthy of praise, and others stand out by nature of their obscurity. A good example of this is the 100m of small, wet slides 2km up the side of Snowdon! For me, it has to be the Aberglaslyn Gorge. Nestled between the hills, the waters collected on Snowdon give it one last hurrah before winding gently to the seaside, wrapping up their remaining energies in a neat package of back to back ledges. In low water it is a fine introduction to the steeper, blinder side of kayaking, while high water offers an eye widening, buttock-clenching ride past over-excited tourists. As a run it is short enough to warrant repeated runs with only a leisurely walk with your companions comparing battle tales to break up the paddling, or else it can be tacked on to the end of a day’s paddle, commencing as it does at the take out of the beautiful ‘upper’ Glaslyn.

One of my first runs sticks in my mind; it was just me and Tea-Boy, we should have been at the Tiefi Tour, the river was good and high, and I was in a borrowed boat! Shortly before the ‘breaker’ drop two large holes form, and the second of those took a liking to me. After a good session of rodeo boating I sea-anchored* my way out of the difficulties and made a small eddy mid-stream. Looking around, there was nobody to be seen, no way to communicate above the roar of the river, and no real indication of how sticky the coming hole was. Screwing up my fears into a little ball to deal with later I hit the flow and made it to the respite of the eddy below the main drop and rejoined Tom. On the walk back up an old couple that had seen the whole thing commented on the ‘lovely somersaults’ I’d performed!

*An expert technique involving holding one’s hands and paddle above one’s head in the vain hope that the gods will let you escape the hole!

5 - Orchy, Argyll, Scotland. Bridge of Orchy – Falls of Orchy (classic run) grade 3/4 (5), Lower Section – 3
4 - Etive, Glen Etive, Scotland. Upper – 2/3, Middle (classic section) 4 (5), Lower – 3/4

3- Plym, Devon, England. Upper – grade 5, Lower - 3+ By Simon Westgarth, Gene17Coaching & Guiding
So why is the Plym my river? I love the demands the Plym brings on you, the need to adapt quickly and yet stay with the plan, its it ninja kayaking at its best, plus the valley is very beautiful. It’s always a real highlight to be in such a great place, and more importantly to be in the middle of such a great paddle. Read a full guide of the Plym
Tom Parker nails Fairy Falls on the Fairy Glen section of the River Conwy
2 - Conwy, Betws-y-Coed, Conwy, Wales. Upper – grade 3/4, A5 to Rhydlanfair Bridge – 3/4, Rhydlanfair Bridge to Penmachno Bridge – 4 (5), Fairy Glen – 5 By Tom Parker, Tom Parker Coaching,
The Fairy Glen… The mist curls through the dripping branches as you scramble down the muddy track worn in the hillside. You can see the murky brown snake of the Conwy writhing around the rocks at the bottom of the slope. 'Good level today' you think as your pulse quickens. You force yourself to focus on your line as you clamber into your boat – punch the two small stoppers, build speed, just left of the big rock, pause and BOOF. Slowing your breathing, you make one last eddy to gather yourself. Here goes, punch the eddy-line, the boat carves and it's on!

The Fairy Glen section of the Conwy is one of the best stretches of challenging whitewater in the UK, fact! It offers excellent lines and moves, coupled with a catchment area that means it is one of the first runs to come up and last to drop.
For a thorough description, check out Terry Storry's guidebook British White Water, where rapid names such as 'Doors of Perception' and 'Gates of Delerium' (Sticky Hole and Cave Drop in current terminology) highlight our more philistine approach.
The Fairy Glen does have a big reputation, being the scene of at least one fatality, along with helicopter callouts, injuries and epics but if you can stay focused on what you need to do, rather than what you don't want to happen, it will draw you back time and time again to its steep, stunning rapids – bear in mind some people in North Wales have over 100 logged descents and the record for one day is 12! Read a full guide to the Afon Conwy

1 - Dart, Devon. Upper – grade 4 (5), Middle (Loop) – 2 (3), Lower – 2 By Jason Smith, Editor, Canoe & Kayak UKWhitewater kayaker running Euthanasia Falls on the Upper Dart
There are certainly harder and more challenging runs in this list, but for me the run that has me smiling just thinking about it is the River Dart in Devon. It has something to offer all levels of whitewater paddler. The middle section, or Loop as it is more commonly known is a classic proving ground for club paddlers and has been the first taste of whitewater for many a brave soul. When the water rises it can provide excellent sport and some great playing in a riverboat. For me though the jewel in the crown is the upper section of the Dart from Dartmeet down to Newbridge. I’ve had so many great days on this section with friends I cannot keep count. From fun mid level runs to eyes-out-on-on-stalks screaming flood level runs that have the adrenaline flowing and the synapse firing off the scale. No matter how many times I’ve run this section it always keeps me coming back for more. From the warm up boulder gardens and the top, through the bigger rapids and drops, The Mad Mile, Euthanasia, Pandora’s Box and the run out down to Newbridge at the end the fun never stops. There are always different lines to run, moves to make and fun to be had, and that’s why the Upper Dart will always have a very special place in my heart. Full guide to the sections of the River Dart

What do you think of our choices? Agree? Disagree? Tell us what you think and share your top 50 whitewater runs in rgw Canoe & Kayak UK Forum

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3 comments so far...

1.matt petre
07 Dec 2012 17:52
No mention of the Usk?. We did it a couple of weeks ago and mill falls was running a good 3+/4
just a thought/Plenty of bouncy stuff.between Talybont and Crickhowell.
2.Hugh McLaren
22 Dec 2012 17:06
So i have paddled many scottish classics like the Braan, Blackwater, Findhorn, Etive and Orchy. But the best by a long way is the Water of Minnoch. Hands down. Where is it on the list? who knows.
18 Sep 2014 12:25
It's as well Northren Ireland isn't part of the UK as there are at least 1 or 2 that should be there ....oh wait!!
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