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Northern Territory – River Swale

The Swale, for many the most enjoyable, hassle free section of Class 4 (occasionally 5) in the UK. It’s all down to preference of course, however, a little time invested in this true classic normally leaves paddlers with a beaming smile.

River Swale

At its source, about 2 miles upstream of Keld, the Swale picks up pace and, set amongst some stunning scenery and isolated gorges, this river drops like a stone and often rises just as quickly: we recently witnessed the river rising 50cm within the hour it took us to complete the run. It rose a further 10cm in the time it took to get changed and do a shuttle; a factor that should be borne in mind when paddling this stretch after heavy rainfall. Potentially difficult to judge accurately, running this little gem has been made much more reliable since the introduction of the environment agency river levels gauge. This provides the source data for the invaluable Rainchasers site ( an excellent information resource for which we are enormously grateful to Rob Tuley and crew supporting the site.

River Swale

The put-in is a very easy short walk across a farmer’s field, just after the Park Bridge Campsite. Parking is easy also, just, as always, be considerate to other road users as a lot of farm traffic use these roads.

Another opportunity to keep the local landowners happy is to make a contribution to the honesty box in the Keld carpark. Also, take the opportunity to grab a well-earned beer at the Keld Lodge – the beer is invariably excellent and the service is also first rate; first rate banter too as the landlord is a boater. Wain Wath Force, an easily run 2 metre drop is best run hard right – the left side becomes more accessible when the river levels are high.

River Swale

The pictures above are of Rainby Force, at completely different levels a really fun slide compared to a raging torrent! On the whole, although intimidating to look at its super fun! You need to be sure of your line on this one, at mortal levels you have either side that you and your boat want to avoid at flood stage you have much more to think about!

‘The Rapid’, about 100 metres downstream of Rainby Force (you will know that you have found it as it’s the only one on the river). Paddlers will enjoy this link which keeps the river flowing between Rainby and its next point of interest: ‘Double Drop’ When the river is high this looks really impressive and can produce some pretty big waves and hydraulics.

You have now entered the gorge’s beautiful scenery, a real sense of isolation here and a small amount of class 2/3 brings you to the last remaining falls on the river; Upper and Lower Kisdon.

River Swale

Upper Kisdon is probably the most entertaining drop on the river; about 3 metres in height and rarely displays any ‘attitude’ of consequence. About another 50 metres downstream you have Lower Kisdon: the main event. You will want to break out river-right to have a look at this one. At around 7 metres in height, it is the largest drop on the river which, to the unfamiliar eye, can appear to be quite scary; however, we have found this drop to be ‘not as bad as it looks’ – depending on which line you choose (assuming more than one to be available). The two options are:


The right-hand kicker move off of lower Kisdon. This is recommended when the river is medium and up over (about 1.0 on the gauge or higher) this can dish out some big hits of the first ledge when lower than this.

River Swale


The river-left option is becoming the ‘normal’ line at medium – low flows but precaution is sensible as it’s a narrow line between the kicker rock and the left-hand wall. Again, however, it is a very satisfying line when run with confidence. A boof seems to be the best option on this one; a left-hand stroke of the slight kicker will push you right (away from the wall). The wall is slightly undercut on the left-hand side but you’re unlikely to have noticed until you’re at the bottom. You will feel good at the bottom of this one!




The take out is river-right, some assistance to lift a boat up the rock side would be nice (there was, at time of writing, a rope to help with the portage and for the steep walk out). From here, take a short break to replenish batteries before the hike out. This can be something of a slog – about 1.5km of up-hill takes you to Keld. Alternatively, if the river’s high enough, you may be able to carry on to Muker, about another 4km of class 2-3 – a good way to end the run…


Words and pictures provided by Nathan Butler.


  1. kayakjournal

    A word of caution about Wainwath falls at med-high levels. Just to the left of the kayaker in the photo in this article there is a slot that can be extremely retentive if you get it wrong. I spent a long time getting recirculated in it to the point where I didn’t think I was ever going to get out! Took a lot of getting sucked back under and three attempts at rolling into a ball before it finally let go, and even then I wasn’t far from the back tow when I resurfaced. Moral is, always have respect for the river, even if the feature might seem straightforward.

    • Unsponsored

      Wise words. Even the familiar can give you a kicking.

  2. Lizzie

    I recently started an open canoe trip at Lower Kisdon at about 1.20 on the gauge. It was awesome 🙂 I don’t think many people could ever have been bothered to carry in canoes 😀 Straight in to a nice long G3 and then a lovely paddle down to Gunnerside.

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