A Trail Of Destruction: Canoeing The River Greta After The Floods…

A Trail Of Destruction: Canoeing The River Greta After The Floods…

Lining on the Greta
Lining boats through the remains of a washed-out bridge on the River Greta, Cumbria. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

The River Greta underwent significant change as a result of Storm Desmond in December 2015, which caused severe flooding in many parts of the UK, particularly in the Lake District.

Ray Goodwin, Paul “Spoons” Nicholls and I were running two week-long Expedition Canoeing Skills Courses in the Lake District. On our day off in between courses, we decided to go out canoeing (of course)…

In this video blog we canoe down the classic Thelkeld to Keswick section of the Greta. The modern road bridges of the A66 road, which share this river valley, perch loftily on reinforced concrete fins, a long way above the river bed. The 19th century bridges of the old Cockermouth, Keswick and Penrith railway, the route of which criss-crosses the River Greta as it meanders, were built on a much lower level. They’d survived 150 years but Storm Desmond took its toll, demolishing two of them and inflicting severe structural damage on others. The trackbed of this disused railway has latterly formed a very popular walking and cycling route. At present it is impassable along much of its length.

Men in canoes and bridge in river
This bridge had been dropped then swung 60 degrees by the water before being deposited on the bank. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

The evidence of the colossal force of nature was not limited to the bridges. Uprooted trees lay strewn on river banks, marooned on rocky islands, and wedged in the river itself. On the outside of several bends, where the river cuts deep into the terrain, the water has cut through the earth like a knife through butter. In slack sections of river and in the shadow of solid impediments to the water, new deposits of silt and gravel have formed.

The name of this river derives from an Old Norse name that literally means “stony stream”. At the level we paddled it, this stream certainly lived up to its Norse reputation, despite the shaping forces of nature on this landscape in recent times. Rapids range up to grade 3 and it’s a route which makes for a lively mixture of paddling and lining. A real mini-adventure….

Let me know what you think. As always, I’ll read every comment and reply personally…

Related Material On Paul Kirtley’s Blog:

Canoeing The River Tees – One Day Tandem, One Day Solo

White Water Safety & Rescue Training Provides Useful Survival Skills

Wash Day On The River Spey

PK Podcast 013: Ray Goodwin On Continually Evolving Adventures By Canoe

Switching Out Of An Expedition Mindset: Two Days Of Paddling At The English Canoe Symposium

24 thoughts on “A Trail Of Destruction: Canoeing The River Greta After The Floods…

  1. Really good fun run from what I saw. Technical little rocky section and one I’ve not seen before.
    I’m now wanting to go grab a boat and paddle … never a bad thing.

  2. Awesome! I just want to go paddling already!

  3. Thanks for sharing your run down the Greta. I can see a new event for the next Olympics…..the reverse rapid team event. The sense of the awesome power of the water when it destroyed those bridges must have been quite thrilling, along withe knowledge that there were only a few centimetres of water between the boat and the rocks !

  4. Experts. Not for the feinthearted. But you made it look so easy!
    Open canoeing the Spey at weekend, expecting a swim or dozen, lol.

  5. Hi Paul,
    Thanks for sharing your mini adventure! You and your friends made it look pretty easy although I don’t think that it would be for most! It was interesting to observe how larger boats coped with all the rocks. Would they be harder to tip over than white water kayaks because of their width or would their length be more of a challenge? Thanks again.

    1. Hi Michelle, both can be tippy but kayaks come into their own in higher volume grade 3 water and above as they are covered (less hard to sink them).

      Here we were fine in open boats. We were paddling them solo and pretty much unladen so they were nimble. Also the volume of water coming down the river was relatively low.

      Warm regards,


  6. Great video Paul

    Always wanted to try open canoe, and this has sparked my interest.



    1. Hi Garry, I hope you enjoy trying open canoeing. If you’ve not paddled before, start on some flat water and learn the basic paddle strokes.

      Ray’s book Canoeing is a very good reference to have.

      Joining a local club can be an inexpensive way to try canoeing as well as find people to paddle with.

      Let us know how you get on.

      Warm regards,


  7. Really enjoyed watching your morning adventure Paul, though it looked quite challenging.
    I now know what lining is.
    I cycled this route in 2013, so it’s very sad to see so much destruction.

    1. Hi Carol, yes it is sad to see this route become unavailable to cyclists and walkers.

      The Lake District National Park released a video update in Feb 2016 stating a three-stage plan to bring the route back: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GzauIGFX2s

      So, let’s hope they can muster the funding to do it.

      Warm regards,


  8. Looked fun!

    My only complaint was that you need to have a steadier head for me to watch it all in one go (jerky movies makes me nauseous) 🙂

    1. Yes Par me too! I understand. I need some sort of stabilising gimble on my head!

      Warm regards,


  9. beautiful little video, really enjoyed it, I’m progressing onto moving water in open canoe soon, so looking forward to learning some new skills, planning a short trip on Wednesday, ill let you know how i get on… cant wait.

    1. Hi Cyril,

      Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

      Let me know how you get on with your trip this week…

      Warm regards,


  10. Hi Paul,
    Thanks for another great article, storm Desmond devastated the whole country, your film showed its power from a view point many of us do not get to see, it also shows why a canoe is pointed at both ends you guys always look like you’re having fun and can’t stop laughing, looking forward to seeing you on courses.
    Best wishes.

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