Washburn (KW) (Kayaking) Route Details

Route Description

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The River Washburn, a tributary of the Wharfe, and the four large reservoirs of the Washburn Valley, provide the main water supply catchment area for Leeds. Except during water releases, the river joining the reservoirs is normally dry and canoeing impossible. Paddling on the reservoirs and above is strictly prohibited. On about 20 days in the year, water releases for canoeing purposes are made from Thruscross Reservoir into Fewston Reservoir. Events at Washburn currently include Wednesday evening and weekend cruises, slalom, freestyle and wild water racing.


The site owners - Yorkshire Water Plc - have vested all canoeing operations in the Washburn Committee of the Regional BCU. The Washburn Committee manages the river on behalf of all canoeists. A small fee is charged for parking at all events and for use of the river by non-competitive entrants. All paddlers must be members of the BCU or a BCU-affiliated club. The river can only be paddled on certain release dates. These are available on the regional calendar at www.yorcie.org.uk All events are subject to confirmation of the release by Yorkshire Water. Although we expect all events to take place, there is always the possibility of cancellation (too little or too much water) beyond our control. Confirmation will be obtained at least 14 days before discipline events, 10 days before weekend cruises and 7 days before weekday events. All participants should therefore ensure that the event is on by contacting the Washburn Information Line on 0845 833 8654.

Hazards and warnings

Safety cover must be organised and provided by the canoeists themselves. This river is NOT suitable for novices. There has recently been, and will be ongoing, changes to the river bed so ask the organiser for advice about these before paddling the river. The small weir about 400m down-river can hold boats and paddlers and safety cover should be set up on this section. There are a number of trees along the river and these could constitute a trap hazard for the unwary.

Detailed description


The main car park is reached by following the sign to West End from the A59 Skipton to Harrogate road at Blubberhouses.  Drive along the narrowing road and enter the site via a metal gate on the right hand side just before a very steep hill. Follow the very narrow forest road bending to the left for about 200m.  Follow the track down to the right to the main car park.

You need to pay to park and to paddle the river.  Once changed, access the river at the far end of the car park closest to the reservoir dam.


On the river, after a few hundred metres of bouncy water, there is a small drop/play wave immediately before the foot-bridge.  There is a large eddy immediately after the bridge river right.

There are a couple more small drops, before a nice eddy hoppy section. Grade 2 and ideal for practicing alpine descent.

A large rock indicates the approach to the small weir. This can hold boats, and makes an ideal play-spot. If you want a clean run through, take the route far river right.

There is a nice surf wave further down stream.

Immediately before the next foot-bridge, there is  large eddy on river left.  This is the normal egress point for paddlers wanting to walk up and paddle the top section again. The break out is quite sharp, so alternatively use the large eddy on river right and ferry glide across river.

If you want to return to the start, simply follow the path up-stream until you reach the foot-bridge crossing the river.  Walk through the car park back to the start.

If you decide to carry on paddling, the next few hundred metres is bouncy.  Look for a felled tree on the left: this indicates the large weir is approaching.  There is a large eddy on river right if you want to get out and inspect the drop. This is best taken on the left, close to the rocks at the top of the fall.  There's a clear downstream V channel on this side, though it's not visible until you have committed to your approach!  The drop can be taken on the right though this is rockier.  This drop will not hold you if you mess up.  There's a large eddy to exit the river on the left.

After another small drop, you enter the bottom half of the river.  You should only continue past this point if you have organised return transport from the bottom car park.  This section is a nice paddle, but has less features that the top section of the river.

The end of the trip comes when you pass under the A59 road bridge.  After about 10 metres, there's a large eddy on river right indicated by some rocks. This provides egress from the river, with a path leading up to the car park.


The 1.5 miles of Grade 3, fast flowing water between the two reservoirs is the only dam-release facility in England and has become one of the most important and heavily used competition sites in the country. The river has three slalom sites, catering for differing standards of competition. The Washburn now hosts both Premier and Division 1/2 slaloms.

On slalom and WWR race days, parts of the river not in use by the event can normally be used by non-racing paddlers for recreational cruising by prior arrangement with the event organiser.

Active participation by clubs is encouraged by the Washburn Management Committee.   The committee plans to continue to develop the site to make the already exciting river a venue of international standing. Recent improvements have included building new features along the river and it now has one of the best freestyle holes in the country.


The entrance fee to weekday events is £3 (Juniors), £5 (Adults) with a mandatory surcharge of £2 (be warned!) if not having possession of a current BCU Membership Card.  Weekend cruise charges depend on the event organiser but are typically £5 (Juniors) and £8 (Adults).  There may be a charge made for car parking.

The non-BCU surcharge applies to all cruises except where club members can demonstrate that they are covered via club affiliation to the BCU and that the cover specifically includes such an event.


Facilities provided on release dates depend on the organise but normally include hot and cold food and drink.  A mini-bus or van shuttle to return paddlers and boats from the bottom car park to the main car park after a full river trip is often offered for a small charge

The toilet block provides facilities for men and women.

The nearest pub is the Hopper Lane Inn on the A59 road near Blubberhouses, which provides food.

The nearest camping/caravanning available in the vicinity is on Hardisty Hill, which is the first left towards Harrogate on the Harrogate to Skipton Road from Blubberhouses Church and parallel to that leading to the Washburn Site. Contact Mrs Pearl Hall, High House Farm, Hardisty Hill, Blubberhouses LS21 2PJ (telephone 01943 880483). The site is more or less opposite the entrance to the cricket club, ie. about 600 yards up from the junction with the Harrogate to Skipton Road.

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