The Lune often runs when other rivers are too low (see notes on hydrology at the end of this page), so it's often a fallback trip when other rivers are too rocky. But it's not second best, and does feature on the programme quite often, too. If the Lune is too low, the Kent may occasionally provide an alternative - otherwise, look for something lake-fed. You can get an idea of the level from the EA gauge at Killington New Bridge, though since it is towards the end of the run, levels may have changed by the time you arrive. We've paddled it as low as 0.36m, which was fine in the gorges, but a bit scrapey on the first mile below Crook of Lune and one or two wider bits lower down.
The section we usually do is from Crook of Lune down to one of several take-outs near Sedbergh, most often Killington New Bridge (just above the weir that is gauged). There's an OS Openspace map showing this section and you can get a second opinion (and a link to current known hazards) on the UKRGB guidebook page. It's a river where some parts are wide and easy, others narrow and gorge-like, with one narrow strid (and a couple of weirs if you do the full distance). These narrower parts change character considerably at different water levels, some becoming easier as the river gets wider and deeper, whilst others get more challenging as the current builds sharp eddy lines and boils. At most levels, there's nothing more than grade 3 if you portage the weirs and the strid.
Access: the river is paddled by some big groups, and the road down to Crook of Lune is very narrow with no parking space, so paddlers are asked not to take cars, and particularly not trailers, down to the river. Park by the B6257 road between the motorway bridge and the turn-off, or under the disused Lowgill viaduct just a short way down the lane (room for maybe three cars here, but turning is difficult). It's a short downhill walk with boats (best done whilst drivers are shuttling), but does help keep good relations with the local community. For the brave, if it is wet, you can put on to Low Gill and paddle down to the confluence, but it is steep, tight and the bridge at the end doesn't have a lot of headroom! If it is low, the river here looks quite unpromising, and can be quite a scrape at first. This lasts a mile or so with a few deep pools and the odd bouldery drop, before bedrock comes into view and the river channels down.
The end of the scrape and start of the gorge section, Lune at low water
The gorge is pool-drop, so though it can cause upsets, at any reasonable level there is chance to regroup and fish out any debris. About two hundred metres in a footbridge forms an obvious landmark. The bridge piers are concrete for about ten feet above the low-water level. There's a video of the river being paddled (not by SOC!) when the concrete is covered !
300m down the gorge from the footbridge, on a not-quite-so-low-water trip
The gorge lasts for quite a way, often wider, with a few drops and plenty of waves.
Mary at Howgill Loups, one of the narrower bits of the gorge at low water
The gorge section ends abruptly, just above the "jumping bridge", an old arched girder railway bridge popular for those who like to test their climbing ropes by jumping off one side with the rope tied to the other (underneath). This can be a little unnerving if you happen to be paddling under at the time! The river has another wide section of gentle gradient which can be slow at low levels. This ends with a narrowing, and the river accelerates towards a drop (Crowder's Leaps), barely a hundred metres before the first potential take-out at Lincoln's Inn Bridge. In high water, the rapids are bouncy, but the final drop is washed out and with plenty of room. At low water, boulders guard the entry line to a final steep drop into an aerated pool, leading immediately to a very narrow gap. Recently (end of 2013) there has been a big tree stump stuck in this drop, which is a big pinning risk at low levels, but no real problem with a decent amount of water. Without the stump, at low levels, the low entry speed and difficulty of lining up has potential to cause upsets and it's not an ideal place to be stood on end, or capsized, though it is easy to protect. Portage right is easy enough at low water, but a bit of fight with the willows when it's higher.
Gail dropping into the aerated pool at Crowder's Leaps
There's a flat section after this, and under the bridge about a half mile of mostly easy rapids and flat pools. One good rapid eds on a right-hand bend, then the river flattens and widens, but with a rocky horizon line ahead. Get out river left to inspect the Strid, where the river funnels steeply down into a very narrow channel, unless the water is well up, when it forms a wider, but very turbulent drop, often the cause of widespread carnage. At low water, it may be too tight to run at all, particularly if there is any debris caught in it. These Aldwark guys spent some time in the water trying to move a tree stump, with no success, and it was still there some months later (despite some big floods), but on our trip on March 6th 2011, it had vanished. On that occasion we determined that the Strid could be run on the right (where the stump was) with the gauge at 0.41m, but it is a tight, technical drop, and better with a short boat !
When blocked by a tree stump, the strid is even harder (it was still there months later, despite some big floods)
The rock that the tree stump was stuck on is mid-channel and causes a big kicker in the channel at higher level, and it can be a bit of a lottery as to whether this gets you, as a few inches left or right seems to make a big difference. As it gets higher, this becomes less of a problem, and the drop at the end into a wide boily pool with sharp eddy lines is the cause of most grief. As everyone gets out to inspect this (unless you miss the last eddy...) it is one of the more photographed bits of river in our area, and you'll find lots more photos here under "Previous River Trips".
Mary paddling the strid at a good level
After the strid is another gorge section, Killington gorge, which has had some nasty tree hazards at times, so keep a good look out ahead. In the absence of trees, this is an easier gorge, and with all the main difficulties behind, most groups will paddle on confidently.
Take-out just above the bridge at Killington, or take time to mess around in the gorge...
Killington New Bridge is the most popular take-out, but you can continue beyond this. There are recent (2011) steps up from an eddy directly above the bridge, river left, but these are steep and missing the eddy would take you under the bridge. There's a safer get-out about thirty metres upstream of the bridge, which has a bigger eddy, a good path mostly on bedrock (and not steep, so you're less likely to hurt your back carrying up, or be injured if you do slip).This was the recommended route (and most of us still feel it is the best) but occasionally you will find an angry bloke who will rant that you are "supposed" to use the steps.
The gauging weir is just beyond the bridge, and another half kilometre beyond that is Stangerthwaite (Broadraine) weir, which is an awkward portage on the right. Another kilometre reaches the confluence with the Rawthey, and the approved get-out is somewhat further downstream where a bridleway in the woods comes down to the riverbank.
Hydrology: the Lune has quite a big catchment (219 km² at Killington gauge), but it's also strung out over quite a long distance. The river is confined in gorges narrow at the bottom for quite a bit of this run, so these narrows can give good paddling for a long time after rain. The 2009 Annual hydrograph (linked from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology website) gives an idea of how slowly the river drops off after a rain event. Using the weir rating equation with parameters from the EA HiFlows site, our run at 0.36m translates into 2.8 cumec at Killington, and you can see from the hydrograph that the river can take over a week to drop to this level after even a moderate flood and up to a month after a big one. The flow was above 3 cumec for almost the whole of the winter (October to March) in 2009, and also for quite a large proportion of May, July and August.
Annual hydrograph (from www.ceh.ac.uk)