- On 24 Mar 2021
Gorge Walking, often called ghyll scrambling, is the physical activity of walking, climbing and swimming through a gorge. As gorge walkers navigate a river, they wear wet suits and safety gear. Whilst gorge walking, you will navigate through an array of rock pools, becks and over boulders to explore your way down a meandering river. Gorge walking is a hard and physically demanding activity. Depending on ability and weather, you may need a professional guide to accompany you for safety purposes. Whether you are an experienced ghyll scrambler or have never even heard of a gorge, this guide will offer all you need to know about the best gorge locations, equipment and safety for this popular outdoor activity.
Types of gorge walking
Gorge scrambling is basically the same as gorge walking, however, it is slightly more demanding. Scrambling involves more technical climbs and trickier scrambles across river crossings which are better suited to more experienced climbers.
Ghyll scrambling is also very similar to gorge walking and scrambling, with the main difference being the ability to exit the ravine. This is because a ghyll is a type of narrow wooded stream which are not as steep. Ghyll scrambling is the preferred option for parties who prefer more time climbing banks than exploring streams.
What is a Gorge?
A gorge is a narrow valley that has a stream or river running along its bottom. Gorges can often be referred to as ‘gully’, ‘ravine’ or ‘ghyll’. In French, ‘gorge’ is a term that means neck or throat.
How are gorges formed?
Typically, gorges are formed when streams and rivers cause erosion, wearing rock away to form a deep valley. Alternatively, geologic uplift can also form the steep sided faces when rock layers beneath the Earth’s surface bump against the surface layers. Gorges can form as a result of natural forces, specifically erosion caused by streams that break down hard layers of rock. Sedimentary rock is then forced downstream, eventually creating the steep walls of a ravine. Gorges are often confused with canyons, which is another type of deep and narrow valley, although gorges tend to be narrower.
Gorge walking in the Lake District
One of the most popular destinations for gorge scrambling is the Lake District, where you can find a wide variety of gorges and routes to take. If you are planning a trip to the waterfalls in Lake District National Park, there are plenty of scenic locations to choose from, whether you’re a beginner or an expert ravine scrambler.
For family activities, you may want to consider a mixed ability scramble such as Stoneycroft Ghyll, located just outside of Keswick. Here, you can explore natural rock chutes which are polished to provide the perfect slip and slide adventures in the well-known sheep dip.
The Stoneycroft Gyll walk is usually led by qualified instructors and typically takes around three hours to complete. To take part in the ghyll scramble, you will need a wetsuit and possibly some socks to keep you warm whilst exploring. This area is considered by walkers as one of the most beautiful spots for walking in the Lake District.
River Esk Gorge
If a challenge is what you are after, you should consider the Esk gorge walk. The Esk Gorge is located in a remote valley on the West Coast of Cumbria in the Eskdale glacial valley. In fact, to locals, the ascent of the Esk Ghyll is known as ‘The Big One’. Esk is one of the favourite ghyll scrambling Lake District locations, due to its high cliff jumping into deep plunge pools. This is one of the more extreme on in our guide and offers a true ‘white water’ experience.
The River Esk is ideal for experienced scramblers who are willing to tackle jumps of up to 14m. To truly tackle this scramble, you should dedicate a full day to this activity, as the entire walk usually takes up to five hours to complete, plus an hour walk to and from the car park (and the pub).
Gorge Walking in Wales
If Wales is your preferred destination to try gorge walking there are several amazing spots to try. Across the Welsh countryside and deep within the ancient forests of the Welsh valleys lies many white water, zig-zag shaped rivers. Places like Afon Ddu and the Breacon Beacons offer beautiful, yet challenging, gorges to explore.
Afon Ddu Gorge
When visiting North Wales, the Afon Ddu Gorge Scramble is in the Conwy Valley, south Dolgarrog village. Situated on the west side of the Conwy Valley, the Afon Ddu gorge is a favourite amongst beginner scramblers. The Afon Ddu ravine features deep pools, which are perfect for swimming during dry weather. You will also encounter large waterfalls and steep paths. At the crux of the gorge walk is the 5a boulder traverse, which is hard to tackle – but definitely worth it!
Brecon Beacons Gorge
Visitors to the South of Wales mustn’t leave without tackling the Brecon Beacons gorge walk. The scramble takes place in the heart of the Brecon Beacons National Park, where you will find Waterfall County. In the Brecon Beacons, you will find a steep-sided natural beauty, where you can crawl under waterfalls, jump into deep pools and climb cascades in half a day. Many tour operators also offer a drier experience for anyone who feels they aren’t the strongest swimmer or prefer to stay warm and dry during their adventure.
Is Gorge Walking a dangerous activity?
Gorge walking is definitely a dangerous activity. However it becomes significantly safer when carried out with training and the correct equipment. Novice gorge walkers are strongly advised to seek expert supervision from a professional. The activity involves the exploration teetering ledges, meandering streams, hopping from rock to rock and jumping in plunge pools. As a result, gorge walking does involve some level of risk.
To ensure you are safe, you should take note of the following safety checklist:
- Make sure a qualified instructor is leading you
- Follow the steps of the instructor carefully to avoid slipping or falling
- Proper safety equipment is used throughout
- Adequate clothing is worn
- You are not alone when in the water
Equipment Needed for Gorge Walking
If it is your first time adventuring downstream through a gorge, it is important to wear the right clothing and carry the correct safety equipment. Some companies will provide you with all the essentials you need when ravine or ghyll scrambling. If you plan to make gorge walking a regular hobby, you should consider using the following equipment and clothing checklist:
- Invest in a canyoning wet suit with a hood
- A high quality rock climbing helmet
- Wear a wetsuit with a swimsuit underneath
- Wear old trainers or hiking boots
- A Buoyancy Aid
- Dry Bag
- Canyoning rope, which is tough, static and has low water absorption
- Invest in thick neoprene socks and gloves (if walking in autumn or winter)
- Pack dry clothing, footwear and a towel