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What is Ghyll Scrambling?

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

What does the word Ghyll mean?

Originally from the old Norse word ‘Gil’, the two spellings of this now are Gill and Ghyll and are defined in the Oxford dictionary as; ‘ a deep, usually wooded, ravine and the second; ‘a narrow mountain torrent’

The word Ghyll is predominantly used in the north of the country with the reason for its origin due to the Norse who settled in those areas over a thousand years ago! Although the word is used widely in the Lake District, the feature exists in other areas of the country and goes by other names such as Glen or Chine.

View from the top of a waterfall in Stickle Ghyll across the Langdale Valley
Amazing views of Langdale Valley from the top of Stickle Ghyll

Other names for Ghyll Scrambling:

Ghyll Scrambling also goes by other names such as Gorge Walking, Canyoning, Gorge Scrambling, River Scrambling and sometimes even cliff jumping. The equivalent in coastal areas would be Coasteering.

3 people Gorge Walking in Stickle Ghyll stream on a Path to Adventure activity.
Great fun floating around in Stickle Ghyll!

So what is it?

The answer is loads of fun! The activity basically involves walking up a flowing river. Along the way you’ll find plenty of rocks and waterfalls to scramble up and around and if your feeling brave you can get under or behind waterfalls! Sitting behind a fast-flowing waterfall is something else! The roaring sound of water crashing down all around you, the silvery curtain falling in front of you and the feel of the waters power when you duck in or out is totally exhilarating.

Jumps into plunge pools...

You’ll also have the opportunity to jump into crystal clear pools of varying sizes and depths. These are carved by the water at the bottom of or close by waterfalls.

Swimming and jumping into these pools is an exciting feeling and leaves you feeling refreshed and revived. Jumps can vary from 1m upwards.

There is a point where a jump may be considered too large to jump safely or the landing may not be suitable – at this point you may end up abseiling down the waterfall instead! You may also find yourself rock climbing up waterfalls or by the side them that require a rope for safety.

Two people. One is jumping into the river on the Esk Gorge Ghyll Scramble
A big cliff jump into the Esk Gorge!

Is there a difference between Canyoning and Ghyll Scrambling?

Generally speaking, Ghyll Scrambling is scrambling up a river and Canyoning or Canyoneering is the act of navigating your way down a fast flowing river that is in a gorge or ravine. Canyons often involve some kind of hike because you’ll be starting either at the top or at least higher up the river.

Canyoning involves various techniques such as climbing, scrambling, abseiling, sliding and jumping. Canyons vary in length, height and difficulty – you’ll find the main Canyon’s in the UK are in the Lake District and Scotland but if you want the really big canyons you’ll need to visit places such as the Alps or New Zealand.

It is also possible to do Ghyll Scrambles that also have sections of Canyoning involved.

Who can do a Ghyll Scramble?

Anyone can and there are venues suitable for all ages from about age 4 upwards. You’ll need a moderate to reasonable level of fitness depending on the venue and Ghyll you are undertaking. They vary in length from an hour or two to gorges that take up a full day.

We recommend you take a guided activity unless you are experienced and have the necessary skills to keep yourself and those around you safe in a river environment, even then, local knowledge is useful when entering into unknown gorges. There are various hazards and many different water conditions that are unique to each Ghyll and the topography around it. Each time there is significant rainfall a river bed or surrounding area may alter significantly creating various potential hazards.

Reputable companies and guides are very experienced in knowing each river intimately and how the environment changes through the seasons and in differing water levels. They are experienced to guide you through providing a fun and safe adventure for everyone.

Path to Adventure instructor helping a client climb up a waterfall in the Esk Gorge
A waterfall climb in the Esk Gorge

Path to Adventure instructor with thumbs up with 3 smiling clients in Church Beck, Coniston
Having fun in Church Beck

What equipment will I need for Ghyll Scrambling?

You’ll generally be wearing a wetsuit with swimwear underneath. Generally speaking you’ll be wearing a wetsuit and depending on the time of year or the environment you may also be wearing wetsuit socks, gloves, hat and a cag over your wetsuit. You’ll be kitted out with specific safety gear such as a helmet and if appropriate depending on the Ghyll Scramble - a buoyancy aid and harness.

Good footwear is important in a rocky environment. Decent grip, tight fitting and closed toes are a must to be able to move around confidently and safely. Trainers or boots are recommended or if its something you’ll be doing regularly or perhaps professionally you can buy special Canyon or Gorge shoes.

4 people standing in a river whilst Gorge Walking in Church Beck, Coniston
Beautiful day in Church Beck, Coniston

Excited to try Ghyll Scrambling or Canyoning?

Check out our web page for more information on Ghyll Scrambling in the Lake District.

2 people in a pool in Stickle Ghyll, Langdale
Fall back pool in Stickle Ghyll, Langdale


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