Celebrating Hydropower in the English Lake District

11 October 2022

On Global Hydropower Day we are celebrating the hydropower on our doorstep.  Gilkes head office is in Kendal, known as the Gateway to the English Lake District, and the company has been supplying hydropower plants for this region of England since 1853. 

The Lake District is renowned for being wet, very wet.   But plenty of rain and the natural landscape of the English Lakes lends itself very well to hydropower development.   The fells and high rainfall create a large number of water courses suitable for small run of river hydropower schemes to generate renewable energy.

These projects go relatively unknown, partly due to the planning consent required to ensure development in the National Park is environmentally and socially responsible, with the powerhouse buildings designed to have minimum visual impact.

There are around 35 running hydropower schemes dotted throughout the Lake District fells, with a combined output of just over 5.2MW.  This is the equivalent to powering 5000 homes.

The Lake Districts Largest Hydro Project

Scandale Beck Hydro Scheme is the largest hydro scheme in the Lake District and is within half an hour’s drive of Gilkes’ manufacturing facility in Kendal. The scheme contributes over 900kW to the national grid, or sufficient power for around half the population of Ambleside, a nearby town with a population of 2,700.

Nestled between Grasmere and Ambleside it offers the ideal setting for this environmentally conscious and highly efficient scheme. The Gilkes Pelton turbine provides quiet, reliable, and renewable power for Ambleside’s residents and visitors.

The Scandale project is on the Rydal Hall Estate which has a long history of hydro dating back to the 1920s.  There is also a 500kW Gilkes Turgo turbine that allows the estate to run from hydropower for most of the year.  Both projects required considerable and careful planning, with the powerhouses clad in local stone, in keeping with the surroundings of this highly sensitive conservation area.

Gilkes completed the projects together with Ellergreen Hydro.  Ellergreen have provided a key role in the majority of hydro projects in Cumbria, either carrying out the initial design, consenting or project managing the installations. At Scandale, Ellergreen project managed the installation (back in 2014-15) and work alongside Gilkes on the ongoing maintenance and operation of the plant.

The National Trust

Many of the hydro schemes in the lake district have been built by the National Trust as part of their renewable energy investment programme.  Not only providing power to some National Trust properties, they also export the power generated to the grid.  The income generated from selling this electricity is ploughed back into vital conservation work in the Lake District National Park. 

Two of these hydro schemes have been built in the dramatic landscape of the Langdale valley in the heart of the Lake District.   Langdale has played a key part in the development of conservation in the National Park and an extensive area of the valley is owned and cared for by the National Trust, including the Sticklebarn, a hydropower pub, sourcing its power from the 100kW Gilkes Turgo Turbine installed in a small powerhouse behind the pub.  The hydro is powered by water from Stickle Ghyll fed from the tarn at the top of the steep valley.  

Read more about hydro powered pints from the National Trust

Nestled in the Little Langdale valley is the 100kW Greenburn hydro.  Completed in 2019 it used local contractors, local materials from the adjacent quarries and sits amongst the copper mines which are a Scheduled Ancient Monument.  The hydro is hidden in the landscape where thousands of walkers pass by without knowing its existence.


Hydropower in the Lake district dates as far back as the early 1860’s.   The first turbine from our archives in the Lake District was built for Mr Schneider of Windermere who was the founder of the major engineering works at Barrow in Furness on the edge of the Lake District. A slightly later machine was installed at Stott Park Bobbin Mill near Newby Bridge at the southern end of Lake Windermere. These early machines were built to the “Vortex” design invented by Professor Thomson of Belfast University.

Our service engineers regularly maintain early Gilkes machines.   Two of which are on the Helmside Estate near Grasmere.  The two Pelton turbines were installed as house sets in 1916 and 1922 to power the estate.   It is remarkable that these machines are still running today, testament to longevity of hydropower.

Small hydropower is environmentally and socially responsible.  Scalable installations for any landscape or location provide a short return on investment with a long asset life.  An ideal renewable solution for England’s largest National Park and World Heritage Site.

Gilkes is part of a worldwide coalition led by the International Hydropower Association (IHA) that is coordinating Global Hydropower Day.

‘Hydropower is more than just an energy source’

Eddie Rich, Chief Executive for IHA, said: “Hydropower has provided a reliable, flexible and long-lasting source of energy for more than a century. It has enabled economies around the world to flourish and standards of living to grow. But we don’t often hear about the human benefits of hydropower.

“Sustainable hydropower is a clean, green, modern and affordable energy source. But it does far more than simply provide power. Whenever governments have backed hydropower development, it has brought jobs, social investment, water supply, flood and drought management, irrigation for food and ecotourism.

“A net zero world is only possible with hydropower. That is why we are working with progressive organisations in the sustainable hydropower industry to highlight the positive impacts of hydropower for people and communities on Global Hydropower Day.”