The Calder rises as a river at Black Pots, at the head of the valley between Crag Fell and Whoap. The river runs west then turns south to run down its isolated valley. In its lower reaches the river curves to the south-west, and flows through Calder Bridge and finally the Sellafield site before reaching the sea at the same place as the River Ehen.
The Calder valley falls into two very distinct parts. The upper reaches, from its source to Thornholme farm, runs through a landscape of empty grass-covered hills, largely dominated by the slopes of Lank Rigg to the east and the ridge of smaller fells that runs from Blakeley in the north to Cold Fell in the south. There is a river-side path here, but large stretches of it are rather swampy. This is Kinniside Common, an area still controlled by its traditional commoners, even if some farmers now count as more than one commoner!
The lower reaches of the river run through a more gentle landscape, often tree lined, with a series of meadows. This part of the river is harder to follow - there is normally a footpath near-by, but not right by the water, with the exception of a lovely stretch from Calder Bridge up to the ruins of Calder Abbey.
Calder Abbey was founded in 1134 as a Savignaic monastery, and moved to its current site in 1142. In 1148 it became a Cistercian Abbey, part of the rapid expansion of that order. The abbey survived until 1536, but wasn't a wealthily foundation. The abbey ruins are now in the gardens of Calder Abbey House, and can only really be glimpsed.
The most scenic point on the river is Monk's Bridge, or Matty Benn's bridge, the oldest packhorse bridge in Cumbria. The bridge can be reached from a small parking area at Cold Fell Gate (at a road junction on the Cold Fell Road, NY 055 100) - head down the track that runs east towards the river, cross the river on a modern bridge and turn left to find the older bridge.
For some time the Calder was best known because of Calder Hall nuclear power station, the first industrial scale nuclear power station in the world. Calder Hall operated from 1956 until 2003, and is now being decommissioned as part of the wider operations at Sellafield.
Three of our walks visit the River Calder
Calder Abbey from Calder Bridge: follows the river-side path from the village to the Calder Abbey House
Lank Rigg: Our ascent of Lank Rigg ends with a riverside walk along the damper parts of the Calder
Abbey Flatts above the Calder: This walk starts on the Calder and explores the gentle hills to the north of its lower reaches.
Stinking Gill, Comb Gill
Bomer y Gill
Latter barrow Beck