Wednesday 18 July 2007

Weirs and other obstacles

Malmesbury stepped weir – Small steps running around a left hand bend. Difficult if not impossible to portage but shooting is easy (anywhere) even in high water. In very high water check the road bridge immediately below to ensure that there is enough height to get under it.

Malmesbury factory weir (cowbridge weir) – A very high straight drop, probably around 7 to 8 feet. There is a small stopper breaking step which sticks out from the weir face by a few inches about half way down the weir. This step can catch the end of your boat quite hard when shooting. I haven’t seen a threatening stopper here even in high water. Shoot anywhere but left of middle is where I’ve always gone. The weir can be inspected from the left hand bank and the footbridge that runs over it, portage left through farm land if you don’t fancy it.

Boulder dam just downstream of B4042 – A small rocky fall, around 2 feet high. Usually no problem to paddle it, but the rocks can change position after high flows so take care. Portage available on the right.

Little Somerford Weir – This is a narrow boat crunching slide through a hole in a wall on the right. Duck under the low bridge! The rest of the river goes around the corner to the large sluice gate at the house. Shooting is easy but not so easy on your boat. Discretion and politeness (if you are confronted) are the order of the day, you are passing through the grounds of a large private house. Portaging the weir would be a marathon, I haven't found a sensible way around this weir yet despite going there on foot to try to figure one out.

Small weir near Great Somerford – A small 1 to 2 feet high weir in the middle of nowhere, shooting is easy. A nice surf wave and stopper at one end at the right levels, as shown in the pictures. The stopper can be surprisingly grippy if you decide to go back in and play. Portaging is probably possible on either bank through farm land.

Great Somerford Weir – Looks strange when you approach it. There are two vertical concrete walls sticking up in the middle of the river. It is normal to shoot between the two walls down a 4 foot gentle slope. The two side shoots are also slides but normally have less water flowing over them. In higher flows inspect or portage on the left through farm land, the stoppers across this weir can get very nasty. There is also a small step just below the weir which has short metal rods sticking up from the top. That sounds much worse than they really are, but even so they are worth avoiding. In higher water the step has a surf wave, see pictures

Dauntsey Weirs – Two identical weirs very close together, each about 2 feet high. Easy shoots in low water but the stoppers turn into the quiet menacing type with huge tow-backs that indicate great depth beneath the weir. The weirs can be successfully shot anywhere but right next to the right hand bank is safest in high water. Inspect, portage or set up protection from the right hand bank, but be discrete, there is an exclusive public school on the opposite bank.

Small weir near Dauntsey – A small 1 to 2 feet high weir in the middle of nowhere, shooting is easy but the stopper can be surprisingly grippy if you don’t paddle positively or if you decide to go back in and play. Portaging is probably possible on either bank through farm land.

Lower Seagrey Weir – An ugly concrete stepped weir totalling 8 feet in height with two sluice gates on the left. It’s not sensible to attempt the concrete steps to the right, the shallow landing after the first step would no doubt hurt. In higher flows the sluice gates are opened and it is possible to shoot through them. The right hand gate is the easiest and safest, the left hand one would feed the paddler into an ugly stopper against a steel wall. I’ve not seen anyone attempt the left hand gate. Portage and inspect from the left hand bank, be discrete as you are opposite a large private house.

Christian Malford Weir – a narrow weir beneath a low bridge near a farm. The weir slides gently at first and then drops suddenly by about 4 feet into a shallow pool. Inspect or portage by exiting on the right of the river. There is a farm house quite close by, please be quiet and discreet.

Avon Sluice Gate – A radial sluice gate in the middle of nowhere with a fish pass on one side. It may be possible to shoot the fish pass, if not portage on the either side through farm land. I reliably informed that the right-hand side is a little easier.

Kellways Weir – On the right, a slightly horseshoe shaped steep sloping weir of about 5 feet in height, on the left a straight version with closed in concrete walls both ends. There is a large bronze coloured hippo between the two weirs, yes I did say ‘Hippo!’ Stay to the right of the river just above this weir and only shoot the right hand horseshoe shaped part. There is a large house on the left, the owner seems friendly enough but also values his privacy. In low water the weir shoot is safe and easy. In higher water it could become dangerous due to it’s horseshoe shape. Portage or inspect from the right hand bank. There are several low and fallen trees in the section below this weir.

Kellways Rapid – Downstream from the road bridge there is a small rapid (grade 1) which will be washed out in higher flows. An easy shoot and often a good squirt spot.

Peckingell Boulder Dam – A small rocky rapid (grade 2) just above a footbridge. Can be tricky due to bushes growing on a small island in the middle of the river, and the central pillar of the footbridge bellow which can collect debris and unsuspecting padders. Inspect from either bank.

Peckingell Rapid – A small rapid (grade 1) shortly after Peckingell Boulder Dam. An easy shoot anywhere, in the right conditions it has a small ‘one hit wonder’ surf wave at the top.

Marden Confluence – This is not an obstacle as it is not in your way, but it is a point of interest. In high water flows the small boulder dam at the mouth of the Marden can provide some entertainment. The Marden enters from the left. This river can be paddled, see the ukriversguidebook link for more information.

Chippenham Weir – An ugly mass of concrete and steel. On the left is a radial sluice gate and on the right is the weir just below a low footbridge. To the far right is a fish ladder. Stay clear of the radial gate, in high water large things like trees get sucked under it! The weir itself is about 6 feet high and near vertical with less than 2 feet of water below it in low conditions. A straight shoot in low water is out of the question, it has to be done sideways risking the stopper. In higher conditions it could be shot straight providing your boat is short enough to avoid catching the tail on the low footbridge, and you can get enough speed to punch through the stopper. The fish ladder to the right can not be shot. It has a right angled bend in it and the pavement above it overhangs it making a man made undercut. In short, shooting the weir is not recommended.
To portage, either: get out upstream of the pub on the left before it and walk through the car-park and over the foot bridge to the other side of the river and put in under the road bridge; or for a shorter but trickier portage, get out on the concrete step to the right of the weir and pass your boats over the railings (this really requires two or more people); or for a very tricky portage, get out on the concrete step and crawl along the narrow wall between the weir and fish ladder, ducking under the foot bridge and climbing down the steps to get in right next to the weir (real Indiana Jones stuff!).

Chippenham Rapids – Shortly after the weir are two rapids. The first is quite rocky (grade 1 to 2) but still simple to shoot, the second (grade 1) is not much more than a ripple. Both can provide some entertainment in reasonable flows.

Reybridge Weir – A sloping weir with a small wall at the top, there is a steel sluice gate on the left. Recent hydroelectric scheme works have spoiled the canoeing potential of this weir. It was once a favourite spot for local paddlers to learn basic stopper skills. The addition of the wall at the top of the weir forces almost all the water through the hydro plant at the nearby house, and virtually nothing is allowed over the weir. Only in high conditions is there enough water to shoot or play the weir. If a weir shoot is possible then the right hand side is best, quite close to the bank. The weir can be portaged and inspected from the right hand bank, these are the fields of Lackham College or Agriculture.

Lacock Brook Weir - This is not an obstacle as it is not in your way, but it is a point of interest. At medium water flows the small weir at the mouth of Lacock Brook has a friendly stopper to play in, and is a fun shoot. The brook enters from the right.

Lacock Abbey Rapid – A small drop (grade 1) in the river at a point narrowed by stone walls, may have been a weir at some point in the past. AT medium flows this has a small surf wave and is a good stern squirt spot.

Lacock Bridge – The flow of water at this bridge travels across the arches from right to left and can catch out the unwary. Just below the bridge is a fast flowing rapid (grade 1).

Beanacre Rapid – A line of stones across the river at a shallow point. This creates an easy rapid (grade 1) that washes out easily with moderate to high flows.

Melksham Weir – An ugly concrete weir rather like the one at Chippenham. Luckily there is a good chance that it will be replaced in the not too distant future. On the right is a radial gate, on the left is the weir and in the middle is a fish ladder. The weir is about 6 to 7 feet high and is shallow below. It can be shot but a long boat will hit the bottom in low water. In high water the stopper becomes dangerous and is walled in at both ends. The fish ladder can not be shot. Portage or inspect from the left bank, this is publicly accessible county council land.

Semington Brook Confluence - This is not an obstacle as it is not in your way, just a point of interest. The brook enters from the left. A guide for this brook is available on ukriversguidebook (see links).

Staverton Weir – A 5 to 6 foot straight drop. It can be shot at any point. Get out on the right to inspect or portage through farm land. It was possible to portage on the left close to the weir but I think this side has become too over grown with nettles and brambles now. The landowner on the right hand side has confronted padders before, but I am also told that they can be quite approachable if permission is asked for before paddling. This is open farmland though, so a responsible discrete portage followed by prompt departure should suffice.

River Biss Confluence - This is not an obstacle as it is not in your way, just a point of interest. The Biss enters from the left. This river can be paddled, see the ukriversguidebook or BCU South West links for more information.

Bradford on Avon Weir – A 6 foot high straight drop which can be shot on the left hand side. The middle and right are too shallow to shoot. To portage the weir, go to the far right hand side and climb down the weir face, this can only be done in low water. There is a longer portage option which involves getting out on the left further upstream and passing through the housing development next to the river. There have been access issues with the residents of the houses there but an agreement was reached some years ago between the residents and paddlers at Bradford on Avon Racing Club. The residents are not welcoming to other paddlers though, so please contact someone at BoA if you wish to use this portage. It may be that they can escort you through as a guest.
It seems that one of the residents objects to paddlers shooting the weir too, he mistakenly believes that it could cause damage. I would advise that groups negotiate the weir by whatever method on the right hand side away from the housing development and then move on.

Avoncliff Weir – A 6 foot steep weir which can be shot in most conditions to the right hand side. The centre can be climbed down in low water conditions to portage the weir. Alternatively, it is possible to climb down the mill wheel house wall on the right hand side but this can be quite overgrown and is always tricky. Another portage possibility is to egress on the left bank and follow the path up to the canal, then along the towpath and down under the aqueduct to get in. This is a long carry.
Please stay off the left hand side of the weir. The owners of the house on the left have objected to paddlers using that side.

River Frome Confluence - This is not an obstacle as it is not in your way, just a point of interest. The Frome enters from the left. This river can be paddled, see the ukriversguidebook or BCU South West links for more information.

Limpley Stoke Weir - A 4 to 5 foot drop which can be shot right of middle where most of the water goes, the centre and left of the weir are often dry. Quite a lot of water does go through the broken sluice gate at the left of the weir. Stay away from the top of this gate. Portaging can be done by climbing down the dry part of the weir or getting out on the right and carrying up the hill to the gate into the next field and then back down to the river. This is quite a long portage, the weir option is easier if water levels allow it. The flow from the bottom of the sluice gate can sometimes be quite playful, but usually you fed into the mill house wall, also it is very shallow just downstream from the sluice gate.

Limpley Stoke Bridge Arches - The road bridge (B3108) below Limpley Stoke weir has a small weir underneath it, approximately 1 foot high. The bridge has 4 arches and any one of them can be shot in either canoe or kayak. This used to be a favorite spot for kayak paddlers to experience their first stopper. Unfortunately some work was done a few years ago to prevent the river eroding the bridge supports and the result has spoiled the friendly stoppers that used to exist there. The little weir can still provide some entertainment in certain water conditions though. The only way to portage this weir is to walk up or down it, in high water this is not practical.

Midford Brook Confluence - This is not an obstacle as it is not in your way, just a point of interest. Midford Brook enters from the left. This river has been paddled and used to have an access agreement. Unfortunately one of the local fishing organisations withdrew thier consent.

Dundas Aquaduct - This is not an obstacle as it is not in your way, just a point of interest. This a good place to portage up to the Kennet & Avon Canal.

Warley Weir - A 6 foot straight drop with a shallow landing. It can be shot in the right conditions but is not recommended when the water is low. Portage down the weir face next to the bank on the far left of the weir, or egress on the end of the weir and carry along the island next to the millstream.

By Brook Confluence - This is not an obstacle as it is not in your way, just a point of interest. By Brook enters from the right. This little river may have been paddled.

Bathampton Weir - 5 to 6 feet high steep sloping weir which can be shot. Portage by either climbing down the weir face go to the far left and climb down the sluice structure. The sluice gate is in the grounds of the Tollgate Inn, so use disretion and politeness, and spend some money in the pub if you have used the car park.

Pulteney Weir - The famous horseshoe shaped weir in the center of Bath, consisting of 3 steps, the total height of the weir is about 4 to 5 feet. The weir can be shot through the center or portaged on the left between the radial gate and the weir. In high water the stopper on the bottom step becomes very dangerous, shooting is not recommended in these conditions. The bottom step used to be very badly undercut in the center, but recent work has removed this dangerous feature. This weir has been the site of several drownings.

Tuesday 17 July 2007

A brief history of the navigation

For centuries the river has been an important link to the sea for Bristol, and has long been navigable for sea going craft between Avonmouth and Bristol, and also for some shallow draft craft as far upstream as Hanham on the East side of the city. In the early 18th century, during the reign of William III a new course was cut to the south of the city extending for two miles diverting the river away from the city centre. The original course was utilized to provide better docks for the then increasing trade. Various acts were then passed during the reign of George III to improve the navigation for non-sea going craft between the docks in Bristol and the nearby affluent city of Bath. A series of six weirs and locks were created to make the river deep enough to enable barges to carry goods as far as Pulteney. A short distance downstream of Pulteney weir is the junction between the river Kennet and Avon Canal. The canal enabled goods to be taken inland to the various towns along its length and to London via the lower reaches of the Thames.
The poor state of Britain’s roads in the 18th century made the carriage of goods inland from busy ports like Bristol an expensive business. The navigable sections of rivers and the fast growing interlinking canal system were the solution to the problem. A cart pulled by a single horse could haul around a ton of goods; a single horse pulling a canal boat could haul about 30 tons. The merchants made good use of this significant cost saving, and there were rich pickings for the navigation companies which controlled the flow of traffic from the Bristol Channel on into the city of Bath and beyond. Small wonder that an act was passed proposing that the navigation be extended further up the Avon to allow neighboring towns such as Bradford on Avon to benefit. The navigation extension was never carried out though, perhaps the links that the Kennet and Avon, and Wilts and Berks canals provided were deemed to be enough, or perhaps the advent of rail travel and macadamized roads killed the proposal before it ever got underway. Either way the navigation extension work was never carried out which means that the uppermost point to which one can travel on a British waterways license is the famous horseshoe shaped Pulteney weir in the center of Bath.

Monday 16 July 2007

Origins of the name and location

The word Avon means river. Compare it to the Welsh word for river “Afon” and you immediately see where it came from. The UK has several river Avons and to distinguish between them they are often referred to by the counties or cities that they pass through. The Bristol Avon rises on the Eastern side of the Cotswold Hills as several small sources, these all come together to form one river around Malmesbury in Northern Wiltshire. From Malmesbury the river flows generally southward through Wiltshire and gradually turns westward into the county of Somerset and the city of Bath. Here it meets the Western end of the Kennet and Avon canal, and becomes navigable to motorized craft downstream into Bristol docks. It finally meets the Bristol Channel at the aptly named town of Avonmouth.