Monday, 15 December 2008

4. Woolhampton to Ufton


This section requires two portages around former mill buildings, but otherwise offers around 5.5kms ( 3.4 miles) of paddling away from the canal.

Leaving Woolhampton on the canal travel along to Wickham Knights footbridge at SU 580 664. The canal towpath crosses from the south to the north bank here, and a public footpath also leads north to the A4 or south-west to the A340 at SU 590 660 (just room for two cars, but in front of a padlocked gate to land for sale, which is used for parking by Wasing Estate employees/Wasing Kennet Syndicate (WKS) fishing permit holders). After passing the bridge the river separates again at SU 586 663, with the River Kennet forking to the right.

Kennet & Avon Canal to the left, the River Kennet forks right.

After only a few strokes along this stretch of the river there is a broad opening on the left which is the waterway entrance to Frouds Bridge Marina. Shortly after this point you reach The Old Mill at Aldermaston.

River entrance to Frouds Bridge Marina.

Easy to portage river right before The Old Mill at Aldermaston.
The Old Mill at Aldermaston.

If you are looking for an extremely picturesque backdrop for your wedding then this could be the place for you - anti-paddling access MP Martin Salter thought so - but, with the main flow of the river turning left and then being blocked by the Mill House and an impassible sluiced weir , a portage around the edge of the grounds via a side-flow is required for through navigation at this point on the river.
With regard to responsibility for the river here, it is interesting to note that, although in private ownership, the wier at Aldermaston Old Mill has been 'restored after failure' by "using Heritage Lottery Fund and Environment Agency monies".

The Mill to the left with the bridge over the weir just visible to the right.

Sluices river right before the Old Mill

A branch of the river to the right provides the necessary detour, but you have to portage around the weir that marks the start of its route. The weir itself would probably be shootable at reasonable water levels but for the footbridge above it at head height.

The weir at the top of the right hand fork requires portaging.
It's easy to portage by taking out at one of the trampled fishing points to the right, and getting back in just below the weir on the same side next to the weir pool.

Put-in below the weir river right - the sign advises that this piece of land belongs to the Old Mill, not the Wasing Estate.
Note that the public footpath that runs alongside the river at Frouds Bridge Marina veres off across a field to the A340, so you are technically on the Wasing Estate’s Aldermaston beat (which runs along the right bank back up to the start of the NAA beats upstream of the weir, whilst below the weir the right bank belongs to The Old Mill) by taking out here. This is a heavily fished stretch of river, but no objections were raised to either paddling or portaging in March 2009.
After setting off again from the weir pool the tributary River Enbourne enters from the right at which point a tree has grown horizontally across the river from the left bank. This can be limboed, but caution should be taken in higher flows.

Low branches are OK in low Autumn water levels, but might cause concern in higher levels; the view looking downstream from the point of confluence between the Rivers Enborne (right) and Kennet (left).
The river then continues to where it is joined from the left by the main channel flowing from the sluices by the mill, before continuing on under the A340 Aldermaston Bridge.

The view back upstream from just below A340 bridge over the River Kennet...

...and the view looking downstream, mid-October low water levels.
Across the A340 from The Old Mill grounds there is a public footpath close to the river downstream on the right at Aldermaston Bridge (there is no room to park in front of the stile as you would block the gate).

The public footpath south of the A340 is accessed by the kissing gate to the right...

... and a new sign appeared on the gate at the end of the summer in 2009.
You would have to deviate a few meters from the footpath across Wasing Estate land if you wanted to put-in/take-out here, and you have been warned of the Estate's view of paddlers.

Potential emergency put-in/take-out below Aldermaston Bridge.

The river now flows for about 1.5kms without obstruction until Padworth Mill, and becomes wide enough that, by keeping river right, you are easily able to avoid the lines of any anglers fishing from the left bank around SU 596 663.

There is a footpath on the right bank from the stile that marks the start of the RDAA beat, which makes for easy portaging...

...should you not be able to get through one of the larger tree falls (July '09)...

...and one from September '09.

Padworth Mill.

The river next divides at SU 605 665, just before Padworth Mill. The main river flows left before there is a further division of the river into a number of channels. To the left the river flows through a small sluice weir (with the entry flow to a fish farm on the further left) and under Padworth Mill and the end of Mill Lane, whilst the middle and right-hand flows are also blocked by impassible sluice weirs, with any opportunity for portaging blocked by private land (although there is another fish ladder).

Sluice weir on the central channel of the left hand fork of the main river at Padworth Mill. The public footpath crosses the weir.

The main channel continues downstream of the weir, where it is bordered on both sides by inaccessible private land. Note the bridge downstream connecting the private islands, and the old concrete blockhouse that houses a derelict hydroelectric generator.

The view downstream at lower water levels (mid-Oct. '09).

The right hand and smaller offshoot of the river is, I believe, known as the Padworth Stream, and it is also made impassible by a double sluice gate and weir.

The view from the bankside get out of the first sluice on the southernmost right hand branch of the River Kennet where it divides before Padworth Mill.

The first upstream sluice from the second downstream sluice…

...and looking downstream of the second sluice with apparently inpenetrable low tree overgrowth above the weir.

Below the bridge, looking back up at the weir and sluices from the left bank at low water levels, with plenty of headroom below the overhead trees...

...and again, looking downstream to the in-river debris below the overgrowing branches.

A month later (July '09) the view is of a clearer channel.

To portage around Padworth Mill you have two options. For both, exit the river right where it first forks, and just before the sluice weir on the southern channel. Carry your boat along the short section of footpath to where it joins the public footpath transversing from left and right.

If you turn right you cross a small style into a field (which the footpath crosses), and immediately turn left following the edge of the river. By getting carefully through the barbed wire fence you could then seal launch back in, or by walking a bit further alongside the bank there are shallower slopes beyond where this branch rejoins the main channel. Beware of fishermen on this privately bordered stretch, but be careful of getting back onto the river too early as this section often contains fallen trees which completly block the high banked passage that makes portaging difficult (March 2009).

Looking downstream past the weir is an area prone to being blocked by fallen trees in both winter...

...and summer...

...but you might get lucky, as blockages are periodically cleared (July 2009).

A little further downstream this blockage had required a portage in March '09 and was still blocked in June...

...but by July it had been cleared at no little effort.
If you turn left on the public footpath you will need to cross the small bridges over the weirs and past the fish ladder before squeezing down the narrow pathway between The Mill House and the fish farm (not good if you’re in anything bigger than a single kayak).

The footpath past the fish ladder… shown without any flow in September (and clearly revealing the plain baffles of the Larinier design). When asked why it was in the same condition a month later the Environment Agency responded that "the pass is closed due to the low flow of water. [...] this is a temporary measure in place to help the trout stock."

The public footpath continues over the sluices above Mill House and down a narrow alley.

Looking back up the footpath between the drive for The Mill House and the fish farm boundary wall from Mill Lane.

At Mill Lane turn right and then left along the public footpath which passes alongside the north bank of the river’s northern-most channel.

Looking back upstream from the left bank of the main channel below the houses at Padworth Mill you can just make out the former hydroelectric generator building.

Re-enter via a number of anglers' steps and slopes to the bank just before and below where the southern channel rejoins the main river.

Looking back upstream from below where the river’s north and south channels rejoin.

Looking south from the left bank across the river towards Padworth College.

Mill Lane is unmade and heavily potholed, but you can drive several hundred metres down (before parking and continuing on the public footpath) by turning off the A340 at Aldermaston Wharf south of the lifting road bridge over the canal.

Padworth to Ufton

Once Padworth Mill has been negotiated then the river Kennet flows unimpeded for 500m to Padworth Lane bridge, with the public footpath continuing alongside this section.

Looking back upstream from the public footpath above Padworth Lane bridge on a misty winter morning...

...and a summer afternoon.

Looking downstream from the public footpath above Padworth Lane bridge.

Looking downstream from Padworth Lane bridge.

Beyond Padworth Lane bridge there is no access on either bank of the river except by RDAA members. Whilst generally taciturn (except for one elderly gent who called out to state his view that this was not a navigable stretch, in blatent contradiction to what his eyes were showing him), the anglers here were less interested in kayakers than the several pairs of swans on this section when paddled in March 2009. There are a couple of wide eroded pools edged by pastures here, where the horses edged cautiously forward to investigate the unusual sight on the river. Other strange sights have also been reported along the river banks here.

Upstream from the RDAA Upper Benyons car park (no public access to either bank until back up above Padworth Lane bridge).

Downstream from the RDAA Upper Benyons car park (no public access to either bank until after Ufton Bridge).

At SU 616 682 there is a stream off to the left which flows round to rejoin the river at SU 617 684.
Just before the point where the loop rejoins the main channel there is an old concrete bridge connecting to the island formed by this short loop. The bridge has partially collapsed on the southern bank (river right), and in March 2009 the bridge had collected enough debris to block passage except for a tight squeeze through on the extreme left.

Above the bridge the debris had not been cleared by June 2009...

...but the tight passage river left could still be seen from below the bridge.

It is now only a short distance through wooded banks to Ufton Bridge.