Monday, 15 December 2008

5. Ufton to Garston Lock


It is not possible to travel from Ufton Bridge to Garston Lock without travelling on the canal for at least a short length. There are also two points where the river detours from the canal and which are blocked to through access by large, former mill buildings and enclosed private grounds, but there is a narrow back-stream run that ends up at a playspot.

Ufton Bridge

The River Kennet rejoins the canal just downstream of the road bridge at Ufton. It is just about possible for a couple of cars to park next to the RDAA car park at SU 618 686, if you want to put-in or take out here. From the convergence paddling 640m east will bring you to Tyle Mill.

Looking back upstream to Ufton Bridge. Limited car parking above the slanting rails in the left of the image.

...slightly further downstream but still looking back the canal separates to the right of the picture.

Tyle Mill

From the canal the entrance to Tyle Mill warns of weirs ahead.

As for the above image with a bit more summer growth.

The river entrance to Tyle Mill.

The southern canalside edge of Tyle Mill is fenced against intrusion.
The river separates to the left at Tyle Mill, but unfortunately the eponymous building sits across the main watercourse in the grounds of this private residence. There is a separate stream that flows in a winding pattern through the grounds and bypasses the Mill, but it is regulated by sluices which cannot be portaged, and so the only way forward here is to backtrack to the canal.

Upstream to Tyle Mill from the road bridge at its eastern periphery (when the trees have leaves)...

...through to the autumn...

...and on to the winter when the leaves have dropped.

Tyle Mill in mid-December 2009.

Just below Sulhamstead Lock and swing bridge the river rejoins the canal.

Looking downstream from the road bridge at Tyle Mill with a fallen tree obstruction in June 2009...

...but cleared again by mid-October 2009.

The river exits from Tyle Mill where the left hand bank is a private RDAA fishing beat...

...and returns to the canal (looking back upsteam from the the towpath of the canal which flows from left to right in the foreground of this photo).

There is a British Waterways car park to your left over the canal as you head south on the road from the A4 [SU 626 692]. There used to be a height barrier to the entrance here but this has been removed, as has the pay-and-display ticket machine.

The entrance to the British Waterways public car park at Tyle Mill.

Sulhamstead Weir and Drapers Osier Bed Stream

A further 600m along the canal from Tyle Mill the Kennet separates at Penstock, with the river flowing off to the left on a 940m loop before rejoining the canal 650m further downstream.

Above Sulhamstead Weir...

... and the crude anti-scour rocks and debris below Sulhamstead Weir (Nov. '08).

The lower water levels of July '09...

...had not been replenished by mid-October 2009...

...but were improving by mid-December 2009 (view from the right bank).

To access this section you can make an easy portage to the left before the sluice and fish ladder to avoid Sulhamstead Weir.

Get-out just before the sluice and fish ladder.

Put-in again just below the weir from the public footpath.

Alternatively, it is possible to shoot the weir. The water level and the amount of debris caught by the bridge structure and the rocks below will influnce where you can get through, but I've seen the second gap across from the fish ladder (on the left as you approach the weir) run successfully.

Thereafter the only hazards are fallen trees, some of which nearly span the river, but these are usually passable with care.

Tree fall obstruction is common on this section, and appears to be a year round hazard.

Caution should be taken as the flow is increased especially by comparison with the canal above the weir, and some trees easily span the waterway...

...although this was the only obstruction that might have required portaging by mid-December 2009.

This section is also reasonably popular with fishermen who access it from Wigmore Lane near Theale, crossing the railway on the public footpath. Note that angling forums have reported periodic but persistant vadalism of vehicles parked in Wigmore Lane.

The public footpath leads back to the weir, river left, whilst a track also continues round to the start of Draper's Osier Bed Stream; watch out for other peaceful residents in this area.

Treefall continues around this section...


About 100m before the river rejoins the canal, a new wooden footbridge appears on the left. This marks the recently completed work of the Environment Agency in building a new fish ladder between the Kennet to Draper's Osier Bed Stream [1]. An Osier bed is where willows were planted for basket making (salix viminalis being the favourite species), although I have no idea who Draper was.

Unlike many of the fish passes on the Kennet this one has not been covered over, and the entrance under the footbridge would be sufficient to slip through quite easily, before bouncing and scraping down. From a paddling perspective the later addition of rock lines across the ladder would mean that entry would now probably have to be acheived via a portage or by shooting the upcoming weir.

The top of the fish ladder rising from Draper's Osier Bed Stream not long after its completion at the end of 2008.

The entrance tunnel somewhat obscurred by late August '09.

By July 2009 the vegetation had also grown up nicely around the fish ladder...

...and rocks had been added making this a boat-batering descent option.

Looking back upstream at the line of the fish pass in mid-December 2009.

Approaching the end of the fish ladder...

...which by mid-October had developed a shingle spit at the bottom...

...and was still pretty shallow by mid-December 2009.

A few meters beyond the entrance to the fish ladder is a sloping weir that marks the start of Draper's Osier Bed Stream. This is probably shootable in the middle as the wooden planks that form the footbridge over the weir are quite high, but be careful of the angle iron protruberence that sits in the center of the weir lip.

Above the weir at the start of Draper's Osier Bed Stream with reasonable water levels in November 2008.

Mind the angle iron fixed in the middle of the central channel (which is your only choice when water levels drop below the side sills (July '09))...

...and over the edge to Draper's Osier Bed Stream.

Below the weir at the start of Draper's Osier Bed Stream (the pool is apparently also known as "The Little Penlocks"), with all three sill slopes flowing, although the deeper central channel is probably the best choice...

...and it's the only choice in low water periods, although...

...once the leg of the angle iron is exposed (Oct. '09 in this image) it really is getting too low to take this route.
If you do have any access concerns here Martin Slater MP and friends show that it is OK to paddle in this water in the image here.
Draper's Osier Bed Stream now runs as a narrow, steep banked gully, away from the river in a north-easterly direction for about 1.6km (1 mile). The high banks obscure views of the flooded gravel pit lakes on either side of the stream, but whilst it's therefore not a particularly scenic run, it does bypass a length of canal. Initially quite shallow with gravel bottomed sections visible, before deepening as the developing 'tree-slalom' course becomes gradually more obstructed. It was just possible to get through in March 2009 without resorting to saws, but is a section probable best avoided in the river is running unusually high. Having run underneath Station Road at the southern edge of Theale, it turns southwards (through some more tree obstacles) for less than 200m, and then curves back on its north-easterly trajectory before feeding into a later section of separated river just above Barble Bar.

Upstream from the Station Road bridge that crosses Draper's Osier Bed Stream.

If you ignore the diversion of Draper's Osier Bed Stream, the River Kennet returns to the canal past a large pillbox on the right, and from there it's less than a kilometer to the start of a the next diversion.

Sheffield Mill
At Bonsal Point the River Kennet forks left pass the sign which warns "NO ENTRY Dangerous Weir Keep Right ". The island property which begins here also displays a number of signs around its perimeter warning of CCTV and guard dogs, designed to protect the privacy of owner Kate Bush. This is yet another path of the River Kennet that is effectively blocked to navigation by private land ownership and sluices. Once within the boundaries of Sheffield (or Shenfield) Mill the river separates again, flowing forward to a restriction at a former mill building, and left as the main channel over a sluice/weir before sweeping right below the gardens of three modern private houses river left. The two flows exit under contiguous bridges on Station Road at SU 646 705, and join back together into a single watercourse. Unfortunately the strip of land between the river and the canal to the south also has private housing built on it, and similarly, there is no access to the northern left bank.
In late November 2006 the weir at Sheffield Mill collapsed. A surge of water passed down the river past Barbel Bar, and flowed back into the Navigation below Garston Lock to temporarily flood areas from Burghfield Mill down towards the Thames. The rush of water was sufficient to sink a work-flat boat and cause limited polution at Southcote, whilst the loss of water to the canalised stretch between Sulhampstead Lock and Sheffield Lock caused the closure of the stretch between Sulhampstead Swing Bridge and Sheffield Lock for some months.

More interestingly, from the view point of today's paddler, is that it was initially believed that the weir was in private ownership and in January 2007 it was reported that the "agent for the owner" was sorting out the design and build for a replacement of the weir. By March 2007 the view had changed, based on the understanding that British Waterways had inherited the 1874 responsibility for the weir that had been retained by the original navigation company when the land had been sold to the then mill owner. The estimated cost of repair at that time of the 21st century collapse was £250,000.00; it would be interesting to know if public finances were spent in ensuring the maintenance of this position.
Possession of a British Waterways licence for navigation by canoe on the Kennet does not (according to BW) include access to Sheffield Mill, by dint of the fact that the riverine sections fall under the remit of the Environment Agency. Coincidentally, the Environment Agency own the fish passes along the Kennet, and where they cross private land the EA holds a 99-year lease of that land.
It you'd like to own this property it went up for sale (as Shenfield Mill) in November 2009, with an asking price of £3.5m - £3.65m.

Approaching Bonsal Point, with the weir just visible in the center of the picture.

Warning signs on Bonsal Point.

The view looking downstream from the new weir.

The main house at Shenfield Mill, river left from the smaller southern flowing arm of the river beyond the weir...

...which comes to a halt for navigation at this building.

Looking upstream from the bridge at Station Road to the reduced southern channel that flows through Sheffield Mill.

Looking upstream from the bridge at Station Road to the northern channel that carries the main river around Sheffield Mill.

Downstream from the road bridge below Sheffield Mill.
If, for some strange reason, you decide that it is imperative to rejoin the river as soon as possible after Sheffield Mill there is a culvert stream that empties to the north of this property, and by descending from the small road bridge at SU 645 745 you could access Draper's Osier Bed Stream as it begins its final turn back towards the river.

Climb down here...

...put in on Draper's Osier Bed Stream.

Alternatively, drive to Arrowhead Road, just south of Theale railway station [SU 649 708].

Double yellow lines have been recently extended, but there's still free parking spaces either side of the road. For an easy put in look out for the green wheelie bin and the arch under the trees, and head through to the river bank where you will find the point where Draper's Osier Bed Stream rejoins the River Kennet. There are some low scrapes at the bank (and lots of litter - obviously the bin was too subtle a hint), and depending where you put-in there are some fallen tree hazards to be avoided, but it's now only a few meters to Barbel Bar. You should have no access issues here, although you may encounter fishing from this bank as this was claimed to be an unrestricted beat.

Entrance to river bank from Arrowhead Road.

The last few meters of Draper's Osier Bed Stream...

...and looking back upstream on the River Kennet with Draper's Osier Bed Stream joining in the right of the image.

Tree hazards above Barbel Bar (early January 2009)...

...which remained in place long enough for new growth to appear on the root ball soil clumps (May 2009).

The same tree from a different angle, but clearly showing the navigation hazard.

By March '09 another tree had fallen almost fully acoss the river just below this point. River left, between the huge root ball and the bank appeared to initially offer the best route through, but the tree had dragged a taut length of barbed wire out as it had fallen, presenting a potentially lethal hazard. By taking the river right gap a quick paddle to the left was required to avoid another smaller clump, which then meant quickly scooting back over to approach the weir from the right side. Speaking to an employee of the Environment Agency in May '09 they were hoping to remove it soon...

...and sure enough, by June the bank had been scraped for access,...

... the old barbed wire fencing removed...

...and the river cleared immediately above the weir (looking downstream from the left bank).

The view upstream immediately above the weir in June 2009. The blockage of the Kennet by tree fall is a potential hazard requiring caution at any time of the year...

...and whilst still clear of trees by the end of November '09 a circular steel cattle feed cage had been added to the water river right just above Barbel Bar.

Barbel Bar and Arrowhead

Approaching the weir at late summer low water levels.

It's also possible to put in by seal launching immediately above Barbel Bar weir. The weir has dropped around 4cm from left to right over its 15.9m width (which also tells you what length of throwline you might need if setting up safety from the accessible left bank whilst others are playing), so you may find that it's slightly more inclined to release on the right if you are just passing through.

Comments posted in a thread on the UKRGB website in Setember '09 reported that the EA did not approve of running the weir.

The duck conveniently surfed through to add scale, and also to indicate the easiest release point on the weir.

Low water levels in summer can cause the wave to all but disappear (late August '09).
For an alternative image of the weir washed out during high flows click here.
Barbel Bar is a crump weir, which , as you may notice in some of the linked images and videos below, means that you can stand mid river just behind the weir crest for photographic and filming purposes even in relatively high flows

Loads of images of play on the weir from Bexboater here and here.

Two video clips of play on Barbel Bar here: here and here.

There is a take-out river left just below the end of the weir-side wall on the Arrowhead road side. Getting out any further below this point could be difficult due to the barbed wire fence along the bank river left.

The River Kennet now turns south at the start of the Holy Brook stream at Arrowhead point, before rejoining the canal just below Garston Lock.

From this point there are fewer routes of alternative interest to the canal, which means that Barble Bar or the public car park near Sheffield Lock (from Garston Lock it's a 740m paddle back along the canal to the latter location) can mark a convenient point to end. However, if you are touring on down to Reading and the Thames, there's still a few diversions worth considering.

The River Kennet in the background re-enters the canal, in the foreground, below Garston Lock.