Monday, 15 December 2008

6. Garston Lock to Fobney

Introduction [this section has not been paddled by the author of this blog].

This section also requires passage along canalised lengths of the River Kennet in order to access some of the potential detours, which will probably only be of interest as part of a longer tour rather than as sections worth travelling to in their own right.

On leaving the river past Arrowhead and rejoining the canal below Garston Lock, there is a 1.4km stretch which passes under the M4 motorway bridge, followed by a footbridge (where the footpath crosses from right to left), before reaching Burghfield Mill.

Burghfield Mill.

The river separates from the canal to the right at SU 668 709.

What appears to be a somewhat decrepit weir is probably not shootable, with debris collected at the top and a rock pile at the bottom (and a fish ladder to the left). As with the weirs at The Old Mill at Aldermaston and Sheffield Mill, Burghfield Weir has also failed in recent years. However, it was repaired by a different owner than in the other two instances: Thames Water.

Above the weir and fish ladder at Burghfield Mill, secondary branch to the right.

With the weir requiring portaging, the temptation is therefore to take a secondary branch to the right of the weir. However this leads directly to the 5 storey redbrick ediface of Burghfield Mill, in front of which the river tumbles over a sluice as it turns left in front of the building, as well as being channelled under the renovated residential property. As it was in 1935.

It would only be possible to portage around the front of Burghfield Mill by crossing private land in full view of the flats that now comprise this 5 storey building, and any attempt to detour around the private estate by getting out river right means crossing inpenetrable and heavily wooded land before encountering privately owned former gravel pit lakes that comprise the southern boundary of this property. Since the stream that flows out from under the mill is barely worth the title (and is certainly not worth the access effort required to paddle it) , the only real option for navigation would be to follow the main river course beyond the weir. To get around this you would need to exit right of the weir by the old pill box, and re-enter the main flow which would lead you between a heavily wooded island to the left and gardens of the expensive houses on the island to the right.

The tranquil River Kennet from the back garden of a Dewe Lane property at Burghfield Mill.

The main course of the River Kennet below Burghfield Mill, heavily wooded on the island river left, with this image taken from the bottom of the garden in Dewe Lane, on the island river right

Ditto the above caption.

At the back of Burghfield Mill there is access to the last few meters of the river from the public footpath that continues along the southern bank of the canal after the towpath crosses to the north bank. This footpath connects to Mill Lane at the point where the gates into Burghfield Mill and Dewe Lane are located. There is limited parking in lay-by lengths along the Mill Lane.

Dewe Lane is the private access road to Burghfield Mill from Mill Lane.

The public footpath to the right of the Burghfield Mill road entrance.

Possible put-in/take-out at the back of Burghfield Mill, looking back upstream to the exit of the main channel in the center of the picture.

Looking back upstream, the river to the left rejoins the canal below Burghfield Lock to the right.

Once past this section the river rejoins the canal just below Burghfield Lock, and it is approximately 660m to the next detour

Burghfield Bridge.

Just after the Cunning Man pub is passed on the right you reach Burghfield Bridge (SU 681 707). If you can get under the left hand arches of the road bridge you could paddle the 360m around Burghfield Island, but, unless you want to look at all the canal boats that are moored there, there is little point.

The low arches on the left at Burghfield Bridge lead off around Burghfield Island.

Passing underneath the bridge on the canal there is an access point to Burghfield Road immediately on the right. You can also park for free here.

A further 390m down the canal (or across the canal from where the river rejoins the canal beyond Burghfield Island) the river falls over Southcote Weir to the right (SU 685 709).

Looking back upstream, canal to the left, river exiting around Burghfield Island to the right.


Southcote Weir is a seven gate sluice to the right of the canal at SU 685 709.

Southcote Weir sluice gates (with the fish ladder located upstream on the right hand edge).

Below Southcote Weir.

Signs on and around the weir warn not to swim here due to deep cold water.

Portage could be made by getting out on the canal towpath on the right before the fish ladder. A public footpath turns south just before and around the side of the weir pool.

The put-in to the right of the weir pool has a public footpath running alongside, but, at least in normal and low water would require a seal launch.

The river divides around a small island at the bottom of the weir pool with the main flow to the left, and the public footpath continuing river right alongside this 1km run. The land to the left is all private property. Along this section you may encounter fallen trees and other debris,...

Looking downstream from the weir to where the river divides around the island with the main channel to the left.

Looking back towards the weir from just above the smaller river channel, here shown at low summer levels...
...and when it gets even lower you can walk out into the pool as the spit enlarges. The right hand channel is now only a few inches deep.
An empty trap, but there are crayfish to be had here (you need a licence).
The left hand channel is just about navigable at summer low water levels.

Looking back upstream towards the bottom of the weir pool as the main river channel flows around the small island.

Strainers should be anticipated along this stretch...

..which appears to exhibit a propensity for fallen trees whatever the season.
Above a typical partial bar which channels the flow to the left...

...and below the same bar.

...but the river should be navigable. It's also very peaceful here.

Not the best capture, but this picture at least demonstrates the sort of wildlife you might encounter.

The river widens as the bank depth lessens.

At SU 692 711 it flows into the pool below Southcote Sluice (which is separate and distinct from Southcote Weir), where there is another fish ladder leading back up to the canal. There was a report of a close encounter with an otter here in September 2009.

From the south bank of the weir pool looking NW, the river enters in the center of the picture.

Southcote Sluice, with the fish ladder to the left.

Continuing across the pool the river leads down under a footbridge to rejoin the canal below Southcote Lock.

Looking back upstream from where the river exits the pool below Southcote Sluice...

...before passing under the lower of the two footbridges in this image, and rejoining the canal which flows under the higher Milkmaid's footbridge at Southcote Lock and Mill.


Travelling down the canal below Southcote Lock you pass under a brick railway bridge...

The river separates from the canal to the right after this rail bridge.

... before the river makes its final separation after a short distance, where it divides to the right above Fobney Lock. A warning sign is mounted on the posts that bar the river to larger craft and support the rope barrier with good reason.

River right, canal left, take-out for portage in the middle...

...and looking left across to the rope bar that warns of Fobney Weir from the take-out point.

If you were to travel past the ropes and posts the noise might warn you of the impending drop, but from water level the duck bill design of the weir might not be so clear. Fobney Weir is an architecturally unusual and photogenic piece of engineering, but it would be lethal to paddlers.

Difficult to discern the hazard until you are on top of it.

Not so hard to understand the danger from the left of the bridge...

..or from the right of the bridge.

Looking back upstream to the weir from the river right at January water levels...

...and July water levels.

Looking back upstream to the weir from the river left.

Portage the weir by taking out on the point where the river divides from the canal (the river bank right has a depth of reeds that need to be crossed if you wanted to take-out here),...

Take-out above the weir. As this is much more overgrown with reeds in the summer it would be easier to take out slightly to the left.

...and cross the bridge before turning left to a shingle scrape in the bank on the right of the weir pool.

The put-in below the weir, river right, January and July (couldn't decide which image to pick).

It's also possible to put in to the left of the weir pool below the fish ladder, but you are more likely to encounter anglers on this side.

Put-in below the weir river left.

The main flow of the river is to the left with summer reed growth on the right.

Looking back upstream from the bottom of the weir pool in January...

...and in July.

From downstream of Fobney Weir it's approximately 830m down to the junction below Fobney Lock. River right the trees tend to overhang the water, and there are also some midstream obstructions, but nothing that can't be bypassed. River left are lots of cuts in the embankment for anglers, and a footpath that runs the full length of this section.

Typical obstruction (January 2009).

There are steps cut in the embankment for anglers along the whole length of this section.

The river and the canal rejoin for the final time downstream of Fobney lock next to the Thames Water pumping station (SU 705 710).
Although rare, please note that users of the Kennet are not necessarily immune to the plague of anti-social elements that benight many parts of our country, as reported here.

The river and canal become one for the final time at Fobney, with the river detour entering under the bridge in the foreground.

This is an easy place to get to by leaving the M4 at junction 12, and heading north into Reading on the A33. Pass the Madjeski stadium and turn left into Island Road. Follow this to the civic amenities site and turn sharp right as the road becomes single track. Plenty of free parking at the end of the road, and it's right next to the bridge over the river.

Approaching Fobney Lock from the parking point at the end of Island Road.