Monday, 15 December 2008

The Kennet through Reading to the Thames

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

This final section of the River Kennet runs for 4.5km (2.8 miles) from Fobney, through the commercial urban environment of Reading, to the confluence with the Thames, and has been primarily included in order to complete the guide for anyone who's planning a tour of the entire lower reach. County Weir, and, to a lesser extent Blake's Weir, are playspots in their own right.

Fobney to County Weir

Below Fobney Lock the Kennet continues uneventfully east for 500m, past the water treatment works beyond the footpath on the north bank (you’ll know where by the smell), until it reaches the A33 road bridge. There is a possible take-out here but there's no convenient parking at this location.

Upstream of the A33 road bridge.

Immediately below the bridge the Foudry Brook joins from the right and the Kennet then swings to the north.

The Kennet flows beneath the A33 road bridge and is joined from the south by the Foudry Brook.

The Kennet passes under the bridge that crosses into Rose Kiln Lane retail park, and travels on for about 1.4km to the A4 Berkeley Avenue road bridge, past the allotments that can be accessed from Elgar Lane South, where there is a footpath running river right to just past the BMX track and childrens play area at Waterloo Meadows (it's possible to park in front of the entrance to the allotments). The tow path is on the left bank.

The gardens of housing along Elgar Road river right, and the towpath bordered by industrial units river left.

For a short section it seems like nearly everyone living on this street is a paddler.

An outflow from the Holy Brook enters the Kennet from the left.

Downstream from an outflow from the Holy Brook you can just make out a blue "For Sale" sign across the water... get a view and river access like this (with a 3 bedroom terrace thrown in) would cost you around £230k (in May 2009).

From the Berkeley Avenue bridge to the Inner Distribution Road (IDR) bridge is less than 250m, and a further 135m brings you to County Weir.

From the beneath the Berkeley Avenue road bridge the high banks before the IDR road bridge make for difficult access (not to mention the private properties and overgrowing trees along the right bank).

Approaching the IDR bridge.
County Lock & Weir are located at SU 714 729, 2.5km (1.6 miles) from Fobney Lock.

Approaching County Lock and Weir after the IDR bridge.

Just above the weir is a series of five floating cylindrical barriers.
It may be possible to get past the barrage with care at either side...

...but the central spaces are barred to passage.
For a description of County Weir as a playspot see page 101-102 of the BCU publication "English White Water" (preview available here) or visit the UKRGB website guide here.

County Weir from the right bank (reasonanly high water level); in flood conditions the weir will wash out (see here and here).

County Weir from the right bank (at more normal lower levels.

County Weir from the left bank (higher water level - for a wash out see here).

County Weir from the left bank (at a more normal level).

Downstream of County Weir, heading towards the Bridge Street bridge and The Oracle shopping centre. Note the red traffic light at the start of the controlled section.
If you have a Facebook ID then there is set of images of paddlers on County Weir in 2007 here.

Bridge Street bridge marks the narrow entrance into The Oracle shopping centre section.
Country Weir to Blake's Weir.
Below County Weir is a section of the navigation for which passage is controlled by the push of a button. Whether travelling upstream or downstream pressing the pedestrian crossing-style button at either end of the restricted waterway gives you 12 minutes to make your way through The Oracle shopping centre, built on the site of the old Courage Brewery. This is obviously an ideal place to take your partner paddling as the opportunities for them to spend your hard earned cash will be severely restricted (especially when moving upstream). You should, of course, be confident that your partner is competent to handle this section, as a swim could result in the need to exit the river next to a plethora of potentially horrendous 'retail therapy' temptations.

There are two pedestrian foot bridges crossing the river at height (from which you will be pointed at) as you pass through The Oracle, as well as bricked and hand-railed embankments (from which you will be pointed at), before you escape 'the Brewery Gut' as you pass under the bridges that carry the road at Yield Hall Place and that join London Street with Duke Street.

Immediately you enter The Oracle beneath Bridge Street bridge there is a potential entrapment to the right although this is an outflow from a protected channel that flows from just above the lock.
The Kennet runs right through the middle of The Oracle shopping centre; passing under the first of two pedestrian footbridges.

The Kennet continues on through the middle of The Oracle...

...and, after passing under the second pedestrian footbridge, the river exits this stretch under the Yield Hall Place bridge and High Bridge.

The end of the controlled section (or the start if you're paddling upstream).

Looking back upstream to the footbridge that advises of British Waterway's welcome to "The Kennet and Avon Canal".
The detour channel (see below) leading towards Reading Abbey.

The red brick A329 Watlington Street bridge is followed by the stone built King's Road bridge (which replaced an earlier cast iron bridge). Note the top of the old Huntley & Palmer building over the bridge - the navigation provided smooth transportation for the company's biscuits.

At SU 720 733 there is a 625m detour channel of the river to the left. It passes under another King's Road bridge and then, turning right, flows past Reading prison on the left, and on under the A329 bridge. It continues around a small island, and out under the Gas Works Road bridge, where it then rejoins the main course above Blake's Weir (SU 725 734).

A channel of the river turns to the left towards Reading Abbey at SU 720 733.
It then turns 90 degrees to the right and flows alongside HM Prison Reading (best known for its incarceration of Oscar Wilde and the Ballad of Reading Gaol) river left, towards the A329 road bridge.
Under the private footbridge, beyond the island (and Gas Works Road bridge), the detour rejoins the main course above Blake's Weir.
Blake's Weir is more like two separate weirs set at 90 degrees to each other across the flow. The section of weir that is connected to the north bank is impassable, but, despite the rope guard, the section that separates the canalised waterway above Blake's Lock and island could be run in the centre if you were to keep your paddles in. Alternatively, the is an official portage point over the island just before Blake's Lock.

Approaching Blake's Weir, impassible to the left of the trees, possible to the right (where the white posts are just visible).

Blake's Weir from across the canal... possible to shoot in the center.
Paddler friendly portage below Blake's Weir/above Blake's Lock.

Looking upstream from the left bank below Blake's Lock...

...with the runable section in the center.
For information on Blake's Weir as a playspot see page 102-103 of the BCU publication "English White Water" (preview available here), or visit the UKRGB website guide here.
Blake's Weir to The Thames
From Blake's Lock down to the Thames the River Kennet is managed by the Environment Agency (well at least so far as enforcement of boating activity it starts here), hence a separate licence from the upstream British Waterways licence is required (unless you are a BCU member, in which case you're covered for both authorities).

Passing under a high level footbridge, a two railway bridges, a pipe bearing gantry, and a pedestrian footbridge is all that is required to reach the Thames.

Below the high level footbridge looking downstream from the right bank towards the first of two railway bridges.

The River Thames at Kennet Mouth [SU 730 738] from Horseshoe bridge. Turn right downstream, and take-out at the Wokingham Waterside Centre.