Monday, 15 December 2008

The middle reach of the River Kennet


As with the upper reach, it is probably not worth the effort to try and tour along the middle reach of the River Kennet, at least until Benham Weir. It is along this section that the River Kennet first flows into the Kennet and Avon Canal, although there are still a few miles where it maintains a separate course down to Newbury, but these are restricted for through-paddling in terms of both access to and from the river, and access for necessary portages.

Hungerford to Marsh Benham

Hungerford doesn't appear to particularly welcome paddlers, and paddlers probably won't be too upset about the fact.

Eddington Bridge (or Kennet Bridge as it is also known) marks the start of the middle reach of the River Kennet. You can park by the bridge [SU 341690] just off the A4 to the east of the town and enjoy the view which includes barbed wire and signs proclaiming "Hungerford Fishery Private Fishing No Public Access".

Above Eddington Bridge. Note the barbed wire that has been installed across the entire span of the bridge.

At low water levels there's not enough water to float a boat under the bridge...

...and levels are usually closer to this condition than the potential flood levels indicated by the gauge.

Downstream of Eddington Bridge.

There are no public footpaths alongside the River Kennet as it flows for around 1.3km in a south-easterly direction between private properties at the north eastern edge of Hungerford, past Berkshire Trout Farm to the south, over a diagonally transverse weir, and around the back of Denford Millhouse. Another small branch flows under the Millhouse, exiting just north of Denford Gate. This location can be reached by car by turning south off the A4 between Denford Manor and Lower Denford cottages [SU 352 686]. It would be possible to put-in downstream of the Millhouse, but note that the parking at Denford Gate immediately adjacent to the river here is restricted to Hungerford Fishery - park beyond the old pillbox over the cattle grid when heading south (room for about 3-4 cars).

Downstream of Denford Mill...

...the river flows away through some heavily wooded banks.

Public parking is free at Denford Gate.

If you continue further south along the road past Denford Gate you immediately reach a stone bridge, under which flows the combined River Dun and an offshoot stream of the River Kennet. Upstream of the bridge there is no public access to the river.

Upstream from the Bridge at Denford Gate there is no public access by Dun Mill.

Downstream of the bridge is another potential put-in, with the river flowing adjacent to a piece of publically accessible land called The Gatehouse, which separates the river here from the canal [SU 352 682]. Access to the river here is partially fenced off (and the river is also strung accross with more barbed wire under the bridge) with a sign that states "PRIVATE FISHING Fishing, Boating, Swimming, Paddling and any entry or interference with the water by unauthorised persons or their dogs or horses is strictly forbidden and offenders may be prosecuted".

The River Dun, combined with a small branch of the River Kennet, flows away from the road bridge towards the reunion with the small channel of the River Kennet that flows under Denford Mill. The public land known as The Gatehouse is on the right of the image.

As above, in winter 'plumage'.

Below the bridge at The Gatehouse, looking back upstream. Note the barbed wire to prevent access at the river side and the barbed wire under the bridge.

Following this point the outflow from Denford Mill joins the southernmost river course after only 100m or so,...

River Kennet branches reconnect above Common Portdown. The small stream in the foreground can dry out in the summer, but you can access the riverside path via styles just below the access warning sign and below the confluence.

The view from the bankside footpath, river right, mid-Autumn '09 after limited rain.

...and continues in parallel to the canal until the end of Hungerford Common Portdown.

From the end of the Common Portdown there are no public rights of way by the river once the canal towpath swings away below the Avington Estate.

At SU 357 682 there is a low beam-and-handrail footbridge that effectively warns you that you are a) entering the private Avington Estate, and b) about 230m from a bridge topped sluice and weir.

Paddling here might require limboing this simple footbridge at normal water levels...

...but you'd barely need to duck your head if you chose to scrape the bottom off your boat in low levels... enter the waters that run through the Avington Estate.

Above the first sluice, bridge, and weir, which would require a portage over private grounds if paddling this section.

Below the first sluice, bridge, and small weir on the river through the Avington Estate.

The river then bends north to join with the main Kennet channel and drains that flow east after sweeping around the back of Denford Millhouse and separate further, before continuing east once again, past Avington Manor and another sluice. Note that there is no public access to the grounds of Avington Manor from the A4 (or anywhere else for that matter).

Several sluices take outflows off to both left and right on this section, with the south flowing diverted streams eventually re-merging to create a branch of the river that rejoins the main course at SU 372 678.

Looking back upstream from the right bank at SU 363 682...

...and looking downstream from the same point.

At SU 373 676 there is another of several private footbridges that cross the river to enable anglers to reach the mowed banks on either side of the Kennet.

Upstream of the bridge at SU 373 676...

...below the bridge from the south bank looking upstream,...

...and looking downstream.

A crayfish trap attests to an invasion of the Kennet's waters (see the post on "The Kennet at Thatcham").

The river divides again at SU 377 674, and the right fork flows under the railway to join the canal for the first time at SU 381 671, to the north-west of Kintbury. This point can, of course, be accessed from the canal towpath.

Looking back upstream from the bridge marking the inauspicicous start to the connection between the river and canal at the western edge of Kintbury.

It is easy to park in Kintbury at the British Waterways car park which lies adjacent to the canal. It used to be pay and display, but by September '09 the ticket machine and charging information sign had gone, so it now appears to be free.

The river temporarily has second thoughts about the association with the canal, and the still separate main channel left hand fork (north of the canal) flows over a sluice and then is further divided as it flows through Barton Court fishery. This private business has received substantial assistance from the Environment Agency and the Wild Trout Trust in refurbishing the river's banks and bed (see here), but whilst you can cross the river here over the two footbridges (SU 383 673 and SU 383 675) that carry a public footpath through the estate, plenty of signs make it clear that this is as close as you should be getting.


Downstream of the bridge at SU 383 673...

...with a sign noting appreciation of the tax-payer's contribution to the improvement of this habitat.

Upstream of the small bridge at SU 383 675...

...With another 'welcome' sign alongside the bank.

Downstream of the same bridge as above, with an additional sign in the tree in case you didn't get the message the first few times.

The same view at a reduced early autumn flow.

Although the various channels that flow through Barton Court and out under Station Road between the A4 and Kintbury might be considered sufficiently broad to paddle during higher flow rate periods, the access issues, seasonally reduced water levels, and the in-flow restrictions of small impassible bridges and sluices make the river impractical to navigation here (see the following three images).

Back on the canal just before Kintbury Lock there is a short deviation of the rive at SU 383 671, where it flows off to the right through Kintbury Mill stream and race, under the road bridge and around the southern perimeter of the Dundas Arms pub as a shallow channel, eventually rejoining the canal a few hundred meter further on. This channel has previously attracted complaints to British Waterways by residents of the conveted mill property as poor lock control practice can alledgedly deplete the flow to the point where it is "muddy and smelly". It's certainly not a paddling venue.
Beyond Barton Court and Kintbury, the Kennet is still a classic shallow chalk stream river, and continues as such down through the surrounding farmland. The gravelly bottomed river of the Kennet's branches below the hamlets of Wawcott and Halfway (in an area known as The Wilderness, which largely comprises of a fish farm belonging to Sir Richard Sutton's Settled Estates - see later in this post) has been considered to be a potentally optimum location for breeding salmon, and there has been considerable Environment Agency investment in the creation of artificial redds and the stocking of them with artificially fertilised eggs here (not to mention the millions of pounds invested in creating fish ladders all the way up the Thames and Kennet, as well as the huge sums spent on releasing between 15-20,000 juvenile salmon into Kennet and Lambourn waters in the late autumn or early winter every year).

Unfortunately, the scheme does not appear to be returning the hoped for results, and 2010 may well be the point where the future of this 30+ year project is called into doubt. What is less in question is whether the abandonment of the scheme would mean a more welcoming attitude to paddlers; the six major private fisheries along this reach will no doubt continue to exercise their restrictive access practices, which can be clearly seen as you continue down the river.

As mentioned, the various channels past Kintbury are not publically accessible, with the exception of a southern carrier that, passing under the railway line, runs parallel to the canal for several hundred meters.

Looking back upstream to where a carrier flows under the railway just east of Kintbury.

Paths have been cut through the reeds from the canal towpath to the carrier stream...

...that then flows eastward through fallen trees and overgrown banks...

...whilst occasionally reconnecting with other branches via drains.

Although it could easily be regarded as a 'main river' i.e. more than 3m wide for much of it's course, the carrier is shallow.

Travelling along the river from Barton Court would bring you to a footbridge at SU 394 677, but whilst there is a track running north to the A4 from here, it is private, and there is no right of way along it until you reach the cluster of houses that constitute the hamlet of Little Wawcott and a public footpath back to the A4.

No access down to the river by the road to Little Wawcott.

Similarly, turning south off the A4 at Halfway into Broad Lane should take you to the footbridge and ford at SU 408 679; but a metal gate bars access after only a short distance.

The river now turns to the south east and, having passed under the railway line, is joined at SU 412 672 by a channel from the left, which itself has been partially fed from the canal at Dreweat's Lock. The River Kennet maintains a separate channel until SU 417 670 where it joins the canal flowing under a footbridge that carries the tow path just below Copse Lock. Upstream of this bridge the land is marked as the private property of the Morewood Estate.

Approaching the canal...

...and looking back upstream from the canal towpath bridge.

This point sets the seal on the union between river and canal, despite a brief southward rebellion at SU 421 670...

The river branches to the right, with the canal to the left just above Hamstead Lock.
...through The Craven Fishery and past the grounds of Hamstead Mill. There is no access to the river at this point, and no portage without crossing private property.

Looking back upstream, the river flows towards you and away under your feet and Hamstead Mill, with diversionary sluices river left. By May 2009 three low barrages had been slung across the river just above the first sluice, but these were removed soon after.

The first sluice off the river unsurprisingly takes the bulk of the flow...

...whilst the second sluice is a quieter affair, but just as unrunable.

Under the road bridge at Hamstead Mill. At very low water levels rubble-like mounds break surface just before the arches.

The River Kennet then flows from the weirpool, under the road bridge, and, looking downstream, on through The Craven Fishery...

...which divides the river from the canal but provides no public access.

You can also walk along the public footpath which follows the road through Hamstead Park, but once again this does not provide for access down to the river. The small lakes caused by a dammed stream can be viewed before they flow out as a very minor, and definitely non-navigable tributary.
Marsh Benham to Newbury

A last valiant effort at separation is made by the river at SU 431 667, after it crosses the canal and then flows over a sluice away from the canal. To access the river from here - as it is perhaps the first stretch of the Kennet that might realistically be considered as paddleable - involves first parking alongside the road at Benham Marsh House. To get here from the A4 turn south into Milkhouse Lane at SU 426 682 and just follow the road over the railway crossing and on round to the canal bridge.

Parking alongside Benham Marsh House is free but limited. Pull in tight to the wall, but watch the hole at the entrance to the old pill box.
There is an easy put-in below Hamstead Lock.

The end of the concrete mooring below Hamstead Lock has fallen in creating an easy put-in, or simply seal launch down the grass slope.
After about 800m on the canal the river crosses from the bottom of The Craven Fishery on the right to Benham Weir on the left.

Looking back upstream the river exits from the left, with the canal on the right.

Looking back upstream to The Craven Fishery section. The posts mark the return of a drainage ditch/stream, but it is extremely shallow and completely overgrown.

There are three sluice gates either side of Benham Weir, but I've only ever seen the right side opened. It is possible to shoot the central weir sections if you duck your head. In May 2009 a considerable amount of weed and other debris had collected on the weir, and below the weir to the right, making it sensible to take the left hand side of the weir slope; the build up continued below the weir to the right and meant that paddling over from the left was the only realistic option by September '09. To evaluate the clearest route take a look from the bridge on top of the weir.

Paddling back upstream from the canal the river is barred by two low footbridges with metal mesh grilles that can be lowered into the flow.

The second gap from the left is a likely contender, but survey it yourself first.

From the towpath bridge across the weir the shallow brick sill is clearly visible.

Over the edge at Benham Weir. At low low levels you will have to haul yourself onto the sill in order to get over the threshold.

The view from the lip of the weir drop (which was obviously calm enough in terms of flow rate to let me get my camera out). Note the boarding on the far bank, which is in place to reduce erosion caused when the weir sluices are in higher states of release.

The flow down the weir at the start of autumn may be insufficient even to dislodge a determined duck (lean your head to the left to view this image).

To portage the weir and get from the canal down to the river, you would need to take-out alongside the towpath just before Benham Weir, and descend alongside the left side of the fish ladder. This is the second fish ladder (of 16) reached when travelling downstream on the Kennet (the first is at Hamstead Mill).

Climb down from the towpath to the put-in at the bottom of the fish ladder. Don't be tempted to shoot down here in your kayak - enlarge the image to note the bar across the base of the ladder. The drain entering from the left provides a more placid put-in.

View back to Benham Weir from the bottom of the fish ladder. Note that the sluice between the weir and the fish ladder (to the right of the brick buttress) is shut in this image. Note also that the foot of the buttress is just covered, indicating sufficient water for paddling.

Alternatively, cross the bridge over the weir and descend past the old pill box fortification to put-in.

From the towpath crossing the bridge atop the weir the spring debris (not being a botanist I think it might be Water-crowfoot (Ranunculus), but not sure if it's the Common (R. aquatilis) or Chalk Stream (R. penicillatus) variety) and shallow water to the right of the weir is evident.

The alternative put-in to the right of the weir. Be careful on the concrete platform below the pillbox because although it appears solid it has been eaten away underneath by water action, and you never know...

...not long after writing the above caption the concrete edge started to collapse.

By the side of the sluice outflow.

Looking back to the weir pool from just downstream.

Looking across the weir pool and on downstream from the weir.

As you start to move downstream from the weir low summer levels see mid-stream reed growth.

At the back of the pillbox, river right, illegal fishing is not appreciated.

Below the weir, heading downstream, an early September evening at low water levels.

After flowing under the comparatively low bridge that carries the railway line (it should be possible except at the highest levels)...

The view from river right of the low level railway bridge in early September, with low water levels after a dry summer..
...the River Kennet continues down to Barnett's Lock [SU 435 677; approx. 330m downstream from the weir], which isn't a lock at all. At this point the main river flows to the right through 8 sluice gates, and on over a small weir. To the left a drain channel flows under 4 sluices and then travels north to fill an artificial lake nearer the manor house and buildings of Benham Park.
At the low water levels of September '09 it would have been possible to shoot the smaller sluices to the left which had been completely raised, but it would have lead away from the main flow into a reasonably high sided channel.
To portage the main sluices the easiest way is to exit the river right before the gates (there is an old pillbox overgrown in the trees here) and crossing on to the bridge atop the sluices you can then haul boats up the brickwork face. Alternatively, just take your boat with you from the get out. Return to the water river left after the low weir beyond the sluices after the brickwork edge to the sluice pool ends. There's a view of this location at the start of the video clip linked to this article.

Approaching Barnett's Lock.

Looking downstream from the bridge over the Barnett's Lock sluice gates.

Looking back up through the side channel sluices.

Looking back upstream from the right bank to the sluices at Barnett's Lock at slightly higher water levels.

Cygnets hitching a lift just below Barnett's Lock. By September at least four were still alive and considerably larger, though their parents maintained a defensive stance to make sure they stayed that way as we paddled carefully past.

Beyond Barnett's Lock the river continues to flow along the valley bottom of the Benham Estate. Whilst the old manor house (see above) was sold off for commercial use in 1982, the lands remain as a 6500 acre part of Sir Richard Sutton's Settled Estates , which locally continue down to Newbury (despite the bisection of the eastern stretch by the A34). Their is no public right of way across this land, and, as there are 30+ shooting days per year held here (I do like the fact that The Telegraph carries this article in its gardening section) you might want to consider your navigation timing! Whether or not you agree with the raison d'etre (so how do you add accents and symbols in a blog?) of this estate, the grounds here appear to be particularly well maintained, especially on the mowed left bank, and apart from the noise of trains from the mainline London-Bristol track, it is certainly one of the most tranquil locations on the Kennet.

The river passes under a footbridge at SU 439 669 before reaching the heart of the estate's fishery. In September 2009 extensive bankworks were visible when navigating the main channel as part of the "reinstatement of what is believed to have been the former channel of the River Kennet".

At SU 441 669 the river divides, with the main flow continuing straight ahead over two weirs, before turning 90 degrees to the right. The weirs here are unfortunately unrunable because of the low wooden footbridges at their lip, so portage needs to be made, but river left below the weirs there is a concrete 'wharf' where a fisherman's hut is located and your progression may be contended (when walking this section on a May evening to photograph the river I had a brief but pleasant exchange with a very cordial fisherman, and when paddled midday on a sunny September Saturday, there was no angling being carried out on the river here, so it can't be assumed that objection will be met). A separate branch of the river flows off to the right, creating a small island and quickly rejoins the now south flowing river.

Looking back upstream from the footbridges over the Kennet at the 'quay' in Benham Park.

From the left bank above Benham 'wharf'. The two bridges cross weirs carrying the main flow, with the smaller channel flowing away from the right. Portage can be made by hauling up the bank between the bridges or by taking out river left from about the point where this picture was taken.

Passage over the weirs is prevented by the wooden footbridge.

The 'wharf' and rather grandiose fishermens' hut, river left below the footbridges on the main river channel.

Heading briefly south the smaller channel rejoins the main flow from the right after Benham 'wharf' just before a small weir. This was the get in point after portaging in September '09.

Between Benham 'wharf' and the A34 there is a series of very small weirs in various states of disrepair - the ordnance Survey map shows 6 weirs but you may be hard pushed to notice some of them - as the Kennet curves back up in a easterly direction between plantations towards the A34 road bridge (it's about 1.8km (1.1 miles) from Barnett's Lock to the A34).

The following images show some of the weirs and views of the river between Benham 'wharf' and the A34 (hopefully in roughly the correct order of descent):

Typical low weir on this section (from the left bank)...

...and a typically tranquil setting (downstream from the left bank).

Approaching another small weir (the view from the left bank)...

...which is of a semi-circular design (from the left bank).

The river bends right at SU 445 668 - the view from the left bank.

From the right bank (looking upstream).

From the right bank (looking downstream across the encrusted demise of a sandbag weir).

From the right bank (looking upstream at former bank protection efforts).

From the right bank (looking at the downstream flow).

From the right bank (looking downstream) to even more placid waters.

About 100m before the A34 bridge is the largest of the small weirs on this section, seen here from just above on the left bank.

From the right bank's exposed concrete sandbags.

Looking back upstream from the right bank below 'the big one'!

Below the same weir from the left bank...

...and in closer detail.

From the right bank.

Approaching the last weir before the A34 from the left bank.

Above the last weir before the A34 from the right bank.

Below the last weir before the A34 looking back upstream from the left bank.
As the River Kennet passes under the A34 Newbury bypass the middle reach 'officially' ends. However, the description for paddlers' under this section continues down to Newbury.
The A34 Newbury bypass does not provide good vehicular access to the River Kennet where it passes overhead, as there is limited parking along the dual carraigeway, and a long drop down along some of it's traverse! There is, however, a path that runs along the eastern edge of the bypass crossing the river at the hight of the road bridge, which creates a useful access point from the canal.
From the A34 to where the River Kennet rejoins the canal at the edge of Newbury is just over 1km, but, as with the previous section there is very limited access to the river as it travels between heavily fenced farmland pastures and plantations.

There is a weir 60m beyond the A34, which could serve as a exit point if you had paddled down from Marsh Benham and wanted to get around the next section to Newbury by travelling along the canal.

The weir below the A34 from the roadbridge.

The weir below the A34 roadbridge from the right bank.

Downstream of the weir below the A34. Taking out river right here, it is only a short distance over to the canal if you decide to paddle to Newbury without a potential portage over/between barbed wire fencing just downstream of this point.
The river divides 180m past the weir, with the main flow to the left passing through a rudimentary steel river gate, and on under a low bridge supported by narrow pillars on a small weir, before forming a wide pool with eroded banks. Portaging around the bridge (river right on the main channel just in front of the bridge and then over the wire fence) would probably be unappreciated by any anglers in the vacinity of this private fishing location, but there is plenty of space to re-enter the main river channel below the bridge. Alternatively, shoot the flow if the water is low enough for you to get beneath the bridge.

Approaching a fork in the river with the main channel, left, guarded by scaffold poles, and the smaller channel, right, blocked by trees. Easy portage on the left bank where this picture was taken from.

The scaffold bar blockage across the main channel.

The main channel looking back upstream of the small bridge, with the scaffold pole river gate just visible. Easy to limbo in low water, take care at higher levels.

The bridge is possible to shoot in low water. Alternatively portage river left in winter (or when the mown pathway extends up to the gateway - it's allowed to grow over in summer, presumably to help prevent people mistaking this track for a public footpath) or river right just before the bridge in summer/autumn.

Not impossible, but perhaps slightly more difficult to portage due to surrounding fencing.

If you shoot the bridge (here shown at mid-September low water levels) take the left opening as the cleanest run. The right hand side has an additional ledge on exiting beneath the bridge.

Looking back upstream to the main channel outflow beneath the bridge.

The outflow and pool below the main channel bridge.

The view downstream from the bridge.

Downstream across the weir pool - an easy get in point if you have portaged the bridge shoot, but note the in-river barbed wire towards the left bank.

The smaller right hand branch flows under another bridge (and sluice) - similarly unrunable and difficult to portage - and then over a small weir (which is getting wider as the bank is eroding river right). Whilst it's possible to put-in/take out along the bank between the bridge and the weir, the 375m fenced track back accross the field to the canal at Enborne Bridge below Guyer's Lock does not provide a great vehicle access point; it is possible to drive down Bonemill Lane (starts at SU 458 664) to Enborne bridge for a shuttle drop-off/collection, but there is no parking here. You can park in the residential spaces at Sunderland Gardens, and walk down Bonemill Lane (approximately 785m).

Upstream of the bridge over the smaller channel.

The river is eroding the bank to the right of this small weir.

Beware a few meters further downstream where barbed wire fencing not only sits along the line of the river, surrounded by eroded bank, but has also been placed across the flow.

In-river barbed wire hazard on the smaller southern branch.
After 200m the branches rejoin, and after a further 200m pass under a green foot bridge. The river then flows for around 1km as it passes south of Speen Moor planatation and a number of irrigation channels river left, before cutting through a disused railway embankment, and back to Newbury. There are a number of in-river hazards including what appears to be a metal bar to prevent navigation upstream by craft from the canal, old metal and concrete bridge supports, and fallen trees which often completely span the river.

The metal bar to further upstream navigation could be crossed at higher water levels...

...but required a tight squeeze to get underneath in mid-September low water levels.

Metal box girder sections sited mid river mark where stanchions once supported a bridge.

Fallen tree just before Northcroft recreation centre at the edge of Newbury. Portaged mid-September '09 by taking out river left where there is a track through the trees alongside the river.