Monday, 15 December 2008

The upper reach of the River Kennet

Where does the River Kennet start?

The source of the River Kennet is often described as Swallowhead Springs [SU100 680], which lies SSE of Silbury Hill, across the A4, and west of West Kennet village. Swallowhead is accessible by parking in the layby for West Kennet Long Barrow, walking south towards the neolithic site and then turning right at the river bridge and following around the edge of the field.

However, rather than being the true source of the Kennet, Swallowhead marks a sharp right angle turn for the nascent river, which is seasonally fed by the merged tributary winterbournes (seasonal streams) that flow from the north past Avebury, down from the highest recorded source near Uffcot and other small water sources near Broad Hinton, as well as from near Yatesbury to the north west of Avebury.

Flowing to the east from Swallowhead, the River Kennet is fundamentally swelled by a number of ground water springs, which provide for a perrenial head near Lockeridge, and which help provide for the high quality of the water as it flows out of and over the chalkstone of the North Wessex Downs.

Looking north from the head of the springs at Swallowhead where they descend in winter and spring to swell the young River Kennet as it turns to flow east.  Silbury Hill is visible in the top left of the image.

At the bottom of the slope looking back upstream (right) when both the spring and the winterbournes are flowing...

...and in late October 2009 after a dry summer and early autumn, when neither the spring or the winterbournes are flowing.

Looking back upstream towards Swallowhead from the first bridge after the springs...

...and looking downstream from the bridge.

Whilst it would be just about possible to paddle some of the clear shallow waters, and whilst this a beautiful part of the country to explore (the upper reach lies entirely within the North Wessex Downs AONB), the River Kennet is by no means a challenging paddle on its upper reach (or elsewhere along most of its course for that matter), except in terms of access restrictions, in-flow obstructions and hazards (as well as being subject to some more specific environmental concerns [1]).

It is therefore probably more trouble than the effort is worth than to try to go canoeing or kayaking on the upper reach (and unless you go in winter you can't guarantee that there will even be any water). If you want to visit the upper reaches of the River Kennet you can get to it at the  locations described in the post below. It will, however, become quickly apparent that, despite the fact that many of these places have well beaten tracks alongside the river, most of these walks are barred to public access, including portage by paddlers.

If you want to go straight to a description of the first section of the river that can be sensibly considered for paddling, go to the post on the middle reach of the Kennet and scroll down until you reach the section on the river at Benham Weir.

Swallowhead to Marlborough

SU 109 683: Small vehicle bridge on Gunsite Road (no through road) south of the A4 at West Kennet.

The view upstream (mid-December 2009).

The view downstream (mid-December 2009).

SU 115 677: Road bridge over the river on the road from the A4 into East Kennet village.

Looking back upstream from the road bridge into East Kennet in mid-December 2009, with some water in it...

...but not really enough for paddling and the approaching bridge is too low anyway.

Looking back up from just below the bridge on the downstream right bank.

SU 119 676: Footbridge carrying footpath at the end of the road when heading north from East Kennet village, or south from the car park at Overton Hill.

Just before Overton Bridge the course of the river had been historically straightened. Remedial groundworks in late 2009 have restored the river to more meandering natural shape.

Although not yet full following rain in November/December 2009, the narrower, faster flowing channel was clearly visible in the remodelled river contours...

...which lead into a deeper and wider pool area before flowing on westwards to Overton Bridge.

SU 128 682: Overton Bridge (south from the A4 at the Bell Inn towards West Overton).

...and at the end of the spring.

Downstream of Overton Bridge in the winter...

...and, again, after some spring growth but before a summer dry up.

Above the bridge by late August; no more river here.

SU 133 684: George Bridge south from the A4 towards West Overton.

An old wire fence above George Bridge...

...was replaced with new gates to prevent livestock access by December 2009.

Downstream of George Bridge.

The late summer view upstream of George Bridge showing the now normal summer 'drought' conditions (before the wire was replaced) .

SU 147 681: Road bridge to the east of Lockeridge House (no convenient parking here, but just around the corner is the Who'd A Thought It pub).

Upstream from the bridge into the grounds of Lockeridge House in Winter...

...and the same view by the late-August Bank Holiday.

Downstream from the bridge by Lockeridge House in winter...

...but the view is drier by the end of the summer.

SU 150 683: At the end of lane travelling SE from Fyfield there is a bridge where a public footpath travels east to Clatford or south and SW to Lockeridge.

Upstream from the bridge...

...and downstream from the bridge, showing heavy spring weed growth.

 SU 152 688: According to Ordnance Survey there is a footbridge carrying a public footpath south of the A4 just east of Ivy House Farm. I couldn't find it.

Between Fyfield and Clatford Farm the river manages to trickle along even after prolonged dry spells. This image shows a pool on a bend where fish are sheltering as the water level drops.

SU 156 687: Bridge carrying a public footpath south on the track to Clatford Farm from the A4.

Upstream from the bridge at Clatford Farm in very low mid-October water levels,...

...the view immediately below the bridge,...

...and the view downstream.

SU 159 688: Clatford Bridge travelling south from the A4 at Elm Tree Farm.

Upstream from Clatford Bridge. Although shallow here in summer, springs after Lockeridge maintain the flow of the Kennet at this point. Watch out for the flash of a kingfisher here.

Water sampling pipe below Clatford Bridge.

Downstream of Clatford Bridge.

SU 167 687: Public footpath travelling north to the A4 from the west of Manton.

Upsteam of the footbridge at the western edge of Manton...

...and downstream.

SU 170 686 and SU 171 686: Public footpath over footbridges and road bridge into Manton.

The river approaches the sluice above Manton Mill,...

...the sluice (which is in need of some TLC) from above,...

...looking across the pool below the sluice, and...

...looking back upstream across the pool to the sluice.

The main flow out from the sluice pool looking downstream through the grounds of Manton Mill.

Side flow from the sluice pool looking downstream from the edge of Manton recreation ground.

Looking back up at the main channel from the road bridge.

SU 178 686: The road to Preshute House, south of the A4 crosses the Kennet with another low-arched bridge. The land to the banks is marked as the private property of Manton Grange.

Upstream of the bridge - note the cross-river barbed wire hazard.

Above the bridge - too low to paddle.

Downstream of the bridge, heading into Marlborough, where the river branches and loops around the edge of the College.


SU 180 686: A public footpath crosses the river by a footbridge to the north-east of Preshute House and on to the A4.

The river then turns south-west and curves around the western edge and bottom of Marlborough College. Small sluices run off from the river to the left to feed small lakes in the college grounds, which in turn flow out through more sluices to form channels that flow to a reunion with the main river course at SU 185 684. At this point it turns north-east towards Marlborough town.

Prior to this there is a small weir just before Fox's Bridge [SU 182 684], which leads from the college to its athletics grounds.

The Kennet looking back upstream from the start of its course around Marlborough College.

Looking back towards the sluice that drains from the river behind it...

...and into the first and smaller of two lakes in the College grounds.

Looking downstream from the left bank above a sluice, small weir, and Fox's Bridge.

Downstream from Fox's Bridge.

The sluice above Fox's Bridge feeds down under the walk way into Marlborough College and into a second lake.

Downstream of Fox's bridge, looking across to the lake from the right bank which now begins to rise steeply up from the river.

Looking upstream...

...across from the point where another sluice tops up the lake...

...and downstream towards the 'reunion' point.

Looking back upstream from where the river turns up to join the other stream channels.

Looking north across to where the river turns east below Marlborough College and on into the town.

SU 187 686: A345 Pewsey road bridge in Marlborough. There is a weir below the bridge that is the site of the first Environment Agency HiFlow monitoring point on the River Kennet, but, as can be seen from the images below, it's a pretty shallow affair.

Upstream of the A345 road bridge.

Across from the right bank below the weir showing the low water level on the overspill. The shed in the garden on the far bank is the Environment Agency's gauging station.

Even with the river being restricted to a third of its width at this point, there is still only a limited flow.

There is also a public footpath (and cycle route) opposite the junction of the A345 and the B3052, running in front of the Citroen/Peugeot car dealership on Graniham Close (there is only room for a single vehicle on this road, so parking here would block access for residents). This leads back alongside the southern bank of the River Kennet to the back entrance to Marlborough College at Fox's Bridge, and then travels away from the watercourse back towards Preshute Lane.

SU 188 688: A footbridge crosses the river from Figgins Lane permitting access to the riverside Priory Gardens. The river here was subject to some attention in 2007-8 as part of the Marlborough River Restoration Scheme. Unfortunately, as the specially commissioned wooden seats and the eroding banks attest, this sort of project requires long term commitment.

Upstream of the bridge at Figgins Lane.

Downstream of the bridge at Figgins Lane, with Priory Gardens to the left.

One of the benches in Priory Park demonstrates the inspiration behind attempts to restore the upper Kennet.

SU 188 689: There is a vehicle bridge over the Kennet at the bottom of Hillier's Yard. Enter from Marlborough High Street and exit (or enter) onto the B3052. Pay-and-display car park (Monday - Saturday 08:00 - 18:00: 1 hr = £0.55p, 2 hr = £1.10, 3 hrs = £3.10, rising in £2.00 increments up to 10 hrs = £17.10. Prices last checked 07.03.09).

Just below the bridge on the right is a sluice gate which leads to feeder stream for Cooper's Meadow, a watermeadow that lies at the back of Town Mill. A permissive footpath runs down to where the river is divided around this private property.

Downstream from the bridge at the bottom of Hillier's Yard towards Town Mill.

Looking back upstream to the bridge at the bottom of Hillier's Yard. A public footpath runs alongside the river left.

SU 189 689: The River is channelled right over twin sluices, and around the back of Town Mill. Click here for a BBC news story on the restoration of this area.

The sluices that carry the Kennet to the back of Town Mill.

Below the sluices, looking from Cooper's Meadow at the back of Town Mill...

...beyond which the shallow channel flows down to a footbridge. The muddy bank has since been 'landscaped' with the addition of reinforcing stones.

SU 190 689: The footbrige here carries a public footpath across to the back of the Town Mill properties, and then cuts through the center of the housing development to Kennet Place.
Downstream of the bridge the river rejoins the course that flows around the front of Town Mill.

The river's twin courses rejoin below Town Mill.

SU 189 690: The front of Town Mill, Marlborough. Park next to the Fire Station and walk around Kennet Place, or through along the public footpath that runs river left down from the bridge at the bottom of Hillier's Yard. At this point the river is channelled through a narrow defile, over a drop and under a low bridge. Completely unpaddleable.

The River Kennet is blocked to any thought of navigation at Town Mill, Marlborough.


Below the road access bridge onto the Town Mill housing development.

SU 190 690: Short footpath north from the B3052 crosses the river just after its branches around Town Mill are reunited.

SU 192 690: A346 roadbridge in the middle of Marlborough.

Upstream of the bridge from the Texaco petrol filling station.

SU 193 692: There is a footpath running between the A4 at SU 195 690, over the river, and on up Stonebridge Lane to SU 192 694 (there is roadside parking here in Vicarage Close). This bridge is just upstream from the confluence with River Og which enters river left at SU 196 695.

Looking upstream and back towards Marlborough from the new metal bridge at the bottom of Stonebridge Lane...

...and the same view in mid-autumn after dry weather.

Looking downstream. Still very shallow as the river broadens and begins to exhibit a gravel bottom after the silt of Marlborough...

...but it also collects rubbish after prolonged dry spells.

SU 197 695: A public footpath runs from the road south of Poulton Farm and eventually leads back to the Stonebridge Lane footbridge. It crosses the river where it divides at the site of two derelict wooden sluices, which have been replaced with similarly decrepit wooden footbridges. The main flow of the river is to the right, with the drain to the left barely meriting its inclusion on maps. Below the main bridge an old tree trunk also spans the river.

Below the bridge looking back upstream to the old tree trunk.

Looking downstream from the left bank below the bridge...

...and from the right bank.

The river now curves around past Thames Water's Marlborough water treatment works on the right, through which there is no access.

SU 201 691: A bridge carries a footpath high overhead across a disused railway embankment between SU199 695 and SU 202 691 on Elcot Lane.

Looking back upstream from the high level footpath...

...and downstream with the factory on the right.

Looking back upstream from the back of the factory adjacent to Elcot Mill...

SU 203 691: The river flows left over a sluice, straight ahead over a weir, and on under the foot bridges and sluices of Elcot Mill.

...and downstream to the channels and diverting sluices at the back of Elcot Mill.

SU 203 692 marks the start of the SSSI notification.

Marlborough to Hungerford

At SU 211 693 there is a footbridge, but there is no public access over this and onwards through a Crown Estate fishery which extends on from Werg down to Stitchcombe.

The bridge from the right bank does not provide public access across the river.

Looking back upstream from bank on the Crown Estate side of the river.

SU 214 695: The road south from Mildenhall runs next to the river (after crossing the bridge at Werg (SU 215 697)) at the site of a former mill which burned down in 1983. The sluiced mill pond and the left bank of the river is part of the Crown Estate Fishery, but a public footpath runs back above the right bank for several hundred meters.

ESE of the river and across Cock-a-Troop Lane is the site of the Roman town of CVNETIO, which is thought to be one possible source of the name 'Kennet'.

The sluice into Werg Hatchpool. In the background, towards where the river keeper is walking, is a fisherman's hut, alongside which lies an old fibreglass kayak.

Werg Hatchpool.

Downstream from the bridge at Mildenhall in winter, where rocks create small disturbances...

...but they are exposed by summer's end. Note the mowed right bank of the Crown Estate Fishery.

The road travelling east from Mildenhall to Stitchcombe runs alongside the northern left hand bank of the Kennet which is just visible until just before Durnsford Mill Farm.
There is a public footpath crossing the countryside between Werg and Stitchcombe, and for the last few hundred meters before Stitchcombe it runs just south of and alongside the Crown Estate beat.

Looking back upstream from the public footpath above the right bank at a family of swans and a jetty on the left bank...

...and downstream towards Stitchcombe.

The banks of the Crown Estate fishery are only intermittently mown on the left and/or right banks, but simple bridges provide the anglers with crossings where necessary.

SU 227 695: Road bridge at Stitchcombe.

Upstream from the road bridge at Stitchcombe.

Downstream from the road bridge at Stitchcombe.

The River Kennet to the south from the road leading into Axford. Watch for Red Kites in the valley and above the road at this point.

SU 231 698: There is a public footpath that heads south down Hooper's Lane from the Stitchcombe-Axford Road at SU 232 699 and across a footbridge over the Kennet, before continuing south to Kings Drive. It's easier to park (carefully to avoid blocking two field entrances) at the southern King's Drive end.

Upstream of the footbridge.

Above the footbridge from the right bank.

Downstream from the footbridge is an old delapidated four gate sluice and overflow spillway,...

...the view from just below the sluice blocks...

...and looking back to the bridge...

...which leads to a broad pool...

...before continuing on to the east.

SU 234 698: Turn south down Stone Lane to the road bridge SW of Axford.

Upstream of the bridge at the end of Stone Lane.

Below the bridge at the end of Stone Lane.

Downstream of the bridge at the end of Stone Lane.

SU 240 700: There is a signed public footpath running south from the main road through Axford to the river where it crosses over a small footbridge.

Upstream of the footbridge at Axford.

Above the footbridge at Axford.

Downstream of the footbridge at Axford. Note what appears as a matt of white on the far right bank.

SU 240 700: Another public footpath runs ESE of Axford from here, which leads to three small bridges crossing the now divided Kennet, before joining a bridlepath running around the bottom of the Ramsbury Manor estate.

Deviating slightly off the footpath, the River Kennet looking back upstream from SU 243 170...

...and downstream. The far bank appears to have been provided with a portable surface for supporting vehicular access along soft banks.

Looking upstream from the northernmost footbridge at SU 247 702 towards the sluiced divide of the river.

Looking downstream from the northernmost footbridge towards Axford Farm, Priory Farm and Link Cottage.

Zoomed in towards the footbridge which is followed by a sluice at Axford Farm. There is another sluice on the right just before the footbridge which diverts a channel of the river southwards, but there is no public access here.

Looking upstream of the second footbridge at SU 248 701...

...which is clearly marked as providing no public access.

Looking downstream from the footbridge, there is a small weir after the river bends right.

The weir.

SU 248 700: The footpath continues south until it crosses a ditch feeding the river at this point, before turning east.

SU 252 701: Continuing along the footpath from Axford you reach the bridge that leads up to Axford farm. At some point the public footpath that used to travel up to the farm has been diverted back along the previously described route to the west.

The footpath across the feeder ditch turns left along the right bank.

The ditch flows towards a confluence with the river as it turns south below Axford Farm.

Below the confluence looking back upstream from the stone bridge to Axford Farm.

Above the bridge that leads up to Axford Farm from the south.

Looking across the bridge up to Axford Farm.

The old public footpath up to the farm has been diverted west alongside the ditch channel.

Downstream from the bridge to the western edge of Ramsbury Manor's grounds.

Below the bridge the river is still very shallow.

A footbridge crossing the river within the grounds of Ramsbury Manor. Just beyond here it is divided by sluices into a number of streams...

...but there is still no public access.

From this point there is a bridleway that travels south of Ramsbury Manor, but whilst the main channels remain visible in the distance (and there is a smaller offshoot channel that runs for some of its length next to the bridleway) this section is barred from public access where it runs through the heavily secured grounds of Harry Hyams' private home.

SU 259 708: There is a weir with a footbridge crossing it followed by a larger vehicle access bridge under which flows the above mentioned offshoot channel. However, this is still within Ramsbury manor grounds.

SU 262 710: The bridleway crosses the river over a bridge just before the entrance to Ramsbury Manor. No public vehicular access. The sluice below the bridge regulates the flow out of The Lake, as the widening of the river branch below the Manor is known.

Looking back upstream at the smaller southernmost offshoot channel just before it passes out of the grounds of Ramsbury manor.

One view on the issue of river ownership.

Looking back upstream across The Lake to Ramsbury Manor.

Below the bridge and weir that controls the flow out of The Lake.

Downstream of the bridge the released River Kennet flows towards Ramsbury village. A number of sluices feed a secondary channel to the river right, before the main channel itself is turned to the right over a sluice to the right as it reaches the village.

SU 270 713: Mill Lane at the western end of Ramsbury carrying a public footpath past the streams that flow under and around Moon's Mill.

A Ramsbury mill stream passes private residences with a kayak on the footbridge in the distance...

...zoomed in on the footbridge.

...before reaching a ford with a raised footbridge alongside. From the footbridge it is possible to look back upstream to where two sluices divert the main flow of the river from the back of Moon's Mill.

A ford on Mill Lane looking south across the river.

Looking back to the sluices leading from the main river channel from the bridge by the ford at SU 270 713.

Downstream from the ford.

Looking back upstream through the trees towards the ford and bridge.

SU 270 712: Another ford and footbridge leads to two white cottages in front of which runs a footpath which travels down from Ramsbury Manor and Harbrook.

Approaching the second ford from the north.

Upstream of the second ford.

Downstream of the second ford the main channel on the left is joined by the drain stream on the right.

SU 273 714: Walk to the back of the fire station in Ramsbury and you will find a small nature reserve which backs onto the river.

Looking back upstream from Ramsbury nature reserve.

SU 278 715: Perhaps the least attractive bridges on the Kennet, the utilitarian design of the two new river crossings at Ramsbury demonstrate that environmental concerns don't nescessarily extend to aesthetic sympathy with the otherwise picturesque surroundings.

Upstream of the road bridges at Ramsbury.

Below the road bridges at Ramsbury.

Downstream of the road bridge at Ramsbury.

SU 289 711: Park at the roadside by the signed public footpath at SU 288 713 (just about enough room for a couple of cars) and follow the track over the fields and drain bridges to the unpaddleable bridge and weir at the river crossing.


SU 316 702: There is a public footbridge over the River Kennet which can be accessed from either a) the footpath that starts just west of Chilton Foliat off the B4192. Park in the lay-by and walk back to the sign stating "Littlecote 1.5" (miles), heading south through the trees, or b) by taking the footpath north from SU 317 700 (no parking here).

Upstream from the bridge. A small weir can just be distinguished as a line in the river...

...and in summer, with low water, it can be seen in it's full state of disrepair.

Below the bridge in winter...

...and at low summer levels, where the breadth of the river here makes it shallow enough to wade across without getting your knees wet.

Downstream of the bridge towards the village in winter...

...and at low water levels at the end of August 2009.

SU 322 702: B4192 road bridge at Chilton Foliat. Not a good place to park (pull up south of the bridge in the direction of travel, and leave your hazard warning lights on), but the view from the bridge is picturesque both upstream and downstream.

Upstream from the road bridge. Fisherman's Cottage, the brick and thatch building on the right in the picture, is a secondary property within the grounds of The Mill House, yours with your own put-in for around £1.6m (June '09).

Zoomed in on the sluice outflow.

Downstream from the road bridge.

Between Chilton Foliat and Hungerford the River Kennet branches and then rejoins itself, and there are two footbridges crossing the main channels here. The public footpath across this section runs between SU 331 696 on the B4192 south of the river and SU 333 700 at Leverton on the unnumbered road north of the river. Only the Leverton site offers any opportunity for parking.

Parking is possible just before the northernmost bridge which can be found just beyond the cottages and along the public footpath at Leverton.

Looking back upstream from the right bank just above the bridge...

...and looking downstream towards the bridge from the left bank. Even at mid-October low water levels where you might duck down enough to squeeze through, passage under the bridge is barred by a metal rail.

Downstream from the bridge towards Eddington and Hungerford, which before any winter rain is really too shallow for serious consideration here. Leave it for the trout.

The southern carrier channel, approached looking downstream from the right bank.

Looking back upstream from the right bank above the sluices.

Down stream of the sluices, divided into two further carriers.

Approaching Eddington Bridge where the upper reach of the River Kennet ends.

[1] The Environment Agency's report no. W266 (available in two parts here and here), makes it clear that there is no evidence that canoeing damages fish spawning and breeding grounds.
[2] For further information on the upper reach of the River Kennet (though not from a paddling perspective) visit the ARK website.