With the low level of the River Kennet making the BBC's online news last week, and the EA's new web-based river level reporting service having been offline for most of time since then, a quick visual inspection at a couple of riverine locations today produced the unsurprising confirmation that it's getting too low to go.
The unnaturally exacerbated seasonal flow variation that sees the winterbournes and increasingly extended sections of the Upper Kennet all but dry up from this time of year until replenishment of the chalk aquifer with autumn and winter rainfall, has been compounded by the long dry first half of 2010 in the Kennet Valley and is now affecting the Middle and Lower reaches.
Despite flowing along separate courses below the first confluence with the Kennet and Avon canal, some of the sections that would normally provide alternative paddling routes eastward are looking decidedly untenable.
The headroom under the bridge at SU 452 669, where a public footpath crosses between the western edge of Newbury and up to Speen towards the end of the paddling Middle reach, has increased, but the water level would probably also fail to keep you floating over the concrete base without contact (the channel river left is the only route not blocked by debris). It is indicative of the conditions likely to be encountered all the way down the otherwise paddleable section from Benham Weir.
...whilst entering the pool below, gravel banks and bars are barely concealed by the reduced water levels.
Just beyond the start of the Middle reach in Newbury, on the mill stream that runs down from Northroft sluice weir, the pipe that crosses the river at SU 468 671 could be easily 'ducked', but even with an additional inflow from the canal river right just above this point, the water is now only knee deep at best.
In the current knee-deep conditions paddling in the middle of the watercourse does not require a kayak.
Looking back upstream, the silt covered river bed beyond the gravel and the overhanging willows is just a few inches deep.