Sunday, 19 June 2011

River Kennet chosen to highlight contested paddling access rights

Some images from last weekend's paddle on the River Kennet between Padworth Lane road bridge and Sheffield Bottom.  Thanks to Jennie, Joel and Mal for the pics.

With paddlers travelling from Bristol, Hampshire, Surrey, and West Sussex, the chosen meeting point was the Kennet & Avon Canal Visitor Center at Aldermaston Wharf(pedantically, it should really be called the Kennet Navigation Visitor Center this far downstream from Newbury, but who cares).  There are 15 parking places, and on the sunny day before (when this picture was taken), they were full.  By midday on the 12th the wet forecast had allowed everyone to park up without obstructing other visitors, and having already enjoyed breakfast (my wife was bribed into assistance on the day with the promise of a bacon and egg butty, which I wished I'd ordered too as I watched her enjoyment over my toast and coffee), the group moved down to the put-in.

With 8 vehicles turning up at the put in (including our volunteer shuttle driver who'd only learnt the route the day before), off-roadside parking for 2-3 vehicles can be made just before the bridge, whilst just over the bridge there is similar space for 4-5 vehicles considerately parked. A thank you goes to the landowner  who responded kindly to our request to park next to his gate.  The group gathered for a final briefing alongside the public footpath that runs river left between Padworth Mill and Padworth Lane.

The put in utilised an existing track and break in the plant growth for minimal disturbance.
The group of 11 paddlers (including one two year old - canoeing and kayaking is an inclusive, family orientated activity for all ages) assembled on the water...

...before the 6 canoes and 2 kayaks headed towards Padworth Lane road bridge.

Once beyond the bridge the group were now paddling through the Englefield Estate, home to DEFRA Waterways Minister Richard Benyon.  He had been contacted prior to the paddle for advice on any potential hazards or river works, and the communication had been forwarded to the Estate Office, who advised that there were no known obstructions on the route.

The section down from Padworth Lane is a prime fishing beat, and other than a half-submerged old rowing boat, is remarkably free of the litter and other human debris that so often blights such stretches of the Kennet.

Some of the wider sections currently display gravel shallows at their margins, but the main river channel is more than deep enough to provide easy passage without scraping or touching the bottom.

One end of the old partially collapsed bridge built by POWs in WW2, was recently removed by the Estate as it was causing a tree-gathering obstruction.

Once past the old bridge Ufton road bridge was quickly reached...

...and the group paddled towards the confluence with the Navigation and an uncontested right of navigation.

The first portage was at Tyle Mill Lock.

This was quickly followed by the second and final portage to negotiate Sulhamstead Weir.  A public footpath runs over the top of the bridge atop the weir...

...and then river left along the bank for about half way around this riverine section which is once again bordered to the north by Englefield Estate lands.  Such is the popularity of this stretch of river with RDAA members that the numerous breaks in the foliage are  permanently established and provide for easy re-entry to the waterway.

About half way round the section a tree-fall spanned the river, but it was carefully negotiated in single file.  The slow flow of the river made this easily possible, but such obstructions might prove dangerous at higher water levels.  The Estate was advised of the obstruction immediately after the paddle, for which thanks were expressed.

The rain had been intermittent and fairly light but now set in... we returned to the Navigation and headed toward Bonsal's Point.  A lady on a narrowboat enthusiastically greeted the group with thumbs up as it passed as she had heard BBC Radio Berkshire's news bulletins reporting the purpose of the paddle to promote public navigation rights.

Canoeists and kayakers can duck under the swing bridge at Sheffield Bottom...

...before reaching the take out above Sheffield Lock which is conveniently adjacent to the large public car park.

Many thanks to those who travelled some considerable distances to highlight the disputed right to paddle on the inland waterways of England and Wales.  Their effort is not diminished by the disappointing (if predictable) response of DEFRA spokesman Richard Benyon the following day (more on this later), and demonstrates that the Government's anachronistic and partisan promotion of so called access 'agreements' is neither accepted or necessary for the public to responsibly enjoy their natural heritage rights.