Saturday, 1 March 2014

Current Kennet levels would present a considerable additional challenge to DW 2014

Although this blog isn't primarily focused on either the canalised cuts of the Kennet Navigation (although they are an inevitable part of most trips on the river) or competitive racing, I thought I'd use the rare sunny morning to take a look at a few sections after yesterday's post on the cancelled Waterside and Thameside races on the Kennet.

The Waterside Series website provides a number of race training advice guides.  One of these makes reference to the point downstream from Hamstead Lock where the riverine Kennet flows out of The Craven Fishery from the left, crosses the canal, and exits down Benham Weir. I've never experienced any particular difficulty when paddling here, and had to actively pull myself over the lip of the weir by holding on to the footbridge above in order to descend the weir face. That might not have been the case this morning.

The first problem was getting down to Marsh Benham from the A4 with the road closed from just below The Red House junction on Milkhouse Road to the railway line.

Once down at Benham Weir the cross-canal flow of the river was clearly visible.

The central weir was shortened in its fall height by the raised river level below, and whilst peering back under the footbridge it looks reasonably calm up on the canal, with the side sluices both opened there's a fair amount of water being transferred.

Some miles downstream to the east of Newbury, the water around Bull's Lock (only applicable to Waterside B if it runs, and the Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race (DW), 18-21.04.14, or anyone training in the area) is still pretty high.  The section below Bull's Lock combines the water of the canal and riverine Hambridge loop (the latter of which is swelled by the inflow of the River Lambourn) in a single channel to just before Widmead Lock.  Talking to a couple of DW trainees from Sussex at Woolhampton today (see below), who were about to return to Newbury, they mentioned having had a couple of 'issues' at Bull's Lock, and I suspect this section would have been something of a slog heading back upstream.

Looking back upstream towards Bull's Lock, which is overlapping the banks immediately below the lock.

Before reaching Widmead Lock the Kennet Navigation is bank full and has even breached the towpath (river left)...

...whilst river right the fisherman's footpath is substantively underwater, although a heavy cut back of the trees on this side of the river has removed a number of potentially hazardous obstacles.

Still further downstream, the Rowbarge pub sits alongside both the Navigation and a riverine Kennet channel which feeds in just below Woolhampton Lock.  Once again, the combined water flow can be considerable, especially in such as the current levels.

The riverine channel has recently flooded the lawn to the west of the Rowbarge...

...although the water is now beginning to feed back to the river.

Although this riverine section is not part of any race course, the resulting flow undercuts banks...

...and presents considerable left bank tree ensnarement risk.

For those portaging the lock (or support crews), the downstream concrete embankment (over the footbridge which crosses the riverine section's confluence with the Navigation) is currently inundated.

By the time contestants reach the edge of Reading at Fobney, conditions have not noticeably improved.

Despite the saw tooth weir to the west of Fobney Wetland Reserve diverting a substantial amount of the flow and water volume...

...the canal cut before Fobney lock is still sufficiently high to have caused several small breaches which are barely contained by sandbagging efforts. 

Whilst the lock itself has been overwhelmed... is still possible to egress the waterway (river right), or to put-in in the case of these intrepid DW trainees today.

However, returning to the water downstream of the lock is problematic at the current water levels.  The official DW portage diagram describes re-entering the Navigation by passing under the footbridge to the left side of the riverine loop to put in.

This image shows the space and bank side route under the bridge in January 2009. 

2014 may require SCUBA for re-entry at current water levels.

Finally, this is well worth reading from among the many amazing DW performances.