GUIDE TO THE RIVER AVON
(Avon Tyrell to Christchurch Harbour)
NAME OF RIVER: Avon.
WHERE IS IT?: Flowing from near Pewsey, past Salisbury to the English Channel at Christchurch, this is a major river.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: The section described begins at Avon Tyrell causeway (OS map 195, SZ 149978) where a bridge crosses the river. Takeout anywhere in Christchurch (Slipway SZ 163 928) or continue across Christchurch harbour and egress on the left when you meet the sea at Avon Beach (SZ 184 918).
APPROX LENGTH: 6 miles to Christchurch. Another 2 miles to Avon Beach.
TIME NEEDED: 2 hours.
ACCESS HASSLES: Dire. You will almost certainly encounter objections from (extremely rude) Anglers on this stretch, canoeing is simply not allowed to happen without in any form without abuse. I still recommend finding time to paddle this river; it's quite beautiful and let's face it, if we don't paddle it we are only reinforcing an unsatisfactory and immoral status quo. However, finding a quiet weekday to paddle is not a bad idea if you don't want too much abuse.
Note that the second (mostly tidal) half of the trip described here is regularly paddled without (much) objection. It's recommended that for an access-hassle-free trip, you start in Christchurch and head upstream and around the 'Christchurch Loop'.
Salisbury Arms (Jan 2004)...'Be very wary of the lower Avon above the By-pass bridge, especially around the Waterworks. This area constitutes the 'Royalty Fishery' and is subject to some unique by-laws. It is very likely that sooner or later canoeing this stretch will lead to a prosecution! The stretch is unique in so much as the water authority own not only the banks and the river bed but even the water that runs through it!! Actually being on the water constitutes trespass! Be wary!'
Chas Couchman (Feb 2004)...'I'm not sure who gave you the above but it's nonsense.
I have been in correspondence with Bournemouth and West Hants Water (the owners). They recognise the water is tidal up to the weir but would like kayakers to agree access with the fisherman. At no time have they refused access or claimed ownership to the water (which is tidal - so how could they).
In talking to Christchurch Angling Club (who own the up stream left hand bank) and the fishing rights up to the weir, they only want canoes to access no further than the small boulder type weir by the first bend above the dual carriageway. This is still in debate but last letter was sent off in 2002 with no reply as yet. There is disagreement with the Angling Club over the upper tidal limit of the Avon.
Christchurch Angling Club have advised paddlers that they can if they wish use the left hand bank between the low boulder weir and the duel carriageway.
Lastly, you should mention that the small stream that runs into the moat goes through a wild life reserve which Christchurch Council would rather had no access by anyone to allow the stream to return to its natural state. This stream should be avoided rather than paddled or fished.'
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: It is paddleable year-round. I do not recommend this trip in high water levels; there are low bridges awkwardly combined with weirs; which would be far from amusing to encounter in such conditions. Note that Anglers, like most folk, are weather dependent so pick a cold rainy day!
GRADING: Grade 1 with weirs.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Weirs. Low bridges.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: From Avon Tyrell Causeway, the river is all flat and meandering through open countryside. In a short distance it splits two ways. (We took the left-hand route). Shortly after the first weir is reached near a large mill-like building (this is part of the village of Sopley). The river squeezes under a low bridge and drops a little, offering a few chutes of water to play on. Shortly after, it rejoins the other stream.
Half a mile on the river splits again. The righthand stream, which we took, falls over another weir under a low bridge, this one with a pretty grabby stopper. We had a bit of a play here, although the stopper was perhaps not everyone's idea of playful. Half a mile downstream the other stream rejoins the river by flowing out of a sluice jet...more fast water to play on.
There is now a mile and a half of flat water until you reach the outskirts of Christchurch, where you encounter a large waterworks. The weirs at this waterworks are all under very low bridges, so it's highly recommended that you make a quick discreet portage on river left into the pool below. We have played on the chutes of water below this weir many times without objection, after paddling upstream from Christchurch. The catch is getting there, see below...
After the waterworks, the river passes under the railway and loops past a large house, footbridge and car-park on river right. This house contains the most vigilant fishing baliff on earth. 99% of the times we've paddled upstream from Christchurch, he has appeaed and told us we are breaking an access agreement made with Christchurch Canoe Club. This 'agreement' apparently states that we are happy to remain on the tidal stretch of the river whilst the Anglers get the remaining 70 miles of the Avon to themselves. Every time, patiently, we explain that a Christchurch Canoe Club does not actually exist and we supply him with our club's address so he can forward a copy of this 'agreement' to us. We're still waiting, after years of asking.
Below this house, you enter neutral (tidal) territory where you should not encounter objections. Hopefully.
Take note of a small creek feeding off the river on river right directly below the house. If you follow this, you will find yourself in a unique 'jungle' paddling experience before you emerge from the bushes beside Christchurch Priory, and this Mill Stream passes under a low bridge into the Stour near it's confluence with the Avon. Recommended to deviant explorers. You might be interested to know that this stream predates the Priory which it serves and is mentioned in the Domesday Book. Never ask a History teacher to write a river guide.
Sticking to the River Avon, the river bends right and passes under the Christchurch bypass. Directly above this bridge on river left is another overgrown creek, which is another recommended explore if you have children (or big children) with you. Below the bypass, the river splits two ways and you have reached the 'Christchurch Loop'. Paddling around the whole loop is a great short trip. The left-hand stream takes you down to a totally safe 'mini-weir' under a bridge which is usually washed out by the tide. The right-hand stream goes under a bridge also, emerging beside Christchurch Priory where the two streams join again. The river now joins the River Stour, and below is Christchurch harbour. The paddle across the Harbour to the narrow 'Run' where it hits the sea at Avon Beach is lovely, but bear in mind you are now entering sea kayaking territory; the nautical chart for this section has 'here be monsters' written on it, be warned.
OTHER NOTES: I would be extremely interested to hear from anyone who has paddled other parts of the River Avon...?
Andrew Asquith offers some historical insights regarding Access on the Avon (12/3/00)...'I now know that the river is a statutory navigation from 'Christchurch to the City of New Sarum'. The right to navigate the river was enshrined in law in 1664 (17 Charles II Cap.12), the act is apparently preserved in the House of Lords Record Office. Improvement works were undertaken by 1677, and in 1684 two 25 ton barges passed upstream through Ringwood! I will be contacting the BCU to ensure they are negotiating in our best interests.'
Dr Richard Seaby responds (he is BCU River Advisor for this lower section of the river)...'I did know this - but as I understood it the law had been repealed. On an interesting historical note Francis Drake's house in Downton is made from the timbers of an old warship he brought in Plymouth and towed up the Avon canal to dismantle. I am not sure of the route of the old canal but it did not follow the river exactly - You can blame the coming of steam for the lack of access we now have to the river. I am trying to find out more about this navigation act and will let you know what I find.'
Martin Harrell adds (March '00)...'Although I have not paddled on this river, I have often inspected sections of it whilst cycling around the area between Upavon and Salisbury. Most of this section has small weirs on it, often with low bridges running over them. Much of the river seems to pass through the gardens of some very expensive looking houses. I suspect that any paddler seen on this section would be subject to much scorn and abuse, since this river is well fished and the fishermen probably have to pay dearly to do so. I have often thought about paddling parts of this river but the potential access issues have always put me off. The problem with passing through "rich" surroundings seems to abate somewhat as you get closer to Salisbury, so a trip along this section may be possible without too much hassle. I do remember an interesting looking low weir on the outskirts of Salisbury and a fairly big weir by a factory at Durrington. There used to be a slalom event run in Salisbury somewhere, I never attended it, but it must be possible to paddle there unchallenged. There is also a slalom site at Amesbury which was being developed by Pewsey CC who have access to part of the river in Pewsey itself. We were once considering getting on at Amesbury slalom site and paddling on down from there, but we haven't as yet got around to it. The river itself is quite beautiful and such a major river really should be paddled, but to do so is to risk spoiling your day with petty arguments with landowners and fishermen.'
Chris Clarke (2006)...'I live in Christchurch and have paddled the lower parts of the Avon regularly on different days and weathers, all with varying results! Coming north up the river past the Priory on your left and the walkway at low tide is very shallow and fast, those with heavy boats will struggle! Keep to the left, generally appears to be a deeper channel of water. When you get to the bridge under Bridge Street, there is some play to be had at low tide as the water coming under the bridge is choppy and fast, a few small stoppers etc, a good excuse to have a practise and play on fairly easy water. In summer there is often a large flat royalty fishery boat just beside the bridge normally in the middle with anglers on it. Although having been frowned at many times, I have never experienced an issue paddling past here as it is still tidal and the fisherman know that. Pick a lane, left or right and paddle respectfully around this boat if it's there and you wont get any hassle at all. Continue up under the bridge and beyond round the corner and the river splits. Left and north takes you up the river towards fishing territory and going right takes you around the 'known Christchurch loop'. This is a nice scenic albeit brief paddle in a circle back to where you started at the bottom of the Avon. If you turned left at the split, it takes you up towards the Christchurch bypass bridge. Observe some caution paddling the short stretch towards the bridge, there is often depending on time of year, a lot of thick weed below the surface. Pass the bridge and you will start to encounter anglers, you are allowed to carry on as this bit is still tidal and the anglers arent meant to fish there due to the danger of power lines above their heads. Many yellow signs went up last year warning anglers not to fish there, however I notice now that many of them have disappeared! Choose the opposite bank to the fishermen and carry on. Round the next left and right bends you encounter a large hosue by the bank and a car park, footbridge etc. Yes this contains the infamous Christchurch pain-in-the-backside fishing bailiff and friends! I have been here 3 times in day light and have been told to turn around quite rudely 3 times by anglers,and being unaware of my actual rights I have turned back. Dont bother during weekends or nice weather evenings, this part of the river is always popular for fishing and there are always several anglers round this part, you are going to get grief! I have paddled past this and up to the waterworks at night time on a cold december evening with no trouble. The river splits past the rail bridge above the bailiffs house. Left goes to the waterworks and right proceeds north up towards the bridge at the Avon causeway road. The waterworks is worth a visit, again caution due to some odd water paths and undercurrents etc, be sensible. I have never been there in the light, only the dark but I expect you'd get a lot of grief during the day, there are royalty fishery signs about spawning pools everywhere, you couldn't really say you didnt see them. If you want a hassle free gentle paddle take the christchurch loop, good for families or a quick paddle for the expereinced ones.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark R, additions by Andrew Asquith, Martin Harrell, Chris Clarke, Salisbury Arms, Chas Couchman and Richard Seaby.
For some reason only known to the government the fishermen are excluded from prosecution for damaging an SSSI so they can walk on the river bed and also the bank, if the kayaker had an appropriate fishing licence then i'd guess they too would not be able to be prosecuted either :-), otherwise stay in the water and don't run aground.
So the first time I paddled up to the stony weir and en route met one angler who politely asked me to keep over to side opposite him, fine.
Second time, today, two anglers were located directly underneath first set of power lines and told me "this is the Royalty Fishery, you're not allowed here". I asked why, when it's tidal water? "That's got nothing to do with it." I said well I think it has. Then one of them changed tack and started talking about it being a "3SI mate, no boats". I said I didnt think that was relevant either and by the way had they seen the power cables above them. After that it all tailed off and I paddled on up to the stony weir bit again.
Now my interpretation re Sites of Special Scientific Interest is that they do not mean boating is not allowed. What is not allowed is disturbance of the protected wildlife and/or plants. Since it is tidal water comfortably deep enough to float in, canoeing would not cause much if any disturbance. Perhaps trampling over and sitting on the riverbank casting hooks into the water would even cause more disturbance but that's not my expertise.
My point really is that the red signs appear to be there specifically to put people off from indisputably legitimate boating activity. It's definitely tidal at least to the stony weir, so there is a clear right of navigation. Whilst paddling off the Loop up to the weir does not add a huge distance it is permitted so we should encourage everyone to do so.
I did not paddle further than the weir as this does seem to be heavily disputed and patrolled; I did not want the hassle.
Does anyone know different re SSSI regulations or this stretch of the Avon?