GUIDE TO THE RIVER BLACKWATER
(Greys Mill to Langford)
NAME OF RIVER: Blackwater.
WHERE IS IT?: The river rises in the North West of the County as the river Pant, and proceeds as a stream through to Braintree where the name changes to the Blackwater for the rest of its journey to the sea. On the way the Blackwater passes through Stisted, Bradwell, Coggeshall, Coggeshall Hamlet, Feering, Kelvedon, near Witham, Wickham Bishops, Langford to Beeleigh where it meets the Chelmer. For a while it is included in the Chelmer Blackwater Navigation, but at Heybridge, flood water from the canal flows over a weir on the site of the old Heybridge mill and down the original course of the Blackwater (now known as Heybridge Creek) before passing through a sluice gate into the tidal Blackwater Estuary at Maldon. The canal continues from this the weir at Heybridge to Heybridge Basin, where it joins the tidal estuary at the sea lock. It is said that boats have, in times long past, brought grain from Radwinter to Beeleigh Abbey (Hollingshead Chronicles c1530). Landranger sheet 167.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: The put in is alongside the road beyond Greys Mill, (GR860 180). The take out is at the back of the Langford Parish car park above the weir, (GR836 091). Map...
APPROX LENGTH: 13km.
TIME NEEDED: With a lunch stop it usually takes about 4 hours.
ACCESS HASSLES: Only limited 'agreed' access has been obtained. Key landowners (each with property both sides of the river) have agreed only to allowing ONE trip per year.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: In normal conditions at the put in the shingle bed of the river is easily visible at the start. In spate it does rise some 1.5m to flood the road. There is a measuring flume at Appleford Bridge that gets washed out in spate. Subsequent bridges may require portaging.
GRADING: The route is normally a simple grade 1 and at, low water levels, kayaks ground in places. With high water levels there are shoots and weirs to be wary of, together with tight bends and overhanging thorn bushes. At this time care is particularly required at two of the portages where capsizing in the strong flow could result in a nasty drop over weirs.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: There are some low bridges, a couple of shoots and 3 portages on the way.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: From the start at Greys Mill the narrow river winds down to the A12. Under the bridge it is shallow and rubble strewn. The next event is the Great Braxted Mill where the river shoots through a narrow passage down a 30 degree slope. From here the shallow river heads for Appleford Bridge flume a simple shoot.
The Little Braxted Mill portage is a further mile down stream. Portage on the right of the manually regulated weir. Another mile brings you past the junction with the river Brain (entering from the right) and on to Blue Mill. Portage on the right here between the weirs into the large pool. Do not proceed into the Mill house garden (lawns each side). On leaving Blue Mill the river crosses a Golf Course (beware of Golf Balls) to Whickham Mill.
Follow the main river under the only timber tressle Rail Bridge in Britain, BUT portage before the rickety footbridge. A capsize here in spate could see you being dragged over a 2.5m drop where the Mill wheel used to be and jammed between narrow brick channels under a road! Take the footpath on the left and go forward to the left of the bridge through the trees for the re-entry.
The remainder of the trip to Langford is a series of meanders. You eventually make out the shape of the roof of the Museum of Power at Langford. Langford is the sensible end of this section due to obsructions and dangers on the route through the Langford water treatment works. At the finish we are grateful to the Langford Parish Council for allowing the use of their car park for the annual tour.
PANT: However today with the diminishing water levels the Pant is regarded as too small.
UPPER BLACKWATER: This section of Blackwater from Braintree to Feering was last paddled in 1986 but as water levels have seriously reduced since then access agreements have not been sought on this stretch. Entry was possible at Marlborough Rd Braintree. Portages were necessary at Stisted Mill, Bradwell Mill, Coggeshall Mill and Coggeshall Hamlet Mill. The owner's permission was specifically requested at each portage. Exit was possible via a gate near Feering village green. No doubt there have been changes since then. I would be grateful for reports of any use of this section.
MIDDLE BLACKWATER: There is a short section of river from Feering Mill via Kelvedons Easterford Mill to Greys Mill which is probably deep enough to paddle, but there are difficulties of portage at the mills. Journeys are best carried out on the next section.
Little Braxted Church: a small country manor church but with a breathtaking interior. We make a donation from the tour fees. Museum of Power, Langford A huge triple expansion steam engine which is now accompanied by a wide variety of mechanical items. It is looked after by a bunch of enthusiasts who make you very welcome.
Beeleigh Abbey an old and now private building visible from a public footpath.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mike Robards River Advisor for the Essex Blackwater. January 2001, Southend Canoe Club. Also Will Kemp, Dec 2010.
Coggeshall has 3 weirs. First is a vertical metre drop, very retentive if you were to get it wrong, run it many times without trouble. Second weir is an over flow for a mill, just a slide. Third weir is another sluice style overflow. Definitely run-able if you duck.
There is also a short, narrow, brick tunnel under a bridge (3 metres long). Not enough room for kayaks in flood conditions, but otherwise either of the two tunnels is fine.
Apon reaching Feering you reach a faster flowing part of the river under someone's house. Never attempted the sluice over flow (river right), but looks sketchy. Going under the house is perfectly navigable by kayak, but as for access issue???
After Feering you go under the railway and pass two separate overflow weirs. Run the second weir (after the road bridge) which eventually takes you to a mill. With enough water, it might be possible to run the overflow and paddle out of the mill pool to the lower river, otherwise quick portage and continue under the second road bridge, shown in the original post as the get in.
Do not attempt in summer, spring or autumn or anytime of year when there is life! Gets very overgrown. Don't take a boat longer than 2 metres. Good luck.