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 of Essex 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.
PERMISSION TO Navigate?
This Guide describes portages where there is no public right of way through or around the immediate area, neither is there an agreement for portage to take place. Portaging over private land without permission is an act of trespass.
Note: Many paddlers, supported by British Canoeing, believe that paddlers have a historic right to access the rivers and waterways of England and Wales. Where there is a Public Right of Navigation, paddling is not trespassing. If you wish to paddle this river, however, please note the following statement by the author of this individual river guide. UK Rivers Guidebook does not endorse restrictive access agreements.
There is an annual agreement with each landowner to run just the organised Spring tour. There are 4 portages along the route (over private property) and no other permissions are available.
Please note that the river and adjoining land along this route is privately owned. Acts of trespass risks damaging the goodwill of river and landowners towards canoe enthusiasts as demonstrated for the past 30 years in the permitted annual canoeing trip from Kelvedon to Langford. This is organised every Spring by myself (Mike Robards) and enjoyed by as many as 60 paddlers from across Essex and beyond.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: The put in is alongside the road beyond Greys Mill, (LT 860 180). The take out is at the back of the Langford village hall car park above the weir, (LT836 091).
APPROX LENGTH: 13km.
TIME NEEDED: With a lunch stop it usually takes about 4 hours.
ACCESS: Only the 'agreed' access has been obtained. Key landowners (each with property both sides of the river and at the portage points) have agreed only to allowing the ONE organised 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 which gets washed out in
GRADING: The route is normally a simple grade 1 and at, low water levels, boats 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 4 portages on the way (with potentially hazardous weirs if missed).
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 on 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. 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 timber tressle Rail Bridge, BUT portage immediately after the bridge. 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! The remainder of the trip to Langford is a series of meanders. Langford is the sensible end of this section due to obstructions and dangers on the route through the Langford water treatment works. Arrangements are made at the finish with the Langford Village Hall for allowing the use of the car park for the annual tour.
UPPER BLACKWATER: This section of Blackwater from Braintree to Feering was paddled in 1986 but, as water levels have seriously reduced since, no agreements have been sought for canoeing. It was possible to start at Marlborough Rd Braintree. Portages were necessary at Stisted Mill, Bradwell Mill, Coggeshall Mill and Coggeshall Hamlet Mill. At that time 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.
MIDDLE BLACKWATER: There is a short section of river from Feering Mill via Kelvedon’s Easterford Mill to Greys Mill which is probably deep enough to paddle, but there are difficulties of portage at the mills.
INTERESTING PLACES LOCALLY:
Little Braxted Church - a small country manor church but with a breathtaking interior.
Museum of Power, Langford - A huge triple expansion steam engine which is now accompanied by a wide variety of
mechanical items. They make you very welcome.
Beeleigh Weirs - the junction of the non-tidal Chelmer, the tidal Chelmer and the Blackwater.
Beeleigh Abbey - an old and now private building visible from a public footpath. The gardens are sometimes open to the public.
CONTRIBUTED BY: M Robards
I understand the portage in question is in the Kelvedon to Langford section, it is on private land, with no public right of way through or around the immediate garden area, and there is no agreement for portage to take place.
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.