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 navigation continues from 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).
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.
UKRGB 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.
An agreement is reached each year with landowners to run the organised Spring tour. There is a portage along the route (over private property) and no other permissions are agreed.
The put in is on the Wickham Bishops road from Witham (TL830 131), taking out at the rear of the Langford Parish Hall (TL836 091). There is very limited parking at both ends of the trip.
Approximately 1½ hours.
Only annual organised tour is agreed with key landowners (each with property both sides of the river). There are strong fishing interests along the route.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS:
In normal conditions at the put in the shingle bed of the river is easily visible. In spate it does rise some 1m to fill the watercourse.
The route is normally a simple grade 1 and at, low water levels, kayaks ground in places. With high water levels there is a weir to be wary of, together with tight bends and strainers under overhanging thorn bushes and fallen trees. At this time care is particularly required at the portage where capsizing in the strong flow could result in a nasty drop over the weir.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS:
There are some low bridges requiring a limbo and a portage at a nasty weir.
The access to the Blackwater is from the Wickham Bishops Road opposite the junction with Ishams Chase, via a public footpath adjacent to the south-east corner of the road bridge, with very limited parking. NOTE: The footpath and river both cross the Benton Hall Golf Course (Golf Balls!!) to Wickham Mill. There are low bridges over the river.
At the end of the golf course the main river runs under the only timber trestle Rail Bridge in Britain, BUT the portage is immediately after onto the left bank footpath. A capsize here in spate would be very serious! The footpath leads forward to a bridge for a re-entry through the trees (or out to the B1018 road to enter via another public footpath at the old ford slope on NW side of that bridge).
The remainder of the river to Langford is a series of meanders, eventually arriving at a weir. Langford is the sensible end of this section due to obstructions and dangers on the route through the Langford water treatment works. There is a take out is just short of another aggressive weir on the right, portaging over the bridge on the weir across private grounds. Alternatively the river then goes forward to the main road (B1019) for a further take out.
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 has been paddled in the past but water levels have seriously reduced since then. 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.
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.
LOWER BLACKWATER: Kelvedon to Witham
INTERESTING PLACES LOCALLY:
Little Braxted Church: - a small country manor church but with a breath taking interior.
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. Includes a tea room.
Beeleigh Weirs: - the junction of the non-tidal Chelmer and the tidal Chelmer with the Blackwater.
Beeleigh Abbey: - an old and now private building visible from a public footpath.