GUIDE TO THE RIVER ITCHEN
NAME OF RIVER: Itchen. This guide just describes Woodmill Weir, a popular playspot.
WHERE IS IT?: Just by Woodmill canoe centre, Woodmill lane, Southampton (SU 4389 1527). Near (ish) to Jct 5 M27.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Put in beside the centre, you need to walk over the muddy bit and paddle right around the corner behind the centre. Park in the wee car park by the centre rather than in the centre car park itself. It's also considered rude to block the big wooden gates.
APPROX LENGTH: It's about 6 metres long (just a weir).
TIME NEEDED: As long as you like, I get knackered after an 2 hours or so.
ACCESS HASSLES: Under water at high tide, other than that use it when you like. Nice idea to speak to the people in the centre if it is your first time down.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Usable all year round. Best at low tide but ok for a couple of hours either side. Bigger in the winter or after big rain.
GRADING: Varies as to height of tide and water flow. Sometimes a nice wave, other times a nice looping spot, high tide is it not there at all.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: It's not too bad but can be grabby with big water. if it all goes pear shaped you can just wait till the water flushes you into the shallows and stand up.
Patrick Collins, Senior Tutor/ Duty Manager, Woodmill Outdoor Centre (Jan 2005)...'I thought that it was time that we updated you with the current situation on the weir at Woodmill in Southampton.
2004 was incredibly frustrating for all of us here as we waited.......and waited for the engineers to move in and sort out the tidal weir at the back of the centre. Having initially intended to make a start early in the Autumn the work finally got done in December. Fortunately the low rainfall in December meant that the work went ahead relatively easily.
We are currently advising paddlers that the Weir is back in use but would advise extreme caution as nobody really knows how the wave will shape up at all the different combinations of river level and tide height. Initial impressions are that at the present river level (January 6) the weir is quite 'boily' at low tide. There appears to be quite a good surf wave early in the tidal cycle and again late in the cycle but right on low water it is more of a hole. At big river levels the hole is very big and scary and we would advise people to stay away. The concrete blocks either side of the weir act as a good gauge, when river flow covers them you probably don't want to be on the weir!
The Woodmill web site will be updated to advise the paddling community of this news. We would remind paddlers that the weir is tidal and works for around two hours either side of Low Water (Southampton). It has public access from downstream. Their is a public car park down the road from Woodmill and a limited amount of car parking space on hard standing next to Riverside Park where there is public access to the tidal River Itchen. Please DO NOT park in front of Woodmill Outdoor Centre's doors as access is required at all times. Also please do not park in Woodmill Outdoor Centre's own car park unless you are actually attending Woodmill Centre or Shop. There is no public access to the weir from upstream. The jetty, slipway and grounds at the back of the centre do not have public access.
It is likely that Rafts or canoes/kayaks from Woodmill will run the weir from upstream at various times, please remember that students from the centre may be in the early stages of learning to paddle on white water so please be patient with them and observe the kind of courtesy that you would hope to find on a river.
Please remember that Woodmill is a busy outdoor centre and that we are not here solely to answer the phone and answer questions about tide times!'
Philip Seaman (May 2004)...'The dangerous hole, which the centre considers an entrapment hazard, is just above the weir itself. Apparently they have tried to fill it in but it keeps reoccurring. the impression I get is that you're OK as long as you don't go over. I have heard all sorts of misinformation and admit that I am a little confused myself as to the precise nature of the problem. untill I hear otherwise from the centre I will not be taking people to play on the weir.'
Patrick Collins, Woodmill Outdoor Centre, Feb 2004...'Something has happened to the river bed below the weir. The old (mostly) friendly wave/playhole has turned into a rather nasty grabby hole. It's become very aerated with no real wave train to speak of. Although a wave can still form on a rising tide we have seen it change back almost instantly. We are hoping the powers that be can sort something out but this is likely to take a while.
We are not allowing anybody using Woodmill facilities or equipment to paddle on the weir. We cannot of course stop anybody having access to the weir but feel we should point out the current problems and advise against its use. I'll advise you as and when I have more information.'
Phil Seaman, Feb 2004...'Just to let you know that the Woodmill weir is currently out of action except for the insane. The centre is waiting for a diver to come and look at it but at the moment something has shifted and even stupid people are avoiding the place.'
It's also polite to be nice to the centre rafts who tend to be very considerate.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: It's just a nice little weir. It's not Hurley but there is plenty to entertain.
Also good as if you arrive before low tide it starts easy and gets bigger, nice for the confidence.
OTHER NOTES: Mark Rainsley (June 2002)...below is the description of Woodmill that I wrote for the book 'English Whitewater'...
Woodmill Weir (GR 439153) on the River Itchen in Hampshire is a purposely developed concrete ledge which works year-round and depending upon water levels, offers a grippy cartwheel stopper or a spinnable surf wave. Affectionately known as the 'Itchen Death Gorge', this tiny weir is tidal and begins to work from about three hours after high water. The weir is beside Woodmill Outdoor Centre in Swaythling, reached from Junction 5 on the M27. Call the Outdoor Centre's Canoe Shop for further info, 023 8055 5993.'
Paddled Woodmill today and there were wake boarders using the Navigation. They had a motor tied to the Armco barrier where the river meets the main road pulling a 200m cable with a boarder on the end. Looked great fun and attracted quite a crowd, wonder how the fishermen feel about that?
Checked the Environment Agency levels for the Itchen and got the following:-
The river level at Allbrook weir is 0.71 metres.
This measurement was recorded at 17:45 on 08/02/2014.
The typical river level range for this location is between 0.16 metres and 0.53 metres.
The highest river level recorded at this location is 0.66 metres and the river level reached 0.59 metres on 25/01/07
Be careful if your going down, it's messy
As part of the river access campaign I wrote to my local MP asking him to support and he was kind enough to come to the club to discuss it. Apart from discussing general UK access I had a good moan about the Itchen Navigation, fishing clubs and access. He knew the River well and basically said the signs posted by the fishing club's are a load of old bollocks and it is still a navigable stretch of water because the act of Parliament that created it is still in force and has not been repealed. To this end he had his secretary check the Parliamentary records and write to me to confirm, which she did ( the only caveat is that boats have to pay the lock keeper for passage if they use his lock - the locks were taken out years ago and are now all weirs ).
So basically we can paddle the Navigation from Winchester to Woodmill under the original Act of Parliament ( In theory ).
Unfortunately the Navigation was filled in below Eastleigh water works by a Farmer in the mid 1900's and another stretch above Otterbourne water works now runs through someone's garden. The environment agency has diverted the water flow on some stretches back into the River Itchen so the Navigation is practically dry in some places. ( esp by St Catherines Hill and Shawford ). Which pretty much just leaves two stretches.
1. From the M3 motorway to Shawford - about 1 mile with the Twyford lock in the middle. The locals call it the swimming pool and it's packed with kids and dog's in the summer. It's a small pour over weir of about 1 foot into a pool.
2. From Otterbourne to The Hub playing fields Eastleigh - 2 to 3 miles with two Weirs. The first is the Salmon steps at Allbrook which exit under a low road bridge. I don't know if anybody has run them ( its not really worth the effort ) but local kids swim them. And Withymead lock which you would have to portage due to a low footbridge and tree's in the lock pool. The takeout would be above Bishopstoke lock at The Hub. At really high flows there is a play wave in the Lock. Don't be tempted. It's full of metal. Nobody swims there.
It's probably worth mentioning that the Navigation has any number of interest groups who claim protective custody over it and it is a site of European unique scientific interest ( being one of only a handful of chalk bed rivers in the world ). It's got all of the makings of a huge clash of committee's.
That said, I'm local and paddle the stretch at The Hub and have never had a problem. It's a good way to walk the dog whilst playing around on the water. It's deep enough to practice rolling and there's a good flow for sprint interval training. It's only a ten minute paddle upstream tops and certainly not worth travelling for, but as a local its handy.