GUIDE TO THE RIVER KENNET
NAME OF RIVER: Kennet, at Newbury.
WHERE IS IT?: Just off the A339 old Newbury Bypass at OS Landranger Grid SU473627. Park in the pay and display car park next to the canal visitor centre.PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Put in at the car park, turn right (downstream). Get out just under the road bridge for the old bypass and go through the kissing gate to you right is a shoot coming out of the weir sluice which bypasses the next lock downstream.
Turn Left and Paddle upstream past the waterside youth centre and the backs of various shops and bars under a narrow bridge to a lock where another weir, a small slalom course and placid water paddle to a rapid ditch may be accessed.
APPROX LENGTH: 100 yards downstream, about a mile upstream.
TIME NEEDED: Depends on how long you want to play
ACCESS HASSLES: BCU membership or Kennet Licence (apparently the Kennet up to Newbury is a right of navigation so in theory you don't need a licence). In practice we have never been checked but if you are a BCU member display your licence plate, if not there is a canal visitor centre in the car park and you may be able to buy a licence there I must admit Ive never asked...
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: This weir downstream seems to 'work' as well as it ever does all year round unless its actually closed which I've only seen in 2003 and then it was being worked on so maybe it would even have been open then. The slalom course can be used at all levels by experienced paddlers, beginners can find it hard to get to at higher levels in the winter. The weir to the left of the lock is probably nasty at winter levels. The rapid ditch is probably not suitable at winter levels because of the pipe you have to get past at the bottom I think there is a real danger of entrapment.
This weir seems to 'work' as well as it ever does all year round unless its actually closed which I've only seen in 2003 and then it was being worked on so maybe it would even have been open then.
In summer St Patrick's Stream can be shallow but will normally be deep enough even if there is not so much to play with. When the Thames Valley is in flood this stream will overflow its banks and would be VERY DANGEROUS.
GRADING: Apart from the weirs grade 1 or placid water at all normal levels.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: The weir pool downstream has a lot of large rocks and is quite shallow DONT paddle it without a helmet.
The weir to the left of the lock upstream discharges straight at a wall so in high levels its likely to be dangerous in the summer it is normally either gentle fun or shut.
The weir a mile or so above the get in river right into the drop pool forms a nasty stopper, Ive played there Ive also been stuck I dont think its worth it but if you must do it have someone standing by with a throw rope.
Weir 100 yards downstream
Put in at the car park, turn right (downstream). Get out just under the road bridge for the old bypass and go through the kissing gate, to your right is a shoot coming out of the weir sluice which bypasses the next lock downstream. At low levels in the summer it used to form quite a good surfing wave. Since the weir was repaired last year its very flushy at hard to get on in a short boat its also too shallow for most moves. Ive surfed it often in an overflow and if you can get on it its fun and suitable for getting the feel of a fast surf wave. In 2003 it tended to be a better wave but was inclined to tip the unwary over.
Another weir Upstream
Instead of going downstream to the little surf wave you can turn left (upstream form the get in. You go under a small metal road bridge and up past the Waterside Centre on the right and the back of a pub and several shops on the left. You get to another small brick bridge just before a lock, the river narrows here and at higher levels the current is quite strong, ferry gliding can be taught here.
If you carry on under the bridge and paddle to the left of the lock and follow the stream up you come to another weir Ive played with recently. Have a careful look at low levels its fine and higher levels it does odd things the weir discharges straight at a wall about 12 feet from it. It is quite shallow and apart from the weir it seems to be sand and mud. You can edge surf the weir and do break ins or at low levels drag boats to the top and slide down the slope, to the right of the actual radials, kids love doing this; Im not sure if the EA would approve though.
Slalom course and gentle stoppers
You can also paddle upstream under the footbridge to the right of the lock. At some levels this stream is a bit rapid and you might do better to get out at the weir and walk up the tow path then through the gardens to the right of the canal and get back in at the top of the stream. There are several points of interest for beginners and their coaches here. The stream has a number of Slalom gates, it is usually fast following and there are a number of eddies where breakouts and break ins can be practiced with little risk of capsize. Above the channel with the slalom gates is a pool into which a weir discharges through arches, there are often little stoppers here to play on. If you carry on up stream to the right of the arches where the weir discharges you come to a pipe across the stream, its worth checking whether you might be able to limbo under this going down stream and also looking to see if it can be portaged.
Placid paddle to rapid ditch
If you portage the lock and paddle up the main channel you eventually come to a place where the canal carries straight on ahead and the river joins the channel from the right. You can land on the corner here and inspect a pour over feature which you will not want to mess with there is a nasty stopper! If you launch into the weir pool you can exit this and paddle down a fast ditch until you get to a pipe across the stream mentioned above. At low levels it can be limboed under otherwise you have a problem as the bank there is now a bit overgrown and you can't portage it. Check it out from the top of the slalom course to the right of the lock (looking upstream) before you run the ditch. Just above the pipe there is an eddy where a leader can get out, the stream is quite shallow and members of your party can be caught as they come down and gently passed under the pipe. I think this rapid ditch was probably cleared recently by our angler friends so be fair and check no one is fishing it before you run it. You can practice break ins and outs here or just take newbies for a first taste of strongish currents.
OTHER NOTES: Final warning...its a narrow ditch so do check it out before trying to run it downstream just in case.
There is a book which describes the Kennet and the Thames as a whole published by the Ordnance Survey and called Guide to Waterways 7 Thames, Wey, Kennet Avon. There is also a British waterways map of the Kennet and Avon available form the canal visitors centres. Neither specifically caters for canoeing but both are useful for planning longer trips and touring.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Chris Clarke-Williams. Systems Support Engineer Wicks and Wilson.