GUIDE TO THE RIVER NENE
(Nene Whitewater Centre)
NAME OF RIVER: River Nene; Northampton Whitewater Centre, Northampton.
WHERE IS IT?: Just off the A45 at the Bedford Road/town centre exit. It is signposted from the A45. You have to drive along the Bedford Road and go around the island and back to the slalom site entrance. There is no direct right turn into it.
Watch out for the height-restriciton-bar things in the car park if you're driving a van or something because they can be a bit low. Our boats almost got ripped off the roof before we realised what was happening. If you go into the Centre and ask them to move the bar they really don't mind at all.
Stuart Ball writes ....'This was my first visit and it was a bit difficult to find. I did not see any signs on the A45, at least not when approached from the east! Here are somewhat fuller directions - Turn off the A45 at the junction signposted for City Centre and Bedford. Take the exit from the roundabout towards Bedford on the A428. You almost immediately cross the River Nene and the "Eighth Earl Spencer Centre for Young People" building and car park are visible across the river to your right. However, there is no right turn allowed so you have to continue about 500m to the next roundabout. Go right round it and head back towards the river. As you approach the bridge again, there is a left turn signposted for Tuthills - it is also marked as a dead-end. Take this turning and then immediately turn right towards the river. This takes you into the car park. The Nene Whitewater Centre is just around the corner on the river-side of the building.'
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Put-in is by the three pumps and the take out is, erm, by the three pumps! Look at the map and you will see what I mean.
APPROX LENGTH: 200 metres.
TIME NEEDED: Less than five minutes if you don't play.
ACCESS HASSLES: Around 5 gets you a bib and several hours playing. Check opening hours before travelling ...
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: The only real indication is the number of pumps running. Two or more pumps is needed. Note that flow from the River Nene potentially adds to the course's pumped flow half-way down.
There are, as of our last couple visits around November '03, only ever three pumps running for the rafts. For us kayakers only two pumps are left going. I've never seen one pump going. And the sluice gate contraption in the pool after drop 'D' is never open, so no flow is added!
GRADING: Grade 2.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: The depth of water over the whole course is relatively shallow. Watch out. Also, be aware that the fibreglass blocks in the river are secured by metal bolts with exposed heads.
Due to the unprecedented low danger level here at Northampton, many large groups of beginners come here. So just be ready for the occasional stray paddler-less boat and accompanying swimmer. Since the course is narrow, it can be a pain in the backside to get out of the way in time though.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: Virtually all of the features have been changed since the original guide was written. In November '03, this is how the course worked;
The pumps are okay for a bit of warm-up practice ferrying, stern squirts and holding yer boat kind-of vertical.
The first drop is quite shallow and actually a fairly vertical drop although not very high at all, with a moderately large foam pile. It's quite fast, but good for surfing if you can catch it. There's eddies both sides anyway. With all these first three drops, when you break out watch the 'banks' as they have a nasty habit of suddenly finding your hull and making you think "what the hell's going on?" The current here pushes you left a bit through a tiny wave train, to the next drop.
The second drop is another surf wave, however it's not really very good and a lot less of a drop exists here, also there aren't really any eddies here so you've gotta get it first time down.
Third is yet another surf wave, again quite shallow but with nice big eddies. I find this one quite good to side-surf. You've gotta break out in this pool to check if there're any budding rodeo stars playing in the 'big drop.' If there aren't, just go straight over.
This drop, 'D' on the map, looks big, but if you keep it straight and paddle then there's really no problem shooting it. You can wavewheel this drop - time your double-pump for just when you hit the bit of water coming up immediately before the drop itself. It'll make sense when you're there. I promise. So, for playing this drop isn't too bad. The wall of water forming the hole is very steep, so loops have been known to be pulled off. Side-surfing is possible if you're prepared to be bumped around a bit. Cartwheeling is easy if you're used to wheelin' in a powerful hole. If not, then there's a spot for you a bit further down the course at Pool 'G' ---. Moving back to the main drop, I have blunted in it and airwheels and weird airborne-pirouttes as well as tonnes of mystery moves are possible.
Moving down now, some eddy-hopping can be done between the two eddies behind the fibreglass monsters clearly visible above water. Immediately downstream of these eddies, on river left is a very small, very shallow but incredibly weird breaking wave. In my humble experience, this wave holds you right on its shoulder in the middle of the channel. I have never succesfully surfed this wave 'normally.' While on its shoulder, a common occurence is many linked stern squirts repeatedly banging on the bottom (you can't go over, it's too shallow) or just a weird, uncomfortable series of edge-switches. If you don't like the sound of this then just go down past the wave river-right and you're fine.
Now, we're at the pool on the map between 'E' and 'F.' The flow into this pool is funnelled between two fibreglass things creating, well, nothing really. Despite this existence of nothing, there are some incredibly sweet eddy lines here and eddyline cartwheeling and stern squirts coming in from both sides are the order of the day.
Going down again, there's a shallow but good surf wave at 'F,' with a long lead-in chute. Also, there is a very long boily pillow behind the wave. It can be difficult to catch this wave by shooting directly into it so most people either spin over the blocks at the top to drop into either of the eddies or break out high up into one of the eddies. Don't break out too far down because there is a submerged bollard-thing on each side to prevent you from paddling up again.
Pool 'G.' This is my favourite one. A small pourover that is really good! Bottoming-out is common, though, so watch out. Wavewheel into it, but leave it a bit later than you're used to so you don't end up like I did - face down on the block thing with your head being pulled over a painful metal strip. I rolled up though! Pop-outs are soooo easy here, as is cartwheeling. This is probably actually one of the best places I know of to learn to cartwheel - you can either double pump or pop-out and then slash to catch some ends. If you bury your stern, it's hideously easy to go over-vertical and end up downside-up. Or whatever.
This last channel, after pool 'G,' has been changed quite recently. The first drop is just a drop. No wave or anything. Then there is a small, ordinary surf wave which is average in every way possible. Finally the second-to-last drop looks like a stopper but the tiny slide into it is incredibly shallow, and it's just really too weak to do anything (even surf).
The last drop is, sadly, a shadow of what it used to be. There is much less of a drop, and a wave does exist but it's small, hard to catch and pretty damn flushy. Pop-outs are possible if you can sink down into what trough there is but beginners will be nervous of the 'rock' immediately downstream. So, this aforementioned rock which used to be excellent for splats it still, well, good for splats but due to the reduced nature of the final drop there's not as much flow pushing against it, so splats aren't as easy.
And that's it. I hope my guide has explained the 'new' course - what has changed - well enough for most people!
CONTRIBUTED BY: David Lowe (who drew the map too!) Chas Couchman, Stuart Ball and Craig West. Complete rewrite by Rob Lee in 2004 - playsurfcreek.scsuk.net Maidstone Canoe Club member - maidstonecanoeclub.com.