GUIDE TO THE RIVER THAMES
Abingdon Weir, River Thames. The 'Don'.
50 miles north west of Central London and 7 miles south of Oxford, Abingdon is located upstream of the main Thames weir play boating venues. The weir is situated just to the east of the town centre, 200 yds upstream of the road bridge over the Thames in the town centre (SU 5056 9717).
A steep, high concrete ramp with 10 small radial gates in a row at the top, that generates a retentive stopper that provides an excellent blasting zone.
For many years now every Summer, Abingdon has provided locals, particularly members of Abingdon's Kingfisher Canoe Club, with a good alternative to the long drive to Chertsey. The weir is however, very much a one move wonder- the move being the 'blast'. No wonder that the club calls its annual fun rodeo, tongue in cheek, the KCC 'Blast-a-thon'.
Water levels required
Abingdon is usually at its best from May to July, at about the time that Hurley is dropping from 2 to 1 gates and play boaters are threatening to 'slash their wrists'. In other words, when the Thames is at Summer levels, but not too low. Any earlier and the stopper can be very sticky- you will be too busy surviving to pull any controlled moves. Any later, and you may find that all 10 gates are closed. Expect between 1 and 5 alternate gates to be open.
Gauge and levels information
Non existent, but it really doesn't matter, Abingdon is very reliable- when Hurley is on 1 gate, Abingdon should be at its best.
Directions and parking
From Abingdon town centre, follow the signs for Oxford. This will take you off the inner one way system, north up 'The Vineyard'. After 100 yads, after traffic lights, at a mini roundabout, head right following the signs for Radley. After 100 yds, turn right at the next mini roundabout into Barton Lane. After 200 yds, after the road has gradually veered to the left, take the 2nd right, where there is a community centre and car park. Don't park in the car park- drive past it, turn left and park up just before the entrance to the Territorial Army centre, taking care not to cause an obstruction- you don't want your car run over by a tank! Carry your boat from here- head 20 yds back towards the community centre and take the footpath to the left. Follow this for 50 yds as it curves to the right until you reach a small back water. Go over the small footbridge, turn left and walk a further 50 yds until you reach the weir.
Looking upstream at the weir from the weir pool, looking from left to right, you will find the play boating venue, followed by two dangerous walled in radial gates and then a walled in row of sluice gates, followed finally by the lock. When the river is at the right level, you will find between 1 and 5 gates open. Expect to find alternate gates open- as opposed to two in a row- thanks to a helpful lockkeeper.
Each gate forms a small stopper at the base of the weir, each less than 2m wide. With a thin film of water flowing down over a ramp that is about 30 degs off horizontal, the result is an excellent venue for blasts. Abingdon may be a one move wonder, but in the latest 2m long play boats a lot of fun can be had pulling just about every version of the blast imaginable. Stable forward blasts, reverse blasts, blast transition 360s, clean spins, hands only spins and finally the no hands clean spin- the top Abingdon move of the moment.
Don't harbour hopes of pulling blunts and cartwheels- although you can get some 'vert' in 2m boats- not only is the water running down over the weir shallow, but the weir pool is only 2-3 ft deep and is awash with debris. Hand rolling at Abingdon, you run the risk of cutting your hands- it's safer to sit upside down for a while and wait for the boat to stop moving- then gingerly feel the river bed and push off a boulder. You need to pretty confident and have a good lung capacity to do this over and over again and enjoy the experience.
Asides from the shallow weir pool, the other hazard at weekends consists of anglers, who also like the weir pool- however, if you are relaxed about dodging their lines then you'll find that boaters and anglers can quite happily co-exist.
You can put in at the road bridge in the town centre, parking in the car park to the south of the road bridge, but expect to find your car broken into when you return- thieves love this car park even more than Hurley because it's isolated. Take care at the usual put in too- it is a quiet spot aside from anglers' cars- and hide away all valuables.
White water intermediates looking for moving water experience may enjoy 'Swift Ditch'- a back water that rejoins the Thames downstream of Abingdon, providing a good 3-4 mile circuit. To get to it, put in above the weir and after about 500 yds look for a channel on the right, where there is a sudden1.5m/ 5 ft drop. There is an alternative entry channel slightly further upstream, which features a small weir part way along it. The ditch is narrow and tree strewn and does tend to gradually get overgrown over the Summer, but is a quiet haven where you can experience moving water, tight moves and break outs.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Chris Wheeler.