GUIDE TO THE RIVER THAMES
Boulters Weir, River Thames.
20 miles west of Central London, on the eastern edge of Maidenhead, north of the where the A4 and M4 cross the Thames (SU 9039 8277).
During the Summer months, Boulters provides a small pour over facility that provides an alternative Summer play boating venue to Chertsey, which is suitable for cartwheels and steep blasts.
During the Winter months, typically when the Thames is high (and Shepperton on 10 gates and therefore too high to be at its best), the main weir at Boulters can provide two, and sometimes three, consecutive fast breaking, surging waves.
The big Boulters wave used to be the stuff of legends- attracting paddlers from miles around whenever the Thames was high, attracted by the prospect of a 13m/ 40 ft wide and 1.6m/ 5 ft high retentive breaking wave. Sadly, in 1999 the wave was lost when the Environment Agency replaced the old 10 gate weir with a new 4 gate structure, situated about 10 ft further upstream. The new gates are too efficient for their own good, pushing water through so fast that the wave has been flattened, and whilst at certain levels waves can form, they are not in the same league as the big old wave.
However, local paddlers working with the BCU have now created a small pour over facility to one side of the main weir, which provides a useful Summer facility, albeit not for the faint hearted.
Water levels required
Summer levels- when Hurley is down to 0 or 1 gate.
Winter levels- high, when Shepperton is typically on 10 gates and slightly too high but Mapledurham not quite high enough (Boulters can wash out if the Thames is too high).
At the time of writing, local paddlers were busy assessing the optimum head and tail gauge levels during the Winter months (these gauges being readily visible at the lock). The provisional results suggest that the optimal level is 23.6/ 22.2 and that at least one retentive wave should be present between around 23.5/ 22.0 and 23.8/ 22.3. This is assuming that at the time, the 4 main weir gates are open and unobstructed.
Directions and parking
Head for Maidenhead Town Centre. From there, follow the signs for Slough and the A4- this will take you eastwards towards the Thames. After mile, just before the bridge over the Thames, turn left immediately after the petrol filling station, into Ray Mead Road (A4094). Drive along the road for about 500 yds (with the river on your right) until you reach the lock. Turn into the car park on your left, which is signposted. From here, carry your boat across the road, launch and paddle upstream. Turn right at the upstream end of the island and you will find the weir straight ahead of you. Paddle downstream, aiming for the right hand end of the weir and portage down to the weir pool.
Looking upstream from the weir pool, the pour over is situated towards the left hand end of the weir, between boards, towards one end of a long concrete tiered shelf. To the right, further away, is the main weir, consisting of 4 large gates.
The pour over has been created by adding a structure to channel a chute of water over the concrete, producing a powerful flume of water entering the weir pool at a steep angle. The result is a very retentive feature that is good for ends and steep blasts but not for the faint heated. This is not the ideal venue for beginners or solo paddling. It may be that in the future permanent changes will be effected to make the pour over more user friendly.
Summer 2003 - Jacko of www.kayakojacko.com has installed a more permanent wooden flume which makes the spot much more manageable and suited to all abilites. Good effort!
Turning to the main weir, during the Winter, when the Thames is high and all the main weir gates are opened, up to three waves can form. Firstly, a retentive top wave sometimes appears, that is good for flat spins and blunts. A second wave, and sometimes a third wave, can also form downstream, next to the surfer's right eddy, that are powerful and surging, like natural high volume river waves. These waves are hard to master but once mastered most of the new school hole and wave moves are possible- particularly on the second wave, which appears to work most frequently of the three. However, the weir is unpredictable and it is worth checking out www.thamesweirproject.co.uk in advance for news.
The corner of the weir complex, between the main weir and side weirs parallel to the flow, is very dangerous. Do not access the top wave from the surfer's left side of the main weir unless the small radials in the corner are closed and even then, be very careful- the weir has killed in the past.
The Kayakojacko Freestyle event at Boulters has become an established event in the Freestyle calendar, held every September. Intended as a more relaxed, fun event, in 2002 there were temporary design modifications that made the feature more user friendly. Even so, the top paddlers, many of them juniors, were throwing down an impressive number of ends.
Local paddlers live in hope that the old top wave will be restored one day. The likelihood of that happening may be greatly increased if the recent project to restore the wave at Hambleden Weir (lost in similar circumstances in 1996) is deemed to be a success.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Chris Wheeler.