GUIDE TO THE RIVER THAMES
Hurley Weir, River Thames.
Hurley is located 25 miles west of Central London, in the heart of the Thames Valley, between Henley and Marlow. The village is situated on the southern side of the river (SU 8210 8423).
The main weir consists of 4 radial gates that generate a series of steep retentative, breaking, play waves/ holes.
Hurley is arguably the UK's premier play boating venue. Its attractions include its convenient location, the power and consistency of the Hurley wave and the fact that the weir is freely available 7 day a week for up to 9 months a year.
Water levels required
Normal Winter water levels will usually produce 2-4 gates from October/ November through to May/ June. The Thames is an intensively managed river and levels usually only vary by 1-3 ft even though the total volume of water flowing through all the weirs at Hurley can range from little more than 10 cumecs in Summer to 200 cumecs in Winter flood.
Gauge and levels information
Paddlers either rely on a visual inspection to see how many gates are open or check which gates are open via the Internet. Information is available daily at www.thamesweirproject.co.uk, www.kayakojacko.com and www.playboating.com. The message board at www.thamesweirproject.co.uk is particularly recommended- this is where you will find the latest up to the minute news and gossip, and the site's current manager, James Farquharson, happens to work at SAS, right next to the weir.
Directions and parking
From the M4- exit at junction 8/9 and head north on the A404 (M), following the signs for High Wycombe. Turn off after 4 miles, onto the A423, following the signs for Henley and Hurley. After another mile, turn right into the village of Hurley. Continue to the end of the road, where you will find a car park, to the left.
From the M40- exit at junction 4 and head south on the A404, following the signs for Maidenhead. Turn off after 5 miles, following the signs for Henley, heading west on the A423 for 1 mile until you turn into Hurley Village.
From the car park, carry your boat northwards on the path to the river- for 100 yds- and put in either side of the foot bridge. Then paddle upstream (left) until the main (furthest upstream) weir comes into view, below you. Please note you are NOT allowed to shoot the radial gates themselves- most paddlers shoot the concrete shelving before they reach the main weir.
There are in fact 3 weirs at Hurley, which link islands immediately north of the lock and lock cut. The downstream weir, the 'buck gates', nearest to the lock consists of radial gates but this should not be confused with the main weir- whilst rodeo competitions have been held here, the weir is extremely dangerous. This is because the weir pool is heavily eroded, causing a retentive stopper to form between the concrete stanchions between the gates. The next (middle) weir upstream consists of vertical sluices, which are not usually of interest.
The main attraction is the furthest, most upstream weir. This consists of 4 radial style gates, situated between concrete shelving. Flow over the northern most shelving is controlled by a row of small radials- and the gate nearest to the radials is usually left shut to protect the eddy. The southern shelving extends downstream of the gates by about 10 ft, boxing in the weir at one end. The river level drops by just under 4 ft at Hurley- one of the smallest drops of any Thames weir- however, with a shallow weir pool, the result is a shallow angled flow of water that produces a wave with a smooth green trough and white, breaking peak, about 3 ft high. The gates, with concrete stanchions in between, create a unique series of waves/ holes.
More gates are opened as the river rises (the following is written looking upstream at the weir from the weir pool- gate 1 is the gate furthest right, running through to gate 4 which is the furthest left- the corner gate):
Usually, the lock keeper will leave open the left hand/ corner gate (the 4th gate). This produces a small breaking wave immediately next to the concrete. 1 gate is generally considered to be suitable for beginners and paddlers new to play boating- forward and backward surfing are possible and there is a good clean eddy line for bow and tail squirts. It is possible to pull flat spins and smears/ splats up and onto the concrete shelf, but experts will find that the feature is of limited appeal.
Again, the lock keeper will usually leave the left hand gates open, next to the concrete shelf. The produces a good cartwheel hole, gate 3, next to the eddy, although the hole varies in retentiveness depending on the water level. Gate 4, in the corner, is more green, with a nice shoulder to the right which is excellent for blunts and blunt/ wheel combinations.
If two other adjacent gates are left opened instead- and it can happen either because one of the other gates is broken or because a relief keeper is on duty- you will find that the gates are less retentive. However, in the latest boats, long rides featuring cartwheel and blunts are possible, especially in the left hand gate.
Classic Hurley- everyone loves 3 gates. When Hurley goes from 2 to 3 gates, the lock keeper will usually close gate 4 and open gates 1 and 2. This leaves the right hand 3 gates open, producing a symmetrical feature, with eddies either side, which eases eddy congestion. The side gates provide excellent cartwheel holes and the middle gate a flatter, greener wave with shoulders that is excellent for blunts- carved or bounced- and blunt/ wheel combinations.
If the left hand 3 gates are opened instead, then at higher water levels, the weir can start to behave like 4 gates- more retentive and not for the faint hearted.
Occasionally, if you are lucky, the middle gate produces a perfect 5ft high green wave. This is rare and would appear to happen when the river is rising, when the water level above the weir is relatively high.
Some paddlers prefer the adrenaline rush of 4 gates- with up to 100 cumecs racing through the 4 gates at approaching 10 mph- but it's not for the faint hearted at higher water levels. Whilst gate 1 can still provide a friendly cartwheel hole at lower levels, the other gates ('The Dark Side') tend to form fast, powerful stoppers that are for experts only and avoided by many. Expect therefore, an adrenaline fuelled cartwheel/ full loop tumbling session- very different to the 3 gate chilled, blunt experience.
At higher water levels, when the river comes close to breaching or breaches the banks, upstream of the weir, the wave forms a heavy stopper, which tends to move upstream until it forms between the concrete stations between the gates. At these levels, you can be dragged onto the stanchions and find yourself doing numerous 'unintendos'. Usually, however, at these levels, Shepperton or even Mapledurham will be working.
Be warned- Hurley is very popular and can get very busy at peak times, especially during one weekend in March each year, traditionally the 3rd weekend, when the annual rodeo is held.
Please change discretely and quietly, to help maintain good relations with the villagers. Theft from cars in the car park is a regular occurrence- so be careful. Between Easter and September, you can park in the field next to the weir, which is accessed via the farm- turn left 100 yds before you reach the car park in the village. Great for BBQs. However, you will pay for the privilege and in theory you are supposed to leave before 6pm.
The village features 3 pubs and the East Arms is particularly popular with paddlers. There is also a shop. More recently, the Red Lion, 1 mile to the east of the village on the A423, has become popular- it's an attractive, friendly pub with good food.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Chris Wheeler.