GUIDE TO THE RIVER WANDLE
(Colliers Wood to Wandsworth)
NAME OF RIVER: Wandle.
WHERE IS IT?: South-West London.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: You can start below Merton Abbey Mills (London SW19) or under the North Road (SW19) bridge in Wandle Meadow Nature Park. After Trewint Street (near Earlsfield) escape can be difficult until reaching some steps by The Causeway (SW18), near the mouth.
APPROX LENGTH: About 5 miles.
TIME NEEDED: About one hour, if you were in a hurry.
ACCESS HASSLES: There are some very tempting stretches higher up the Wandle, downstream from Hackbridge, but the National Trust do not like us in their bit. No access problems below Merton Abbey Mills.
Matt Savage (March 2004)...'Local Radio for SW London were reporting that the Wandle is being re-stocked with trout - so take care not to damage the spawning beds :) See also http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/2856177.stm'
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: In spate you will drown, stuck under low pipes or bridges. The end is partly tidal, so if you plan to join the Thames you need to time it right. In normal conditions you are unlikely to have problems.
GRADING: Easy, but unpredictable, occasional urban hazards.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: One low pipe can take you by surprise (take the right-side channel at Trewint Street island and lean back!). There is a sweet little weir to shoot too. The occasional tree gets in the way, but your main worry is what sinister man-made objects may have been deposited in this urban river. You should ask the BCU River Advisor for his excellent notes about the Wandle, including the serious problem of getting access to Bell Lane Creek and the Thames.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: The Wandle constantly changes character and includes some very pretty sections as well as lots of enjoyable (if shallow) slide weirs.
The Wandle is no longer the open sewer of old - the water is clean and supports lots of wild life. However, there are two main reasons to try the Wandle. First, you get to experience south London's only set of rapids! Yes, new this year (2003), an old slide weir has been replaced with pretty rocks, for the benefit of the fish I was told. The other is the 500 metre tunnel under the Arndale Centre at Wandsworth. It is very, very dark and exciting.
OTHER NOTES: You can also track nearly all the Wandle, from source to mouth, by bicycle or on foot - see www.wandletrail.org for information. The Wandle was once heavily industrialised - by getting some background information on the many old mills you can explain some of the river's features and it adds interest to the paddler's journey.
Nicholas, Curator of Wandle Industrial Museum, August 2004...'www.wandle.org gives more of the history of the river.'
M. Hart (Feb 2004)...'Take a look at http://www.curator.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/common.htg/framee.htm'
A precautionary tale from Ed, Battersea Canoe Club...(October 2002) 'When in the Arndale tunnel (left hand of the two), beware of Ed's Folly - an offshoot about halfway down the main tunnel on the left. It doesn't go anywhere, but there is more than enough space to park up and become concerned you are disappearing backwards down a separate drain to oblivion! Sensations of drifting in the current, the fact that the boat had hit something solid and bounced left (where the tunnel wall should have been and therefore the only direction should have been right!) my ability to park perfectly between two metal stanchions which restricted paddling and reinforced the idea that it was a smaller offshoot tunnel, all add up to confused senses and a disconcerting experience! (OK so we were paddling without lights - well it's more fun!). I only mention this as more inexperienced paddlers on a first time run through the tunnel, might find this even more entertaining than I did. In hindsight, I had hit the downstream wall of the offshoot cavern, bounced left, perfectly broken out and having spun round, the momentum reversed me into a gap in the supporting pillars. I could hardly have managed a neater job in daylight. Although I still had the sensation of drifting backwards between the pillars, this was a left over sensation from the push off from the wall and the resultant breakout spin (flat bottomed play boat). In reality the back of the boat was a matter of inches from the upstream wall in the cavern. On inspection with a head torch (I do sometimes carry appropriate accessories!), the cavern is an inflow drain and inspection area allowing access into the main tunnel. It doesn't go back very far, but plenty of space for a boat or two and so if you bounce around a bit, you're bound to come out in the end (and return to the main tunnel). However, I won't forget in a hurry the image of disappearing backwards down an outflowing drain to some unknown bowel of subterranean London! Lesson to be learnt - paddling blind heightens the senses! (or maybe I'm losing the feel for the water)
P.S. The first tunnel/weir below Merton Abbey can be a lot of fun to surf. However, it brings new meaning to the term "the wave was closed out". In high water you're not only bouncing off the sides, but maybe even the ceiling! Also, if planning to exit onto the Thames - aim for low to mid tide and the last big pipe on the Wandle can be slid underneath to allow access to the final weir. When the tide is in, the only way past this pipe is to climb over - not easy - or exit onto landing stage, on left by rail bridge. Of course if you time it for very high tides - the weir into Bell Lane Creek is shootable, but this can be a very big drop at other times (straight onto concrete at low water). With the tide out, the final Wandle weir is an entertaining slide, drop, slide, drop, slide, drop etc. at low tide. This could be a bit sticky in some places if sideways in the wrong bit! Whether you need to slide over the Bell Lane Creek weir onto the Thames is again dependent on tide levels - we usually time it to catch the tide back to up to Putney and a pub lunch!
P.P.S I can concur with the original author's comments - this trip is an urban boater's little gem!'
CONTRIBUTED BY: John White, also Ed, Matt Savage, Wandle Industrial Museum and M. Hart.