GUIDE TO THE RIVER AVON
(Malmesbury to Great Somerford)
NAME OF RIVER: Avon (Wiltshire/ Somerset).
WHERE IS IT?: The river Avon flows from above the ancient town of Malmesbury through Wiltshire and Somerset to the Severn Estuary and Avonmouth near Bristol.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Malmesbury: At the roundabout on the A429 at the southern end of Malmesbury, turn towards Malmesbury town center. Immediately afterwards turn left into a small no through road, it is possible to park here and jump over the fence to the river nearby. Alternatively follow signs for the long stay car park from either the north or southern end of town. The river is at the back of the car park.
Great Somerford: Find a sensible place to park, Great Somerford is only a small village and the river is easy to find.
APPROX LENGTH: 9 km.
TIME NEEDED: 2 hours.
ACCESS HASSLES: In most cases there are no access problems with this river, apart from a couple of cases mentioned in the text below. The River Advisors are: Julie Simson, 35 Gooch Street, Swindon, Wilts. SN1 2BA from source to Bath; and Alan Gallop, 12 Broadcroft, Chew Magna, Bristol, BS18 8QC from Bath to Avonmouth.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Take a look at some of the weirs on the section that you intend to do to get an indication of water level.
GRADING: Flat with weirs and occasional boulder dams and faster moving water.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Weirs, and trees on the upper stretches.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: We used to paddle from Malmesbury all the way to Chippenham in one go, but that was years ago when everyone paddled fiberglass snipes and when the coolest move was being able to do a pop out without busting the nose off your boat. But nowadays we all paddle short flat bottomed boats with all the streamlining of a brick, so I have split the section from Malmesbury to Chippenham into three sections.
The get-in near to the roundabout is just above a little multi stepped weir which descends around a bend. Follow the current under the bridge past the town, another tributary enters from the left, which is where you would emerge from if you got in at the long stay car park. The Avon apparently has five sources so don't be surprised the number of tributaries meeting at Malmesbury. After leaving the town you reach a large vertical weir with a footbridge running over it. The foot bridge is handy for inspection, but you should be able to shoot it almost anywhere. Beneath the weir there is a boulder dam and then another one just around the corner, after the road bridge.
A couple of miles of flat water leads to Little Somerford Weir, which is a hole in the wall on your right. The majority of the river caries on around the bend and through a large sluice gate, which provides some fast moving water to play in when the river is high. The house and surrounding grounds here are owned by James Dyson, you know the guy who invented that bagless vacuum cleaner thing. Don't trespass on his land, or you could be well and truly sucked. Again another couple of miles of flat water with maybe a few small weirs or boulder dams and you reach Great Somerford. You can get out at the bridge or paddle the one hundred meters down to the weir and get out on the left immediately after the weir. This weir is a sloping jobby with two concrete vertical walls in it, which don't seem to serve any purpose at all. The weir can have a nasty stopper in high water so be careful. A group of three of our club members thought that this might be a good weir to play in one day when the water was high. Two of them swam and have to pulled out on a line, the third thought better of it. They lost a wet suit boot and had to wait several minutes for an RPM to come out of the stopper, and all because they were too lazy to drive to Hurley. That'll teach em.
From here you can carry on down past Great Somerford if you wish.
OTHER NOTES: A flat touring river which is better suited to canadians and novices than the white water canoeist. Some of the weirs are playable but most are just straight drops. The upper sections are best done after some rain otherwise they are a long slog. The section from Bradford on Avon to Bath makes a good summer or low water trip. It is probably possible to paddle above Malmesbury, but I have little knowledge of this part of the river.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Martin Harrall.