GUIDE TO THE RIVER STOUR
(Canford School to Christchurch Quay)
NAME OF RIVER: Stour.
WHERE IS IT?: Flowing from North Dorset (Sturminster), past Blandford and Bournemouth to the English Channel at Christchurch, this is a major river.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Consider starting further up on the River Stour. The section described here begins near Canford School (OS map 195, GR 032988). You can access the river by parking OUTSIDE the school gates and wandering upstream a little way to a footbridge where you can slide down the riverbank. At Blandford (OS map 194, GR 885061), the alternative to using Bryanston School grounds without permission is to use the public carpark adjacent to Safeways. This has excellent access to the river at GR 885061, a car park in Blandford Forum. A easy portage from the car park (free on Sundays, or 1.00 for 4 hours all other days) puts you in the Stour. It is only the other side of the bridge from the school. There's a shallow weir immediately downstream.
Takeout anywhere in Christchurch (see OTHER NOTES below) or continue across Christchurch harbour and egress on the left when you meet the sea at Avon Beach. There are plenty of other possible start/ finish points, look at the map.
Pete Shepherd ... 'If you are putting in at Christchurch, the car park at Wick Lane is 2.20 for 5 hrs - plenty of time to get to the end of the river, stop for a spot of lunch and paddle round Christchurch Harbour. Or you can head upstream for some distance - as far as Iford Bridge. It's a bit of a hike from the car park to a slope where you can put in (about 400m downstream), but it's worth it.'
APPROX LENGTH: 16 miles to Christchurch.
TIME NEEDED: 4 hours+.
Andy Shute (2007) ... 'Just another comment regarding access on the river near the Throop MillI tried to launch just upstream from the weir by the mill, just for a paddle and to allow my three young children the chance to try out canoeing in flat safe water, but the river balliff refused point blank to allow us anywhere near the area, even though there were no fishermen present anywhere near. His attitude has put off my children from even going near the river now!'
Another contributor says...'Permission is definitely required from Bournemouth and West Hants. Water Co. for the Longham Weir section, I paddled it a few years ago with permission granted and still encountered problems from the Bailiff (who lives at the Longham), and as we had left our permission letter at home we were forced to portage this section, (only a short portage accross the bridge to behind the Old Bridge House). The weir itself is very shallow and often unpaddleable at normal river levels.'
Peter Shepherd (April 2005)...'I contacted Bmth and W Hants Water Co re permission to navigate stretch of R Stour at Longham, as I understood that permission needed to be given by this company. Reply as follows (April 7 '05):
' ... You should not need our permission to travel on any of our waters. The River Stour, where navigable, is treated much the same way as a public highway and therefore you should need no consent to travel upon it.
Our ownership of the river bed stretches upstream from Christchurch Harbour to as far as Iford Bridge. I am afraid we do not know who you would need to speak to with regard to the stretches of the Stour between Canford School and Iford Bridge.'
.. The river itself is a public right of way although this will not always apply to land adjoining it.'
Joe Casserley (August 2005)...'I paddled the Stour from Longham to Christchurch. Permissions are needed for the section from Longham to the West Weir above Iford bridge. I believe the last weir on this river marks the start of the tidal section of the river so there are no access issues.
Most of the journey from Longham was fine and we only received some slight aggravation from fishermen on the very last section before Iford bridge. From Longham to the start of Throop we didn't really see anyone.
The description of the lower Stour trip agrees with our experience. I would say that at present (August) the water was low just below Longham to have to walk the canoe (16ft open) for 50 yards or so, no great hardship. The river is quite clogged with reeds in some sections, notably where it flows through Christchurch golf course.
For access to the river Longham was easy enough, at Christchurch you can enter at the public slipway near the rowing club at christchurch quay, by Iford bridge, or a better option is the quieter public slipway by the council offices on bridge street, just off Chrischurch highstreet. A good trip is to put in here, this is a fork of the lower avon and head downstream to the harbour and head towrds the harbour mouth (good cafe on mudeford spit for lunch!) then paddle back up in to the lower avon but take the first fork and then go aroud the loop and back down the second fork to where you started.
Access to the lower Stour look to be controlled by the Malmesbury estate and permissions are not granted according to another canoeist I met this weekend.'
See also 'OTHER NOTES' below.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: It is paddleable year-round.
GRADING: Grade 1 with weirs.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Weirs. Low bridges. The Town weir at the ingress point - don't cock it up here; far too many people to laugh at you!
Pete Shepherd ... 'Boom across the river about a mile downstream from Throop. I just about managed to ease the kayak over it at the extreme left hand side (going downstream).'
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: I have paddled most of this section and inspected/ paddled on all of the weirs. I will try to make it clear when I have NOT experienced a part of the trip personally.
From the access point described, you are directly upstream of Canford Weir. This really needs inspecting (cross to the river left bank) but you have a choice of heading river left down a clear wide slide, river right down a tricky series of steps under a little footbridge (fun!) or thirdly, being sucked down a whirlpool and under a sluice gate between these two routes if the water level is high. Guess which option you don't want to take. Playing in the whitewater downstream of the weir is fun, but top playboaters won't find much to do here.
It is five miles down to Longham bridge and weir (apparently flat, I haven't paddled it). The weir will probably need portaging on river right. Be aware that this site belongs to 'Bournemouth and West Hampshire Water', they may not appreciate your presence (see comments above).
Comments from Andrew Asquith...'I have put in on the right bank below Longham bridge. Less than half a mile below is a small weir (1ft) which should be perfectly OK in most water. I had a little play at medium winter level and it was OK but nothing more. After carrying up the weir you can paddle back to the bridge. About mile below Longham bridge there is also a small rocky rapid (probably a former weir). I've not bothered to paddle it, but have seen it from the bank in summer levels.Popular with fisherfolk but I didn't get any aggro.'
It's four flat miles from here to Throop Weir, under a footbridge. I have paddled all of the river from here. The weir is a sloping affair with a walled-in chute in the centre. In low water, it was safe enough to shoot but I suspect that in high water it would be neither safe nor playable. Portaging discreetly on river left is easy enough. A little way below this weir is a pool on the right with mill sluices entering it. I have not seen these open...? The river drops over a number of safe 'mini-weirs' in the next mile to the point where it passes under a large dual carriageway bridge.
A mile below the bridge is Iford weir, a small drop through a jumble of rocks which offers a useful spot for learning moving water skills. It's easy and usually safe to shoot. After a mile you reach two bridges in succession; this is Iford bridge, you are now officially allowed to be there! A weir marked on the OS map at this point doesn't exist. Only two flat miles remain before you pass under Tuckton Bridge (loads of sailing boats moored) and approach Christchurch Quay on river left. Directly downstream past Christchurch Priory the River Avon enters on river left, and paddling up it and around the 'Christchurch Loop' is recommended. If you carry on, you find yourself in Christchurch harbour (no bad thing) and it's two miles to Avon Beach just after the mouth of the Harbour. The Isle of Wight is the next stop from here.
OTHER NOTES: I would be extremely interested to hear from anyone who has paddled the parts of the Stour which I haven't...? Even if only to confirm what I've said. This trip is less scenic than the nearby River Avon but seems to have far less access hassle.
Jackie Scott (2005)...'Iford Bridge to Mudeford. Having purchased a Ocean Kayak last summer my kids aged 16 and 14 wanted to paddle a river. After studying the map to make sure there were no weirs in the way! We found an easy put in just near Iford Bridge. (Travelling from Christchurch take the first left turn after the bridge). They had a great time and didn't encounter any objections, infact there were several other Kayakers out that day. Take out was easy too, by the RNLI slipway at Mudeford Quay, although you could have a very scenic paddle around Hengistbury Head and make the trip a bit longer. This route is a good starter for unsupervised teenagers, before they move on to longer more hazardous routes.'
Jonathan Reynolds notes...'In Christchurch, there is actually an incredibly convenient public slipway with carpark near the Yacht Club. OK you have to pay to park, but it's safe, and gives you an extra mile or so to paddle up to Iford Bridge. Putting in at Iford Bridge is possible but parking is much more restricted. Given a 16' Canadian, I'd opt for Christchurch every time.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley, Merlin, Jo, Jonathan Reynolds, Joe Casserley, Peter Shepherd, Andy Shute, Jackie Scott and Andrew Asquith.