GUIDE TO THE RIVER STOUR
(Sturminster Newton to Blandford)
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: The section described here begins at Sturminster Newton where there is a mill and weir beside the road.
Take-out in Blandford.
APPROX LENGTH: 13 milesl.
TIME NEEDED: 3 hours +.
ACCESS HASSLES: Supposedly, paddling is not permitted on the non-tidal of this river but I have never encountered objections or hassle. Indeed, there are even a few quite paddler-friendly folks living along the riverbanks. Turning up in a minibus will probably not be a wise policy, though...
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: It is paddleable year-round.
GRADING: Grade 1 with weirs.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Weirs. Low bridges. Overgrown trees and bushes.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: Both authors have paddled this section during the Stour descent race which is held every year in December. The race runs from Sturminster Newton to Bryanston School near Blandford. There is a small stepped weir just above the road bridge at Sturminster Newton, I haven't shot this one because the race always starts just below this weir, however it looks perfectly straight forward. In high water, the sluices open providing surfing possibilities.
There is another small stepped weir on a left-hand bend about a mile further downstream, I have shot this one in a racing K2 so it can't be that bad can it? From here on down the river becomes very twisty and usually has lots of overhanging trees, which is in fact quite good fun in a racing boat with high water conditions. If the river is low then this section is a drag.
There is a three foot high weir under a bridge, which always seems to have a good stopper on it, about half way between Sturminster Newton and Bryanston. There is one more weir about half a mile above Bryanston, which is a horrible looking concrete step and really doesn't look worth trying ('I did it though, it's a hard boof into shallow water and a gnarly stopper...not really recommended' - Mark R). Portage on river right.
Some of the weirs have sluice gates associated with them, which could provide some fun, but since I have only ever done this river in race conditions, I have never stopped to play. The total length of the race is about twelve miles, so it is quite a long trip.
There are two more weirs between Bryanston School and the centre of Blandford...
First is a sizeable weir. This is a seven foot vertical drop which is river-wide. In low water not enough water flows over the weir to allow shooting, and the water at the base is less that a foot deep anyway! In medium water the weir can be shot, best diagonally IMHO, but inspect the stopper yourself first. In higher water a sizable stopper forms along the length of the weir. This is full depth and in flood the boil line is up to 25 feet from the weir. This is terminal. Do not shoot under any circumstances. 20 foot tree trunks have been seen in the weir, being thrown end to end, with the tips sharpened like pencils by the weir face! A Europa was trapped in the stopper for 3 days, some years ago. Portage river right.
Continue downstream for 1/2 mile to Blandford weir. This is a stepped affair, and can be shot in medium water levels - inspect first. Portage is on river left. In high water a holding stopper forms, before the weir gets washed out.
See the following guide for info on access/ egress in Blandford.
OTHER NOTES: Merlin and Jo have paddled 5.5 km upstream from Blandford and back...'Paddling upstream you go immediately under the road bridge and with Blandford on your left you soon say good-bye to the town. For the majority of the paddle, Bryanston school grounds are on your left. The horse chestnut trees are some of the best I've ever seen. After a kilometre of paddling you come to a stepped weir. A short and obvious portage on the left gets you back on the Stour. Past the Bryanston canoe clubhouse the river bears off left and a very pleasant paddle is had until the river narrows to almost half in size. Here you will get the occasional bump from the shallowing of the river. A bend close to Manor France farm has to be taken on the right as the left is shallow - poling shallow! Avoid the strainers to the bridge where the A357 leaves the A350 and follow the bend to where the river splits into two. The obvious right is very shallow and swift(!) whilst the left goes into a mill pond, with a very steep (but short) portage. We terminated here as the portage from river right was long and the portage from river left was too steep. Time taken upstream 2 hours 15mins, downstream 1 hour 20 mins. This river has a great pull-in to the right just after the grounds of Bryanston school end, for a picnic. This is a great open canoe stretch.'
The River Stour from Canford School to the sea is enjoyable.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Merlin, Jo, Martin Harrall and Mark Rainsley.