Stratford – not on Avon

When we were planning this month’s trip, I had considered heading down the River Avon, either for a short jaunt, or possibly as a traverse to join the River Severn and on towards Gloucester.  The navigation is operated by the Avon Navigation Trust (ANT) and requires a separate licence.  I found from the ANT website that they published a spiral bound guide to the river, which had detailed charts.  I decided that was worth having on board.  I also signed up for their navigation alert email list.  That is how I knew that the river is currently at FLOODCON 3 – which means “Tie up at a flood-safe mooring and don’t leave your boat without wellies.”

From our moorings in the basin, we can see the open head gates of the river lock.  This morning we set off on a walk along the river.  The level indicator on the river side of the lock was showing some amber, not exclusively red. Nevertheless the water was flowing pretty fast, and was clearly full of sediment.  We crossed the Tramway Bridge (the last tram was in 1904) and walked down the meadow on the other side of the river until we got to the first lock.

Willow branches droop over the river above a lock landing in the foreground. Small posts for tying boats are clearly visible.  The river stops at double gates to a lock . A metal gantry over the lock bears the words "COLIN P. WITTER LOCK".
Colin P Witter Lock

From upstream, things looked normal enough.  Tie your boat to the bollards, and then go to sort the lock.  We had a wander around the lock area.  The ANT rules for locks are different from those on the canals. They insist that you open both gates, even if you think you can fit through one,  They also tell you to leave the gates open behind you when you leave. The most difficult rule for us to comply with would be to hold the boat on a rope at both ends.  I don’t know how a lone boater could manage that at all.  I was sizing up the placements of the bollards on the lock sides and wondering how Clare and I might manage….

At the downstream side of the lock, it was more obvious that flooding was an issue.  I spent some time wondering why I couldn’t see the lock-landing.  Eventually I realised that the little post tops I was seeing were the mooring posts.  The landing was beneath them.  You’d certainly need wellies to get off there, and quite long ones too!

On the far side of a stretch of water, a sloped path leads into the water's edge. The only sign of the submerged walkway leading along the shore is a barely-visible post top. A large tree trunk is lying across the lock entrance against the gates.
Submerged Downstream Lock Landing

In the picture you can just make out the white top of a mooring bollard next to the tree trunk that has come to rest against the lock gates.  I’m very glad our plans didn’t involve navigating through here.

The water at both sides of the lock had been very still.  As with most river locks, the main flow is diverted over nearby weirs, leaving peaceful water for lock manoeuvres.  As we walked on downstream, we were opposite the first of the weirs.  It was obvious that the flooding in this next section was greater than we’d seen further up.

A women leans against the back of a bench.  The bench faces the river, but its feet are in the flood.  Across the river a wide weir flows straigh toards the bench.
Bench for Wearers of Wellies Only

The exit channel from the lock would be through the flow from the weir.  Keeping control in that flow might be difficult, and judging where the bank was could be tricky too.  We carried on further downstream.

A line of twigs on the grass in the foreground form the recent high water mark.  Across the river a sluice and weir discharge churned up water.
Lucy’s Mill Sluice and Weir

The extent of recent flooding was made obvious by the tide mark of little twigs.  There was another similar line further from the water’s edge indicating an even higher flood not so long before.  Lucy’s Mill Sluice on the opposite bank was set to let water flow as fast as possible.  The water at our bank was clearly heading upstream, so keeping a steady heading in this whirling section would be very tricky, and there is a multi-arch bridge just downstream. 

I think ANT have made the right call to close the river.  We’d always known the river could be a risky choice at this time of year.  Our plans had already been changed by other events, so the flooding hasn’t impacted us.  We’d intended to get to Stratford, but not on the Avon.