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Sunday, 7 August 2011

Kayaking the Wensum: Costessey to Hellesdon Mill

Rowing through gunk

I DON’T particularly understand the biology, but whenever a big tree falls across a small freshwater river a micro-habitat seems to develop underneath. And you get this thick green soup in the water which makes the going tricky for anyone in a kayak. There was plenty of it today on my second stretch of the Wensum which sees the river climb north around Costessey to Drayton, before plunging south again towards Hellesdon Mill. The gunk I could handle, a bit of portage around Costessey Mill was easy too, it was the “No Canoeing” landlord around Drayton that got my goat. But let’s start at the beginning. In Costessey I used the backyard of the deserted 16th Norwich Sea Scouts base to get in the river. The Bush pub gardenI have to confess I didn’t have permission, but hey, Baden Powell would have approved wouldn’t he? Thanks chaps. From there you pass the idyllic pub garden of The Bush (pictured left) before seeing the equally picturesque back gardens of Costessey’s luckier residents. One of them even appears to have a private bridge (below right) which in my book is the height of cool. The river runs north down to the site of Costessey Mill. The buildings disappeared a long time ago, but of Private bridge at Costesseycourse there’s the usual longer-lasting evidence – two channels, a sluice and the need for a bit of portage. (Compared to Taverham this one is a piece of cake. Paddle right up to the road bridge and head left. Cross the road, head down a riverside footpath and you’re back in, immediately north of a weir.) The next stretch should be superb. You’re out in some lovely countryside and you can just make out the higher ground of Drayton up ahead. It’s spoilt by a “No Canoeing” sign, which I ignored. But a few hundred yards further on there’s a wire strung across the river which did make me turn, reluctantly, back. Some complicated portage saw me get back in immediately under A bridge, Draytonthe famous (for Drayton) A-bridge which used to carry the Midland and Great Northern line railway through these parts, and now carries cyclists and walkers down Marriotts Way. Looking back along the stretch I’d been forced to walk, there was no obvious reason to be banned. This is the sort of stuff that canoeing campaigner Griff Rhys Jones rightly rails against. At some point I’ll try to track down the landowner. Now the river gently meanders in a wide flood meadow with higher ground to the left and flatlands to the right. A road appears on the left too and I needed the map to work out that this was Hellesdon Low Road. There are an awful lot of fallen trees (and gunk) here which require some slaloming. (One is so low across the water that I had to get out of the kayak, balance on the trunk and hoik the craft over.) Further down there are more majestic gardens with boats and boathouses at the water’s edge. But I never see anyone in these places. Is there a rule though that the posher the pad the less time you have to use it? Hellesdon Mill cormorantAnd then, rather out of the blue, you arrive at Hellesdon Mill, where the Tud joins the Wensum. A wooden boom (used by fishing cormorants, see right) sits across the river just in case you don’t get the message. Portage here is easy. You hop out of the Wensum, cross a path and then drop via a slipway into the Tud/Wensum. Another canoeist reckoned that it’s an easy trip from here into Norwich. After today, I’ll take that.

6 comments:

  1. There used to be a section of river in North Wales that would have been brilliant to kayak but somebody used to put wire across that. Wire on a relatively calm river is bad enough but wire at chest height across white water is lethal! Can the landowner stop you kayaking through? I thought you just couldn't get in and out on their land.

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  2. To be fair I've since found out that the signs and the wire were probably there to stop canoeists disturbing a fish spawning area. I'm still not entirely sure though.

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  3. A friend of mine had a run in with that land owner a few years back whilst fishing from a boat. The land owner was abusive and threatening and threatened to call the police, so my friend did it for him from the safety of his boat. Long story short, the Police told the land owner that no laws were being broken.

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  4. It's still called trespassing, kayakers have NO legal rights to "Hey ho" paddle a river!

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  5. Landowners may own the banks and riparian interest but right of navigation iss public and should prevail

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