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About the Author

From bicycle touring to backpacking, watercolour painting to clay modelling, the exploration journal captures my journey through many different interests and travel adventures.

I love to find those out of the way places that whisk you away from the concerns of everyday life. Whether this is by wading through an overgrown river or trying new paint techniques is up to you!

Packrafting Shakespeare’s Avon: Warwick to Stratford-upon-Avon

Packrafting Shakespeare’s Avon: Warwick to Stratford-upon-Avon

In July 2023 I posted about my adventure kayaking the river Avon from Bubbenhall to Warwick. This post continues that journey on the next stretch of the River Avon, from my current home in Warwick to Stratford-upon-Avon, roughly 16 miles of tranquil river and grumpy landowners.

This time I was joined by a couple of friends on paddle boards, both are experienced paddlers but not experienced in the art of stealth paddling. It was an easy launch from St Nicholas Park in Warwick, which has a lovely launch point used by the local boating club.

This is the fourth time I have used the packraft so I’m getting quite quick at pumping it up and being on the water. We set off at at 0815 on Saturday morning, knowing that there was a long paddle ahead of us and wanting to leave time at the end for a drink and food in Stratford.

We were immediately faced with the first problem, how to get past the Warwick Castle weir. I had scoped out all of the weirs on Google Satellite ahead of time so knew when to expect them. For this one I had seen it was wooded on the left hand bank so had planned to quickly get out and walk around but things didn’t quite go to plan.

We reached the chain across the river to stop people renting boats from going over the weir and I got out on the left bank in the trees as planned. I walked around the weir and quickly discovered we had got out too early and were instead at the secondary weir. Many weirs on the Avon are split in two, there is one blocking the main river and a smaller secondary one which leads down a divergent channel and rejoins the main river after a couple of meanders. The problem was that this secondary weir was in the end part of a garden with the house directly looking upon it.

Not faced with any other choice, I went back to the others and attempted to emphasise the sensitivity of the error. Landowners along the Avon get very angry at paddlers and undoubtedly doubly so at paddlers strolling through their garden. I grouped us up just within the treeline until we were ready then sprinted across with my packraft and quickly pushed off into the river. As I looked back at the others I spotted a curtain twitch and knew that the clock was counting down.

I called to the others to hurry up. The one carrying both paddle boards started to run over, not realising that one was still attached to his girlfriend’s leg! She was yanked forward and they ended up in a twisted mess on the ground. After precious seconds spent disentangling they hobbled over to the water with what felt like agonising slowness and pushed off.

As I looked on with panic mounting I saw the house door get thrown open and two people come towards us. The other two were a couple of feet onto the water just as they reached the end of the garden.

The good thing about paddling is that there is little people can do when you are on the water. They resorted to yelling at us “you shouldn’t be here… this is private property… this is a private river… ” whilst looking on in futility as we quickly paddled away and yelled our apologies.

We paddled quickly to put some distance between us and get back on the main river.

We then had a peaceful paddle between Warwick and Barford, enjoying the company of swans and other wildlife. I saw a couple of Kingfishers, a Green Woodpecker and what looked like a brief glimpse of a Tawny Owl. We quickly reached the next weir at Barford, this one had the same layout as before with the river splitting in two and a weir on each channel. The first weir looked easy enough, with a ledge to bump against and then a meter or so drop to another ledge.

Aside from a very slippery ledge we carried the packraft and paddleboards over with little trouble. A fisherman was watching us and once we were in the water again called out to say hello. He then went on to say that landowners absolutely detest paddlers and if they see us on land will immediately pounce on us. He warned that there are often chains across the river further down to stop cattle and horses wandering too far, but fortunately it was not up when we passed.

The stretch of river between Barford and Charlecote Park is one of the reasons I convinced myself to buy the packraft. I have often visited a nature reserve bordering on the river and thought it would be great fun to paddle past.

The river is often guarded by aggressive swans that rear up like a striking snake and hiss if you get too close. The others paddled past as quickly as possible whilst I languidly floated by and took a photo.

The third weir was a bit more challenging. About ten minutes earlier we had encountered a local farmer who wasn’t best pleased about our use of the river. He yelled at us about it not being a navigable river and asked if we had a river licence. Not being navigable means a licence isn’t required, but we decided not to argue the point, yelled our apologies and quickly paddled on. This meant I didn’t want to mess about too long looking for a way around the weir in case he returned. So we made do with what we had – a cattle watering point in a field which was a knee deep unpleasant slurry of mud and other ingredients.

A short paddle later we encountered an unexpected obstacle. A heavy iron chain and floating bollards were stretched across the river and seemingly impassable. There were steps to one side that around and a sign encouraging paddlers to walk around and continue on their merry way. It was the start of Charlecote Park and a nice surprise to see that they do not mind people paddling past.

We waved happily to the visitors at Charlecote Park and continued our languid floating down river. Unfortunately there was another chain bollard obstruction on the way out of Charlecote, but this time the steps out were decayed and overgrown. We managed to climb over by channeling our inner circus acrobat and balancing on the chain whilst hoiking the boards and raft over. It was an adrenaline fueled act with near misses but fortunately we all stayed mostly dry.

The rest of the paddle was uneventful, the final weir was at Alveston but was easy to navigate around and no unhappy landowners harassed us. The river gradually broadened as we neared the end, and we were truly exhausted as we got closer to Stratford and completing the 16 mile paddle.

Paddle Report

Overall, this was an excellent trip but too far. 16 miles/7+ hours is a long time to spend sitting down on a calm river. The landowners also make it less appealing but fortunately Charlecote seem quite happy with river users so next time I would risk starting at Barford and paddle down to either Charlecote or Stratford.

No river licence is needed until Alveston Weir about three miles above Stratford.

Obstacles:

The river is bigger than the Bubbenhall to Warwick section so fortunately no fallen trees across the river to climb over. The main obstacle is at Charlecote Park where the park border both upstream and downstream is blocked by a heavy chain straight across the river. This must have a river management reason rather than to prevent people using the river as there is a helpful sign that tells you to use the gate to go around it.

Obstacle 1 – Upstream of Charlecote chain
52.214733, -1.621291
The first one has easy steps around it, though there is a gate with tight corners which could pose a problem to larger vessels.

Obstacle 2 – Downstream of Charlecote chain
52.204947, -1.63182
The second one is 50/50 whether easy or not, it’s similar to the first but the steps are completely overgrown so getting out isn’t easy.

Weirs:
Weir 7a –
52.279211, -1.584085
Not sure, this is the one I had planned to do but got out at 1b by mistake. It’s past the castle chain blocking casual paddlers from the weir but judging by Google Maps looks like simple woodland so should be possible.

Weir 7b –
52.278941, -1.583351
Easy getting in and out, but you need to go through the bottom of the landowner’s garden and they obviously don’t like it. Best to either get in below the castle or try weir 1a.

Weir 8a –
52.248968, -1.601566
Just before Barford, it’s a concrete wall that can be climbed onto and then 1m drop down to another ledge. A fisherman warned us that the landowners hate paddlers and the minute you get out they pounce, so best to be very quick.

Weir 8b –
52.247390, -1.602818
Did not see, it’s closer to the houses so best to do 1a.

Weir 9
52.214791, -1.621197
Portage on the right side in a mucky cattle swamp then under a barbed wire fence. Easy enough but not ideal. We once again saw a landowner earlier up the river who wasn’t best pleased but he didn’t follow us down stream.

Weir 10a –
52.209575, -1.658122
Easy portage after the weir on the right, cut across the ‘island’ and rejoin. River is a bit smaller but should be passable.

Weir 10b –
52.211506, -1.660146
Haven’t seen, it should be be ok to portage though. This is known as Alveston Weir and the furthest most upstream navigable point of the Avon.

I have also created a GPS map that has the above weir and obstacle locations bookmarked, you will need to download, extract from zip file, and load into Maps.Me – Shakespeare’s River Avon

Green – Launch Point
Brown – Obstacle (fallen trees, river chains)
Red – Weirs

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