CSCC Reports 2003: River Wandle, 15 November 2003
It's tough but someone's got to do it! David P, Peter and Hilary volunteered to check out the much-fabled River Wandle - from Merton Abbey Mills down to the Thames at Wandsworth. We've been meaning to do it for years, and wanted to check it out "on the quiet" so as to judge how much experience people need for future trips. It's about 5 fun-filled miles (and took us about an hour and a half, not hurrying - kept stopping to take pictures, I guess!), with more little rapids than we expected, wildlife aplenty (in a semi-rural corridor), tree obstructions, weirs, and finally, the 500m tunnel under the Arndale Shopping Centre. As ever, see www.ukriversguidebook.co.uk/ for further details...
We started just below the weir at Merton Abbey Mills, to the amusement of people shopping at the craft fair there. It's a tricky start, lowering the boats three feet or so into the shallow river - and then you're quickly into a little rapid, before rounding the bend by the big Savacentre. Swerve round the shopping trolleys, sharp left, under a low road bridge, and you're away into the "countryside"... The first little weir - a long towback but little power - is in a tunnel under a building - presumably an old mill? Our next obstacle was a recently-fallen tree - almost blocking the river though we managed to sneak through the branches.
A mile or so later is a genuine little set of mini-rapids (where an old weir was replaced by a number of rocks) - tricky to navigate but of little whitewater value. The next weir - we took the right hand channel - involves a quick limbo under a low pipe. At this point, a few local yoofs decided that lobbing stones at us would liven up the afternoon - we're pretty sure it was nothing to do with angling! On to Earlsfield, where the river is divided into two parallel channels by a concrete wall, on to a misleading pair of tunnel entrances - the river actually drops left down a little weir and onwards to Wandsworth.
The Arndale Centre tunnel proved to us that LED head torches aren't as good as "the real thing" at least until your eyes get accustomed to the dark. But it's pretty straight and doesn't last that long... though it is very dark! Finally, we exited just before the river mouth, at a prominent set of newly built steps on The Causeway (just off the Wandsworth one-way system).
Our conclusion: highly recommended, though the fact that it's a flowing, shallow river with obstacles means it's not suited to inexperienced paddlers. Although we don't know of any access problems, there were quite a few fishermen, so small, discrete, quiet groups are advisable.
All images ©2003 CSCC/David Pearson/Peter and Hilary Lawrence