Abingdon Weir: A personal history

Paddling at Abingdon Weir Pool back in the eighties
Paddling at Abingdon Weir Pool back in the eighties
As a teenager back in the late eighties I used to paddle with Pathfinder Youth Canoe Club. I remember learning how to paddle forward in a straight line, capsize drill, deep water rescue, self rescue, use support strokes and all the other skills a budding paddler needs to know. Looking at that list it’s notable how most of the skills that were taught involved getting out of or being rescued from an upside-down kayak. It seems someone knew what my future in paddling was going to be like!I was taught all of these skills in the weir pool at Abingdon during the summer months. It’s a large area that’s reasonably devoid of other river traffic, sheltered and safe for beginners to practice their developing skills in. The weir itself provided a flow for me and my fellow Pathfinders to practice ferry gliding in and watch more experienced paddlers play in the hole at the bottom of the weir itself. This of course was back in the day before playboats, and playing in the weir involved side surfing a long boat until you found a way to break free of the stopper!Eventually I became confident enough to give this a go myself. Usually it involved me and my boat (a Prijon T-Slalom) leaving the weir separately, overcoming the fear and discovering what an incredible lark it was. I even won a medal in the under-18’s category of the slalom competition that used to be held every year.

Then as I headed off to university life lead me down a different path and I gave up paddling. It was ten years until I sat in a kayak again.

Listen closely I'll say this only once...
Listen closely I'll say this only once... The 2011 Blastathon at Abingdon Weir
When I was in my late twenties I decided to give paddling another go and joined Kingfisher Canoe Club. I may have forgotten nearly everything I’d learnt when I was younger and I was certainly a lot more unfit, but I discovered that sitting on the the Thames in a lump of plastic was as much fun as I remembered it being.The boats and equipment may have changed, I was paddling an Inazone now and ribbed buoyancy aids were a thing of the past, but one thing hadn’t changed. Abingdon weir was still the go-to spot for local paddlers wanting to practice their paddling skills.Every Wednesday evening a ragtag flotilla made its way up to the weir pool, where those confident enough headed straight into the weir to pull off the funky new moves that modern kayaks allowed, whilst those of a more nervous disposition hung back and watched with envy and practiced the basics.

Gradually I got better and found myself in there with the big boys, taking part in the annual Blastathon competition that seemed the natural successor to the slalom competition and soon I found myself heading down to the weir several times a week between spring and autumn.

Blasting Abingdon Weir
Blasting Abingdon Weir

Over the last ten years I’ve found myself paddling at Abingdon weir probably more times than any other piece of water. Whether paddling by myself, with Kingfishers or helping with Pathfinders, Abingdon has always been there even if just for a quick five minute play stop whilst paddling around Swift Ditch.

I’ve spent many an enjoyable summer evening or day at Abingdon but it also provides a much needed summer venue for other paddlers. Often people will come from around the Thames Valley to use it when no other weirs are running. At the Blastathon this year people travelled from Bristol, Essex, Hertfordshire and Warwickshire to take part.

The local clubs still use the weir for training purposes in the way they have since I was a young member of Pathfinder Youth Canoe Club.

Between them  Kingfisher Canoe Club and Pathfinder Youth Canoe Club have well over 100 members. Many of them will have learnt or will be learning to paddle at Abingdon Weir. Between April and October the clubs will be paddling around Abingdon two or three times a week, and over the years the two clubs must have introduced hundreds (if not thousands) of nervous paddlers to their first taste of whitewater at Abingdon Weir.

Blastathon from the past - Matt Attree (2008)
Matt Attree in Abingdon Weir (2008)

Twenty years later it’s now me rushing off to play in the weir whilst newer members of the club practice ferry gliding in the weir pool waiting for the day they feel confident enough to test themselves in the mighty ‘Don. And it always gives me a small thrill to see the same look of fear and then the thrilled expression that I had the first time I took the plunge.

This is all under threat now. An application for a license to extract water from the weir has been applied for by a group called Abingdon Hydro Community Interest Group. They are planning to develop a hydroelectric generating station at Abingdon Weir which, if it gets the go-ahead, would certainly destroy the features that make it attractive for paddling.

This, I think, would be a real shame.

Details of their application can be found by clicking HERE.
The EA notice can be viewed HERE.
An EA leaflet of how to make your views count can be viewed HERE.

Any comments or objections should be lodged with the Environment Agency quoting reference number NPS/WR/005499, at Permitting Support Centre, Water Resources Team, Quadrant 2, 99 Parkway Avenue, Parkway Business Park, Sheffield, S9 4WF or by email to psc-waterresources@environment-agency.gov.uk by no later than 5th October 2011.

One thought on “Abingdon Weir: A personal history

  1. As i have found there are some very intresting things about the weir and water they would like to extract,the water measures are in-correct as they were measured at Suttno weir, which is the nearest station to Abingdon, So they have not taken this into account,so the downstream of the weir would be more rather than less as you would have the ock and swift ditch taking more water downstream where as above the weir would be a lot less.
    They also say for granting a lease for the land where it is to be put that they must have the the money available to reinstate the weir to how it is in its present state. Another thing you should no is the hydro has to be angled to the left as going straight would distroy the reed beds where fish go to teke refuge when the weir is at its max,As you are aware you do not have proper white water until later in the year is great fun for you , but what would also happen is a clash of water with one against the other i can only asume the balance to the currants would create a distorted under flow distroying spawning grounds ,other things would be the stream would get silted up even more as the flow would be taken away by the screws,Some thing to think about , i thought i was the only person in Abingdon that cared,when you mention it to people they do not even no about it. just one other thing for now if you read what good it will do its been dressed in such away that confusses people, Any how its not in gov plans to use this sort of thing as there is a solar field being built which will generate euroups power midway 2050,it is thought that some contries will have it by 2020 .if you need info i have some alomg with the applications. ref nps/wr/005499.

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