Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Travel Tuesday : the Thames Path day 21 - the Jubilee River

Walked June 24, 2002

One day while walking the Thames Path I heard about a place -- "Jubilee River" -- a built river that had recently opened. 

I couldn't really imagine it -- a river being built, but built to look natural? What? Where? Why?

Turns out the project started as the Flood Alleviation Scheme for Maidenhead, Windsor, and Eton -- the Thames often flooded in this stretch, so a plan was made to create a new channel to carry excess flood water. but not just any channel -- it would be made to look like a natural river, add a right-of-way network for recreation, and provide habitat for wildlife. 

The scheme began in 1989, the public inquiry in 1992, and then construction began in 1996. Numerous publications were released ... many of which I picked up at the offices of the Environment Agency in Maidenhead. And they are interesting. 

So many complaints about the possible effects of the construction ... construction that, in theory, was being done to protect their homes... but I digress. 

There were plenty of sweet articles about badgers, wildlife, and new hedgerows. Also fascinating pieces about the various construction methods they were using, and updates on the progress. All written in a friendly, upbeat voice that is frankly a joy to read. 

The Taplow Weir was opened on September 11, 2001... but other news probably overshadowed the event. 

I took the train to Maidenhead and headed toward the Thames... and the Jubilee River.

It was a cloudy day -- apologies for the dark photos -- but here's the start of the Jubilee River.

And, even as new as it was, it did look like a real river, and not a drainage culvert. 

There were lovely new paths, perfect for strolling along. Even wildflowers blooming!

I crossed the Berry Hill footbridge (so new! so nice!)

and looked back upstream from the bridge:

I continued downstream toward the A4, where I caught the faintest glimpse of a heron. No, I can't seem to see it in the photo either...

Seriously, this stretch of river is lovely ... and I had it all to myself. 

The route diverted away from the river to avoid some the A4 bridge and the Dorney rail bridge, but soon rejoined. There's the Dorney rail bridge upstream; the project was very proud that they didn't disrupt rail service the while they built the river.

There are even weirs on the river, though boaters complain that they're not boat-friendly. Did I mention that there's a 10K swim in the river every year? Swimmers bypass the weirs by exiting the river and walking downstream to the next entry point. Someday...

As befitting a brand new path (here near the Marsh Lane weir), it was beautiful and level.

And the banks were covered in wildflowers:

I kept reminding myself that this was a built environment, not a natural river. 

Near the M4 I noticed some of the tree plantings. I read that school children collected acorns from the ancient oaks in Windsor Great Park. Other plants were grown in nurseries to give them a head start. 

The river had already attracted swans. I was sad not to spot any otters; holts were constructed along the bank to encourage pairs to settle. 

Near Dorney I managed to resist running down this path through a wheatfield:

Nearly ripe:

It wasn't the most beautiful of days, but it was still lovely to walk along the river. 

I crossed a footbridge near Ashford Lane -- here's the view upstream:

And then ... ahhh. A stop for lunch at The Pineapple

Will the sign be a lie? Or the truth?

Let's just say it's the absolute truth. They specialize in sandwiches. Lots and lots of sandwiches. SERIOUS sandwiches. 

How serious? Very serious. 

I had the Vampire Attack (I wasn't vegetarian then!) -- roast beef with red onion and roast garlic dressing on whole grain brown bread. And it was AMAZING. 

I'm very happy to report that the Pineapple is still in business, has recently been refurbished, and STILL SELLS THE VAMPIRE ATTACK. Mmmmm.

Lunch, a pint, and a break over, it was time to get back on the river. I crossed back over the Lake End Road bridge and looked downstream:

One of the nice things about the river and the path is the large number of footbridges. As this used to be fields, access needed to be maintained. Besides, they don't need to make the bridges tall for any boat traffic. The bridges add some interest to the route, too. Here's the view from the Dorney footbridge, which isn't far from the previous two bridges:

There are multiple weirs in the river. I've read some complaints that they weren't designed with boaters in mind. But the birds seem to like 'em. Cormorants and gulls on the warning floats, near Manor Farm Weir:

Manor Farm Weir -- I'm sure that concrete channel isn't navigable...

I caught a glimpse of Windsor Castle in the distance ... honest:

Soon I came to Wood Lane Bridge ... see what I mean about having a lot of river crossings?

Nowadays the Jubilee River Riverside Centre offers kayak and canoe rentals on a stretch of the river -- which sounds perfect! Also perfect -- there's an annual river swim for charity. The Jubilee River Swim is a 10K, with a few land stretches between the swim stretches to go around weirs. Dreamy! 

Jubilee River Swim pic from the event website

The path moved a little way from the river bank and felt very "rural Thames" for a stretch:

This view downstream shows what was then called the Myrke footbridge:

It was renamed, in 2016, after Michael Scaife, who died trying to save a friend from drowning. 

The river makes a sharp right turn and the path skirts some playing fields before arriving at Black Potts. 
First there's a rather uninteresting road bridge:

And then a Victorian railway viaduct that was one of the trickiest engineering challenges for the Jubilee River project. 

Black Potts Viaduct and weir from just downstream:

The land in the background of that shot is Black Potts Ait, a small island. I wasn't able to go on that side to actually get to the confluence. But I did do a bit of bushwacking to get this terrible shot -- through the hedge and over the fence on the golf course -- of the joining of the Jubilee and the Thames:

I'm still amazed when I think of the care that was put into the designing and building of the Jubilee River. I'm sure it's not perfect and even that things may be a bit run down in the intervening 20 years. But I would love to live near something like it! It presses all the right buttons for me: it's nature while still being the built environment. It has places to run and bike and swim. And did I mention pubs along the way? 

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