Saying goodbye to an old friend.
Rain seemed appropriate for this final visit…
On a wet and miserable Bank Holiday Sunday my motivation to actually “do” anything productive was approximately zero, so I thought I would use the time to do something I have been putting off for a while, go and say goodbye to an old friend.
This friend and I have a chequered history and have seen ups and downs over somewhere like 8 years of friendship, we started off hating each other, with one causing the other severe bouts of fear, anxiety, stress and on some occasions physical pain, however over the course of several months which stretched in to years a solid friendship was forged. I would even go so far as to say, with no hint of irony, that I would not be where or who I am today without that friend!
Alas, I must now bid farewell to my old friend, never shall our relationship be the same, no longer will I arrive at the steps with a smile on my face in eager anticipation of the fun our few hours together would bring. Today will probably be my last visit, sad to see it so desperately clinging to the last vestiges of the life it once had, more than half of it has already been savaged by an unstoppable and faceless beast of destruction. Damn you Ecologists, Damn you European Conservation Directives, Damn you Environment Agency, Damn you Twaite Shad!!!
Knightwick Weir – RIP 2018
Knightwick Weir has been a solitary standing wave beloved of many local kayakers, who have used it to hone their skills and develop their love of whitewater kayaking. Whether it was playboaters using the wave to perfect surfing techniques, flat spins, back spins and any other combination (except getting vertical, it was never deep enough for that) or River runners using the flow to practice ferry crossings, S-turns, etc. Many local clubs have taken beginners there as an introduction to whitewater, because of the short stretch of moving water it was perfect to introduce these skills lower down in the flow and then work up closer to the wave as confidence and skills grew.
I first started going to Knightwick around 2010, my first recollections were of wide eyed fear, watching people surf and spin in the wave I was in awe of them, whilst I tentatively ferried back and forth some 30 yards further down-stream. At this time I had a couple of bad experiences at the Tryweryn and pretty much resigned myself to the fact that Whitewater kayaking was not for me. But over the weeks and months of regular Knightwick sessions something amazing happened… The fear subsided and I advanced ever closer to the wave, until eventually I was able to get there, over the shoulder and into the green – I was surfing! I was a surfer – I was a Knightwick Weir Surf Warrior!!
Knightwick was the perfect play and training venue, easily accessible from the road as a park and play spot and useable at a variety of levels. Those of us that were regulars became obsessed with number watching on EA gauges and Rainchasers… over 1m – no good, washed out, too high. 0.9m – Possible, but dicey, closed out stopper that could get pretty retentive. 0.8m – Getting good to go for the brave and/or skilful. 0.7m – Perfect! 0.6-0.5m – Great for introducing newer people to the site but still with enough excitement for the seasoned players to have a ball. 0.4-0.3m – struggling for depth but still a worth while visit to try new techniques and practice in relative safety.
The added bonus of having a ring bolted to either side of the weir meant we could use various “Eddy Makers” to change the shape of the wave during a session, at higher levels this was essential to create a shoulder and an eddy to be able to get onto the wave,. At lower levels you could direct the flow into the centre to create a stopper with a lovely green shoulder wave either side. We became “experts” at this and experimented with a variety of tools, from an old tyre, bits of pipe, stainless steel tubes or boards of wood on different length slings meant we could tun a single wave into a whole variety of training features.
Knightwick will live on, but not for us…
In 2016 a research Project called ‘Unlocking the River Severn’ identified a number of weirs for major engineering to improve spawning grounds for the Twaite Shad, a native species which has died out in many parts of UK rivers, principally due to weirs introduced to create navigable stretches of river since the 1800’s. Twaite Shad are unable to swim against strong flows and unlike Salmon cannot leap over barriers on their upstream progress. Several weirs on the Teme and Severn were identified for major works, including Knightwick.
The plan for Knightwick is to essentially fill in the weir and make a long gentle slope which the Shad will be able to swim up, this will increase their spawning grounds (and that of other species) Funded by a the Lottery Heritage Fund and the EU LIFE programme to the tune of £19m, this is without doubt an excellent Conservation project which will re-introduce a number of species to further stretches of the river, but for us lowly Whitewater Kayakers, we have lost what was arguably the best wave feature in the West Midlands.
So long old friend, it was fun while it lasted…!