Thursday, 23 July 2009

River Avon, Warwickshire

The River Avon or Avon (pronounced /ˈeɪvən/) is a river in or adjoining the counties of Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire in the Midlands of England. It is also known as the Upper Avon, Warwickshire Avon or Shakespeare's Avon. The river has a total length of 96 miles (154 km). Avon is an anglicisation of the Welsh word for 'river' (spelled afon in Welsh)

The source of the Avon is near the village of Naseby in Northamptonshire.
For the first few miles of its length between Welford and the Dow Bridge on Watling Street, it forms the border between Northamptonshire and Leicestershire. On this section, it has been dammed to create Stanford Reservoir. It then flows in a generally west-southwesterly direction, not far north of the Cotswold Edge and through the Vale of Evesham, passing through the towns and villages of Welford, Rugby, Wolston, Leamington Spa, Warwick, Stratford-upon-Avon, Welford-on-Avon, Bidford-on-Avon, Evesham and Pershore, before it joins the River Severn at Tewkesbury.
The Avon's tributaries include the Rivers Leam, Stour, Sowe, Dene, Arrow, Swift, Alne, Isonbourn, Sherbourne and Swilgate as well as many minor streams and brooks.

From Alveston weir, which is 2 miles (3.2 km) upstream of Stratford-upon-Avon, downstream to Tewkesbury and the River Severn, the river has been rendered navigable by the construction of locks and weirs. The Stratford-upon-Avon Canal links to the Avon through a lock in the park in front of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. Navigation on the River Avon is restricted to boats with a maximum length of 72 ft (21.94 m), beam of 13 ft 6 in (4.11 m), height of 10 ft (3.04 m) and draught of 4 ft (1.18 m).
Traffic is now exclusively leisure oriented. Overnight moorings are available at Stratford-upon-Avon, Luddington, Welford-on-Avon, Barton, Bidford-on-Avon, Harvington, Offenham, Evesham, Craycombe, Wyre, Pershore, Defford, Comberton, Birlingham, Eckington, Strensham and Tewkesbury. There are boatyards at Stratford-upon-Avon, Welford-on-Avon, Barton, Bidford-on-Avon, Evesham, and Tewkesbury.

River Avon taken from the garden of the Fleet Inn, Twyning, Gloucestershire.

Bridge at Bidford-on-Avon; notice the navigation arch at the right

River Avon in Stratford-upon-Avon on a sunny day

The navigation works on the Avon were originally authorised by an Order in Council and Letters Patent of Charles I in 1635, and by 1641 it was reported that the river was navigable to within 4 miles (6 km) of Warwick. It is often suggested that William Sandys (the 1635 grantee) constructed only flash locks (with a single barrier), and that Andrew Yarranton, who restored the river in the 1660s provided pound locks (with two pairs of mitred gates), but this is wrong. The evidence actually points to the reverse, namely that Yarranton put in about three navigation weirs (a type of flash lock) to overcome certain difficulties that remained; these were never adjacent to mills.
The navigation rights were confirmed by the Stour and Salwarpe Navigation Act in 1662. Due to the way in which it was restored, the Navigation became divided into two separately administered sections: the Upper Avon Navigation between Stratford and Evesham, and the Lower Avon Navigation between Evesham and the River Severn. The Upper Avon Navigation had fallen into disuse by 1874. The Lower Avon Navigation never quite fell into total disuse, but by the end of the Second World War only one barge was plying the stretch between Tewkesbury and Pershore.

The Lower Avon Navigation Trust Ltd (LANT) was constituted as a charity in 1950, and by 1962 the 8 locks from Tewkesbury to Evesham were restored to working order, re-opening the Lower Avon. The Upper Avon was in a much worse condition than the Lower Avon, but the Upper Avon Navigation Trust Ltd (UANT) was constituted in 1965 to rebuild the navigation. Despite this work requiring the building of new locks and weirs, and most of the work being undertaken by volunteers, the Upper Avon was reopened in 1974.

Proposed extension
There have recently been proposals to extend the navigation upstream from Alveston to a link with the Grand Union Canal at either Warwick or Leamington Spa. This would open up a stretch of river that has never previously been navigable, and is a controversial issue locally.

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