Jubilee River - September 13th 2021
The Jubilee River is a man-made channel aimed at protecting a large number of properties in Maidenhead, Windsor and Eton from flooding from the Thames. Starting just upstream of Boulter's Lock, it flows for just over 7 miles, before flowing back into the Thames between Eton & Datchet. When water levels are high, water can be diverted from the Thames to the Jubilee River. Construction began in the late 1990s and it opened in 2002 at a cost of £110 million. 2002 was the year of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee – hence the name, which was chosen by a poll of local residents. It was constructed to give the appearance of a natural river and during construction 94 acres of reed beds and 12 acres of wet woodland were laid down and about 250,000 trees planted.
The first serious test of the channel came in January 2003 and immediately highlighted some design flaws, in that the flood water flows from the Thames were well below the claimed maximum capacity. An independent firm of engineering consultants determined that the actual capacity of the channel was only about two thirds of its design capacity. A programme of repairs and upgrades to rectify the problems began, at a cost of £3.5 million, and took until 2006 to complete. The Environment Agency sued their lead design consultants for recovery of the remedial costs and were refunded £2.75 million in an out-of-court settlement, after they admitted that the design and construction were sub-standard. Not a great start!
In need of a Thames-related walk, I decided I should investigate the Jubilee River.
On a pretty overcast day, my walk began from the car park opposite Boulter’s Lock. Crossing the modern bridge at Ray Mill Island, I found myself between the Thames & the Jubilee River. Following a path downstream I soon reached a road bridge over the Jubilee at Taplow Weir. At this point things went a little wrong as the next footbridge I had to cross had warning signs not to use it as it was broken. Subsequent Googling revealed that the bridge had been closed since May 2021 and as of March 2022 it is still closed. They clearly don’t make bridges like they used to!! With no diversion marked, I decided to walk up to the main road between Taplow and Maidenhead and rejoin the river close to Taplow Station. In hindsight, I could have backtracked and taken a less busy route through a housing estate to reach the same point.
After that kerfuffle, things settled down and I was walking alongside the river. I have to say, that apart from all the modern bridges and weirs, it would have been hard to guess this river was man-made. I was very impressed. They even built in a number of bends to replicate a natural river. In fact, if you like bridges and weirs, I counted at least 21 road and/or foot crossings, 3 rail crossings plus 5 weirs! The footpath is shared with a National Cycle Route but on the day of my walk I can’t remember seeing any cyclists; in fact, I only saw a handful of other walkers – well it was a school day. Before too long I came up against Black Potts Viaduct – about 300 yards from where the Jubilee flows into the Thames. This little viaduct carries the railway line to Windsor & Eton Riverside Station. This was as far as I could go.
By a combination of walking, buses and trains I returned to my car at Boulter’s Lock and drove home. This hadn’t been the most exhilarating of walks but then it’s a modern flood prevention channel after all; what do you expect? Sydney Opera House perhaps? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plain? I could at least say I have now walked the Jubilee River!