On Saturday afternoon, the weir and footbridge on the River Wey just upstream from the Millmead Lock collapsed. It’s a popular place for people to stroll at the weekend, so it’s not surprising that there was someone on the bridge at the time and given it’s 2019, equally unsurprising that they managed to shoot some video of it!
Guildford has a long history of water issues where the river flows through the town, but usually the problem is flooding. The management of the levels at the moment is impressive. There was a blip at the measuring station (the map hints that it’s in between the Town Bridge and Bridge Street in that bit by the YMCA) soon after the bridge went, but nowhere near “minor” flooding levels.
The river/canal on the lock side of the weir has drained to very low levels. Past the weir is the lock and then an offshoot that goes round and pools on the other side of the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre. There’s also a Thames Water station next to the lock but I’ve never known what actually goes on there! The stretch of water directly affected is between St Catherine’s Lock, upstream and to the South and Millmead Lock which is near the town centre.
I first heard about it when I walked home from town on Saturday evening and saw that the area from the footbridges was taped off. It looks like that’s been relaxed now and people are able to get as close as a yard or so from the edge but there’s protective fencing.
I went out for a walk today, joining the river at the bottom of Ferry Lane. The water level is much lower here. Usually that pipe is completely submerged. I took this picture from the water’s edge which is about ten feet further out than usual. I had a wander round and picked up a few bits of old broken, coloured glass. It’s remarkable (people are remarking on it everywhere) how little rubbish there is to be seen. I assume that this stretch has been cleaned out in the last thirty years. I never used to walk up this far when I lived in Guildford in the eighties.
I walked upstream. Nothing I could see near the “Lord of the Rings” bridge encouraged me any more to jump in off there in the summer like the crazy kids do. There are a few pipes running water off the surrounding meadows which I didn’t know about before. And many of the trees on the opposite bank have their root systems exposed. The levels rise gently as you get nearer the lock but there’s lots of mud to be seen. I run along here regularly and it’s very odd to see how much higher the footpath is than the top of the water now.
At St Catherine’s Lock, the lock is closed but the weir/sluice gates next to it are wide open and the water is rushing through. On the upstream side of the lock the river is full but not near flooding levels. I guess the lengthsmen along here are praying for no more rain for a bit.
I walked back again and towards town. A couple of helpful people told me you can’t get into town that way (not entirely true, you can take the footbridge by the Rowing Club and walk in that way). But I was more interested in the site of the drama. Once past the other weir (by the Rowing Club) the water levels drop dramatically, it looks like a dried up creek. There’s police tape across the path next to the fallen bridge, but it’s not blocked off completely and there were a few people down on the bit below the weir (where the picnic tables are) having a closer look.
A chap in hi-vis said to us “if you go up there, don’t go too close to the edge, you’ll see where it’s crumbling”. Which I took as implicit “permission” to go up there to the other side of the fence. I went as far as I thought was sensible. There are big cracks in the footpath. Another guy walked straight past me and went right up to the edge. At your own risk I suppose, but I think he went too close.
The speculation on the river bank was about the ownership of the weir and therefore the responsibility for rebuilding. One voice said that it had been there since before 1900. Is is the National Trust, Environment Agency, Thames Water or Guildford Borough Council who will be responsible? Somebody must be… There were motorised gates on the weir which must have belonged to someone – you’d think that would point clearly to who should rebuild, but with these things that have evolved over many years, there’s no simple logic to it.
In any case there’s not going to be a clear way across there for a while, especially if we have a hard winter.