Boats stranded but Waterfest goes aheadBy Linda Fort
June 15, 2012
Boats heading for Waterfest this weekend have been forced to take refuge in moorings upstream because locks in Reading are flooded.
But the annual riverside celebration of Reading’s two rivers will go ahead on dry land and without the traditional parade of narrowboats and barges.
The heavy rain has prompted a red alert warning boats on the River Thames not to move and on the River Kennet, the unseasonal water flow has made County and Fobney Locks impassable.
This means boats heading for Reading from across the region for the festival will not able to get here.
Despite the absence of the colourful boats and barges, Waterfest will still take place moving most of the activities from the river and canal-side to Forbury Gardens.
The charity and craft stalls, performance stage and children’s activities will all be moved to the gardens. Events will also be held in Market Place and at Bel and the Dragon restaurant near Blakes Lock.
David Copley, who chairs the Reading branch of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust, said: “We’re obviously very disappointed that, for the first time in over 20 years of Waterfest, water conditions following recent heavy rain have stopped the boats getting to the site.
“We are very pleased that the Reading Borough Council events team have been able to rearrange the event to now take place in the Forbury Gardens and at the other sites.”
Former Reading harbour master Mike Wyatt, whose narrowboat Moonflower has taken part in Waterfest for the last 15 years, said: “I have never seen water levels as high as this before.”
He said boats were already stranded downstream from County Lock and Burghfield Lock because of the heavy water flow.
He said: “Boats coming from the Thames into the River Kennet pass through The Oracle then can’t get through County Lock.
“At Fobney Lock the water is usually 12 inches below the landing stage but at the moment it is two feet above it, making it impossible to use it. At Burghfield Bridge, the force of water is so great under the bridge that boats haven’t the power to get under the bridge and have been forced to moor on Burghfield Island.”
Mr Wyatt said if boaters tried to navigate the river when there was a red alert it would invalidate their insurance if their boats suffered any damage.
He said: “It is simply too dangerous at the moment, particularly if anyone tried to turn around when they couldn’t get though the lock.”
Mr Wyatt said two years ago a boat became trapped in County Lock because of high water levels and was stuck there for two weeks until the water abated.
Joe Coggins, spokesman for British Waterways, said navigation was suspended on the Kennet and Avon Canal in the Reading area and boaters were advised to “stay put in a safe place”.
Marian Livingston, Reading’s lead councillor for culture and sport, said: “Waterfest will be different this year due to circumstances beyond our control, but we’re looking forward to welcoming a large crowd to the Forbury Gardens and the other sites to take advantage of all the activities happening there.”
The first Waterfest was held in 1990 in the year the Queen re-opened the Kennet and Avon Canal after its restoration was completed.
The timetable for events in Forbury Gardens runs from 11am to 5pm on Saturday. It features a range of acts and shows including theatre company faSHEN's latest production GreenAndPleasantLand.
Waterfest what's on:
11am - The Barbarettes
11.20am - Shinfield Shambles
11.45am - Khamsina, local singer and songwriter
12.10pm - Shinfield Shambles
12.30pm - The Barbarettes
1pm - Khamsina
1.30pm - Kennet Morris Men
2pm - GreenAndPleasantLand
2.30pm - Kennet Morris Men
3pm - Aldbrickham Clog
3.30pm - O'Gara School of Irish Dance
4pm - Aldbrickham Clog
4.30pm - GreenAndPleasantLand
The Caversham Festival Stage will appear in Market Place rather than floating in the river as it has done in the past. Diverse, Zimbabwean influenced band Limpopo Groove, folk singer Emily Charlotte Haynes and Newtown-based band Dolly and the Clothes Pegs will all appear.
The Bel and The Dragon's Performance area remains and there will be live sets from Big Al's Jazz Quartet between midday and 4pm.
Forbury Gardens is easy to get to from the town centre and is five minutes walk from the train station and all major bus routes.
Pay parking is available throughout Reading and one of the nearest to Forbury Gardens is the signposted Queen's Road Car Park. Signs will point you to Waterfest from the car park.