Nestled within the Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire, there’s a short 200m rapid on the River Severn. It’s an anomaly on the river, which for the most part, is completely flat. But here, there’s enough gradient to create a nice little rapid. In fact, at one time, it had a couple of waves on it that people actually travelled to surf on. Unfortunately, the bank was becoming eroded, and a lot of work was done to reinforce it with big rocks. The result was that Jackfield rapid lost pretty much all of its notable features. Eddies became ill-defined, and the rapid was a shadow of its former self.
This happened in the late noughties, and it’s still the same now save for a few scattered rocks creating some eddies. Rocks have moved about as flood levels have shifted things, and there are some eddies at low levels. There’s even a sort of wave about 3/4 of the way down it. But you can’t do anything on it other than the occasional pop out if you happen to be lucky enough not to bottom out on the rock that forms the feature. It’s not retentive enough to spin on, and if you’re a lighter boater like me, pearling, which always happens due to its steepness at low levels, is unavoidable.
There used to be another wave just above it, but this year it just doesn’t retain, and the pocket that formed on it on surfers left has gone. I stood on the bank the other day and had a good look at it, and I’m pretty convinced that nothing has changed underneath the wave itself, but that the reason for the change is the deflecting rocks on river left, some of which may have got washed downstream during the last high water over winter. There’s not as much water being deflected now, and hence not as much feeding into it. The diagonal wave that used to feed into it from river left that you could use to jet-ferry onto it has disappeared. The result is that the wave isn’t as steep, and it has shifted over towards the river left side.
In you’re in a slalom boat, there’s a shallow V not far above that can be surfed fairly well, but forget it if you’re in a sub 9ft plastic tub. But again, this wave only forms at the right level.
Jackfield is a unique site on the Severn, and it is one that most clubs would kill to have next to them when a majority either aren’t based next to water or only have a canal. With the Welsh rivers being a couple of hours drive or more for most people in the Midlands, if you just want to have a quick fix or keep skills in check, then Jackfield is or at least should be, a great place to go. But it isn’t. It’s rocky at low levels with no decent features other than a handful of eddies, and it washes out completely at high levels, with no definable features. But it could be so much more, if somebody actually gave a crap.
The rock that used to form the feature at the bottom of the rapid.
This is a video Jackfield taken not long after the bank work (not my video incidentally).
My own video of the rapids now. There are eddies, but no really useful features.
For some reason, it seems that when the banks were shored up, nobody actually gave even the slightest consideration to the recreational side of the area other than some inferior build, weak eddy walls. And they haven’t made any further serious consideration since. Often I’ve been told of occasions where plans were hatched, made, and even one occasion where a brand new JCB with eco fuel was literally ready to go on a phone call to move rocks around, but they have all fallen apart due to one thing. Apathy.
Unfortunately, nothing can be done without the club committee’s support who lease the site from the council. This lease is important because it prevented angling interests from taking over the site, thus shutting it off to all white water kayak and canoe practice. The lease and car park permissions need to stay, despite the protestations of some other nearby clubs. It ensures all boaters can continue to use the site, as well as fulfilling council obligations to prevent fly-tipping.
But I’m sure that if the leasing club made a concerted effort, it could drastically increase its membership and find funding to get what should be a perfect venue to be remodelled into something that’s actually viable and useful. It’s a huge wasted opportunity, and with everything that’s happening in my life right now, the one thing that’s guaranteed to make me annoyed is squandered opportunities. Judging by many a conversation I’ve had on the bank, I’m by no means alone in my feelings on this matter. In fact, I’ve yet to come across anyone who doesn’t feel the same way.
It isn’t because it’s difficult to do. We know from previous uncompleted plans that this isn’t the case. It’s because there’s no enthusiasm to do so from the relevant people, and without that, nothing will ever happen. And to be frank, it’s downright frustrating.