The River Stour is one of the country’s oldest statutory navigations but this right was almost taken away until the River Stour Trust was formed over 50 years ago. The founding members fought to retain the right of navigation for the benefit of the public and this has enabled thousands of people every year to discover and enjoy this world-famous river. Today the navigation is administered by EA as the navigation authority for the section of the Stour that runs from Brundon Mill (upstream of Sudbury, Suffolk) to Cattawade (near Manningtree, Essex). Smaller craft, such as canoes and kayaks, can navigate the entire stretch (approximately 25 miles) by portaging around the various waterway structures. Powered craft, with certain specified exemptions, are currently restricted to the 3-mile stretch between Ballingdon Bridge and Great Henny.
RST works alongside EA in a number of ways for the benefit of the navigation, such as being its primary agent for issuing non-powered craft registrations. The trust’s main aims and objectives are: to reinstate through-navigation for larger craft to improve river access; to educate the public on the importance and benefits of the navigation; and to succeed in a change to the bye-laws that would permit powered craft, particularly small electric boats, on the whole stretch of the River Stour.
So far, the trust has restored four of the 13 derelict locks (including the three Constable locks at Flatford, Dedham and Stratford St Mary). Its enthusiastic, knowledgeable and fully trained volunteers help to offer a range of activities, including the operation of eight trip-boats for cruises along the river at Sudbury and Dedham Vale. The fleet includes environmentally friendly electric boats, a couple of wheelchair-accessible boats and a restored Stour Lighter, which all offer passengers a unique perspective of Constable country.
The trust owns vital river access points and manages a couple of riverside venues, all of which are appreciated by the local community and visitors alike. The historic granary building is enjoyed for a variety of purposes, including weddings and a tea room, and is run by trust volunteers. The visitor education centre was purpose built over 15 years ago to expand and improve the scope of the trust’s educational activities.
The trust is working towards finalisation of its major project to replace Dedham Lock gates and bring it back into use once again. Various events throughout the year help to raise awareness and funds, and to encourage use and appreciation of the river. The flagship event, Sudbury to the Sea (S2C), welcomes up to 300 craft and 550 paddlers who navigate the river over the course of a weekend in September, overseen and encouraged by trust volunteers.