This river has been the subject of one of the longest and
hardest fought navigation disputes in the UK.
In 1800 the Derwent was navigable as far as Foulbridge,
although Yedingham was the accepted head of navigation.
Today the navigation ends at Stamford Bridge, although there is some
dispute about the stretch between Sutton Lock and Stamford Bridge.
What happened was that the top section of navigation fell
into disuse in 1846 when Malton weir was removed. The railway line to Scarborough had opened in 1845 and
started taking traffic from the river.
In 1855 the railway bought the navigation rights, raised the tolls and
neglected maintenance of the locks. By
the 1880s commercial trade had practically ceased on the Derwent.
The occasional leisure motor boat ventured up to Stamford Bridge
and a few smaller ones got up to Kirkham while other plied the stretch from
Kirkham to Malton. In 1931 Kirkham
lock was closed and in 1934 all the others closed. The River Derwent Navigation Act was revoked in 1935. However, almost immediately various motor boating
organisations started trying to reopen the navigation and by 1970 the Yorkshire
Derwent Trust was created with the aim of repairing the locks and reopening the
They claimed that a new right of navigation had been created by 20 years of
They claimed that a new right of navigation had been created by 20 years of continuous use.
Landowners and conservationists disputed both the idea that a navigation right could be created in this way, and the fact that 20 years of navigation had in fact occurred.
In 1988 in a highly public trial Mr Justice Vinelott found in favour of the landowners that there was no public right of way. This was reversed in 1990 by the court of Appeal who agreed with the idea that 20 years use could create a navigation, but in 1991 even this point was reversed again by the Law Lords.
The end result is that the riparian Landowners own the right of navigation but a new organisation the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust owns the Locks.
Where this leaves canoeists is unclear. Strictly I guess we have no right to paddle it. But I've done various stretches a few times without trouble.
0 miles - Old Malton
Easy launching from common land in front of the pub, and upstream from St Mary’s church.
Take a moment to look around. In the first part of the 19th century Old Malton Corn mill stood adjacent to the present day road, with the river right next to it. There was a weir across the river and the mill cut ran along the present day line of trees. The weir was bypassed by a cut and locks along the present day river course. In about 1846 a steam mill was built at New Malton and the old mill became a warehouse and was eventually removed. Trade above Malton had never been very great and did not justify the expense of maintaining the locks which, since there was no environment agency, English heritage or other preservationists with their hands on the taxpayers money, fell into disrepair. This allowed the river to bypass the weir altogether and follow its present course, about 50 yards to the east of the old one. I must have launched from here half a dozen times before I read about this bit of history. I’d never have noticed the traces left on the ground.
1.5 miles - Malton County Bridge
This used to carry the turnpike to Scarborough. It had a toll house in the middle.
2 miles - Malton iron bridge
Good launch spot about 100 yards downstream on the left. Park in the health centre.
4 miles - Cherry farm right.
6 miles - islands
6.5 miles - railway bridge
6.75 miles - footbridge
Huttons Ambo right
12 miles - Kirkham Bridge
12.25 miles - Kirkham Lock and weir
Shoot right. Or portage right.
15.5 miles - Howsham lock and mill left. Weir right
Shoot right. Or portage down the fish ladder further right. There used to be a slalom course here.
16 miles - Howsham Bridge
20 miles - Buttercrambe Lock and weir
Shootable or line down. The portage right though Aldby park is
unatttractive and the portage left involves a private garden.
20.25 miles - Buttercrambe Bridge
The ordnance survey marks the minor weir at the foot of the old millstream
below this bridge and has confused some paddlers into expecting a second
23 miles - Stamford bridge
Weir not shootable. The campsite on the right bank here no longer takes
23.5 miles - railway bridge
27 miles - Kexby bridge
A new bridge carries the A 1079. The old bridge remains downstream.
30 miles - Sutton Bridge
Lock. This marks the upper limit of the navigation.
33 miles - Weldrake Ings Nature Reserve bridge
The main reserve is on the left between the river and canal.
35 miles - farm bridge
Junction with Pocklington canal left.
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