Eton College, one of the leading independent schools in the UK, has purchased a Ventrac 4500 all-terrain compact tractor and multiple attachments from local dealer TH White Ltd, to help maintain the grounds at Dorney Lake, the rowing and canoe sprint venue for the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Set in over 400 acres of parkland by the river Thames, the lake complex was completed in 2006, after 10 years of construction. It is privately owned and financed by Eton College and although it is primarily for use by the school, the facilities are hired out for rowing, canoeing, dragon boating, open water swimming and triathlon.
Paul Oatway is the Grounds Supervisor at Dorney Lake, reporting to David Warner, the Grounds Manager, who is responsible for all of the open spaces at the world-renowned college. Paul has been at Eton for 30 years; he started work as a tree surgeon with the Forestry department and for the past 25 years has worked at Dorney Lake. He heads a small team of two grounds staff – Bradley Gardiner and Pavel Lukaszwski and they are totally responsible for maintaining over 200 acres of grass and woodland at the international venue.
“We have some steep banks here at Dorney,” he said, “and were looking to replace our older Aebi machines, which had been fantastic for us. We asked TH White to source some alternative machines, but they were either too small and unproductive or had tracks, which we did not want. They finally came to us with the Ventrac and, quite frankly, we were not that impressed when we saw it on the trailer.
“However, once it was in action on our steep slopes with the Finishing deck on the front, we were immediately won over. It performed excellently and in the wet too. We initially purchased the Tough Cut deck, the Power Rake and Power Brush attachments, but recently returned to TH White and bought a Finishing deck as well. We’re very impressed with the manoeuvrability and the quick-release coupling system, which means we can change between implements with ease. However, the biggest plus is the way it copes with the slopes; it’s just an amazing bit of kit.
“The Tough Cut deck tackles brambles and thick vegetation very efficiently and the Power Rake has saved us money when we renovate our car parks. They are basically compacted road scalpings and the rake removes potholes and levels these areas without the need to bring in new material. We are also a venue for several triathlons and the brush is great at keeping the pathways clear and sweeping away the leaves in the autumn. The latest addition, the Finishing deck, will allow us to raise the level of presentation as we can now stripe the spectator banks along the side of the lake.
“We’ve gone from sceptics to advocates in a very short space of time. It’s a great machine.”
About Eton Dorney
Built to host world championship rowing events, the lake must be Stillwater with consistent rowing conditions. It has 2,200 metres (7,200 ft) straight length for racing comprising 8 rowing lanes, each 13.5 metres (44 ft) wide. The minimum water depth of 3.5 metres (11 ft) and a return channel allows boats to move to the start, separated from the main lake by an island
For the 2012 Olympic Games the existing facilities were enhanced to include 20,000 additional seats; most of which were temporary. Construction began in October 2009, following investigations by Oxford Archaeology, and enhancements included a new cut-through between the competition lake and the return lane, a new bridge and an upgraded access road, funded by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA). During the Olympic events, Dorney Lake was staffed by around 3,500 personnel including volunteers; it could accommodate up to 30,000 spectators per day. A temporary bridge linked the Dorney Lake site to Windsor Racecourse, where a pick-up and drop-off point for Olympic spectators was established. Other access options existed for walkers and cyclists.
Dorney Lake has hosted the following international rowing events:
2005 Rowing World Cup (26–28 May)
2005 Coupe de la Jeunesse (29–31 July)
2006 World Rowing Championships (20–27 August)
2011 World Rowing Junior Championships (3–7 August)
2012 Summer Olympics (27 July – 12 August: rowing from 28 July to 4 August, then canoe sprint)
2012 Summer Paralympics (29 August – 9 September: rowing from 31 August to 2 September)
2013 Rowing World Cup (21–23 June)
The public are allowed access to the grounds of Dorney Lake when sporting events are not being run. The two-kilometre-long flat, straight paths that run along each side of the main lake make it a popular venue for runners, skaters, and even cross-country skiers practising with roller skis. The picturesque landscape also makes it a popular location for dog walkers and people out for fun.