Saturday, 22 July 2017

And here is the rest of the Basingstoke Canal!

Having been denied the possibility of taking Leo up the Basingstoke Canal, we decided yesterday to cycle it.  So we took the bikes by train from Brookwood to Hook and then cycled a couple of miles to meet the canal at Greywell Tunnel near where the navigation now finishes.  It used to go through the tunnel to Basingstoke but now only bats are allowed in the tunnel.  And in any case there is not much left of the canal on the Basingstoke side.

We joined the canal along a footpath which crosses over the eastern portal of the tunnel  Here is the view from above the tunnel looking east.

The water in the tunnel mouth is exceptionally clear as this view of the weed shows.  Water enters the canal from chalk springs in the tunnel which is about two thirds of a mile long.

Here is Helen by the entrance to the tunnel.

Draught for boats through the tunnel used to be improved by a small lock a few hundred yards away.  The stone edging here marks the old lock.

Soon we came to Odiham Castle.  This was where King John stopped the night before going to Runnymede to sign the Magna Carta in 1215.  Edward III was also keen on this castle as well as our local castle in Knaresborough.

This electrically operated lift bridge comes soon after the castle at Odiham.

The Hampshire pound was down below normal level as this photo shows. And very little water flows into this pound except in times of substantial rain.

East of Broad Oak Bridge a footpath leads to Wilks Pond and then to this hunting lodge built in 1730.  It is on the site of an earlier lodge built for Henry VII.  It is a zany looking building and seems to be occupied as a private house.  A really secluded place to live.

At Dogmersfield here and later at Ash we had to leave the towpath because of landslips. Our first diversion led us to a village shop where we bought pies for lunch.

And here we are, hiding behind the Bromptons, eating our pies on a green by the canal on the edge of Fleet.

After lunch we carried on along the canal to Ash.

After a few miles we came to Ash Lock which is an isolated one lifting the canal onto the Hampshire pound.  It was the first lock we had seen since the Greywell tunnel, 15 miles away.

Soon after Ash Lock we crossed the Blackwater Aqueduct.  Originally the canal crossed the Blackwater valley on a high embankment.  In 1995 the Blackwater Valley Relief Road was built and this required an aqueduct to allow the road to cross under the canal.

The canal was built through several existing lakes and Mytchett Lake is probably the largest.  You can see that the channel for boats is marked by posts.

Approaching the Canal Visitor Centre at Mytchett we saw this trip boat coming towards us.  We had already seen some rowing boats near Odiham and a work boat moving, but not many other boats even stationary ones.

We crossed the swing bridge at the Canal Centre and enjoyed a cup of tea and a cake each in the cafe.  There is a good display about the history of the canal at the Centre.  And then we carried on back to Leo.

Deepcut describes this canal feature well.  The soil excavated from this mile long cutting was used to make the embankment at Ash referred to above.

There are 14 locks in the Deepcut flight which lift the canal about 100 feet.  Sadly, as you can see, some of them were dry.

Here, looking back from the same viewpoint, is the empty lock behind me.

And another empty pound further down.

This is the bottom lock of the Deepcut flight looking back to what originally must have been a lock keeper's cottage.

Below Deepcut locks is another short flight of three locks at Brookwood which we also can't go up.  So we cycled down them instead.  Here is the top lock.

And here is the bottom one hemmed in by a petrol station on the main road whose bridge is beyond the lock.  The road was very busy so it was as well to cross at the nearby traffic lights.  From here it was just a few hundred yards back to Leo for a second cup of tea.

This was more cycling on rough paths than we have done for a long time and the Bromptons did very well.  I'm pleased to report that we both feel fine today and, after a little TLC, the bikes have been stowed for the next time.

So what about the Basingstoke Canal?  Well if it worked like other canals do it would be splendid.  The scenery is lovely, though it is very well shaded by huge trees for much of its route.  There is plenty of interest on the canal and beside it.  It just needs more water and perhaps a bit of dredging and weed clearance in parts.  A back pumping system for the Brookwood and Deepcut locks might enable these to be used when most folk are boating, that is, in the summer.  But it all costs money.  The canal is jointly owned by Surrey and Hampshire County Councils and we all know how councils have been starved of cash in the last few years.  But canals degrade if they are not used so more investment would be sensible.  The two landslips seem to have been there for many months and signs suggest that shortage of money is a factor in that too.  There seem to be many active volunteers and several trip boats manned also by volunteers so there is no shortage of enthusiasm.

We are now back down in Woking having come down the St John's Locks this morning.  Our route lies back to the River Wey tomorrow and then out on the Thames going upstream towards Reading.

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