Sunday, 31 July 2011

Bournemouth Coast Path Section 2 Bournemouth Pier - Christchurch

Bournemouth Pier
A frustrating week culminated in me being able to wangle a morning out away from the folks several days after I had planned to initially go for my latest expedition. The weather had been awful for most of the week and I was champing at the bit to get out by the time Sunday morning came along.The weather wasn’t great in Sussex so I headed west to Bournemouth, which looked to have the best of the meagre sunshine that was on offer.I was keen to do some more of the coast path that I had commenced in March and figured that this would be a good walk to do, especially as the end to end transport would be nice and easy.Frustratingly I had to wait until 9.15am for the first train of the day from Christchurch to Bournemouth.Thestation at Bournemouth is a fittingly grand station for such a well-visited seaside resort.
Although the station building is lovely, the same cannot be said of the way into town from outside. I was greeted with a large (and closed) shopping centre which I had to find my way around before plodding on down to the seafront. The streets had a decidedly hung over feel about them with litter blowing around from the debris of a tough Saturday night. Many of the people wandering about also looked a bit gaunt too, although there were a couple of anti-social blokes wandering about who were trying to wake up everyone with their boom box. I was very surprised to see such a sight – one I hadn’t for possibly 20 years.
Window Box
Eventually I made my way down to the seafront and circled around the hotel I had stayed in during March to meet up with the clifftop path. As I turned on to the seafront I immediately felt the full force of the wind! It was a grey day yes, but I already felt exhilarated just walking a short stretch along the coast. It certainly was going to blow the cobwebs away.The first point of interest was the Russell Cotes Gallery, with a rather festive looking lion gracing its entrance.The building itself was presented to the people of Bournemouth in 1916, a rather odd year I thought considering that most attention at that time was focused on the battlefields of Northern France and Flanders. The fence on the seaward side of the path also caught my eye.Embedded within it were all manner of miniature objects and pictures that make Bournemouth famous, including sticks of rock, kites, beach huts and even a metal detector!It made for a rather more interesting piece of street furniture than plain old black railings…
The Miramar
Once at the top of East Cliff I wandered along a road full of hotels of varying descriptions including a fine art deco looking place called The Cumberland and one with very well-tended gardens called the Miramar. The latter also had a lion within the grounds – perhaps this is part of a theme? Far below me the waves crashed in on a very choppy and grey looking sea. I am sure it was a day beloved of surfers but not swimmers! Above the din of the waves I heard the rumble of what I took to be a train and on getting closer I discovered it was another cliff lift, in use this early Sunday morning. Looking down the cliff it did seem pretty steep and I could see that this service could be pretty popular!
East Cliff Railway
Eventually I reached a very large car parking area and sensing that the path may not continue beyond it, I headed down into Boscombe Chine Gardens. This immediately seemed like a different world to the cliff top as the wind died down. There were plenty of people about on their early morning jog and the children’s play area was already quite popular.It was immediately apparent that the gardens had had some investment judging by the quality of the paths and other street furniture and I soon discovered that it had been funded as a Heritage Lottery project.It was surprising to learn that the original pleasure park had been developed as long ago as 1868, so I guess this really is a piece of local heritage!
The Cumberland
The other end of the gardens opened out onto Boscombe Pier. This has obviously been fairly recently refurbished and the landward end of the pier looked really good, with newish looking shops, yet still retaining their heritage look. I understand that there was a pavilion on the seaward end but this has now been replaced by a fishing deck, giving the pier a rather different look and feel. The pier was awarded the Pier of the Year title in 2010.As I passed the land train came sweeping round, adorned with Peppa Pig motifs and perhaps explaining why it was quite popular. I felt the first spots of rain at Boscombe Pier and hoped that it would not develop into much as I still had a long way to go! I also discovered another model lion – this time wearing Bermuda shorts! It was obviously something going on that I hadn’t been aware of.
Boscombe Park
Adjacent to Boscombe Pier was a very large development of new flats and shops and I am guessing that this was the catalyst to the refurbishment of the pier. It all looked very pleasant and the shops appeared to be doing some reasonable business. I smiled at the would-be surfers being taught moves on the beach opposite the flats – I guess surf schooling is big business in these parts following the installation of an artificial reef offshore designed to make the experience even better. I also became fascinated with the antics of a black headed gull, which spent a lot of time scuttling around looking for titbits to eat. I did wonder whether some of these resort gulls even know what their diet is supposed to be?
Boscombe Pier
My onward walk for the next couple of miles was a bit samey. Although I enjoy wandering alongside beach huts and gorse covered cliffs, the monotony did get to me after awhile. Luckily the sand blowing around on the promenade and the different light patterns dancing their way across the sea at the sun tried to punch through the clouds kept me somewhat entertained. Ahead of me was the lump of Warren Hill that never seemed to get any closer!
Surf School
Tiring of the flat promenade, I took the opportunity to climb the cliffs once again for a different perspective. Immediately I felt my spirits rise as the views were instantly better. It didn’t take long before I came across yet another cliff lift, this one called Fisherman’s Cliff. I paused here, not because of the lift (it wasn’t yet open), but to watch a kestrel hunting on the side of the cliff. Far below me were a group of small boys playing rugby – one sport I have never before seen being played on a beach!
Beach Rugby
I wandered along the nature reserve at the top of the cliff until the cliff ran out! At this point I ran into housing that occupied the now thinning piece of land and was rather disappointed to have to walk along a road for a bit. There was a mish-mash of housing along here & one or two of the early build properties had been or were in the process of being replaced by new more palatial ones. I suspect this will be an ongoing theme for some years to come, especially as the originals don’t look too well appointed.
Fisherman's Cliff
Frustrated by the road at the top of the cliffs I took the first opportunity to head back down to the promenade, doing so by the Bistro on the Beach. Initially it looked like the place was closed but when I got closer, I soon realised that everyone was inside! I don’t blame them – it was far to wild to be outside sitting down. I can’t say that the restaurant was the most attractive place in the world – it was a rather a hideous looking 60s building. A pity because its surroundings were lovely!
After wandering along the promenade for half a mile or so more I reached the end and entered the rather wilder and more countrified area known as Hengitsbury Head. This nature reserve centres on the headland and spit of land protecting Christchurch Harbour. As I headed towards the prominent Warren Hill, the weather whipped up again and I faced a squally shower. With the rain at my back and the heavy crashing waves pounding the beach to my right I had to pinch myself and remember that it was the middle of July! As I entered the nature reserve I passed a family with young children who appeared to be backpacking. I cast an envious look – it’ll be several years before my kids are old enough to manage this.
Family Walk
Hengitsbury Head and Warren Hill is an area of much archaeological interest, with many relics of occupation peoples from Stone Age onwards. There are defensive earthworks suggesting that it was a permanent settlement for a long time. Archaeologists have also found numerous tools and other artefacts which point to the rather agricultural lifestyle by the inhabitants. The viewpoint at Warren Hill must have been a strategic place that the local exploited for protection, for a section of coast from Swanage to far into the New Forest can be seen, together with the western end of the Isle of Wight.
Warren Hill
The approaches to Warren Hill is very sandy but I was glad that a longish section was on boardwalk, for it made the going much easier. As I got closer to the hill the crowds got bigger and I realised that most had probably made use of the car park at the foot just inland from the path I was using. The poor weather began to abate as I climbed the hill, which was a relief for it meant that my view from the top was really good, albeit that it was a grey and overcast day. Climbing to the top changed my perspective completely.From a largely flat and straight piece of coast I suddenly got a view all round me including into the countryside beyond Christchurch, my final destination later in the day.Ahead of me was a rather forlorn looking Coastguard station, which still seems to be Government owned rather than taken over by the Coastwatch Foundation. Maybe a change of ownership might give it a new lease of life?
Looking Back to Bournemouth
I had assumed that Warren Hill would be the last point eastwards but I was quite wrong. There was actually quite a bit more walking to be done before getting to the mouth of Christchurch Harbour. The going was easy, courtesy of the tarmac path presumably provided for the disabled and parents with pushchairs. However, I was plagued with Sunday strollers who seem to have no appreciation for those around them and insist on walking at snail’s pace while simultaneously blocking the whole path. Fortunately the views all around me compensated for the very slow pace I had to adopt for awhile.I was pleased when the crowd ahead of me finally stopped to consider the departure of the Poole Ferry some distance away, which allowed me to get ahead and put some distance between us.
At Hengitsbury Head, the path finally dropped down off the cliff and I took the opportunity to wander a little way along the spit below me. I didn’t walk all the way to the end where the ferry takes people across the harbour mouth, principally because all there was to look at were beach huts and I had had my fill of looking at them today! However, my attempt at a short cut from the spit to the perimeter road was ill-fated due to the state of the tide.A little footbridge I had hoped to use had been circumvented by the tide and so I had to retrace my steps back to the road. The land train looked rather tempting but wasn’t about so I opted to walk along the road. This ended up being a sensible decision as I had completed half its length before meeting it coming the other way.
Mudeford Beach Huts
I was now walking along a section of path shared with the Stour Valley Way (the Dorset version), which finishes here after following the River Stour all the way from Stourhead, some 64 miles away. The weather was really picking up and I even noticed a few breaks in the cloud, hinting I might see some sunshine by the end of my walk after all. I wandered through a wood that afforded fleeting views across the Stour Estuary and finally the substantial church in Christchurch.
Useless Bridge
I changed direction at Wick Farm, passing what I took to be a visitor centre by the car park. From here I crossed a former landfill site (although to be fair I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t seen an interpretation board). Despite what must be lurking underneath the now restored site was a riot of colour from wildflowers. None were what you call top drawer, but the harebells, ragwort, toadflax, wild geraniums and rosebay willow herb all provided some vibrant colours on this dull day.
Christchurch came upon me sooner than I expected and with it came the sunshine. Since I had parked near the station, I had to make my way all the way along the Stour to the lowest bridge. As I got closer into town the clouds suddenly lifted and for the last half mile or so I had a very bright and sunny walk along the riverside – a very different proposition from earlier! I crossed the Stour by a very busy road bridge and walked along the main road into town, noticing as I did so a very black cloud looming to one side of me. I suddenly sensed a race against time as I approached my car and quickened my pace. It was fortunate I did so as the raindrops just started as I was within 50 metres of the car. By the time I got in the rain started clattering down in bucketloads – what a stroke of luck!
As with so many of my walks this one changes character part way through. From a seaside resort coast, the walk takes a wild turn around Hengitsbury Head before taking a riverside path for the final approach. It is well worth lingering for the views at Warren Hill or perhaps stopping for lunch in one of the cafes along the first part of the walk. It is also a relatively easy walk for anyone to do, for the public transport link is easy (via a 10 minute train ride) and the terrain is virtually flat apart from the modest climb of Warren Hill.
Chruistchurch Harbour

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Sussex Border Path Section 3 Rowland's Castle and Chalton

Stansted Park
On a remarkably similar day to the last outing on the Sussex Border Path, I again got myself out of bed nice and early on a Sunday morning and headed out to the western end of the county to chip off a few more miles of this route. On the last trip I had clocked a small parking area by the entrance to Stansted House and resolved to park there. However, when I arrived I found I was too early! Luckily there was ample room to park by the side of the road. This part of Sussex in particular is very rural and with little public transport available it is virtually impossible to undertake this section without a car or by taking some lengthy detours.
The Avenue
I headed back along The Avenue, retracing my steps back to where I had left the Sussex Border Path previously. Essentially it meant this time that I walked the whole length of The Avenue, a walk reminiscent of the landscaping normally associated with French Chateaux rather than English country houses (although there are a few notable exceptions). The Avenue was alive with the sound of twittering birds and chirping and buzzing insects, all out trying to get themselves fed after a few days of rotten weather behind us. Other than the wildlife, I had the whole path to myself, which was absolutely great.
Air Memorial
At the far end of The Avenue, there was a memorial to a lost aircrew that had crashed during World War 2. It was highly decorated, giving a poignant reminder of how much these chaps sacrificed keeping our freedoms alive. Just beyond the memorial the wide open space of The Avenue came to a halt and the path disappeared into some trees, emerging on the edge of Rowland’s Castle. Although off route I was keen to see if I could see anything of the castle and so headed off into the village.
Rowland's Castle
I passed under the railway line and approached the village green. There was rather a big clear up operation going on as the green had hosted a music event the night before and the litter gangs were out clearing up the debris left behind. I wanded to the other end of the green where I thought I might see the castle but realised quite quickly that whatever was left it was protected within a large area of walled off private land so I gave up. Still it wasn’t a wholly wasted detour, as Rowland’s Castle was a pleasant place to stroll around and I should imagine quite a desirable place for Portsmouth commuters to live.
I retraced my steps back to the Sussex Border Path and headed out along the road that runs north out of the village. Alongside the pavement were a strip of bungalows where you clearly have to be a keen gardener in order to own a house there. The outlook was across open fields and woods. I can think of far worse places to be! Luckily though the road walking was kept to a minimum and soon I headed along a path between the houses and across the railway once more.The fields on the other side were showing the first signs of ripening, heralding the arrival of late summer already.The path wove through fields of crops before reaching the next village, Finchdean. I was now sharing the route with the Staunton Way, a path I had followed pre-camera days and in the opposite direction.
All was quiet in the village, with few people about, in contrast to the scene at Rowland’s Castle. I passed the George Inn, a place I seem to remember having a very welcome pint in one day when walking in these parts. Being breakfast time still there was no chance of reprising this memory! The village doesn’t amount to much, although it does host one of those curious little pounds where livestock used to be stored. There are still a surprising number about even though they are all completely redundant these days.
Idsworth Chapel
Upon leaving Finhdean I initially continued along the road but was thankful when after a short distance the path escaped along the side of a field. The crop was rapeseed, now long past its lurid yellow colour and a duller shade of green/ brown as the seed pods were ripening. I was more interested in the wild flowers along the edges of the field and the various bugs that these were attracting. The poppies were the star of the show, with hoverflies going mad for them, although the flush of red colour was on the wane and it was just the late flowers that were still going.The path steadily climbed to eventually reach Idsworth Down. As I climbed the most wonderful downland views emerged as I was now heading towards the ridge of the South Downs.
Speckled Wood
Far below me was the small and unusual church at Idsworth. This little church was apparently the chapel of a large manor house, but the owner departed when the railway through the valley was built, taking the village with him. Now the church lies all alone in a field, with only the walled gardens of the former manor house as a companion. It looks rather incongruous in the countryside now, although it has stood here since the 12th Century.
New Pylons
As I reached the top of the hill I passed the curiously named wood called The Folly. I was intrigued as to how it got its name and had a scout about to see if there was a stone tower or some other such thing lurking inside, but didn’t see any remains of any sort sadly. A little further on was the unusual sight of the electricity pylons and wiring being replaced. It had never occurred to me how complicated this task must be until I saw the work in progress. A large amount of the field had been left bare and a temporary service road constructed in order to complete the work.
Heading Through the Rapeseed
Once past the pylon work the path continued through more fields of various types of crop as I made my way along Chalton Down. Although the far off views were still great (even being able to see the Isle of Wight on this most clear of mornings), the immediate walking wasn’t so interesting. I put off visiting Chalton village until the next stage of the walk and left the Sussex Border Path shortly afterwards so that I could complete my circuit back to the car in Stansted Park.
Chalton Down
The walk down the side of Chalton Down was hugely interesting. I am guessing that this is what is technically known as ‘unimproved grassland’ for the whole of the side of the down was covered in all manner of lime loving wild flowers and a profusion of butterflies, all of which seemed to be camera shy! It was a delightful walk which disappointingly ended when I crossed a stile and ended up trying to walk through a thicket where the path had been seldom used.I passed underneath the railway via a very low pedestrian bridge and joined the road the other side. I faced about a mile of road walking now, which was unexciting and probably should have been replaced by a longer walk though the fields and a closer look at Idsworth Church. To be honest I wasn’t paying sufficient attention and probably missed the best sight on the rest of the walk. Oh well – another jaunt along the Staunton Way should rectify this…
As I headed along the road I was stopped by a rather stressed looking driver who was looking for the Goodwood Festival of Speed which was taking place about twenty miles from my location. It seemed a rather odd way to be going, but he looked mightily relieved when I showed him where to go on his road atlas. Surely stuff like this shouldn’t happen now in the age of satnavs?
Idsworth Meadow
I was relieved myself to leave the road behind and climbed through some very attractive woodland until reaching what seemed to be an ancient trackway, hemmed in by high hedges and trees. I guessed that this was probably once a roadway of sorts but not deemed important enough to become a highway when roads were metalled. It was a pleasant if not overly exciting stroll for the next couple of miles. I eventually reached the village of West Marden, although only skirted it before climbing up to walk through more fields. These were thick with the scent of camomile, a smell that is quite sickly and very distinctive. The flowers grew in profusion along the side of the fields and the smell certainly grew stronger as I walked across some of the flowers that had strayed onto the path.
At the end of the fields I entered into woodland that forms the outer edges of Stansted Park and I knew that I would be getting back fairly soon. The air was alive with the sound of buzzing insects and twittering birds, a sound I had largely missed for some time, apart from a few skylarks telling me off way back on Chalton Down. By now it was getting on for late morning and other walkers were about too. It felt rather strange sharing the countryside with others as up to now I had pretty much had the place to myself. I breathed a sigh of relief though as the various dog walkers I encountered weren’t going the same way as me and I returned to my solitude. The path eventually escaped the woodland and skirted alongside it, providing great views down towards Langstone Harbour and the Isle of Wight beyond.
Soon I emerged onto the park road that I had walked along a few weeks previously when I had visited Racton Monument. It was a bit déjà vu as I headed along the estate road back to the colonnaded lodge house and to my car just beyond. The Sussex Border Path part of this route was very nice, but if I’m honest I probably picked a route back to complete the circuit that was too long and a little short on things to see. True it was a fabulous day and I should not be disappointed by that, but I couldn’t help feeling that I could have extended the SBP part of the walk at the expense of the rest.
Returning to Stansted Park

Sunday, 17 July 2011

The Basingstoke Canal Section Two Ash Vale to Woodham Junction

Leonard Leigh
About three weeks after my first trip to the canal came the second. Having enjoyed the first section so much I was eager to finish the rest and I managed to pick a day that had almost identical weather to the first trip! Having finished at Brookwood last time, I have to say that the last part of the ride between Ash Vale and Brookwood was rather rushed feeling, so I was quite keen to reacquaint myself with the towpath between those two places. I was helped by the fact that the train from West Byfleet actually heads straight for Ash Vale, meaning that the journey from end to end by train was only 20 minutes.
Little Mytchett
Ash Vale station is not an easy one to get out of with a bike as the platforms are high up above the adjacent street (to be fair I think there was a lift but I didn’t use it). Once I had hauled the bike to the bottom of the several flights of steps I turned left out of the station and pedalled back uphill, almost to platform level where I reunited with the canal at the end of the station. I soon realised it was at the abandoned wharf that I had passed by a few weeks previously. On the other side of the railway bridge was a small lake called Little Mytchett, presumably constructed to help maintain a steady water supply through this section.I noticed on the map that some of the lake had been cut off by the railway line being constructed across it –not the first canal casualty of that practice!What was left was very picturesque though and got me in the mood for the rest of the trip nicely!
In Formation Ladies!
Through the wooded section I continued until reaching a railway bridge. Although less than half a mile from Ash Vale station, this was not the line that I had travelled on, but another serving Ash Vale which heads off towards Camberley and Ascot. The canal was quite dark under the foliage and the small basin in front of the bridge was rather grotto like. Yet the other side of the bridge things could not have been more different as the canal opened up into quite a large lake (Mytchett Lake) which seemed to be home to many species of ducks as well as a large number of swans and the ubiquitous moorhens and coots.Across the lake was a large building breaking up the trees and associated with the barracks behind.
Moody Reflections
As the path left the lake behind and passed under another bridge (a road one this time) and then back into a tree lined tunnel. The canal here was quite straight and stretched on for quite a distance ahead of me – a contrast to the early stages where I seemed to be going round and round corners all the time. A little further on was a little section of canal that headed into an adjacent house, perhaps a hotel. It all looked very inviting but sadly I could see little more than a glimpse because of an island in my way. On my left I was joined by the railway I had crossed under a few minutes before. I didn’t initially notice but jumped out of my skin when a train came stealthily behind me when I wasn’t expecting it.
Frimley Lodge Railway
The line continued on my left for a bit but eyes were now on the right bank as I passed by the campsite and visitor centre for the canal. Sadly on both occasions I passed by I was unable to get across the canal to see anything further (the bridge across only opens for certain times of the day). Yet all around was busy – the first time I passed there was a full campsite (unsurprising for a Saturday evening), while on the second (a Wednesday evening) there were still a few customers. Boat trips leave from this point and there was a bit of boating traffic on both occasions. Given the proximity to the campsite there was also a number of canoeists exploring the canal. I should imagine this is perhaps the most popular section of the canal to do so.
Mirror Image
A little further on and I became of a railway line next to the towpath once again. This was not the same line as before however – this was a miniature railway that seemed to be quite extensive. As I followed the line it soon became clear that this was quite a large facility and I was very interested to see the station and shedding facilities at the far end. This was the Frimley Lodge Railway, probably worth a look when in operation. Sadly of course being a midweek evening there was no chance of this being the case. In fact when I found the timetable I noticed that it generally only operates about once a month so a ride would be a rare treat indeed!Everything was well shut up and vandal proof – I guess that could be quite a problem in this built up area.
Standing Proud
A little way past the miniature railway and the towpath comes to an abrupt stop at the next bridge, with walkers and cyclists required to cross the busy road bridge. There is a Harvester restaurant tucked away at the side of the road here – may be a good option if you are on an all day excursion? Onward from the bridge the towpath first passes a cute little lodge house and then across perhaps the most impressive engineering feature of the whole canal, the aqueduct carrying the canal over the railway.Originally this had to cross a double track railway but had to be doubled in length when the railway was increased to four tracks.Probably the full extent of the engineering cannot be appreciated from above but it is nonetheless a little odd having to cross speeding trains on a waterway.
The canal then turns almost right angles and heads into Deepcut, a lengthy section of cutting enclosed by forest. It is actually quite hard imagining the urban nature of the surrounding area, for this section was largely devoid of walkers and cyclists when I headed through on both occasions. In fact the only people I remember on the whole section was a lonely boat travelling through. Given that the locks further on were not functioning I don’t suppose they had gone very far! The cutting was full of butterflies and assorted buzzing insects, all taking advantage of the various nectar opportunities from the flowers all along the side of the canal.
Needs Improvement
At the end of the cutting is a former lock-keepers house – now a beautifully kept country cottage. Alongside is a polytunnel, which presumably acts as a repair shop for narrow boats. The chap in the back garden was very busy sawing wood and took no notice of me. Alongside him was what I suspect was the latest boat project; I guess you would be inspired to do this kind of work in such surroundings! Alongside the cottage was the first of a series of locks which descend the canal down through Pirbright and through a large area of military establishments.This section proved to be very popular with squaddies, with several groups using the canal as a training and jogging course (some were wearing packs and some not).It proved a little disconcerting trying to make sure I stayed out of their way as I descended through the section. As well as the locks, the wooded countryside was extremely beautiful – perhaps the prettiest section of the whole canal length.
Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar
The big disappointment for me on this section was the state of the canal. So far along its length the canal was in really good shape following its restoration 20 years ago. Now though several of the locks were out of action and as a result the canal was holding little, if any water. Even some of the balancing ponds were just a sea of mud and the couple of miles through this section had a strong smell of river mud as a result. It was all very disappointing, although I at least made very quick progress due to my earlier decision to travel in this direction. That meant that I was heading downhill all the way, which was rather more pleasant than the alternative!
Deepcut Locks
Just shy of Brookwood I came upon another well preserved canal cottage, with what looked like some abutments of a railway bridge opposite. I later learned that this was the remains of the so-called Necropolis Railway, which once connected Brookwood Cemetery directly to Waterloo Station in London. Brookwood Cemetery was envisaged to become London’s main burial ground in the late Victorian years, when cemetery space in the capital became ever more scarce. Because of public health fears the cemetery was located some distance from the city, but within easy reach by train. The short branch line from the main line at Brookwood carried special trains for mourners using special tickets from Waterloo. The line did not survive the Second World War due to its poor state.
Deepcut Lock Keeper's Cottage
This point marked the point at which my overlap from Day 1 to Day 2 finished and from here on I only completed the section once. The canal had levelled out for awhile after all the locks I had been past. It took on a gentler feel once again passing through woods and a few suburban houses on the edge of Brookwood. In the distance I could hear the rumble of the rush hour trains but all was peaceful on the canal itself. In fact apart from a bridge that I had to cross with heavy traffic, the whole section was like an oasis of calm passing through the madness of the M3 corridor.
Foot Crossing
The next road bridge was preceded by quite a large winding hole and someone had taken advantage of the extra space available by mooring a rather homemade but very new looking houseboat. It looked like quite the place to live! I swapped sides again at this point, having to cross yet another busy road. I later discovered though that I could have done so by going along the pavement on my side of the road and ducking under the bridge on the other side of the canal. A useful tip if the road is as busy as it was for my trip!
Returning to Nature
After ploughing along another wooded sectionbordered by some very nice looking houses I came upon St John’s village, which seemed to be a very attractive little place. Part of Kiln Bridge, which I had to cross to get back on the other side of the canal again, was built as a pill box. I’m not sure these looked terribly useful or easy to defend. Perhaps it was a good idea they were never put to the test! I passed down another flight of locks beyond Kiln Bridge and this section seemed to be a particularly popular spot for evening strollers and dog walkers, which meant that I couldn’t make the downhill sections really count for me which was a bit of a shame.
Peaceful Swan
As I headed in towards Woking, boats started appearing on the canal once again. I had seen relatively few of them for awhile, perhaps as a result of the Pirbright locks being out of action. Alongside the canal were many more houses and the odd pub, which made full use of their location by having the beer garden overlook the water. The couple I passed looked very nice places to while away a summer evening and natter with friends over a pint.Woking itself soon became apparent when hi tech looking buildings started appearing on the canal side.In no time at all I was right in the town centre, passing by what looked like cathedrals of retail at the local shopping centre.It was rather surprising that the canal occupied a corridor that was so close to the heart of things.The railway, coming some years later, had to settle for a less convenient corridor. I was grateful to the Swingbridge Community Payback people for keeping this section maintained as it could very easily be vandalised and ruined by anti-socials, perhaps even the sorts of people doing the punishments!
Kiln Bridge
The Woking stretch went surprisingly quickly and by now the canal had a more open feel about it as it passed less salubrious housing than is normal alongside, together with a very busy looking play area. I’ve got to be honest though, the canal was also getting far less interesting as it headed in towards London. The section between Woking and Shearwater rather passed me by and I was able to get up quite a lot of speed along this section as I wasn’t stopping every five seconds to look at something diverting!
Woking Shops
At West Byfleet I descended another section of locks, not all of which were in great shape, before finally reaching the bottom of the descent from Odiham. The last section of the canal seemed to be home to a mixed bag of houseboats, some very attractive, others bordering on the derelict. Some were imaginatively decorated and built, while others were just slab sided and dull. It seemed like a proper community though, with gardens built on their side of the canal and the public definitely not welcome.Just past the boats was my final destination – the junction with the Wey Navigation and possibly another trip in the near future.Woodham Junction was rather an anti-climax however – it is all rather overshadowed by the monstrous M25 viaduct that passes overhead almost and the railway line that has been a constant companion.
Perhaps because of the London end of the canal it might be better to do the trip the opposite way round, although there is no denying the pleasure of cycling downhill through the locks! The Basingstoke Canal is delightful for just about its whole length and well worth a summer evening trip. Apparently it gets a bit muddy on the towpath during the winter so probably only worth a walking trip then. For serious cyclists, the whole thing could easily be managed in a day, but remember that there is a bit of a cycle from Greywell Tunnel to Hook, which is the nearest station. I might well have a go at doing the Wey Navigation soon – I have quite a taste for this kind of expedition!
Reaching the Wey