Basingstoke Canal History
A plan was put forward to connect the agricultural town of Basingstoke to the River Thames by way of an artificial cut. It was hoped that fertiliser could be carried far cheaper than by land and that the sale of farm produce to London markets could bring wealth to an otherwise quiet countryside town. Benjamin Davis surveyed a line, he planned a route along the Loddon Valley to Twyford and then east to the Thames at Monkey Island near Bray.
With nothing done following Davis’ survey a new plan was put forward by a group of enthusiastic investors. Joseph Parker surveyed a completely new route which would head east to the River Wey. The promoters were somewhat over the top in their claims, saying the canal would provide timber for the navy and much cheaper flour and grain for London.
An Act was sought and it would appear that Parliament believed the claims of the promoters. The only opposition to the Basingstoke Canal Bill came from businessmen in Reading who feared the new route would take traffic away from their town. These objections were ignored and permission was granted to raise £86,000 to build the canal.However, the company found it impossible to raise the necessary cash due to the uncertainties caused by the War of Independence in America. Work was put on hold until more stable times returned.
With the war over and sponsors now more willing to part with their money work on the Basingstoke Canal finally began.
William Jessop was appointed as Chief Engineer with John Pinkerton as contractor. Straight away the company hit problems when Lord Tylney refused to allow the building of a 6 mile loop between Basingstoke and Odiham because he felt that he was being surrounded by water.
This led to the building of Greywell Tunnel but in the end this was of considerable advantage to the company, not only did it knock 6½ miles off the length of the route but it also resulted in the discovery of an underground water supply.
The first part of the route was opened at its eastern end and the company immediately gained income from tolls. Within another 12 months the route was open through 32 miles to the eastern end of Greywell Tunnel. The route included 24 locks.
The cost of the tunnel drained the company’s funds and a new Act had to be sought allowing the company to raise a further £60,000.
The Basingstoke Canal opened on September 4th but the company was already in many thousands of pounds worth of debt before a single boat had travelled the full length of the canal.
The route ran for 37½ miles through 29 locks from the River Wey near its mouth at Weybridge to the town of Basingstoke. It was capable of taking boats 82 feet long by 14 feet wide. In the early days the cargoes included items such as malt, timber and flour bound for London and coal and groceries travelling in the opposite direction. Wharves were built by the company all along the route and they even started their own carrying fleet. At Basingstoke alternative transport was provided to relay goods as far as Salisbury and Southampton. However, the canal was never to become the success that its owners expected, in the end it became little more than a fertiliser carrier for the many farms along its banks. While this meant the canal was used just as much as any other successful waterway, fertiliser did little to create money for the canal company.However, for the farmers it was a fantastic improvement, before the canal was built a farmer would need 4 packhorses (led by a servant on a saddled horse) to travel up to 12 miles, 4 days a week, to collect enough fertiliser to cover just ½ an acre of land. Many times this amount could be carried on the canal.
Income for the company proved to be very poor, an estimated £7,700 had been expected per year by 1797 but the canal’s best year only saw £5,400 and that wasn’t until 1839.
One of the original hopes of the company had been to use the Basingstoke Canal to form part of a through-route between London & the west coast at Bristol. From Basingstoke goods would have been carried by road via Salisbury in direct competition with the route which then travelled via the River Kennet to Newbury and then to Bristol by road via Bath (the Kennet & Avon Canal was not open at this point).Another hope was that the Itchen Navigation would be extended to Basingstoke and provide a through-route to the south coast. Sadly for the company, neither of these schemes ever materialised.
The company themselves tried to promote the Portsmouth, Southampton & London Junction Canal. This idea failed to gain support after an unfavourable report made by John Rennie and objections by mill owners. And so, the company were left with an under-achieving agricultural route and were falling deeper and deeper into debt. Because they often had to miss repayments they ended up adding an extra £30,000 in interest to their total debt. While the farmers and Basingstoke town gained great benefit from the waterway, the canal company itself never managed to pay a single dividend to its shareholders.
Some extra traffic was gained during the Napoleonic wars because carriers wanted to avoid the dangerous coastal route to Portsmouth and Southampton. This gain in traffic soon died when the French threat subsided.
In the years following the end of the wars the whole country went into an economic slump. The Basingstoke – like all canals – suffered during this period but matters were made worse by lack of employment for working men. Desperate to make ends meet, hundreds of men took to carrying and delivering goods by wagon. In normal times road carriage could cost 3 or 4 times that of canal carriage but these men were charging prices which were almost as low as those on the canal. The greater speed of the wagons and the low prices (which barely earned the men any profit at all) were taking trade away from the already struggling waterway.
Thankfully better times were arriving with the British economy finally beginning to pick up after 7 years in the doldrums.
A gleam of hope for the company arrived when a proposal was put forward to create the Hants & Berks Junction Canal to connect the Basingstoke Canal to the Kennet & Avon Canal. Sadly these hopes were dashed when the Bill was defeated in Parliament. Opposition mainly came from the River Thames Commissioners because the new route would bypass their waterway completely.
The company suddenly saw an upturn in income and the canal enjoyed its busiest period since its opening. Sadly this boom year was not one of celebration as the reason for the great increase in tonnage was solely due to boats carrying materials for the building of the new London & South Western Railway.
When the railway opened, the struggling canal had no chance of making money. A steady decline began.
Just as things were looking very bleak another boom time arrived for the canal. This time it was the construction of army barracks in Aldershot that brought activity back to the waterway.However, this was very short lived and as soon as construction was complete the canal was in trouble once again.
After many years of struggling against the odds the Basingstoke Canal Company finally gave up and went into liquidation.There now followed 100 years of business activities the likes of which were not seen anywhere else in the history of British canals. Numerous attempts were made to keep the waterway open, some attempts are said to have been ludicrous and others definitely fraudulent – very few were in any way successful…
The Surrey & Hants Canal Company was formed by William St. Aubyn.
The new company failed to do any better than the original one. With no sign of a revival a dissolution order was passed.
During one year three different owners took “control” of the Basingstoke Canal. These were Dixon & Ward followed by J.B. Smith and then Surrey & Hampshire Canal Corporation. Officially the “corporation” took over the canal with the intention of selling water to London. However, it is thought more likely that the corporation was set up to swindle money out of reckless investors.
After taking as much money as it could from would-be investors, Surrey & Hampshire Canal Corporation closed down and the canal was put back in the hands of the receiver.
The London & Hampshire Canal & Water Company was formed by some of the creditors from the Surrey & Hants company. Whether these were genuine water suppliers this time or just more swindlers is not reported.
The canal’s most frequent owner was back in control – the receiver!
Sir Frederick Hunt was next to chance his arm. Within a year the Woking, Aldershot & Basingstoke Canal Company was formed. This new company was genuine and it spent a considerable amount of money linking the canal to a brick works at Up Nately. Sadly this did not bring new prosperity to the waterway.
William Carter bought the canal and then immediately sold it to Horatio Bottomley MP who owned the Joint Stock Trust & Finance Corporation.
The London & South Western Canal Corporation took over the canal. Much like the previous Surrey & Hants Corporation the new owners took thousands of pounds of money from investors, did nothing with it and then sold the canal!
William Carter, who had owned the waterway for 5 minutes in 1905 bought it again.
It should not be forgotten that while all this was going on the canal was actually in use. However, much of the route was in decline and Basingstoke itself was no longer used by barges.
The Basingstoke Canal was now only used along short sections and some parts were thought to be impassable. Alec Harmsworth took his narrow boat “Basingstoke” from the River Wey to Basingstoke simply to prove it could be done. It is thought that this was the last boat to travel the whole route – it took THREE months!
After a record breaking run of ownership, William Carter sold out to the Basingstoke Canal Syndicate for £15,000.
It is not known what happened to the “syndicate” but within 6 years the canal was in the hands of the receiver – again. No worry, a saviour was at hand – William Carter!
A.J. (Alec) Harmsworth bought the canal. This time the ownership appears to have been very genuine though there are no reports of Alec trying to repeat his boating feat of 10 years earlier. By now the route was not used west of Woking but at a time when the canal could easily have been abandoned Harmsworth did much to ensure its survival.
Greywell Tunnel collapsed leaving the canal severed with no outlet for the 6 miles on the west side of the tunnel. However, this was no loss to trade as by this time no boats were actually travelling through the tunnel.
Such was Harmsworth’s enthusiasm for the canal that he rejuvenated trade to a record peak, second only to the successfulrailway construction days almost 100 years earlier. This was mainly due to coal boats servicing Woking gasworks but sadly this came to an end just 12 months later when Woking District Gas Company ceased making its own gas.
Harmsworth formed the Weybridge, Woking & Aldershot Canal Company.
Munitions were carried on the canal during WW2 but unlike the wars c1800 this did not profit the canal in any way as the Government commandeered the waterway for free. Following WW2 Harmsworth failed to regain his pre-war level of business.
Alec Harmsworth, the canals greatest champion, died and ownership of the route was once again up for grabs. However, nobody was willing to grab it!
The Basingstoke Canal never died completely but when the Government nationalised the inland waterways system the Basingstoke was not included.
The last commercial traffic to use the canal took a load of timber to Spanton’s Yard at Monument Bridge, Woking. During the same year the canal was once again put into the hands of the receiver and it was announced that the route was to be put up for auctioned. Around this time the Inland Waterways Association, an organisation set up by enthusiasts to save and restore all derelict waterways, had been formed. They were keen to make their mark and gain recognition as an organisation to be reckoned with. The Basingstoke auction gave them the opportunity to stage their first real battle. Some of the people interested in buying the canal included land developers and even a company who had the bright idea of turning the whole 37 miles into a motor cycle track!! The IWA put together plans to buy the canal themselves though this sort of plan was never part of their original remit. A public meeting was organised by the association at which local authority members attended. They claimed only to have the canal’s future at heart but tried to sway public support for its closure by claiming a canal in urban areas was likely to attract mosquitoes!!!! Not one of them could see any potential for the canal as a linear parkway within the ever growing urban commuter landscape.
After the public meeting a “Basingstoke Canal Committee” was formed, mainly made up of IWA members though the committee had no official link.Without any funds of their own the best the committee could do was to hope to influence whoever purchased the waterway. On the eve of the auction one of the Basingstoke committee members – who was not an IWA member – approached the IWA and offered to bid whatever was needed to buy the canal! The would-be saviour was a Mrs. Joan Marshall of Fleet who implied that she would represent the Basingstoke committee at the auction. She gained great support from the IWA, the press and the public.
The auction was a big event, the canal had made big news because of its close proximity to the London and the commuter belt. The auction venue had to be hurriedly changed to bigger premises in Aldershot and sign posts pointing “to the sale” were erected around the town. The Traction Hall was full with canal supporters from all over the country as well as IWA members, local people and the press. The auction was very short, there were only two bidders and one of them, a local contractor, dropped out at just £6,000. The only other bidder was Mrs. Marshall – on behalf of the “New Basingstoke Canal Company”. Applause rang out with everybody firmly believing Mrs. Marshall was representing the Basingstoke Canal Committee – including the IWA and the committee themselves. There was much celebrating that evening, the IWA had won its first major battle and now owned its own canal. The whole event made the national news. Next day Mrs. Marshall rang the IWA to let them know that it was not they who owned the canal. She said she had bought it on behalf of a “Purchase Committee”. However, she added that the committee fully intended to run the canal as the IWA had planned. The IWA quickly announced that while it currently supported the committee’s aims it had nothing to do with the canal’s purchase and would not be held responsible for whatever happened to the waterway. This episode taught the IWA that in future they must set up each restoration as a charitable trust and never rely upon the help of unknown donors no matter how desperately they were needed.
And so, the Basingstoke Canal now had yet another different owner but the new proprietors apparently did absolutely nothing after purchasing the waterway. None of the major canal history books report any work being done to the canal during the 1950’s and it was reported to be in a worse state than ever by 1960.
The Surrey & Hampshire Canal Society was formed, by this time the canal was completely weeded over and the locks were derelict. Soon after forming the S&HCS produced a report, “The Basingstoke Canal: A Case For Restoration”, and this started the ball rolling on the long road to reopening the waterway.
The society successfully achieved their first goal when the two local county councils agreed to take over the whole canal by means of compulsory purchase. The Hampshire section was bought first in 1973, followed by the Surrey section in 1975. Later in the decade work began along the canal, various job creation schemes provided free labour and the waterway Recovery Group provided expertise. Materials were often provided by the councils, this included oak from nearby woods which was used to rebuild lock gates.
The two councils formed the Basingstoke Canal Authority and over the years, with lots of help from the canal society, volunteers and numerous organisations, they managed to bring the canal back to life. Not long before the canal restoration was complete people began to comment on how well wildlife was taking hold now that all the rubbish had been removed, the filled in bed had been excavated and water was back in the cut. Some of these people decided the wildlife was so good that it should be protected to ensure its future. This sounds like the right and proper thing to do and restorers backed the wildlife supporters until newspaper articles started to appear telling of the dangers to wildlife if boats were allowed onto the canal. It was pointed out that motorised boats had never used the waterway – it had only been used by sailing boats or horse-drawn barges. The canal society and restorers were quite naturally very angry. It was being reported that they were planning to destroy wild habitats for their own pleasure when in truth the wildlife only existed because they had created habitats in which it could survive.
There was great anguish when the Nature Conservancy Council (Now English Nature) announced that virtually all of the canal was to be made a SSSI (a site of special scientific interest). This would make the waterway an almost “no-go area”, boats would be banned and maintenance would be impossible. The restorers faced throwing away millions of pounds as well as 25 years of hard work. It was widely thought that the conservationists had purposely sat back watching the multi-million pound restoration taking shape and then stepped in just before boats were allowed onto the waterway, taking control of the canal by law without having lifted a finger or donated a single penny.
After a cost of £4 million the Basingstoke Canal was fully restored through 32 miles from the River Wey to Greywell Tunnel. On May 10th the Duke of Kent officially reopened the waterway but for the restorers it was a day of mixed feelings.
English Nature successfully managed to restrict boat movements to just a few hundred per year and this continues today. It is an issue which will run for some time to come and one that can easily make a canal enthusiasts blood boil. Not just because of the hard work and money involved but because of the feeling of being tricked and laughed at – the beautifully restored canal (a former rubbish tip) has been hi-jacked for the sake of water lilies!
With the main part of the canal open, attention was turned on the severed section west of the collapsed Greywell Tunnel. The canal society began restoring the section closest to the tunnel, clearing deep undergrowth and restoring bridges. The towpath was fully reinstated by the end of the year and the former horse path across Greywell Hill was also cleared and opened with information boards installed along its line.
Next, Basingstoke Council surprised everybody by proposing a 5 year scheme to restore a 1¾ mile length of the unnavigable canal in their town. Originally the town council had voted against the idea of reinstating the former wharf which had been used as a bus station for many years. Having rejected this relatively small scheme nobody expected the council to then vote in favour of a much longer restoration which also included the same wharf. However, that is exactly what happened.The restored length would follow the original canal line, ending at Old Basing near a tithe barn which was to be used as a canal visitor centre. A water park would be created with “a great range of recreational facilities”. Trying to keep one step ahead of the enemy – a protected area for wildlife was also to be created.
The derelict canal between Old Basing and Greywell would be next to be restored though this would not be till early in the new century. Plans were put forward which would include an aqueduct over the M3 though this was turned down and, as yet, no alternative proposals have been accepted.
Once the line to Basingstoke is restored it will leave only one section un-restored, the 1,230 yard Greywell Tunnel. The biggest problem with the tunnel is not an engineering one but another conservationist one.The tunnel is inhabited by bats and has a SSSI order placed on it. This means restoration is out of the question at present. An alternative route and a new tunnel was estimated at £10 million pounds but what – I wonder – would happen if the bats took a liking for the new tunnel as soon as the constructors moved out. Would the brand new £10 million tunnel also become out of bounds?! As it happens, we will never know because the proposal to build a new tunnel has now been dropped. If the canal is to reach Basingstoke it will be via the original Greywell Tunnel – though not in the near future.
The Basingstoke Canal always suffered badly from water shortages, since the route’s reopening in 1991 there had been restrictions on lock usage every summer. The route has a long summit level to store water but there are no large reservoirs and no major feeds from rivers or streams. On top of this the whole canal is lined with large, old trees which sap the canal of a lot of its water through transpiration (they drink it through their roots). Early in the year it was reported that the Canal Authority were to look into ways of conquering the water shortages. They planned to tap local streams, dredge the summit to a deeper level and pump water from bore holes.
In July there was celebrations when the official opening of a brand new aqueduct took place. A new bypass (the Blackwater valley relief road) had been built through Ash Embankment necessitating an aqueduct costing £1.27 million. Originally the plan had been to create the aqueduct in the style of a suspension bridge with a 90 feet tower. Following objections from local people this was turned down in favour of a 3-span structure with brick faced concrete piers. The aqueduct was built 440 feet long, weighing 3,500 tonnes and contained towpaths on both sides of the trough. It spanned the River Blackwater as well as the new dual-carriageway. Once again construction had only gone ahead after “permission” from conservationists. This time it was because bats used to roost in the culvert which took the River Blackwater through the canal embankment. An artificial “bat cave” was created nearby at a cost of £140,000. The removal of the embankment and culvert allowed a riverside walk to be created with access from the aqueduct. In 1996 the aqueduct won a merit award from the Institute of Civil Engineers.
It was reported early in the year that the Basingstoke Canal Authority had won an award for doing a “great job” in managing the SSSI. Considering they had no choice in the matter it is something of a dubious award. In April the locks on the Basingstoke Canal were closed by the Canal Authority due to water supply problems following a particularly dry winter. Closures had become common in late summer but this was the first time such a closure had begun this early in the year. Even with limited use the supplies were not replenished during the year and the closure continued through until 1998 with no sign of ending.
The Canal Authority applied for funding in order to install a back pumping system from the bottom lock up to the Woking pound. If successful, other back pumps may also be installed.
The lack of boats on the navigable canal enforced by conservationist restrictions cause indirect problems for the Canal Authority. Lack of use means the canal can silt up easily – ironically most of the wildlife needs a clear channel if it is to thrive. Lack of boats also means lack of income and that leads to maintenance problems. Some of the locks which were rebuilt over 25 years ago are now in desperate need of renewal. It has been found that the wood used from local woods is not of great quality and is subject to early decay. The water shortage closures prevent boats from entering the Basingstoke Canal and the SSSI restrictions prevent a lot of movement for those boats indigenous to the canal. This is a very big shame because the canal is one of the prettiest in Britain despite being surrounded for long stretches by urban and industrial areas. While boating is restricted, walking most certainly is not. The towpath is generally in good condition throughout the whole canal from the River Wey to Basingstoke.
Basingstoke Canal Route
The Basingstoke Canal begins at Woodham Junction directly under the M25 just south of Weybridge. Woodham Junction is on the River Wey Navigationless than 2 miles south of the confluence with the River Thames. Woodham Junction can be reached by walking along the River Wey from the A318 at New Haw or the A245 at West Byfleet.
There are a number of houseboats near the first flight of 6 locks at Woodham. Near the top lock water comes splashing into the canal pumped up from a bore hole in the nearby woods. Above the locks is Sheerwater which has a number of rather posh looking houses on the canal banks. A number of the houses have gardens which have bays (or recesses) at the side of the canal which are used as private moorings. The canal runs right through Woking, gardens line the canal and walkways lead into the town centre. Numerous main roads (as well as minor ones) cross the canal in the town.
West of Woking are the 5 Goldworth Locks which are better known as St. John’s Locks. They are lined by houses though are said to be pleasant. The bottom gates of each lock apparently have to be left open after use.This is because deer have a habit of falling in and will drown if the gates are closed. At the top lock is Capstans Wharf with the criss-cross parapets of Kiln Bridge taking a road across the canal. This runs to the A324 which runs parallel to the locks on the north side.
At Brookwood there is a landscaped cemetery which was “opened” in 1854 when land in London was becoming too scarce to be used for the dead! The cemetery was so “busy” it even had its own railway station. The 3 Brookwood locks – a small prelude to what is to follow – take the canal up through the village, the A322 crosses at the bottom of the flight. Above the locks is Sheets Heath Bridge which is another with a “criss-cross” parapet. The bridge is actually made from former railway sleepers and thus the whole structure rattles loudly every time a vehicle crosses. It can be reached on a minor road just north off the A324 in the centre of Brookwood.
To the north of the B3012 is the Frimley (or Deepcut) flight of 14 locks, situated in a beautiful tree-lined area. There are a number of wide pools (or “flashes”) between the locks though most of these are too shallow for boats to navigate. The mainline West Country railway runs between the B3012 and the canal, often right along the side of the towpath. Next to lock 24 (the 10th in the flight) there used to be a row of railway cottages and beyond Curzon Bridge, beside lock 25, the railway passes very close indeed. In fact, it is so close that in working days a wall was installed to protect boatmen from the flying sparks which came off the passing steam trains. A minor road crosses the bottom of the flight very close to a junction and sharp bend on the A342. A minor road off the B3012 crosses the flight near lock 25.
The lock flight was the seen of a “Big Dig” organised by the Waterway Recovery Group in 1977 which saw the start of restoration. In 1983 a former boatyard containing a blacksmiths and a dry dock was restored and a nearby army swimming pool was converted into a lock gate workshop. At the top lock cottage afternoon teas can be bought on summer Sundays.Past the top lock the canal finds itself in the deep cutting which gives the lock flight its nickname (Deepcut Locks). The cutting is 70 feet deep in parts and lined with large trees throughout. It is said that passing through it can make you feel very remote.
At Frimley Green the B3015 crosses the canal and then Wharfenden Lake is reached though this is now part of a Country Club and off limits to visiting boats. At the lake the canal bends left until it is heading south west. A substantial aqueduct, said to be lead-lined, crosses the mainline railway, it has a small toll house on its approach. Just beyond the aqueduct is King’s Head Bridge which carries the B3012. The aqueduct can be seen “side-on” from the railway bridge on this road just to the west. After passing the road bridge the canal turns south.
On the next ½ mile stretch Frimley Lodge Park runs along the eastern bank. At Mychett Place Bridge is the relatively new Basingstoke Canal Visitor Centre. There are exhibitions and a cafe within the centre and boat trips run from the wharf outside. This can be reached from the road which runs east from the former A321 to Mychett Place.
Next comes Mychett Lake and Greatbottom Flash. The first is owned by the army and although it runs into the canal it is not open for boat usage, though it is used by anglers and is renowned for its enormous pike. The second is also owned by the army and is not navigable. In fact, signs warn you that this area is a “Danger Zone”!
Beside Mychett Lake another railway crosses the canal. Half way between the two lakes it crosses again with access up to Ash Vale Station.Beside the path up to the station is a corrugated iron boathouse where Alec Harmsworth built barges and hired out skiffs, canoes and punts. As the route moves from Surrey into Hants it turns west and crosses the Spring Lakes high up on the 1,000 yard long Ash Embankment. This has now been split in two by the splendid new Ash Aqueduct spanning across a new bypass road below. At the far end of the embankment is Ash Lock.Presumably this area (Ash and Ash Vale) gets its name from the numerous Ash trees (among others) which are all around and constantly overhang the waterway. Note, there is no access to the aqueduct from the new bypass (A321). Access is best gained by walking along the embankment from the old A321 at Ash Wharf. However, it is also possible to walk along the bank of the Blackwater River which now passes beneath the aqueduct having previously being culverted through the embankment. Ash Lock can be reached via a minor road which runs north east from the centre of Aldershot.
Aldershot soon arrives, like Ash Vale it too is named after a tree – I’ll let you guess which one! High fences, some topped with barbed wire, line the canal in Aldershot. Army barracks can be seen beyond the fences on the south side of the canal. Queens Avenue bridge has modest ornate iron balustrades, military museums are situated in both directions from the avenue. At Wharf Bridge the A325 crosses over and there is access to both Aldershot and Farnborough on this road. Just past the bridge the army barracks line the canal on both sides.
While Aldershot is famous for its army barracks, Farnborough is famous for its airfields. The first flight in Britain took off from Farnborough in 1908 – and probably landed pretty close by! The Royal Aircraft Establishment which lines the north side of the canal was originally opened in 1905 as His Majesty’s Balloon Factory. It is said that this stretch of canal can seem like a war zone with the banging and clattering of guns. Helicopters and soldiers can often be seen on the canal or “guarding” the bridges in full army uniform and combat gear, complete with rifles and gas masks!
As the noises of World War 3 slowly subside Eelmoor Flash is reached.This lake is a SSSI area (Site of Special Scientific Interest) due to its many species of Dragonfly. Eelmoor bridge is on a minor road just off the A323.
At Fleet, houses back onto the route with gardens running onto its banks and a canoe slalom course is situated in the canal. Thankfully there are no white-water rapids. The A323 crosses the canal in the centre of Fleet on Pondtail Bridge.
As the canal finally leaves military zones behind for good (apart from the WW2 pill boxes and tank traps here and there) it begins to wriggle around in a series of loops. On the minor road south out of Crookham Village is Chequers Bridge which has wooden railings instead of a normal parapet. There is a winding hole here at Crookham Wharf close to a car park beside a grassy area containing picnic tables. The Chequers pub is close by.
Beyond Crookham Village the canal is suddenly surrounded by rich farmland and a couple of lakes provide wildlife havens near Dogmersfield. This area is also well endowed with footpaths and walkways, these are ancient rights of way and the county council enforces the maintenance of them.
At Winchfield period houses with pretty gardens begin to appear regularly on the canal bank and the canal is surrounded by fields full of grazing cows. At Barley Mow Bridge there is a pretty white cottage which sells cream teas. The surrounding “canalscape” is idyllic. Barley Mow Bridge is situated just off the minor road running north west from Dogmersfield.
Odiham arrives through Broad Oak bridge which was rebuilt in traditional style by canal restorers in 1980. There is a wharf and boatyard in the village on a minor road just west of the A287 flyover. Just before the canal reaches its current terminus at Greywell Tunnel it passes through a lift bridge at Warnborough Green which is notorious for being virtually un-workable – despite being “mechanical”. It is a struggle simply to open the lid of its operating box. With the box is a windlass which has to be fixed to a spindle on the side of the box.Having pulled down the barriers to stop traffic the spindle needs to be turned to lift the bridge. This operation has been known to make grown men groan – if not cry! It was a swing bridge until around 1954, most people wish it still was. The B3349 crosses the canal in North Warnborough on Swan Bridge. The lift bridge is on a minor road which loops around the village just to the west.
The ruined Odiham (or King John’s) Castle is passed to the north of the canal, built in 1207 it is said to be very picturesque and is very close to the towpath. In June 1215 King John set off from here for Runnymede to sign the Magna Carta. Alongside the castle a clear stream runs into the canal, the waterway then widens out into a winding hole which marks the current head of navigation.
A walk of just 400 yards will bring you to the eastern portal of the collapsed Greywell Tunnel. Near the entrance is the remains of lock 30 which only changed the water level by 12 inches, this was done to allow extra draft through to Basingstoke. A footpath crosses above the portal and leads to a minor road heading north east out of Greywell. The tunnel is not the sort of place most humans would wish to venture into as it is famous for its colony of over 12,000 bats! Footpaths lead across Greywell Hill to the western portal some ¾ of a mile away. The original horse path has been restored and is clearly defined. Information boards can be seen at each end. At the western end the portal was buried for a number of decades but has now been re-excavated.
Beyond the tunnel the towpath is well kept after being reinstated in the mid 1990’s. Having just emerged from the tunnel the canal is in a cutting for while, Eastrop Bridge passes over head at quite a height and just beyond the next bridge (Slade’s), on a sharp left bend, is Up Nately Junction where the Brickworks Arm headed north for a short distance. It was this arm, created by Sir Frederick Hunt’s Woking, Aldershot & Basingstoke Canal Company, that kept the western end of the canal alive into the 20th century. Eastrop and Slade’s bridges can not be reached by car but Brick Kiln Bridge crosses the canal in Up Nately just west of the old junction. A few hundred yards further west the canal line completely disappears close to the bridge carrying the minor road to Old Basing. Beyond here the canal has been filled in at one or two places, its line curls around under Little Tunnel Bridge (a listed structure on the minor road to Mapledurwell) and Lukes Bridge and then the M3 is reached. The motorway actually crosses the meandering route twice and this will make restoration very difficult indeed. I expect the final outcome will consist of just one crossing (most likely on an aqueduct) with a new stretch of canal created on the western side.
One mile further west (across the M3) is Old Basing where the Hants & Berks Canal would have joined the Basingstoke if it had ever been built.Basingstoke Council have started to restore the canal from here into Basingstoke. At Old Basing there is a tithe barn which is due to be used as a canal visitor centre. At Hatch the A30 crosses the route and the canal heads west past Basing House. within another mile Basingstoke town centre is reached. The town has been cut off from its own canal for many decades, its wharf converted into a bus station. But things are about to change, the in filled route is about to be restored, the wharf is to be reinstated and the canal is to become a “recreational facility”.