Sur­rey stroll

Canal Boat - - Great Canal Walks - TEXT AND PIC­TURES BY MARTIN LUDGATE

Get away from it all with a sur­pris­ingly ru­ral walk on the River Wey and Bas­ingstoke Canal that’s ac­tu­ally never more than five miles from Sur­rey’s largest town

Wood­ham Junc­tion is where four dif­fer­ent trans­port routes co­in­cide: not only does the Bas­ingstoke Canal meet the Wey Nav­i­ga­tion, but the junc­tion is over­shad­owed by the M25 and the South Western main line rail­way. So it’s an easy place to get to for the start of this month’s walk: half a mile from Byfleet & New Haw Sta­tion and a cou­ple of miles from the mo­tor­way’s Junc­tion 11.

As you head off along a straight, wide length of wa­ter­way lead­ing south­wards from the junc­tion, you could be for­given for think­ing that this was a canal from the later years of the wa­ter­way age – a Thomas Telford job, per­haps? Wrong: this is ac­tu­ally the long­est ar­ti­fi­cial cut on a river nav­i­ga­tion, and a very old one at that – the Wey Nav­i­ga­tion opened from the Thames to Guild­ford as early as 1653, well be­fore the canal era.

Hous­ing on one side and the mo­tor­way on the other are soon left be­hind as the straight length comes to an end and the wa­ter­way me­an­ders into some very at­trac­tive coun­try­side. Sur­rey might have a rep­u­ta­tion as a home of well­heeled Lon­don com­muters, but you wouldn’t guess it from the next three miles, with few signs of habi­ta­tion.

Pyr­ford Ma­rina is ac­com­pa­nied by the handy water­side An­chor Inn, fol­lowed by Pyr­ford Lock. An­other mile brings us to Wal­sham Flood Gates. Stop and look at this lock, be­cause it’s an in­ter­est­ing one: nor­mally left open at both ends ex­cept in times of high wa­ter, it re­tains sev­eral un­usual fea­tures once com­mon on Wey locks. It’s turf-sided, it has round bal­ance beams made from old tele­graph poles, and the pad­dles lack any gear­ing, be­ing lifted bod­ily and held up with pegs.

It’s also where we re­join the nat­u­ral River Wey, cross­ing the weir via a foot­bridge. The tow­path, which up to now has had a de­cent sur­face, can be muddy on the river lengths so you’ll need your boots in win­ter and af­ter rain. Its me­an­der­ing course leads past the ru­ins of Ne­wark Pri­ory (vis­i­ble on your right, but with no pub­lic ac­cess), then via Ne­wark Lock to Ne­wark New Bridge – the first road cross­ing in two miles.

More me­an­ders lead to Paper­court Lock with its im­pres­sive weir then, af­ter an­other half-mile, it’s time to leave the Wey Nav­i­ga­tion. Take a foot­path lead­ing off on the right across Broad Mead, a meadow be­tween two weir streams, pre­served as a na­ture re­serve. It’s a tra­di­tional wa­ter meadow – so it’s li­able to flood in win­ter. If (as we found) the path is un­der wa­ter, you can re­turn to the tow­path, carry on to Cart Bridge, and turn right along the A247 road in­stead.

Whichever route you take, you’ll reach Old Wok­ing – and the re­al­i­sa­tion that for all its ap­par­ent re­mote­ness, our en­tire walk has been within five miles of the cen­tre of Wok­ing, Sur­rey’s largest town. But don’t just carry on along the road into the town cen­tre; turn right at the mini-round­about, then af­ter about half a mile, take a foot­path on the left

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