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