I always like it when others provide material for the website. I am pleased that David Daines, a member of the Historic Narrow Boat Club, and frequent user of the River Wey Navigation, has helpfully provided this interesting account of his personal experiences on R Wey as a guide for other boaters who will be attending this year’s celebrations in Woking. He also documents his thoughts on the trip up the Basingstoke to the Festival site at Brookhouse Common, and what boaters will need to think about when mooring nearby.
Though intended for Festival visitors, this article will be of general interest to all boaters coming from the Thames. Ed.
Welcome to the Delightful River Wey Navigation
Many of you will be heading this year for the Basingstoke canal, and I imagine that likewise few will overlook the opportunity to spend some time on the River Wey, from which, of course, the Basingstoke springs at Woodham Junction, Byfleet. Read on to find an introduction to these waterways, at least from my perspective having been a river user over a considerable number of years.
First, and most important, the River Wey is NOT a canal, even though some parts of it may appear to be. The structure of the waterway, in particular the lock gates, are not as ‘robust’ as those on the canal system and should not be subjected to boats ‘leaning’ on them, as many of us do routinely on the canals.
Many locks on the River Wey have only gate paddles on the top gates and the filling of the lock can be extremely ‘vigorous’. It is essential that ropes are used on boats in locks, and a single mid-line is unlikely to be sufficient. The locks filling can draw boats very forcefully forward into contact with the top gates. Every year there are a number of instances of top gates being lifted off by boats running forward into them and you will not be popular with the NT staff, or other river users, if you let this happen. River Wey users are told to turn off their engines in locks, but if you are challenged over this you may state that Navigation Manager John Gibson has agreed that this is inappropriate for historic engines. Similarly, navigation after dark is frowned on, though technically it is not banned in the official regulations. Other river users will not know or acknowledge this and you will be most unpopular if you contravene this custom. There are a number of low bridges on the navigations, and some even lower ones on the Basingstoke canal. Broadford Bridge, outside Godalming is the lowest on the Wey, but others may catch you out. There are newly installed height gauges downstream and upstream of this bridge, heed their warning! Remember, this is essentially a river navigation, and flows, and levels may change rapidly and radically. If you are steering an unconverted working boat, you may find it useful to take down deck board, mast and stands at a convenient time, rather than be caught out.
The entry into the River Wey is not all that easy to spot. It is situated below Shepperton Lock on the Thames, but it is across the weir or ‘tumbling’ pool and if the Thames is running at all hard this can be ‘exciting’! I have in fact seen boats going round in circles trying to cross the pool to the River Wey entry. If you are travelling downstream, be prepared to turn hard right immediately on leaving Shepperton lock. If you are travelling upstream, when you see Shepperton lock ahead, turn left across the tumbling pool. There is a Wey Navigation sign, not a large one, indicating the correct channel, but there are other passages through the trees visible on the left, and at a glance they all look the same. When you have identified, and entered, the correct channel you will soon find Thames Lock. Under most River Thames conditions you will not be able to enter Thames lock, even if the bottom gates are open. You must tie up on the landing and consult the lock keeper. The keeper will close a lower gate below the mooring and raise the pound until the depth over the cill is sufficient for you to enter the lock. All the operations at this lock are carried out by the National Trust keeper and whilst the filling is taking place you may carry out any licence application paperwork you need, and talk to the keeper about the navigation, You WILL need a River Wey lock handle. These handles are longer than canal ones, and canal handles will NOT safely fit Wey spindles. Interestingly Thames lock is the last one still to be fitted with the old style of paddle rack ‘catch’, a piece of chain, sometimes fitted with a bit of metal, that is ‘jammed’ into the teeth of the gearing, Health and Safety would go mad if visitors still used these! When I first visited the river several other locks still had these, and you had to watch your fingers, but all those user operated have now been replaced by a clever friction paddle gearing box devised by Vince Locatelli, one time Navigation supervisor.
Heading out of Thames lock the back gardens of a number of impressive properties are passed, as are a number of weirs, before the Town Bridge at Weybridge is seen ahead. It is necessary at this point to put a crew member ashore on the right, just after going under the modern bridge, to set Town lock, once you make the sharp right turn through the extreme right hand arch of the old bridge into the lock approach it is too late. It is not an easy approach, make the turn with care. If the last boat through the lock was downstream the gates should be open. On the River Wey lock gates are always left OPEN, upstream and down, as you leave the lock. Very sensible, hurrah! Now, here is a firm river rule. ALWAYS open both gates, even if there is only one boat entering. Remember I said the River Wey is different? Well, the gates are much more delicate than those on the canal and will not survive boats scraping through against the edge of a closed gate. You will be most unpopular if you are found to be contravening the etiquette of this unique waterway! Using this waterway is not a ‘race’, it requires and deserves ‘respect’. At Town lock you are entering 5 continuous miles, including 4 locks, of totally artificial waterway, canal if you like, built in 1653, long before the Bridgwater, Grand Trunk or Oxford canals.
As you approach the next lock, Coxes, you will see on the right what was Coxes Mill, now converted to flats. I recall seeing this building when it had only just ceased to be a mill, still with some of its machinery present. Grain was regularly conveyed here by boat from London docks until the 1980s. The conversion to flats has at least retained the stature of the old building. After Coxes, the next lock is New Haw, with inconveniently short balance beams on the bottom gates, use the chains to pull the beams. Above New Haw a straight stretch leads you to the cavern beneath the roar of the M25, or ‘London Orbital Car Park’ as it is known to regular users. Just as the roar of the traffic is moving away to the left, on the right is the entrance to the Basingstoke canal, more of that later, followed by the bridge under the London and Southampton railway main line. After another straight stretch the headquarters of the Byfleet Boat Club is passed to left, followed just after the bridge by the yard of TLC, where Stuart will sell you gas and other chandlery. There are some shallow stretches, around numerous bends now before Pyrford Marina appears on the right, or off side. Opposite the marina is the Anchor public house. Watch for a strong stream coming from alongside the lock on the offside as you approach. As with so many of these bywashes on the Wey, the strength of the stream is very dependent on the recent weather. There is a water point above the lock, and a long line of permanent moorings on the offside.
Some way on there is the end of this wholly artificial canal section at ‘Walsham Flood Gates’. There are two sets of these ‘Flood Gates’ on the river, usually fixed open, but used to protect the downstream areas from the river when the latter is in flood. As you pass through the gates you may observe the remains of the last ‘Turf sided’ lock on the river, originally all the locks were so built. As you emerge from the gates you re-enter the river, the large weir is on the left under the towing path bridge. This next stretch of water can be fast flowing after rain, the Wey is quite quick to respond to high rainfall, so keep alert to the local weather conditions. There are opportunities for mooring on the towing path side along here, though further up are ‘No Mooring’ signs. As the bends are negotiated, glimpses will occur to the right of the ruins of Newark Priory, after which the next lock is named. Unfortunately the Priory is on private ground and is inaccessible from the navigation. Newark lock is next, followed shortly by a road bridge and Newark Meadows. There is sometimes a sand bar across the navigation just above the bridge caused by the river stream leaving here. Often populated by cattle, these meadows are nevertheless a popular place to moor, just be aware that you are on river, not canal. Beyond the meadows is Papercourt lock, just be careful here, the lock bywash comes through the bridge below the lock and can be fast and turbulent. Above the lock and back on real ‘canal’ that stretches through Cartbridge at Send, to Worsfold Gates. Just before the bridge at Cartbridge, on the right, is a water tap. After the bridge, before the gates another pub, the New Inn, offers food and a mooring.
At the flood gates is the workshop for the navigation, when Vince was in charge here there was a curious and fascinating collection of machinery and equipment on view. Back on the river, as you leave the gates, the stream can be strong and deep here going off to the right through Old Woking. The next lock is Trigg’s, again watch for a strong bywash stream. Above Trigg’s more canal stretches ahead and some of the bends can be very shallow. The canal section ends at a sharp right hand bend at Broadoak, past a vicious weir on the left, and through a bridge. You need to take care here, boats have been forced against the weir, and even under moderate stream conditions, some work is needed to get round to the right and under the bridge, without hitting the central bridge pier. Notable here is a ‘Roller Post’ on the towing path which enabled the towing line, round the fore end T stud, to be used to assist boats round the sharp bend. I am not too proud to say that I have used this roller myself when navigating the river under strong stream conditions. A lovely stretch of river ensues, quite a fast stream, but wide and deep. As Bowers lock is approached it is essential to get someone on the bank, on the landing on the right, to cross the bridge over the main stream to prepare the lock. The lock entrance is a left hand right angle turn, and the river stream will be trying to force you to miss the entry. It’s a bit like trying to get into Stockwith lock at the entrance to the Chesterfield canal for anyone who has been up there. Just as with Stockwith, do not be ashamed of putting the boat against the wall on the left below the lock entrance and ‘rolling’ it round into the entrance, I have used this method under strong stream conditions.
Leaving Bowers lock it is not far until you re-join the river for the run towards Guildford. But before you reach the town there is Stoke Lock. This is the last upstream lock on the River Wey navigation. What! You are still some miles from the end of navigation at Godalming. That’s true, but read on. The bridge carrying Stoke Road some way above Stoke lock is deceptively low, but the headroom varies on the state of the river level. I once went through with the luby just scraping the bridge beams, then got caught out coming back and had the mast knocked down! After passing under bridges carrying first the new, then the old, Guildford bypasses you will happen upon Dapdune Wharf on the left hand or off side. Oh, by the way there is a useful mooring just before the second of these bridges from which there is easy access to a B&Q store. Dapdune Wharf is the headquarters of the National Trust Navigation Authority. There is water available here and sometimes visitor mooring by arrangement, though space is limited. If you can spend some time here, there are interesting displays depicting the navigation in the past and two Wey Barges, one floating and the other ‘on the bank’.
As you pass through Guildford you will see some evidence of the previous commercial use of the navigation, though there are no working wharves left now. A word of caution though. Whilst mooring here for shopping is fine, I would not recommend staying overnight – if you want a good quiet place to stop, read on.
Passing the Debenhams store which is on the left, you will see ahead Millmead lock. But I said Stoke lock was the last one. In truth, there are two navigations on the River Wey. The ‘Wey navigation’ ends here, at the wharf, below Millmead lock and was opened in 1653. Look for the dotted line across the waterway here where you pass through into the ‘Godalming Navigation’. (Joke) This latter was not built until 1764, commencing here with Millmead lock. There are still legally two navigations here, you may observe that the National Trust manages the River Wey Navigations, plural. The National Trust took over the Wey Navigation in 1964, but the Godalming Navigation not until 4 years later. Now, beware, the Godalming navigation locks were not built as wide as the Wey locks. When I first travelled this waterway, Millmead was still narrow and it would not accommodate two 7ft boats, though one old boat and one modern one would just about get through, provided there were no fenders hanging down. I know, I got stuck here myself some years ago. The lock has since been re-built and you should have no trouble now. Travelling on you will pass by the Guildford Boat House on the left, now sadly closed, and round a sharp RH bend to cross the meadows. Here there are good, deep, quiet, pleasant moorings on the offside. Moving on from these meadows you will see a brilliant slope of golden sand behind the towing path marking the location of the ford which gave Guild Ford (Golden Ford) its name. Just past the ford there is a series of truly wicked hairpin bends, especially tricky if you are towing a butty. If the river is running fast, you will have to work hard not to be swept into the bank here.
The next lock is St. Catherine’s and has a small rise of just 3ft, so its narrowness is not an issue. Before you move on above the lock you should be aware that some ½ a mile ahead is the very limited headroom ‘Broadford Bridge’. This really is LOW! If you have an unconverted boat you really WILL need to stop and take down deck board, mast and stands, and remove all chimneys. There are now boards fixed, one below and one above the bridge indicating the headroom at the present water level, and this latter does vary greatly as the flow on the river changes. Take note of these boards, they do not lie. As is common with such bridges, even the rivets of their construction increases the danger. Definitely all chimneys, cans, heads and any other raised obtrusion down.
If you have cleared the bridge, just a little way on, on the left is Gun’s Mouth, the entrance to the Wey and Arun Canal. As is common, the entrance to this derelict canal provides long term moorings, beyond them you may spot the first lowered bridge in the distance as you pass. At the canal entrance is the wharf where gunpowder was once loaded into boats for conveyance downstream. Keep to the right and past the remains of a railway bridge following which you will see the Unstead weir stream running in from the left. This often causes a scour that you have to head right to cross to continue on the navigation. Unstead lock used to have a hidden danger. Remember I said that the Godalming Navigation locks were narrower than the Wey ones. The walls of Unstead lock used to slope IN towards the top making the lock narrower as you went up. Well, it doesn’t do that anymore, but it is still narrow. I have actually witnessed two historic boats wedged together part way up the lock, fortunately spotted in time, but requiring skilled manoeuvring back down before taking each boat through separately. When you reach the weir above Unstead you are on the route of the horse drawn ‘Iona’ a little Woolwich operated by the Godalming Packet Boat Co., owned by Club member Jenny Roberts. Iona’s winding hole is the weir entrance, be sure NOT to moor on the enticing looking towing path opposite the weir. Should you be fortunate enough to meet Iona, please pass quietly, the horses do not appreciate noise, and keep carefully to the offside to clear the towing line. If you moor on the towing path between here and Godalming Wharf you will help Jenny greatly by keeping any line snagging ‘clutter’ off the top of your boat. Oh, by the way, Iona is the ex GUCC Co. Bellerophon, but has actually been known now by the name Iona for longer now than it was Bellerophon.
Another pub and eating house, The Manor, is soon passed (or stopped outside). A short way further on and moorings at Godalming Boat House are seen, the navigation bears right here to pass the services at the Boat house before reaching Catteshall Lock. This lock IS still narrow and I strongly advise you not to attempt to share the lock with another historic boat, though this should be feasible with a modern 6’10” boat, provided there are NO fenders between the boats. Just under the concrete road bridge, as you enter the lock, you may observe the contour of the remains of the original ‘turf sided’ lock. Catteshall is truly the last lock on the navigations and is the furthest south lock on the connected inland waterways system.
There are more moored boats above the lock before the point where the weir stream goes off to the left. You should wind here if you do not intend to go the remaining short stretch to Godalming. Once again some tricky bends if the river is running, lead you to the head of navigation at Godalming Wharf. You will see the wharf at right angles straight ahead of you, but before that on the left are a sani station and water point. Behind the sani station is an enormous Sainsbury’s, and behind the wharf straight ahead is a Homebase. Not far off is Waitrose and the Godalming High Street shopping area. You should wind at the wharf, it is possible to go a little further before Town Bridge blocks the way, but it is not possible to wind there. For a quiet mooring. do not stay on the wharf side of the river, it can get noisy outside Sainsbury’s overnight.
And that is it. You have reached the point furthest south on the present connected inland waterway system. I do hope you have enjoyed my guide to the River Wey, all my notes are my own, as are any errors I have made. I hope the guide is useful, and has helped you to have a stress free and safe navigation of this wonderful waterway.
The Basingstoke Canal
It seems likely that most readers of these notes are doing so in anticipation of taking part in the Club’s 50th anniversary celebrations in Woking.
Whilst these notes reflect my own knowledge of the Basingstoke Canal, my experience of the upper reaches of the navigation is much less recent. I travelled the length of the canal only once on my own boat when Lynx and I attended the re-opening of the canal in 1991 and I delivered a token load of coal to the steam dredger Perseverance operating at Fleet. In addition to this, I have been a passenger over other parts, on the John Pinkerton, and on other people’s boats.
You will enter the Canal at Woodham Junction on the River Wey, just between the railway bridge and the M25 overhead. Lock 1 is ahead, but first a few words about this canal. The Basingstoke is short of water. It is now, and it always was. There are no reservoirs to feed the waterway, only springs. There are in place some pumping and back-pumping operations, but these are of limited capacity and the canal remains short of water and it has to be managed carefully. There are some wide areas of water further up, but these are only inches deep and are ‘Flashes’. The capacity is therefore seriously limited, hence the restrictions on locking times. The structure of the canal is similar to that of the River Wey, so lock gates and furniture require your respect and care. The Woodham flight, locks 1 – 6 will lift you up to the level of the town of Woking, where our event is taking place. Most of the pounds between these locks have a ‘scour’, just about 50ft below each lock bottom gate, so it is important that following boaters do not draw off to fill the lock a boat has just left until the former has reached the next lock up. A little patience here will make life easier for all concerned.
Not far above Woodham top lock is the home of Club member Tony Clark and, if it is not already at the event, his boat Tug No.1 may be moored outside. The canal now continues towards Woking and before too long the site of the Woking event will come into view. Just before it does, on the towing path side, will be passed the site of Woking gas works followed by that of a timber yard, no evidence of which remains other than the steel piling along the towing path edge. These two yards were responsible for some of the last carrying along the canal before abandonment. It is reported that the timber yard received the last commercial load on the canal back in 1949, prior to my token load of coal taken on Lynx to the re-opening in 1991. It is also reliably reported that motor boats never proceeded further up the canal than the gas works, all other traffic was horse or man hauled.
Mooring near the Festival site: A very careful survey has been carried out of the water depth at the site of our gathering. It is clear that depth at the very edge, all the way along, is not much more than inches, however this shelf extends out only a short way and the depth increases quite rapidly beyond it, though no-where is it ‘generous’! Empty, unconverted motors and butties should have little problem getting fore ends into the bank, but planks most probably will be needed for other access. Our members are known for their resourcefulness and I’m sure all will be well, with a bit of thought.
You will have passed a winding hole prior to reaching the rally site, and there is another just before the Bridge Barn public house at Arthur’s Bridge. This latter has housing close by its edge. Turning here will not be easy, it will probably require a crew member off on the towing path pulling the stern round with a line. It is proposed that parades will take place on both days between the two winding holes.
If you have decided on making a journey further up the Basingstoke canal you will have had to have made arrangements to do so with the Canal Authority as shortage of water supplies forces them to closely regulate any such movements. At the end of the Woking pound are the 5 locks of the St John’s flight followed 2 miles further on by the 3 Brookwood locks. Between these, just after Hermitage Bridge, there is a water point. One mile above Brookwood is the start of the Deepcut flight of 14 locks. The London and Southampton railway is close by here, as is Pirbright Junction where the Alton line diverges. Just beyond the Deepcut top lock (28) a dry dock will be seen on the right.
Now raised to the Mytchett pound, not far on, the canal crosses over the main line railway and passes the site of the re-opening celebrations in 1991, which I attended on Lynx. A pump feeds drainage water from the railway cutting into the canal near here. Adjacent, in Frimley Lodge Park is a 7 ¼ in. miniature railway, well worth a pause, and a ride. Just along from there is the Mytchett Canal Centre, which is also the headquarters of the Canal Authority. This is a long pound leading across the impressive aqueduct over the Black Water Valley road. When the restoration of the canal was planned there was a risk of being forced to lock down to below this road level, then back up again but thankfully more sensible counsels prevailed. Only a short way from here is the last working lock on the canal, no. 29. (The remains of the last one is still visible after the end of navigation between Odiham castle and the Greywell tunnel). Ash Lock lifts the navigation up to its summit level. Now, on this pound, and not far ahead, is the lowest bridge on the canal. It is quoted as 5ft 10ins. but by my observation slopes seriously, making the actual clearance very difficult to judge. The town of Fleet, is now encountered, it was to here that I delivered, from Lynx, following the re-opening of the canal, a load of coal to the steam dredger Perseverance, that was working its way along the canal. From here on to the end, the navigation winds around through open countryside, and passes through the hub of activity at Colt Hill Odiham, from where The Basingstoke Canal Society operates a trip boat, the John Pinkerton II, and where Galleon Marine operates its narrowboat hire business and hires canoes and rowing boats. While avoiding the rowing boats there are swing and lift bridges to add to the entertainment. The navigation for motor boats ends with the winding hole at King John’s Castle, though canoes should be able to travel on to the entrance to Greywell Tunnel, where the springs of fresh, clear water may be seen flowing from the depths.