Basingstoke Canal – North Warnborough and Greywell

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The full 37 and half miles from the Wey to Basingstoke

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Loopy branch near Lodge Lane (bridge in distance)

Much of the Basingstoke Canal between Odiham and North Warnborough crosses land which used to be known as the Royal Deer Park. This was managed from Odiham Castle and the fields covered 200 hectacres. It was used for over 600 years and traces of its boundary may be seen

Swan Bridge, North Warnborough is the last navigable brick bridge on the Hampshire length. (the next brick bridge westwards is Eastrop, on the unavigable section the far side of Grey well Tunnel.) The bridge prededes a very narrow section of canal westwards through a cutting. It must have been a squeeze for wide 13′ 6″ barges. From local information it seems that barges unloaded a considerable amount of commerce at Odiham before continuing to Basingstoke much lighter.

For more information and pictures on North Warnborough, see this extra page

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The narrow section west of Swan Bridge

The narrows at North Warnborough are a tight fit. The view of John Pinkerton reveals that there isnt much room to spare for a full widebeam boat. One wonders whether fully laden barges were able to traverse this section effectively. As records show, commercial traffic west of Odiham has always been very light, wiht most traffic originating from the Odiham Pits, so perhaps full loads were not usual from Colt Hill to Basingstoke

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Swans on the canal near North Warnborough Lift Bridge

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North Warnborough Lift Bridges – first replacement on left – old on right (22 April 1979)

There was originally a swing bridge here, built in 1954. Hampshire County Council decided to make it a hydraulic lifting bridge and this was done in 1958. The operation took 25 minutes and with the introduction of trip boats, this was too long. So in 1988 a completely new lift bridge was installed, but in 1980 with the completion of further dredging eastwards, trips were offered to the Barley Mow Inn at Winchfield. In the 21st century it has been replaced by a much better bridge

For more information and pictures on North Warnborough, see this extra page

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John Pinkerton on one of her classic Basingstoke trips from Odiham to King Johns Castle. When the boat began trips in the 1970’s, this was the only stretch of canal that was navigable! The view shows the new moorings, completed in 2009

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King Johns Castle is right by the canal at North Warnborough. It is confusingly known as Odiham Castle (this being its official name.) Its a norman castle of about the 12C, and once had a moat. What remains is juts the octagonal keep – itself a unique design for norman times. It is named after King John, who signed the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215. He came to the castle in early June 1215 – from whence he went eastwards to Windsor and along the Thames thus to Runnymede itself. The castle is adjacent to the River Whitewater, which passes under the canal only a few yards away by means of what is technically a sump, rather than a true aqueduct. The original sump of 1792 used wooden pipes and some of these were found to be in reasonable condition when they were replaced in the 1970’s. As mentioned elsewhere, the Baisngstoke Canal as constructed did not have a single aqueduct built replying instead on the lower costs options of using culverts and this one sump.

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The rebuilt Whitewater Aqueduct

The Whitewater (or King Johns) winding hole is sited immediately on the west side of the aqueduct. Beyond is the barrier (seen picture below) that marks the end of navigation. The few hundred yards beyond to Greywell Tunnel are only for canoes. The water on the approach to the tunnel becomes crystal clear.

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Above: Greywell Lock. The depth in Greywell Tunnel was often not sufficient for navigation as the canal did not have a unlimited supply of water, relying on springs inside Greywell Tunnel and elsewhere. It was decided to build a lock here east of the tunnel in order to facilitate greater depth and an easier passage for boats through the tunnel. This certainly was achieved with the difference in levels being a foot. I suspect however that another, lesser known reason for the lock was to put extra water in the canal all the way to Basingstoke as this section suffered badly from persistent leaks and any extra water would alleviate the situation as much as possible. Earlier we discussed Ash Lock as being the only one in Hampshire. Greywell Lock is also in Hampshire and so the Basingstoke Canal actually had two locks in that county. One oddity about Greywell lock is that on old maps the narrows themselves where the lock was situated is most definitely described as a wharf! The only possible explanation is that as there was once a timber yard alongside the north top of the cutting, perhaps the narrows of lock 30 was the most convienent spot for loading boats.
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A man, a lady, and a dog in their canoe at the entrance to Greywell Tunnel

Greywell Tunnel, length 1230 yards. Last used in 1913, and collapsed in 1932. The tunnel’s collapse is not exactly the reason for the demise of the section to Basingstoke, although the collapse did accelerate it. There had been no regular traffic to Basingstoke since 1910, and in 1913 Alfred Harmsworth got as far as Basing. But the fact that the section west of Greywell (Penny Bridge) suffered bad leakages meant that it was not worth maintaining a navigation when there was no traffic at all.

Despite what you read in books and on the canal information boards, the demise of the Basingstoke section began much earlier than implied. In the 1920’s the stretch along the curtain wall at Basing House was infilled. The complete severance of the route was effectively sealed with the removal of Eastrop Bridge in Basingstoke, cutting off the town’s wharf from any possible re-use. Just five years later the tunnel collapsed, and even though its repair and re-opening was mooted, the loss of Basingstoke’s Eastrop Bridge and the Basing House stretch, meant it was really a no-no. The tunnel’s collapse simply accelerated the process of infilling or selling off redundant portions of the canal. Further sections were auctioned off and became farmland, roads, even housing.

Unlike most canal tunnels, the construction of Greywell Tunnel did not involve the installation of a brick floor for extra strength, and it has stood the test of time well despite that shortcoming. The view below shows the tunnel’s brickwork at the eastern portal, and it is in excellent condition. The reflection in the water is that of the steel gates, installed to prevent people entering the tunnel and disturbing the bats. That is the other question. Since bats are a protected species, and with a collapsed section now extending over about 300 yards, any prospects for re-opening Greywell Tunnel are very remote.

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Clear water just inside Greywell Tunnel

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The towpath is now diverted over the tunnel’s portal, and to access the path over Greywell Hill, one must walk up to the main street, turn right and in a short distance there is a footpath marked on the left. This leads over the hill and down to the rest of the Basingstoke Canal, which consists of about mile or so of canal from the west end of Greywell Tunnel. Beyond that there is very little left of the Basingstoke canal

More information on Greywell Tunnel from Subterranea Britannica

Next: Beyond Greywell – the lost section to Basingstoke

WOODHAM JUNCTION TO GREYWELL

Intro / Byfleet – Woodham Locks / Woodham – St. Johns / St. Johns – Hermitage / Brookwood – Pirbright / Deepcut Flight / Deepcut – Frimley / Basingstoke Canal Centre / Great Bottom – Ash / Ash lock – Norris Hill / Fleet – Crookham / Chequers – Barley Mow / Barley Mow – Odiham / Odiham – Greywell

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