Basingstoke Canal – Byfleet Junction to Woodham Top Lock
The full 37 and half miles from the Wey to Basingstoke
The Basingstoke canal leaves the River Wey at Byfleet, about a half mile above New Haw lock. The junction is framed by the adjacent railway line, where two different bridges can be seen crossing the Wey – the original brick rail bridge And the addional later iron bridge. Also it is framed by the M25 which passes the junction on a tall and ungly concrete structure that defiles the tranquility of the junction area somewhat. For many years the turnover bridge from the Wey to the Basingstoke was in a perlious condition, and it was subsequently removed, leaving towpath walkers with the choice of a long detour and joining the Basingstoke further up at Scotland bridge. However a new crossing was constructed in the late 1980’s, and once again a foot link is now afforded between the Wey and the Basingstoke. The new footbridge is called Woodham Bridge. The picture below shows the junction itself, – the railway bridge being behind the footbridge and the River Wey in the foregound with the Basingstoke leading off to the centre of picture. From here it is 31 miles to Greywell, although navigation officially finishes about half a mile before the tunnel. The Basingstone Canal once totalled 37 miles and out of this, just under a mile is Greywell Tunnel itself and the landlocked stretch to Penny Bridge takes well over a mile. The final 5 miles from Penny (or Penney) bridge to Basingstoke has been built over, returned to agriculture or made into new roads serving the locale, and very little remains of the canal.
Byfleet (or Woodham) junction & the footbridge across the Wey Navigation, with the M25 viaduct
Woodham Pumping Station
A short way up the canal from the junction, is the new pumping station, built in 2001, to enable back-pumping to the top of the Woodham locks. Immediately above this is Bottom Lock or No.1 which forms part of the Woodham flight of six locks – as seen in the left hand picture. As a rule, when the pound above Woodham Top Lock is below a certain level, the pumps should come into action and return water up the flight. The canal rangers informed me that the pumping station cannot be used due to several factors imposed on the canal authority, and so the pumps are now unused. Water supply thus still depends on availability in the Hampshire Pound. Boats wishing to use the Basingstoke canal must inform the Basingstoke Canal Authority (01252 376523) to book passage through the Woodham flight.
Just past the pumping station is Bottom Lock, or no. 1 of the canal’s 29 locks. This begins the Woodham flight which totals six. There are two plaques at the tail of Bottom Lock. One records the re-opening of 1991, whilst the other is in memory of Harley Watkins, Vice Chairman of the local IWA. The distinctive style of a Basingstoke lock is apparent here – there is no way of crossing the locks, except by the footbridge at the tail of each lock. In terms of navigation, lock operation on the Basingstoke is slower than on most other broad canals, but there is no hurry anyway if one is geniunely keen on exploring the canal by boat. The locks are shackled to prevent uneccesary wastage of water, and are only unlocked when boats request a passage.
Lock no.1, the first of the 29 up the Basingstoke
This part of Southern England was known as the ‘stock-broker’ belt. Hence Property prices were always quite high and so the Basingstoke became home to dozens of houseboats – the first of these are seen above Bottom Lock and the moorings extend as far as Scotland bridge, with a few others further up the flight. Most of the original houseboats have now gone, replaced by narrow boats or steel barges. But a few of the original ones do remain, and their distinctive style can be seen.
Scotland Bridge is the first overbridge on the canal, and it is an original brick bridge. The busy traffic over it has seen the bridge somewhat abused and so traffic lights now control the traffic across it. A close inspection of the bridge will reveal various attempts to strengthen the bridge, including iron straps under the arch and tie bars through the arches.
Most locks now have their number set in a stone block as part of the restoration. But originally, there were no numbers at all. The bridges, even though they have a name, or more than one name, also have identification in the form of circular plaques. Before the canal reopened, many of its houseboats had to pass a certificate of fitness, and a very high number failed. These were broken, or burned up. Just one or two of the original houseboats still exist.
Many of the orginal barges that were brought up here in the fifties and sixties, and converted into homes, were no longer easy to maintain and have either had new hulls or been replaced completely
Lock no.3 is the most picturesque lock on the Woodham flight, with its former lock cottage (below.) There is a footpath to nearby West Byfleet station. An information board and map can be seen here.
A winter time view of Lock No.3 and the lock-house
Ascending the Woodham locks in 2009
No.6, top of the Woodham locks.
Next: Towards Chertsey Road
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