Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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THROUGH HANTS AND SURREY BY THE WOKING, ALDERSHOT, AND BASINGSTOKE CANAL.
AFTER our canal trip through the Midland and Home Counties we decided to extend our experience by exploring the Woking, Aldershot, and Basingstoke Canal. Our intention had been to use our petrol launch, but this we were told would be impossible, owing to the condition of the canal, although we were given to understand that it would be developed. We, therefore, had our skiff sent on from Henley-on-Thames to Basingstoke (Hants) by rail, and on our arrival there we found the boat afloat, all ready for us. Our crew consisted of "Three men in a Boat," with a youth to assist generally. The Basingstoke Canal is 38½ miles to the Wey navigation, and has 29 locks. These latter, however, are not reached until nearly two-thirds of the journey have been completed, so that one gets a good level run of about 20 miles before approaching them. The first few miles down were in such a condition owing to the weeds that we found sculling impossible, and had to be towed down by horse as far as Odiham (Hants). Five and a half miles from the start we came to the Greywell Tunnel, three-quarters of a mile long, and the barge-men, in navigating their craft through, have to lie on their backs and " tread" their way from the ceiling.
The water here is as clear as crystal, the tunnel being full of natural springs. This is one of the chief sources from which the canal derives its water supply. The time taken in paddling through was exactly 20 minutes, and it was a bit of work which our party appreciated thoroughly.
Odiham being duly reached, we hied to the village, some half-mile or so from the waterside, and found it a quaint interesting old place. The George Hotel, which we visited for afternoon tea, has some ancient oak panelling brought from an old Bishop's palace in the vicinity. On our way down from here we came through some fine wooded reaches, which in some cases quite came up to what we were led to expect. Below Odiham the canal was comparatively clear of weeds, and we quite enjoyed our scull down to Fleet (Hants), where we had engaged rooms at the Oaksheaf Hotel for the night. The distance covered was some sixteen miles, of which we sculled about ten. Proceeding the following day, we pulled down to Aldershot (Hants), four miles, where we landed, and made a detour round the camp and town, an interesting sight.
Below this our first lock was encountered - Ash - after which we passed through Laffan's Plain, where the military reviews are held, and afterwards reached Frimley Lock, where we again passed some finely wooded parts. At this place our boat was left in charge of the lock-keeper, to be conveyed to St. John's Lock, six miles lower down, as the 22 locks along that stretch were not at that time in working order.
We stayed for the night at the Brookwood Hotel (Surrey), walking there via Pirbright, a pretty rural country walk along the canal side. Thereafter we came through a series of six locks, passing some attractive scenery, with rich foliage, and duly reached the Wey navigation, thus completing our voyage of exploration of the Basingstoke Canal, and finishing up what had been a pleasant three days' holiday under exceptionally favourable weather conditions.
From a business point of view, it struck us that if such a canal as this could only be deepened it would make a fine through waterway from London, via the Thames.
Picture related to this cruise