|Reeling Them In|
I fancied a walk away from the coast today and have long looked at the Wey-South Path as a small project with a great deal of interest. The Wey-South Path is the creation of the Wey and Arun Canal Trust and is a 36 mile long path running from Guildford in Surrey to
Houghton Brid ge near Arundel in West Sussex. It is intended to be the nearest right of way to the old Wey and Arun Junction Canal, the so-called ‘ ’s London Lost Rou te to the Sea’. The canal was closed in 1876, having never been commercially very successful and finally driven out of business by the Guildford – Horsham railway line that now forms part of the Downs Link.
The Wey and Arun Canal Trust are a charity trying to breathe life back into this old transport corridor and they have already made an amazing effort to get some sections restored. Completing the job is likely to be a monumental task however, and I may never see it completely re-opened in my lifetime (bearing in mind that I am only 41 that will give some indication of the task ahead). This year, the Trust have overcome a significant obstacle when they reopened the reconstructed Loxwood road bridge. The reopening sparked my interest to find out exactly what is left to do and so I found myself heading off to Cranleigh to take a look at the northernmost section of the old canal. The website of the Trust is at http://www.weyandarun.co.uk/
The bus service from Cranleigh to
Guildford is remarkably good and on this Sunday early evening there were plenty of passengers (begging the question of why the train service succumbed in the 1960s). After a white knuckle ride into town I headed the short distance down to the River Wey, a tributary of the Thames. This is still a very busy waterway with many canal boats to-ing and fro-ing through Guildford town centre and points south. This part of the waterway is known as the Godalming navigation and is obviously still popular with trippers in their pleasure boats. The towpath is a very pleasant proposition too and the Wey-South path follows it for the first couple of miles to . Stonebridge Wharf
Along the canal towpath I enjoyed watching the boats but also the whole ambience of the walking. It’s been a long time since I’ve been canal walking, although I enjoyed it immensely when I lived in the
area a few years ago. The short stretch to Manchester has whet my appetite for more, and towpaths are usually a good prospect for cycling also. The canal was buzzing with natural activity as well as with people. All along the way, shiny blue damselflies were buzzing around with their paddle like wings and their clumsy looking flying. Butterflies, especially fritillaries were also feeding on the waterside flowers and the cattle alongside were taking the opportunity to wander in for a drink and a cool off. Stonebridge Wharf
I soon reached the mighty
, resplendent in a fresh coat of green paint. Alongside is a fairly substantial bridge carrying nothing more than a pipeline, but a few yards to the south would have been a second rail bridge if the chord line connecting Shalford with Godalming had ever been completed. All that remains of this erstwhile project is the earthworks, now used as a National Trust path for a few yards. It does catch your eye though as atop the embankment is a round World War 2 pillbox, built in 1940 apparently and in quite good condition with a commanding view over the waterway. I briefly inspected it before continuing on my way towards Shalford Rail Bridge Stonebridge Wharf, where the old Wey and diverged away. Some excellent information about the history of the section and information about the surrounding areas can be found at http://weyriver.co.uk/theriver/index.htm Arun Junction Canal
Stonebridge Wharf I had first to cross the main A248 road at , which wasn’t a pleasant experience as the sight lines were quite poor and the traffic very fast. This area was once a busy goods depot and the adjacent pub, The Parrot, was once a busy watering hole for the canal people. I didn’t stop to inspect as I had a fair way to go. Across the road and past the fairly recent industrial park building additions, I reached Broadford Bridge , which was once the site of a gunpowder factory and where this fairly dangerous cargo was loaded on to canal barges. All is quiet today, with a few boats taking advantage of the short section of Wey and Stonebridge Wharf still connected to the main waterway system. There are a number of secluded mooring spots along this wooded section offering privacy from prying eyes. All that remains of the gunpowder factory is an old store room, raised above ground level on small pillars presumably to keep any moisture out. Arun Canal
|Rebuilt Canal Bridge|
I turned left and headed down towards
, now occupied by the A281 and rebuilt as a result of the heavy traffic that now uses this road. Where there was once an arched bridge, this has now been strengthened by adding bricks into the arch and leaving only a culvert. It is the first obstacle that will be encountered by the preservationists along the route but not as insurmountable as the problem that exists on the other side, where the canal bed has been largely filled in and used as an ornamental stream by the private landowner. In all likelihood this part of the canal will have to be rebuilt entirely, probably using the Bramley Stream adjacent as the basis of the new canal. My very brief trip alongside the canal also stopped abruptly as the path now heads south using the Downs Link and the old railway line that once ran from Horsham – Stone Bridge Guildford.
In truth the next three miles or so are not especially interesting for the canal hunter. Much of the old canal bed has been obliterated under housing development in this area, although a mile or so along the track and interesting relic becomes obvious. While heading under the three arched
Tannery Bridge, the link path to the North Downs for the Downs Link comes into view and its route uses what at first glance to be an addition to the rail bridge. However, on closer inspection it is clearly the original canal bridge, which has been built over and incorporated into the former railway bridge. The canal bed here is still visible but very weed choked as nature has taken over.
|Bramley and Wonersh Station|
A little further along the railway and the path makes a brief detour as the rail bridge across the stream has been removed. Ironically the path uses the canal aqueduct to cross the stream and return back to the trackbed. From here it is possible to look back along the canal bed all the way back to
. Onwards from here though the canal bed becomes unclear as it runs through adjacent gardens. For a little while at least the only industrial archaeology on offer is to do with the railway and soon I reached the site of Bramley and Wonersh station. I couldn’t help but smile at the irony of a train climbing frame in an adjacent play area as I approached the old station. The station itself has recently been partially restored from its previously very overgrown state. The platforms are still extant and a few other adornments have been put in such as replica crossing gates, a replica signal and signage to try and recreate something of the atmosphere it would once have had when operating as a station. What really caught my eye though was the postbox on the western platform that was apparently part of the original station building and left behind when the rest of it was demolished. South of the station the path continues along the railway for a couple of miles until Run Common. Initially there is no sign of the canal as it would once have passed through what is now a housing estate. According to the Trust, this section may present one of the biggest hurdles to completing the job. Tannery Bridge
|Remnant of Station Building|
Eventually though, to the left of the track a green duckweed choked body of water makes an appearance. I could see that this has some water in it and the banks were relatively clear suggesting that some restoration work has been carried out here in recent years, although nature is starting to slowly reclaim it. The railway continues for a while along a high embankment with the canal some distance below but eventually the two former transport corridors come to roughly the same level and inspection of the canal bed becomes easy as they run alongside each other. Eventually at Run Common, the Wey-South path diverts away from the Downs Link and initially takes the old tow path route. Run Common was once an important wharf along the route and this can still be picked out as a pond in an otherwise waterless stretch of canal bed. Apparently this was one of the first stretches to be restored, but probably needs another go as it is starting to return to nature after 35 years. About half a mile south of Run Common, the path leaves the canal as progress onward is impeded by a fence.
|Canal in Water|
The path heads out over farmland and it was a pleasant change to get views across to the Surrey Hills and surrounding countryside. Transport corridors are interesting to follow but often do nothing for exploring the wider countryside since many of them are tree-lined and offer no outward views. While I wasn’t sure at first about the various diversions needed along the Wey South path, I welcomed the first major one and I shall have to see about those more major ones to come.
Eventually the path comes back to the railway line. For ease of returning to the car and facing the prospect of darkness closing in, I decided to take the direct route along the Downs Link back to Cranleigh rather that the more tortuous route via the Wey South path. I shall continue using that route on the next section as there are some more pieces of canal to find along there.
All in all, a good start to the route, although I followed more of the Downs Link than I would have liked. I shall be back along there for a complete trip with the bike soon and when I do I shall have to look out for some of the features of the canal I missed this time. Some were missed because of the overgrowth and some through ignorance but I shall be back!