Friday, 20 November 2015

The Wey and Arun Canal From Billingshurst

Billingshurst Cottages

In the autumn you can never quite be sure of the weather you are going to get.  Even days when the weather forecast is set for sunny intervals this can cover quite a wide variation of sunshine and so it proved today for this walk based from Billingshurst.  We wanted a walk that encompassed a pub lunch, especially because the lunchtime period was supposed to be overcast while afterwards it would be sunny once the cloud lifted.  Sadly it didn’t really turn out that way – the weather stayed mostly stubbornly grey.  The walk in question is The Wey and Arun Canal From Billingshurst, number 14 is the Pathfinder Guide West Sussex and the South Downs.

The Limeburners
We parked in the centre of Billingshurst on a steamy kind of morning and wound our way through the streets of this small town that seems to get bigger every time I visit.  Billingshurst is a stop on the Arun Valley Line into London and for that reason it has been allowed to grow considerably to accommodate commuters heading to London, Gatwick, Crawley, Horsham and Chichester.  The growth does not seem to have adversely affected the feel of the centre of the town, but with more houses planned it makes you wonder how long this could be sustained.

Much of the housing we passed was fairly traditional looking and fitted in with the general character of the village so the planners had obviously been somewhat sensitive to the character of the old place.  Eventually we reached the by-pass, built alongside the housing development and diverting the north-south traffic around the town.  This also meant that the A272 east-west road had been realigned as well and so after we crossed the by-pass our onward walk away from town took us along a stub of the old road, left as an access to a couple of houses that are now largely spared the noise of passing traffic.

Boat House
We eventually caught up with the new road and the quarter of a mile or so to the pub en-route was not especially pleasant.  There did look as if there might be a short cut by the side of an adjacent field but we weren’t sure that we could access the pub from there and so walked around via the road.  The pub, called The Limeburners, is one we have passed countless times without venturing inside.  It usually looks pretty busy, which is usually a good sign.  We ordered food and beer and sat outside on a reasonably balmy day, even if the sun did refuse to shine.  It was all very pleasant and the food was certainly good enough to investigate something else on the menu another time.

Colourful Berries
Opposite the pub we took a drive that led to Guildenhurst Manor.  I imagine the manor is a very fine house judging by the beautiful tree lined drive but alas we didn’t get that far for our path took a left turn and headed across fields and through small areas of woodland past Streele Farm and down to a largish pond.  The cloud had turned almost into fog now and the air was thick with moisture.  The sun tried its best and sparkled on the water through the rather derelict looking boathouse that was our introduction to the pond.

Spider Web
Our path took us along the north shore of the pond through some pretty sticky conditions.  There was respite ahead though as we climbed up through woodland to a small ridge ahead where the ground was much drier, I suspect as a result of the underlying geology.  We also got the best view of the whole day from here although to be fair on a mostly level walk through the clay vales of this part of the Sussex Weald that wasn’t too hard.

We soon lost the modest amount of height gained and dropped down to Lordings Lock, a relic of the old Wey and Arun Canal and largely stranded from the rest of what is left.  The canal is billed as London’s lost route to the sea for it once joined the Rivers Wey and Arun, allowing for boat navigation from the capital city to Arundel and the English Channel beyond.  It was abandoned over 150 years ago.  The lock itself has been partially restored and could be put back to work fairly easily if the section to the south could be joined on and there was any trace of the section to the north.  Sadly the section to the north has been mostly filled in and it would take a freshly dug canal to be able to send boats in that direction.  The section to the south is in much better shape but lacks a bridge across the River Arun.

Lordings Lock
The walk from Lordings Lock back to the A272 along the course of the former canal is a familiar one to us as we often come hedgerow picking here with sloes, elderberries and blackberries all on offer along the way.  Very little of the canal is left here although there is a short stretch of dry bed in a copse of trees and it resumes after several fields near to the former lock keeper’s cottage, which is now a very desirable residence.

A272 Bridge
The A272 is an extremely busy road and crossing here is not much fun.  Luckily a gap in the traffic did present itself quite soon and over we went.  The cloud relented along this stretch of canal and we even got some sunshine which lit up the old watercourse.  This section looks like it has been restored and could take boats again without too much modification.  How long it will be before that happens is anybody’s guess for there is a significant gap to restored and operational section further north.  It really demonstrates how tough it will be to restore the entire canal.  Some of the relics are lovely though and none more so than the large lifting bridge that was put back here about 20 years ago.
Rowner Lock

We continued along the towpath until we got to Rowner Lock whereupon we took a right hand turn to leave the canal and head back towards Billingshurst.  The hint of sunshine that we got almost immediately disappeared and the walk back to Billingshurst along field edges was largely uneventful except at Rowner Farm where we passed by their magnificent display of dahlias.  What a splash of colour that was on a largely dull day!  In fact one thing that was very noticeable was that we did not meet any other walkers that day and in fact the only noise I can really remember was the beep beep noise coming from the machinery at the household waste site that we passed as we entered Billingshurst.

Rowner Dahlias
On the whole a pleasant walk in familiar territory and perhaps most memorable for the tasty pub lunch we had courtesy of the Limeburners!

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