An English Canal

David Beeson

September 2020

The Basingstoke Canal

(This is located in Central Hampshire, close to the M3)

Serendipity led me to this spot. We had an appointment in the ever-enlarging town of Basingstoke, and, having completed this chore aimed somewhere new. Having arrived at Odiham, a Georgian-styled town, we explored: finding beautifully-designed houses, the village stocks, inns and restaurants … and a canal.

The Basingstoke Canal is a British canal, completed in 1794, built to connect Basingstoke with the River Thames at Weybridge via the Wey Navigation. With the waterway passing through only agricultural areas, it was never a commercial success, and the last barge that penetrated to Basingstoke was in 1910. Mostly, since then, it has been neglected, and the 1Km Greywell Tunnel collapsed in 1932. However, that is not the end of the tale. From 1966 volunteers have been restoring the waterway and, today, it is navigable along most of its length.

It is the final stretch that will never be restored. Greywell Tunnel is an important bat conservation location, and the mammals will not be evicted.

So, why would a wildlife-enthusiast be so interested in the canal?

Wikipedia says:

Two sections of the canal totalling 101.3 hectares (250 acres) are a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Nature Conservation Review site. These are the main length between Greywell and Brookwood Lye and a short stretch between Monument Bridge and Scotland Bridge in Woking. It is the most botanically rich aquatic area in England and flora include the nationally scarce hairlike pondweed and the nationally scarce tasteless water-pepper. The site is also nationally important for its invertebrates. There are 24 species of dragonfly, and other species include two nationally rare Red Data Book insects.

I would care to add:

In places, springs throw crystal-clear water into the canal. In these spots the freshwater fish are easily seen – perch, rudd and pike, for example.

At either end of the towpath walk from Odiham to Greywell are old-English inns – The Waterwitch and The Fox and Goose at Greywell. Parking is free near the Odiham inn.

The canal is worth exploring.

Barges were ‘legged’ through Greywell Tunnel as there was no path for the horses. Men lay on their backs and pushed for several hours to navigate the tunnel.
There are no extant locks between Odiham and Greywell.

As a bonus, on the walk one passes the ‘Historic Ruin’ of Odiham Castle. At one time this was one of the most prestigious castles in England.

Odiham - Wikipedia
The High Street of Odiham in Hampshire | Photo published in … | Flickr

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