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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Weybridge to Newark--The Wey navigation

“I do believe in an everyday sort of magic -- the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of synchronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we're alone.”  ~Charles de Lint
   We chose a three week license for the River Wey Navigation. Although it is only fifteen miles long there is much to see on the journey and we did not want to be hurried.
   The Wey is one of the first of England's rives to be made navigable to barge traffic in 1653. The Godalming navigation opened in 1764 allowing barge traffic to progress a further four miles up stream for a round trip total of twenty eight miles on the water which actually cuts across 87 miles of fairly built up areas.  Still the waterside environment  offers some of the loveliest scenery in Surrey. 
  River navigations are hybrid systems; some parts are canal sections and other parts are places where the river winds through, therefore unlike a canal, there will be current created by the river, and sections of turning, twists where the river meanders. 
   Built by Sir Richard Weston, The Wey navigation allowed barge traffic to carry heavy goods such as wood, flour, timber, corn and gunpowder through to London. Coal was brought back on the return trip. Grain traffic continued until 1968 to Cox's Mill with a brief revival in the 1980's after which no further commercial traffic continued.
   The Basingstoke canal was opened in 1796 and the Wey and Arun Junction Canal in 1816. Although the Arun is no longer navigable one can access the Basingstoke from the Wey at Byfleet. We opted to pass as there are so many restrictions on the lock opening times, and a fair amount of problems with water levels being deep enough. With sixteen locks over a short stretch of canal, the Basingstoke was not to our taste this time and so we continued on up the Wey.
   From 1900 to 1963 the Wey navigation was owned by the Stevens family. Commercial carriers on the canal, the family occupied the lock keeper's cottage at Cox's Mill and kept meticulous records of the barge traffic on the navigation. In 1964 the entire navigation was donated to the National Trust with the Godalming Navigation following into the Trusts' care in 1968. The pristine environment along these waterways is due mainly to them being owned by the National Trust which oversees every mile and serves as caretaker.

On the Wey at last, heading into the unknown green of an English afternoon on the river.

through the bridge hole and into the lock we go--sometimes I feel like we are playing a game of cat's cradle with our boat instead of our fingers.
   Hard to believe, looking at these pictures, that the ones on the blog just before when we were walking around Weybridge were taken on the same day, May 30th! As soon as we came up through the lock and cruised off into the green, the temperature rose and off came our winter coats and hats--at last and for the last time until next winter we hope. This change of climate made the Wey instantly magical to us--it was like a slice of spring beauty waiting for us to find it!
Soon enough after passing through a quiet green corridor of trees we came to Bulldog's Weir and a lovely large house greeted us as the first of the homes appeared.
This one looks more like a family compound!
A large home with a lovely bit of waterside upon which to sit and bask with Canadian Geese.
Les and I really liked this attractive modern home. It is open to the light with a nice boathouse.
I love the color of this sweet bungalow and the leaning tree.
...and out from under Weybridge New Bridge one sees Weybridge Old Bridge spans and somewhere to our right is our first Wey Navigation lock.
Oh! The lock must be just through the right angled bridge hole up ahead...this will be fun! Imagine meeting a hire boat roaring out the lock, shooting through the bridge hole...and surprised to see you coming in the other direction.
To our right are round fronted (no pun intended) flats built between the old bridge and the new bridge overlooking a spectacle spot. At least there is room to pull over and get out of someones way. we cruise closer the bridge hole gets larger, but it's still essentially a right angle turn into a dark hole with a lock on the other side!
This little yellow breasted bird (a Blue Tit?) appears to be our lock keeper. As NB Valerie sailed past it didn't even bat an eye--or ruffle a feather.
Looking back at the lovely view behind us as we go into Weybridge Town Lock.
Down and dusted!
Les works his first Wey Navigation paddle with the special windlass loaned by friends. 

We pass this Wisteria strewn cottage after the lock. On the Wey it appears Spring has sprung!
We spot a National Trust work barge moored up amongst a row of boats.
Passing under Black Boy Bridge...
and out the other side; there is our reflection in the side of a glass office building.
In the distance we get our first view of Cox's Mill rising above the Wey.

Passing apartments and permanent online (on the canal) moorings before cruising under the railway bridge...and approaching Cox's Lock.
Under the bridge we go and..there is weir to the right of the lock!
     Usually one slows on approach to a lock and tries to let the boat slide in gently before putting the engine in reverse to slow it right down. The weir complicates lock entry and exit a bit. The rushing water from the weir will push our boat to the towpath and hold it there unless we rev it up--give it some Welly--as the Brits say. All fine and well but then one also has to exaggerate the angle of the boat toward the weir and then turn at the right moment and point the bow into the lock. Les has gone up to set the lock which has a hire boat of inexperienced drivers who plan to wind (turn) the boat after they come out of the lock, go back in and go up again! Right well I am standing on the towpath gongoozling and taking pictures of the refurbished mill--also made into apartments just like the mill back at the mouth of the Wey where it meets the Thames. 
   In the meantime, the lock gates open, out comes the hire boat completely ignoring Les' advice to them to give it some welly and point the bow toward the weir to get past its rushing current, move past our boat and then wind; instead they edge their way out, the weir current takes the boat and they head straight for NB Valerie, crashing into our bow. 
   After we get them sorted and moored up along the bank, I take off, negotiate the weir and into the lock we went--me and NB Val. I slowed it down inside and passed Les up the center rope. We waited for the hire boaters to get up their nerve, let go of the bank, wind their boat and bounce their trembling way back in the lock--and into NBV again. Never mind, both boats were safe in the lock and headed upstream. We went out first as the lovely family aboard the hire boat needed a few minutes on the towpath to reconnoiter and catch their collective breath.
Imagine the roar of all that water just under your balcony! All those negative ions created by the moving water are very good for your health and the view is quite lovely.
After another long green corridor of trees we passed this stunning Wisteria draped garden wall.
  This river navigation wanders past large homes, industrial areas, behind housing estates--all interconnected with green corridors of overhanging trees and bits of pasturage between the suburbs. There are loads of bridges--freeway overpasses, railroad  and foot bridges and a few pipe bridges carrying cables, gas, water or other services.
Beautiful boat on a dubious mooring--with the M25 motor carriage (freeway for Americans) above.
under the freeway we go, entertained by colorful graffiti...
I am amazed by how clean it is underneath--no large bits of concrete, broken rebar (concrete reinforcing bars for Brits), food trash, plastic bags, dog poo, cigarette butts, and no one dossing (homeless sleeping outside) underneath.
This is Woodham Junction: the M25 passes across along with three other bridges. The start of the Basingstoke canal is off to our right ahead.
Looking back through the jungle of bridges...
and ahead we pass the backs of Dartnell and its housing estates. 
Here you go Bonnie Burkett--a larger back yard with room for vegetable gardening!
Or perhaps this larger house and garden is more what Bonnie has in mind!
This house has a nice dock with a canal side seat to watch the world go by.

I like this back yard--plenty of room, a large dock, and a rocking seat by the water....
A Cormorant out for a lunchtime stroll. What's on the menu? Bream, Carp, Tench, and Pike for those hardy birds who want to wrestle for their lunch!
A waterside bower of woven vines for shade!
Typical postage stamp sized back gardens of flats.
Parvis bridge with the wharf crane overhead...
through the bridge hole, passing Parvis Wharf which is rammed with boats; the boat slings hanging from the crane are ready to lift a boat from the water.
A heron steps from the water's edge...
and a horse (G-g's as they are sometimes called over here; something to do with racing) eyes us as we pass, while munching on grass and buttercups.
We wind and turn with the meandering of the river--parts of which are canalized--other parts which are pure river winding through the canalized bits, carrying us onward.
At first we wondered what this large facility was. Then we spotted their canal side sign...
West Hall flagship Care Home.  This home for the elderly is owned and managed by a company called Anchor which also owns and manages 100 other similar properties. Supposedly they run premium homes...which is great if you an afford the £2,600 ($3,900) a month it costs to live in this one.
A solid wall of bamboo encloses West Hall's property to keep the inmates from seeing the water...
and Murray's footbridge across the Wey, effectively gated to keep the locals from wandering off I  suppose...
followed by a good quarter of a mile more bamboo wall. I hope Anchor doesn't use the canal side location as a means of attracting folks to live in this home because they really won't be able to see it. They certainly won't be allowed anywhere near it.
Dodd's footbridge
more leafy green...

soon enough we found ourselves at Pyrford Lock near The Anchor pub. For comely pictures of this nice lock side establishment you can Google it online. The wind had picked up a bit in the late afternoon...
..and two blackbirds were taking the opportunity to rummage through the trash bin for food. As the lock filled I watched from the boat as the bird on the bin pulled up plastic bags and dropped them on the ground. the bird on the ground then sorted through them for any tidbits. Cheeky litter louts!
   Leaving Pyrford one is suddenly surrounded by open fields, water meadows, and incredible scenery. The canal follows the twisting riverbed through green, shady glens and out into the later afternoon sun. Can it really be only four hours since we left the grey, cold weather on the Thames?

Quintessential British countryside!
Looking back through the gates of Newark lock....
As the lock fills, NB Valerie rises and the ruins of the 12th century Augustinian Newark Priory come into view. Another pinch me moment for the American on  board!!
Leaving our final lock for the day we pass fields filled with buttercups in bloom!
    We are stunned to find ourselves surrounded by lush meadows filled with bird song and buttercups. Time at last to moor up for the day.
This is a Barnacle Goose. It breeds on arctic coasts and tundra, migrating through Denmark and Sweden on its way to the British Isles where it winters along the coast. So what is it doing here--inland Surrey--on a river bank?
This strange looking bird is an Egyptian Goose, which usually makes its home in Africa's Nile valley or the Sahara. A fair few were brought back to England in the 19th century. It turns out that under all that raucous color is DNA that indicates this bird is not related to geese at all--it is closely related to the Shelduck and has very ancient prehistoric DNA--it's been around a long, long time.
Could there be a bit of courtship going on here?
Alas no--it seems there is a mated pair of Egyptian Geese in residence but they seem to get on well enough with their arctic neighbor. Those dirt mounds are made by moles--and while I never saw the creature at work I did watch as a dirt mound grew up from a mere hole in the grass--seemingly by magic!
The local welcome committee have come to say hello!
We've stopped in just in time...look at that sky! This is the view out our port side windows....
and a lilac blue gloaming settled in out of our starboard windows, across the river from us. Birds called gently, the wind rustled the grass and dusk folded over us.
 A fine, magical first day on the Wey navigation!


Anonymous said...

That was just great! Felt like we had spent the day with you again :)


Unknown said...

£2600 a month for residential care? That's a snip, in London residential care is priced at about £4000 a month these days.
The Wey does look lovelyt, I am adding it to my bucket list!!

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Sally,
We think of you and Joe frequently as we go along. We feel you are with us in spirit.
Love Jaq

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Carol,
Great to hear from you! I just find it appalling that when folks are old they spend more a month to breathe in and out than they ever did to raise a family. I think it's robbery especially as the attendants who actually do all the work of caring for them are paid peanuts.

We also thought a lot about you on this trip. You would LOVE the Wey. It's gorgeous and we will be returning!
Love Jaq

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs