Sunday, 30 April 2017

Wey Navigation Godalming to Guildford

Godalming Church
Walks this year seem to be more sporadic as the time available seems to be ever more at a premium.  This particular Saturday walk was a welcome one especially as it coincided with one of the first good weather days of the spring.  We had actually completed this walk a year before but dunderhead that I am I managed to delete all the pictures from my camera.  We discovered that not only was the weather remarkably similar to that day, but it was also the corresponding day in the calendar - how spooky!

Park and Bandstand
This is far from a challenging walk - it is only just over four miles long and largely flat as it heads along this branch canal.  Some of the walk was completed during the wander along the Wey-South Path some years ago.  This section is still used and may provide the link from the Wey and Arun to the River Thames in years to come.

End of the Navigation
We started at Godalming; the very end of the canal section.  Godalming is a pleasant place, clearly with some wealth behind it.  In that respect it isn't a lot different to many other towns in Surrey.  We parked at the station, which was fairly inexpensive on a weekend day (beware bank holidays - they are inexplicably more expensive).  The rail service between Guildford and Godalming is roughly half hourly so getting back isn't too much of a problem. 

Boat Hire
From the station it is best to aim for the very large church as the river is almost right next door.  We passed by the Phillips Memorial Cloister.  This curious feature commemorates the life and death of the chief wireless operator on the RMS Titanic, Jack Phillips who was responsible for sending out the distress calls from the ship on that fateful night.  The gardens inside were designed by Gertrude Jekyll, famed designer of the early 20th Century.

Trowers Footbridge
We stopped for a bit of lunch in the park and watched with amusement as the ducks, geese and swans were all engaged in various courtship rituals.  There was no boat traffic here as the river is not navigable past the Town Bridge.  That seemed to help the birds as they were largely undisturbed.  The park was properly waking up from its winter slumber.  Flowers were brightening up the whole scene and the weeping willows overhanging the river were bedecked in their early spring foliage.  Coupled with the powder blue sky the whole scene looked very fresh and young.

Just beyond the park and we emerged onto the main road through the town which was a bit of a shock to the system after the tranquil surroundings that we had come from.  Thankfully it was short lived as we resumed our course along the River Wey on the other side.  Just around the corner and we reached the town basin at end of the navigable section of river.  There were quite a few boats moored along this stretch of river, most of which looked like they were still on their winter break.  In fact we all noted how little activity there was on the river - to be fair the temperatures were still a bit chill.  I suppose it needs to warm up a bit more before people properly get going.

After a lengthy straight stretch of river we came to our first lock at Catteshall.  We coincidentally found a boat coming through it - the only activity we saw for several miles.  The lock had a boathouse just the other side although there was little sign of anyone wanted to hire one of the boats on offer.  The river took a meandering route from here winding through small trees just showing signs of sprouting foliage.  We went under the unusual Trowers Footbridge, which was apparently built to access the nearby Unstead Park.  It was a rather grander affair than would be provided now but probably befits the importance of its destination.

Exclusive Parking Spot
The route was characterised by a number of pillboxes along its length and the first of these was shortly after.  These ones are unusual in that they are perfectly round, unlike the square ones that we see in Sussex.  The River Wey was clearly felt to be an important strategic route for any invaders as they are still pretty prominent even after all these years.  After a meandering route we lost the river over a weir and the navigation became a proper canal, complete with lengthy straight section.  We passed by the picturesque Unstead Lock.  Just off to the left was a picturesque garden with what looked like a berthing basin for boats - indeed there was one in position as we passed by.

Half Pint
Two former railways crossed the canal just north of here - the first is now occupied by the Downs Link footpath that links Guildford with Shoreham using the trackbed of the former lines that crossed Surrey and West Sussex via Horsham.  The bridge across the canal has been replaced with a more modern span that is cycle friendly - I imagine that the original one was removed some time after closeure in the mid 1960s.  Further on is a slightly more dubious railway - certainly the earthworks are all in place but whether it ever carried trains seems to have been lost in history.  Certainly it must have been an early closure for the middle of the trackbed now sports a World War II pillbox.

Mighty Bridges
In between the two erstwhile railways is the stub of the Wey and Arun Canal, walked a few years ago on the Wey South Path.  There is a move to restore this and significant progress has been made in the past few years.  It will probably be longer than my lifetime to see this little stub of the canal becoming part of the through route though.  We also had to cross the busy A248 road - not an easy task.  I rather wished that the towpath went uder the road bridge but alas there is insufficent room.

Guildford Castle
The onward walk from here is very familiar as I have done it a number of times in combination with other routes.  For my money the approach to Guildford is up there with some of the most scenic canal walks in all of England, certainly the ones I have visited.  It starts at the rail bridge taking the North Downs railway across the canal and passes by the shallow lock of St Catherine's (it only brings the water up a couple of feet).  After meandering through some woods and passing the base of sandy cliffs Guildford comes into view overseen by its castle.

Negotiating the Locks
As we approached the edge of the built up area the canal boat that we had helped through the lock finally caught us up - it would only be ahead of us for a short period of time though as the lock in town soon held it up again.  By now we had also caught up with the hoards of people all enjoying one of the first genuinely warm days of spring.  Sadly my lot weren't particularly interested in a trip to Guildford Castle so I had to go with the flow.  I think perhaps it was the hill up to the top that put them off - maybe next time I come this way I shall make sure of a trip to the top.  For now though we made our way through the town to the station and returned by train to Godalming.  On the way we passed by a memorial to Lewis Carroll, who died in Guildford in 1898.  Rather fittingly it was of Alice watching the white hare running away alongside the canal.  I think this must be a recent installation as I don't remember seeing it before.

Last Crossing
As short walks go this is a particularly good one with plenty to see along the way.  I think perhaps we might try and complete this walk going north although it doesn't look as if transport links will be easy - maybe some out and back walks would work?

Lewis Carroll Monument