Saturday 2 June 2018

River Wey. Basingstoke Canal. Weybridge to Mytchett.

Before we turned off the Thames and started our exploration of the River Wey and the Basinkstoke canal we had to recover our car from Henley, where Lesley & Pete had kindly been looking after it for us. Mum, Dad and Auntie Wendy came along to our mooring at Weybridge, and while the boys went off to Henley, the girls stayed on board and prepared lunch.
After all the majestic extravagance of the Thames, the entrance to the Wey is a rather modest affair.

With our passengers safely on board we waved goodbye to Weybridge and quietly slipped up the inconspicuous channel to Thames Lock - the first on the Wey - where we tied up and were greeted by the friendly Lock keeper.
Thames Lock is now technically a staircase, although it doesn’t look like one. After Shepperton lock was built on the Thames, the water level below it, which is where the Wey comes in, was about 4’ lower than it had been previously, making it impossible for laden boats to get over the cill into Thames lock. The simplest solution was to add another pair of bottom gates, creating a holding pound where any vessel with more than 2’ draught (including Legend) is lifted up to clear the cill.
When Legend was safely up the lock, we went into the office and collected our National Trust welcome pack, our Wey windlass, and paid our £7.20 for a transit licence to the Basingstoke.
The difference between the two rivers was striking. After all the traffic on the Thames and all the huge houses lining the banks, the secret tranquillity of the gentle little Wey was a very welcome change.
Mature oaks and beeches lined the banks and as we worked our way up the next three locks the only boats we saw were on private moorings on the off-side. The locks were hard work and slow going, but they all behaved the same, pulling the boat forward as we filled them. Tying the back rope to the pin at the back of the lock is sound advice. Mum, Dad and Auntie Wendy had a lovely trip, seeing bits of their home ground from a different perspective. In his younger days, Dad had canoed up from Weybridge to Brookwood, and he remembered a few bits of it.
At Woodham junction we turned onto the Basingstoke canal.

As we chugged our way up the first half mile to the bottom of the Woodham flight, we were followed by a very clever Cormorant who had clearly learnt that the best place to catch fish is behind a moving boat as they swim away in a panic. He kept a steady pace with us and caught two, the second one was as big as he was, but he still managed to swallow it in the end.
As we weren't going up the locks till the following day we tied up on the lock landing.

Our passengers disembarked and we walked up to Scotland Road with them then, while the boys were getting the car back, Ann-Marie and her mum had a rather emotional walk round Birchwood where her Great Grandparents used to live.
In the morning we had a 9.30 booking to start up the flight and bang on time Mark arrived to give us our Basingstoke Canal Licence and information pack and unlock the gates.
It was the 9th of May and we had licence number 11, so it was no surprise that as we worked our way up the flight there were plenty of walkers and cyclists who were very interested in seeing a moving boat.
Between the first three locks there is a whole community of residential houseboats which first appeared when the canal was derelict and now have a historic legal right to be there. Apparently they very occasionally change hands for quite large sums of money.
We stopped at the services in Woking to do an empty and fill and had our lunch, then carried on to St John’s locks where Mark caught up with us. His job, after we’d gone up, was to calk the gates; in other words, stir up the silt above the top gates so that it gets drawn into all the gaps and seals them. It’s a very effective method and must reduce water loss by a considerable amount. He was very helpful and knowledgeable and gave us lots of advice about mooring and bridge heights. (More on this subject later!). He also told us that we were the only boat using the locks for the next three days, so it would be ok for us to moor on the lock landing at St John’s, which we did.
We found the Basingstoke as different from the rest of the canal network as we’d found the Gloucester and Sharpness was last year, but for completely opposite reasons. The G&S was big and wide and commercial looking, whereas the Basingstoke was small and calm and somehow, despite the many people who use the very good towing path, feels rather private.  
Woking is home to the first purpose built Mosque in England, so we thought we’d go and have a look.
It’s also the town that gets destroyed in HG Wells’ War of The Worlds, and where he lived when he wrote it so, not unexpectedly, there is a Martian tripod in the high street and a meteor embedded in the pedestrian precinct.
From St John’s we went about a mile to the beautiful remote Hermitage Woods for a night round our little bar-b-que campfire...

...followed by an early start to get to Brookwood Bottom for breakfast while we waited for BCA Lock Keeper Carl to unlock the gates and let us start our way up. Brookwood and Deepcut are stunningly beautiful, although a little hard going in places.
Carl made it a lot easier by opening all the bottom gates for us, which got us up a lot quicker and saved Ann-Marie a lot of to-ing and fro-ing. We cleared Deepcut top at about 2pm and were soon moored up at Frimley Lodge Park, then combined a car move with a trip to a garden centre for potting compost and some new troughs.
Yes it’s that time of year again, clearing out the spring bulbs and choosing colours for our summer flower display. Ann-Marie started by repotting the strawberries; we now have six troughs and they all look very fruity. As the plants were all off the roof we gave it a bit of a clean; summer was definitely in the air.
Our next move took us to Mytchett Lake, about 300 yards from Karen’s house.
As we use Karen’s for our correspondence, Legend was as close to home as it is possible to get. Ann-Marie was very pleased to be living so close to her sister and it was fabulous to have Karen “just popping in” on her way to work.
We picked Mytchett Lake as the best mooring for a visit by Frankie, Harry and 10 week old Thibault. They came for a 6 day visit, every minute of which was a joy and it was wonderful to have such chilled people on board.
We took them back to Frimley Park and invited loads of rellies to come and join us and to meet the newest member of the family. The Surrey Heath Show was on the same day, so it was even more special; a proper English picnic with classic cars, brass bands, a tea tent run by Karen’s Brownie pack and a baby to cuddle as well.
The weather for their visit was fantastic - blue skies and sunshine every day – which meant that when Harry fell out of the dinghy the water wasn’t too cold. That afternoon we went shopping via Karen’s washing machine, with Harry in a pair of Dave’s shoes and with all his wet money spread out on the settee. Sadly his IPhone didn’t survive the experience.
As we were local, Karen asked us to give a little talk to her Brownie pack about boating and our nomadic life aboard Legend. It took us out of our comfort zone but we quite enjoyed it in the end and the Brownies did too. Karen had got a pile of paper plates and punched holes round the edges which they laced with ribbons, and then Dave showed them how to paint 3 canal roses in the middle. All very good wholesome stuff.
That evening Ken and Annie on Nb Ceilidh moored up behind us, and while we were chatting we invited them to join us for breakfast at Deepcut Café, the virtues of which Dad had been extoling ever since he’d found out we were coming this way. So, the next morning we, along with Ken, Annie, Frankie, Harry and Thibault walked back along the towpath to Deepcut to meet Dad for the Best Breakfast Ever.
We were glad of the walk; it meant that when we got back to the boats we were able to bend over far enough to get in.
This is the only photo we got of our morning in Deepcut Café. Sadly the camera wasn't big enough to get the food in focus.
On F&H’s last day with us, Frankie’s Auntie Sue came over to see Thibault and have lunch. We don’t get to see Sue very often and she’d never been to the boat before so it was all very lovely. After lunch it was time for everyone to say goodbye; not too traumatic as we were going to see F&H the next weekend.
After they left we began the task of reducing our air draught as we had 3 very low bridges to get through before mooring up in fleet that evening. According to the BCA the lowest - at Reading Road South in Fleet - is 5’9”. We’d measured from the waterline to the top of our front pigeon box - the highest immovable thing on the boat - and we’d made it 5’8”. That didn’t leave a lot of room for error which, when you’re working with a wobbly boat and fluctuating water levels, could be significant. We emptied the new solar box into the dinghy, collapsed the big black box and put the contents into the car, put all the plant pots and troughs inside and spread the log collection between the handrails before setting off, hoping that when we got to Wharf Bridge (5’10”) we’d fit under it and not have to go backwards for over a mile to Ash lock.
Find out how we got on next time.

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