Saturday 7 July 2018

Basingstoke Canal. Mytchett to Odiham and back.

As you will have no doubt guessed from the title, we didn’t get stopped by the low bridges, but it was close.
We transhipped as much of our roof-tat as we could into the car boot and set off from Mytchett Lake with the bicycles in the well deck, the saloon full of plant pots and towing the dinghy with the contents of the solar box in it.

After slipping un-noticed over the busy A331 on the aqueduct...
...we got to Ash Lock. This marked the beginning of a mile long stretch where we were surrounded by the Army with Aldershot on the off-side and Northcamp on the towpath side. Karen works on one side or the other, and about half way along there she was, standing on a bridge, waiting for us to boat underneath.
There are three low bridges between Mytchett and Fleet. The first, Wharf Bridge, (not to be confused with Ash Wharf Bridge) is where the the A325 Farnborough to Aldershot road crosses the canal. It is lower on the towpath side and because of the camber of the road, increases in height as you go through it. Nicholson has it at 5’10” and we, with our string and straight-edge measuring system, agree.
Ann-Marie, who grew up in Fleet, steered us along the lovely stretch through Rushmoor and Eelmoor, under the iconic Eelmoor Bailey Bridge and past the end of the main Farnborough Airfield runway, reliving cycling exploits of her youth, but this time on her own boat and with a huge grin.
Pondtail Bridge on the outskirts of Fleet was the next low one. No height is recorded for this, but we reckon it’s about the same as Wharf Bridge - 5’10”.
We had a couple of inches to spare.

Then came the “Will it, won’t it?” moment - Reading Road South - with a published height of 5’9” it was only an inch higher than our highest fixed point . We got closer and it was obvious that it was going to be a tighter squeeze than the other two, but the sight line along the roof and through the bridge still showed a thin glint of daylight.

Slowly, Legend’s bow disappeared into the shadows, followed by the cratch and king plank, then the front of the cabin, and then our highest point - the front pigeon box.
The gap was less than half an inch, but as the saying goes, a miss is as good as a mile.
Dave, crouched down and steering by looking along the side of the boat, worried that he was going to graze his knuckles on the underside of the bridge but it was all OK, nothing got scraped and nothing got knocked off.
Just as well really; the previous windy ‘ole had been the other side of Pondtail, and reversing for a mile along the narrow, shallow Basingstoke was something we’d been trying not to think about.

We pulled up about two hundred yards further on outside the Fox & Hounds pub...
...and after patting ourselves heartily on the back, proceeded to re-assemble our roof boxes and put all the plants back up. After that we walked (yes, Walked!) round to Mum & Dad’s for a cup of tea.
The next day Yvonne, one of Ann-Marie’s school friends came to visit and they started on thirty years of catching up.
When Ann-Marie was a little girl, the cul-de-sac that she lived in, (and that Mum & Dad still live in) ended in a wood, on the other side of which was the - then derelict - canal. As children it was hers and Karen’s home turf. They played in the woods, made dens and either fell in or ice skated on the canal depending on the season. Since then, not only has the sterling work carried out by the Basingstoke Canal Society, Surrey and Hampshire county councils, Waterway Recovery Group and others resulted in the canal being restored back to navigation, but also a row of houses has been built at the end of the cul-de-sac, effectively cutting off access to the canal bank. However, the end house in the row backs onto the canal and has a long enough mooring for two boats. Mum & Dad are acquainted with Don, the owner, and he’d very kindly agreed for us to moor Legend next to his own boat for a weekend while we went away. Which is how come, (after a small amount of shuffling, due to no-one realising that a 57’ boat wont go into a 50’ gap and us ending up with our bow and most of the well-deck in a rhododendron bush,) we were moored two hundred yards away from Mum & Dad’s front door.
The weekend was spent in Lincolnshire at a party in Bateman’s Brewery to celebrate Harry’s Mum’s birthday. Frankie, Harry and Thibault were there, along with a load of our old 2CV mates. There was a brilliant ceilidh on Saturday and we had a terrific time.
While we were in Lincolnshire we went to a couple of plant nurseries and got some plants for this year’s flower and veg display.
In the morning we said good bye to Don and thanked him for his hospitality, then untied and pushed off for the Barley Mow.
When we got to Zebon Copse the swing bridge was very reluctant to budge and Ann-Marie had to recruit a passing cyclist and his small sons to help push it.
Nb Ceilidh was already moored at the Barley Mow when we arrived. Ken was away at his mum’s, but Annie was on board so we went in for a chat before driving over to Farnborough and Aldershot for more plants and some compost. Back at the boat, we joined Ken and Annie and their family for a lovely big bar-b-que. Later on Mum & Dad popped over and we all sat around on the towpath chatting till the midges got too much.
Fran, Sean and Phoebe came to join us for the trip from the Barley Mow to Odiham Wharf. They’d been to the boat once before, but we’d been having the cratch cover fitted and we’d not been able to move, so it was lovely to have them on board for a proper boat trip.

Phoebe had a go at steering and, considering that due to all our roof tat she couldn’t really see where she was going, she did very well. With Fran and Ann-Marie occupying the same space for the day, there was of course the obligatory cream tea and cakefest and crafting session going on, and it was all very lovely.
Next day we went for a walk from the wharf to the other side of Greywell Tunnel, with a stop off for a swift pint at the very nice Fox & Goose in Greywell itself.
 Odiham Wharf
 Between the Limit of Navigation and the Tunnel
 Crystal Clear Canal
 Looking back from the tunnel
 The portal at the other end
 The horse-path over the top
When we got back we had a phone call from the Canal Centre. A departing boat had hit one of the gates on the Deepcut flight and damaged it; there would be further phone calls updating us on what was being done in the next few days, but in the meantime we should try and stay close to a phone.
By the following morning we’d had several more phone calls. The gate was beyond repair and would need replacing, along with its pair, which could take six to eight weeks. We had two options, either we went down the flight that weekend with assisted passage through the broken lock which, at our own risk, would entail Legend being hauled through with nobody on board in case the gate collapsed, or we could stay - free of charge - until the new gates were made and fitted. This boat may not be as posh and shiny as most, or cost as much, but it’s our home and it’s all we have, so it didn’t take us long to decide. Of course the fact that Ann-Marie’s family all live around here helped. Ken and Annie decided to stay as well, but the other visiting boats opted to go, meaning that Legend, Ceilidh and 4 small hire boats will have the 20 miles between Deepcut and Odiham to ourselves for the rest of the summer.
There is a very narrow stretch of cutting between Odiham Wharf and the castle, and John Pinkerton, the wide-beam trip boat, takes up nearly all of it. So the next morning when we heard it was taking a party up there, we thought it would be wise to wait till it got back before we set off up the same bit of water. And it was raining, so we didn’t feel all that boaty. Dad had joined us for the day, so while we waited for the rain to stop and for JPs return, we spent the time playing cards and eating more of Ann-Marie’s delicious cream and jam covered scones.
The John Pinkerton came back just as there was a gap in the rain, so we made a dash for it...
 Legend making a dash for it!
 Not as low as some but a bit of a squeeze!  
Warnborough Lift Bridge.
...and got to the castle to find Ceilidh and two hire boats squished onto the moorings. We went past and turned in the windy ‘ole then backed up to the ‘Limit of Navigation’ barrage across the canal and nudged our way into the bank.

Annie came along to help us get our big gangplank through the reeds and iris and pin ourselves to the bank just as the returning rain announced lunch time. In the afternoon we braved the drizzle and went for a wander around Odiham Castle.

Later on we took Dad up to Odiham Bowls club where he was playing in a match...

...and stayed to cheer him on.(Very quietly, cheering on a bowling green gets you a Very Hard Stare.) (Almost as hard as the one you get when your mobile goes off!)
In the morning the hire boats had left so we moved up behind Ceilidh...

...then jumped in the car for a National Trust day. First we went to West Green House Gardens which were truly wonderful. Below is just a small sample of the hundreds of photos we took. 
Then, after a picnic in the orchard we went over to The Vyne. The outside was lovely but although we got to see the chapel window that was being restored last time we visited,

there was restricted access to the inside of the house as they’d recently had a new roof put on and they were still putting all the upstairs rooms back in order. It re-opens fully in August so we’ll just have to go back again.
After breakfast in the morning we followed Ceilidh back to the lift bridge...

and on to Odiham Wharf where we stopped to empty the loo. The Elsan point isn’t marked on any of the canal maps we’ve seen, but it does exist and as the next one is at the canal centre at Mytchett it’s very useful to know about it.
Ken and Annie carried on to Crookham Wharf, but we stopped at the Barley Mow and went round to Yvonne’s beautiful house for a cuppa and a chat.
The next day Yvonne and her daughter Chloe came aboard and we set off for the Fox and Hounds in Fleet. It was a perfect boating day; beautiful and sunny with hardly any wind, not that wind is often a problem on the Basingstoke with so many mature trees and such dense undergrowth lining the canal for most of its length.

We slowly drifted passed Ken and Annie at Crookham who told us that there was a quiz night at the Fox & Hounds on Tuesday, so before we disappeared under the bridge we hastily agreed to form a team.
When we got to the pub, Simon, another of Ann-Marie’s school friends, was already there along with his sister Sue and his two beautiful dogs. It was a blazingly hot day so we all did our best to chill out by the boat until it was time for everyone to go home.
Later on the family came over to join us and to celebrate River’s birthday with a meal in the pub.
After three days at the Fox & Hounds we flattened our roof again and went back under all the low bridges to Mytchett lake. On the way, at Ash lock, we met Karen and her work colleagues Marsha and Vivienne, who helped with the winding and pushing.
Back at the lake, as the boxes were already disassembled, we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to give them a couple of coats of wood preserver.
While that was happening an Australian lady came along and chatted to us for a bit. It turned out she was the great grand-daughter of Mr A.J. Harmsworth, who used to own the canal. She was 90 if she was a day, and it was fabulous talking to such an energetic, inspiring woman. Boat-life brings the most amazing people into our lives!

1 comment:

Sue said...

I bet you're secretly glad about the broken gates! You look as if you are all having a mega time out there on the Basingstoke!

I think you might be in for a long haul though but you have plenty to keep you occupied.

I love that canal and probably would have enjoyed the position you are in too!

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