Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Wey and Godalming Navigation

It has been a long time since I last wrote a blog in this spot and family and friends alike have been asking for our news, so here goes...

The early part of the year, Ian and I spent 90 days travelling around the world (not on Narrowboat Winedown, I have to add). It was an adventure of a life time - to read more go to http://hollidaysrtw.blogspot.co.uk/ During that time we ticked off many items from our bucket list and beside having  a wonderful time with family and friends, we experienced 'mundane' things like visit Addo Elephant Park on safari in South Africa; zip wire over the canopy outside Durban, South Africa; dive the Barrier Reef near Port Douglas, Australia; Sail on the Tall ship 'Solway Lass' around the Whitsundays islands, Australia; kayak off the Able Tasmine National Park, New Zealand; walk on the Fox Glacier, New Zealand; swim with dolphins in New Zealand; watch whales in Monterey, California; experience the luxury train the California Zephyr from San Francisco to Chicago and the Shore Line from Chicago to New York; gaze over Manhattan from the Empire State Building and visit the Statue of Liberty. Now it’s back to earth (or should I say the canals) and live another new adventure that unfolds day by day. 

The summer doesn't seem to have made up its mind whether it has arrived or not, so not to be deterred, it is about time that we made our own summer fun.

For a long time, we have been talking about the River Wey so it was about time we put our money where our mouth is. We gave up our mooring at Frouds Bridge Marina on the Kennet & Avon Canal and joined the CCC (the Continuous Cruising Crowd) in the middle of May. 

After a week of mixed weather on the river Thames with our grandchildren James and Phoebe in tow, we turned onto the River Wey.

The Wey and Godalming Navigations together are a a total 19 ½ miles long with 16 locks and are owned and operated by the National Trust. The Wey Navigation was built 100 years before the canals and runs 15 ½ miles from the River Thames at Weybridge to Guildford. The Godalming Navigation, opened in 1764 extended the navigable waterway a further four miles to Godalming. 
We had been drawn to this tranquil waterway running through the heart of Surrey, so with the rain pelting down outside the lock keeper’s office at Thames Lock, we bought our National Trust licence. Come Hell or High Water, we were determined to enjoy ourselves

Thames lock is in an attractive woodland setting right next to some lovely apartments. Shortly after leaving Thames Lock, we looked for a mooring and found a suitable spot, beautifully wooded, opposite smart houses and gardens. Since it looked as if the rain had set in for the rest of the afternoon, we made ourselves comfortable in the cabin and played card games with the children. After an hour or so, the children started to get fidgety. The rain had stopped so we put on our walking shoes and went into the town of Weybridge.

Weybridge in Surry is a suburb in the London Commuter Belt and forms part of the Greater London Urban Area.In its early history, Weybridge was a small village with a river crossing. The earliest monuments on the tower wall of St James's church are 15th Century plaques, and the Church was rebuilt in 1848 with a south aisle added in 1864. In 1537 Henry VIII built Oatlands Palace, and this is where he married his fifth wife, Catherine Howard. When the church was demolished in 1650, bricks from its walls helped to line the then new Wey Navigation Canal.

Thursday 30th May 2013 and the rain was still lingering albeit just a fine drizzle. When there was a break, we set off, following a friendly family in a hire boat. We caught up with them at Town Lock and journeyed along the canal with them for a few hours. James decided to walk along the towpath and struck up a lively conversation with one of the boys from the hire-boat.

The hire-boat stopped at the Anchor pub for lunch and we continued on through the Pyrford lock (after getting rid of our rubbish in the designated bins) and on for another two miles and two locks. The ruins of Newark Priory overlook the Newark lock and it was here that we decided to look for mooring for the evening. It was still quite early in the day when we found a suitable mooring in a meadow. This was ideal for the children. They could run and play to their hearts content, while Ian and I set up our deck chairs and relaxed. Later in the afternoon, the hire-boat passed us amid the shouted greetings of long lost friends.

Next Stop, Guildford! Friday promised to be a lovely day. The rain and clouds had cleared during the night and we all woke to bright sunshine. We were a little disappointed with Dapdune Wharf on the outskirts of Guildford. The navigation notes talked of an award-winning visitor centre that tells the story of the navigation and the people who lived and worked on them. We were assured that there would be full boater’s facilities (very important as we had to dispose of rubbish, fill our water tanks with drinking water and empty our chemical toilet cassette) but in all outward appearance it was a different story. It was difficult to moor – the wharf was congested with unattended craft – and nobody seemed to know what we were talking about when we asked for directions to the water point. Finally, I found the information centre and the volunteer had to make a phone call before he could answer my basic questions. As quickly as we could, we moved on, with the hope that Guildford itself was not as disappointing, and it wasn't.  The town embraced the waterways with riverside walks, pubs and restaurants, and a busy boatyard with narrowboat as well as rowing boat hire.

After negotiating some very sharp bends in the river, we moored alongside a meadow close to the town centre. We wanted to leave the boat for a few days while we took the children to Chippenham for a weekend with Tanya, David and Daniel.

View from Winedown in Guildford

After a weekend with the family, we returned to Guildford by train and took up our River Wey adventure where we left off. The weather had very much improved and we were in for a good week. We spent a few days in Guildford, and discovered quite a bit. Beside all the beautiful buildings there is a wealth of literary history.

 There is a statue of Alice and her sister...

 ...and the White Rabbit that celebrated Guildford’s connection with Lewis Carroll. It depicts the opening scene of ‘Alice’s adventures in Wonderland.

A little further along the river a foot bridge marks the old St Catherine’s ferry on the Pilgrims Way and a stream runs passed a pretty grotto, then spills into the river. This is where Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims would have passed in the reign of King Edward III .

Guildford Town Bridge

The Town Bridge stands on the site of the ancient ford which gives Guildford its name. a plaque near the bridge tells the history “…Saxon Migrants founded the town in about AD 500, settling beside the ‘golden ford’…” 

We were tempted to linger longer in this ideal setting but we still had so much to see. So with the sun warm on our backs we slipped our mooring and set off towards Godalming. This part of the River Way is the Godalming Navigation.
A trip boat passed by only a few minutes before we set off and it was just as well it did. We followed slowly
in its wake and even at that pace we were still surprised by a sharp turn or two. It is quite difficult to get a 60ft boat (steered from the back) to turn through 180 degrees with only a few meters of water on either side and only a few inches of clearance underneath. Inevitably, we nudged the bank and had to back up in order to complete the turns.

We had been warned of low bridges in this part of the navigation, in particular Broadford Bridge.  As we approached the bridge we weren't sure if we could get under it so we slowed to almost a stop and drifted under the bridge an inch at a time. Ian had taken down the exhaust stack to give us more clearance and even then we only made it with less than an inch to spare. If the river came up even by an inch before we returned we would be stuck till the river receded again. Fortunately, the forecast was for sunshine – no showers.
Will we make it?

Yes, but with no room to spare!

...Duck... or Grouse!
We were elated as we cleared the bridge and continued on our way and a few minutes later, while working the Unstead lock, we were still laughing at the experience. 

We continued on our way at a steady pace, certain that the danger was behind us. This time I was on the helm and as we approached Unstead Bridge I had that distinct sinking feeling; the one that said ‘gotcha!’; it didn't look as if we would get under this bridge either. 

Ian moved quickly and took down the exhaust stack. I hauled on the gear leaver, putting the propeller into reverse and increased the revs while the engine whined in protest. The back end of the boat began to swing out as the propeller bit deep into the water, and Ian, now on the bow, was gesticulating wildly while I struggled to halt the 20 tons of boat. Either we were going under the bridge or we were going to hit it! I felt utterly helpless as I watched the bridge come closer. To our relief we just made it but the bridge did brush the canvass of the cratch cover as we passed. No-one had warned us that there were TWO low bridges and while the Broadford Bridge was well signposted with danger signs and depth gauges, there had been nothing to warn boaters at Unstead Bridge.

I didn't want to temp fate again by laughing again, so I grimly settled down to the task of navigating through this stretch of the river. About an hour later we arrived in Godalming- the end of the navigable River Wey and watched the horse drawn trip boat glide silently by as we tied up the mooring ropes.

Later that evening, we had a meal at a pub with Toby and Suze (and their young dog Jess). We had so much to catch up as we haven't seen them since their wedding last October. Why is it that we always seem to playing Catch-Up?

The return journey along the Wey and Godalming Navigation offered different views – surprisingly.

We saw our previous boat ‘Hermitage’ looking very sad and sorry for herself
The rear deck of Hermitage as she is now

Hermitage in 2005

And this was Hermitage in 2005, when we sold her!

Leaving Pyrford behind, the landscape became less rural and more built-up. The roar of the motorway was constantly with us as we passed Byfleet and Dartnell Park. The canal seemed to cower under the massive earth embankments and concrete structures of the M25. Looking back, this is what I saw - complete with train.

Under the M25 Motorway
On the River Wey, the Basingstoke canal joins right under the M25, the rail bridge runs beneath the M25 but above the river. But what you can’t see in the photo is the flight path to Heathrow above that.

 It made me think for a moment, from the canal system to the railways, to the motorways to the airways.   

Looking forward again we continued north passed moored boats, wooded areas and magnificent riverside houses towards the River Thames; the traffic noise slowly diminishing to be replaced by the peaceful yet distinctive song of the blackbirds and the calls of the waterfowl.