Nearing the nadir of the slow days of narrow-boat transportation, the Wey-Arun canal was constructed, connecting commercial London to the English Channel and beyond. Utilising the eponymous rivers it was begun in 1813 but barely reached a century before the canal fell by the wayside of competition from the new and faster, rail networks
For most of the 20th century, the canal remained “no more than a stagnant, muddy overgrown depression in the ground” until a group of enthusiasts formed the Wey & Arun Canal Society and bit by bit have dragged and drained it back towards eventual restoration.
There is still much work to be done and the start of this walk from High bridge, Alfold, shows where the canal has all but virtually disappeared under its overgrown channels. Dredging and bank clearing is a Sisyphean task but the tremendous work has already brought lengths of the canal back into life. And before long, the waters are seen to be flowing alongside the path to Loxwood.
Locks and bridges have had to be re-built too with much of the time, money and manpower from donations and volunteer labourers. Even benches are provided not so much for the weary but for those who want to stop and stare
Part of the charm of a neglected canal is the sheer density of shrubbery and grasses that have overgrown along with the canal’s decay. Set in an arable and arboreal landscape of this Surrey-Sussex border, paths and bridleways criss-cross the footpath, making it both accessible yet surprisingly solitary.
In this intensely rural setting, crowds of foxgloves stand about in clearings, briar roses of white and pink dangle decorously, massed ox-eye daisies are blindingly white in sunshine, and grasses of every texture invite the touch. Not all is desirously tactile though as there are ominous gatherings too of Giant Hogweed – the alien invasive that is impressive to look at but has a sap that burns in sunlight.
A walk such as this has one dominant theme, with barely a nod to passing places. Yet water offers many vistas (as well as invitations for panting dogs) but on a simmering summers day, the colours were often bleached out so I preferred to take cool B&W shots. And on that note, enjoy the slideshow.
For such sterling restoration see – The Wey and Arun Canal Trust
A stroll between High Bridge, Alfold and Loxwood – lunch at the Onslow Arms and a leisurely return to join Jo and others for her regular Monday walk