The Basingstoke Canal
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The two ABA boats are based at Colt Hill, Odiham.
- The Canal Today
With 14 miles of canal without a lock between Greywell and Ash Lock and with a practical maximum speed of about 3 mph to avoid a breaking wash, local cruises are not inconvenienced by having to go through locks.
Day trips in Dawn typically last 4 hours and allow a cruise either to King John's Castle near Greywell or to the Barley Mow Wharf at Winchfield - both with time for a leisurely picnic before returning to Odiham. For those who want to go further towards Fleet, longer hirings can be arranged. Because Dawn is relatively small, it can be turned round at many wider points along the canal.
Madam Butterfly is able to cover much more of the Basingstoke Canal, including going through locks, depending on the length of the cruise. Because Madam Butterly is a full-sized canal boat, it can only be turned in winding holes, which are available at intervals along the canal as shown on the map above.
The Basingstoke Canal was built in the late 1700s to provide a waterway link between Basingstoke and the Wey Navigation, thus providing access to the London basin and the remainder of the inland waterway network. The business case envisaged taking goods and produce to London and returning with such items as coal for the local market.
The venture was seriously compromised by the introduction of the train soon after the canal was opened and financial difficulties have dominated throughout its history. After a series of bankruptcies, the canal fell into disrepair after WW1 and became largely impassable to navigation by the 1930s.
During WWII much of the canal was blocked by defences associated with the GHQ line built in 1940 to defend against a possible German invasion. Remnants of these defences can still be seen in places along the canal.
In the early 1970s, the derelict canal was purchased jointly by Surrey and Hampshire County Councils.
In partnership with the local authorities, the Surrey and Hampshire Canal Society organised voluntary working parties, managed work-training schemes and employed a full-time team to restore the canal.
The Canal Today
Today the canal is open for navigation from just beyond King John's Castle in the West to the junction with the Wey Navigation in the East. The 32 miles of navigable waterway passes through 29 locks and a varied mix of rural and urban landscapes. It has been hailed as one of the most beautiful canals in England.
The Western section of canal from Greywell to Basingstoke was cut off by a roof fall in the Greywell tunnel in the 1930s. The tunnel is now a major roost for bats and is unlikely ever to be re-opened. In any event, the M3 now blocks the old route and much of the watercourse in Old Basing is now a housing estate. Although there is some talk of adding a link to the Kennet and Avon canal to the North, the huge cost and complexity of such a project makes it an unlikely contender for the immediate future.
Most of the water for the canal comes from natural springs in the Greywell Tunnel, which gives it a slight alkaline quality. Between Greywell and the Wey, the water becomes gradually more acidic, which results in an unusually wide range of flaura and fauna. As a result, the canal has now been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a balance has to be struck between conservation and boating on the canal.
For the latest news on navigation on the Basingstoke Canal, please visit the Basingstoke Canal Authority web site and click Navigation.
The Basingstoke Canal Authority, financed by the two county council owners and riparian local authorities, now manages the canal from its headquarters at the Mytchett Canal Centre. The Basingstoke Canal Authority web site is HERE.
In addition to public funding, a major contribution continues to be made by the Surrey and Hampshire Canal Society, a charity supported by a large number of active volunteers who not only work on canal projects, but also raise money through operation of the John Pinkerton trip boat. The S&HCS web site is HERE and the John Pinkerton web site is HERE.