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Sunday, 5 June 2011

Basingstoke Canal - Greywell (lock 30) to Barley Mow Bridge and back - 11.69 miles

We decided to have a go at walking some of the Basingstoke canal, so having taken out a book from the local library, we packed some supplies into my pack and off we set. We are still working out how much water/snacks to carry, this appears to be a little hit and miss as we had enough water but not enough energy this time round, so we need to work on this for next time. I was in jean shorts, a short sleeved chlorofibre T-shirt, walking shoes, and carrying around 7lbs in my daysack.As we left the car, parked in the lay by by Greywell water treatment works it was a sunny 19degrees. Walking up through the village the signpost for the canal walk is very easy to miss, it just says footpath and Hampshire countryside services, we weren't the only people to look twice before walking up there, you pass through a space between two back gardens and you are suddenly on top of the greywell tunnel. There is an info board just down the slope, detailing the history and use of the tunnel, as well as some info on the bat population in the tunnel. It is an area of Scientific Special Interest.
The first thing you notice as you start the walk down the side of the canal is that despite there being some algae and debris on top of the water, the water itself is crystal clear in this section of the canal - turning to the guide book it mentions that the canals main water supply here comes from springs in the greywell cutting and its always ice-cold at this point - it certainly looks it! On the way back just before we finished our walk it would have been lovely to dip our toes just a little lol.
Just after the next bend in the canal you happen across Odiham castle, and by that i mean it literally does just appear to your left! The castle is commonly known as King Johns castle and is famous as a stop off point on the way to King john singing the magna carta. It's worth having a small detour to look at the ruins, which were being utilised by many people on our way past.
It doesn't take much imagination at all to be able to see what this octagonal, thick walled keep would have looked like in its heyday, its worth noting that the castle fell into disrepair back in the 15th century and yet some of it remains still now.

As you come to the next bend in the canal you pass your first bridge, the lift bridge across the road - the clarity of the water isn't so clear at all now but that doesn't stop the abundance of wildlife. We saw swans and 7 cygnets off to the left in a feeding pond, as well as numerously coloured dragonfly and damselfly's. I'm pretty sure i remember reading that this stretch of the canal is known for its large amount of dragonfly's and is regarded as one of the best populated sites of scientific interest for this reason. You notice as you walk the glorious colours from a deep sapphire blue, to a brilliant gold, a stunning red and a deep black.
 It was tricky to catch them on camera though you wont miss them with your eyes they are all around you.

You walk on under the swan bridge (all the bridges have plaques on them to that you can monitor where you are on your map) and around another bend in the canal. As you come up to Lodge bridge you notice the farming fields on either side of the canal. It was here that we stopped for some photos of the quiet and empty canal. However, its also here that you notice the noise from the road (A287) just the other side of the field, and it makes you wonder if you've ever driven down that road before, as i have numerous times, how comes you never noticed this great canal and wildlife meters away? It certainly opened my eyes about the undiscovered gems hidden behind the next cow fields.
You carrying on walking on, and its a very level and easy to walk path, though not suitable for pushchairs due to some patches off overgrowth and very sharp narrowing of the path in places, we both got stung on our arms and legs from the path side nettles. You pass a great picnic area at the Colt Hill Bridge. You can hire canoes from Galleon marine on the opposite side of the canal, and get drinking water and ice creams there too. We stopped on a bench for a quick rest but it was unshaded and the heat was very warm now, so we walked on to find a more covered resting spot. It was great to see so many people using the canal here, as well as another pair of swans and cygnets.

Walking on up the canal path towards board oak bridge was a pleasant stretch, you saw people passing canoeing and enjoying the river, mostly the dads rowing and the wife's and children enjoying being a passenger. As you walk under Broad Oak Bridge you'll find a row of oaks on the left, giving you a nice shaded cover for a couple hundred meters. It was just past here that we saw the sight of the day, just as we passed a large new build house on the right, and 2 narrow boats with the Dogmersfieldbbq stack on the other bank next to the 2 narrow boats,and we considered walking back in case he flew off again but left him. Upon checking the camera though, WOOOHOOO, i had caught him!

A spring in our step and onwards walking around another bend in the canal brings you to Sandy Hill and Sprats hatch bridges.

I would have to say here that the majority of bike users we passed we decent and either slowed down or waited or vice versa we did to pass each other, but most decided not to dismount under the bridges and it was just past these bridges that the couple walking towards us nearly came a cropper as 4 cyclists sped under the bridge to come to the narrowest part of the path and nearly knock the older guy over. He asked them to get off and push their bikes past him and his wife and when he past us a few feet later was grumpy and mumbling.

We walked on past Basley bridge and Stacey's bridge till the clear mooring area of Barley Mow bridge appeared. this is a great space for mooring and hopping over to the pub for some dinner, drinks or supplies before meandering onwards down the canal. This was the furthest out point for us though at about 5.5miles and 2hrs 25minutes of walking on the maps below. As you come off the canal you walk through a large car park (which will be the start of our next leg down the canal), cross over a b road, and then back on yourself nearly as you see the pub, The barleymow is just in front of you. This afternoon there was a wedding reception going on, and the inside was full, we sat in the shade outside the front doors, and after sharing a larger shandy and a bowl of chips, we decided to head back. Instead of going straight back down the canal path, we started our walk back through the village of Winchfield hurst - we walked along the hurst road, then down to station road (for approx. 2 miles and our fastest paced mile) and we turned left onto a footpath at s bagwell lane which brought us back out at sandy hill bridge. We followed the canal path all the way back from here to Greywell tunnell, spotting another heron on the far bank just after lodge bridge.

It was a great walk, we both ached a little afterwards but had enjoyed the day immensely and would highly recommend it to others.

Date: 4th June 2011
Total walk: 11.69 miles / 18.82km
Descent: 145 ft
Ascent: 360 ft
Average pace:  26.05 mins a mile
Accompanied: Gary Bygrave

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