Residents of Surrey Heath Borough are fortunate to have this wonderful green ribbon of nature winding through the Surrey urban conurbation. Bounded by the Ash Vale Station Approach Road Bridge southwards and the Deepcut Bridge northwards, the approximately 100,000 residents of Surrey Heath Borough living within 5 miles of the Canal benefit from a 2 mile long section of the Basingstoke Canal which passes through their locale.
It could be said that Surrey Heath is at the heart of the Basingstoke Canal, being home to the Canal Centre at Mytchett and Frimley Lodge Park. The latter being the site of the official re-opening of the Canal in 1991, after volunteers from the Basingstoke Canal Society in their thousands heroically worked tirelessly for 20 years to bring this important inland waterway and its towpaths back to fully functioning operation after many years of decline.
Site of Special Scientific Interest
Designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, the Canal abounds with natural attractions and is bordered by the towpath, which affords access to walkers, runners and cyclists alike, as well as the many angling spots and the opportunity to cruise the gentle waters in canoes or boats. Wildlife on the Canal includes birds like the Kingfisher, insects such as the Greater Water Boatman, damselflies like the Ruddy Darter, waterside plants including Flowering Rush, Bogbean and Water Violet and water plants such as Water Soldier and Fringed Water Lily. Fauna include the Badger, Roe Deer and Natterer’s bat and the Adder to name but a few.
The Canal Centre is a former school building on the site in Mytchett and offers a café, children’s play area, picnic spot and an Information Centre and Canal Shop selling a variety of publications about the Basingstoke Canal, its almost 250 years of history, suggested walks along it full 32 mile length and the flora and fauna visible from the banks and in the waterway. A camp site adjoins the Centre and canoe hire and boat trips are also available. The area is also home to a number of canal boats and a swing bridge allowing access to the opposite towpath bank.
Walking northwards from the Canal Centre, you pass Frimley Park Lodge, with its miniature railway and barbeque areas, the entrance to Potters Pool and the Guildford Road Bridge, also known as the King’s Head Bridge, where the old canal side pub of the same name is now a Harvester pub restaurant overlooking old canal cottages and boat turning ‘winding hole’. The Canal then passes over the London to Basingstoke railway line on an aqueduct and turns eastwards opposite the entrance to Wharfenden Lake, site of the well-known Lakeside Club.
The Canal enters the Deepcut section, an impressive 80 metre deep cutting through the Surrey hillside, passing under the Deepcut Road Bridge, where a new flight of steps allows access from the road down to the towpath. Half a kilometre further on is an operating dry dock for boat owners to use and a canal side cottage that used to be the lock keeper’s home.
Lock 28 is the first in a series of 14 locks making up the Deepcut Lock Flight.
In normal years, it is estimated that over one and a half million visits are made by local residents to the Canal annually. However, since the Covid pandemic struck, this has ballooned by up to 300% in certain of the Canal’s visitor hot spots.
While it is wonderful that the Canal is now being enjoyed by many more people more often, the dramatic growth in usage puts an ever increasing pressure on the Canal’s infrastructure, especially the towpath and nature. Over £100,000 has been spent on repairs to the towpath in Surrey Heath in recent years because the sandy nature of the ground makes it very easily damaged, particularly by dogs climbing up the bank after swimming in the Canal.
This extra usage is happening at the same time as funding for the maintenance of the Canal is under increasing pressure, due partly to a reduction in income from Canal operations such as trip boats and licence fees in response to the pandemic restrictions and because of funding cuts by some local Councils, which is how the Canal’s operating and maintenance budget is balanced through their partner contributions.
The Basingstoke Canal Society helps to support the Canal’s funding through the provision of volunteer labour to help with weed and vegetation clearance, plus specific projects such as new towpath information signage and bank maintenance (see below), funded out of the Society’s membership fees and donations.
Residents of Surrey Heath can show their support and gratitude for this incredible asset by helping out by volunteering with the Society or by becoming a member or making a donation – details available at www.basingstoke-canal.org.uk.
Also, with local Council elections coming up in May, you can make contact with your ward Councillor to make sure they are aware of what the Canal means to you and that they fully support the Canal’s funding appropriation when it comes up for renewal each year in Surrey Heath Council’s annual budget.