Spring Run & Canal Trip
26th April 2015
Our Spring Run and canal boat trip was
a resounding success. We had 30 people pre-entered for the run itself, with a
full boat load of 50 people for the canal trip. On the day, which wasnít very
promising with some rain forecast, 20 cars turned up at the start at Denbies
Vineyard, and 34 people for the boat trip on the Wey and Arun Canal.
At the start at Denbies, we were sharing the car park with the Surrey Vintage
Vehicle Enthusiast Club, who we starting a treasure hunt from there; they had
mainly classic cars such as Jaguar E-types and XKs. We had cars ranging from a
TD to modern MGFs and ZTs.
The Run itself was 53 miles long, through some nice roads with the fresh greens
of spring at their best, together with carpets of bluebells and primroses.
Soon after midday our boat left the quayside at Loxwood, for a 45 minute cruise
south, through two locks, before turning back to Loxwood. The fact that it was a
specially built electric boat for the Canal Trust meant that it was a peaceful
trip through the countryside, and one was able to converse without the usual
engine noise. It also meant that we could hear the commentator specially hired
for the trip.
The Wey and Arun Canal was opened in 1816 to connect the Wey Navigation to the
river Arun, ensuring a commercial route for goods mainly from London bound for
the South coast. Previous to the canal being built, it had taken 4-6 weeks for
pack horses to cover the distance, which then took just 4-5 days afterwards; a
great improvement. This canal was called ďLondonís missing linkĒ, and also
boasted a branch connecting to Chichester and Portsmouth Harbours. It ran from
the Wey Navigation 23 miles south to its connection with the river Arun, with a
rise of 48 foot to the summit and then a 59 foot drop down to the Arun. The
depth is surprisingly shallow at 3-4 feet, so if one falls in you walk to the
bankside to get out, albeit somewhat smelly!
The canal was a minimum of 12 foot wide, so as to accommodate full sized barges,
which often used sail power as well as being horse drawn. These barges could
carry a cargo of 80tons, which consisted of flour, bricks, gunpowder from
Shalford, and even gold, which required a Marine escort! It was interesting to
be informed that the person who invented the mitre lock gates was none other
than Leonardo da Vinci, in the 15th century.
The canal cost was largely paid for by the Earl of Egremont of Petworth House
who put up a huge sum of £100,000. In 1871 the canal finally closed as a result
of the railways taking away the cargoes. The strips of land were then devolved
to the local landowners, which has made it difficult to open up the canal once
again. Some sections have a lease agreement with the owners to use the canal
again, but some sections have unfortunately been built on, or the owners are not
The canal runs close alongside the river Lox, from where much of its water is
obtained, but keeping the canal water level maintained means that originally
windmills were used to pump water up to the top pond near Dundsfold. Nowadays
water is pumped back automatically once a lock has been used; these loose
40-60,000 gallons each time they are used.
The Wey and Arun Canal Trust is a charity, set up in 1970, since when much work
has been done to restore the canal, and particularly the locks (68 ft long by 12
ft wide). There are 3000 members of whom about 300 are active volunteers, who
carry out most of the restoration work. Each lock gate weighs in at 2.5Tons! So
fitting these is quite an undertaking. The southern locks were built of stone
and didnít need much work, but the brick built, northern locks had been robbed
of their bricks, requiring them to be completely built up from the base, which
was all that remained. A recent new lock and wharf at Loxwood cost £1.2 million.
The trustís income is largely from the boat trips, which bring in £40-60,000 a
year. The skippers of the boats have to be licensed by the Marine and Coastguard
Agency, and both theoretical and practical tests have to be taken to acquire an
impressive passport type licence.
As well as the 50 passenger boat we used, there is a 27-person narrowboat and a
small 12 person boat. They operate on Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays from
Spring to Autumn. For further information go to their website
We were very pleased with this new attraction to our regular Spring Run and hope
that we can do something similar in the future, such as a windmill or watermill
visit; any ideas would be welcome.