Rebirth of a Canal (11 miles)
From: A circular walk from Sidney Wood Car Park to Drungewick. (Does this win the prize for the place with the yuckiest name?) Start at the Sidney Wood Car Park (Postcode GU6 8HU). The parking is hard to find, so note these directions carefully. Leave Dunsfold on the Alford Road. Travel exactly 1.7 miles from the Dunsfold Common Road/Alford Road junction, until you cross the canal. The car park is immediately on your right up a track shared with Cobdens (make sure you don't actually go to Cobdens).
Length: 11 miles.
Average Walk Time: Around 5-6 hours.
Terrain: Flat. For much of the way, this walk follows the Wey and Arun canal.
Suitable for dogs: Yes.
Look out for: This walk is outside our normal area. However, it was so interesting that I could not resist putting it in. During the canal stages of the walk, you see parts of the waterway filled with water and working with canal boats on it. You will also see some sections empty of water and in preparation for being opened and some that have been built over and are currently unusable!
Leave the car park, walking back to the Dunsfold Road. At the road, take a look up the arm of the canal directly ahead of you, and note that it has to stop at the road since there is no bridge here - the water goes straight under the road. There is a plan to divert the road, take out the dangerous corner and put a bridge in, but that like much of the work on the canal has to be for the future.
The history of the Wey and Arun Canal is that it was, like many of the 18th-century waterways, built to transport goods across the countryside. Again, like many, it became largely redundant when the railways took over the carriage role, offering far faster movements. In its early days, the canal had an interesting story, providing a route to the sea from London. One of its main functions was to bring stores safely to Portsmouth in war time. Among its triumphs was the transport of gold from the Rothschild's fortune in France to London, when the Bank of England ran out in the mid-1800s. The barges were guarded by Royal Marines who were under orders not to stop in villages or near hostelries, for fear they would get drunk and allow thieves to plunder the cargo.
The canal was officially sold off in the 1870s to over 100 different people. In 1970 the Wey & Arun Canal Society took on the task of restoring the waterway. Mile by mile, bridge by bridge, lock by lock it is coming back into use. Although the entire canal will possibly take another 50 years to restore, the volunteers are a tireless bunch, and not daunted by any problems, even the need to build a bridge for the Dunsfold Road.
Anyway, that brings us back to today. Having looked up the arm ahead of you, turn left at the road, and immediately go down the far side of the canal on your left. After a mere 100m, the path crosses the canal on a small bridge to the left bank, and the waterway becomes disused. You now follow the empty route for 1.2 km until the path meets a small track by a former lock-keeper's cottage. On the way, note how the route is 'fenced' by embankments that are quite raised above the surrounding woodlands, which show the problems striking a level path through the terrain. At this track turn left.
The path now goes straight for 500m, until it reaches a road at High Bridge. From the lock-keeper's cottage to High Bridge, you left the canal, but now you pick the route up again. The footpath now goes down the right-hand bank, with good views over the Gennets Wood Lakes to your left. 700m from High Bridge, the canal comes to Gennets Wood Lock. For a very short section, the canal is filled with water here. The upper lock gates hold the water in (there are stop boards instead of gates), and as you pass the lock, you can see it is filled. Just below the lock is a footbridge (do not cross except to take pictures) and look at the dam below. Continue on the right bank, and soon you arrive at Southland Lock, where the water re-starts. This is one of the more interesting sections of the canal, as it is used by day-trippers and the few small boats that ply up and down the waterway. The next lock, Devil's Hole Lock has an interesting history. During the Second World War, it was blown up by the Canadian Army as practice for their invasion of France. However, despite a request, the Canadians declined to help rebuild it this century. They were, however, invited to the opening ceremony and attended that!
1.2 km from the start of the water, and you follow the towpath UNDER Loxwood High Street and emerge in the shadow of the Onslow Arms. Immediately past the pub is the Wey and Arun Canal Centre. This is a place for a lunch stop, eating your sandwiches watching the trip boat come and go (if it's running). If the canal centre is open, you can call in and chat with the volunteers about it. Those so minded can try a beverage in the pub! However, don't get too comfortable, as this is not yet halfway, and there's a lot of walking still to do.
When you've finished supping, continue for a short way along the canal towpath. 250m from the canal centre, cross the canal on the bridge and set out, initially on the left-hand bank. However, the path soon diverges away from the canal and heads across fields. Continue straight, skirting woodland for 1.2 km, until you reach the farm buildings of Drungewick Farm. It is not my place to question any name, but this one did make me wonder as to its origin. Surely, it has to be Dickensian? Here you join a minor road, where you turn right and follow this for 200m. On crossing the canal, look down at the aqueduct over the River Lox, which has been known to flood the valley in times of peak rain.
Turn right again down to the canal-side and follow the left-hand side of the canal. After almost 2km, you reach the bridge where you turned before, and now this time you turn left again. Pass Brewhurst Farm, and look for the recently renovated Brewhurst Mill on your right. Take the footpath down the far side of the mill, noting the waterwheel on the back of the mill building. 100m more and you regain the towpath. Now return to the Canal Centre and this time pass the Onslow Arms and walk up to Loxwood High Street, where you turn right.
Keep to the right-hand side of the High Street (there's a better pavement that side), and travel for 250m, until you see the Post Office opposite. Now cross the road and take the footpath immediately before this. If it's a hot day (in January?) the shop sells ice creams! This path meanders Northwards for 2 km until a well-signed footpath heads off on the right. I've included a photograph of this junction, as it is possible to miss it Ⓐ. Now head diagonally over two footpaths to Turtle's Farm, and walk alongside the 'gallop'. At the top end of this, exit the field onto Rosemary's Lane, which you cross slightly diagonally right. Continuing on, you pass Springbok House, which has been providing accommodation and assistance to distressed Merchant Seamen since the First World War.
150m more and you turn left through a field, and head for the far right-hand corner. At the junction with the footpath, cross over the main path, taking the one opposite and immediately turn right up a smaller track. 200m more and you should see the car park on your left, if not you will soon reach the car park track and you can double back down to it.
Well, I hope you enjoyed your sojourn along the Wey & Arun. I certainly did, and I would like to thank Janet of the Farnham Ramblers and also the Wey & Arun Society for leading us on it.