When one thinks of Surrey, they might conjure up images of large houses with immaculate gardens. They may not associate it with canal boats. However, the county has a good number of canals that are well maintained for the general public. Being in Surrey for the weekend and with the weather being fair for the time of year, I decided to return to the Basingstoke Canal for a hike along the tow path.
This was my second time on this particular stretch of the waterway, between Frimley Green and Brookwood. The first exploration was eventful, for instance being lost in a large forest on MoD lands, with gunfire echoing a bit too close for my liking. This time I decided to stick to the paths and hopefully venture further than I had done previous.
My walk started in the idyllic village of Frimley Green, adjacent to Frimley and within close distance to Farnborough and Woking. It is a typically English village that has a couple of pubs and a large green which, though breaks up the grey urban space, is a little dull to look at.
The canal itself is just a 5 minute walk from the village green and can be walked in both directions from this point. To the right, as the name suggests, lies Basingstoke. To the left, the canal eventually goes through Byfleet and joins the Thames at Weybridge. I chose to go left this time, with faint hopes of reaching Woking motivating me.
Walking over the South Western main line railway via an aquaduct and past the legendary darts venue Lakeside, I noticed that recent rain had made the path slightly muddy, though not enough to make a mess of my white trainers (I know, avid walkers would kill me from that last point).
Rounding a bend, I started to see more activity on the canal. A boat with a crew of three was waiting by the edge, perhaps for another one to pass. White houses in a quintessentially British style gleamed in the sun, with their own private docking areas looking like just another area of their garden. This was a completely different flavour of waterfront life that I am used to when walking along the South Essex coast; I almost felt like I was intruding on their perfect aesthetics.
I then passed under a road bridge and caught a glimpse of some street art. This one was elaborate yet abstract, obviously having a hidden meaning that I could not decipher just from looking at it. I am always intrigued by what inspires people to produce such works as this, a series of faces with a creature crawling beside it. It certainly added to the experience, creating a clash between the natural and the man made that can be seen with the canal route itself.
At this point I was running parallel with the MoD land but learnt from previous experience and stayed on the other side of the canal. The only downside was that trains stormed past this tranquil route, though a reduced timetable due to striking unions meant that it could have been far worse. A recently erected embankment of heavy stones was placed on one of the sections where the tracks were metres from the path and I considered how much this lovely route would be destroyed by a landslide.
Another downside that I discovered on my walk was that occasionally sections of the canal were completely drained. Whether this was down to human error or the intense hot weather we have had this summer, it slightly spoiled the effect. Now I wonder whether the canal a couple of miles up were waiting for the route to be filled again and, though Hampshire and Surrey county councils were pumping water back in, I suspect those gentlemen would have been waiting for a while.
I made it past my previous best of Brookwood but sadly not much further, for the arches of my feet began to ache, so I retraced my steps to Brookwood station. It was just as well, with no trains going to my destination and a sporadic rail replacement bus service, I walked the couple of miles from Ash Vale to Frimley Green, along the road this time.
The Basingstoke Canal towpath was a pleasure to walk along, though I imagine that the decent weather definitely helped. It’s great to see that the councils and a team of volunteers help to keep such a sight of historical importance to the area alive. Next time I’m back I hope to go the other way, though I doubt I’ll make it to Basingstoke!