2:4 Byfleet to Godalming.

Another gorgeous day. I did a non-big-walk-walk round Tring reservoirs on Saturday, had a rest and now am feeling reasonably perky on Bank Holiday Monday.

Get up fairly early and take the tube to Waterloo. Here I have a fun conversation with the ticket guy.
"A day return to Guildford please, and can you sell me a ticket from Woking to Byfleet and New Haw."
Look of total incomprension.
"I am walking from Byfleet to Guildford. I am going to get off at Woking and take a train back to Byfleet."
"Do you want a return to Woking then?"
"No, I am going to walk to Guildford, but I am going to get off at Woking."
"That is allright. You can do that."
"I know, but then I am going to travel back up the line to Byfleet."
"You will need a ticket from Woking to Byfleet then."
"I know, that is why I am asking you if you can sell me one..."  and so on.

Eventually I get my tickets and just have time to get a coffee before hopping on a train to Woking.  National Rail Enquiries had told me that there was a non stop one at 9.00 and another at about 9.30, but they were lying as usual and in fact there is a non-stop train to Woking about every 37 seconds as it is on the way to Portsmouth, and Portsmouth, apparently  is a
metropolis that dwarfs Mexico City.

Anyway that is good so I get on and only just fail to have an entire carriage to myself.  So I spread out and enjoy the ride, whistling by the MI6 Headquarters, waving to M as I

In Woking I find that getting the earlier train has done me no good whatsoever as the next train back up to Byfleet is the same one that I had checked out on National Rail Inaccuracies.  So I go out to see if I can find a decent map. Nice bloke at the turnstiles lets
me out despite the fact I have unaccountably lost the Waterloo to Woking bit of my ticket collection and directs me to the nearest WH Smiths.

This is shut. So I have a wander round the soulless shopping facility that seems to be the middle of Woking. I come to a square in which half a dozen or so youngish guys are hanging out.  There is something a bit odd about them. A couple have mountain bikes lying on the pavement.  They are fairly tanned but also a bit skanky looking.  Too rough looking for mountain biker types, but too fit looking to be a drinking school.

As I set off down one of the glass and concrete canyons leading off this square, there is a shout, "HEY!"
I am wandering about in a straw hat with an expensive looking camera round my neck and I don't want to stop to chat with them so I keep walking, as if I am assuming that it is not meant for me (there are a couple of other people in the square so this is just about possible)
"HEY!"  this is louder and more insistent but I carry on and am out of site. But there is no one in sight down this featureless canyon of a street at all. There is a door in one of the concrete walls though and I nip in there to find myself in a Mall. This is a bit weird because, though it is open, all the shops are shut still. There is a guy sitting on a seat for no apparent purpose.  I carry on out and make my way back to the station.

Bloody funny place is Woking on a bank holiday morning.

I get my train which takes a few minutes to whisk me back to Byfleet.  Just as we arrive the train passes over a large dirt roadway which looks like the one I used to get to the station last time. There is an elderly looking guy walking a dog down it, which I take to be a good sign.

Of the train and out of the station, I retrace my steps up the road and find the little gate I checked out last time. The guy with the dog comes out just as I arrive and we exchange greetings.

The gate leads to a path in the woods and I don't bother with the roadway but just follow it back to the canal. Just before it reaches the towpath there is a headless rat corpse on the path. Grisly but also odd because you would think a predator would eat the body before the head. Urk.

The canal looks great though and I immediately spot a little canal boat that looks like my dream boat, small
compact and perfect. Even has a good name.

I also pass a trio of Mallards, their iridescent heads brilliant in the morning sun.

And as I meet the M25, raised high above, what seems to be a steam powered narrowboat.

The canal seems to have got a bit industrial for a bit.  There are a fair number of runners here and some
cyclists, as I come to the junction with the Basingstoke Canal.

I had intended to take this originally but decided that the Wey Navigation looked like a better bet. Still it is
with a little regret that I pass the head of the canal. Perhaps another day.

Beyond the railway bridge the canal looks beautiful again. But what the photos do not show is the roaring of
the traffic on the M25. It is screened by trees but, even early on a bank holiday morning the roar is constant. I had meant to bring an MP3 player for this bit and I am sorry now that I forgot it.

I pass Byfleet boat club  and am steered briefly away from the canal before returning to it.

Then make a pit stop in a bit of waste ground with what looks like trail bike tracks around it. Mysteriously there is what looks like an expensive cycling top discarded amongst beer cans.

Back to the canal and we start to part company with the M25.  Still this retirement home is too near for my taste. You must still be able to hear the traffic grinding away from the house.

But I start to lose it and it really is a lovely morning. Unfortunately I am not the only one to think so.

Runners are increasing in frequency as are cyclists and there is even a quartet of racing canoeists on the canal.

I come to a decent looking pub called the Anchor. It is a bit early to stop but then I spy a woman drinking
tea in the sunshine and I want to make enquiries about it as a possible work visit place. So I go in and order a pot of tea and chat about group visits.

I find a picnic table outside and as I am drinking my tea there is a terrific bang. There is a very narrow bridge before the lock, which leads to a car park and marina. And someone has hit the width restricting pillars. They must have been going pretty fast because half of the front of the car seems to have
fallen off.

Tea finished I carry on past Pyrford Lock.  A boat called Prudence is going through in some sort of cosmic tutting at the driver.

Now I am clearly in Golf Course World. There seem to be golf courses on both sides of the canal and the one on my side looks as if it is being massively expanded.

However, golf courses make much better neighbours than motorways. It is tranquil now with the main noise being frantic birdsong and the canal is looking beautiful.

I pass an old looking rather odd building, a satellite of a much bigger but also much more modern looking house. A google when I get back reveals this to be "John Donne's Summerhouse." http://www.weyriver.co.uk/theriver/wey_nav_6.htm

There is a huge weir by Walsham Lock and a big family group ask me
to take their photo with a massive camera. The guy who owns it fusses setting it up and they laugh and say (I think seriously) that he is a professional photographer.

A grey wagtail flies round the pool behind the weir.

It gets a bit quieter now, I must be getting beyond the reach of dog walkers and families coming from the Pyrford car park.  I pass a nesting swan.

The landscape opens out. On my side of the canal some marshy meadows, and then across green fields on the other side I see the ruins of an abbey.  Newark Augustinian Priory, in fact, according to the map

Papercourt Lock is another lovely old building.

Boat owners on this waterway seem to be particularly addicted to puns. Hem in Wey, is my favorite so far.

In the near distance I see tower blocks over the trees. What is that? Can that be Guildford already? Looking at the map I realise that it is Woking. The meandering of the canal has got me pointing towards it. I am happy when the canal dog legs again and takes me back in a more southerly direction.

There is all sorts of traffic on the waterway. Plenty of narrow boats, a few cabin cruisers, a smattering of
canoes. But a bloke paddling a surf-board is a real suprise.

At Triggs Lock a sudden movement above and I see a red kite fly over.  Bad photo but you can see what it
is. We are a fair way from the main release point in the Chilterns and I check it out later, there do not seem to be many sightings in this part of Surrey. A man with two sons are mountain biking and I point it out to them.

The walk is absolutely great now. Sunny, beautiful countryside, not so much traffic. The waterway is fringed
by masses of marsh marigolds, gleaming... well, not gold really... the yellow of the yolks of free range eggs.

I come across a big fence and the first sign saying beware, security dogs on patrol, which is an unpleasant shock after the beauty of the river walk.  Later I check it out and this is the estate of a Russian (or possibly Uzbeki) billionaire. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alisher_Usmanov  The plethora of threatening signs leaves a distinctly sour taste.

I am getting traffic noise again now as I near the A3 and Guildford. At Bower's Mill people are picnicking. There is a lock here with a really bad leak which roars like a waterfall and this is welcome as it masks the traffic noise.

Guildford sprawls in this direction so, as I am feeling a bit tired, it seems to take a long time to get into town. The walk is interesting and scenic still, with a conservation area to my left, but the noise of the A3 mars it more than a little.

But as I continue there is a line of ancient pollarded willows which intrigue me. The trunks are so rotten that I wonder why they are being retained rather than replaced. Many have supports. Not every day you see a tree so elderly that it needs a walking stick.

I cross a road and now there are houses on the other bank, running down to the river. Property envy time again.


Then I have to go up to and cross a road again. This is astonishing. There is no pedestrian crossing on this busy road at all.  Desire lines (a track in the grass verge) show that many people cross here, as is only logical. Most people back at Bower's Mill would
have come out from town and then there are the people walking and cycling the tow path. What the fuck is the matter with Guildford Council and the Highways Department that they don't see the need to cater for pedestrians here. It is completely nuts.

When I manage to get over the road my mood is improved by some wooden sculptures, made, I discover,
by the splendidly named Captain Chainsaw.

I dawdle through the chainsaw sculpture park but I am hot and tired and thirsty so press on into the centre of Guilford.

I remember this from my one visit as a pleasant market town of some character. But to be honest this is not
immediately obvious. It looks like the old market town has been demolished and replaced by Woking.

However through the obligatory shopping mall, I come to a big Marks and Spencers and have tea and cake in their rather nice cafe. There is a comfy chair overlooking the next
street and I sit for a while, antisocially removing my boots to let my feet cool down.  And when I leave I emerge on a more characterful and historic street.

I bought the ticket to Guildford because I did not want to push it today. But I have lots of time and I am rested so I decided to carry on to Godalming.

The Navigation South-West out of Guildford proves much pleasanter than the walk in. No traffic noise to start with.  It is now a sunny 23 C or so on a bank
holiday monday, and so the meadows that I come to immediately are thronged with people.  The first one is mostly families though there are groups of younger people.

But then I go through to the next area and that seems to be the teenage bit with crowds of slightly gothy looking kids hanging out drinking cider and what have you. In all there is a
very nice vibe about it. People having fun and hanging out by the river, relaxing in the sun.

One guy even has a hammock slung between some trees.  In all it is a scene to make me happy to be in England, as much as Woking this morning made me wish
I was somewhere else (maybe Spain?).

Immediately after the crowded town meadows I seem to be in open countryside. The towpath is naturally very busy, but it is more walkers than cyclists which is a blessing. Suddenly the towpath seems to disapear entirely and I have to scramble over a sandy bank.

This seems very odd as it is a very old navigation.  Surely there must have been a towing path for horses in
the past? I look up the hill to see if it might have been a landslip of sand obliterating the path but it doesn't really look like it.

Anyway I soon resume the path. Apart from the throngs of walkers the river itself is busy. Plenty of narrow boats of course but there are also now day hire boats including rowing boats and canoes.

I come across a particularly rowdy bunch, two guys ineptly row whilst shouting at each other:
"Fucking row!"
"I can't the fucking bank is in the way" whilst others stand up on the boat for no obvious reason and a girl in the back just laughs. There seems to be excellent prospects for capsision but the somehow stay upright.  The scene reminds me of a favorite part of one of my favorite books: Sisters by a River by Barbara Comyns, a unique account of dysfunctional upper middle class life between the wars (published as the manuscript came, due to the fact that Barbara and her sisters persecuted their governesses so much that they never stayed long enough to teach them how
to punctuate or spell).

"Awful people called Trippers used to come to our village on Public Holidays in the Summer, they would arrive in shoals from the nearest station. The river was the attraction. They hired boats from Hollands and on the river they went, but they often ended in it. They couldn't row or punt, but splashed, screamed, showed their braces and got drunk, they sweated and got sick and fell in the river, we didn't help them out with a boat hook, we just hoped they would drown, sometimes they did. Mary once found a fat, redfaced man hanging on our landing-stage, he said "For Gods sake help me kid" but she hit him with the paddel and he had to let go, some one elce came and saved him n a boat, this was a good thing really or she might have been a murderess or perhaps she would have got off with manslaughter.
    Maybe we were rather hard on the trippers but they really were beastly  and were always giving the
village girls babies and making an awful noise, the babies as well as the trippers."

The nearer I get to Godalming the more trippers there are in evidence, though non so rowdy as the crowded boat of kids. Until I run into a large group of teenagers on the towpath. One girl has a towell on her another is waist deep in the river and all of them seem fairly well out of it. There is a deal of shrieking.  I go round the corner and make a pit stop but then I have a moment of panic.  My map is not that great but I can't work out what the wooded hill opposite is, and I remember that there is another navigation going off here somewhere.

Convinced that I have strayed onto the wrong river I start back.  One of the girls is over on the far side of the river calling out that she is too cold to swim back. A boy says he is coming over to get her so I don't worry too much,  though I keep an eye out as the potential for unsensible behavior seems to be quite high here.  Around the next corner I look at the map again and realise that I must be on the right track after all. So I have to get through the drunken teenage throng a third time. Fortunately the boy has got
to the other side of the river and his taking his friend on the far bank to come round by a bride.

After that it is very tranquil for a while. The towpath is still quite busy but the trippers in the river are not drunk, teenagers or both.

 I come to an elegant bridge and wait to watch a narrow boat go through the small central arch, and then an inexpertly rowed boat somehow manage to go through an even smaller side arch.

Soon I see some light industrial units on the far side and then I have to cross a small road - and then it is the last bit of the navigation into Godalming. A sign tells me that I have reached the end of the navigation, and I come to one last bridge.

I have been here before once but don't remember much. It is a beautiful evening and Godalming proves very well preserved.  The train station is at the other end of the town so I get to walk through and look at some fine old buildings.

And then I get to the station and have a 25 minute wait for the train.

That was  a really gorgeous walk.  OK so it was very busy on the towpath, but it was a beautiful day and bank holiday Monday, so I can hardly complain.  The train takes me very slowly back as far as Woking where I jump out on a whim, carrying my boots (which I have taken off antisocially again) and various other bits, to catch a fast train into Waterloo.  I think I have made a mistake when I hear that the next stop of the next one is Vauxhall (so it must speed up a lot)  but then a fast train comes in and I get a much more comfortable seat and table to myself.

So I whistle back into London in state of extreme self-satisfaction.


  1. JaneGS said...

    Such a nice way to spend the day! Love the pictures and stories.  

  2. Spencer said...

    Thanks, Jane.

    I have another day to write up - some great countryside. It is interesting if not exactly surprising the contrast with going North. North from London I fairly soon hit the Midland Plain which whilst not devoid of interest could hardly be claimed as prime walking country. South West it has been all good so far.  


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