We’d always been a bit put off by the Basingstoke Canal: apart from some past Easter Rallys at Woking there never seemed to be any boats around when we passed by or over; and it often looked a bit weed infested or overgrown. We’d hear the stories about lack of water, low pounds and subsequent closures, and seen that to go anywhere you needed to book a passage through the various lock flights in advance (not really our style of boating). All a bit intimidating, really. So even a few days before arriving at Thames Lock we weren’t sure how we’d get on, or even if we would make it.
The reality was quite different. The people from Basingstoke Canal Authority (a strange Hampshire & Surrey County Council hybrid who run the canal), the Basingstoke Canal Society (who did most of the restoration and help keep it in good condition) and the Basingstoke Canal Boat Club (who represent the interests of boaters) were all friendly, enthusiastic, and happy to accommodate the Captain’s lack of planning.
We never went aground in any meaningful manner, the locks (although plentiful and all at one end) were pretty vice-less, and by and large much better maintained than those on most of the Canal and River Trust canals. The Rangers / Lock Keepers went out of their way to be helpful, and all in all it was a lovely and drama free trip. The rally and other festivities at Odiham were just the icing on the cake. We’re really glad we made the effort.
As most of the canal is a wildlife haven (we even saw deer in the daytime in several places), and the water supply at the summit is limited, there is apparently a restriction on the annual number of passages up and down the canal, but at the moment the number of actual visitors doesn’t come anywhere close. That said, mooring – apart from those few but well sited spots specifically set up as mooring sites – is problematical. If numbers increase then more will be needed.
There’s a widely held perception (by boaters, who pay to use the canals), that the Canal and River Trust are more interested in walkers, cyclists and wildlife (who don’t pay anything) than boating and maintaining the navigation. The most frequent comment from passers by on the Basingstoke Canal at locks and on the towpath was “Oh, it’s so nice to see boats actually using the canal, we hardly ever see any”. Food for thought for CaRT perhaps… particularly given the rumours that Surrey and Hampshire Councils might like them to take over the running from the Canal Authority.