The Canals by Marcus Rumpus (CHSB 1954-1962)

I got seriously into canal restoration during my time as post graduate/lecturer at Oxford, specifically the Kennet and Avon. I ended up going to Australia before having fully completed it as a through route. However, I borrowed a friend’s boat and “did” the K&A a few years later but was most disappointed when I got to a lock where I had been lock-master for restoration at Monkey Marsh (just east of Newbury) as it was strewn with drink cans and general pic-nic rubbish.

The Wey-Arun was also of interest as I had kayaked from Midhurst to Pulborough on what was the Rother river canal long ago, up to Billingshurst then down past Arundel and Littlehampton and along the coast to Pagham and so home. It took three days and I made the trip with John Woodhead (a fellow Old Cicestrian).

There is a pretty ambitious plan to get the rivers Wey and Arun reconnected with a pretty well-organised group who have got local council support and seemingly the necessary funds, so it might come to fruition one day. Disappointingly the Basingstoke canal that was lovingly restored then handed back to the local councils for ongoing care is rather sad! Branches off Wey near Farnborough and originally to Basingstoke.

A more up to date read on the Wey and Arun canal is London’s lost route to the sea” by P.A.L. Vine. In it, there are several pages about the boat trip to which you refer, including what was a fairly precarious coastal trip from Littlehampton to Portsmouth which seems to have been made. As a youngster about fifteen or so I suppose, I kayaked from Pagham to the Isle of Wight and back having camped there overnight), you needed to get your timing right for the considerable tidal race round Selsey Bill.

The old canal from near Ford on the Arun to Chichester Harbour had been closed even when the “Una” trip was made. You can still see bits of that canal bed and even one old bridge in the middle of a field; if you do not know the history you could well be puzzled by this meaningless structure.

If you go to Midhurst you will find a street called Wharf lane or something similar near a very attractive Elizabethan building or copy thereof on the main street. If you go down that lane you get to the river and what used to be the terminus of the Rother river canal. Or at least one can conjecture where it all was.

Marcus Rumpus (1954-1962)

Excerpts from “The Thames to the Solent” by J Bacon Dashwood Please read the whole book here:
The Surrey and Sussex Canal forms the connecting link between the Rivers Wey and Arun, thereby completing the through-navigation from the sea at Littlehampton to the Thames at Weybridge. How long this connecting link will be available seems most doubtful, for the whole of this Canal is, I understand, to be put up immediately for auction. In fact, considering the great expense in procuring water, the competition of the railway, and the small amount of traffic, it is impossible it can pay its way. It will be a sad pity if it ceases to exist, for the scenery after leaving Bramley is most lovely, and we thoroughly enjoyed our trip. The original estimate for completing this Canal is said to have been £7,000. Obstacles Our little vessel being so small, we had not intended to proceed to sea in her until we reached Chichester harbour, for on examining the maps we found a Canal marked out between Ford, near Arundel, to Chichester harbour; this we had meant to use, and sailing from Chichester harbour, to come out into the Solent at Langston Harbour and Hayling Island. Mr Stanton (who I should mention is a coal merchant, and whose barges are constantly working through to Littlehampton) informed us to our dismay that this Canal no longer exists; in fact, there is now but small trace of it. He said it had not been used for eleven years, had been trodden in by cattle, filled-in in places, and was now quite dry. It behoved us, therefore, before proceeding further, to hold a council what was best to be done. Could we trust ourselves in our frail craft, which was only about half a foot above water, to the mercy of the waves round the headland of Selsey Bill and off the rough coast surrounding, or should we return to Guildford and put her on the train, giving ‘up our contemplated trip further. We had serious doubts as to how our little vessel would behave in a sea-way, for we had never as yet been to sea in her, and to look at, she appeared but a cockle shell.