Summit expedition sets sights on canal celebrations

Restoration on a new section of the Wey and Arun Canal was recently fast tracked thanks to a week-long working party by volunteers that focused on part of the canal near Alfold in Surrey.

Although the work is still at an early stage, the Wey and Arun Canal Trust (WACT) hopes that it will soon achieve its aim, which is to be able to operate boat trips on this section.

If this can be achieved then WACT hopes the restoration at Alfold will be the start of their celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Wey and Arun.

The recent work has centred on a section of canal which runs along the edge of Dunsfold Park - at the summit (highest) part of the entire canal – and was undertaken by volunteers from the Newbury Working Party Group (NWPG) in association with the Waterway Recovery Group Canal Camps programme, which is supporting the restoration of the Wey and Arun Canal.

“This is a very attractive section of the canal and for many years we have wanted to open it up to the public,” said WACT chairman Sally Schupke. “Until now it could only be used by canoes and small boats because several mud banks caused problems for larger boats. The towpath was also full of holes and unsafe for walkers.”

Restoration work during the camp in early July focused on the northern 1km section of the 2km shallow cutting - next to Dunsfold Park - which has been identified as offering potential for boat trips. Despite the poor weather conditions, the volunteers worked on levelling the towpath, building an access ramp from Compasses Bridge (that currently divides the two parts of the canal) and constructing a landing stage from which boat trips can operate.

“This section of canal has special significance as the opening ceremony for the canal took place at the Three Compasses pub next to the canal in 1816,” explained Sally.

“A plaque on the wall next to the pub commemorates the event. By the time we reach the 200th anniversary in 2016 we hope to have removed more of the obstructions to navigation in this area, with a view to Alfold and the Three Compasses becoming another showpiece section of the canal similar to the section in Loxwood where we run boat trips.”

With the restoration work fast tracked during the camp earlier this month, WACT is hoping to use the new landing stage and offer boat trips on this stretch by the end of the year.

Article contributed by Wey and Arun Canal Trust.