Water is calming. We flock to lakes and beaches in the summer, seaside holidays are popular, as are boating excursions. And how perfect is lying in the grass on a warm afternoon, next to a gently gliding river?
The River Arun near Pulborough
The Wey South Path is a 36-mile marked trail between Guildford, Surrey, and Amberley, West Sussex which follows the Wey and Arun Canal. Several sections have been restored by the Wey and Arun Canal Trust, notably at Guildford and Loxwood where the canal is now navigable. Opened in 1790 to provide a transport link between London and the south coast, it eventually went out of business in 1871. Most walkers take two or three days to complete the WSP, and with many places to eat, numerous accommodation choices, and railway stations at both ends, planning and logistics are easy.
Is getting excited by vintage signage a little sad?
I started at Millford Lock in Guildford, and within minutes the bustle of town faded to bird song as a canoe slid silently past, and weeping willows glanced the water. The River Wey lured me onward and I calmed, already relaxed. I intersected the North Downs Way and veered away from Guildford’s suburbs, flitting between shady wooded tunnels and open meadows. I meandered along a worn track through acres of grass splashed yellow with buttercups.
One of my favourite sections is Sidney Wood, north of Loxwood. It’s quiet, the water is motionless save the occasional fish grabbing a fly. Foliage arcs over the waters creating mesmeric tree tunnels, the sun finding chinks in the canopy and painting patterns on the water. Gradually the canal returns to its heyday as the hard work of the Wey and Arun Canal Trust is visible the nearer I get to Loxwood. A section has been restored and boat trips are popular. The Onslow Arms serves excellent food and the pub garden is a pleasure to sit in.
The Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar – Review coming
Daylight wakes me early in a tent and I enjoy the first warmth and light. Rabbits dart around the fields and deer graze casually. I was on my way by 5.30am, aiming for good miles before lunch and a slice of cake and tea at the Amberley Café mid-afternoon.
I passed Newbridge and the A272, folding my map as the rest of the route is familiar, I walk to Amberley several times a year from here. I followed the River Arun through vast meadows, the trail meandering away, then returning to the canal. With tummy rumbling, I arrived at Stopham Bridge, and the excellent White Hart pub. Friendly staff served an admirable egg and chips, washed down by a pint of Sussex. I set off refuelled for the final leg.
The canal at Loxwood. 8am on a sunday morning and just the way I like it – Not a soul anywhere . . .
Canal water – Possibly a little diesel in there somewhere but it tasted great!
Amberley Wild Brooks is the highlight of the Wey South Path. A flood plain for the River Arun, a series of ditches were dug in the 1800s to aid drainage. Before the work, it is said that people used the flooded plain to get from Amberley to Greatham by boat. Now, flooding is encouraged once more and it is a haven for wetland plants and wildlife. The Wey South is the only way through and often, it isn’t negotiable until the summer. Even then, I’ve had some wet feet! Despite its beauty, it is not uncommon to have the route to yourself.
One of my favourite sections – Sidney Woods just before Loxwood
Heading through the brooks southwards, the scenic location intensifies as Amberley appears, sitting atop a ridge, the castle guarding the west side, with the South Downs commanding a worthy backdrop. The village is the finest terminus to any walk I’ve encountered. Recently voted the best place to live in England, it has resisted the twentieth century. Thatched roofs, Tudor oak work, flint encrusted walls and gardens bursting with flowers sit behind picket fences. Weather-beaten wiry tables display local home-made preserves and cakes for those unable to wait for either the Black Horse or Sportsman pubs, or Amberley café.