The Basingstoke’s 31 miles of navigation ends near the half mile long Greywell Tunnel. Hardy canal explorers will discover where the canal once existed, despite motorways, new developments and infilling. Over half of the canal’s former route, right into the centre of Basingstoke, is quite traceable with care.
The Basingstoke Canal’s lost section officially begins at Penny (or Penney) Bridge, west of Greywell, where the jurdiscion of the Canal Authority ends. However, since the section of canal from Greywell westwards is in no way navigable, for the purposes of this guide we begin the ‘lost section’ at Greywell itself. As for the tunnel, no boats have been through the tunnel since 1913, and although the tunnel collapsed in 1932, it was still passable by canoeists until further falls in the 1950’s. The tunnel was not directly responsible for the demise of the section westwards, although its collapse did accelerate that process. Despite concerns in 1911 after the last regular boats to Basingstoke ceased, that the canal would be filled in and the surplus land used for other purposes, the first part of the canal to become ‘lost’ was in 1927 when Eastrop Bridge in Basingstoke was demolished and the canal underneath culverted. The short section by the picturesque Basing House’s Wall was infilled during the 1920’s – after having seen no water or boats for over a decade. The wharf area was sold off in 1936 when Greywell’s collapse made it clear that absolutely no boats would traverse the western section again.
The lost section soon vanished quite rapidly, having been dry since 1910 (except for a few weeks in late 1913 when Alfred Harmsworth’s attempt was made) and beyond Penny Bridge it was sold off for farmland (this being the Penny Bridge – Little Tunnel section, and the Frog Lane – Hatch sections) or became access roads for farmers, as well as being a local cycle track from Swing Bridge Cottages (near Basing) to Basingstoke. The section from Greywell Road to the Hatch suffered further indignity when the M3 motorway cut across the former route in three places and the motorway actually ran on the canal’s alignment for about half a mile. Other sections, by nature of being in substantial cuttings survived, such as the sections west of both tunnels, and the lengthy (but almost inaccessible) section that encircles modern day Basing.
Property demand in Basing has now made further inroads on what remains of the canal as sections of the cutting are subsequently infilled and made level for real estate. Beyond Basing the section from Crown lane, approaching Basing House, was one of the earliest to be turned over to property (this being Musket Copse, whose driveway is actually the canal’s alignment.) The short section of cutting and overbridge in the grounds of Basing House remain, being part of that heritage site, although the length along the famous walls have gone. Further properties have been built on the section where the Broad Water was, and Red Bridge (or Slaughter bridge – after a local battle) remains, but is almost buried, whilst bunglows and gardens sit atop the former canal route.
Beyond Redbridge and Basingstoke’s Ringway East a good part remains, including a culvert that takes the River Loddon under the canal embankment. However it is almost impossible to walk this section because of undergrowth – apart from a short length which the Basingstoke Canal Heritage trail uses. When one looks at the canal alignment along the north side of Redbridge Lane, it must be remembered the road in fact encroaches upon half of the former canal alignment and what one is looking at is simply a narrow strip left that is used as a route for eletricity poles. The canal in Basingstoke itself is now Eastrop Way, having been previoulsy a farm access road and cycle track to Basing. The town’s wharf frontage on Wote Street survived until the 1960’s when the New Market Square development saw it swept away. The wharf site had become a depot for the local omnibus company post-1936, and so it became the location for the first modern bus station in Basingstoke in the 1960’s. This has now in turn gone and been replaced by yet another new bus station completed in October 2002
From Penny Bridge eastwards to the site of the Greywell Tunnel west portal, the canal’s route is in good condition and has been restored to an extent, along with the Brickworks Arm, and the final few complete bridges remain along this section, they being Eastrop Bridge (same name as the other one in Basingstoke!) Slade Bridge and Brick Kiln Bridge. Penny Bridge itself has gone.
It must be pointed out that it is not really possible to walk on any of the former canal route beyond Penny Bridge, except for a short stretch to Little Tunnel (however it is on private property and the access road to it is not technically a right of way.) It can also be walked where it forms the new Greywell Road, in Basing House grounds, on Redbridge lane itself, and the section known as Eastrop Way in Basingstoke. Especially around Basing much has now disappeared under property. The roads that form Cavalier Road in Basing follows the canal’s alignment for a distance, but since the actual canal is at the rear of the properties fronting Cavalier Road there is no way that one can hope to see any of it. Its course however can be seen from the A30 at Basing at the rear of the car showrooms and then along the edge of a field before it turns westwards away out of sight.
Little Tunnel Bridge is now a listed structure and has been restored.There are plans to create a heritage trail following as much of the former canal route as possible. Basingstoke and Deane Council have created a heritage trail between Basing and Basingstoke, but their recommended walk takes one through Eastrop park itself – that is NOT the canal’s route.
Hopefully this photo guide to the lost section will suffice in lieu of the real thing. We begin the lost section with a walk Over Greywell Hill.