The Wey and Arun Canal Trust (WACT) aims to restore the canal back to life, from the River Wey at Shalford to the River Arun at Pallingham.
About the canal and the Trust
The canal route runs from the Godalming Navigation of the River Wey at Shalford, near Guildford in Surrey, to the River Arun at Pallingham, near Pulborough in West Sussex.
There are currently three and a half miles of fully operational canal in the Loxwood area and the Trust has a Canal Centre at Loxwood, where its three excursion boats are based.
The current limit of navigation to the north is Southland Lock, which was re-opened in the summer of 2014. To the south, the navigable section ends at Drungewick Lock.
The next lock to the north, Gennets Bridge on the West Sussex/Surrey border, is currently in an advanced stage of reconstruction. Volunteers took over the project after contractors built the concrete shell.
The first fully navigable section of the canal in Surrey, which is part of the Summit Level between Dunsfold and Alfold, was officially opened by actress and Surrey Hills patron Dame Penelope Keith, at the beginning of October 2016.
Currently, only canoes, kayaks and paddle boards can use the mile or so of reopened Summit Level but WACT hopes to run trip boats from a landing stage at Compasses Bridge in the near future.
In a project costing around £700,000, a new Compass Bridge was also opened at the same time at the Alfold entrance to Dunsfold Aerodrome. It replaced a 1930s concrete causeway which was blocking the waterway.
At the end of 2016, the restoration of the waterway from Shalford to the Gosden Aqueduct on the outskirts of Bramley was in an advanced stage of planning. The design study and environmental impact study for a completely new canal route were completed and the flood impact study was expected to be completed in January 2017.
The project team expects to be able to make a planning application in the first half of 2017, following consultation with the statutory authorities, public and Trust members. When complete, the ‘Bramley Link Phase One’ will be the second fully navigable section of the canal in Surrey.
As part of its aim to create a 23 mile ‘green corridor’ through the West Sussex and Surrey countryside, the Trust has also created Hunt Nature Park at Shalford, a wetland wildlife area leased from Surrey County Council.
The Trust is planning to build a visitor centre in the park during the first half of 2017. There are no plans to staff the building regularly at the moment, but volunteers will be there for special occasions such as guided walks and group visits to the park.
So far, most of the money used to restore the canal has come from donations, fundraising activities and legacies, although it is hoped that a substantial Heritage Lottery Fund grant can be obtained to help re-establish the link with the Wey at Shalford.
More information on the Trust, how to join, how to become a volunteer or support its activities with a donation is available on the Wey and Arun Canal Trust website.
The 23 mile Wey and Arun Canal - comprising of the combined Arun Navigation and the Wey and Arun Junction canal - was once the national inland waterway network’s only connection to the English Channel.
Now known as ‘London's Lost Route to the Sea’, in the 19th century it was a safe route from London to ports such as Portsmouth, at times when shipping following the South coast was at risk from attack by the French navy.
Restoration of the waterway started in 1971, initially by the Wey and Arun Canal Society and then the Wey and Arun Canal Trust (WACT). Since 1971, more than half the route has been reconstructed, with 12 locks (out of 26), 24 bridges and two aqueducts (out of 3) restored or rebuilt.
The major project, and the most expensive to date, has been the building of the B2133 Loxwood High Street bridge and the new Loxwood Lock, costing approximately £2million.