The Perks of Walking by Water

18/03/19
By Keith Foskett

Water is calming. We flock to lakes and beaches in the summer; seaside holidays are popular, as are boating excursions. How perfect is lying in the grass on a warm afternoon, next to a gently gliding river?

Untitled-2 (13).jpgA recent experience I enjoyed was along the Wey South Path. This is a 36-mile marked trail between Guildford, Surrey and Amberley, which follows the Wey and Arun Canal. Several sections have been restored by the Wey and Arun Canal Trust, and most walkers take two or three days to complete the full trail.

I started at Millford Lock in Guildford, and within minutes the bustle of the 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.

Untitled-2 (14).jpgOne of my favourite sections is Sidney Wood, north of Loxwood. It’s quiet and the water is motionless. 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. Rabbits dart around the fields and deer graze casually.

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 my 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.

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.

036-1024x768.jpgHeading through the brooks southwards, the scenic location intensifies as Amberley appears, sitting atop a ridge with the castle guarding the west side and 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.

The Wey South Path finishes here, but I continue for a mile to my favourite pub, the Bridge Inn at Houghton. Squeezing out of Amberley on a narrow track and past the cricket pitch, I pass a stream where watercress grows wild, stopping for a rest to watch the game. Just a few patrons sit in the Inn’s garden enjoying lunch, and I join them.

If you can walk two, 18-mile days, it’s possible the Wey South Path could be enjoyed over a weekend and even in summer, it’s gloriously quiet. Let’s not forget the Rivers Wey and Arun, the canal itself, and Amberley Brooks. All enchanting company and a marvellous way to relax.

It’s wonderful by the water.

Fancy a walk by the water? Check out the Thames Path, the Kennet and Avon Canal or the Usk Valley Walk for more inspiration.

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