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Exploring Basingstoke Canal and Odiham Castle in Hampshire

The Basingstoke Canal (c) Robin Waldman
The Basingstoke Canal (c) Robin Waldman

For autumnal strolls with stunning views, you can’t do much better than the Basingstoke Canal. Enjoying hues of red, gold and green, Robin and his family found plenty to explore both on and off the water

Autumn scenes

This month we spend some time along the Basingstoke Canal, which is rich in history and opportunities for different activities and excursions. If you want to get on or next to the water in winter, canal trips are a good option, protected a little from the winds. Even on a relatively short stretch of waterway like this one there is landscape diversity and things to see and do. We focused our visits around Odiham and near Mytchett, but there are plenty of other parts of the canal to enjoy at this time of year, and it is the perfect place to peacefully watch the changing of the season.

Great British Life: The tea room at The Canal Centre at Mytchett (c) Robin WaldmanThe tea room at The Canal Centre at Mytchett (c) Robin Waldman

Starting point

The Canal Centre at Mytchett is a good place to start to find out more information about the canal and it also has a great little café with reasonably priced food, plus a fun adventure playground for children. Canal boat trips also launch from here, including the Santa Express! The canal is popular with paddlers with all types of craft. We took our paddleboards and found lots of options for launch points on the navigable part of the canal.

 

Great British Life: Barges on the Basingstoke Canal (c) Robin WaldmanBarges on the Basingstoke Canal (c) Robin Waldman

A labour of love

We want to share two experiences we had on the canal, one on the water, paddleboarding, and one accessible from the towpath. Two locations to give a flavour of this thirty-two mile long canal, stretching from Greywell Village in Hampshire to Woodham in Surrey. The canal was completed in 1794. According to the Basingstoke Canal Society, which provides guardianship of the canal, the main goods transported on the canal to London were timber, flour and chalk. The Society have been managing and restoring the canal for forty plus years, and their website (basingstoke-canal.org.uk) is a great place to find out more about the waterway.

 

Great British Life: Paddling on the Basingstoke Canal (c) Robin WaldmanPaddling on the Basingstoke Canal (c) Robin Waldman

Paddle particulars

You need a day license to use an unpowered boat on the canal or an annual British Canoeing On the Water membership which includes a waterways licence to paddle rivers and canals across England and Wales. The joy of canal paddling is the slow pace and being up close and personal to life on the water, including the many brightly painted canal boats and small craft that people use for leisure or as their homes.

 

Great British Life: Paddling on the Basingstoke Canal (c) Robin WaldmanPaddling on the Basingstoke Canal (c) Robin Waldman

Wildlife watching

With no motor, the chances of seeing a heron standing in salute as you glide past, less likely to be spooked and fly off, are high. Coot, moorhen, and many waterfowl inhabit the canal. Passing under low bridges is great fun, seeing if you can stand up or need to quickly sit down. We did not navigate any locks on our trip but portaging with boards is often the easiest option!

 

Great British Life: Odiham Castle (c) Robin WaldmanOdiham Castle (c) Robin Waldman

Among the ruins

The second part of our canal trip was on foot, going along the towpath in Odiham, part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest, to visit the beautifully preserved Odiham Castle, which is just a few steps from the canal. The castle was built around 1207 so stood long before the canal was even thought about. It is free to enter and makes for a great family trip in to the past.

 

Great British Life: Odiham Castle (c) Robin WaldmanOdiham Castle (c) Robin Waldman

Castle capers

According to Hampshire County Council’s Countryside service it was built as a hunting lodge by King John as a mid-way point between Winchester and Windsor. This is a castle to be enjoyed by both history lovers and play adventurers. It's easy to walk around with nooks and crannies to hide in. When we went, we were the only people there for the duration of our visit, so it was very atmospheric.

 

Great British Life: Odiham Castle (c) Robin WaldmanOdiham Castle (c) Robin Waldman

Adventurous architecture

There are beautiful curves and remnants of rooms and features to work out how life in the castle would have been for its inhabitants. There are interesting angles and perspectives from which to look up and out at the sky and reflect on life then and now. The tones of the weathered brickwork with foliage growing add a sense of time passing. Our girls enjoyed running around and seeing it as another adventure playground, no climbing the walls of course!

 

Great British Life: On the canal path (c) Robin WaldmanOn the canal path (c) Robin Waldman

A final stop

Odiham Castle is near to the end of the navigable part of the canal both from land and on water. The plant life in the water makes it difficult to passage and not much further along it is not permissible to pass. Greywell Tunnel nearby is said to have the largest population of roosting bats in the UK and there is no public access with preservation and protection the focus. We feel that there is so much more to explore and do on the canal and through this article we hope we have sparked a curiosity to take a the trip to north Hampshire.



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