One of my favourite short local walks is the stretch of the Itchen Navigation from Bishopstoke to Allbrook.
It is a rural idyll, yet never more than a few hundred yards from the built-up area and/or railway yard.
The Itchen Navigation ran from Winchester to Southampton, where it joined the tidal river at Woodmill. Apparently it has been declared a “right of way” by a (fairly old) Act of Parliament, which I think means that you don’t need a licence to use a boat on it.
Don’t make any plans to buy a motor yacht though – low bridges, overgrowing trees and shallow water make it unsuitable for craft much larger than a small canoe. Most of the original bridges have been replaced with flatter vehicle-friendly structures – I think only the bridges at Mansbridge (which has been by-passed) and Garnier road. Road in Winchester remain.
I think that this overgrowth adds to the navigation’s charm, and the trees do make a suitable refuge for ducks that don’t want to get their feet wet.
The walk starts at Bishopstoke Recreation Ground, where parking is available (there may be a fee – but at weekends free parking might be available in nearby Chickenhall Lane).
Evidence is soon found of the waterway’s history, as you pass the remains of Stoke Lock.
The water level appears to be higher than the adjacent playing fields. Indeed it is – as was demonstrated in the floods of 2014.
At the top end of the playing fields, you cross a footbridge over the Barton River which leaves the Itchen at this point – to re-join it just below the end of Chickenhall Lane – and come to this wonderful expanse.
Despite the bucolic nature of the scene, you are only a small field away from the railway sidings
The next lock is Withymead where you cross the run-around channel on what is probably the original stone bridge. The run-around channel was an overflow from the water above the lock to the water below it, to prevent flooding if water levels were high but the lock was closed. The path then crosses to the opposite bank of the main waterway via a metal footbridge over the brickwork that would have supported the lock’s top gate.
The towpath and waterway are narrower from here, and the gardens of the houses along Twyford Road reach down to the opposite bank.
From time to time these structures have been built in the bank.
These are an ecological measure, designed to give dogs access to the water without causing damage to the bank. Dogs – please encourage your owners to let you use them.
The path passes under a low railway bridge, after which a flat concrete bridge provides a short cut to Twyford Road (and the Ham Farm pub). Or you can continue along the towpath (and back under the railway) for another half-mile or so to Highbridge Road where Allbrook Lock provides a picturesque staircase of waterfalls.
This lock was the only brick-built lock on the navigation apart from Woodmill – it was reinforced when the railway was built, as the turf lock wasn’t strong enough to withstand the weight of the neighbouring embankment. The fact that the other locks were not brick is probably why so little of then remains today.
From here you have numerous choices: you can return the way you came; you can walk back to the town centre along Twyford Road or Woodside Avenue; you can continue further up the navigation to Brambridge, Shawford, or even Winchester; or you can follow some of the other footpaths in the area.
Never miss out on another blog post. Subscribe here:
Subscribe to Blog via Email