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Loxwood - London's Lost Route to the Sea

Cross pasturelands to discover how a forgotten canal is being brought to life.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 82ft (25m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Field paths, tracks and tow path, 6 stiles

Landscape Gentle farmland bisected by Wey and Arun Junction Canal

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 134 Crawley & Horsham

Start/finish TQ 041311

Dog friendliness On lead on road and stretches of farmland

Parking Free car park by Wey & Arun Junction Canal, next to Onslow Arms, Loxwood

Public toilets None on route

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© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 From the car park by the Onslow Arms turn right at the B2133, cross the canal and walk along the road to a right-hand footpath. Follow the tarmac path between hedges and continue ahead by Loxwood Surgery. Cut through a residential housing development and bear right at the T-junction.

2 Pass Burley Close and turn left into Spy Lane. Follow the road between houses and bungalows and look for the Emmanuel Fellowship Chapel on the right. Bear right immediately beyond the chapel, over a stile and skirt the Emmanuel Fellowship playing field.

3 Follow the path to the next stile and pass through a tongue of woodland. Make for the right-hand boundary of the field, aiming for a stile in the corner. Turn left immediately to a finger post and stile. Cross a pasture to the next stile and waymark and continue over farmland, passing Songhurst New Farm. Head for the field corner and look for a stile just to the right of a galvanised gate. Join a single-track lane and follow it north, passing a small brick-built house on the right. Down to the left is Mallards Farm.

4 Turn left on reaching the Sussex Border Path and pass Songhurst House. Head for the road and bear left opposite the Sir Roger Tichborne pub. Walk along to Oakhurst Lane and follow the Sussex Border Path up a gentle slope to Oakhurst Farm. Pass between timber barns and go straight ahead through a gate when the track curves right. Follow the field path ahead, aiming for woodland. Keep to the bridleway and head for the route of the Wey & Arun Junction Canal.

5 Turn left here and follow the Wey South Path alongside the canal. Continue on the old tow path, passing through several gates. Disregard any turnings and keep to the route of the canal. Pass a footbridge and eventually you reach the B2133. Cross over, keeping to the left of the Onslow Arms and return to the car park.

The Wey and Arun Junction Canal was completed in 1816 to connect the Wey and Arun rivers and form part of a continuous inland waterway route, linking London with the south coast. Glancing at derelict stretches of the 23-mile (37km) canal today, in places either completely dried up or engulfed by weeds and and a sea of mud, you could be forgiven for thinking that 'derelict' is perhaps an understatement.

But look a little closer, perhaps journey along the canal tow path a little further, and you will see that a major make-over is taking place. After years of neglect, a great deal of restoration work has already been completed along the route of the old canal. But there is a great deal still to do if the Wey and Arun Canal Trust is to realise its dream of reopening this stretch of what became known as 'London's lost route to the sea'.

To understand the true picture and appreciate exactly what is going on, you need to go back to the beginning. During the 19th century it was possible to travel by boat from London to Littlehampton on the Sussex coast via Weybridge, Guildford, Pulborough and Arundel. This route represented a tiny but important part of a once complex and extensive network of inland waterways covering England and Wales.

To make that journey involved travelling along the rivers Wey and Arun which were linked between Shalford in Surrey and Pallingham in Sussex by the Wey and Arun Junction Canal. The canal connection may have only been a small part of the route connecting the capital and the coast but it was a vital link nonetheless. Take it away and the whole netwrork collapsed like a pack of cards.

Though the canal was initially successful, it was the arrival of the railway which spelled its demise. It finally closed in 1871, and as the years passed the waterway clogged up and was reduced to a stagnant depression in the ground, remaining in that state for the best part of a century, abandoned and largely forgotten.

In the early 1970s a group of dedicated volunteers and canal enthusiasts formed the Wey and Arun Canal Trust, with the aim of restoring the canal as a public amenity, including its diverse range of wildlife habitats. Many of the original bridges and locks have been reconstructed or restored, but construction work of this kind is very expensive and every penny is needed. The conservation project depends on the Trust's fundraising efforts and the goodwill of local councils, businesses and landowners.

This pretty walk, which begins in the village of Loxwood, gives a fascinating insight into the fate and rebirth of the Wey and Arun Junction Canal, highlighting the various renovation works in progress. Heading north across lush farmland, the route eventually joins the tow path, illustrating how the ongoing conservation programme is transforming the canal from an overgrown ditch into a vibrant waterway.

Where to eat and drink

The Onslow Arms is at the start of the walk and is characterised by its popular horseshoe-shaped bar. Choose pizza, ploughmans or jacket potatoes from the main menu, or complete the walk on a Sunday when a traditional roast is available. There is also a specials board and a beer garden. Tanglefoot and Badger Best feature among the beers and there are usually a couple of guest ales. The Sir Roger Tichborne inn at Alfold, midway round the walk, has a beer garden and a children's playground. Inside expect chilli, chicken curry, steak and kidney pie and a Sunday roast on the varied menu. Bar snacks include baguettes, salads and ploughmans. The pub is closed on Monday.

While you're there

Enjoy a summer afternoon cruise on the restored section of the Wey and Arun Junction Canal. The trips take place at the weekend, begin by the Onslow Arms in Loxwood and last less than an hour. Travelling by boat is a great way to see how the canal is being rejuvenated. Longer cruises on the canal take place once a month.

What to look for

In Spy Lane is the chapel of a religious sect formed in the 19th century. The adjoining burial ground is the final resting place of founder John Sirgood and his followers, though there are no headstones to mark their graves. Sirgood was a puritanical evangelist who came to Loxwood in 1850. He gathered around him the Society of Dependents, whose members became known as Cokelers because of their teetotal preference for cocoa. The Cokelers carried out a great deal of charity work in the area, though they refused to solemnise marriage in their chapel, did not approve of music and books and did not endorse sport or the theatre.

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