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Autumn 2005. From Chertsey to Godalming on the River Wey in "Amberel" - by Andy Lawrie
I've been moored at Chertsey for most of the last 5 years. The confluence of the Thames and Wey is only a couple of miles downstream, just below Shepperton Lock, but while I have ventured much further afield I have never before entered the Wey. In the late summer of 2005 I rectified this omission, accompanied by my wife Marion, middle daughter Rebecca (Bex) and Maisie the Cocker Spaniel.


We set off on a lovely sunny Bank Holiday Monday, passed through Shepperton Lock, turned to starboard and entered the Wey.

Thames Lock is only a couple of hundred yards from the junction, and is of a slightly unusual design. When the Thames is low, which it presently is, the water level in the empty lock is also low. To overcome this problem there is a third gate just round the corner and about 100 yards below the lock. The section above this gate is called the Stop Lock. In practice it is much like negotiating a staircase pair, but where boats are able to pass each other in the lower chamber. You have to wait at the layby just below the Stop Lock until it is empty, then wait in it while the level is raised by a couple of feet before passing into the lock proper. The photo shows Amberel passing from the stop lock into the main lock.

The Wey is owned by the National Trust, so there are licensing formalities to be undergone. They also loan you, against a £15.00 deposit, a windlass with a long throw. They advise against the use of a normal BW windlass due to insufficient purchase on the paddle gear. The long throw is useful because the paddles employ a friction mechanism instead of a ratchet, and consequently are rather heavy to turn.

The lock is manned and you can only pass through while the keeper is there. As it takes some time to negotiate and is closed for lunch, it's best to allow plenty of time for the passage.

We slowly rose to the level of the Wey squeezed in tight beside a 70ft narrow boat, then were off past the back gardens of a very affluent Weybridge. But not for long, because only a mile further we rounded a corner under a bridge and found ourselves at Weybridge Town Lock. This has a completely blind entrance. Here we found that Thames Lock was the only one where we could fit beside a narrow boat. From now on we would share locks only with other cruisers and short narrow boats.

The other immediate thing of note was how low the bridges are. It is imperative that crew standing on the foredeck get right down when passing under bridges in order to avoid serious injury. It's very easy for them to forget. We found it best for the helmsman always to alert the crew of a bridge ahead, just in case.

At Weybridge Town Lock we experienced, compared to the Thames, just how close the river is to the surroundings. Sometimes locks are very close to suburban roads and bridges. You are close to the gardens and woods, and frequently higher than they are. The river is much narrower than the Thames, of course, but somehow it is more than that. It is a mixture of river and canal, and has a completely different "feel" to the Thames, which makes it a very enjoyable change.

After Weybridge Town Lock yet another very short reach to Coxes Lock, by Coxes Mill. The large mill has been converted to apartments, but the enormous mill pond still feeds the fast flowing mill race.

The third photo shows Amberel in Coxes Lock, with Bex manning the warps and Marion bringing out a welcome cup of tea. Sorry about the big cardboard box - I was trying out some new software and needed the box to shield the computer screen from the bright sunshine.

We were passing through the locks quite quickly. The convention on the Wey when leaving a lock is to close the paddles but to leave the gates open, and as more people were coming down than going up, the locks were all set for us.

Another short reach to New Haw Lock, near where Bex goes to "pick your own" strawberries. I'm a sucker for strawberries, and she had picked about 10 pounds for us to bring away.

New Haw Lock marked the end for the time being of the peace and quiet. We very soon passed under the M25 with its pillars covered in graffiti and then ran alongside it for a mile or two.

While still running beside the M25 we passed the junction with the Basingstoke Canal. I must do this canal some day, but I understand it suffers from water shortages and is best tackled early in the season.

Soon the course of the canal diverged from the busy motorway and we were back in peaceful countryside. Before long we reached Pyrford Lock. Here we moored up, as we had arranged to meet some friends. Eileen and Dorothy arrived after half-an-hour, and joined us on the boat as we continued through Pyrford Lock, Walsham Flood Gates (a sort of lock with both ends open), past the ruins of Newark Priory and through Newark Lock.

We then moored up against some extensive meadows on the port bank. Maisie had a good long run around while we took some refreshment and had a chat. We then turned round and went back downstream to Pyrford to eat at The Anchor.

This was a mistake. There was a considerable and excusable delay because the place was heaving with people on a sunny bank holiday. What was not excusable was that they failed to bring Bex' order, and even less excusable was that they didn't apologise. By this time it was almost dark and too late to do anything about it, so we said goodbye to our friends and walked back to the boat. We won't go back to The Anchor - it's a shame, because it is in an idyllic setting, but the service was unacceptable.


In the morning it was back to Newark Lock again, then on to Papercourt Lock, one of the most attractive on the river.

Another glorious day; my trips on the river nearly always coincide with the best weather. Through Worsfold Flood Gates, Triggs Lock and Bower's Lock. Marion and Maisie disembarked here to walk to the next lock.

On to Stoke Lock, where we collect Marion and Maisie again.

Soon after Stoke Lock we reached Stoke Road Bridge. This is the first of the low bridges. By moving the crew around the boat we got under by the skin of our teeth, but picked up some black paint from the underside of the bridge on the centre of the screen and the top of the windscreen wiper arm.

We were now getting near to Guildford, and stopped at Guildford Waterside Centre to top up with water and get rid of the rubbish.

The information book given to us at Thames Lock says there is Elsan disposal here, but after carting the loo out of the boat we found a notice that said the facility has been moved a mile up the river. So back on the boat and stopped again at Dapdune Wharf. The facility is excellent, easily the best I have "enjoyed". Clean and convenient, but note that you need a British Waterways key to use it. I hadn't expected this because it's not administered by BW, but fortunately I still had one on the key ring from when we went round the Regent's Canal.

Dapdune Wharf has a Visitor Centre that Marion would like to have gone round, but it was closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Guess what - this was Tuesday, and we were coming home past it on Wednesday.

Then the last few yards into Guildford where we moored behind the cinema. We had our lunch, after which Marion and Bex went shopping for the afternoon. I stayed on the boat with Maisie. I meant to get on with my book, but truth be told we both spent most of the time dozing in the sunshine.

When the shops closed we carried on through Guildford. Up to now I felt Guildford did not make the most of its riverside as it was mostly built up and not very attractive, but as we reached Millmead Lock it opened out into pleasant parkland. The Wey Navigation turns into the Godalming Navigation, the river gets a bit wider and winds its way to St. Catherine's Lock. After this Lock we reached our limit for the day, Broadford Bridge. We won't get under this one by scraping our screen on the underside of the bridge, it's about 6 inches too low. But I got very close and established that if I removed the right hand side screen completely and folded the rest down flat, I would get under with 3 inches to spare over the water heater flue. But that is a job for the next day.

The final bit of excitement for the night was when I let Maisie out just before bedtime. I have a powerful rechargeable torch that I managed to drop into the river while getting out. It took several minutes fishing around with a boat hook to get it back out, and by a miracle it still worked!


Up a bit earlier, as this will be the longest day. While the others were finishing their breakfast I dropped the screen. To my relief the centre pin slid out easily. This was especially pleasing when I remember the trouble we had with it in the upper reaches of the Stort 2 years ago. However, when I replaced it then I had sanded it down to reduce the diameter, and coated it with waterproof grease. Those measures obviously did the trick.

Don't forget to lower the VOC burgee on the pulpit rail, slow ahead, keep your heads down, and under we go.

Unstead Lock, another very low bridge, then Catteshall Lock and we were at the Head of Navigation in Godalming. Many years ago, for about 8 months, I worked in Godalming, but it was some way past the bridge, and there was nowhere to stop. Nothing to do here but turn round and go back again.

We stopped at Godalming Wharf for half an hour to stretch our legs.

Started down the river. Back through the low bridges but left the screen down until the end of the day.

Just before Millmead Lock in Guildford we stopped at Guildford Boat House to get a refilled gas bottle. Took the opportunity to get some ice-creams as it was yet another scorcher. The guide book says "A friendly and helpful company" and they really are. When I got back to the boat there was a chap filling up the water tank with Bex and we stayed and chatted for 10 minutes.

Through Guildford and past an attractive wrought iron statue of a boatman.

Past fields full of horses and foals, intimately close, fields full of cows and calves, tunnels through the trees. Extremely peaceful and so very different to the Thames.

And in the evening back to the same meadows at Newark where we briefly had stopped on the way up.

Tonight we were to be joined by my youngest daughter, Ruth, and our friends Anne-Marie, Derek and Craig. Before they arrived I put the screen back and put up the hood. We then walked into Newark to the Seven Stars pub, where we ate in the garden. It wasn't particularly cheap, but the food was simply excellent and the service good. They even made sure Maisie was comfortable and provided for. Walked back to the boat in pitch darkness.


Back past the house where John Donne lived in 1650.

Passing through Walsham Flood Gates was unusual. We were in convoy with a Fairline cruiser that had passed us just as we were pulling out the mooring pins, and he stopped at the flood gates. Some workmen had put a walkway across the gates and were carrying building materials across the river. Four of them hoisted the walkway over their heads and the boats passed through with jokes flying in both directions.

Stopped at Pyrford for half an hour to walk Maisie.

Back past the Basingstoke Canal, under the M25 and New Haw Lock. We then passed an NT barge going the other way, and the Fairline in front grounded when moving to the side of the channel. The skipper said it drew 42 inches! He wasn't hard aground, but he couldn't get himself off so we threw him a rope and pulled him off sideways.

Back to Weybridge Town Lock, the last one before Thames Lock. And there we stopped. There were 2 boats in the lock, but they couldn't close the head gates. They had been there for nearly an hour and were trying to move the obstruction with boat hooks, so far without success. They had called the National Trust and someone was on the way. However, before help turned up they eventually did shift whatever it was, and passed through. We then cycled the lock and went in, with the Fairline still in front of us. At that point assistance appeared in the form of the Thames Lock keeper, who had walked up from Thames Lock. We explained the situation. As it was now apparently clear, there was little he could do and he cadged a lift in Amberel back to Thames Lock. We got there at 13:00, which was his lunchtime, so we moored up and had our lunch too, and waited until 14:00.

Back out into the Thames. As we rounded the Shepperton Lock layby there was one more surprise in store - a chap in a coracle was just setting out across the Thames from the layby.

After that it was a routine half hour back to Chertsey and the car.

A very enjoyable 4 days, and it won't be 5 years before we go back again.

(Many thanks to Andy for his kind permssion to include his © photos and text on this site)