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Canal's bicentenary celebrated in grand style

THE Trust celebrated the Wey & Arun Canal's 200th anniversary in grand style over the weekend of October 1st and 2nd, with two days of events attended by hundreds of people.

From our bicentennial baton relay along the route of the canal to the champagne-drenched naming of a member's new narrowboat, it was a weekend to remember.

Highlight of our commemorations, on the Sunday, was the official opening of the new Compasses Bridge on the Summit Level at Alfold by actor Dame Penelope Keith.

Before that, there were special boat excursions on the fully restored section at Loxwood

with the crews, canal centre volunteers and trust officers turned out in outfits typical of the early 1800s.

The finale was a cream tea for members and guests at Dapdune Wharf in Guildford, the location of a sumptuous meal staged for canal company directors and shareholders on the day the canal was officially opened in 1816.

"We were absolutely delighted with the way our weekend went, after months of planning", said Trust Chairman Sally Schupke. "There was an awful lot of detail to go into, with several people each taking on aspects of the celebrations, but everything went smoothly from start to finish".

"There was a good turnout of members and guests at Compasses Bridge, which is important to the Trust, as it's our first major restoration project in Surrey."

"With Dame Penelope generously agreeing to open the bridge, we hope we have significantly raised our profile in the county."

The start was on the Saturday at Pallingham Bridge in West Sussex, near where the canal linked with the River Arun, originally as the Arun Navigation. Sally handed the baton a scrolled copy of an original canal company share certificate over to Trust technical liaison officer Alan Johnson.

Via other officers and members, the baton went up to Drungewick, passing Newbridge where the navigation ended and the Wey & Arun Junction Canal began to form the combined 23-mile waterway.

At Drungewick, Alan handed over to Graeme Lewington. Graeme had arrived on electric trip boat Wiggonholt full of members of the public on a bacon bap cruise and he was dressed as May Upton, the resident engineer on the original Wey & Arun Junction Canal construction.

Wiggonholt took the baton up to the Trust's canal centre at Loxwood, where horse-drawn trips on narrowboat Zachariah Keppel were popular during the afternoon. The Godalming Packetboat Company had loaned its heavy horse Buddy for the day.

Other attractions at the canal centre included children's games and a historical display. And Wiggonholt was lit up for illuminated evening cruises.

An afternoon tea cruise on Wiggonholt carried the baton up to Southland Lock, the current head of navigation.

From there on the Sunday, lengthsman Peter Hyem walked it up through Sidney Wood to Tickner's Heath and Richard Emsley paddled the baton in his mouseboat to Compasses Bridge, where it was received by Dame Penelope.

Around 250 people had gathered at the bridge, built by the Trust at the Alfold entrance to the Dunsfold Park aerodrome and business complex to replace a 1930s concrete causeway which was blocking the canal.

Dame Penelope – invited to perform the official opening in her capacity as patron of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – said she was impressed by the achievement of the volunteers who built the bridge and those devoted to the restoration of the canal system.

She cut a red ribbon across the roadway before posing for photographs with members in period dress and signing copies of the Trust’s souvenir programme.

In his speech, Compasses project engineer Tony Ford praised the volunteers leading the construction work, particularly site manager Dave Evans and his brother Andy and Bill Nicholson and his son Rob.

Tony said the Northern and Summit Working Party was keen to get on with the next restoration project. He revealed that this could be a similar bridge being built to replace the causeway across the canal at Tickner’s Heath.

All the guests at Compasses were then provided with refreshments, accompanied by music from the famed Friary Guildford Band.

After the formalities at the bridge, member Janet Phillips canoed the baton to Fast Bridge on the A281, where Trust director Julian Morgan took it over for a cycle ride along the canal route to Gun’s Mouth, where a surviving remnant of the canal meets the River Wey.