Basingstoke Canal Overview
The Basingstoke Canal stretches for 32 miles in total, from Greywell village in Hampshire to Woodham in Surrey. The scenery of the canal varies a lot, which adds to the interest of it. In Surrey you have the flights of locks, Mytchett contains the lakes and flashes, and then near Odiham are the rolling fields and a historic castle. It is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to its rare aquatic plants and fantastic habitat for dragonflies. So there really is something to suit everyone’s taste of canal scenery, and the Barley Mow to Odiham Paddle is no exception!
Barley Mow to Odiham paddle Overview
- River: Basingstoke Canal, Hampshire
- Parking: Barley Mow carpark
- Portages: 0 (or potentially one – depending on how far down you can limbo!)
- Distance: 9 miles total (return trip)
- Time: Approx 3 hrs return (depends on paddling speed!)
- Toilets: None
- Refreshments: Barley Mow pub (by the carpark) or Water Witch pub along the route.
The stretch from Barley Mow to Odiham is lovely to paddle at any time of the year. The route is quite varied in its scenery, passing under trees, by fields and farmland and along the back of some lovely houses. There is an abundance of nature, from squirrels, ducks, moorhens and herons to dragonflies and fish. It’s also a perfect place to paddle if you’d like to get out on the water, but someone else just wants to walk. Therefore, it makes it a perfect place to go with children, who we know can get bored. Also, if you need to take it in turns paddling then there are lots of places to stop along the bank, to allow another member of your group to have a turn.
Parking and Boat Licenses
The postcode for the carpark varies depending on where you look online. I would advise you to use the postcode RG27 8DE. This is the postcode that the Barley Mow pub uses, just a couple of metres down from the carpark. This postcode has got us there numerous times now, unlike a previous postcode we used the first time! The carpark is free and, in any season apart from summer, it is pretty quiet. However, even in summer, we have always just about managed to find a space.
Be aware that all boats must have a licence to use the canal. This includes canoes, kayaks and SUPs. If you are a member of the British Canoe Union, then this is included with your membership fee. Just remember to carry your membership card with you! However, if you are not, then you can easily buy a licence online. You can buy a day (£3), week (£12) or year (£40) Basingstoke Canal Licence from this website.
I have paddled this section in kayaks and open boats (canoes) in all seasons, and, after today, I think all weathers! I promised some friends, who had just bought a blow-up kayak, that this was a perfect stretch of canal to try it out on. With the promise of a picnic by the magnificent ruin of Odiham Castle, I lured them into paddling all the way to Odiham
The Barley Mow to Odiham Route
The first hurdle was the carpark – I had never seen it so busy before. However, I wonder if the packed beaches making the news made everyone have the same idea of avoiding them! But a little bit of patience, and you will get a space.
On launching, we turned right and went straight under the first of 8 bridges. Quite a few of the bridges are named, and not surprisingly, this was Barley Mow Bridge. The canal was wide enough to paddle side by side and have a good catch up. However, attention is needed to keep an eye out for small motorised boats and other paddlers.
Upon passing a beautiful barge owned by Dogmersfield Park estate, you will also pass a gorgeous house with a lovely large statue of a horse in its garden. The ducks certainly seemed to be enjoying their lawn! Paddling on we went past some gorgeous little ducklings and baby moorhens. We also came across two groups of swans with cygnets. Now I am very wary of swans when paddling, however, these were perfectly happy with us paddling by the side of their little families. They are probably quite used to people, as just a little bit further up is OdihamWharf and the canoe hire place. It is at Odiham wharf where you can get out, and cross over a footbridge to a pub.
Always the weather to paddle!
My first realisation that this might not be quite the sunny summer paddle I had banked on, was when I heard a gentleman pull over in his boat and say to the kids ‘look at the black cloud, it’s going to rain so get your waterproofs on’. I had been blissfully unaware of it until that point, enjoying being back out on the water, amongst nature. However, no sooner was I aware of this cloud, than it decided to empty its heavy shower on us. Now I was dressed in dry trousers and a cag to keep me warm as it was also a very windy day! However, our friends just had t-shirts and shorts on. Finding shelter under some overhanging trees on the river was certainly a great idea – and one we ended up doing numerous times during the day!
Once away from the canoe hire centre, the canal gets lovely and peaceful again. The water is shallower in this section nearer Odiham, and it’s clear, so you can easily see the bottom. There are numerous small fish that you will be able to spot – but keep your eyes peeled for the more elusive big (and I mean big) black fish! Maybe this is the Loch Ness Monster of Basingstoke Canal!
Just before Odiham is a lift bridge. However, it is often down so that cars can go over it. Now this is the place you may want to portage. It’s an easy get out and just a couple of metres to portage until you can get back on.
But I love a bit of adventure! So, lying as low as we could get in the open boat, we drifted under the bridge with inches to spare. This caused quite a stir amongst the people watching from the bridge – they all seemed to stop to see if we would make it! Our friends, who decided to see if we would make it first, said it looked hilarious as we went under. They said it looked like there was no-one in the canoe, and it was just drifting along. After a good backwards limbo, our friends in the kayak also got under. I seem to remember we even got a clap from the onlookers!
From here we quickly reached Odiham Castle, moored up, grabbed our picnics, and….then it threw it down. So again we sheltered under some trees, just this time we were standing! Once the rain had stopped, we had a wander around the ruin, and picked our picnic spot. Sitting on a tree trunk looking at the ruin, we started to eat the homity pie I had made for everyone…but then it appeared the rain hadn’t finished so we grabbed everything to find a tree to shelter under. This time we managed two mouthfuls of the pie before we decided we were getting wetter under the trees from the wind blowing the raindrops from them onto us, that we moved back out into the now sunshine and got out our picnic blanket. Finally, we managed to have the nice chilled picnic I had promised. If you don’t want to paddle all this way, then there are plenty of benches along the route for a picnic stop.
Odiham Castle, also known as King John’s Castle, roughly marks the halfway point between Winchester and Windsor. This could have been the reason that King John built this castle in this location – it was a good stopping place for his two-day ride between these two strongholds. He only built three castles during his reign, and this one was built between 1207 and 1214. The site itself has been part of many historical events, including a French siege, ownership by the de Montforts, a revolt, the hosting of parliament and the imprisonment of a Scottish King. To learn more about Odiham Castle, click here.
You return by going back the same way. On your return look out for some of the World War II pillboxes that line the canal. These were built to defend against an expected German invasion. The canal actually has a lot of history to it. It was completed in 1974 to allow boats to travel from the docks in East London to Basingstoke. The boats carried agricultural produce including grain, timber, malt and chalk. The idea of this inland passage for produce came from the Napoleonic Wars. The ships at that time had to carry their cargoes along the south-east coast, and hence were at a high risk of attack from foreign warships. However, the use of this safe inland waterway wasn’t a commercial success, and it didn’t last long. However, during World War I the canal was put to use by the Royal Engineers to train troops in boat handling and to transport supplies from Woolwich. You can read more about the history and restoration of the canal here.
Naming of the kayak
Despite the odd shower, the return journey provided us with more sunshine, and the wind was in our favour. On the way back, we decided that their blow-up kayak had proven its worth and earnt the right to a name. One friend suggested Titanic 2 but that didn’t go down well. With it being bright yellow and black, and curved at the ends, I suggested the banana boat. This stuck for a while although it was annoying me that I couldn’t remember the yellow and black cartoon characters. Upon mentioning this and the Pharrell Williams song ‘Happy’ to the others, they reminded me they were minions. This didn’t seem to quite suit their boat either, so I suggested Sponge Bob – this was a hit. Sponge Bob was what their kayak was calling out to be called.
Whilst discussing this very important matter, we continued to see some lovely nature along the way back. Some sheep and cows made an appearance right by the bank, and there were three squirrels that were fighting. I did wonder, as one of them jumped from one tiny branch to another, if it might end up falling off and into our boat! One thing I do love about paddling is how quiet it can be. Upon seeing a heron in the distance, we paddled silently through the water, and got within a metre of it before it took off. Seeing such a big bird take off so close is impressive. For some reason, these magnificent birds seem a bit pre-historic, especially when in flight. To me, they resemble a pterodactyl!
End of a fantastic day
Arriving back at the car, it was a quick easy get out. With the sun now shining our clothing, and boats had started to dry. We had a quick snack and then headed home. We had had a lovely time, enjoying the scenery, some homemade picnic food, and of course, not forgetting the important naming ceremony of Sponge Bob the Kayak.
I can highly recommend this Barley Mow to Odiham paddle – whether that be in a kayak, canoe or on a SUP. It is perfect for families, friends and partners where maybe one doesn’t want to paddle, or where you need to take it in turns. Your doggy friends can also be in the boat or with one of their two-legged friends walking on the canal path. And the weather can’t have been that bad, as when I got home I realised I had caught the sun!
If after this day’s paddling, you are looking for a walk on the Hampshire/Berkshire border, then I highly recommend the walk on this page.