Kayaking for Beginners: A Different Wey

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A white kayak.

I've found what I think must rank as one of the most beautiful spots in the world.

For a few weeks I've used a previously mentioned short stretch of the river Wey for my perambulations in the kayak, and it's served its purpose very well. But it's not really what you might call a 'pretty' spot. The length of water I've used is on the outskirts of Weybridge, Surrey and has a road beside it running its length, and electricity pylons in the adjacent fields with the cables passing overhead. Parking is all but non-existent with only one or two car lengths available on a bend at the very end of the road providing a spot to load and unload the boat.

Mainly with the parking in mind I got out my Surrey Atlas and followed the river's course to try to find somewhere more accessible. In fact it turns out that the stretch of water I'm using is the 'Wey Navigation', not the actual 'River Wey' which runs parallel with the 'Navigation' about a half mile to the east. The 'Navigation' is a canal opened in 1764 to link Guildford with the Thames, and ultimately to London for trade, and is in total about 17 miles long. Anyway, some of the long straight stretches shown in the Atlas looked as if they might fill the bill so I took to the Google bird's eye view to see if there were any with suitable nearby parking available.

One spot in particular between Byfleet and West Byfleet looked like it may be possible, so Mrs D and I took another trip out to reconnoitre. Sure enough there was a small area for parking, and just crossing the road by a bridge took us down to the canal towpath next to a small boathouse in the lee of the bridge. It was like stepping into 'Wonderland'. The Navigation stretched out over half a mile in a straight line from the bridge, the banks are lined with trees, and sunlight was penetrating the overhead canopy, playing on the water. Two or three houseboats were moored near the bridge and its frontage had a well tended flower-bed. Tables and chairs with sunshades were arrayed in front of the boathouse which was serving soft drinks and bringing an air of tranquil activity to the houseboat community.

We walked up the towpath looking out across light-dappled water, only disturbed occasionally by fish taking insects on the water, and Damsel flies and butterflies near the water's edge. The other bank was the ends of gardens that backed onto the water's edge. Each one of them beautifully tended with flowering waterside plants, clipped box, and patios that were obviously intended for the sipping of long, cool drinks in a late summer's evening. Despite being only minutes away from the M25 the whole place just exuded tranquillity. A short conversation with the boathouse attendants soon established that they were happy to let the odd kayak or two launch from their landing stage.

The following day I took them at their word and brought the boat down there as I just couldn't wait to give it a try out. The water is but a short distance from where the car was parked up but I have to negotiate the steps down the side of the bridge and a pedestrian dog-leg barrier while carrying the kayak at shoulder height to get to the water. No real hardship and probably good practice. Getting into the water from their landing stage was simplicity itself and once on the move I had the prospect of a good long run on which I could concentrate on paddling technique and steering. (Both at the same time). The water is shallow and probably no more than about six feet deep in the centre of the channel.

It was warm and humid under the tree canopy but I was soon at the end of the reach, which it turns out was another bridge. Then I did something that on reflection I realise was pretty stupid, I tried another nine-point turn just at the bridge. The far side bank got in the way and I grounded the nose of the kayak among the weeds and silt on the wrong side of the water. It's a sort of dog-leg under the bridge and it's difficult to see approaching traffic from the other side until you are right under the bridge. If a boat had come through at that moment he would have found me broadside on across his path, which would not have been fun for me. It was a silly thing to do and isn't a mistake I'd want to make again.

Two days later I revisited that part of the Navigation, this time with my son. We took off from the same spot and this time extended the trip past the bridge and on in the direction of Weybridge and my original stretch of water. He followed up giving me pointers and reminders to keep my knees to myself. After progressing under the M25 and about the same distance again after the bridge, we came up to one of the sixteen or so locks on the Navigation. At this point the pain in the knee was beginning to play up again so we decided to call it a day and return. All in all it was a good trip that allowed me to concentrate on the paddling technique, and keeping it straight.(Both at the same time)

Not only that, but I love the fact that I'm finding places that I didn't know existed in Surrey and to see them from a completely different viewpoint.

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