Wey & Arun Canal Trust marks 25 years of boat trips

Wey & Arun Canal Trust is celebrating 25 years of boat trips, having opened up a section of the waterway that had not carried a narrowboat for 125 years.

When the first fee-paying passengers cruised along the canal back in 1995, few members could have imagined the trust celebrating 25 years of public boat trips, carrying more than 1,000 passengers on boat trips just in the recent Christmas and new year period alone.

Sally Schupke, trust chairman, said: “Things have certainly moved on in 25 years but we’re still proud that so many get so much enjoyment from a relaxing cruise to take in the stunning scenery here, along with the thousands who enjoy its towpaths for walking, cycling and riding.”

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

The 25th anniversary will be marked with special events during 2020 and a programme of public boat trips and special cruises will resume when coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

The Canal Centre in Loxwood on a lovely day last year as boat trip gets underway. Picture: Dave Verrall

Read More

Read More
Look how far Wey & Arun Canal Trust has come in the past 25 years

The inaugural boat trip on May 28, 1995, was for invited guests and it took them only 1¼ miles on the restored stretch from Drungewick, near Loxwood, passing under Barnsill Bridge to Baldwin’s Knob Lock. The cruise also saw the official naming of the trip boat, Zachariah Keppel, honouring the contractor appointed by the Wey & Arun Junction Canal Company to construct the canal in 1813.

The boat had been donated to the Wey & Arun Canal Trust in 1993. Its first owners were Cyril and Thelma Wood and their son Leslie, from Guildford, who named it Elsetee, a mash-up of their names. The family then sold the boat to Nigel Thorne of Ash, who moored it at Gun’s Mouth in Shalford.

From there it found its way to the Wey & Arun Canal Trust but the boat was disused and in a sorry state, so it was transported by road to Redlands Farm in Plaistow, for extensive refurbishment by volunteers and refitting as a public trip boat.

Thinking commercially, trust directors saw the opportunity to raise funds for restoration by charging the public to cruise along the canal, and so public cruises began. The first trips had to be pre-booked and were for a maximum of 30 passengers, who were also given a half-hour guided walk, starting at the Onslow Arms pub. They were returned part way by boat and had another walk back to the pub. The whole experience cost £3, the price of two pints at the time.

Special cruises soon followed, with the first Santa cruises taking place in 1998.

It has not all be plain sailing. In 2001, Easter cruises were planned for the first time but had to be cancelled due to foot and mouth precautions. The Onslow Arms was also closed for refurbishment until May that year and at the time, it provided the only nearby toilets.

Now, there is no shortage of conveniences and the trust owns three boats. The electric-powered Wiggonholt is licensed to carry up to 48 passengers and does most of the trips, being more ‘green’ than the diesel Zachariah Keppel, while Josias Jessop seats nine. Wiggonholt has been adapted to accommodate wheelchairs and has a toilet.

The route has changed a lot, too, since the first cruises set out. Restoration over the past 25 years has seen the completion of Brewhurst Bridge and Lock, Devil’s Hole Lock, Southland Lock and the £2million project at Loxwood road crossing, all creating a three-and-a-half mile showpiece canal section.

Passengers no longer have to walk the canal to reach the boats but are met at the dedicated Canal Centre, off High Street, Loxwood. This usually serves as a tourist information hub and visitor centre but is currently closed due to the coronavirus.

A message from the Editor, Gary Shipton:

In order for us to continue to provide high quality and trusted local news, I am asking you to please purchase a copy of our newspapers.

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our local valued advertisers - and consequently the advertising that we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you helping us to provide you with news and information by buying a copy of our newspapers.

Our journalists are highly trained and our content is independently regulated by IPSO to some of the most rigorous standards in the world. But being your eyes and ears comes at a price. So we need your support more than ever to buy our newspapers during this crisis.

Stay safe, and best wishes.