Itchen Navigation: Introduction

The Itchen Navigation has a long and complex history, having a claim to being one of the oldest in the country. As a commercial waterway, however, the Navigation has been defunct for 140 years.

Navigation above Brambridge

Despite this period of neglect and dereliction, the waterway is remarkably intact with very little positively destroyed; rather it has been allowed to moulder away half-forgotten. Given modern society's ability to create rubbish and to deposit it in any half hidden corner, it is surprising there is almost no refuse in or by the Navigation. It suffers few intrusions from development.

It is quite noticeable that in the last 20 years that trees and other vegetation have been allowed to grow almost unchecked along much of the Navigation. In places this growth has come to seriously threaten the fabric of the waterway: several breaches of the banks have occurred in the last few years.

The Itchen Way (formerly the Itchen Navigation Footpath) follows the towing path for most of the waterway from Winchester to Southampton. Parts of it are probably as heavily used as any public footpath in Hampshire.

Public rights of navigation between Winchester and Wood Mill were conferred by Act of Parliament in 1802. These rights have not been extinguished legally although, in practice, they are not easy to exercise. Parts of the Navigation have no water supply but even where water does flow, fishing interests and landowners actively discourage the use of any boats.

The Itchen Navigation and River Itchen hold a thriving population of fish, particularly brown trout, grayling, pike, eels and minnows and is of international importance for it’s floating vegetations and Southern Damselfly populations. Much of the Navigation falls within areas designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The River is also designated a candidate Special Area of Conservation (cSAC) under the European Habitats Directive.

Fishing on the River Itchen and the Navigation, where it is in water, is an important pastime. Indeed, the Itchen is considered one of the best streams in the world for trout fishing and rights are carefully protected. The River Itchen and the adjoining River Test are famous chalk streams which were the birthplace of dry fly fishing.

This river is an important part of our national heritage.

Whilst this site gives a fairly detailed account of the Navigation, the following sites cover other aspects of the River Itchen:

Itchen Navigation Heritage Trail Project
This site gives details and news of the project to conserve the Navigation.
River Itchen Website
This site (which seems to no longer exist) dealt with archaeological investigations undertaken on the tidal part of the river in Southampton.

Send your comments to the Southampton Canal Society Web Site manager (Peter Oates).

Text © Southampton Canal Society 1999 - 2012.
Pictures © Peter Oates 2003. Pictures on or accessed through this page may not be reproduced without the express permission of the Web Site manager.

Page created 5 February 1999 - new layout 26 January 2010 - content updated 27 May 2012.

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