Proceeding south, the towing path swaps from the west to the east bank at the road bridge in Kiln Lane, Brambridge. In less than 200 yards, the river and Navigation approach each other although they do not join apart from a small hatchway crossed by a footbridge. The two flow side by side for nearly a quarter of a mile with the towing path separating them.
The second half-lock on the Navigation, Brambridge Single Gates, is reached about 50 yards south of the footbridge. It is marked by a constriction in the canal’s banks and some of the brickwork can be seen but no weir has been inserted to replace the gates. As at Shawford, it is believed that this structure’s original purpose was to retain water levels for a mill that drew water from the Navigation. According to old maps there was a Brambridge Mill in 1810 but all trace had gone by 1869. It appears to have been just upstream of Bram Bridge over the main river (not the Navigation) near Brambridge House.
Brambridge Single Gates to Common Hatches
From the footbridge just north of the Single Gates, the main River Itchen and the Navigation run side by side for almost 400 yards. For much of this distance the two are separated by very little more than the width of the towing path.
When the Itchen Navigation Heritage Trail Project came to work on this length in 2010, the narrowness of the footpath meant that materials couldn’t be brought in along it. Instead, materials were delivered by road to an adjacent woodland copse, packed into individual 300kg bags. A mini-digger carried the bags one by one over a temporary trackway through the woodland, and loaded them into a flat bottomed boat at the water’s edge. The boat transported the materials downstream, again one at a time, to a mobile gantry, where they were unloaded and utilised by a second mini-digger. The Wildlife Trust admitted that “Boat transport was safer and lower-impact than using heavy machinery.” That demonstrates waterways transport can offer viable solutions.
At the point where the main river and canal part company and replacing earlier hatches are some modern ones, known as Common Hatches, discharging surplus water from the Navigation.
The embankment and waterway breaches
A short distance south of these hatches, the waterway begins to run on top of an embankment for over quarter of a mile. This feature, although not very conspicuous, is the biggest earthwork encountered along the Navigation. At its greatest height, this embankment is about 5 or 6 feet high. Whilst not as high as the London to Southampton railway embankment a little way to the west, it was a considerable feat of engineering for the early 18th century. Apart from the presence of the railway, this stretch is quite remote.
The towing path along here is now in reasonably good condition. However, in April 2003, the water was overflowing the offside bank in four or five places - there was a serious danger that the embankment could breach and badly damage the waterway and cause flooding.
In the winter of 2012/3, overflowing water caused a breach in the towing path bank a little south of the sluices at a point that had been prone to such breaches in the past. Repair work was completed in October 2013 - about ten months after the breach. Flooding from rains during the Christmas period of 2013 and the following months threatened to undo some of this work with water often overflowing the towing path.
In the sections of this portrait upstream of here, mention is made of the alterations made to improve water flow at Malm and College Mead Locks. It would seem though that similar measures were not taken to deal with increased flows in the Navigation below College Mead Lock. This seems to have resulted in a situation where the Navigation can rise onto or even over the banks. Hopefully a solution has been found as far as the pound between Brambridge and Allbrook Locks is concerned although above Brambridge still seems to have problems.
Finally a repair was made at the beginning of 2015. This comprises a spill weir built into the towing path bank with a footbridge over it. When water levels rise, surplus water will be able to spill over the weir to run to the main river which is about 40 yards away. This method of water control seems not have been employed on the Navigation before (apart from a very small capacity example south of Allbrook Lock) although common on more modern waterways. Historically, the Itchen Navigation appears to have relied upon having men with intimate knowledge of the waterway who could regulate levels day to day by setting the hatches to deal with conditions. Today, this is option is not readily available.
The embankment to Allbrook Lock
In the late 1970s and early 80s, volunteers working with Eastleigh Borough and Hampshire County Councils made repairs to the path along this section of the waterway. At that time, for over 200 yards, the towing path was wide enough for a horse and cart as part of an access to the land east of the embankment. It seems that erosion has been making parts of this path narrower.
At the southern end of this length of canal lies Allbrook Lock. This structure is quite different from the locks encountered elsewhere on this Navigation being constructed in the late 1830s to replace the original lock obliterated by the construction of the London & Southampton Railway. It is constructed in the more normal manner entirely of brick and until the 1990s was in reasonably good condition.
A weir that is used to measure the flow of water in the Navigation now replaces the top gates but the anchors in the stonework that secured the top of the heel post of the gates are still present. In the 1990s, the water authority installed a fish ladder in the lock chamber and in the process caused considerable damage to the wall on the west side of the chamber although this seems to have been re-instated. At around the same time a footbridge that crossed the head of the lock was removed. Allbrook Bridge, carrying the main road (B3335) from Eastleigh to Twyford, has been widened and encroaches upon the tail of the lock.
Coming south from Brambridge, the Navigation’s original course carried straight on where it now bears left to come to the present lock structure. The modern course rejoins the original canal downstream immediately west of the railway bridge - between it and the Nuttall plant hire depot. The course of the road was also altered by the coming of the railway: it originally ran in nearly a straight line from Allbrook towards Highbridge crossing the present waterway about 10 yards north of the head of the new lock structure. The original lock was south of the old road and is now under the eastern tracks of the railway embankment on the south side of the railway bridge over the present road.
An Ordnance Survey map revised in 1895 shows that most of the lock chamber was covered by a roof. This was probably associated with the timber yards and saw mills on the other side of the road. The map revised in 1931 shows the roof to have disappeared.
B3335 Highbridge Road
To continue south along the waterway, pedestrians have to cross Highbridge Road (B3335). Great care should be exercised as the road bends quite sharply as it crosses the Navigation having passed under the railway and continues towards Highbridge and Twyford.
There used to be a public house (the Victoria) the other side of the railway bridge but this closed and was eventually demolished in 2006 and the land has now been redeveloped.
Some of the pictures on this page are shown by kind permission of Marie Keates. A keen walker, she has written about and illustrated several attempts to walk the full length of the Navigation during 2013 in her blog at https://www.iwalkalone.co.uk. She has walked along all or parts of the Navigation often since then: all illustrated with some excellent photographs.