The Itchen Way along the Navigation between Bishopstoke and Mansbridge is currently the least well used section of the path and as a result is walkable but unkempt and less “cared for”. After wet weather, the path can be quite muddy. Also it should be pointed out that the walk between these two places is over three miles and that it is almost impossible to gain access to, or leave, the path en route. It is possible to access or leave the path at Fish House Bay or via the Itchen Valley Country Park visitor centre across the meadows but this latter may be wetter/muddier and no shorter than the Itchen Way.
Lock House Lock
There are four locks between Fish House Bay and Mans Bridge that over the years have fallen in various states of decay. Renovation of some of the remaining masonry at Lock House Lock in 2012 and at Mansbridge Lock in 2009 has halted their decay and they are at present easily seen from the path. Sandy Lock, and more particularly Decoypond Lock, can be difficult to find in the vegetation but their presence is betrayed by a change in level of the towing path.
Travelling south, the first of the locks was known either as Lock House Lock or Chicken Hall Lock. The first name derives from the fact that there was once a lock cottage beside the canal here. This had no mains electricity or water but was lived in until after the Second World War and was then completely demolished. The site has become overgrown with trees and brambles.
The remains of the substantial stone and brickwork of the lock can be found across the towing path from the site of the house. The masonry was once obscured by dense vegetation but today is much more accessible. During 2012, renovation some of the masonry at this lock (but not all) was undertaken as part of the Itchen Navigation Heritage Trail Project.
Lock House Lock to the site of New Barn Bridge
Southampton Airport occupies the land to the west of the Navigation from here to the M27 motorway. Whilst fairly busy, the fact that the airport lies on the terrace above the canal with a wooded strip along the boundary means that it is fairly well screened from the former waterway although some aircraft can be a bit noisy. Within the wooded strip it is possible to find the remains of wartime defences of the airfield, which had been the site of the prototype Spitfire’s maiden flight.
As part of the works carried out under the Itchen Navigation Heritage Trail Project, a programme of tree and scrub control commenced, and in summer 2010, works were undertaken to raise, realign and resurface the eroded footpaths, and to replace stiles with kissing gates to improve accessibility. Parts of the canal bed between Lock House Lock and the next are in reasonably good condition but overgrown.
About 500 yards downstream of Lock House Lock is the site of New Barn Bridge (also called Stoneham Farm Bridge) which gave access from the now largely demolished North Stoneham Farm (now within the airport) to the water meadows. The former wooden bridge has been replaced by an earth ramp across the canal but this is now disused and overgrown. A stone edged approach ramp can still be traced in the adjacent meadow.
The site of New Barn Bridge to Decoypond Lock
Immediately south of New Barn Bridge, the canal is more difficult to recognise and the towing path embankment has in places disappeared. There are a number of small springs in the west bank of the canal and the canal bed is often waterlogged. About 400 yards south of New Barn Bridge there is a kissing gate giving access to the Country Park.
About 50 yards south of the access gate there used to be another wooden occupation bridge called Decoypond Bridge but this appears to have been dismantled by 1895 and was not replaced with an earth bank. The canal narrowed through the bridge but even this is difficult to find in the undergrowth.
Within the meadows of the country park is area of woodland known as Decoy Covert. On the east (far) side of the covert, there used to be a decoy, which consisted of a special pond into which wildfowl could be lured for capture, but it is now largely overgrown.
On the approach to Decoypond Lock, the bed is in better condition and the towpath embankment is about 6 feet high above the meadows. It used to be quite difficult to find the remains but there appears to have been some clearance of the vegetation between the path and the remains of the lock.
A number of large trees growing in the brickwork have extensively damaged the lock masonry and vegetation in summer effectively hides much of it from view. The canal bed within and south of this lock is usually very boggy, even waterlogged. Of all the locks on the Navigation, Decoypond Lock can probably claim to be the most ruinous. Although there has been some clearance of the trees around the lock, no renovation of the masonry seems to have undertaken as part of the Itchen Navigation Heritage Trail Project.
Decoypond Lock to Sandy Lock
The canal bed within and south of Decoypond Lock is usually very boggy, even waterlogged but as one nears Sandy Lock, it becomes much drier. In cross-section, the canal is in good condition but with some trees growing in it. The path is somewhat eroded in parts but up to 5 or 6 feet above the meadows.
Sandy Lock is the third lock along the ‘dry’ section of the Navigation. The head of this turf sided lock is in poor condition: the brickwork that remains is much distorted by tree roots. The rusted remains of barbed wire entanglements, presumably from the Second World War defences of the airport (known as HMS Raven), lie at the head of the chamber.
The tail is the most impressive on this section of the Navigation with both the near and offside walls about 8 feet high. The brickwork on the offside was, until less than fifty years ago, almost complete but part has now collapsed as the mortar between the bricks has decayed and trees have taken their toll. The brickwork on the towpath or near side has suffered more from the effects of trees but more brickwork remains standing.