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.
Sandy Lock to the M27
The canal south of Sandy Lock is in places dry, in others boggy and reedy. The towing path bank has been removed in parts and can be muddy and slippery after wet weather. Some 200 yards south of the lock a very overgrown earth ramp has replaced the original wooden Cow Pasture Bridge.
Some 80 yards south of the site of the bridge, the waterway turns towards the south west. Within the water meadows east of the path, in amongst drains both wet and dry, various pieces of brickwork may be seen poking out of the vegetation. These are the remains of various features used to control the flow of water within this part of the meadows, including even an aqueduct to carry one drain over another. They are nothing to do directly with the Navigation. However, the Navigation was used to supply water to the meadows and there were once a series of hatches (sluices) in the towing path bank along the waterway from Lock House Lock for that purpose.
About a half mile from Sandy Lock, the Navigation is blocked by the M27 motorway - this section of which was opened to traffic in December 1983. The path is diverted east along the north side of the motorway until it passes under a bridge built for the North Stoneham Carrier (a stream draining the water meadows) and returns along the south side. This adds about 700 yards to the length of the original route. As with the blockage of the Navigation for the M3 near Winchester, legal powers have been taken to enable a new route for the waterway to be built, but construction will not commence until restoration of the canal is under way. Indeed, land has been set aside for the diversion.
South of the motorway, about 125 yards of the canal were dredged in 1993 to something like the original dimensions as part of archaeological investigations of the canal. However, through lack of any maintenance this stretch became reed filled again.
At the south end of the dredged length are the remains of Mansbridge Lock. For many years this lock was quite overgrown and relatively unknown. It then became the subject of an archaeological excavation by the Southampton City Archaeological Unit in 1992. Further details can be found in the Southampton Historic Environment Record (HER). Parts of the floor of the lock, particularly the top cill were found to be lined with wooden boards. These were covered up again for protection. The turf-sided lock chamber is quite eroded. At some time a large iron pipe had been inserted diagonally through the chamber.
In about 1994 a long wooden footbridge was built across, but not supported by, the masonry that marks the tail of the lock. Vehicular access to the meadows east of the Navigation and south of the M27 is gained by means of a ford diagonally across the lower end of the chamber which in winter is often quite deep. Before the footbridge, the footpath crossed the chamber by means of an earthen ramp. In the days of navigation, a wooden occupation bridge existed below the bottom gates and this also carried the towing path to the west bank.
Having been cleared of vegetation during the archaeological dig, some ten years later the lock had almost disappeared under bushes and other vegetation. In October and November 2007, the local branch of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) undertook working parties on the lock in connection with the Itchen Navigation Heritage Trail Project. The work was carried out to enable further archaeological investigations of the remains. Further information about IWA’s work may be found on their website.
About 2 years after the IWA’s clearance, resurgent vegetation and soil, which slowly destroy the bricks, were removed, and damaged pointing was replaced. Bricks matching the dimension of the originals were sourced and were laid to infill sections where bricks had been lost. Steel anchors tied the slumping walls back to the ground behind, preventing collapse. Finally, a protective capping of lime mortar was laid to protect the brickwork beneath.
As part of this project, an information board was installed telling a little of the local history. Unfortunately, the drawing does not give a realistic portrayal of the lock or the barge within it. See problems with drawing.
The following problems with the information portrayed in this drawing have been identified. Whilst most of these points individually are not major, the sum of them means the drawing fails to accurately portray the lock when in use. For more details on the Navigation’s locks see this page.
The barges used on the navigation were about 70 feet long and 13 feet wide (21.3m x 4.0m) - not 20 metres long. Whilst shorter than most of the locks, they were only a little narrower than the masonry supporting the lock gates. Most of the locks were about 90 to 100 feet long between the bottom and top gates. Thus the barge shown should be larger than portrayed.
The representation of the lock gates is wrong:
The gates would have been mitred in the form of a shallow ‘V’ pointing upstream so that they were self-sealing from the pressure of the upsteam water. Two gates in a straight line as shown would not have been able to withstand the pressure of water as the difference in levels on either side was increased.
The gates opened back into recesses in the brickwork to protect them from barges entering or leaving the lock.
The gates would not have been hung from the lock masonry in the manner shown with the top pivot (hinge) landward of the brick side of the lock. If hung like this, how would the bottom of the gate be pivoted?
The balance beams used to open and shut the gates would have been more substantial than those shown.
As the lock is full of water and the water to the right is at a lower level, opening the gates would be impossible and also it appears that the two men are trying to open them in the wrong direction.
No means of letting water into or out of the lock (paddles) have been shown.
When descending a lock, the crew would be anxious to avoid the boat grounding on the sloping turf sides. A boatman (or even two) standing on the boat to control it with a shaft would probably have been ineffectual and possibly life-threatening. The boatmen would be more likely to use shafts whilst stood more safely on the side of the lock.
The barge would not have been loaded with cargo piled some five or six feet higher than the gunwales - potentially the boat could capsize or the cargo slip down the heap and over the gunwales into the water. In addition, the barge would have had great difficulty passing under the low bridges on the Navigation.
On the west side of the Navigation lies Mansbridge Reservoir. It was constructed in 1850 by Southampton Corporation as part of a pumping station to take water from the Navigation and transfer it to a pair of reservoirs on Southampton Common. The pumping station ceased being used in 1892 when the Corporation’s new Otterbourne water works came into use. The reservoir, used by anglers, appears to have been dredged recently.
A track leads south from the lock, but where this veers off to the right to a small car park and Mansbridge Road, walkers following the Navigation should carry on straight ahead through the trees to follow the path along the edge of an open area. The remains of the canal run to the east in amongst the trees and the former towing path is not traceable. The waterway is usually quite waterlogged. About 250 yards from the lock, the canal joins the main river just upstream of the new Mans Bridge.
Several 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 http://www.iwalkalone.co.uk. She has walked along all or parts of the Navigation often since then: all illustrated with some excellent photographs.