Much of the flood plain meadows on both sides of the Navigation from the M3 downstream to Compton Lock have been accorded protected status: either as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) or as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation. A number of the meadows east of the Navigation are owned and managed as the Hockley Meadows nature reserve by the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (HIWWT). Virtually all of the non-tidal main River Itchen, some side-streams and much of the Navigation that is in water is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the EC Habitats Directive.
The towing path bank along much of this length of the Navigation was renovated as part of the Itchen Navigation Heritage Trail Project. For more than half a mile north of Compton Lock, this work involved the import of over 1800 tons of chalk fill and path gravels to repair the banks and over 1500 tons of soil for remedial works. Soft bio-engineered revetments along with green oak revetments were also used to rebuild the banks to prevent any more breaches. The area of the work has SSSI and SAC status, access required a 30 metre river crossing combined with a narrow footpath and these presented some difficulties. They were dealt with by using small excavators and a monorail for the transport of materials along the waterway. The repairs were achieved with no adverse impact upon the site.
The Navigation continues in a southerly direction through the water meadows. These fields were once quite open but increasingly trees and bushes have been growing up in places and beginning to obscure the view. Whilst, the surroundings are still very pleasant, this tree growth is altering the character of the waterway and the valley. Thirty or more years ago considerable lengths of the waterway were unfenced and a this was a distinctive feature of the Itchen Navigation.
Between Tumbling Bay and Compton Lock, there are a number of instances where channels that were used to flood the meadows can be clearly seen and the remains of the hatches used to control the abstraction of water from the Navigation can be examined.
A section of the water meadows on the east bank to the north of and in the area of Compton Lock, known as Twyford Meads, is owned by Twyford Parish Council and they carry out maintenance and have done some restoration to part of the area and hope to do more in the future. The Meads are open to visitors at all times, access being on foot only from the Navigation or from the village of Twyford. Further information may be found at the Twyford Parish Council website. It is pleasing that part of the Navigation at Twyford Meads is not fenced off from the adjacent meadows.
About 2¼ miles from Blackbridge Wharf, the third lock is encountered: Compton Lock which is sometimes called Compton Place or Twyford Lock (it is in Twyford parish). The waterway is weired at the head of the lock and a footbridge carrying a public footpath from Twyford to Compton crosses the Navigation at the tail of the lock where the bottom gates once hung. In between, erosion has made the original turf-sided chamber almost circular although old mapping shows the sides were once straight. Bank protection has been added to the towing path side to prevent further erosion.
This lock is a popular swimming pool and picnic spot in the summer. Also, local fishermen will try their luck here. Owned by Twyford Parish Council, angling is now restricted on the east bank between Compton Lock and Shawford Bridge to local residents of the parishes of Twyford, Shawford and Compton. Above the lock both banks of the river are completely private fishing.
Compton Lock to Shawford Mill
South of Compton Lock, low density residential development on the west bank with large, attractive gardens and grazing land on the east bank make this another pleasant reach.
Between 2009 and 2011, improvements were made to some of the path as part of the work done by the Itchen Navigation Heritage Trail Project. A small fence has been put up between the path and the water’s edge to protect newly planted vegetation from passing feet. Let’s hope that the intended removal of this fence once the plants are established is not forgotten.
Shortly before Shawford Mill is reached, the mill stream leaves the Navigation under a footbridge. Reputedly, Shawford Wharf occupied the length of the waterway immediately north of the footbridge although some say it may have been south of the footbridge.
The present mill building dates from 1785-95 as a corn mill. It has recently been renovated and is now used as offices. The building shown below on the black and white postcard is in fact the miller’s house - the mill itself is hidden by the trees. The miller’s house, which probably pre-dated the present mill building, was bought by an American in the 1950s, dismantled and re-erected in the USA. Shawford Mill Cottage on the left and the wooden Granary Barn in front were built at about the same time. All three are Grade 2 listed buildings.
In 2009, the towing path between the footbridge and Shawford Bridge was rebuilt as part of the work done by the Itchen Navigation Heritage Trail Project. Previously, this length of path was badly eroded and was becoming increasingly difficult to walk.
The Bridge public house lies on the opposite bank of the waterway by Shawford Bridge. Shawford railway station is very close by.
One of the pictures on this page is 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.