86. River Wey & Godalming Navigations and Dapdune Wharf – 17/7/2016

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The River Wey & Godalming Navigations and Dapdune Wharf almost certainly has the longest name that is ever going to appear in this blog and, in fact, it is actually the longest property in terms of distance too as the Trust owns and maintains no fewer than 20 miles of Surrey’s waterways. Dapdune Wharf is simply one small part of the riverside but it is the place to go to learn about the history of the navigations and their role in transport between the 17th and 20th centuries.

It is also the second time in my travels that I found myself on a boat as the Trust runs hourly trips along the Wey and through the centre of Guildford. Although it may not be the most picturesque of routes, there is plenty to learn along the way as the driver/guide keeps up an insightful commentary for the 35-40 minutes of the trip. I live within half an hour’s drive of Guildford and thought I knew a lot about the town but I still learned a few new interesting snippets.

As well as covering some of the history of Guildford, the tour also gives a brief history of the Wey Navigation itself, which was one of the earliest navigable rivers in the UK. Its creation between 1651 and 1653 was the brainchild of Sir Richard Weston, who also supplied the not inconsiderable funds to add nine miles of canal and towpaths and twelve locks to the existing river so that barges could travel between Guildford and the River Thames. It was opened around 100 years before the Midlands canal system and was a major engineering project for its time. The Godalming navigation, a shorter stretch of around 4 miles, was added around 200 years after the Wey was first opened. The Wey Navigation was given to the National Trust in 1964 and the Godalming Navigation in 1968 and together with Dapdune Wharf, they now make up one of the more unusual properties in the Trust’s portfolio.

At the Wharf, there are a number of old buildings still standing in which various displays have been set up to inform the visitor about the waterways and the barges that travelled it, carrying cargoes of gunpowder, coal, corn, chalk, rags and bark chippings. When carrying gunpowder, the boats were not allowed very close to Guildford itself and had to moor up a little distance away in case there were unfortunate accidents.

A total of eleven barges were actually built at Dapdune and the barge-building shed still stands on the bank of the Wey. Two of the barges that were built in the 1930s have been returned to Dapdune and can be seen by visitors: the Reliance, which is no longer watertight and is resting on the riverbank, and the Perseverance IV, which is moored up in the water awaiting the funds to preserve her for the future. You can even go on board the Reliance (hard hats are provided as heads are very much at risk in the low underdecks) and see the small living quarters at the rear where the bargemen would eat and sleep.

For once, I actually visited with children so it was really interesting to see how the various interactive displays were greeted by youngsters. They found the barge’s living quarters and their clever space-saving features to be particularly interesting, while the touch-and-feel test to identify different cargoes carried by the barges also went down well. We also struggled to drag them away from the weights, ropes and pulleys that are set up to show how easy or difficult it is to lift a 58-lb weight with different types of pulley systems. All in all, there was plenty to occupy young minds while parents and accompanying bloggers were reading some of the information boards.

My one complaint about Dapdune was the lack of a guidebook as I would like to have brought some written information home with me. Photocopies of the different information sheets were available to buy but I would have had to ask someone to copy four folders’ worth (!) and it would have cost me a lot more than a normal guidebook.  Instead, I had to resort to photographing some of the displays and reading my own photos when I got home.

IMG_2298From these, I managed to glean a little information about the Stevens family, who established Dapdune Wharf as a centre for barge building and repairs and who controlled much of the Wey Navigation during the 19th and 20th centuries before it was passed to the National Trust. They employed Edwin Edwards and his family as expert barge builders and managed to maintain the navigation at a time when the railways were taking over as the preferred transport system for cargo. However, a graph on one of the displays shows the gradual decline of income from the navigation over a couple of centuries so it is no surprise that the upkeep of the canal, locks and towpath eventually became uneconomical. Our guide on the boat, however, told us that Dapdune Wharf manages to raise enough money to maintain the navigation without dipping into National Trust coffers, which is something to be proud of.

Finally, I would also like to give a shout out to the gentleman who makes the rope animals and woven goods that are for sale in the Gunpowder Store. Two happy children left with their own little Ropey the Dog (each made from a single piece of rope) and a laminated copy of a poem about how he was made. It was a lovely touch for the young visitors.

The tearoom at Dapdune is fairly small, with only cold lunches, plus tea and cake, obviously! But it was run very efficiently and there was plenty of seating both inside and out. There was also not one, not two, but three separate places where we could browse through some secondhand books, although I sadly came away empty-handed for once.

Dapdune only made it onto my blog list this year after a change of designation in the handbook but I’m quite glad it did as it prompted me to finally get around to visiting, having driven past the turning many times over the years. I actually got told off by a couple of staff members for leaving it so long; after all, I’ve been a life member of the Trust for almost 27 years and it’s only around 20-25 minutes from home. So, to all at Dapdune Wharf, apologies for the oversight and thank you for a few very pleasant hours.

Highlights: Gentle boat trip; hands-on exhibits for kids

Refreshments: Tuna, mayonnaise and cucumber sandwich, crisps, mint chocolate ice cream

Purchase(s): None

Companion(s): The James family

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