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Thread: The Hoe Down

  1. #1
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    Default The Hoe Down

    Near the ancient and magical ruins of Newark Priory, the surprisingly untouched edifice sitting on the water meadows by the meandering River Wey, a tree-clad slope marks the edge of the shallow valley of the Wey. In spring, these slopes are bedecked with bluebells, in the shade of lovely mature trees. At the foot of the hill, a small meandering stream is a place of serenity and calm, somewhere I have often turned up after paddling on the Wey, just to paddle a few quiet hundreds of yards in a beautiful place.


    A look at the map shows one where this little stream comes from. Woking. Well, actually above Woking, but that’s the obvious place through which it passes, a few miles upstream.


    Sometimes, looking at the lines on an Ordnance Survey map the most fun way to plan a paddle. Forget the guide books, navigations and even my favourite Paddle Points, just pull out the map and look for the thin blue lines. Normally, its best to look for rivers that are a double line, filled with the familiar OS blue, but this one is just a single thread. Which means, very roughly, that its not as wide as a canoe is long.




    Red circles – start and finish of the Hoe Down. Blue circle – parking and easy launch.



    For a long time now, its been vaguely in my head to attempt a descent of the Hoe. Several times, I’ve pushed the nose of my canoe upstream from the wooded slopes by the Wey, where the OS confusingly calls the same stream The Bourne, to find the way blocked by many, many reeds near the bridge of the B367. SOTP regular Maj (Silverbeard) has had the same thoughts, and the same explorations, so we teamed up, with a guest appearance from Fran, to see if we could achieve our goal. Little did we know, that the short 3 miles or so would take us 5 days to achieve, albeit on separate visits!



    On Paddle Points: http://www.paddlepoints.net/PaddlePo...p?PP=106&r=790


    And so, to the tale itself, spread over the months of April and May, a time we thought the reeds would still be few, and the water enough to float on. After a bit of thought, and some time spent attempting to recce the route on foot, we decided to push up from downstream, rather than attempt it from the top, as that way we knew we’d always have an easy retreat. As it turned out, this was a good decision! It also avoided the rather high parking charges for long stay parking at the leisure centre, and the need for any shuttling.
    I’ll tell the tale by day, as it happened, but some of the photos may be switched around for artistic purposes to best illustrate each section without repeating myself too much!



    Day 1 – April 18th. An initial foray.


    The nicest way to get to the Hoe Stream from our starting point off Newark Lane, and only a little longer than nipping down past the lock, is to use the wonderful loop past Newark Priory on the Wey itself. This involves a portage of the weir, but is one of the most beautiful places to paddle. This has been blogged numerous times, so here are just a few photos to illustrate it.









    This first visit was on a late afternoon. Turning up the Hoe, having actually started separately due to a confusion over start points, I met Maj and we worked our way up the stream below the hillside. I’ll save the photos of most of that bit for the next day.









    Towards the road bridge, and beyond, the flow was noticeable, but the reeds were yet to grow up. Progress was reasonable for a while.









    A modest amount of jungle bashing was required, but nothing on what lay ahead.









    Rounding a corner about half a km up from the road bridge, we came across our first major blockage.






    This was a biggy. I jumped out to scout it, onto soft, crumbling banks. It was clear we weren’t easily going to get though quickly, and it was getting late to return before dark as this had just been an initial recce really, so we had a quick pruning session and turned back downstream.









    We’d got about a mile up the stream, with 2 miles to go. The reeds had been reasonable, but clearly they’d start growing up soon, as would the willows. We’d be back.



    Day 2 – sometime between 1 and 3

    Maj made a solo visit back to the blockage one evening later that week, and managed to clear the approach to the thickest section, before having to return due to time constraints after, I think, a good half hour or more of sawing. I was somewhere else, probably with a glass of wine.



    Day 3 – April 26th. The Deployment of a Fran.


    Now, if you’re ever stuck in a ditch, with branches blocking every route, its always hand to have a Fran with you (though a Patterdale or Hippo would be equally good I’m sure). So, for the next trip, we convinced Fran to join us.


    The journey upstream on this second day was a joy. The shaded slopes were covered in bluebells, patches of sun breaking through the canopy above to bring spring to the woodlands.


















    As we left the woods, the sky was a blue ceiling above our heads, studded with summery clouds.












    We quickly reached our high point of the week before. Now Maj had reduced the number of branches blocking the approach, we could see the heart of the matter. Perhaps a dozen thick branches grew horizontally across the stream, where the tree had slipped over from the bank, but continued to grow for some years afterwards. From each branch, grew vertical stems, and cladding the whole thing was a big mix of debris. This was going to take some time.









    We brought the Fran into play.









    Maj climbed over the blockage and attacked from the other side. We could all have done the same, and simply paddled on, but we really wanted to float as much as possible to make the first ascent/descent in living memory, and to save time on future visits.






    Another technique was applied, and we lashed 2 canoes together so I could stand in the front, a foot in each canoe.












    In the end, I think it took well over an hour, meaning that it had taken a good few hours to clear in total. A large pile of debris grew on the banks to the side.
    At some point here I received a phone call from my mum. Dad had been taken into hospital suddenly, after feeling weak. It all sounded quite serious, and it was clear I needed to head north that evening, or in the morning. After a second call, it was clear I could do nothing until later that evening, so I planned to drive up after rush hour. This left me able to continue, though I was a little distracted at times.






    Suddenly, the debris was released, and a passage through had been made.






    We continued upstream. Half a kilometre ahead, I knew the stream passed through some open woodland, with a couple of fishing lakes alongside, and at the top of this is a weir. I hoped we’d make it that far.

    Paddling in the lead, round tight bend after tight bend, I came to a bit where a floating raft of reeds lay in the flowing stream. As I moved my bows onto the bed of greenery, I was something lying there, half in the stream.









    I was amazed this beautiful banded grass snake didn’t slither quickly away. For a good half minute, it simply lay on the reeds, and I sat, with the side of the canoe maybe just two feet from it, trying not to disturb it any further whilst the others caught up. Eventually, though, it slipped off the reeds and started swimming.

    Now I could see why it hadn’t moved. It was clearly injured, and was swimming with a funny action, not with the sinuous ease they normally show. I felt even guiltier for disturbing it when it reached the steep banks, and couldn’t climb out. Normally, they slither easily upwards, but this one couldn’t. About ¾ of the way down its body, there was a kink, it had clearly been injured by something, and was seemingly paralysed from there down. I dropped back down, not sure whether to try to help it or not. It would get so far up the bank, then fall back in. Eventually, it managed to get enough out to rest for a while.






    I decided to help, though I know it may actually have been kinder to put it out of its misery! Each time it slipped back, I tried to catch it on the paddle, with the aim of then transferring it to the bank. This didn’t work, as it couldn’t grip the blade. I tried the paddle the other way round, and the snake did wrap around it enough for me to lift if higher and, at the second attempt after an initial moment of panic where it started sliding down the shaft towards me, I deposited it in the greenery above. Hopefully it recovered, I guess if not it will have become a meal for a passing buzzard or fox or something. Thus is nature I suppose.


    With the excitement over, we continued, ducking regularly under branches, covering ourselves in spiders, webs, dust, dirt, pollen, grass and beetles, whilst being nibbled on by mosquitos. At another blockage, we decided it was time for lunch.






    Having rested here, between the stream and a tree-lined fishing lake, we attacked this blockage. This one used mostly the Fran, though a little bit of engineering work with a log and strap was also deployed. Beyond, we had a few brief minutes of paddling without ducking, though now the stream was quite strong and at times shallow enough to make progress hard work. Of course, there were a few one-off trees that needed seeing to by Fran or myself, depending who was in the lead at that point.












    As we approached where I thought the weir must be, we came to a final, for the day, blockage. This was a biggie. And it still is, for there was no way we’d be sawing through this tree! I climbed onto it, and ascertained that the way ahead was shallow, but clear. For today though, with time pressing and me really needing to get back to the car and on the road north, we called it a day.






    We returned downstream. At this point, I should add that we’d found numerous pockets where rubbish was gathering; plastic, balls etc. There will be more about this at the end, but as we returned, we made an attempt to remove at least some of it.












    Eventually, we reached the Wey, and returned through the lock.









    At the finish, we inspected our debris-filled canoes, and Fran’s newly acquired fire extinguisher, found at the lunch blockage (there’s another still there, deep in the undergrowth!)









    The next few weeks saw me mostly up north in Nottinghamshire. Dad had been diagnosed with a “heart block” (electrical!) and also clots on his lungs. He spent a week in hospital, before being made bionic with the addition of a pacemaker, and sent home the same day. He’s now on the mend and indeed I’ve recently had him back in the front of the canoe paddling. He should make a full recovery, thanks to the fantastic work of the NHS, and indeed has more energy already than he had before. Indeed, after a check up where the nurse “tuned him up” slightly using some software, mum has commented that it might have been better to tune him down, to stop him going outside gardening all the time. Anyway, the result of all this, apart from the fact that we still have dad, was that the Hoe didn’t get visited for a few weeks. And all that time, the greenery had been growing….

    (Continued)

  2. #2
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    Default Day 4 – May 16th. A tale of two weirs.

    Day 4 – May 16th. A tale of two weirs.

    It was just Maj and I that returned the next time. We fought our way back upstream to our high point. The initial big blockage, which had taken such time to overcome, was looking much greener! It was great fun heading upstream, ducking under the bigger things, but basically having a free route through thanks to our efforts on the previous visits.









    We reached the log, in a steep ditchy bit lined with bamboo on one side.






    This required manual labour. Fortunately, it was solid enough to stand on, and though it required some proper effort, the canoes could be dragged over.






    Beyond, the water was shallow, and the headroom over the deepest bit was full of bamboo. We kept an eye our for Pandas, but they’re hard to find in Surrey these days.






    The paddling got easier, the flow was modest, the water deep enough, and for a few hundred metres, just the odd thing to duck under slowed us down.









    Almost abruptly, we came to a lovely spot. In my head, the weir was going to be an ugly concrete affair, and the climb around it awkward at best. However, it turned out to be a lovely spot, almost like one of those ornamental waterfalls you find in the gardens of a large country house.












    There were several options to get up the weir. I chose to get out onto the middle “island” and haul my canoe up to the flat ledge above.






    Above, as you would expect, was deeper water. Paddling was much easier. For about 5 minutes. Just a few bits of pruning needed, but overall, a lovely place to paddle. Further up, a remarkable set of roots grew from a tree on the banks.





















    Of course, there were a few fun bits. And here, it was becoming obvious we were nearing an urban landscape, from the detritus we found. Overall, though, it was a beautiful and quiet place to be, just a short distance from the town of Woking.












    I could hear the road ahead, where it crosses Hoe Bridge. This is the edge of the urban area, and from there the Hoe goes through a narrow little green space – the White Rose Lane nature reserve. A little weir sits just above the bridge, but inspection on foot had shown this wouldn’t be a problem except in high enough water that you wouldn’t want to be on this tree-choked stream at all.

    Before we got there, though, a final sting in the tail for this section. The second thickest of all the blockages, after that first one we’d spent so long on, on the first couple of days.






    We’d not brought a Fran, so I had to dive into the breach myself. Pruning my way towards the main blocking branches with loppers, I eventually reached them. Almost.






    The problem was, as it is so often, reaching the branches to cut them with the saw.









    The first few were easy enough, but I couldn’t reach the last. Eventually, with Maj stabilising the canoe at the back, I lay down on the bows and inched forwards until I could reach forwards and start sawing. This worked, though it felt more than a little wobbly, hanging off the front of a canoe. We were through, just a patch of yucky stuff to paddle over.






    The bridge & weir was just ahead. It was already late enough that we knew we wouldn’t be going any further, what with a two-hour return paddle to do too, but it was great to reach this spot after a lot of effort, for I knew from walking it that we’d be able to complete the rest.








    The return journey was delightful, and getting longer on each visit! All the blockages could be passed, but we’ve only cleared them enough to just get through, for we enjoy the adventure of ducking and diving under the greenery.








    [





    (Continued, again)

  3. #3
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    Default Day 5 – May 25th. The Hoe Down (& Up!)

    Day 5 – May 25th. The Hoe Down (& Up!)


    And so the big day had arrived. We’d contemplated just starting at the top, now we knew it would go, but in the end, we just thought it would be nicest to complete our ascent first, to the Leisure centre, avoid any shuttling, and reward ourselves with a visit to the café there to celebrate before the return downstream.

    The loop past the Priory was once again a delight.






    It was obvious how quickly the reeds have been growing up, and our journey upstream was a little harder, with sections where we had to fight to get through. Both of us did a little swan herding at one time or another.







































    It took about 3 hours to reach our previous high point at the weir. Even with all our work, the stream is intricate enough, and with enough ducking and hauling through undergrowth, that we were managing only 1 mph on average. The weir was easily passed, though Maj improvised his own punt rollers.









    Here is the river level gauge “Woking South”, which I’d been checking almost daily for months now, on RiverApp. The magic level seems to be between about 0.4 an 0.5. Lower and it will be a serious scrape in places, higher and you’ll be up in the trees at times!






    It was about a mile up to the Leisure Centre. I’d walked this along the banks, though there were two sections where the river looped away through thick undergrowth that I’d not been able to view. I’d spotted half a dozen small obstacles, and some shallow bits, and made myself some “pace notes” on the phone. I reckoned it would take up to an hour an a half…and so it proved.


    This section is now in Woking itself. Despite this, it’s a quiet, peaceful place, the river hidden from any housing, within the little nature reserve. In all the time we were heading up this bit we didn’t see a soul on the paths alongside. Now spring was nearly done, the whole place was a lush green, and the flowers were out on the rhododendrons.












    Maj took to the front when we came to the first major blockage. This also required some “lying down” technique, as well as some sawing from the banks.


















    Further on, a low tree trunk was our next obstacle. By moving forwards, I could just get enough weight on the bows to get them under it, then straddle the trunk, before dropping back in.












    With lower bows, and after a little pruning, Maj chose the “lying down” approach.






    On we went, lost in the jungle in central Woking. Some of the logs looked precarious, and there were a few other sections that slowed us down, but overall, progress was good.












    Rounding one bend, excited by how close we were now to our goal, we found a swimmer. This little fella was obviously lost, by Maj rescued him and gave him a bucket to rest in.









    Finally, we reached Woking Park, in which the Leisure Centre lies. We could hear people all around, though nobody saw us. We were nearly there.









    The last bit was shallow, and required the use of half-pole and paddle to push up against what was now a bubbling stream. Ahead was a rapid! This was our target, for it lies immediately under the bridge that marks the way into Woking Leisure Centre itself.









    The last inches required a little wading and shoving, but we’d made it.






    Scrambling out, we found ourselves, somewhat incongruously, surrounded by people, car parks and buildings. It was extremely satisfying to get here by canoe. Whilst it will have been done in historic times, I’m sure, we’d seen no sign of the passage of other canoes and I think we can safely claim the first passage in a long time! Nobody else is daft enough to spend 5 days trying to get from the River Wey to Woking Park in a canoe…





















    Nobody was paying us any attention, it seems that the folk of Surrey either found nothing interesting in canoes in a ditch, or were too nervous of these strange, debris-and-spider-covered chaps suddenly appearing from nowhere. After a well earned coffee and lunch break, we prepared to make the first descent of the stream – the Hoe Down to end all hoe downs.






    (Continued...)

  4. #4
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    Finally, somebody noticed us, and a group of schoolkids shouted encouragement from below (genuinely, no abuse at all!). We slid into the water, dragged down the rapid, and started the return. Having taken 4 hours to get up, we reckoned on about 3 hours to get back, but we planned to savour our return leg as much as possible.












    We ran the huge weir 😉 with ease.












    I really enjoyed this paddle, at a relaxed place, for we had time to look at the surroundings, and knew we had time on our side. This little ditch in an obscure part of Surrey, is a delightful place, truly beautiful, enhanced by the fact that for the majority of it, there is no footpath alongside, no other way to get there than by the water. Nature put on a show, with lilies, and dancing damselflies. The day was now stunning, too.







































    By the time we got out of the woodlands, the sky was blue and fabulous, a great way to complete the descent.



























    We reached the Wey. WE decided to treat ourselves to a gentle potter around the back water by the Priory, with conditions now absolutely stunning, before portaging the lock and heading home.



































    A fitting end, to a fantastic “project”, spread out over about 6 weeks. We were really pleased to finally get the Hoe Stream paddled, though I guess there is more upstream! That all looks a bit shallow though.

    What we’d found, was a lovely green corridor into the town, a place where nature clings on, and where you can forget how close other people are. Its truly lovely, but also a great adventure!

    There is, though, a flip side to this rural idyll, which I will discuss in the final part!



    Info

    Distance - 4 miles each way, including 1ish on the Wey and 3ish on the Hoe. Total distance paddled by each of us on the various visits, perhaps 25 miles!

    Man hours - 51!

  5. #5
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    Default Man v nature

    We’d had a great adventure, and enjoyed a lovely, special little river. However, in a few places in particular, the hand of man is all too obvious. Though most of the stream is fairly clear, the mile or so below the road bridge has some seriously horrid accumulations of piles of floating litter. Though the park and nature reserve parts are surprisingly clean, they also include plenty of dumped items, from trolleys to motorbikes and bicycles. Most of the plastic seems to float down and gather out of town, at the blockages which we’d spent so long clearing.



























    Its such a shame. “We” are ruining the hidden areas of nature, just as much as the obvious spots in laybys and verges.
    Maj gathered together a huge number of footballs, which he gives away to kids in the park near his home.








    As for the rest, well, we’d planned a return trip this year, to do a clear up. We hoped to get help from the council, Wildlife Trusts, EA or others. However, as the whole thing took far longer than we hoped, we suspect we’ve missed the window of opportunity for this year, as the reeds will now be completely choking the river for the mile above the lower road bridge, so it may be impassable. Watch this space, though, we do intend to return, and to take away as much of the grim piles of plastic that humans feel they can just chuck into the river.

    Perhaps, if we all make a bit of an effort to clear up, and with the new awareness of the harm plastic can do to wildlife, we can start to make a difference, even if its in a small way.

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    Are you sure you are OK to use OS mapping in this ..... couldn’t resist that one.

    Good work
    MarkL
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    Open Canoe hire/outfitting in the Massif Central
    ”We will make your trip work”



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    What a great blog..... thanks for sharing.

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    Mal, rubbish Blog and crappy photography. I really don't know why you bother !!

  9. #9
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    Looks great. Shame about the rubbish though. But it's a sad fact of life in most of the places I paddle too.
    Big Al.

    Only when the last tree has died
    and the last river been poisoned
    and the last fish been caught
    will we realise we cannot eat money.
    ~Cree Indian Proverb

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    This is absolutely my sort of paddle. I love the challenge of getting through these tree blocked ditches. If you can’t get a Fran a Warthog1981 is an impressive bit of kit

    Before I finished reading your excellent blogg I was already thinking the next phase should be a cleanup as the clear sections were already so beautiful it would be great to see the whole length in that condition.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkL View Post
    Are you sure you are OK to use OS mapping in this ..... couldn’t resist that one.

    Good work
    I view it as advertising for my new employer.


    Quote Originally Posted by Alan... View Post
    What a great blog..... thanks for sharing.
    Cheers Alan. Been a long time in the making, that one!


    Quote Originally Posted by bigyellowtractor View Post
    Mal, rubbish Blog and crappy photography. I really don't know why you bother !!
    I must try harder See ya Thurs with a bit of luck.


    Quote Originally Posted by Big Al. View Post
    Looks great. Shame about the rubbish though. But it's a sad fact of life in most of the places I paddle too.
    I know. Most of the time, I was gobsmacked by how lovely this place was, winding its way into suburban Surrey. But every now and then, we'd break through a blockage, and on the upstream side was this horrid soup of floating detritus. And then I went to France, where they give a shit, and we found one plastic dog frisbee in a week of paddling. It both saddens me, and boils my p1ss. I really hope we can get some help to arrange a clean-up paddle on this one, and will be using the blog to show the various organisations why we need to. We'll need help, as there's more stuff than we can fit in our canoes without being able to dump it off for collection somewhere.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MagiKelly View Post
    This is absolutely my sort of paddle. I love the challenge of getting through these tree blocked ditches. If you can’t get a Fran a Warthog1981 is an impressive bit of kit

    Before I finished reading your excellent blogg I was already thinking the next phase should be a cleanup as the clear sections were already so beautiful it would be great to see the whole length in that condition.

    I've heard rumours that a Warthog is a good alternative weapon against the jungles. Though I do enjoy stepping into the breach myself when I haven't either to deploy.

    Hopefully the cleanup can happen sooner rather than later. Might wear a full bio-hazard suit for that one, its pretty yucky in a few places!

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    Well done to all involved! You must have had a fantastic sense of achievement after so many hours of effort.
    Sussex

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    I have seen a few blue lines on OS maps that invite further investigation and I spotted where the Hoe comes out on the Wey last time I paddled. I would be very up for a clearance day or two should you decide to do that.

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    Flippin’ heck Mal......I think Hippo and I have been out-ditched! An epic!
    A ship should not ride on a single anchor, nor life on a single hope - Epictetus

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sussex View Post
    Well done to all involved! You must have had a fantastic sense of achievement after so many hours of effort.
    Sussex
    Yeah, it was very satisfying, and also a bit surreal, ditching into town when everybody else drives or takes the bus.


    Quote Originally Posted by bigyellowtractor View Post
    I have seen a few blue lines on OS maps that invite further investigation and I spotted where the Hoe comes out on the Wey last time I paddled. I would be very up for a clearance day or two should you decide to do that.
    We will at some point. Trying to avoid looking at other small blue lines at the moment!


    Quote Originally Posted by Patterdale Paddler View Post
    Flippin’ heck Mal......I think Hippo and I have been out-ditched! An epic!
    To truly be of your class, we should have wild camped until we'd got it done.

    Or taken a chain saw.

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