Zebon Copse to Tundry Pond
Distance: About 7km, 4½ miles Allow 1½ – 2 hours
This is a gentle, easy walk with only one small hill. It mostly follows the line of the Basingstoke Canal, more information about which you can find at http://www.basingstoke-canal.org.uk/. If you stay on the canal tow path there are no stiles to negotiate and it is (relatively!) wheelchair-friendly all the way. If you return across the fields there are 7 stiles to negotiate, some easier than others!
Leave Zebon Copse estate via the bridleway that goes from the Community Centre towards the canal. Cross the canal over the swing bridge and turn left along the tow path. The first bridge that you come to is Poulter’s Bridge. Continue under Poulter’s Bridge and continues along the tow path looking out for mallard ducks, coots, moorhens and the occasional swan.
The next bridge is Chequers Bridge, easily the least photogenic of the bridges along this section of the canal! Ignoring the attraction of ‘The Exchequer’ 150 yards down the road to your right, continue under the bridge and along the towpath.
You will now start to see evidence of some of the canal’s WW2 history. Just after passing the car park on your left you will see a set of ‘dragons’ teeth’, concrete blocks set in the canal banks. Later you will find the remains of concrete footings with circular holes in the middle of each. Still further on you will find a number of ‘pill boxes’, hexagonal brick-built structures with a horizontal slit in the sides of the structure facing the canal.
The concrete blocks were anti-tank defences, the pill boxes were sited to give protection to troops in defensive positions whilst giving them interlocking arcs of fire, and the concrete footings originally had wooden posts in the holes and could be found along the length of the canal. The canal formed part of the GHQ Line, the concept of which was put forward in Operation Instruction No.3 by General Edmund Ironside, Commander-in-Chief of Home Forces on June 25th 1940. The plan consisted of a three-tier system of home defence. The first tier consisted of coastal defences along 500 miles of probable invasion beaches, with infantry divisions devoted to them. The second tier consisted of stop lines and nodal points set behind the coastal regions and extending up to fifty miles inland. Behind this was the G.H.Q anti-tank defence line, a fixed line of continuous anti-tank traps and obstacles supported by pillboxes.
The Basingstoke Canal formed part of this carefully sited line 50 miles behind the south and east coasts from Highbridge in Somerset, along the River Brue and the Kennet and Avon Canal to Reading, around the south of Aldershot, Guildford and London, to Canvey Island and Great Chesterford in Essex, before heading north to end in Yorkshire. There was a G.H.Q. Reserve of three infantry and one armoured division deployed behind it. Having taken note of the history lesson, continue along a longer section of the canal to Double Bridge. In this section you will find a variety of flora and fauna. You might be lucky enough to catch sight of a kingfisher or heron.
The canal is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and supports a huge variety of damselflies and dragonflies and has more types of aquatic plant than any other water body in Britain. It is worth remembering your binoculars, and plant and bird guides to take with you! Continue under Double Bridge and shortly afterwards you will come to Blacksmith’s Bridge. Here you should leave the towpath and cross over the bridge. You will see that just beyond the bridge the canal widens significantly. This is a turning bay for canal boats, and was built to serve the Georgian Manor House on the hill, now the Four Seasons Hotel. In front of you are some white gates and a stile. It is usually possible to use the right hand gate rather than the stile. Turn immediately right down the path – you will see Tundry Pond in front of you. This is a lovely place for a picnic (no seats, though), or if you are a keen birdwatcher you should be able to see some or all of the following wildfowl: swans, Canada geese, Egyptian geese, great crested grebe, mallard duck, goosander, coot, moorhen, dabchicks, tufted duck, pochard, etc.
Once you are ready to leave Tundry Pond, either retrace your steps along the canal or, having re-crossed Blacksmith’s Bridge, go straight ahead and follow the footpath up to the road (Church Lane), keeping to the narrow path to the left of a private drive. Cross the road and immediately cross a stile (it is usually possible to walk around the stile) into a field. Depending on the time of year you might or might not see an obvious footpath going straight ahead towards a telegraph pole. Walk straight towards the pole and you will see that it has a yellow footpath marker on it. After the pole you should bear half left towards another stile in the fence. Cross the stile and turn immediately right between two fences; on your left is also a rather attractive native hedge. The path bends sharp left after 50 yards or so, and then ends by a stile on the right. Cross this stile, then a track and then two more stiles in quick succession. Walk diagonally to the left across a small paddock and climb over yet another stile into a lane. Turn right into the lane and follow it between two houses, then over a small concrete bridge, bear left and over a wooden bridge. Take care here as there are a couple of nasty holes/trip hazards.
Now follow the path between some trees and straight on up a small rise in front of you. The footpath can be rather indistinct, but keep going more or less in a straight line to the top of the rise, then look for the corner of the field slightly left of straight ahead. There is a stile in the corner, which is where you are headed. Climb the stile and then bear left across the field to another stile into a lane. Turn right into Stroud Lane and continue to the end to emerge into Crondall Road. Turn right here to pass ‘The Exchequer’ on your left. You might not be able to resist the urge to stop for some refreshment this time! Continue up to Chequers Bridge, this time crossing back over the canal and continuing down the lane. After 100 metres or so, you will see a footpath on your left between two wooden barriers. Walk along this path, which will emerge into Zephon Common Lane. Turn left into the lane and continue along to Poulter’s Bridge.
At this point you have a choice of 3 routes back to the community centre, either through the field on your right, back along the towpath or continuing along Zephon Common Lane to the swing bridge and thence to the Community Centre.