My first Canal Camp - what to expect from a WRG volunteer holiday

Group Picture
Created on 22/04/2016

(Photo: Tired but happy group of volunteers at the end of week one)

I started working for IWA as Assistant Volunteer Coordinator last November, and since joining have eagerly awaited the start of the Waterway Recovery Group Canal Camp season.  April arrived and I was off to Staffordshire to join the first week of the fortnight of work planned on the Uttoxeter Canal.

The focus of the work was Bridge 70 on the Uttoxeter Canal. The canal was abandoned in 1839 and Bridge 70 is the only bridge to survive. For a nearly 200 year old bridge it is in overall good repair but the surface needed re-laying to make it less steep and slippery in wet weather. With Heritage Lottery Funding due to run out in May the pressure was on to complete the work of installing steps and cobble setts over the two weeks of Camps.

Armed with a brand new camp bed and lots of old clothes I headed off for my first week long Canal Camp working holiday. 

So, what can you expect from your first Waterway Recovery Group Canal Camp experience?

Introduction and Talks

You'll find the arrival day is all about finding out about the week ahead.  There was a site work talk, health & safety talk (and video to watch), familiarisation of the accommodation and leader rules for the week.  Then a chance to chat to everyone else and begin to get to know the people you're going to be living and working with over the next week.  You'll find quite a few people are regular WRGies (as repeat offenders are known!) and there's a sense of cameraderie from the outset.  A trip down to the local pub on the first night helped too!


Come armed with lots of comfortable bedding and most importantly, earplugs!  There will be a snorer and if there isn't, it's probably you.  Canal camps are usually based in a local village hall and ours was well equipped with separate sleeping and dining areas.  WRG has it's own cookers and fridges so a makeshift kitchen area was constructed and this remained the domain of the cooks.  No dirty volunteers allowed here!


You will eat well on a canal camp! We were doubly blessed by having two Camp cooks (one in training for week two) and so we ate particularly well.  There's no guilt on Camp about having seconds either - the outdoor work is physical and the calories burned easily outweigh the homecooked grub consumed back at base!
Pineapple upsidedown Cake(Photo: Pineapple upside-down cake)


WRG have their own distinctive red vans for transporting volunteers and equipment to site.  Vans carry nine volunteers and have a separate compartment at the back for tools and equipment.  Each Camp usually has two vans and a trailer.  These vans are the lifeblood of the Canal Camps and are currently in the process of slowly being replaced by shiny new vans over the next couple of years. Our very obliging van driver pulled over at the the ice-cream van on the way back from site one day - a very naughty but welcome stop!


This will vary greatly from Camp to Camp.  The focus of our work was rebuilding the surface over the bridge by installing steps and a cobble pathway.  So there was digging, stone shifting, mortar mixing, pathway laying, aggregate shovelling, stake hammering, wacker compacting, cobble unloading and lots of carrying heavy stuff up onto the bridge! 

Everyone was involved with some aspect of the work and we all had a go at everything.  Some of the volunteers already had experience of doing some things (such as mixing lime mortar) and showed the rest of us how it was done.  I learned the best technique to hammer in stakes using a sledgehammer and how to lay cobble setts to make an even pathway, amongst other skills.  No-one was left out and everyone contributed to the task. By working together we lightened the load for everyone and made it good fun - by the second day the banter had started and the week progressed much in this way.  Laughter makes any task that much easier!

Cobble Setts(Photo: cobble sett laying on top of the bridge)


The brew tent is the most important part of the site's morning set-up.  The gazebo needs to go up, the burco brew kit comes out and is hooked up and the water put on. Tea-break is an opportunity to have a rest but also to spend some time reviewing what work had been completed and catching up on the chatter between everyone.  Also it meant cake-time and delving in the box to see what delights were hidden within!


Our working day at site generally finished around 4pm, with repacking the vans, tidying and securing the site before leaving.  Back at the accommodation there were a few tasks to be done such as cleaning the brew kit for the following day and making sure the water bottles are refilled.  Then a chance to have a sit down, wait for the shower to be free and relax.  Dinner was at 7pm sharp and everyone reappeared to sit at the table together and tuck in.

There are usually a few evening activities planned - we had a night out at the nearby bowling alley, pitted two teams against the locals in the pub quiz (and lost) and had movie night, complete with popcorn and oversized bean bags in the hall.

Overall Experience

Mine was an overwhelmingly positive experience - I loved the banter between the volunteers and having really interesting chats with other volunteers from all walks of life.  I learned loads about canal restoration and practical outdoor skills.  I had a week away from normal everyday life in a beautiful part of the world with a friendly and diverse bunch of people. I can't wait for the next opportunity to go on Camp!

Emma Matthars, April 2016

2016 Canal Camps!

Bookings are open for the summer - book your Canal Camp today! Download the 2016 Canal Camp Working Holidays brochure or find out more information about Canal Camps on the Waterway Recovery Group pages.

To speak to one of the team please contact Head Office.

You can also view more pictures from 2015 Canal Camps on WRG's Flickr page.

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Tags: Things to Do