Our November meeting was an illustrated talk on Restoration Progress on the Grantham Canal by Mike Stone, Chairman of the Grantham Canal Society. Unfortunately, technical problems delayed the start of the talk as we tried four laptops before we eventually found one that would communicate with our digital projector ! Meanwhile we were entertained by some impromptu unaccompanied singing of canal songs by two talented members of the audience, and the usual event notices, raffle drawing and a refreshment break filled the time for our very patient members and friends.
Although the shortened talk missed out the historical introduction, Mike was still able to give us the full story of recent progress with restoring the canal, and impressive progress it is too. Some 7 miles of the original 33 miles are now navigable, although in 3 separate sections, and 5 of the 18 locks have been fully restored.
Considering that the canal was abandoned in 1936 it has survived remarkably intact, with 28 of its 33 miles still in water although about 40 bridges had been lowered in the 1950’s before restoration began. Past successes have included removing a redundant railway embankment blocking the canal, replacing 4 lowered bridges, restoring a section through Cotgrave Country Park and building a slipway for trail boats. But the pace of restoration has picked up since 2006 with an active Grantham Canal Partnership between GCS, six local authorities, CRT, IWA, Natural England and others.
The IWA National Trailboat Festival in 2007 provided a boost to the project and the incentive to provide landing stages at Lock 18, Harlaxton Wharf and near the A1 at Grantham, and some 2 miles of dredging on that section. A 12 seat society trip boat now operates on the summit pound on charter hire and occasional public trips. The society has also acquired a workboat from BW which was restored at a local prison, and more recently a redundant dredger which has been fully refurbished.
The 3 locks at Woolsthorpe leading to the summit pound towards Grantham were restored some years ago but keeping the top lock 18 navigable has been a challenge of late. One wall was collapsing and cost £400k to rebuild by contractors, half of which came from an IWA legacy. Since then new top gates have been fitted by the society and funding is still being raised for the new bottom gates. Meanwhile, a first stage grant from the Heritage Lottery funding has been agreed to develop a bid for heritage skills training and restoration of locks 12 to 15, although another collapsed wall on lock 14 may cost up to £1m alone.
The recent widening of the A46 near Cotgrave to dual carriageway provided a new bridge but, despite a Public Inquiry and a favourable Inspector’s recommendation, did nothing to remove the adjacent blockage on a link road at Mann’s Bridge. However, traffic lights installed to allow towpath users to cross the road have set a precedent for interrupting traffic so a lifting bridge should be possible in the future.
Longer term, the key to full restoration is a new route to the River Trent around Nottingham, where new roads have obstructed the original line, and a route using the line of the Polser Brook between the A52 and Holme Pierpoint water sports centre has been identified.
The Society recently changed its name to drop the word ‘restoration’ to appeal to all current and potential users of the canal and has good support from anglers, walkers and cyclists, but the full restoration of the canal to navigation remains its primary aim. Its increasing activity and professional approach to project planning and fundraising leaves no doubt that it will eventually be achieved.
To help support the continuing restoration, Lichfield Branch were pleased to be able to make a donation of £100 to the Grantham Canal Society.
(Report by Phil Sharpe, photos from GCS)
Our Friday work party saw a lucky thirteen volunteers working in the Brindley Bank area by the aqueduct on the Trent and Mersey Canal in Rugeley.
The footpath from the bottom of the ‘Bloody Steps’ to the aqueduct was finished in quick time, so our team started to fill in behind the piling at the far end of the moorings.
The grass had the last cut of the year, with the footpath from Wolseley Road having the side vegetation strimmed. The steps were cleared of leaves and accumulated moss to make them safer during the winter months.
Meanwhile the ‘Time Team’ continued building the wharf wall, although hampered by the persistent rain. We were joined by one of our PCSOs, Liz Dale. Liz told us that reported incidents of anti social behaviour are well down since we started our renovation work, and also that some offenders had been caught. She gave us a reminder to pass on the ‘101’ telephone number to report any incidents.
Our volunteers are all ages, and many wear different ‘volunteering hats’. On this occasion we had members from the Lichfield and Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust, Stafford Riverway Link, Rugeley Lions, Inland Waterways Association, Canal and River Trust, the Police, and local residents who no doubt support other charities and organisations.
Big thanks to Canal and River Trust who provided all the equipment, and Pat for making her delicious cakes!
We will try to fit in another work party before the end of the year, weather permitting!
(Report & photos by Margaret Beardsmore, Work Party Coordinator)
Horrible weather in the morning limited this walk to 9 brave souls, although it relented to light drizzle as we set off up Curdworth Locks on the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal. Pausing near Lock 7 to see where the threatened HS2 High Speed Railway will cut across the attractive countryside, we crossed over the already noisy M42 and past the newly revealed site of a masive railway construction depot on farmland close to Marston village. The route then followed the old Kingsbury Road between several large lakes to the River Tame and along the riverside into Kingsbury Water Park.
The sun came out briefly so we paused for a group photo at the footbridge with the old manor house and church at Kingsbury village in the background. A slightly muddly route across the meadows took us back to the M42 where the Leeds line of HS2 will run through the Water Park alongside the motorway. An underpass takes the footpath through to the northern part of the Water Park and, after a slight diversion where flood protection banks are being constructed, we arrived back at the canal, just in time for a real drenching on the last half mile back to the pub ! Fortunately the Dog & Doublet was warm and welcoming and we all gradually dried out over a good pub lunch.
Thanks to Derek Beardsmore for planning and leading this walk. (Report & photo by Phil Sharpe)
A very brave 8 people turned out on a Sunday with the worst weather forecast for a long time! As it happened, the only rain we had was when we stopped for tea and cake, so we managed to complete most of what we set out to do.
We were fortunate to be joined by Terry Drake from Canal and River Trust, who not only did the strimmer handling assessment for Clive and Richard, but also gave them some valuable extra instructions on more complicated strimmer techniques.
Our main job was to clear the decking area again, which had become badly overgrown during the summer, and to start clearing the canal bank again.
We are only at the beginning of what is quite a complicated project. The next stage will be to replace part of the decking which is rotten, and begin to sandbag the canal bank.
Our next work party will be on the 8th November, when we will be back at Brindley Bank. New volunteers always welcome!
(Report & Photos by Margaret Beardsmore)
We had two main priorities for our Friday work party – to make progress re-laying the path at the bottom of the ‘Bloody Steps’ and to begin work rebuilding the canal wall by the Heritage Tramway.
In addition, Derek did his usual strimming and mowing, helped by Richard C in the afternoon.
Phil, Pete, and Richard B made steady progress all day with the path laying. Another day should see this task complete, though it is looking a great deal better already.
The re-building of the canal wall was a journey into the unknown. Luckily we had Tom Woodcock from the Heritage Division of CRT to train us and supervise, as we had to use lime mortar and heritage bricks. Work speeded up considerably when we finally persuaded the concrete mixer to work! The task was slow and painstaking, made difficult because the canal bank had to be built up by sandbags at one end. Stuart, Ed and Terry are our new experts..... This was never going to be finished in one day, or probably even two, so we hope for decent weather at our next attempts.
Our day was brightened considerably with the appearance of two new volunteers from Tesco. Becky and Jo (and later, Jo’s son, Brett) were a breath of fresh air and smiled as they shovelled aggregate all afternoon, then helped to cart bricks about at the end of the day.
All in all, a good day’s work, enjoyed by all – especially thanks to Pat for the excellent fruit cake, of which there wasn’t even one piece left by 4pm.
Margaret Beardsmore, Work Party Coordinator. (Photos by Phil Sharpe)
Just 8 of us, and a dog, met at The Tame Otter in Hopwas for this 3 mile canal and woodland walk on a pleasantly mild morning at the start of October. From Lichfield Road Bridge we headed north along the towpath of what is generally thought of as the Coventry Canal, but is actually an outpost of the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal due to historic accident.
At Hopwas Wood Bridge we entered the old military firing range area, thankfully now disused, and climbed steadily along a track through the extensive Hopwas Hays Wood. Sticking to the official bridle paths, the walk descended and ascended again as we followed a triangular route through a variety of natural and plantations areas, each with different species of conifer and broadleaf trees. After a final descent we arrived back at the canal bridge and retraced our steps along the towpath to the Inn, where some of us enjoyed a pleasant lunch. Thanks to Clive Walker for researching and leading this walk. (Photos by Phil Sharpe)
A dozen members and friends enjoyed this 6 mile stroll through the flat farmland of the Tame Valley. From Alrewas we crossed over the A38 and then followed a conveyor carrying gravel from the local quarries across the fields. This took us to Ridget Lane, Barley Green Lane and then Stockford Lane, all quiet back roads carrying little traffic. Taking to the fields again the walk led through Brookhay Wood which was pleasantly shaded on this warm and sunny day. Joining the Coventry Canal near Brookhay Bridge we paused for the traditional group photo before following the towpath to Heath Gap and Fradley village. A pleasant path between the houses brought us out by some picturesque thatched cottages. The route back to Alrewas was along Cowhill Lane and across fields to Daisy Lane and our starting point by the cricket ground. Refreshments and a pleasant lunch were then enjoyed at the William IV pub in the centre of the village. Thanks to Ed Rule for researching and leading this walk.
(Photo by Phil Sharpe)
We couldn’t have picked a worse day for weather for this work party at the Brindley Bank area in Rugeley. The rain had come down in bucket loads overnight and on the morning, the ‘showers’ turned into persistent rain that lasted into the afternoon.
Nonetheless, seven hardy souls turned out to cut the grass, do some more work on the historic tramway and remove Himalayan Balsam. Himalayan Balsam reaches well over head height, and is a major weed problem, especially on riverbanks but can also invade gardens. It grows rapidly and spreads quickly, smothering other vegetation as it goes. In summer it produces small pink flower clusters which are followed by seed pods that open explosively when ripe.
Last year the weed had already flowered by the time we removed it, and yet there was visibly less of it this year. As we have ‘got at it’ this year before it flowered we hope there will be very little to deal with in 2014.
We were all soaked to the skin by the end of the morning, but went home feeling it was a job well done!
Margaret Beardsmore, Work Party Coordinator
After a day of heavy rain the sun came out for this evening walk around Chasewater Reservoir, led by Denis and Carol Cooper. Although there were lots of puddles the paths are firmly surfaced and several boardwalks led us dry shod across the edge of the reservoir and over some adjacent swampy areas. Since being drained for repairs, a year of exceptional rainfall means the reservoir is now brim full and once again fulfilling its main purpose in supplying water to the canal system, with the wildlife, sailing and watersports also steadily returning.
From the visitor centre we skirted the shore of the lake to the Chasewater Railway and the Causeway where we paused to see the new culverts between the main reservoir and Jeffrey's Swag. An undulating route across the heathland and swamps brought us to Pool Road and the main reservoir dam. From here the old valve house overlooks Anglesey Canal Basin although it is no longer used to control the water supply. The main new works here were in strengthening the dam wall and reducing leakage, and rebuilding the overflow weirs to ensure that Chasewater continues to supply water to the canals for another two centuries whilst also providing recreation and wildlife habitat.
(Photos by Phil Sharpe)
Our eleven volunteers had to dodge the April showers at the work party on 27th April, but managed to complete the list of jobs by lunchtime.
This work party was the ‘end of the beginning’ at St. Augustine’s Field in Rugeley. The final result will be much needed boaters facilities in Rugeley, plus winter moorings.
On the day we finished ground scrub clearance, and cleaned off the existing decking. This allowed us to check the condition of the decking – better than we hoped in most places! In addition, we had some 200 saplings left over from the earlier tree planting, and these were given a temporary home for the summer. We are intending to plant them in the Leathermill Lane area of Rugeley this winter, following the Tesco development in the area.
The next stage at this site is to do an assessment of the site together with Canal and River Trust, and plan the work which needs to be done in future.
(Report & Photos by Margaret Beardsmore)
The wind was chill but the day was bright and dry as a 'lucky' 13 people (and two dogs) set off along the Trent and Mersey Canal from Alrewas for this circular walk. Passing Bagnall Lock and the isolated Common Lock we reached the locks below Fradley Junction. This area never disappoints when looking for items of interest and we paused to look at the historic buildings, and also the new mooring jetty which has replaced the old pontoons.
From the junction we took the towpath along the Coventry Canal as far as Fradley village. It was surprising to see so few boats on the move just after Easter, but the cold wind was perhaps keeping them by their stoves. Leaving the towpath we skirted along the back of the village on lanes until reaching a stile to access paths across the fields. After 3 more stiles, Alrewas showground and several kissing gates later we arrived back at the starting point to enjoy a good value meal in the pub before dispersing home. (Report by Kaye Harrison, photos by Phil Sharpe)
A formerly overgrown and narrow footpath leading to the canal in Rugeley has been completely transformed by volunteers.
IWA Lichfield Branch volunteers and friends worked for 4 days to widen and resurface the footpath leading from Wolseley Road, past the South Staffs Water Pumping Station near Albany Drive, to the steps down to the Trent & Mersey Canal at Brindley Bank in Rugeley.
For many years the path has been difficult to negotiate without getting stung by nettles or brambles. So, after preliminary work to clear the undergrowth, IWA invited local volunteers to help upgrade the path so that the canal is more accessible for family walks. Over the week 21 volunteers turned out to help; some for a couple of hours, some for the whole time. A total of 293 volunteer hours was worked, which doesn’t include three previous clearance work parties at the site.
The materials and plant hire were funded by grants from Staffordshire County Council Community Footpath Initiative, Rugeley Town Council, Rugeley Traders Association and IWA Festivals. The qualified excavator and dumper drivers were Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust members and hand tools were loaned by the Canal & River Trust.
After 2 days work in cold but dry weather, this was the story so far in pictures:
After 2 more days of hard work, shovelling, barrowing, raking and compacting stones, with a huge effort the job was completed a day ahead of schedule, and just in time before all the snow arrived !
(Report and photos by Margaret Beardsmore and Phil Sharpe)
On a very cold but dry morning, seventeen volunteers held a canal ‘Spring Clean’ along the Trent & Mersey Canal through Rugeley. Twenty one bags of litter were collected, graffiti removed from a canal bridge, and over 300 tree saplings planted to fill gaps in the towpath hedge.
The Spring Clean is a joint event which is run by Inland Waterways Association, Rugeley Lions and the Canal and River Trust. All the volunteers were local to Rugeley, including families who brought their children along for the morning. A big thank you to everyone, you really made a difference!
During the event CRT Central Shires Maintenance Manager Will Burnish presented a Volunteer Organisation Recognition Award to IWA Workparty Co-ordinator Margaret Beardsmore as a thank-you to Lichfield Branch for the time the team has given in 2012 to transform the canal in Rugeley through regular maintenance and improvements.
(Photo by Derek Beardsmore)
Our annual jumble sale at Penkridge, held jointly with the Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust, was not quite as well supported with jumble and customers this year, but still succeeded in raising almost £500 divided between the Trust and IWA. Many thanks to everyone who contributed and helped on the day.
(Report & photo by Phil Sharpe)
The threatened rain held off but an overcast sky didn’t do justice to the pleasant scenery on this 6 mile walk around Wychnor Park. The long metalled track to the Hall kept our boots clean initially before we descended into the valley of the River Swarbourn, and on to the navigable section of the Trent between Alrewas and Wychnor Church. From there we returned via the park to the cars, and a short drive north of Yoxall for a convivial pub lunch.
A select band of volunteers assembled at fairly short notice for this work party at Rugeley. The location was the footpath between Wolseley Road and the top of the ‘Bloody Steps’, leading to the Trent & Mersey Canal. The task was to remove several small trees, bushes and old tree stumps to widen the path, in preparation for levelling and resurfacing later in the month.
Cutting up a felled tree
Digging out a tree stump
The Widened path
After a cold start the day was mild and dry, ideal weather for some outdoor exercise. Judicious applications of bowsaws, loppers, mattocks and spades saw the job completed by early afternoon, including two welcome breaks for refreshments. Working on a weekday meant fewer interruptions for passing pedestrians, but the path was still well used by walkers, dog walkers, joggers, families and even someone going to work across the valley, who were all appreciative of the improvements being made.
(Report & photos by Phil Sharpe)
For our February talk former IWA national chairman Audrey Smith took us to China with some contrasting pictures of the Yangtze River and its famous Three Gorges, taken on trips both before and after the river level was raised by construction of a massive dam. Whole cities have been rebuilt on higher ground and numerous farms and historic sites submerged to provide the hydro-electric power and flood control that the dam will provide, although the many environmental impacts have proved very controversial. Numerous new bridges have been built to reconnect old and new communities along the river but many of the attractive traditional buildings have been replaced by grey concrete tower blocks and apartments, looking even greyer in the polluted air and perpetual smog hanging over many of the cities.
It was fascinating to see a country and a society so different from our own, and the new navigation structures on an unimaginable scale. The double 5 rise locks alongside the Three Gorges Dam may resemble Foxton in theory, but at a vastly larger size. The commercial shipping traffic is so heavy that one staircase is permanently dedicated to upstream traffic with the other for downstream lockage. It is also planned to build a ship lift to speed up passage for the many passenger ships now cruising on the river. If China can solve its pollution problems and avoid further damage to its historic sites it will continue to attract boating tourists despite the submergence of some of the more spectacular river gorges.
Over the weekend of the 16/17 February, 34 volunteers had a major scrub bash on the offside of the Trent and Mersey Canal in Rugeley. The glorious weather (plus homemade cake) encouraged the volunteers who made a huge effort to clear many years of brambles, scrub and litter on the edge of St. Augustine’s Field.
The weekend’s work was made very pleasant by the Rugby club letting us use their clubhouse facilities and helping to ‘tackle’ the work.
St. Augustine’s Field was bought by public donations some years ago to stop any development on the field and to preserve it as a sports field for Rugeley Residents. It is administered by Rugeley Open Spaces Association (ROSA) and used by Rugeley Rugby Club who have recently renovated their club house on the field.
The scrub bash by the canal is the first part of a long-term project to provide much needed boaters facilities and also winter moorings. General agreement has been reached by all parties involved so now we need to plan the work and find the money!
(Report & photos by Margaret Beardsmore)
10 people and 3 dogs enjoyed a 4.5 mile walk around the outskirts of Rugeley on a bright and pleasant morning. Starting at the Wolseley Arms we crossed over the A513 and went up a steep lane through the Wolseley Estate and over a part of Cannock Chase. The lane was well fenced and the dogs enjoyed a good run.
Pausing briefly to take a photograph, and negotiate a stile, we finally turned right onto a public footpath that led through woods and across fields to Etchinghill. Using the road we then headed down to Rugeley, so reaching The Bloody Steps and the towpath of the Trent and Mersey Canal. We paused there to hear the tale of the murder of Christina Collins and examine closely the work that has been done by IWA Lichfield work parties to clear the area and install mooring rings.
Setting off again we walked over the aqueduct and carried on along the towpath back to Wolseley Bridge and our starting point. The party then enjoyed a good lunch in the pub.
Thank you to Derek Beardsmore for leading the party, in the absence of Margaret who has broken her collar bone. Fortunately, though, Margaret felt well enough to join us for the lunch.
(Report & photo by Kaye Harrison)
The first meeting at our new venue of Martin Heath Hall in January was a talk on the Norbury to Newport Canal. Unusually, it was presented by several speakers, reflecting the fact that there are now two organisations involved in this restoration scheme.
First on was Dianne Maxfield, Chair of the Norbury to Newport Canal Restoration CIC. Dianne explained that this Community Interest Company was set up by local residents around Norbury who wanted to see the original canal line to Newport restored along with its locks, rather than the new route with an inclined plane being proposed at that time by the Shrewsbury & Newport Canals Restoration Trust. The CIC now had over 200 members and, following a change of policy by S&NCRT, the two bodies were working well together to progress the scheme as a true restoration project.
Bernie Jones, Chairman of Shrewsbury & Newport Canals Restoration Trust then took us on an illustrated tour of some of the highlights of the canals’ route. Starting from Shrewsbury, the canal served the historic Ditherington Flax Mill, which as the world’s first iron-framed building is the precursor of all today’s skyscrapers, and there are hopes of restoring this section of canal in conjunction with the mill. Outside Shrewsbury, the Berwick Tunnel was one of the earliest canal tunnels to have a towpath and still survives, as does the pioneering cast-iron aqueduct at Longdon-on Tern, although the aqueduct at Rodington was unfortunately demolished. The Shrewsbury Canal was later joined by the Newport Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal at Wappenshall Junction which is the focus of the Trust’s current activities. The two historic warehouses here have been purchased by Telford & Wrekin Council and leased back to the Trust for a nominal amount, with the intention of obtaining heritage and other grants to restore and reuse them as a heritage centre.
Wappenshall Warehouses (Report & photo Phil Sharpe)
Bernie also outlined the recent history of the two canals which were closed in 1944 and sold off from the 1960’s onwards. After earlier restoration initiatives stalled, the Trust was formed in 2000 and a study by Atkins in 2004 found that restoration was feasible at a cost of £86m, although this may be reduced by voluntary work. S&NCRT now has over 1,000 members with local groups active at Shrewsbury, Telford and Newport and is working closely with the Norbury to Newport CIC on a joint restoration strategy.
The third speaker was John Heather for the Norbury to Newport Canal Restoration CIC. John was a Civil Engineer with Atkins and explained some of the engineering challenges and possible solutions. The Newport Branch Canal was authorised in 1827 and finished in 1835, towards the end of the canal era, and Telford used standardised designs and good quality sandstone for the locks and bridges, although the local puddle clay available was not so good and most of the channel will need relining on restoration. As most of the land was sold off, or just given away, parts of the channel and many of the locks were infilled, some of the bridges were demolished and the Newport Bypass built across the line, although many original structures survive in good condition. After the successful heritage restoration of Moss Pool Bridge parapet last summer, the listed aqueduct and skew bridge at Forton are planned to be the next main restoration site, costing up to £100k and with voluntary work by WRG starting in February.
We had a lovely bright morning for our annual New Year Walk, with twenty six walkers turning out for an exploration of the Lichfield Canal restoration works. David Dixon of the Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust led us on an interesting tour which took in the lift bridge at Darnford Lane before we went to see the new excavations in Darnford Park.
|(Report and photos by Margaret Beardsmore)|
LHCRT have recently done extensive work in Darnford Park, where they need to build a new staircase lock to take the canal under the A38. We also went to the Tamworth Road site where David showed us the re-watered part of the canal, the restored lock chambers and the unique circular bywash. The walk then took us through to Streethay and down to the Coventry Canal, where we made our way to the Plough Inn at Huddlesford for lunch.