Local Volunteers have helped IWA Lichfield Branch lay a complete new canalside path in Rugeley, for which the Canal & River Trust kindly provided the equipment and materials.
The newly surfaced path runs between Brindley Bank Aqueduct on the Trent & Mersey Canal as far as the Rugeley Bypass Bridge, some 200 metres. This is part of a popular circular walk for Rugeley residents but previously became very muddy during the winter.
A total of 27 volunteers put in 340 hours labour, sometimes in appalling wet weather. Some came for the week, some for a day or two, and some fit in a few hours between paid work or babysitting, but everyone worked extremely hard to get the task finished.
The new path has now been lined and one layer of aggregate has been laid and compacted. The final layer will be installed in early Spring, when hopefully the weather will be better.
(Report by Margaret Beardsmore, photos by Phil Sharpe and Margaret Beardsmore)
The car park of the Holly Bush Inn at Salt was the meeting point for our walk, led by the Beardsmores with Derek in the lead and Margaret in a nominally supporting role. We had a fine calm autumn day with some cloud and plenty of clear sky, and only sparse muddy patches on the towpath; just right for the season. We totalled 11 walkers with two, apparently appreciative, dogs swelling our ranks.
We headed roughly north up the lane out of the village and soon came to the Trent and Mersey Canal where we joined the footpath at the start of the main part of the walk, a big clockwise circuit. Turning left, we immediately stopped to view the canal bridge, listed in 1968 and of interest as the original arch of the humpbacked bridge of the canal, completed along this stretch in 1777, had been massively built on with successive arches laid on each other when the level of the road above had to be raised to accommodate the road crossing of the new railway just a little further down the lane in 1849. After a group photo by the bridge we carried on along the towpath.
At Sandon lock we were able to view the works being done there and chat to the workmen. Both gates were off with a dam across the top which accounted for why we had seen no traffic on the canal. A little further up we could also view the old lime kiln by the side of the canal. We turned back to cross the canal by the lock bridge and walked up the lane towards Sandon. The old building of the station, closed in 1947, was the cause for some comment, having expensive patterned brickwork and tall Tudor style chimneys built with a lot of Victorian pride.
We crossed the main road and into a country lane leading uphill and over a cattle grid as we were now entering the very pastoral part of our walk. The old school was by the side of the lane and so up we went to what appeared to be the top of our walk, the church of All Saints. There has been a church here since at least 1130, with major rebuilding in 1310 and many improvements in the 1920s. The clear day helped us to appreciate the location of the church as the views out over Staffordshire to the SW were very fine, and the party was inspired to walk through the churchyard and around the building and soak up the spirit of this seemingly isolated ancient site.....but it was not isolated when it was built. Nearby the land is all folded with dips and hummocks, the site of the old village of Sandon which was quite removed when the first Baron Harrowby, who had recently acquired the area, laid out his great park, still about 400 acres, in 1777.....for we were on the estate of Sandon Hall, the home of the Earls of Harrowby. The second Baron was raised to being the first Earl, and later Viscount Sandon in 1809.
We followed the track down past the abandoned village site and over a watercourse with farm buildings on our left and an intriguing large wet old excavation to our right with a footbridge across it. Our leaders informed us that this was the old moat of the manor house and a local lady came over the bridge on cue for further discussion of the matter. The moat, though distinctly soggy looking, is now short of water as the stream feeding it is being extracted further up for farming. The moat seemed to be large and wide and roughly square shaped, in woodland, and was the site of the original moated manor house which became Sandon Hall. Here the first Baron and second Barons would have lived after buying the estate in the 18th Century.
1848 was a year of tumult across Europe... and so too in little Sandon on its quiet hillside. An unguarded moment by a workman up on the roof, just an instant of carelessness with a blow torch, and the fire had started which burnt the hall down.
A new hall had to be built, which was done a good mile away, and the current fine Jacobean revival style mansion was completed in 1854 (those Victorians knew how to get on with their projects). We only glimpsed the back of it later in the walk. A sort of summer house was built on the moated site, we could glimpse something on the island in the wood; it looked damp and forlorn to me.
The church had not been the top of the walk. The track now carried on up and we came to a fine, tall stone building near the top of the hill, the quite incongruous architecture apparently being due to its having been built at the same time as the new hall, itself done in an anachronistic style, appropriately called Stonehouse Farm. At this point bearings were taken, and going through a gate by the track we entered open grassy parkland and headed up hill again with woods to our right. The parkland rolled up and over the hill top which proved to be the real highest point of the walk, with superb views over Staffordshire for miles and in satisfyingly different directions than those from the church. The group in its little clusters ambled down the wide pasture land dotted with grazing sheep, guided fixedly onward by the distant vaporous vision of Rugeley Power Station.
Passing a corner of a wood to our right, the parkland opened up a view and in it...what is this? There, quite unannounced, as if dropped from outer space, was a large and curious square building of arches supporting a flat platform with balustrades and broken ones at that. There appeared no access onto it or up within it; a construction entirely without function in a useless situation and a great surprise to behold....a supreme example of what a Folly should be.
The Folly had previous history. It was the highest point of the great stately home that was Trentham Hall, where it rose up above the roofline in the middle of the two big wings of the hall as a decorative belvedere in the style of a campanile, a lookout and a focus for the eye viewing the hall. When the mansion at Trentham was demolished in 1912 the 5th Earl of Harrowby purchased it for £100, and my thanks to him.
The Folly then formed the backdrop for a group photo opportunity.
Our amble down the hillside brought us to another track where we turned right and we carried on in beautiful November sunshine over a cattle grid with a farewell to the sheep and up into a wood, with a really nice autumn feel as we moved through the trees, dry golden leaves rustling underfoot as they should.
The top of the wooded hill was to our right. There was a trackway in a cutting through it and over the track the arch of a large grey stone bridge. Another surprise, seemingly out of place, and if you had been crossing the bridge you would have come to what we saw to our left rising out of the trees on the hill.....a great Doric column with an urn on top.
This was erected in honour of the great statesman who, having seen the country safely through the first part of the Napoleonic wars, died early in 1806.....William Pitt the Younger. The memorial was put up in the same year by his friend Dudley Ryder the second Baron (and later the 1st Earl) Harrowby. Dudley Ryder had been a second to Pitt in his 1798 duel with his political rival, Tierney, and Pitt’s duelling pistols are still in Sandon Hall. For all concerned it was lucky that he had not needed to erect his column 8 years earlier than he did.....both men in the duel fired 2 shots, all four missed, at which point it was called off, the seconds deeming that honour had been satisfied.
We left the pleasures of a wood in autumn and passed down a grassy meadow from where the back of the hall could be glimpsed and we arrived at the track leading right to Home Farm and left to the lodge and the entrance from the main road. We crossed the main road and were now back on the lane leading over the railway and the canal to Salt. At the bridge over the canal, a James Brindley contour canal and part of the earliest section of his Grand Cross scheme to open in Staffordshire, we met the route we had started about 2 hours previously and made our way back to the Holly Bush Inn.
The fresh air seemed to have had a beneficial effect on our appetites as the entire group headed into the pub for lunch and good conversation.
Although there was so much of interest on the walk we had not lingered too much due to pressure caused by the pub’s ‘no booking’ lunches so there are many good reasons to go back. A thoroughly enjoyable autumn walk was appreciated by all, including our four-legged friends, and thanks go to the Beardsmores for their organisation and information.
(Report by John Parry, photos by Phil Sharpe)
Warm September sunshine greeted the eight of us who met in the car park of The Pretty Pigs pub on the Shuttington Road. The 4.2 mile circular route took in Alvecote Pools Nature Reserve and a chance to discover the "lost" Amington Basin on the Coventry Canal.
Accompanied at first by the busy West Coast Main Line, the group diverted briefly onto the towpath between bridges 64 and 65, before heading northwards from Amington to cross the river Anker on a footbridge, where we paused for a group photo. The route then carried on across flat farmland eastwards to Alvecote Pools Nature Reserve. These pools were created by mining subsidence and permanent 'lakes' were formed by floodwater from the Anker. The track north of the lakes is popular with fishermen, and the cries of wildlife help to drown out the noise of the neighbouring railway.
The group then followed a tarmac path that marks the boundary between Warwickshire and Staffordshire, and which had once led to Laundry Cottages, long since demolished. Recrossing the river Anker at Shuttington Bridge after a mile we reached the village of Alvecote and its distinct row of miners' cottages. We then picked up the towpath at bridge 59, continuing westwards along the Coventry Canal, passing Alvecote Marina and stopping briefly to review NB Dane under restoration by the Narrowboat Heritage Foundation.
The "lost" Amington Basin can be found in the undergrowth adjacent to the towpath near the pipe that crosses the canal by the buttresses of the demolished bridge 62. This colliery basin is "lost" in the sense that it is not visible from the canal and there is no sign of its former entrance on the towpath. Its brickwork, however, is in remarkably sound condition, and it was not filled in when it fell into disuse. The basin is at a 45 degree angle to the cut, and explains why there is a winding hole opposite. An archive photograph shows a horse crossing the basin entrance and towing a coal boat through the (demolished) bridge 62, and the group was able to verify that the photograph had been taken from the winding hole embankment.
We left the Coventry canal at bridge 63, pausing briefly to admire the East German Border Post (!) in a garden opposite , and walked back to our starting point via Hodge Lane and the Shuttington Road.
(Report by Clive Walker, photos by Clive Walker and Phil Sharpe)
Our boat trip on the Chesterfield Canal was blessed with a perfect Summer's day as we cruised along the restored but disconnected 5 miles and 5 locks of the canal at the Chesterfield end. This full day round trip on the Chesterfield Canal Trust's trip boat 'John Varley' started from the Tapton Lock visitor centre where we were introduced to the crew who would operate the boat, work the locks and point out features of interest on the journey.
From Tapton Lock we initially went south to Tapton Mill floodgate where the canal joins the River Rother and will before long continue into Chesterfield where a new terminal basin has been built. For now the boat turns round in the river, which is just wide enough above the weir, and returns to descend Tapton Lock. There is a slipway here and some canoeists were enjoying the canal as we headed north to Wheeldon Mill Lock at Brimington. The towpath here and throughout was wide and well surfaced and being enjoyed by large numbers of walkers, families and cyclists whilst the many small wooden fishing platforms provided a safe refuge for the anglers and their gear.
The canal continues through pleasant countryside with locks about 3/4 mile apart which was just nice for a short stroll along the towpath before getting back on board for a drink and a natter. At Bluebank Lock the top gate is due for renewal and looking a bit dodgy so we were all asked to get off whilst the boat was roped through for safety reasons. Unfortunately for the photographers it didn't collapse that day !
At Bilby Lane there is an attractive new bridge in traditional style and Dixon's Lock is notable for being a replacement built by the Trust after the original was lost to opencast mining. Below Dixon's Lock we passed another trip boat, the Madeline, which has recently started operating public trips so great is the demand to experience the canal. At Hollingwood Lock the old lock-keepers cottage has been restored and extended to create Hollingwood Hub with offices and meeting rooms for the Trust and Nona's, a very popular cafe where we had our lunch stop.
After lunch we continued along a very pleasant section of canal to Staveley, where it was hard to believe there had been a massive ironworks before reclamation. Several old and new bridges, including a footbridge only just completed by the volunteers, heralded our arrival at Staveley Basin, the current terminus of the canal. Although empty now it comes to life annually at a canal festival and there are great plans for its further development.
Time did not permit a stop as we turned round in the vast basin but we all returned by road after the end of our return trip to have a good look at the impressive work being carried out by the Trust and WRG. The new Staveley Town Lock is half built and excavators were hard at work digging out the channel beyond where wash walls are being built and two new road bridges await the extension of the canal back towards an eventual reunion with the main navigable section, another 8 miles away.
As we retraced our route back to Tapton Lock we twice more encountered the Madeline, making the canal seem very busy even though there are only currently the two boats on the canal. We were impressed again by the way it is so well used both by the local people and visitors and the excellent work done by the Canal Trust and Derbyshire Council over many years in restoring and maintaining this delightful waterway.
(Report and photos by Phil Sharpe)
On a very hot Saturday 10 volunteers turned out to continue the good work at the "Bloody Steps". Barry from CRT was there early with his Welfare Van complete with the arsenal of tools. This enabled the team to make an early start on mowing and strimming the area from the Steps up to the Bypass bridge. During the morning Richard was trained with the CRT strimmer and presented with his certificate. The more trained people we have the better! The morning also saw painting the railings on the aqueduct over the River Trent, litter picking and Himalayan Balsam bashing, with the obligatory break for tea and the usual excellent cake provided by Pat and Margaret.
As can be seen in the photo Himalayan Balsam had reached a height of about eight feet and we had caught it just in time before the seeds had spread. Although a very pretty plant it is a non-native invasive species and will spread very rapidly down watercourses unless kept in check. Fortunately is is relatively easy to chop down or pull up as long as you avoid the stinging nettles, thistles and brambles that seem to share the same patch of ground. After an excellent lunch the afternoon saw the completion of the painting work and more Balsam bashing. Overall a hot and tiring day but with the satisfaction of several jobs well done.
(Report & photo by Margaret Beardsmore, Work Party Coordinator)
Ben and Colin After a good "Bashing" session.
We were very lucky with the weather for this walk as we avoided the thunderstorms the day before and day after and enjoyed a glorious sunny morning. The 18 of us who met at Donisthorpe Woodland Park followed a circular route to see restored sections of the Ashby Canal, led by Geoff Pursglove the Project Officer. Heading northwards on footpaths along an old railway line we could see how well this former colliery area has been reclaimed and returned to nature.
Towards Spring Cottage we passed The Navigation pub, now unfortunately closed, but indicating where the canal once ran and beyond this found the original terminal basins at Wadlands Wharf. These have been splendidly restored although coal mining subsidence of about 30 feet means they will never be connected back to the rest of the canal. After a pause for a group photo at the end of this restored section, we climbed a path to the new YHA and camping centre café where a welcome break for refreshments was taken.
Afterwards we crossed the old railway triangle to the Conkers Waterside and Discovery Centre where a new terminus for the canal has been created with a large new basin at the heart of The National Forest. This whole area is now a major tourist destination. Geoff pointed out a mooring ring on a wall at a quite different level from the present canal, showing how it has had to be adapted to cope with the subsidence.
From Bath Yard Basin we followed the winding course of the restored canal to the new Moira Lock, built to overcome the change in levels, and then on to the historic Moira Furnace. From here the canal and towpath continues back towards Donisthorpe and was being well used by anglers, walkers and cyclists. Although today the canal is a detached section of just over a mile in length, the long term aim is to reconnect it via Measham to the rest of the canal at Snarestone, when it will undoubtedly also become well used by boaters.
Thanks to Geoff Pursglove for leading this walk and explaining so much of interest on the way round.
(Report and photos by Phil Sharpe)
For once the day dawned bright and clear, which encouraged fourteen volunteers to our work party at Brindley Bank in Rugeley.
Barry Keight from Canal and River Trust was one of the first to arrive, complete with Welfare Van, supply truck, cement mixer and the rest of the gear from our extensive ‘wish list’.
Terry Brown was in charge of our bricklaying team – a specialist job due to the lime mortar cement. By the end of the day the canal wall was within one brick height of the level needed. Another work party should see us at the stage when we can start laying the blue heritage bricks to match up to the existing heritage wharf.
Another team cleaned and painted the aqueduct railings and Christine and Martin did the same for the railings by the ‘Bloody Steps’. The next work party will see another coat being given to both, so they will be good for another few years.
Phil manfully straightened one of the steps which has been wonky for donkey’s years, and cleared some of the undergrowth alongside. Derek was on grass cutting detail, with Pete clearing a few months worth of accumulated litter.
Barbara brought cakes and helped (a lot!) with the catering, whilst Christine provided us with a chocolate cake – our volunteers seem to be bottomless pits for home made cake!
Besides our regular volunteers, we had one ‘passing boater’ who had never been on a work party before – he brought his dog Tigger, who stood guard for us all day – well, at least till he fell asleep! Other boaters were persuaded to put their kettles on for us, and later join us for a cuppa.
All in all, hard work, but a very sociable and enjoyable day all round!
(Report by Margaret Beardsmore, photos by Phil Sharpe). For further photos see Margaret's Google page
Another successful jumble sale organised jointly by IWA Lichfield Branch and the Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust was held at the Peace Memorial Hall in Penkridge on 15th March. Masses of clothing, crockery, glassware, bric-a-brac, books, toys, games, shoes and even a kitchen sink were assembled for the discerning inhabitants of Penkridge to peruse and buy.
A surge of customers when the doors opened at ten-o-clock soon filled the hall as bargains were sought and haggled over. The first hour was the busiest but by then weary punters were making good use of our café facility to sit down with a cup of tea and cake before resuming the fray.
When the doors closed the hard working volunteers who had set it all up soon had the remnants boxed up again for future sales opportunities and the cash counted. The takings of nearly £400 were shared between the two parties, somewhat down on last year but a good morning’s work nevertheless.
To further boost the funds for restoring the canal at Lichfield, IWA took advantage of the occasion to make a donation of £500 to L&HCRT from the proceeds of our other fund-raising activities. This will go towards the Trust’s Feet of Clay Appeal to clay line and re-water another section of the canal (see www.lhcrt.org.uk/clay.htm ).
The picture shows the cheque presentation to Brian Kingshott, chairman of the Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust being made by Barbara Hodgson, Treasurer of the Inland Waterways Association, Lichfield Branch.
(Report & photos by Phil Sharpe)
An interesting route and some decent weather made this 4½ mile walk very enjoyable for the 19 participating members and friends. Starting from the car park of the Samuel Barlow at Alvecote Marina we followed a figure of 8 route taking in countryside, mining history, modern sculpture, medieval monuments and the Coventry Canal.
We first crossed the canal to the boatyard at Alvecote where the Narrowboat Heritage Foundation is restoring the old wooden narrowboat ‘Dane’ which has been given a new bottom and stem post. Our walk then followed a well made track through woodland and between attractive pools formed by subsidence from the old Alvecote Colliery.
The conical pit mound has been reclaimed and a track winds round it to the top where the striking modern ‘Gold Leaf: Buried Sunlight’ sculpture was much admired. A slim golden tower standing 45 feet high it is variously described as representing a stack of birch leaves, a sundial, fossilized sunlight, or the trunk of a Lepidodendron tree from the Carboniferous forest; take your pick ! Indisputable are the fine long-distant views from the summit which were seen at their best on this sunny day.
Returning to ground level we crossed the canal into Pooley Country Park, the future of which is threatened by the HS2 High Speed Rail proposals. But for now it still provides a handy loo and picnic stop although the café is not open weekdays in winter. From the park Pooley Lane took us past the war memorial to Polesworth and onto the Coventry Canal towpath, with a fine view of C16th Pooley Hall. We followed the well surfaced towpath of the canal back to Alvecote but, after a recent change of ownership, it was not open for lunch so we retired to the Pretty Pigs Inn for a very good value carvery lunch.
Thanks to Clive Walker for researching and leading this excellent walk.
(Report and photos by Phil Sharpe)
We had an excellent turnout for our Saturday work party on the 22nd February, with seventeen people attending on a fine bright morning.
We cleaned all the CRT signs throughout Rugeley, plus the notice boards, but unfortunately could not complete the re-badging work because of shortage of labels.
However, our volunteers did manage to clean round all the mooring rings in the town, which made a big difference, and we also painted out the graffiti at the Brereton end of the Rugeley towpath. Our cakes, as usual, were excellent, and a good morning’s work was enjoyed by all.
Margaret Beardsmore, Work Party Coordinator
Led by Carole and Denis Cooper, our traditional New Year's Day Walk was this time a very wet walk round the Passages and Pools in Lichfield. 13 people braved the awful weather to "wash" away the New Year's Eve celebrations.
Denis made the walk very interesting with regular stops to explain historic sites around the old town wall, and walking round the pool was quite a feat in the strong wind.
We all enjoyed the warmth and food at Weatherspoons (The Gateway one) afterwards, even sitting in very wet clothes ! Thanks are due to Carole and Denis for leading.
(Report by Pat Barton, Photo by Clive Walker)