Our Rugeley Project volunteers were invited by CRT Central Shires to their annual Volunteers Christmas Party at Burton on Trent on 4th December, and several of us were able to attend. The party was an opportunity to meet volunteers from the many other groups now assisting CRT around the Waterway and to see some slides of work undertaken.
The photo shows Richard, Sheila, Pat, Keith, Will, Derek & Phil at the party. Margaret was behind the camera !
After a quiz and a buffet lunch various awards were made to a number of volunteers and we were particularly pleased that one of our group, Richard Bagley, was recognised with a Going the Extra Length award.
Richard has been coming to our work parties for the past 3 years, and really does go ‘the extra length’. His journey to any work party is two bus rides and a long walk there and back as he doesn’t live in Rugeley. Despite this he always turns up early and in all weathers, and is unfailingly cheerful and hard working. Richard is always keen to try new tasks and learn new skills and has proved an invaluable member of our gang, so his award was richly deserved.
(Photos by Margaret Beardsmore)
The fence to the side of the Mossley Canal Bridge on the Trent and Mersey Canal had been identified by one of our volunteers as being unstable and dangerous. In agreement with Canal and River Trust we decided to remove and replace the existing posts and rail.
We also decided to refurbish the railings on top of the bridge and the gate opposite.
On a freezing cold November Friday it was a relief to see eleven experienced volunteers arrive, and it seemed that our work might be finished in the day.
The painting work went well and was finished on the Friday, leaving the area looking much smarter.
However, the removal of the wooden posts which were set in concrete to a depth of about 12 inches caused a lot of problems. We would have liked to use a specialist power tool but CRT thought this might damage the bridge because we couldn’t see beforehand how the posts were fitted.
One post was very rotten and came out quite easily which showed us what we needed to do. We decided to leave the top posts as they were solid (apart from some cosmetic damage).
The bottom post needed to come out but was concreted in very firmly. After much effort, it snapped off near the base and we had to drill away the remaining wood. By the end of Friday we were nowhere near getting it removed, and a hardy four volunteers came back on the Saturday to complete the job. Snow falling on Friday night didn’t help morale, but luckily the snow didn’t stick.
By Saturday afternoon the pesky stump was finally removed………….
All that remained was to cut the replacement posts and rail to size and shape, fix into position, concrete the base and paint the new wood. We finally finished at 3.30 pm on Saturday as the light was starting to fade.
All our volunteers deserve a big ‘thank you’. What sounded to be a relatively simple job turned out to be very challenging, and the freezing weather didn’t help. However, we had welcome trays of tea brought out by neighbours, Knights allowed us to use their car park and the Mossley Tavern made us sandwiches for lunch - all very gratefully received, as was the cake provided by Helen.
(Report by Margaret Beardsmore, photos by Margaret Beardsmore and Phil Sharpe)
Ten walkers, many of whom were regular attendees, met up in the car park opposite the Red Lion pub in Polesworth. The weather was unusually mild for the time of the year, but the sky remained overcast.
We set off through the bustling village of Polesworth crossing the canal at bridge 52 before continuing uphill along a green lane and a field boundary towards the hamlet of Dordon, which had just been a row of houses until it grew in size at the turn of the 20th century to accommodate the families of miners at the nearby Birch Coppice colliery. The mine was closed in 1985 and the area is now occupied by warehousing and modern industrial units.
We turned eastwards to follow the quiet road to Dordon Hall Farm where we paused for a break and a group photo. It was here that we were hoping to see the views but the panorama was obscured by cloud.
We then descended briskly across a field, chased by curious horses, before continuing downhill across a ploughed field towards the last of the three stiles, where a metal footbridge took us across the main railway line. A few hundred yards later we reached the B5000, where we turned right to join the Coventry Canal at bridge 49.
This bridge is known as Grendon Bridge on the OS maps, but has been given the more intriguing name of Kitchen's bridge by BW, and the nearby row of terraced cottages that lie at right angles to the canal, also bear the same name. After a few yards we passed Grendon Wharf with its dry dock and clock tower that is reminiscent of the one at Alvecote Marina. The wharf looks busy but the cottages look as if they are slowly toppling into the canal.
We proceeded westwards along the towpath passing the Hoo Obelisk above us on the left. The obelisk was originally erected in around 1848 close to the London Railway Line on the opposite side of the canal, but was moved in the 20th century for safety reasons. The inscription reads: 'Site of the Chapel of St Leonard at Hoo demolished 1538 30th Henry VIII.'
The towpath winds its way back to Polesworth mirroring the nearby river Anker, with views of Stiper's Hill to the right which the Pearson's guides remark as having been "scarred by a motor cycle dirt track".
We left the canal shortly after bridge 51 and walked through the park towards the 12th century Polesworth Abbey, before returning to the car park. A handwritten note on the door of the Red Lion told us that the pub would not open until 4 pm until further notice, so we made a detour to The Pretty Pigs in Shuttington where we enjoyed a value-for-money carvery.
(Report by Clive Walker, photo by Phil Sharpe)
Nine walkers, many of whom were regular attendees but non-IWA members, met up in the car park of The Fox and Anchor pub at Cross Green, near Wolverhampton. There was a hint of drizzle in the air, but the weather forecast had promised sunny spells.
We set off at a strong pace eastwards along the towpath, following the contours of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal towards Moat House Bridge, where we would leave the canal for a detour into Shareshill. On the way we passed the remains of a wharf between bridges 72 and 73. This had been formerly used to supply coal to South Staffordshire Waterworks Co's Slade Heath Pumping Station. The local towpath guide states that the steam engine was replaced by electric pumps in 1969 although coal deliveries by canal had finished earlier, probably in 1966 when the Littleton Colliery Basin was destroyed by construction of the M6.
A group photo was taken at Moat House Bridge (no.74) and we continued along a farm track and quiet country road slightly uphill towards the village of Shareshill. This village will be familiar to users of the busy A460 which connects the M6 with Cannock and Wolverhampton. However, we were visiting the more picturesque half of Shareshill. Our destination was the historic church of St Mary & St Luke, which is "half medieval and half 18th Century" and whose most prominent feature is a "semicircular porch resting on four columns". A bell tolled languidly as we approached - a funeral was taking place - and we decided it would have been inappropriate to venture any closer. We therefore skirted the church and proceeded along Latherford Lane before picking up a green track back to bridge 74.
It had been intended to rejoin the canal at The Laches Bridge (no.73), where the OS map shows a bridlepath crossing the canal, but access has been clearly barred off, and so we returned along the same stretch of towpath to the pub. On the way back several of our party helped push off a hire boat that had run aground on a tight bend.
A good deed done for the day and with six miles of walking under our belts, we retired to the Fox and Anchor for a hearty lunch.
It was good to visit one of the less frequented parts of the branch network. Hopefully we will return one day and get another opportunity to visit Shareshill church.
(Report by Clive Walker, photos by Clive Walker and Phil Sharpe)
A Lock Wind is a one-day event in which experienced volunteers help boaters work through a lock, by winding the paddles for them and opening the gates. Several IWA branches hold annual lock winds and Lichfield Branch decided to join in the fun with a day out at Barton Lock on the Trent & Mersey Canal, a busy place on a summer Sunday.
The aim was to help raise the profile of IWA by talking to boaters, and any passing towpath walkers, about the Association and, hopefully, to collect some donations at the same time.
The day chosen turned out to be quite hot, but our intrepid band of volunteers worked some 28 boats through the lock and received over £40 in donations. We also took over £70 in sales, mainly of cakes which had been home baked for the occasion and were very popular, with all being sold by mid-afternoon.
Not bad for our first attempt. Thanks to everyone who worked the lock or contributed cakes, and to Helen for having the idea and providing the refreshments.
(Report from notes by Helen Whitehouse, photos by Margaret Beardsmore)
The area around Leathermill Lane Bridge 66 at Rugeley had been looking neglected for a while, whilst the disused railway bridge pillars at the Brereton end of the town were again covered in offensive grafitti.
So we decided to generally tidy up the area and our 10 volunteers, including 7 year old Seb, spent a couple of hours painting the railway pillars white, the gate and fence by the bridge black, cleaning the cobbles under the bridge, litter picking and cutting back vegetation.
For once the sun shone and we all enjoyed the morning. These work parties are greatly appreciated by local people and pictures posted on the Rugeley Community Facebook page have already received many positive comments and thanks.
If anyone elsewhere in the Lichfield Branch area would like to organise something similar on their section of canal then Margaret will be happy to support them and CRT will provide all the necessary backup.
Contact Margaret Beardsmore on 07581 794111 or email@example.com
(Report from notes by Margaret Beardsmore and all photos by Margaret Beardsmore)
This evening walk was arranged to view the new Lichfield Canal restoration site at Summerhill, where a 1 km section of the canal bed has been purchased and cleared of trees, the demolished Crane Brook culvert and embankment reinstated, and a section of the Towpath Trail is being opened up to cross the M6 Toll Aqueduct.
Work underway includes installing an electricity cable in a trench under the towpath for a future power supply to back-pump water at the planned deep lock adjoining the aqueduct. Work on reinstating the towpath has also begun and a roadway over the culvert to access the lock site is being constructed with a concrete block wall to support the canal channel.
The event was held jointly with Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust and was led by Peter Buck, the Trust's Director of Engineering. An estimated 120 people attended and some stayed on afterwards for a meal at The Oddfellows in the Boat, the former Boat Inn which adjoins the canal on the Walsall Road.
During the walk Lichfield Branch Chairman Helen Whitehouse presented a cheque for £500 from IWA to the Trust to assist their work.
For a further report with some excellent photos see the Trust website at: www.lhcrt.org.uk/news.htm
(Report by Phil Sharpe, photos by Phil Sharpe and Christine Howles)
Himalayan Balsam is an invasive species that crowds out native plants and damages waterway environments. Fortunately, it pulls up very easily and is non-toxic so IWA is organising work parties across the country to help control its spread.
Lichfield Branch’s contribution was a Balsam Bash along the river section of the Trent & Mersey Canal between Wychnor and Alrewas weir. Although it was not yet in flower, we soon learnt to recognise the leaves and distinctive stems amongst all the other tall vegetation.
Working along the towpath we found several major clumps, especially opposite the boat moorings. We pulled out all the plants we could see, although getting a bit nettle stung in the process despite gloves and sleeves.
Some of us also worked from a small boat to access the water’s edge plants and patches on the offside, which needed to be slashed rather then pulled. A large area near the weir was cleared, and CRT has independently cleared beneath the towpath bridges where they are carrying out repair works.
In a few weeks time when it comes into flower we will see how successful we were, and perhaps make a return visit. Thanks to Barry of CRT for bringing the boat and equipment, to Helen for organising the event and refreshments, and everyone that helped.
(Report by Phil Sharpe, photos by Clive Walker)
Seventeen walkers and three dogs met up at the Lime Kilns Pub, on the A5 at Hinckley, to do a circular walk of just over 5 miles. The walk was a joint venture between the IWA and the Ashby Canal Association and most of the participants were regulars, but there was also a couple from Leicester, who had read about the event on the ACA website.
Under clear skies and scarcely any wind, we headed along Hydes Lane in the direction of Nuneaton. The lane starts off as a tarmaced road before continuing as a wide farm track. After just half a mile we had left the noise of the nearby conurbations behind us and skylarks could be heard singing in the cornfields. We met barely a soul on the whole walk.
We soon reached Paul's Ford, which has now been replaced by a wooden bridge over the nascent river Anker. The ford is named after a local landowner who bequeathed the area to Nuneaton Borough Council on the understanding that it would remain a green space in perpetuity, and it still is. In return he had a river crossing named after him: the equivalent in today's money of a brass plaque on a wooden bench in a public park. How little times have changed.
We continued southwards towards the outskirts of Whitestone, a suburb of Nuneaton. The area is named after a white milestone or guide post, which exists to this day. The local history association writes that this white milestone is "traditionally graffitied by local residents but, thanks to conscientious locals is always painted back to its original colour in line with Whitestone's tradition."
Heading eastwards we soon reached the only incline of the walk at Hill Farm, which isn't really a hill at all, but does at least have its own OS trig point. We skirted the edge of Nuneaton Golf Club, crossing a field of rape seed and an overgrown thicket, where we emerged for our first glimpse of the Ashby Canal and the sleepy hamlet of Burton Hastings.
Pausing for a group photo on bridge 9 (James's bridge) we then followed the contours of the Ashby Canal back to our starting point. Many of the walkers were impressed by the tranquillity and natural beauty of this section, which is scarcely visited except by passing boats.
Afterwards a number of us enjoyed a hearty home-cooked meal at the Lime Kilns Pub. This 'secret' corner of Leicestershire and Warwickshire may not look very special on the OS map, but it is well worth a visit.
(Report and photos by Clive Walker)
Some thirteen hardy walkers and a dog, a mixture of regulars and newcomers, set off from the car park of The Plough Inn at Huddlesford at 10:15 under a leaden sky. We headed first in the direction of Whittington passing the entrance to Lichfield Cruising Club on our right. At Huddlesford Farm we turned south west onto a grass track and, as if on cue, a brief squally shower blew straight into our faces as we crossed first Cappers Lane and then Darnford Lane.
The weather improved as we walked towards Whittington golf course, where we crossed the proposed line of HS2 for a second time. Skirting the outward greens we continued eastwards along Sandy Lane and a ploughed field, where we paused briefly to regroup. Passing the redundant rifle range and extensive yellow rape fields on our right we then zigzagged through the polytunnels of Peel Farm to join the Coventry Canal at Hademore House Bridge, where the first group photo was taken, and the sun came out.
We then followed the Coventry Canal around Whittington back towards Huddlesford, passing the IWA sponsored boundary stone and plaque at Whittington Brook. This commemorates the point where the section of the Coventry Canal built by the Trent and Mersey Canal Company met the extension of the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, after the Coventry Canal Company ran out of funds.*
A second group photo was taken at this spot.
At bridge 79 we were greeted by Eric Wood, Lichfield Branch chairman in 1990 when the stone was commissioned, and founding member of the Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust, whose house backs onto the canal.
Six miles and two hours after setting off we passed the entrance to the future restored Lichfield Canal at Huddlesford Junction and arrived back at The Plough Inn where we stayed for lunch and refreshment.
(Report by Clive Walker, photos by Phil Sharpe and Margaret Beardsmore)
* For a full explanation of this interesting historical anomaly see the Coventry Canal Historical Information page
Coinciding exactly with the peak of the partial solar eclipse, our work party at Brindley Bank could not have had a more auspicious start as we assembled at 9.30 on the Friday morning. Although missing 95% of the sun initially made for a somewhat chilly beginning, as it gradually reappeared the weather set fair for a dry and sunny day and it remained that way until the end of work on the Monday morning.
The purpose of our gathering was to complete the resurfacing of the offside footpath between the aqueduct and the bypass bridge that we had started last November (see Path Laying Work Party ). On that occasion, a combination of dreadfully wet weather and some equipment problems had curtailed the work after a week with the task only two-thirds completed, although the basic stone surface laid throughout has made walking this section much easier over the winter.
Another 30 tonnes of roadstone had been ordered, although rather more than that delivered, and Margaret and Derek Beardsmore, our organisers, had arranged the hire of two motorised wheelbarrows and an excavator to load them, with the costs again being borne by the Canal & River Trust. However, it was up to Lichfield Branch and local volunteers to supply the labour and we were very pleased with the numbers who came and how hard they all worked. So hard in fact that what we had expected to take 4 days was completed in 3, helped by the pleasant spring weather.
The first 2 days were spent barrowing stone to raise the level of the path up to its full thickness, using hand pushed wheelbarrows as well as the motor barrows to speed up the job. On delivery the tipped stone was then raked level and consolidated with a whacker plate. The stone provided this time included some fines which, when mixed together, gave a good firm base with a smoother surface than on our previous lengths of path. The stone was laid up to the top of the edging boards to give us a well defined footpath, 1.2 metres wide (4 feet in old money).
Progress was steady with half the length finished on day one and the full length conveniently completed by Saturday afternoon. Sunday was spent moving some of the excess stone to fill in low areas between the path and the edge of the canal, around the mooring rings we installed in November 2012 (see 'Country Moorings' Work Party ). We then barrowed a load of top soil, saved from our first path laying work above the Bloody Steps in March 2013 (see Footpath Renovation Work Party ), to provide what we hope will become a nice grassy and well drained canalside strip, once the seeds grow.
A small group returned on Monday morning to finish moving the left over stone from behind the pumping station, where South Staffs Water had kindly permitted us to work from, to form a small mountain near the foot of the steps which will no doubt find suitable future uses.
Throughout the weekend the workers had been sustained by tea and cake and excellent picnic lunches in the gazebo, thanks to Margaret and Derek’s boat being conveniently moored alongside, and several volunteer galley slaves and cake makers. Everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy the occasion despite no doubt a few aches and pains towards the end from muscles not used to so much exercise. Thanks to all who contributed to the work, the organisation and the catering; you know who you are, and some of you feature in these photos !
(Report and photos by Phil Sharpe)
A bright and breezy day greeted the 25 walkers who met up in the car park of The Swan Inn, Fradley Junction. Most of the attendees were newcomers to the walk and the IWA; they had heard about the event through the regular newsletter. Our route covered 5.7 miles across flat terrain with just one stile.
We set off at a fair pace eastwards along the tarmaced towpath, before turning left at Keeper's lock to pick up the approach road to Alrewas Hayes. The avenue is lined with attractive tall sedge grass, which apparently will be harvested for burning in Rugeley power station.
Alrewas Hayes is a privately owned country house dating back to the 1700s. It also serves as a popular wedding venue, and the group posed for a picture in front of its attractive facade.
We then continued northwards along a clearly defined farm track with a view westwards towards Cannock Chase. This was the exposed section of the walk where the wind could be felt whipping unhindered across open fields. Still on public footpaths we skirted and eventually crossed a small brook, called the "Ashby Sitch" on OS maps. Two of the walkers remarked that the name Sitch is a term commonly found in the Burton upon Trent and Shrewsbury areas to refer to local streams, but the name seemed out of place here since we were neither in those localities, nor did the stream ever reach Ashby!
After two and a half miles we cautiously crossed the busy A513 to reach the hamlet of Orgreave, where we paused briefly for liquid refreshment. A second group photo was taken in front of the Grade II listed Orgreave Hall. This 18th century house has connections with Shugborough Hall, since it was once owned by Viscount Anson (Earl of Lichfield). We then continued across farmland in the direction of Alrewas. The public footpath takes you towards, and eventually past, a row of very tall conifers. These shield the Orgreave Estate from a view of Alrewas High Pressure Gas Compressor Station. Fortunately we had no smokers in our group!
With the sight of Alrewas Mill ahead of us we eventually reached the single stile, which took us over the leat on a concrete bridge and into Alrewas itself. The group leader stayed behind to check all the walkers and dogs had negotiated the stile. As we leave the stile the walkers inadvertently split up into two distinct groups at a junction in the road. The front group using local knowledge turn right out of Mill Lane and join the Trent and Mersey canal at bridge 48. Unaware of this 'breakaway', the undersigned continues along his intended route and turns left with the remainder of the group towards bridge 46 and a chance to view where the Trent and Mersey canal enters the river Trent.
Thoughts of Corporal Jones shouting "Don't Panic" came to mind, but fortunately it is not possible to get lost on a towpath (?) and both groups found their independent ways back to the start, passing Bagnall Lock, Common Lock and the three locks east of the junction.
Splitting up actually worked in our favour, because it meant we got served quicker at The Swan Inn, who had been notified of our walk. The food, drink and ambience were excellent, and it was good to see so many new faces.
(Report and photos by Clive Walker)
An overcast but dry and blustery morning greeted the 35 or so walkers who met in the car park of The Globe Inn, Snarestone on New Year's Day. The 3 mile walk was a joint venture between IWA Lichfield and the Ashby Canal Association. Around a third of the walkers came from the IWA, a similar percentage were members of the ACA, and the remainder had heard of the walk through the ACA Friends Facebook page or by word of mouth.
The aim was to view the restoration progress between Snarestone and the proposed aqueduct across the Gilwiskaw Brook, and to return from there via a circular route that took in the unrestored line of the canal and a public footpath.
After half a mile and a group photo on turnover bridge 61, we reached Snarestone Wharf where we paused briefly to view the pile of oversized bricks, known as Wilkes's Gobs*. These have been retrieved from the canal bed and will be used as original facing for the reconstruction of Bridge 62. We then progressed along the 350 metres of pristine canal towards the new bund that marks the site of Bridge 62 and a small 17 metre winding hole. Work on this will be completed in the Spring of this year.
Pausing briefly to feel the weight of one of these oversized bricks we found by the towpath, we then walked a further half a mile along the line of the unrestored canal northwards towards the Gilwiskaw Brook. The contours of the land here are deceptive. It looks as if the canal has been built on an embankment, whereas in fact the surrounding land has subsided and the canal bed is raised because it has been backfilled with pit waste.
At the site of the aqueduct we could look across the brook towards a proposed full-sized winding hole at the site of the old Ilott's Wharf, where the coal from Measham was once loaded. From there the canal will veer from its original route, running parallel to the existing Bosworth Road towards Measham. The restoration is being funded by the successors of UK Coal, who are making regeneration payments to Leicestershire County Council, the owners of the canal route.
We then headed back to Bridge 62, where we joined a public bridleway that runs parallel to the canal on its way towards Snarestone. In parts this little-used footpath resembled a set for a WW1 film, and several walkers remarked that the going "was good for the calves and the thighs". Refreshments followed in The Globe Inn, Snarestone.
* Joseph Wilkes was an 18th century Measham industrialist and supporter of the Ashby Canal construction. When a tax was introduced based on the number of bricks used in a building, he simply made his bricks bigger than average.
(Report and photo by Clive Walker)