2016 Lichfield Branch Activities

Volunteer Work Party at Love Lane, Rugeley - Friday 9th December 2016

Thirteen IWA volunteers teamed up with CRT staff to tackle an ambitious project in Rugeley.  This was our first work party under the new ‘West Midlands’ CRT Region, with Barry Keight providing supervision and including two other CRT employees.

Worksite at Love Lane, Rugeley (RC)The main task was installing new steps just south of Leathermill Lane Canal Bridge.  These are not intended to replace the main ramped access to the north of the bridge, but to provide an alternative access from the visitor moorings to Love Lane and Tesco.  Other tasks planned included uncovering the historic stone wall on the canal banking, planting a new hedge alongside the existing fence; planting wild flower bulbs and litter picking.

Heather with supermarket trolleys (MB)Given that we only had 6 hours, including setting up, tea breaks, lunch and packing up, it seemed doubtful that we would complete everything on the list, especially when the litter pickers decided to start dragging the canal for shopping trolleys!  A job well worth doing, as the final haul was five from Tesco and one from Morrisons.  This was complemented by about thirteen bags of rubbish and loads of scrub, which all went on the CRT flatbed truck and was carted away.

Meanwhile, other volunteers worked on clearing the bank’s vegetation, exposing the historic wall and planting hedging whips at the top of the bank.  Mixed wildflower bulbs were then planted on the banking so we hope for an attractive show of flowers in Spring.

Building the steps (PS)People had made an unofficial access onto Love Lane, along with other unofficial access points further south of the bridge.  This made the whole area look unsightly, so it had been decided to make the access into an official one.  Making the steps wasn’t easy, as the historic stone wall needed to be worked around.  However, Barry and our volunteers (after much scratching of heads) managed the task and the result is already being well used.

The workparty gang (MB)We plan to do further work in this area in the New Year which will include towpath maintenance, bank clearance and hedge improvements. We may also put in a handrail to the new steps.

We are very grateful to Tesco, who not only allowed us to park all day on their carpark, but gave us the full use of their staff canteen, free tea and coffee, and made us a fish and chip lunch at a very modest cost.  Pat’s mince pies and Helen’s cakes were also very popular, as was the big bag of chocolates we were given by a passing well-wisher as encouragement.

(Report by Margaret Beardsmore, photos by Richard Curtis, Phil Sharpe and Margaret Beardsmore)

Tatenhill & Branston Water Park Walk - Tuesday 8th November 2016

Fifteen walkers met in the car park of the Horseshoe Inn in the pretty village of Tatenhill, just to the west of Burton upon Trent.

We turned right out of the car park and walked through the unspoilt village which contains several listed buildings, notably the 12th century church of St. Michael and All Angels.  After a few hundred yards we crossed the road to proceed sharply uphill towards Tatenhill Common, with a view of the battlements of Callingwood Hall across the valley to our right.

Walkers at Tatenhill (CW)We left the climb and the four stiles behind us at Cuckoo Cage Farm, and headed south west along a tarmac farm track before turning almost due east to face Battlestead Hill.  One of our group, John Parry, recounted the origin of the place name; it is alleged to be the site of a major confrontation between the Saxons and the Danes, who had come up the river Trent to Burton in search of settlements.

We proceeded steeply downhill back towards the Horseshoe Inn, pausing for a group photo by two large trees.

The strenuous part of the walk was now behind us, and we headed gently downhill to join the Trent and Mersey canal at Tatenhill lock.  The lock cottage has been renovated and now offers B & B.

Walkers at Tatenhill LockAfter another group photo above the lock, we entered Branston Water Park, which was originally an open cast gravel pit, and is now home to many species of plants and animals.

Taking a semi-circular route through the Park we rejoined the canal close to Branston bridge and returned via the towpath to Tatenhill lock, before doubling back to our starting point, where we took refreshments in the Grade II listed Horseshoe Inn.

(Report by Clive Walker, photos by Clive Walker and Phil Sharpe)

Rushall and Daw End Canals Walk - Tuesday 6th September 2016

Twelve walkers set off from the car park of the Hay Head Nature Reserve under clear skies.  The theme of the day was limestone and the car park adjoins an old limestone quarry and the truncated Hay Head arm of the Daw End Branch Canal.  Indeed, this quarry had been the reason for constructing the 5½ mile branch back in 1800.  Today the remains of the terminal basin are part of the wooded nature reserve, with the short mooring arm on the opposite side of the road used by Longwood Boat Club.

Rushall Top Lock stoppage with new gates in workboatWe joined the canal at Longwood Junction where CRT were removing the top lock gate. Ten men in hi-vis jackets and white helmets looked on whilst one employee used a chain saw. An old joke came to mind of how many men it takes to change a light bulb.  But new top and bottom gates in a work boat and the equipment round both locks 1 and 2 indicated that major works were underway.

Longwood Junction marks the start of the Rushall Canal which runs almost straight for 2½ miles to join up with the Tame Valley Canal.  There were plenty of fish basking amongst the water-lilies as we left the canal at Moat House Bridge to turn westwards into Walsall Country Park.  Until recently this was a municipal golf course, and it has now been allowed to return to nature.  We skirted the park alongside a zig-zagging brook which was reminiscent of the nearby “Curly Wyrley”, and we remarked on the abundance of Himalayan Balsam along its banks.

Walkers at Park Lime PitsWe soon left the park, and headed northwards towards the Park Lime Pits Local Nature Reserve. From the 15th to the mid-19th century limestone was burnt here to make lime, and this was dispatched via the Wyrley & Essington Canal.  The pits were closed in 1865 and planted with trees.  Today they have become flooded to make an attractive leisure place for local people.

Owl in tree on Daw End CanalWe joined the Daw End Canal close to the Walsall - Water Orton railway line, and headed south. Pronounced in the local patois as the "Doe End Cut" it was also affectionately known as the "Gansey" - a reference to the fact that the early boaters had to wear thick sweaters to combat the cold wind that swept across the open fields: However, it was anything but cold on that Tuesday.

Our walk took us along a contour section that bordered a conservation project on the towpath side, and fields for grazing horses on the offside.  One of our group spotted a tawny owl near Riddian Bridge and we stopped to have a look.

We left the canal at Longwood Bridge and returned to our starting point, from where we drove a short distance to The Dilke pub/restaurant for refreshments.

(Report and photos by Clive Walker and Phil Sharpe)

Cromford Canal Visit - Sunday 7th August 2016

Our visit to Cromford was initially organised by John Stockland, who unfortunately could not be with us due first to heart surgery and then an eye injury.  We wish him well in recovering from both conditions.  However, some 19 members and friends of Lichfield Branch joined in this all-day visit taking in historic cotton mills, a horse-drawn canal boat and a steam pumping engine.

Arkwright's Cromford MillSome of us met at Arkwright’s Cromford Mills to see the world’s first water-powered cotton spinning mill, built in 1771, where we learned all about Sir Richard Arkwright and how his inventiveness and entrepreneurial skills transformed the cotton industry and created great wealth.  Others visited Arkwright’s later Masson Mills of 1783 to see the working machinery, textile museum and shopping village.

Cromford Canal trip boat Birdswood (WATERWAY IMAGES)After lunch at various cafes we all met up at Cromford Wharf for a trip on one of the few horse-drawn passenger boats ‘Birdswood’, which took us a mile and a half along the Cromford Canal to Leawood Aqueduct.  Here we disembarked to see the Leawood Pumphouse and its beam engine, a stationary steam engine that pumped water from the River Derwent into the canal, a magnificent example of Victorian technology dating from 1849 and restored to full working order.

Cromford Canal Leawood PumphouseA short walk across the aqueduct then took us via a swivel footbridge over the canal to join the boat for its return trip, the crew having ‘winded’ the boat meanwhile with the help of its electric motor.  A few of our party chose to walk back along the towpath which enabled them to see more of the Wharf Shed at High Peak Junction, the terminus of the Cromford & High Peak Railway which formerly linked the Cromford Canal across the Peak District to the Peak Forest Canal at Whaley Bridge via a series of inclined planes with stationary steam engines.

Cromford is in the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site which includes many other historic monuments and visitor attractions within a most scenically attractive landscape; well worth a return visit.  The canal at Cromford is maintained as a country park and other sections are gradually being restored by the Friends of the Cromford Canal, whose volunteers operate the trip boat; see http://www.cromfordcanal.org.uk .

(Report by Phil Sharpe, photos by Phil Sharpe & WATERWAY IMAGES)

Work Party at Brindley Bank, Rugeley - Friday 29th July 2016

Clearing the path above the stepsStrimming the towpath by the mooringsWhat a difference a day makes! 13 volunteers, 2 children and Sheila’s dog Snowy (though not too sure how much litter picking Snowy did) turned out to give the area around the Brindley Bank area a good tidy up.

Our previously planned work party was called off due to bad weather, and in the meantime the grass, brambles and litter had got totally out of control.

The morning started badly with Canal and River Trust having a problem getting our equipment delivered.  Thankfully we had our own mower and strimmer, and a few quick phone calls produced enough clippers, loppers etc from our volunteers’ sheds to get us started.  By this time CRT had resolved their situation and the rest of the kit turned up to augment our own.

Work party volunteers at lunchIt was good to see Sue Blocksidge, our new Volunteer Co-ordinator from CRT, as we now are part of the West Midlands Waterway area.  We hope to be working more closely with CRT under the new arrangements so watch out for developments from the autumn onwards.

Everyone worked really hard to get the job done, and for once the weather was pretty kind to us.  A big thanks to all our volunteers and an extra thank you to everyone who brought tools, garden chairs and to Richard Curtis for the donation of a new gazebo.  Also thanks to Ed Rule who borrowed his neighbours trailer to collect our heavy equipment, and also Helen Whitehouse for providing the shed.

(Report and photos by Margaret Beardsmore)

Calke Park & Ticknall Tramway Walk - Tuesday 10th May 2016

Darkening skies and the threat of rain welcomed 14 hardy walkers as they assembled in the car park of the Staff of Life country pub in Ticknall. "You should have been here yesterday, T-shirt weather!" the landlady's assistant exclaimed cheerily as she came out to take orders for our lunchtime meals.

Undeterred by the weather we set off at a brisk pace across the fields towards a gate in the hedge where we turned right to join the Ticknall Tramway. Built at the start of the 19th century it was part of a complex of tramways engineered by Benjamin Outram, that linked various brickyards, collieries and lime yards near Ticknall to the Ashby Canal at Willesley Basin. A canal connection had originally been proposed, but this was abandoned because of water supply and cost problems. Nonetheless the Tramway was a commercial success and has been described by a biographer of Benjamin Outram as "a milestone in transport technology and a model for the modern railway systems which followed thirty years later".

Walkers at Calke Park (CW)We left the tramway after No.2 tunnel and turned south-east towards Calke Abbey, passing a bluebell wood, and Betty's pond, one of several lakes on the estate that are home to the native white-clawed crayfish. Over the brow of a hill, and the NT car park and the outbuildings of Calke Abbey lay before us. At this point it had been intended to stop for a coffee break, but the rain was now bucketing down, and so we soldiered on, posing for group photos in front of the ancestral home of the Harpur Crew family.

The route then took us north-east to the edge of Staunton Harold reservoir, which supplies water to Leicester and the East Midlands. After a short climb we continued northwards with a ha-ha to our right and a deer enclosure to our left. The deer park has a mixed herd of deer, including red and fallow species, and on the day of our visit, one lost-looking mute swan.

Crossing a stile over a stone wall on our right we briefly left the parkland and headed northwards past White Leys farm towards the Limeyards. These have only recently been restored by the National Trust, where some of the limekilns and spoil heaps can now be visited. An information board explains that the area was once a barren industrial landscape. Today, the limeyards have been designated an SSSI, and are full of tall overhanging trees, lime-loving plants and more than 4,000 common spotted orchids.

Walkers at Ticknall Tramway Tunnel (CW)We would have stayed here for a while but the relentless rain urged us on and we ducked under the 122 metre long cut and cover tunnel, a Grade II Listed Structure which enables the tramway to unobtrusively cross the driveway to the Calke estate. We continued a few hundred yards southwards along the tramway and arrived back at our starting point. The pre-ordered food was efficiently served as we arrived.

We hope to return to Calke Park one summer for a shorter everning walk; there is so much variety packed into a relatively small area - the tramway, tunnels, the Limeyards and the unique wood pasture and grassland flora of Calke Park.

(Report and photos by Clive Walker)

Great Saredon and Hatherton Canal Walk - Tuesday 8th March 2016

The weather was overcast but dry as fifteen walkers gathered just across the road from Tumbledown Farm, our lunchtime stop.  We had decided to park 100 yards away in the village of Four Crosses rather than the pub car park because of the difficulty of traversing the busy A5.  Fortunately one of our party, Dennis Cooper, knew where to obtain a key to the village hall and we moved our vehicles to the hall's car park in order to avoid parking on the street.

We set off at a brisk pace and were expecting to have to wade through a flooded dip in the road after a couple of minutes.  Fortune was on our side again; we were passed by a vehicle from Severn Trent Water who had been sent to unblock the flooded culvert and we proceeded across with dry feet.  The OS map shows several footpaths in the vicinity but they are all impassable and so we walked along the narrow hedged road slightly uphill to the village of Great Saredon.  The village contains several listed buildings and a number of our party recalled that there used to be an impressive windmill nearby, but sadly nothing remains.  A Victorian census of Great Saredon shows that the windmill played an important part in village life because amongst the inhabitants were no less than 4 corn millers, a malster and a thrashing machine owner.

Walkers on Hatherton Junction Bridge at Calf Heath (CW)At the top of the village we looked down on the M6 ahead of us and we walked downhill to pass underneath it at Malthouse Lane, from where we entered the pleasant suburb of Calf Heath.  We posed for a group photograph on Hatherton Junction Bridge where Phil Sharpe explained the history of the Hatherton Branch Canal from its junction with the mainline of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal.

We crossed under the M6 again on Straight Mile Road, pausing to look back at where the bed of the canal disappears into a culvert and turned left to pick up the towpath of the Hatherton Branch at Scrawpers End Bridge on Oak Lane.  A feeder branches off here towards Gailey Lower Reservoir.  Unusually this channel flows into, rather than out of, the reservoir; the supply of water to the reservoirs and to the main line at Calf Heath has ensured the continued existence of this part of the canal as a water channel.

Walkers at Saredon Mill Bridge (CW)The canal was abandoned in 1955 and over the years the Lichfield and Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust has carried out various work parties on this section of the towpath to bring it up to a high standard, and now CRT have partly taken over that mantle.  Another group photo was taken at Saredon Mill Bridge 4 and Phil pointed out the location of the mill and the repairs done to the bridge by volunteers.  The next bridge - Cross Bridge - has been lowered with a flat deck and we had to cross over the road to pick up the towpath on the other side.  A considerable volume of traffic uses Cross Bridge and over the years various vehicles have failed to negotiate the bends in the road with the result that the bridge is covered in a patchwork of brick colours.

We left the Hatherton Branch at the culverted Cat's (or Catch) Bridge and retired to the pub for a hearty and efficiently-served lunch.

(Report and photos by Clive Walker)

Fund-Raising Fashion Show - Tuesday 1st March 2016

Following the success of our fashion show in November 2014 at the Edinburgh Woollen Mill shop in Byrkley Park Garden Centre another event was organised on the 1st March.

Fashion Show modelsThis time we benefited from the use of an area in the restaurant which gave much more space for the event and even attracted some members of the public to attend. We also had the advantage of four models, three committee members (Denise Bending, Pat Barton and Pete Gurney) plus a non IWA member, Linda, who had bravely “volunteered”. This meant that the modelling and changing were not quite so rushed and the audience had more time to admire the outfits provided by EWM.

A fun time was had by all, including the models, and many attendees took advantage of the 20% discount offered on the day by EWM. A raffle was also held with prizes provided by the branch and EWM. An enjoyable afternoon raised a total of around £140 for Branch funds.

Many thanks to all who organised and took part in the afternoon.

(Report by Pete Gurney, photo by Sue Gurney)

Alrewas, Wychnor & River Trent Walk - Friday 1st January 2016

Twenty-three walkers assembled in the car park of the William IV pub on New Year's day.  After the passing of Storm Frank a few days earlier the weather was relatively benign for the start of 2016 with overcast skies, no wind and no rain.

The ground was sodden so the leader decided to do the circular walk "in reverse" leaving the muddy section (between Wychnor Hall and Alrewas) to the last mile.  We set off past Alrewas Lock to enter the river section and its series of metal footbridges.  The river level gauge was just below the red marker and it was clear there was a strong flow of water.  IWA member, John Parry had kindly volunteered to share his extensive historical knowledge of the area as we went round, and we stopped by the large weir where he explained about the once-grand mill and moat that stood there before the canal was built.

Walkers at Wychnor Hall (CW)After three-quarters of a mile we crossed the only stile on the walk and proceeded uphill to Wychnor church and the site of the deserted medieval village where John related some anecdotes about the church and pointed out inaccuracies on the information board that had been put there by English Partnerships.

We then proceeded along Church Lane before turning left to pick up the long access road to Wychnor Hall.  We posed for a group photo in front of the impressive 18th century facade.  Wychnor Park is now a country house and club owned by Diamond Resorts International. John explained the unique connection of the house with a flitch of bacon.

Passing a par 3 golf course to our left, we entered the muddy section of the walk, first heading downhill to river level before passing through a succession of metal gates and across drainage channels on somewhat precarious paved footbridges.  Having safely negotiated these minor hazards we arrived back in Alrewas crossing the mill stream on two bailey bridges.  Some cows had escaped from a field and were curious to learn how to negotiate the metal gate that barred access to one of these bridges, and the succulent grass on the other side.  A couple of walkers stood guard and allowed through only non-bovine members.

We then retired to a good lunch at the King William IV pub.

(Report and photo by Clive Walker)