2017 Lichfield Branch Activities

Community Boat Trips in Rugeley - Saturday 16th September 2017

One of IWA’s aims is to help as many people as possible to enjoy our beautiful Inland Waterway network, including the elderly and disabled.  We therefore applied to Rugeley Town Council for a grant to hire the ‘Walsall Enterprise’ narrowboat from the Truman Enterprise Narrowboat Trust.

Walsall Enterprise with elderly passengersThe ‘Walsall Enterprise’ is a community narrowboat with disabled access and a large open front deck.  Volunteer crew is provided, making it ideal for our needs.

On the Friday before the community trips some of our volunteers helped to crew the trip boat from it’s usual moorings at Calf Heath - this gave a few of our non-boating volunteers the opportunity to experience working the locks and in some cases steering. On the Sunday we made the reverse trip.

Walsall Enterprise and IWA standWe had five boat trips altogether on Saturday, four of which were circular trips in Rugeley with the last one going to Great Haywood.  This enabled the Walsall Enterprise crew to moor there for the night, making the Sunday trip more manageable.

We had groups from Wilson Keys Sheltered Housing, the LDD group (a charity for young people with learning and other disabilities), whilst Rugeley Community Church brought along some of their less able bodied and elderly congregation.

Walsall Enterprise with young passengersIn total we took 50 people on what was in many cases their first boat trip and what a great time we all had. The volunteers from the Truman Enterprise Trust could not have done any more for our ‘guests’, whilst IWA Lichfield Branch provided refreshments for the trip - with our cake makers working overtime.

A big thank you must also go to the LDD volunteers, and Kevin from the Community Church for all their work to make the day such an overwhelming success.  Some of our ‘non IWA’ local volunteers also provided valuable help and support.  Altogether, it was a memorable day for all concerned - and very much what IWA is all about.

The Truman Enterprise Narrowboat Trust are very flexible in what they can provide. Their website for more information is www.truman-enterprise.org.uk

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

Summerhill Evening Walk - Wednesday 16th August 2017

The weather this summer has been very variable, so it was no surprise when rain was predicted to arrive just about the time we were due to start this evening walk.  It had been a sunny day earlier so we hoped for some delay, but the forecast was spot on for once and the rain duly arrived right on cue.  Undeterred however, our two dozen walkers donned waterproofs and unfurled umbrellas ready to see the progress being made on restoring the Lichfield Canal at Summerhill, near Muckley Corner.

Our guide, Peter Buck, the Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust engineer described the background to their acquisition of this section of canal, with the grant funding obtained which has enabled their volunteers to clear 50 years of undergrowth and start its restoration.  Moving down into the canal cutting behind The Boat Inn, Peter explained that the lowered level of the A461 means that a new lock will be needed here, with some preliminary excavation and retaining walls already begun.  Fortunately, after about a quarter of an hour the rain had eased off and the sky brightened, so the rest of our walk was more akin to the pleasant evening stroll we had hoped for.

Beyond The Boat the towpath has been levelled and surfaced, with much assistance from a wide range of corporate sponsorship groups, and now stretches about 1 km to the M6 Toll aqueduct, with a couple of short gaps where the sand wharf wall is being restored and a picnic area created.  Noting an original BCN boundary marker still in-situ, we were impressed with all the work on the path and with the effort put into laying and replanting the towpath hedge throughout since our previous visit 2 years earlier.  At that time an electricity cable was being laid in a trench beneath the towpath and is now invisibly supplying power to the adjacent quarry who have been very helpful in providing access and materials for the works.  In due course the electric supply will power back-pumps at a new deep lock.

Walkers above Crane Brook Culvert at SummerhillThe original Crane Brook culvert and embankment had been destroyed when the BNRR (now M6 Toll) was built but the Trust has now replaced both in a major civil engineering project.  They have since constructed a concrete trough canal channel above the culvert, with a concrete canal bed between there and the site for the new deep lock, which is necessary in order to raise the canal to the level of the aqueduct over the motorway.  In the shorter term the intention is to build a towpath ramp up to the aqueduct to allow the Towpath Trail to be continued through to Barracks Lane, creating a new rural footpath accessible at both ends.

Whilst still a building site at present, L&H are happy to show groups around.  Our members were suitably impressed with this massive volunteer effort to reinstate the canal and were happy to make individual donations to support its continuance.  Over half of the party stayed on for refreshments and or meals at The Boat which has a sophisticated menu as well as being very supportive of the Trust’s endeavours.

(Report and photos by Phil Sharpe)

Lock Wind at Barton Lock - Sunday 6th August 2017

Lock Wind 2017 lockingIWA Lichfield Branch members spent a warm and sunny day at Barton Turn on the Trent & Mersey Canal helping passing boaters through the lock.  The aim of the “Lock Wind” was to publicise the voluntary work of IWA, and in particular our local Branch, and to raise some funds to support our activities.

Lock Wind 2017 gatesWith CRT’s agreement we had assembled a team of experienced lock workers who were kept very busy all morning by a steady stream of boats and, after a lunchtime lull, at a gentler pace in the afternoon.  Without exception, the boaters were grateful for the help with working the lock, and we were pleased to have chosen one where the paddles and gates were so well balanced and easy to operate.

Lock Wind 2017 cakesWe had set up a stall alongside the lock with information on IWA, various items for sale, and a display of cakes, home-made by our Branch volunteers.  With such a tempting array of cakes on offer it did not take much persuasion and by mid-afternoon all had been sold, boosting the funds of the branch towards supporting waterway projects.  Overall the cakes, other sales and donations raised over £130.

Lock Wind 2017 barbecueFor all the lock workers, cake makers and helpers a barbeque was then put on using the local pub’s facilities alongside the canal, and with thanks to Derek for supplying the meat, Helen for the salads and Pat for the puds we were all filled to the brim and went home happy after a very successful day.

(Report by Pat Barton and Phil Sharpe, photos by Margaret Beardsmore)

Walk around Pelsall and Little Wyrley - Tuesday 9th May 2017

Friar Bridge and Stop Buildings (PS)Setting off from The Finger Post pub at Yorks Bridge on the Wyrley and Essington Canal we soon crossed over the distinctive Horseley Iron Works bridge at Pelsall Junction to join the Cannock Extension Canal.  At the gauging stop by Friar Bridge the two BCN cottages (nos.211 & 212) and the modernised stables opposite form an interesting group of canal buildings on the edge of Pelsall Common which was once the site of a huge ironworks.

Walkers at Grove Basins (CW)The fourteen walkers proceeded northwards along the regimented Extension Canal, which was opened in 1863 to tap the Cannock coalfields.  At Grove Basins we paused for a group photo.  Leaving the wide towpath at Pelsall road bridge we entered the site of the former Wyrley Grove colliery.  An information board gave a potted history of the coalfield, a map showing a network of railways and two narrowboats being loaded in the colliery basin.

We now picked up the Forest of Mercia Timberland Trail, a winding and narrow path that brought us to the estate of Little Wyrley and its Hall.  We marvelled at the attempts engineers have made to correct subsidence at Hall Farm and its outbuildings.  Little Wyrley Hall has a Tudor core and is currently owned by the Wallace family.  The gate entrance has its own postbox and one of our walkers recalled emptying this on a regular basis.

The trail now continued across fields and along Cadman's Lane.  For part of the way a brook flows down the pathway and walkers have to cross two small fords to divert to a neighbouring field before rejoining the green lane.

Walkers at Pelsall Works BridgeSoon we stumbled across Fishley “church”.  This is nothing more than a broken stone in the undergrowth from which John Wesley gave a sermon, having been banned from preaching from a proper pulpit.  A plaque tells us that this occurred on Aldersgate Sunday, which is on 24th May or the nearest Sunday before that.

Passing through gorse and a small wood we rejoined the canal at Pelsall Works Bridge where another group photo was taken.  We then turned left past the site of the 2016 Festival of Water and back to Pelsall Junction Bridge, where repairs are being planned to replace stolen coping stones.  A short walk then returned us to our starting point where we enjoyed refreshments in refurbished surroundings.

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

Work Party at Brindley Bank - Friday 5th May 2017

Clearing path edges (MB)Installing bat boxes (MB)On the 5th May our volunteers were back up at Brindley Bank in Rugeley. We were very pleased to welcome three new local volunteers, especially as so many of our usual gang were away.

Our main task was to cut back the grass and vegetation which was encroaching over the towpath, which meant a lot of hard work for Sheila, Heather, John, Paul, Alison and Steve.

Derek mowed the grass and Barry from CRT strimmed the edges, so the area looked a lot tidier when we were finished.

Phil lopped off a lot of overhanging branches from the top path (no birds in there!) and generally made the path easier to walk along.

Pete did his usual litter pick but was disappointed not to find much litter!

After lunch it was time to go ‘batty’.

We have installed three heavy duty bat boxes on the advice of Staffordshire Bat Group. Unfortunately, they weren’t there to help us, but following their advice Paul put up the bat boxes in appropriate trees.

On Sunday morning, as it had rained overnight, I did a trial wildflower seed scattering. We will see how these go on before making a plan for more wildflowers for next year.

A big ‘thank you’ to everyone who helped on the day and to Margaret Curtis for the cake.

Call for help: If any of our members are splitting any wildflower plants or can gather seeds for us for future planting please let me have them so we can use them in future.

(Report and photos by Margaret Beardsmore, Workparty Co-ordinator)

Work Party at Brereton, Rugeley - Friday 31st March 2017

Clearing buddleia on offside bank from workboat (MB)In conjunction with Brereton Millions we arranged with CRT to remove buddleia from the offside canal wall by the Brereton Community Centre.  CRT provided a work boat and two CRT volunteers as crew, plus supervision.

We had a full team of volunteers, and Brereton Millions also provided volunteers, besides letting us use the community centre for welfare, tea and coffee throughout the day, and a very nice lunch for us all.  Pat Barton kindly made us her usual excellent fruit cake.

Clive litter picking (MB)Before we started, Stuart Collins (the Ecologist from CRT) did a thorough search of the area to check that we weren’t disturbing nesting birds.

Our Buddleia Bashers filled most of the workboat with the unwanted vegetation.  Whilst they were busy doing that, other volunteers had a good litter pick along the canal and also into the surrounding area where litter was very unsightly to any canal users.  Twelve bin bags of litter were collected which filled up the rest of the space on the work boat.

Brereton work party gang (MB)In the meantime, myself, Mat Walker from Brereton Millions, and Stuart walked around the area and made plans for a future wildlife reserve along this section of the Trent & Mersey Canal - all very exciting stuff.  More details to follow when we have them, but funding will be provided by Brereton Millions.

(Report and photos by Margaret Beardsmore)

Walk around Middleton Lakes - Tuesday 7th March 2017

Birds was the theme for this walk, as thirteen walkers, many of them armed with binoculars, assembled in the car park of the Dog and Doublet Inn at Bodymoor Heath.

Walkers at Middleton Lakes (CW)Leaving the car park we turned right, under Cheatle's Farm Bridge and past Lock 9 of the Curdworth flight, and soon reached a road bridge, where we left the Biringham & Fazeley Canal to walk cautiously along Bodymoor Heath Lane.  Two honey buzzards circled overhead, a warm-up act for the birdlife to come.  Passing through a gate we walked across two fields, towards a large complex that the OS map describes simply as a 'sports ground', but which in fact is the training centre for Aston Villa FC.  We passed around the perimeter, and you can't help but notice the high embankments and even higher fences that surround the training ground.  Are they more worried about people getting in, or balls getting out, I wonder?

Crossing a muddy quarry track we zigzagged through Coneybury Wood.  Birds darted in and out of the trees and the walking pace slowed as people stopped to identify the wildlife.  We eventually reached a tarmac road and the entrance to RSPB Middleton Lakes.  We paused for refreshments at the converted barns that are adjacent to the medieval Middleton Hall, which once belonged to the Willoughby family; their principal residence being Wollaton Hall in the centre of Nottingham.

Walkers at Middleton Lakes with pheasant (CW)A group photo was taken on a wooden walkway, one of the many viewing platforms in the bird reserve, which was acquired by the RSPB as recently as 2011.  The path through the plantation was alive with birdlife as one would expect and we eventually reached the canal at Fisher's Mill Bridge.  We then turned south to walk parallel to the canal through more of the reserve with extensive views eastwards towards Dosthill and the river Tame.  We rejoined the towpath, which at this point doubles as the Heart of England Way.  Kingsbury Water Park was to our left where gulls were busy feeding and screeching in Canal Pool.

After a mile along the towpath of the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, and with the early Spring sun directly in our eyes, we arrived back at our starting point where we took refreshments.

(Report and photos by Clive Walker)

Volunteer Work Party in Rugeley - Friday 24th February 2017

Adding handrail to steps (M Beardsmore)Landing on the offside bank (M Beardsmore)Trolleys and signs recovered from canal (M Beardsmore)Our work party in February was luckily the day after Storm Doris and before the next round of bad weather.

We had a good turnout of volunteers (13) plus support from CRT which was much appreciated. Tesco provided a hot lunch again plus free parking, and our cake makers Margaret Curtis and Pat Barton did us proud!

At our previous work party we installed some steps by Leathermill Lane, but we felt they needed a bit of improvement and a handrail to make them safer. Pete from CRT was the ‘main man’ on this task, with Derek as his labourer.

The offside area by Leathermill Lane canal bridge has been an eyesore for some time, and since we had the CRT aluminium boat we tackled the huge accumulation of brambles and rubbish.

Some volunteers had great fun with grappling hooks, removing 8 supermarket trolleys, a bike, 3 road signs and a big red road barrier from the canal under the bridge. It was really disappointing to have this much rubbish in the canal as we only cleared it just before Christmas.

Our litter pickers worked wonders up and down the canal bank, and we have had wonderful feedback from local residents about all our hard work.

We also noticed the first signs of Spring bulbs coming through from our December planting, although it will be some time before they are at their best.

(Report and photos by Margaret Beardsmore, Volunteer Coordinator)

Open Weekend at Fradley Junction - Sat/Sun 18/19th February 2017

IWA stand at Fradley Junction Open WeekendLichfield IWA, along with Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust, were invited by CRT to attend the open days on Saturday/Sunday 18th/19th February at Fradley Junction when members of the public were allowed to climb down steps to inspect the bottom of Junction Lock which was under repair.  We were provided with a gazebo in the workshop courtyard opposite the cafe whilst LHCRT had the use of the small visitor centre.

CRT clearly had put a lot of effort into organising the event with large numbers of their volunteers and staff present, and Richard Parry visited on Saturday.  The target was for 300 members of the public to attend each day but CRT’s efforts were well rewarded when on both days over 600 people were counted going down into the lock.

Our stand which included the display boards and a small table of merchandise was manned from 10am to 3pm on both days by members of the committee and the wider branch.  We distributed IWA canal maps and talked to passers-by who bought books, fridge magnets, and model narrowboats.

The event was well worth the branch attending as it gave us the opportunity to meet local residents, publicise IWA and to demonstrate our ongoing cooperation with CRT.

(Report by Mike Bending, photo by Margaret Beardsmore)

Huddlesford Circular Walk - Sunday 1st January 2017

New Year's day saw twelve walkers assemble in the car park of The Plough Inn in Huddlesford.  They were undeterred by the break in the dry spell of weather and were suitably equipped as we set off eastwards at a brisk pace in the steady rain.

After half a mile we turned left into a tree-lined avenue heading towards Thatchmoor Farm which is also a local depot for a well-known frozen food delivery firm based in Wiltshire.  The farm is well-maintained and modern, and there was no sign of the slurry that some walkers had feared.

Wakers at Brookhay 1.1.17 (CW)We then turned east and and had to negotiate three stiles that took us around the perimeter of a stud farm at Sennex House.  Passing the second duck-pond of the day, and a driveway gate that fortunately was open, we walked through onto Brookhay Lane.  This took us northwards towards a junction of road, rail and canal close to Brookhay Cottage where we joined the Coventry Canal.

Many members will recall previous owners of this cottage as it has strong connections with Lichfield Branch.  It also has one of the longest and thinnest gardens you will ever see as it tapers to a halt 1/4 mile from the house.

We then proceeded along the towpath back towards Huddlesford.  By bridge 87 there is an unusual milepost marked 3 miles on the one side (to Fradley Junction) and 2 ½ miles on the other.  Considering the terminus at Coventry is more than 20 miles away, you have to know the history of the Coventry Canal to understand the reason for the mileage of 2 ½ - answers by email please to the author!

The rain had started to ease off as we passed first Streethay Wharf and then Kings Orchard Marina.  We retired to The Plough Inn for a well-earned hearty meal.

(Report and photo by Clive Walker)