On a blazing hot day a group of members gathered at Barton Turn lock, erected a couple of gazebos and spent the day helping boaters through the lock, talking to passers-by, cyclists and boaters about IWA and the waterways in general.
One of the new branded IWA gazebos was put up on the towpath side and stocked with books, maps, hats and especially cakes and ice creams ! As usual at locks the traffic was variable, one minute there was a queue and the next minute nobody. This at least meant that the overheating windlass wielders got a break every now and again. By 2 o’clock the number of boats dwindled to next to nothing; I think everybody had had enough of the sun and moored up for the afternoon.
The sale of cakes went well throughout the day attracting not just boaters but cyclists, walkers and customers of the Barton Turns pub who were sitting outside enjoying the sun and beer. Many boaters also left generous donations in appreciation of the work we were doing and together with the cake sales have produced some useful funds for the branch.
After a long hot day in the sun the workers enjoyed a very welcome cold beer (and soft drinks) from the pub. The pub had also allowed us to use their canalside barbeque. The excellent burgers, sausages and kebabs accompanied by salads went down very well, we even sold some surplus to a passing boater and the pub customers. Well done everybody for working hard on a very hot day but special thanks must go to Helen Whitehouse for her cake baking and Derek and Margaret Beardsmore for organising and cooking the barbeque.
During the day Margaret Beardsmore was presented with the Victoria Cup by our Region Chairman Helen Whitehouse. This had been delayed from the volunteer day in April as the cup itself was not available on that day.
The Victoria Cup is a West Midlands Region award “to a member or members of the region for their work to further the aims and objectives of the Inland Waterways Association over a sustained period”. Earlier this year the Region committee unanimously agreed it should go to Margaret Beardsmore. Margaret has been a Lichfield Branch committee member, with two breaks, since 1993 in several capacities but the nomination was to recognise her “major role organising work parties and volunteers and in particular her achievements with the Rugeley Project since 2010”. This has greatly improved the canal environment, access and mooring facilities through Rugeley, where Margaret has also organised several boat trips for MPs, local councillors, and disabled and community groups.
(Report by Pete Gurney & Phil Sharpe, photos by Phil Sharpe)
Ironically this 4 ½ mile walk took place on the only overcast day during the long hot Summer spell. However, we were probably fortunate in having some cooling cloud cover, since the ten participants had to proceed at quite at a pace in order to make the deadline of 8 pm for the pre-ordered food; the waiter who took our orders before our departure was quite insistent on us arriving back on time.
We first turned right to walk a short distance through the pretty village of Snarestone before turning right again to pick up the Ivanhoe Trail. This is part of a 35 mile circular route around the north west of Leicestershire. The sponsored Ivanhoe Challenge takes place most Summers - the aim is to complete the route within 15 hours! The combined walkers of the IWA and Ashby Canal Association had no intention, on this occasion, of rising to the challenge (although we did have to get a move on later).
Proceeding south-easterly, and after crossing a number of stiles, some of which were overgrown and poorly maintained, we eventually arrived at Shackerstone Fields Farm, where we unexpectedly found the footpath blocked by a metal gate. Climbing over this obstacle we continued along Derby Lane, a quiet country road that leads to the entrance to the Battlefield Line in Shackerstone.
Mindful of the time, we decided on a short cut and traversed a field to join the Ashby Canal at Hill's Bridge. We followed the towpath northwards from this point. This is one of the most picturesque sections of this lock-free canal, even if the tranquillity and beauty of the scenery is somewhat marred by the colourful characters of an alternative type of cruising club who frequent the bridges around Gopsall Wharf!
As 8 pm approached, and there was still a mile to go - made obvious by the mileposts - we got up quite a sweat and arrived back at the pub car park, at a quarter past eight. We were admonished by the waiter for being fifteen minutes late, who told us that the food had been prepared on time. However, when we eventually sat down, the restaurant was far from busy and we were kept waiting for a further thirty minutes for our food, which when it came, was substantial and freshly cooked.
(Report by Clive Walker, photos by Clive Walker and Phil Sharpe)
Sunshine greeted the 12 walkers who assembled in the estate village of Caldecote, just off the busy intersection of the A5 and A444 roads. We began by taking a short detour to view Caldecote Hall and its neighbouring church of St. Theobald and St. Chad. The church was closed, but by chance we encountered a gardener, who turned out to be a resident of the Hall as well, and he gave us a brief local history.
We then returned to start the walk itself, striding across open farmland including a field of bright yellow oil seed rape, eastwards towards Nuneaton. There are recently submitted plans to build up to 400 houses here. After around a mile we climbed onto the Weddington Way, which in fact follows the line of the Ashby and Nuneaton Joint Railway.
The council have tarmaced the route and it provides a pleasant and safe green corridor into Nuneaton. After crossing the West Coast Main Line through an underpass we proceeded across waste ground and onto a railway bridge that took us over the Leicester to Birmingham railway line. The bridge is a good viewpoint from which to see the layout of several rail intersections, and we tried to establish the site of the demolished Abbey Street station, that marked the terminus of the Ashby line. Railways and quarrying were in abundance on this walk. We had been in site of Mount Jud, a quarry spoil heap, since we had set out. Its conical shape is a landmark that has gained local nicknames ranging from "The Pyramids of Warwickshire" to "Nuneaton's Nipple".
We joined the Coventry Canal at Tuttle Hill Bridge 23. Stone would have once been carried from the quarries here by boat and we passed tell-tale raised banks in the undergrowth where loading would have taken place. Near Boon's Wharf a solitary telegraph pole, complete with cross-arms and insulators, remains intact, a remnant, along with those on the Shropshire Union, of a network which once lined the canals. We followed the meandering towpath to Wood Bridge 27 by Springwood Haven, where we left the canal to head back to our starting point.
We then drove the short distance to the Royal Redgate Country Pub & Kitchen where we enjoyed liquid refreshment and delicious tennis-ball shaped pies!
(Report by Clive Walker, photos by Clive Walker and Phil Sharpe)
Our volunteers met by the aqueduct on the Trent and Mersey Canal in Rugeley for some overdue tidying of the vegetation. May is always a difficult month for work parties as so many of our volunteers are away for at least part of the month, including myself and Derek. However, we had enough volunteers to do the necessary litter picking, mowing, strimming and cutting back so the area looked a lot better after our work.
We cut down a dead tree that was threatening to fall across the top path, and another job was to remove a section of collapsing fence by the moorings that had been put up by an adjacent landowner in the wrong place.
We also wanted to do ground preparation for wild flower planting as we have been successful in a bid for a lot of free wildflower seeds. Any gardening projects are severely hampered by my lack of knowledge in all things gardening! Luckily, one of our members (Sheila) had been to the local Gardeners Guild meeting the week before and spread the word that we needed some expertise. Equally luckily, one of the people on my mailing list happened to be married to a Gardeners Guild member.
This lady turned up and told me that she had experience of community wild flower projects and showed me some photographs of what she’d done in the past. She was instantly promoted to Head of Wildflower Project and helped enormously with both hard work and expertise on the day. She has since been back to the area, cleared some more ground and planted the seeds. We hope for a lovely show of wild flowers around the ‘Bloody Steps’ area later in the year.
‘Together we are Stronger’
The arrival of help from an outside group made me think about our work over the last 8 years:
When we did our major path laying projects we were helped by our friends at Lichfield & Hatherton CRT. When putting in the mooring rings Brian Holmes came and gave us his Shropshire Union Canal Society expertise. We had advice from the local Bat Group when we put up the bat boxes. We have had help from Rugeley Lions, PCSOs, Brereton Millions, Tesco, the Traders Association, Rugeley Town Council and of course CRT - the list goes on and on …
But we have also passed on what we have learned. Some of the key members of the Staffordshire Riverway Link group worked on our towpath and mooring ring projects, and have since improved the towpath at Baswich and put in mooring rings of their own. Every so often I get a phone call from another group who wants to know how we do things, where we got the money from etc. Recently I had an email a member of another canal improvement group who asked me to keep sending him emails because it gives his group ideas.
We have IWA members in Rugeley (and non IWA people) who regularly go down by the aqueduct area and clear the litter. It makes an enormous difference to what once was a ‘no go’ area and is now a haven for wildlife and a lovely place to moor for an evening. And so it goes on. By working together with other groups and individuals we are surely stronger, and long may it continue.
(Report and photo by Margaret Beardsmore)
A magnificent 18 volunteers turned out for our much postponed workparty at Leathermill Lane in Rugeley. Thankfully the weather was better than the forecast and we only had light showers throughout the morning.
We collected masses of litter - the black bags filled two big gravel bags to the top. At Leathermill Lane Canal Bridge we pulled out 3 supermarket trolleys, a strimmer, a scooter and jogging machine. At Station Road bridge we pulled out two pushbikes and a flattened supermarket trolley. A dump of about 30 drinks cans were cleaned up between the bridges- somebody must have had a good party!
We also took down the canalside notice boards at Leathermill Lane bridge and they have been taken to Fradley for refurbishment.
A couple of things we found to be annoying - somebody protesting about increased charges for wide beams has been along posting notices on everything canalside they can find. I don’t feel it appropriate to comment on the message but the notices had to be taken down and then whatever they were stuck to needed cleaning. Another firm has been along sticking heavy duty advertising stickers on CRT property - obviously not realising that they will be charged by CRT.
We were joined by two local PCSOs who worked alongside our volunteers collecting litter. It is always good to see the PCSOs taking a positive role and having a visible presence on the canals.
Barry from CRT provided his usual friendly supervision and support. We also repaired the steps by Leathermill Lane Bridge but these will need more work later in the year.
Tesco did us proud again, with free car parking, access to their staff canteen and a subsidised lunch.
All in all, a brilliant effort all round - and it was really nice to see some of the bulbs we planted last year still coming through and the saplings throwing out new shoots.
(Report and photos by Margaret Beardsmore)
Undeterred by a brief snowstorm, 24 walkers assembled outside The Swan Inn at Fradley Junction. We crossed the Trent & Mersey canal at Shade House Lock to enter the perimeter of the former RAF Lichfield, also known as Fradley Airfield. Skirting a field bordered by birch trees we paused briefly at a dilapidated hut; with its steel door half-hanging off its hinges it was possible to peek inside to see what looked like accommodation bunks. At least we thought that was the case, until one of our group noticed earth banks around 3 sides of the building in the undergrowth nearby which looked suspiciously like blast protection around an ammunition dump. Phil Sharpe pointed out that this part of the aerodrome has been proposed for housing, with HS2 due to pass within earshot. Hopefully they have checked first for any left-over ordnance!
Walking along an old taxiway, and within sight of two large aircraft hangars, we soon arrived at the dead-straight Gorse Lane. We had intended to follow the footpath shown on the OS map that crosses the main runways, but sadly this has been closed for construction of new housing. Instead we turned left along Gorse Lane to join the Coventry Canal at New Bridge 91. Two pillboxes guarded the end of the main runway.
Constructed in 1939, the airfield once accommodated 3,500 aircrew and according to the Pearson's Canal Companion a headless figure in a flying jacket reputedly haunts the perimeter. It was probably too cold for him to come out that day, but fatal accidents were all too common at RAF Fradley, as we were shortly to learn.
We left the Coventry Canal at Fradley Bridge 90 and walked across to Fradley Church. The churchyard contains a number of Commonwealth War Graves. Unusually there is a German grave amongst them and John Parry recounted how the airman lost his life after baling out of a stricken Heinkel III at too low a height. The walk leader told the poignant story behind a line of graves dated 13 and 14 September 1942. A Wellington bomber suffered engine failure and returned to base with its bombs intact; it crash landed at Fradley on 13 September killing the Australian crew of 5. Four hours later, at 03:20 on 14 September, the 500 lb bombs on board the aircraft exploded killing the crew of 4 fighting the blaze, one of whom was just 17 years old.
Leaving the churchyard we crossed a field to pick up a quiet country lane that returned us to the Coventry Canal at New Bridge. After a brief photo on the swing footbridge at Fradley Junction we arrived back at The Swan Inn for refreshment.
(Report by Clive Walker, photos by Margaret Beardsmore)
The customary New Year's Day walk started from The Red Lion pub in Hopwas. Although the weather was overcast and showers were likely the turnout (28) was splendid, with one walker even driving all the way from Malvern in Worcestershire, which must be something of a record for the branch.
It had been planned to walk outbound along the towpath and return along the river Tame, but due to recent flooding, this route was abandoned and instead we returned along a tarmaced lane.
Strung out along the towpath of the Coventry Canal we proceeded in the direction of Tamworth, with fields to our right and hedging to our left. The group had been warned that the first mile or so would be muddy, and we must have been going quite slowly, because a narrowboat coming from Hopwas managed to catch up with us. The obligatory group photo was taken at Dunstall Farm bridge, just before a shower. This part of the Coventry Canal has remained surprisingly rural, wedged as it is between Tamworth and the A5. However, all could change very soon, with plans approved to build 800 houses on land between the river Tame and the Coventry Canal. Whilst the proximity of the canal will help to sell the housing, this development will dramatically change the character of the area, not to mention the fact that the developers seem to have overlooked the words "flood plain".
We left the towpath at the humpback Sutton Road Bridge and turned left to enter Ventura Park and the glitzy car showrooms of Tamworth. Like moths to a flame, one car company set up there first and their competitors had to follow suit. We walked down a short side road to enter Dunstall Lane, a designated cycle path between Tamworth and Hopwas. Although accessible at both ends for cars there is virtually no traffic on this road, not least because it is single track and there are no passing points. We were now walking parallel to the canal on our left.
The change in route added half a mile to our walk, but the easy walking meant we covered the 4½ miles in just over an hour and forty-five minutes. Having ordered our food in advance, our meals arrived in good time, most of the walkers deciding to dine in The Red Lion.
(Report by Clive Walker, photo by Margaret Beardsmore)