Reports of Branch Activities in 2018

Offside Vegetation Clearance Work Parties – October to November 2018

Following the success of the Offside Vegetation Clearance work parties over last winter, IWA Lichfield Branch volunteers have been working again with CRT to clear more sections of canal.

Offside Vegetation Work Boats and ChipperUsing work boats hired in by CRT with an on-board chipper, our team of up to 6 volunteers use a pole saw and loppers to remove tree branches overhanging the canal and restricting navigation.

The work party is making good progress dealing with the offside vegetation on the Trent & Mersey Canal.  Having begun at Fradley Junction in early October they have now reached beyond King Bromley Wharf and are approaching the outskirts of Handsacre.

By starting earlier than last year, this time they are able to be more thorough and not having to miss out the lesser overgrown sections, which was necessary last winter due to time constraints.

From Rugeley onwards it will be a case of dealing with the parts which had to be missed last time and they aim to reach Great Haywood by March, weather permitting.  The group are usually quite prepared to work in rain or snow, although if it is heavy and continuous rain there is nowhere this time to shelter on the boat.  Other constraints would be if the canal was frozen over or gale force winds.

(Report by Neil Barnett, photo by Derek Beardsmore)

Weston, Amerton & Gayton Walk – Thursday 8th November 2018

Twenty-two walkers assembled outside The Saracen's Head in Weston, Staffordshire.  It was good to see so many new faces, many of whom had never walked the route before, although they were local to the area.

We set off through the village of Weston-upon-Trent, which once had a train station, a commodious wharf, and a 'celebrated' salt works.  The nearby villages of Salt and Shirleywich give testament to the saline history of the area, but that industry has gone and Weston is now a pleasant place to live in close proximity to Stafford.

We crossed the busy A51 and soon afterwards, the main Manchester to Birmingham railway line.  From here it is just possible to make out the site of the Hixon train crash of 6th January 1968 when an express train collided with a low-loader transporter carrying a 120 ton electrical transformer, resulting in 11 deaths and 45 injuries.  The cause of the accident had major implications for safer crossings on railways.

Walkers at Amerton Farm (CW)Walking parallel to the railway line we soon reached the perimeter of Hixon airfield.  The MOD built this aerodrome in the 1940s, for the purpose of training aircrew in night-time raids with Wellington bombers.  The airfield is largely intact and the hangars now serve as storage for haulage companies.

A steep set of steps led up to the embankment of the disused Stafford and Uttoxeter railway.  This largely rural line has been completely ploughed over to the west of the existing West Coast main line, but it is possible to follow much of its route eastwards.  After about a mile we left the line at a skew bridge and headed towards Amerton Farm and Craft Centre.  Aside from the craft shops and farm produce, there is a heritage railway here that operates on selected weekends.

Walkers on towpath near Weston (CW)After a short break to sample the facilities we now headed slightly uphill towards the village of Gayton.  Because the footpaths shown on the OS map no longer exist, or are impassable, we had to walk on the quiet, winding country road.  Gayton is a 'scattered village', that is to say, it is a series of separate farm buildings and houses that are linked by a series of paths and lanes to form a community.  We passed through its churchyard and onto the broad and flat farmland adjoining the Sandon estate.  A series of stiles brought us back to the A51 and then a footbridge over the main railway line.

We finally reached the Trent and Mersey canal at bridge 81 from where we walked the half mile back to our starting point and excellent refreshment at The Saracen's Head.

(Report and photos by Clive Walker)

Work Party at Brindley Bank, Rugeley - Tuesday 30th October 2018

We had a very good turnout of volunteers for our Autumn Work Party at Brindley Bank in Rugeley on the Trent and Mersey Canal.
Clearing brambles along the top path (MB)This enabled us to do a lot of cutting back of brambles and nettles on the long path from Wolseley Road to the ‘Bloody Steps’. Whilst this is not a canal towpath, keeping it cleared means that walkers can get down the steps and access the towpath and circular canal walk.  In turn this means a stream of people walking the area which keeps down any antisocial behavior.

Work party team with trophies (MB)We also did an extensive litter pick, though there are now a number of local residents who pick up litter along their dog walks so the area wasn’t as bad as in the past.  The steps were cleared of fallen leaves and the build-up of leaf mold from the summer months, and we strimmed and mowed around the towpath and cleared a fallen tree from beyond the bypass bridge.  The grappling irons were put to good use with a bike and wheelchair being some of the main rubbish retrieved from the canal by the aqueduct.

Thanks to all our IWA volunteers, Barry from CRT for providing support and equipment, and also Pat Barton for very welcome cake.


Future Work Parties:

The Offside Vegetation Work Parties are continuing throughout the winter, with Neil Barnett taking the lead role for IWA Lichfield Branch.  Early problems with the equipment have been resolved and steady progress is being made each Friday from Fradley Junction back towards Armitage.

It has also been brought to our attention that the Cannock Extension Canal is in need of some TLC.  It badly needs dredging and a clean-up.  We can’t do the dredging but are looking to see what we can do with rubbish removal as volunteers.  This is at an early planning stage but we hope to be able to arrange a work party in early Spring 2019.

(Report and photos by Margaret Beardsmore, Volunteer Coordinator)


Barton and the Dunstall Estate Walk - Thursday 13th September 2018

Light cloud cover greeted the 15 walkers who assembled outside the modern facilities at Barton Turns Marina.  We set off past the landscaped lakes and entered the high street of Barton-under-Needwood.  Normally full of cars and HGVs, the main street was eerily quiet apart from the sound of workmen busily installing traffic-calming measures.  We turned right opposite the Middle Bell pub and entered the wide expanse of the Dunstall Estate, before following a path through the woodland of Smith Hills.  Heading northwards and climbing ever so slightly, there are extensive views here eastwards towards the Trent valley.

Walkers at Dunstall Hall gates (CW)We entered a quiet country lane and passed Dunstall Cricket Club.  Some major names have played on this picturesque pitch over the years including Phil Simmons (West Indies), Derek Randall (England), Devon Malcolm (England), and Jimmy Adams (West Indies).  We stopped for a break at a crossroads between Dunstall Hall and its neighbouring Church.  Finding the church unlocked, we ventured inside to admire its Victorian interior including unusual alabaster walls to the choir, resembling marble.  We then assembled for a group photo at the gates to the 18th century mansion house of Dunstall Hall.  Initially built by the Earl of Derby, it has had some notable owners including Richard Arkwright (famous for his Derbyshire Mill), a racecourse owner (Sir Stanley Clarke), a bookmaker (Barry Morgan) and its current owner, Fawaz Al Hasawi, who once owned Nottingham Forest FC.

Walkers at Tatenhill Lock (PS)A gate in the hedge led us through the deer park enclosure and we proceeded north-easterly in the direction of Branston Water Park.  We accessed the Trent and Mersey Canal at Tatenhill lock where we paused for a while before following the towpath back to our starting point.

Refreshments were enjoyed at The Waterfront Pub where we were given an extended table in the conservatory, in full view of the boats in the marina.

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

Community Boat Trips at Rugeley - Saturday 8th September 2018

Following the success of our trips last year, the Inland Waterways Association together with the Truman Enterprise Narrowboat Trust once again ran a series of Community Boat Trips in Rugeley.

Community Boat at Leathermill Lane, Rugeley (MB)Thanks to a Grant from Rugeley Parish Council the trips for the elderly, young people and disadvantaged groups were all free of charge.

Although the first group scheduled let us down by not turning up without letting us know, the other groups had a really good time, helped no doubt by the excellent cake our members and friends provided.

The showers meant that most of our guests had to stay inside the boat but the big windows meant they could still enjoy the views of the Trent and Mersey Canal.

We also put up our Gazebo, display boards and a small sales stand. This meant we could talk to passers-by throughout the day and sell some of our stock.

Some of our members also enjoyed helping to bring the boat from Gailey to Rugeley on the previous day.

A big thanks to everyone concerned who helped either on the day or by making cake.

(Report and photo by Margaret Beardsmore)

Lock Wind at Barton Turn - Sunday 5th August 2018

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.  

IWA stand at Barton Turn LockOne 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.  

Derek and Neil on top paddles at Lock WindThe 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.

Margaret Beardsmore receiving Victoria Cup from Helen WhitehouseThe 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)

Snarestone and the Ashby Canal Evening Walk - Wednesday 18th July 2018

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.

Walkers at Snarestone Tunnel (CW)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.

Walkers and anglers south of Snarestone Tunnel (PS)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)

The Weddington Way and Mount Jud Walk - Thursday 10th May 2018

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.

Walkers near Mount Jud (CW)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".

Walkers on Wood Bridge (PS)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)

Work Party at Brindley Bank, Rugeley - Friday 4th May 2018

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.

Work Party 4.5.2018 Volunteers (MB)

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)

Work Party at Leathermill Lane, Rugeley - Tuesday 27th March 2018

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.

Work Party 27.3.2018 Trolleys removed (MB)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.

Work Party 27.3.2018 Litterpick Team (MB)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)

Fradley Airfield Walk - Thursday 8th March 2018

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!

Fradley walkers on Coventry Canal (MB)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.

John Parry addresses walkers in Fradley churchyard (MB)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.
Fradley walkers on swing bridge at Fradley Junction (MB)

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)

Hopwas and the Coventry Canal Walk - Monday 1st January 2018

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.

Walkers at Dunstall Farm Bridge, TamworthStrung 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)