Reports of Branch Activities in 2019

Curdworth and the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal Walk - Thursday 14th November 2019

The eleven intrepid souls who gathered in the car park of The White Horse at Curdworth had come prepared for the forecasted heavy rain that morning.  We were given a foretaste of just how persistent the rain would be when the signing in sheet disolved away after just three people had put down their names.  After a brief discussion, it was decided that having driven this far, we might as well make a go of it.  Moreover, several non-members had turned up for the first time, and we didn't want to disappoint them.

Walkers at Curdworth Tunnel (CW)Walking along the towpath in a south-westerly direction was not a problem.  But it was when we left the canal at Broad Balk Bridge and headed up a slight incline towards Wiggins Hill Farm that the full force of the gale hit us.  The fields here have no hedges and we tramped up an exposed ridge between two ploughed fields.  The rain lashed at the right side of our faces and small streams started to form in the furrows.  We soon turned left, and with the wind behind us, we were offered brief respite from the soaking.  We then followed the road in the direction of Wishaw.  Everyone looked unhappy, even our two accompanying dogs had their tails down.  Shortly before The Cock Inn at Wishaw, the point of no return, we took a quick vote and decided to abort the walk.

After taking the most direct route back to our starting point along Wishaw Lane, we scurried along the towpath to Curdworth tunnel for a bedraggled photo, where Phil narrated a brief history of the tunnel.  We quickly returned to The White Horse for refreshment, where we all sat down still wearing our wet weather clothes and leaking footwear.  I am reliably informed, that it took two days to dry out a pair of walking boots.

This walk will be re-run in its entirety in May 2020, when hopefully, the skylarks will be singing and we will be able to soak up the scenery rather than the other way round!

(Report and photo by Clive Walker)

Brereton Litter Pick - Saturday 19th October 2019

Derek on Litter Pick (MB)We were approached by a local community group, Brereton Millions, who wanted to do a litter pick which included the canal area around Brereton.

As we needed to get CRT’s support and litter picking kit, it seemed sensible to ask for IWA volunteers to join in and extend the litter picking area to include Rugeley.

Although there were only four of us on the day, this supplemented the other volunteers. Between us we had a lovely morning as the weather was glorious. Most of the litter was in the Brereton area just off the canal towpath as there had been a community litter pick in Rugeley recently, plus visits on a regular basis from the Community Payback group.

The result of all this activity means that the towpath area around Rugeley and Brereton has never looked more litter free. Long live community involvement!

(Report and photo by Margaret Beardsmore)

IWA Stand at Huddlesford Gathering - Saturday & Sunday 21-22 September 2019

Lichfield Branch stand at Huddlesford Heritage Gathering 2019Lichfield Branch again had an information, sales and recruitment stand at this very popular bi-annual event organised jointly by Lichfield Cruising Club and Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust.  With good weather on the Saturday our sales of Christmas cards, calendars, tea towels, books and much more got off to a rapid start then settled down to a steady stream of customers, somewhat curtailed by rain on Sunday afternoon.  Helen as usual was the organising genius, and Lynn's revival of the narrowboat game proved very popular.  A successfull and enjoyable weekend with takings of over £350 and good publicity for IWA, with thanks to all our members that helped on the stand.

(Report and photo by Phil Sharpe)

Shuttington and Coventry Canal Walk - Thursday 5th September 2019

A lucky thirteen IWA members and friends enjoyed a sunny circular stroll through 5 miles of glorious countryside around Shuttington and the Anker valley, including the towpath of the Coventry Canal at Amington, just east of Tamworth.

Walkers at Alvecote Priory (PS)The car park of The Wolferstan Arms at Shuttington was the assembly point for this walk.  The pub enjoys a commanding view of the countryside north of Tamworth, and we headed off in a south-westerly direction towards the suburb of Amington.  We traversed the river Anker at the single track Shuttington bridge, making use of the refuges to get out of the way of the traffic.  We then picked up a path that took us through the Alvecote Pools Nature Reserve and across arable land towards the mining village of Alvecote.  

Walkers at Amington (PS)After a short diversion to see the ruins of Alvecote Priory, we joined the Coventry Canal which we followed in a westerly direction past The Samuel Barlow PH and Alvecote Marina where many historic boats are berthed and repaired.  We continued past the remains of Alvecote Colliery Basin and along the towpath towards Askew Bridge at Amington, on a section of canal lined with weeping willow trees.

Leaving the canal, we turned north towards Amington Hall Farm.  

Walkers on River Anker footbridge (PS)Reaching the river Anker for a second time, we paused for a group photo on the footbridge.  A wide farm track crosses fertile farmland and around half an hour later we arrived at Statfold Barn Farm.  This is also the home of the Statfold Barn Railway, which over the last fifteen years has grown to become one of the most significant collections of narrow gauge locomotives in the UK.  There are regular public open and enthusiast days, and it is well worth a visit.  Following the asphalted track, which marks the boundary between Staffordshire and Warwickshire, we were able to glimpse some of the track, but sadly no trains.

With a lake to our left, caused by mining subsidence, we reached a point marked on the OS map intriguingly as "Laundry Cottages", but the cottages are long gone.  From there we walked back into Warwickshire and proceeded through the long grass gently uphill to our starting point, where we enjoyed refreshment and prompt service at The Wolferstan Arms.
 
(Report by Clive Walker, photos by Phil Sharpe)

 

Work Party at Brindley Bank, Rugeley - Friday 19th July 2019

Clearing the wharf (MB)The team at lunch (MB)The wettest day in July didn’t deter thirteen volunteers from turning out for our work party at Brindley Bank in Rugeley.

Our team strimmed, mowed, clipped, slashed and raked all the vegetation and grass that had become overgrown - and of course we got rid of the litter.

Several volunteers also decide to scrape away the vegetation that had encroached on the wharf and the old tramway.

The work party was long overdue as we haven’t had any volunteer support from CRT for many months, mainly due to their internal upheaval.  Our new CRT Waterways Manger (Keith Bradfield) went out of his way to ensure this work could go ahead, so we hope to be able to do more work in the autumn.

We are still waiting for the major towpath work to be started in Rugeley but understand this is now likely to begin in the autumn.  This is a joint project by CRT/Cannock Chase District Council/Rugeley and Brereton Parish Councils and is part of a bigger scheme to link the canals to other ‘green’ routes in the areas.  We are hoping that mooring improvements are part of the scheme but only have vague assurances!

Our Offside Vegetation Team are looking forward to starting work later this year.  They have had brilliant feedback from boaters for the work they have already done.  Over the winter of 2019/20 they will be working on the Coventry Canal from the Fradley area onwards, so if you see them while you’re out please give them a wave!

(Report and photos by Margaret Beardsmore, Volunteer Coordinator)

Hartshill & Coventry Canal Evening Walk - Wednesday 17th July 2019

By chance the annual summer walk centred on the canalside pub of the month in the July edition of Towpath Talk - The Anchor Inn at Hartshill.  Described as "exceptionally boater-friendly" with "an amazing reputation for food and drink" we decided to order our food in advance, and fifteen walkers set off at a brisk pace at 6:15 in order to cover 4 miles, and be back in time for our 8 pm food slot.

Walkers near Caldecote Hall (CW)At a cast-iron bridge, which once carried a mineral line over the canal, we negotiated a gate in the hedge and walked through a field of cows towards the West Coast Main Line, which we crossed at a remote overbridge.

We were now heading northwards towards Caldecote Hall.  The air was full of insects, and a few drops of rain helped to cool us down.  We posed for a group photo near a brick bridge over the river Anker, with Caldecote Hall in the background.  The hall and its previous owners - the Purefoy family - have featured prominently throughout English history, not least when Colonel Purefoy, a Roundhead, became one of the signatories to the death warrant of Charles I.

Turning right outside the estate village, we followed a wide track, that at one time must have served as a direct route between Watling Street and the quarries at Hartshill.

Walking through the fields near Hartshill (CW)At another gap in the hedge we turned south-east and headed towards the triangular peak of ‘Mount Jud’ at Judkins Quarry.  Crossing the railway line at a further overbridge we eventually reached the Coventry Canal in sight of Bridge 24.

Here the canal winds a sinewy but scenic route between Nuneaton and Atherstone and we passed several moored boats along the way.  We stopped briefly to admire the landscaping at Springwood Haven Marina, its sympathetically historic look, belies the fact that it is only twenty years old.

At this juncture we phoned the pub to announce our arrival in twenty minutes time.  The delicious food arrived quickly and we reminisced about where we could walk next July.

(Report and photos by Clive Walker)

Penkridge and Rodbaston College Walk - Thursday 9th May 2019

Ten walkers assembled outside the Cross Keys pub in Penkridge for this 5½ mile walk.  The sky was overcast with slight drizzle as we left the car park at its entrance to the towpath.  We initially headed south along the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal before leaving the canal at Lyne Hill bridge, close to Otherton Marina.  A green lane took us westwards past new housing and, after passing underneath a disused colliery railway line (more about that later) we reached the busy A449.  It had been planned to cross the carriageway and follow a footpath towards Mere's Lane Farm which would have taken us close to the site of the fort of Pennocrucium, a Romano-British predecessor to Penkridge.  However, a preview of the route a few days before had shown that this path was overgrown and largely impassable, so we had to follow the main road instead.

Walkers at Rodbaston (CW)After a few hundred yards we reached an access road to Rodbaston College used by staff members and students.  Intriguingly, the OS map marks a moat on the left hand side of this road but it has now disappeared from view.  Built around its 19th century Hall, Rodbaston College has been a centre of agricultural training for some time, since the War Agricultural Committee first acquired it in 1919.  It is now owned by South Staffordshire College where according to their advertising they "create precision farmers, zoo keepers, florists, engineers, equine managers and more".  It is certainly a lively place with a working farm, equestrian centre, children's zoo and workshops.  Posing in front of its impressive glasshouse, a student kindly took a group photo for us.

Littleton Colliery RailwayWalkers on old colliery railway line (CW)A public footpath winds through the site and we passed beneath one of two very large wind turbines before picking up a trail that took us over a stile and back on to the towpath at Rodbaston Lock.  CRT have replaced the landing stage here as part of this year's winter maintenance programme.

This was the noisy section of the walk with the M6 looming overhead to our right.  After half a mile we stepped up onto the Littleton Colliery railway line, which closed in 1993.  Before the M6 was built coal was transhipped onto the canal near here. 

The photograph shows a train crossing the canal and heading towards Cannock.  Our route took us towards the left of the picture, along a pleasant tree-lined avenue. 

We left the track at Otherton Lane and headed back towards our starting point, where we enjoyed some refreshments.

(Report and photos by Clive Walker)

Handsacre and the Trent & Mersey Canal Walk - Thursday 14th March 2019

Heavy rain the day before had caused a number of attendees to phone before assembling in the car park of the The Olde Peculiar pub in Handsacre.  In the event the weather was dry, if somewhat blustery, as we headed along the Uttoxeter Road to join the canal at bridge 58.  

Handsacre Walk group (CW)After passing a number of moored boats we negotiated a stile in a hedge and headed across farmland in the direction of Echills Farm.  Fortunately, we had the wind behind us as we trudged across a ploughed vegetable field, because strong gusts sent small pieces of parsnip and loose stones scudding above the soil and into the backs of our legs.

Arriving at the farm Phil explained how the route of HS2 follows an embankment at this point, completely changing the landscape in the process.

Handsacre Walk towpath (CW)Here the route of the walk was to follow a footpath which crosses a field; the field was full of horses, penned in by an electric fence.  The exit gate from this field was half off its hinge, and it had been secured to the gate post by a series of chains.  The only way through would have been to limbo dance under the electric fence directly in front of the crumbling stile.  Deciding against such acrobatics, and because discretion is the better part of valour, we took a shortcut instead and headed east along a farm track and out onto Shaw Lane.

At Shaw Lane Farm we paused to view some lovingly restored buildings which are directly in the line of an HS2 viaduct and will be demolished if it proceeds.  At a fork in the road we turned right to rejoin the Trent & Mersey canal at bridge 55.

The canal is tree-lined on both sides at this point and in winter you can see the outline of Cannock Chase in the distance.  The towpath here is also unusually wide and we headed back towards Handsacre, this time with the wind in our faces.

We returned to the Olde Peculiar pub where we enjoyed a meal and refreshments.

(Report and photos by Clive Walker)

Whittington and the Coventry Canal walk - Tuesday 1st January 2019

A record number of 36 hardy souls assembled in the car park of the Plough Inn at Huddlesford to walk to Whittington and back.  There were many first timers and non-members amongst them, and we were honoured by the unexpected presence of Ivor Caplan, the IWA Chairman, who lives in the West Midlands region and who accompanied us throughout.

We set off along the towpath to Whittington, passing the canal-side house of Eric Wood, a former chairman of IWA Lichfield Branch, who kindly invited us all in for a cup of tea.  However, since we had only set off less than half an hour before it wasn't really practical.

Walkers crossing field near Whittington (CW)With so many participants it was inevitable that the group would stretch out along the towpath.  A husky was adamant that it had to lead from the front, and I soon found myself unable to keep pace.  However, it's hard to get lost on a towpath.

Where the canal crosses Whittington Brook, some of us paused to observe the inscribed boundary stone marking the junction between the Coventry Canal and the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal.  Incidentally, this was installed in 1990 thanks to Eric Wood when he was Branch Chairman, to mark the 200th anniversary of the completion of the canal.  This historic boundary anomaly arose when the Coventry Canal Company was short of money to complete its line between Fazeley and Fradley.  The Trent & Mersey Canal built the section from Fradley to Whittington Brook, which was then purchased by the Coventry Canal.  However, the section built for them by the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, from Fazeley to Whittington Brook, was never bought back.  To this day it remains legally part of the B&F and is so named on OS maps, with all its bridges named in the BCN tradition rather than numbered.  This explains why Bridge 78 at Whittington is 5½ miles away from Bridge 77 at Fazeley, with about 15 original bridges in between, but all named.  Not a lot of people know that !

Walkers at St Giles Church, Whittington (CW)We left the Coventry Canal at Whittington Bridge, the first of the named bridges, which is also known as Peel's Bridge on some CRT maps, and turned right to pass through Whittington.  We passed St. Giles Hospice, a prominent modern establishment on our left, and a manor house before arriving at St. Giles Church where we attended the grave of Thomas Spencer, the co-founder of M&S.  John Parry related his story, and also that of a 16-year-old soldier who died tragically in 1949 and who was buried in a Commonwealth War Grave nearby.  John had done some research but the circumstances of his death and those of other soldiers from Whittington Barracks remain a mystery to this day.

In Darnford Lane we headed across some fields with views of Lichfield to the west.  The footpath runs parallel to a modern solar panel farm and we soon re-entered the roadway at Huddlesford House Farm and its dairy of Holsteins, where "they work with and breed cows from the hottest cow families" !

 From there it was a few strides back to our starting point, and a large number of us retired to The Plough Inn to enjoy refreshment.

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