Chelmer & Blackwater Anniversary13 November 2015
Ten years of focus and investment can make an amazing difference to a waterway. In the decade since the specially created IWA subsidiary Essex Waterways Ltd took over the running of the Chelmer & Blackwater, the once run down navigation has been transformed.
The Chelmer & Blackwater is described in Waterways magazine as an unsung gem – relished by the people of Essex but comparatively little known among the wider canal community. The navigation runs through a largely unspoilt part of rural Essex and connects the county town of Chelmsford with the tidal estuary of the River Blackwater at Heybridge Basin. At just over 13 miles in length it is ideal for a challenging all day walk and the waterway is becoming increasingly popular with day canoeists. Paper Mill Lock and Heybridge Basin receive the lion’s share of visitors to the navigation. Paper Mill is home to the locally popular Old Stables Tearoom where the cakes are legendary and Heybridge is a magical location where saltwater and freshwater boating collide. Heybridge is a busy spot boasting several fine pubs from which to watch enjoy the maritime atmosphere.
The Company of Proprietors of the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation was taken into administration in 2003 after running into serious financial difficulties. IWA formed a subsidiary company, Essex Waterways Ltd and took over the management of the navigation on 14th November 2005 running the waterway exclusively for the public benefit. Without IWA’s intervention it seemed inevitable the abandonment of the navigation would be the only outcome. There is widespread acceptance of the fact that Essex Waterways not only saved the Chelmer & Blackwater from likely abandonment in 2005, but has since radically transformed its fortunes for the benefit of boaters, casual visitors and local residents.
From day one IWA’s Essex Waterways, under the careful direction of Chairman Roy Chandler, began a rolling programme of works. In the first four years Springfield, Sandford, Cuton, Stonham’s and Heybridge Basin Locks were all significantly improved. Moorings and facilities have been upgraded all the way along the navigation. Major works have included the replacement of the largest culvert on the navigation to avoid the risk of embankment collapse and serious local flooding as well as the installation of new landing facilities at one of the lock sites. IWA’s Waterway Recovery Group played a major role in the rebuild of Hall Bridge, Heybridge whilst Heybridge Basin was the site of extensive improvements 4 years ago.
Over the last few years Essex Waterways has been upgrading its plant and tools such that the navigation now benefits from far more efficient and reliable equipment. In this same timeframe new boater facilities have been constructed at Paper Mill and Sandford moorings and the waterway has benefited from regular weekday volunteer support as well as a large number of work party improvements carried out by enthusiastic volunteers from IWA Chelmsford Branch, IWA’s Waterway Recovery Group and Sandford Boating Club.
The waterway has become a cherished local amenity that deserves attention from farther afield as it is a truly beautiful spot. The transformation of the waterway could easily be regarded as one of IWA’s finest recent achievements.
This article is a short version of a full article found in the Winter Edition of Waterways, IWA’s quarterly member magazine. To find out more about membership of IWA take a look at our membership pages.