Welcome to number nine of The Oriel.

There’s lots to report about, some positive, some less positive, and some ‘the same old’.

A Vacancy in our Plant Repair activity

The Oriel number eight mentioned the space for someone to work alongside Rachael to keep our mechanical kit in good repair. The vacancy has yet to be filled so there’s lots of scope for someone interested to help in this way. One of our mowers and one of our backpack brush-cutters went to Walfins in Greatfield for repair a few weeks ago. It would be great to have someone in our own team who could fix things; or who could deliver items needing attention and collect them after they’ve been repaired. This is practical work that doesn’t involve being out in the cold and wet autumn or winter weather and can be done at a time that’s convenient for the role holder.

WSO Canal Partnership

At the other end of our range of activity, Luke has now attended, in person, two meetings of the Wiltshire, Swindon and Oxfordshire Canal Partnership. These meetings are generally to a hybrid format – with the majority of participants attending via Microsoft Teams. Wiltshire Council has a very suitable conference room at Monkton Park with cameras and a big video display screen so that remote and in-person participants can see each other. Most of the subjects discussed aren’t really the stuff that makes for interesting reading in The Oriel, but it’s all relevant to moving our great project forward. Luke learned from a Partnership meeting about the final public consultation about the Wiltshire Local Plan. It’s a long document to read but does include positive coverage about the canal. The route protection, which is vital to our level of confidence that the canals can be restored to navigation and for the great benefit of the local public, is carried forward in the present document.

A message that Luke received from others who attend the partnership was how good it would be to see the canal re-opened from alongside the Peterborough Arms pub at Dauntsey Lock, eastwards. This is a section which Wessex Waterways has access to maintain, with thanks to Rachael Banyard. What we don’t have, unfortunately, is significant resources to make much impact on clearing the channel, fixing the leaks, and re-watering.

Restoration Progress

One recent Saturday, with a big thank-you to each of Ray Bond and Rachael, some actual restoration progress was made.  Two branches of a willow tree on Ray’s side of the channel were blocking the channel.

Ray fitted some special attachments to his dumper, and Rachael arrived on site in her four-wheel-drive car – equipped with chain saw and long-reach pole saw.  Larry and Luke were on the patch with waders, ropes, and a tirfor winch.  By lunchtime the two branches had been detached from the tree and dragged onto the canal towpath.  Luke was pleased to able to report at the subsequent Partnership meeting that we’d done what we could, supported by our willing friends.  Two branches removed from a tree might not sound like a big step forward, but for us, with our limited resources, it was a big achievement.

The Vandals

Early in May we received a report of vandal damage to the wooden lift bridge deck, what we call The Elephant Bridge, and smashed windows on Rachael’s big JCB813 excavator that was parked a short distance from there.  Much time was spent with notifying the police, checking whether our insurance would help with the costs for repairs, and other necessary work to put things right.  It would have been good to be able to spend that time moving our project forward rather than putting right mindless damage.

A few positive things have come from this: we now know the name of the relevant officer at Wiltshire Council for public footpaths and we kept him informed as we went ahead and achieved the necessary repairs in respectably short time-scales.  He put signs up to close the footpath but was content to allow us to remove the signs once the repairs were complete.  We emailed him photographs as evidence and left the signs for him to collect at the bottom of the field – saving him some time and a long walk.

The vandal damage led to several conversations with local people who were disappointed to see and hear of what other local people had done – and voiced their support for us very clearly.  There was a local initiative which put up signs offering a reward of £200 for information leading to an arrest.  This was aimed more at communicating the support of the majority of our neighbours for what we have been doing and Elephant Bridge hopefully demonstrating disapproval of their actions to the culprits.  The bridge is now re-opened, and we have a solution ready for the windows of the machine.

Elephant Bridge before repair work
Elephant Bridge after repair work

The before and after photos of the bridge.  It can be demoralising when we face situations like this, but we need to show determination.  If we can’t respond constructively to something like this who’s going to believe we can carry this project forward towards a completed and re-watered canal across Wiltshire and Oxfordshire?

Other news

We’re a bit thin on photos this time as Luke suffered a serious problem with his mobile phone.  On a more positive note, there was a slight hiatus with the videos taken by Steve Court that were viewable via our website.  Within a few days of this edition of The Oriel landing in email in-boxes, the videos should be back on the website, and it should be much harder for them to go offline in the future.  Many thanks to Steve and to Alan for rescuing the situation. Good news does happen – we applied to the Bradenstoke Solar Farm Community Benefit Fund for help with materials for Oriel Bridge.  Our initial application was declined but we changed the list of things for which we wanted funding and were awarded £5000.  The things we’re now able to purchase are necessary for the work on Oriel Bridge so we can now, rightly, claim a success in that direction.

Thames Bridges Trek

As has become a regular tradition, Luke did the Thames Bridges Trek in London on the Saturday closest to the anniversary of Wessex Waterways achieving its charitable registration.  This year the trek was on one of the hottest Saturdays of the year so participants were required to take additional supplies of drinking water to keep themselves hydrated.  Luke successfully completed the 16 miles and 16 crossings of the river, with Therese spending much of the day in central London so that some photos could be taken. This is an opportunity for people who support what Wessex Waterways is doing to demonstrate a bit of support by sponsoring Luke.  The Donate button is live on our website, and very easy to find.  Members of Luke’s family and some of his work colleagues, have heard that Luke has done the Trek as a fund-raiser for Wessex Waterways so please, if you feel you can, would you add your support. The Donate button on the Wessex Waterways website (www.wessex-waterways.org.uk) links through to the website of the Charities Aid Foundation who process your on-line donation including, if you tick the relevant boxes and provide the details, collecting the Gift Aid from HMRC and adding that to our bank account.  It’s an easy and secure step-by-step process, but if on-line banking isn’t your thing, please post a cheque made payable to Wessex Waterways Restoration Trust to Luke at 81 Anchor Road, Calne  SN11 8EB. All sponsorship/donations are gratefully received and will help Wessex with its work on the canal.

Luke on the Millennium Bridge

On the Millenium Bridge

Luke at the northern end of Southwark Bridge

At the northern end of Southwark Bridge

Luke on Tower Bridge

LEFT: Nearing the end of the day, making the last crossing of the river on foot, on Tower Bridge.

UltraChallenge result text

The on-line confirmation from Ultra Challenge (the company which organises the event) that Luke completed the challenge in just less than 6 ¼ hours.

Work parties progress

In recent weeks the rate of growth of the grass on the towpath has slowed significantly so we’ve started the annual task of trimming the hedges and cutting back the vegetation on the canal bank.  A start was made on Lock 1, and last Saturday’s team of three of us cleared about half the distance between there and the drive to Waite Hill Farm.  There’s lots more to do in the coming weeks, but we’re sure we’re showing a faster rate of progress than we achieved last year.  We’re hopeful that by this time next year we’ll have a machine that will make the task a lot quicker and less arduous.

WRG BITM at Hignett’s Hole

Another highlight of our programme since The Oriel Number Eight was a visit by Waterway Recovery Group Bit in the Middle team.  The focus of their efforts was the spillway at the western end of Rachael’s section which bears the name Hignett’s Hole in honour of Richard Hignett who did the design as part of his degree course in Civil Engineering at Southampton University some years ago.  He persuaded his Tutor to approve the design to be constructed and led a week of volunteer work with a team visiting us as a WRG Canal Camp to quarry the clay and build the structure.  A big vertical concrete pipe forms the weir of the spillway, and there is an embankment around to contain the water at the same height as the water in the canal (there are pipes through the canal embankment).  The roots of trees and possibly the activity of local wildlife had resulted in water leaking through the embankment alongside the pipe that carries water from the bottom of the big vertical pipe (i.e. excess water from the canal) to the adjacent ditch.  The solution involved much filling of sandbags with dry lean concrete mix, placement into position, and clay matting being placed across the inward-facing side of the stack of sandbags to achieve a watertight repair.  Photos of ‘before’ and ‘after’ below.

collapsed section of the embankment
The collapsed section of the embankment.
A wider view showing part of the embankment, the collapsed area, and the big vertical pipe (the weir)
A wider view showing part of the embankment, the collapsed area, and the big vertical pipe (the weir).
sandbags in position to repair the collapsed part of the embankment

The sandbags in position to repair the collapsed part of the embankment.

Clay being applied in front of and over the top of the repaired section

Clay being applied in front of and over the top of the repaired section.

Our thanks go to the WRG BITM people – of whom some were working a few days before the actual weekend to prepare for the sandbags to be placed.  The weekend was led by Matt Carpenter who is a regular WRG BITM person and also a Trustee and Treasurer for WWRT.