Welcome to number five of The Oriel.

Wessex Waterways is continuing to deliver and do things.

IWA Festival of Water

Over the Bank Holiday weekend later in August the Wessex Waterways marquee and display kit were at Perdiswell Park in Worcester. This is particularly local for Luke, who staffed the stand for most of the three days. In support was Therese Groves, our newest member, and Rachael was part of the WRG team doing the Site Services.

There was a reasonable number of visitors to our stand, including Verna Smith, IWA Chair for the South East Region, and IWA National Chairman, Paul Rodgers. We also made contacts with the small number of other waterway restoration trusts who had turned up to advertise and promote their respective work.

Our marquee at Worcester, during a period when Luke had the opportunity to be taking photographs as no visitors were heading our way or engaging in conversation with us.

Thames Bridges Trek

A public-facing event of a different scale and style took place on the 4th birthday of Wessex Waterways, 11 September. The event was a professionally organised event, with over 2000 participants, on a sponsored walk which included 25k, (16 miles) of walking. The trek started at Bishops Park in Putney, then over Putney Bridge. After another 14 bridges over the Thames (and a short snack stop at a Cricket Ground near Vauxhall Bridge) there was Tower Bridge to cross, and a walk to the finish line in Southwark Park.

The total sponsorship raised, including Gift Aid, was just over £900.

Weekly workparties – Dauntsey Lock area

As shown in the photos in The Oriel number 4, the Saturday team of volunteers have been working alongside the lock chamber at Dauntsey Lock. A big part of that work will be laying brindle block paving, for which we acquired (free of charge) a new compactor plate. The slight issue with this machine was some damage to it – we’re not going to explain how that happened – but there were some replacement parts to be sourced and fitted. An excellent neighbour of Luke’s, living in Evesham, is particularly expert with mechanical things so he was engaged to fit the replacement parts once we’d found and bought them. Finding them involved an exchange of photos and emails and engine details over several days, but eventually the box of bits arrived. By this time, Steve (Luke’s neighbour) was at his flat in Portugal so a further pause until Steve and his wife returned to their home in UK.

A few days ago, having taken the machine to a suitable location away from homes (on account of the noise of the machine) and onto ground where testing the machine for a few seconds would not be noticed, the engine was started and stopped, and the machine is now proven to be ready for service.

The compactor plate, after the repairs.

While we paused work alongside the lock awaiting a serviceable machine to lay the paving, attention switched to scrub-bashing. The regular mowing of the towpath sections at Foxham and at Dauntsey has continued as necessary through the autumn, but there was a great need for clearing the vegetation in the channel alongside the towpath and for trimming the towpath hedge. Some time ago the team led by Gordon Williams cleared the area of Lock 1, within Phil Smith’s land, and this was also needing attention before the saplings grew much bigger.

On the Eastern front, supported by WRG BITM

Help from some of the Waterway Recovery Group Bit In The Middle team (generally known as BITM) was arranged for a day in October. This date was also the day of the annual restoration conference (on Zoom this year) organised by IWA and Canal and Rivers Trust. Luke spent Saturday morning indoors with his laptop listening and watching presentations while Rachael and her friends in BITM were making a good start around Lock One.

The cleared lock chamber, Lock 1 of Seven Locks, and the towpath leading westwards. The volunteer in the shot, to give it scale, is Anthony Tidey

Since that strong start in October, and after a rather lengthy wait for the machine to be made (supply chains suffering on account of a pandemic you’ll have all heard about) our second backpack brushcutter arrived.

The new brushcutter – the two parts fit together, and the bit on the right (including the engine) are worn on the operator’s back.

In three days, with two operators, about half a mile of canal bank at Dauntsey has been cut back and most of the cut material is raked up into stacks ready for the bonfires. This is an excellent rate of progress, particular thanks to Larry for his good work with the brushcutter and hedgetrimmer, and to Anthony for his hours of hard work with the four-prong pitchfork.

There will be more days of canal bank clearance ahead through the winter, and then as the warmer weather returns in the spring (and the birds start building nests) we’ll be back to the paving and other groundworks around the lock chamber at Dauntsey Lock.

Wiltshire, Swindon and Oxfordshire Canal Partnership

One last item of big news, which has only recently reached us, is that WWRT has been accepted as a member of the Wiltshire, Swindon and Oxfordshire Canal Partnership. There was an invitation issued to the WWRT Trustees at the time to deliver a presentation to the representatives of the members of the Partnership at one of their quarterly meetings. That invitation wasn’t accepted prior to the end of September 2019. The invitation was extended to us a second time following the Partnership meeting in September 2020, a short presentation was duly delivered to their online meeting on 2 December covering some points to which we had been asked to respond. The positive decision was communicated to us by Ken Oliver of Wiltshire Council (and former Chair of Wilts & Berks Canal Trust) on 20 December.

The Trustees are pleased about this – we felt we should be accepted into the Partnership as a positive contributor to the restoration project. We explained in our presentation that we are already working on the ground consistent with the restoration objective. With some help from a mapping website we could show on an aerial photograph the extent of the sites we have access to.

A space filler!

As a space-filler, this is the bench seat at Park Farm, Foxham, donated (and marked) in memory of Jack Dalby who founded WBCT under its former name, Wilts & Berks Canal Amenity Group

The next event for all of our members who wish to attend is the AGM. Strictly it is the second part of the adjourned AGM for the year ending 31 March 2020, to be followed immediately by the AGM for the year ending 31 March 2021. The date and time are 6pm on Saturday 22 January 2022. Further information, and the provisional Agendas for the meetings, are being sent out with this issue of The Oriel.