Below you will find links to three YouTube videos of drone flights along the Wilts and Berks canal. Each video covers a different section of the canal. Following the video is a description of what is shown. We acknowledge, with thanks, the work of Steve Court in creating this material. There may be a few seconds of advertisements at the start and end of each video.
Wilts & Berks Canal, Wessex Waterways. Drone Only Part 1
The first 30 seconds or so are of the Upper Lock, flying southwards to the road that leads roughly eastwards out of Foxham village and showing the line of the canal through Lock Farm. This area includes the site of the Bottom Lock, and where a bridge previously carried the road over the canal. From the now distant memories of the author, who had only recently joined the restoration project back then, in the early 1990s much of Lock Farm was owned by the former Wiltshire County Council with a tenant farmer running the farm. From what he can remember from the then Work Party Organiser in the Foxham and Lyneham Branch of the Wilts & Berks Canal Amenity Group, contact was made with the Council to sell the canal area to the Amenity Group so that the work that had started could continue. The team completed the excavation of the lock chamber and found a sewer pipe through it which would need to be re-routed to enable the canal to open. The land was all sold, and the new owner apologised that he felt he must fill the lock chamber (with clean fill) to remove the risk of drowning of his young children. The Amenity Group was renamed to Wilts & Berks Canal Trust some years later. Re-routing the sewer was too big a challenge for the resources we had back then, and we didn’t get the opportunity to restore the lower lock to match what is now complete at the upper lock. We are fairly confident that the buildings and the horse exercise ring do not encroach on the lock chamber, and we don’t feel that these developments make it impossible to complete the end-to-end restoration of the canal for navigation – which is the charitable objective for both WBCT and WWRT.
From about 50 seconds in, the drone flies over the upper lock (restored – gates will be fitted when necessary to enable boats to pass along the canal) and the mooring basin where the landowner – the lock chamber is in the garden – keeps his small flotilla. These boats are used for maintenance – as a floating work platform to pull weeds and trim the vegetation on the offside bank. There is a further change of landownership at the steel bascule bridge.
The drone then goes to a point just beyond the northern end of the canal within Elm Farm and flies southwards towards the bascule bridge. This section includes a wooden lift bridge – a replica of the many which were put in place when the canal was first built. These were not popular with the boat crews, particular when standards of maintenance declined. This bridge superstructure needs some replacement timbers and some counterweight arrangements to bring it into use. The deck was lifted during the weekend when it was assembled. It’s not planned to do this work yet.
By 3:30, our drone pilot is in position on the deck of Oriel Bridge within Park Farm, and from 4:10 onwards the images are of the canal within this farm. There is a bridge, re-built by the present farmer’s father, which is the current vehicular connection from the farm buildings down the hill with the farmland above the canal. As the signage around Oriel Bridge indicates, we are preparing to restore that bridge. Once we’ve made a start on that, and as the work proceeds, news of our progress will be shared with members of Wessex Waterways Restoration Trust via our occasional electronic newsletter ‘The Oriel’. The newsletter is also published on our website a few weeks after it has been sent to our members.
At 6:00 the drone pilot is on the deck of Elephant Bridge (a modern name, which does have an explanation) and flies the drone southwards from the northern end of the Park Farm section. The water level here is low to allow drainage water from the neighbouring farm to pass along and into a stream. Adjacent to the Elephant Bridge (a timber lift bridge which awaits its lifting structure) is a concrete spillway which sets the level of the canal for the section of canal southwards to Foxham upper lock. A spillway is needed so that, following heavy rainfall (when there is more water flowing into the canal channel than flowing out through some leaks that need identifying and resolving) the canal water doesn’t flow over the top of the embankment.
This section of the canal includes two benches – the one near the lock is in memory of Paul Rigby who was a bricklayer who helped with the rebuild of the lock chamber, and the one alongside Oriel Bridge records Jack Dalby who founded the Wilts & Berks Canal Amenity Group. On the offside bank opposite the Jack Dalby bench is a modern milestone as an acknowledgement of Jack’s fascination with the historic milestones which showed the mileages from the historic junction with the Kennet and Avon Canal at Semington. The historic milestone is still in position but please don’t go searching for it – there is not consent for public access to the offside of the canal.
By kind permission of the relevant landowners, the towpath is open for walking from alongside the Upper Lock to the Elephant Spillway. There is a public footpath westward, down the hill, from the Elephant Bridge to Friday Street. This is the road leading northwards out of Foxham to link to the B4069. Please use the styles, and leave gates secured, as the two farms are used for rearing livestock.
Wilts & Berks Canal, Wessex Waterways. Drone Only Part 2
This drone footage starts at the Elephant Lift Bridge, at the northern end of the canal section within Park Farm, Foxham and flies along the line northwards from there over the site of the former (now buried) Wood Common Lock. Steve has marked the location of the lock – shown at about 20 seconds into the video. The canal is in-filled – the old embankment has been pushed into the former channel – for a distance of about 960m to the location of the former City Bridge, which is in the centre of the picture one minute after the start. The drone then flies back, southwards, over that location, from a distance north of the bridge, before turning round and continuing northwards over a section where trees and other vegetation obscure the view of the canal, but the canal channel appears to be holding water.
About 2:10 from the start, the drone is showing the southern end of the next landownership, owned by Rachael Banyard who is a trustee of Wessex Waterways Restoration Trust. The drone makes a second pass, southwards towards City Bridge. At 2:55 the drone shows the spillway, comprised of several sections of circular concrete pipe, placed vertically, which sets the water level through from there to the B4069 crossing. This structure was built under the leadership of Civil Engineering student Richard Hignett (he has now qualified) by a team of Waterway Recovery Group volunteers on a week-long Canal Camp, living in ‘village hall’ accommodation at the Reading Room in Foxham.
At 3:40 the drone is filming from the B4069 bridge and flying southwards past the five cottages which were built for the canal – originally three small cottages, a stable, and a pair of larger semi-detached homes. These were brought back from near dereliction in a property development initiative led by Rachael in the 1990s. That development also included much of the restoration of the canal – including rebuilding the lock (which had been buried), re-excavation of a section of canal north of the B4069 and dredging the whole length of the canal – about two miles in all – extending southwards and northwards from the road crossing. The canal towpath south from the B4069 passes close to private homes and is not open to the public. That does not mean a solution won’t be found where the towpath can return to use as part of restoring the canal through here to navigation. The drone shows that the former canal bridge here has gone – a 900mm diameter concrete pipe in the former canal channel provides a connection for drainage.
From 5 minutes into the flight, the drone is showing the canal-side settlement of Dauntsey Lock – which grew up when the canal was built. The large building, now the Peterborough Arms public house, was the historic farmhouse. It is now owned by the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust and operates as a public house – serving both drinks and meals.
To the left of the canal is the former Wharf Manager’s house, overlooking the restored lock chamber. The restoration of this lock chamber was undertaken entirely by volunteers – from several teams within the Waterway Recovery Group and other similar teams, alongside a regular weekly work-party programme of Wilts & Berks Canal Trust Foxham-Lyneham Branch volunteers. There is a sewer pipe passing through the lock chamber – this will need to be diverted for the lock chamber to be used for boats to pass along the canal. The drone makes a pass southward – clearly showing the historic canal-side pub, now Hope House, before turning to resume its northward course over the lock. The canal towpath northward from here is not yet open to the public so the vegetation on the towpath has been left to grow, over a short distance.
Wilts & Berks Canal, Wessex Waterways at Foxham, Drone Only Part 3
This drone footage starts a short distance along the towpath north-east of the restored Dauntsey Lock chamber. Special permission was obtained from the landowner to access the canal towpath to fly the drone through here to obtain the video.
The canal section here, and what are now the five cottages south of the road, were bought by Wilts & Berks Canal Trust member Rachael Banyard in the early 1990s. The cottages were brought back from severe dereliction. That development also included much of the restoration of the canal – including rebuilding the lock chamber (which had been in-filled and buried), re-excavation of the first 100m section of canal north-east of the lock and dredging the whole length of the canal – about two miles in all – extending in both directions from the road crossing. The canal towpath south-west from the B4069 passes close to private homes and is not open to the public. That does not mean a solution won’t be found where the towpath can return to use as part of a canal through here restored to navigation. The former canal bridge here has gone – a 900mm diameter concrete pipe in the former canal channel provides a connection under the road for drainage.
The canal towpath north-east from here is not yet open to the public so the vegetation on the towpath has been left to grow, over a short distance. For the remainder of the section, as an acknowledgement of the work done by numerous volunteers in the past, volunteers of Wessex Waterways Restoration Trust keep the towpath mown using mowers funded with help from the National Lottery Communities Fund (‘Awards for All’).
From about 1:50 – 2:00 on the flight, it is clear how the canal was built wider to form a wharf area. There is a historic culvert under the canal south-west of the bund – and the canal bed leaks. The bund was formed to enable the canal section north-east from here to be re-filled by drainage run-off from the fields uphill, reducing the risk of the puddle clay lining becoming dried out and developing further leaks.
About 3:30 into the video the drone is showing the next landownership – Waite Hill Farm. A short section south-west of the farm access drive has been in-filled, though with a fenced-off strip for pedestrian access which is kept mown by Wessex Waterways volunteers, with the kind permission of the farmer. This landownership continues across the access drive – the drone footage of this starts at about 3:40 – and again, the towpath is mown regularly, by Wessex Waterways volunteers and with the landowner’s kind permission. The Wilts & Berks Canal towpath was not created with a public right of way – when the canal towpath was a vital part of the transportation solution it was the track used by the horses that pulled the boats. The public were very much excluded from the towpath, for their own safety and to avoid risk of delay to goods in transit.
From 4:00 onwards, the drone makes a second north-westwards transit along the line of the canal, starting with a section of Rachael’s land before flying over Waite Hill Farm. There was previously a wooden lift bridge to carry traffic to and from the farm over the canal – now gone and replaced with a tarmac driveway. At 4:40 to 5:20 the video shows the site of the former Lock One of the flight of Seven Locks. There are some remains visible, but a re-build of the lock chamber will be needed. From 5:50 to 6:00 the drone is showing the short section where Wessex Waterways volunteers mow the towpath, but the land is owned by the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust. The video shows the line of Bowds Lane, which previously crossed the chamber of Lock 2 by means of a wooden lift bridge. There is a historic photo showing this. The drone then gives views of the restored chambers of Locks 3 and 4 – work led by volunteers of the former Foxham-Lyneham Branch of the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust.