Since the beginning of this year, Ken has provided an information-packed blog eagerly awaited each weekend. This week, I hope to give another perspective from a Branch member. I retired in October 2015 and a couple of months later we moved to Royal Wootton Bassett having chosen just the spot to keep us occupied.In February 2016 I started with the weekly working parties offering unskilled labour, and so I've seen our stretch of the canal through every season. It's very satisfying to see a job completed in a day. Early spring last year started with clearing trees and brush from the Dunnington Aqueduct with neat bonfires to consume the piles accumulated during the work-party. We moved on to the restored section at Templars Firs to tidy the offside – again with a bonfire or two to mark our activity – and later in the summer onto the canal to remove the weed growth. The yellow water-lilies are very attractive but they choke the canal; however, the two clumps of large white water-lilies were strictly protected and have been the subject of much amateur photography. I often meet camera-wielding walkers while I'm out with the dogs.
Our branch has a faithful band of volunteers coming from far and wide to keep the grass mown and the hedgerows held in check, and a well-respected WPO in John Bower to guide us in the tasks in hand. He has three deputies, so we can split up into sub-groups as necessary. The team has a wide range of practical skills to counter-balance my lack of them; several members can drive diggers and dumpers, but no-one can make it look quite so simple as Richard Hawkins who can fashion a track or a trench in a trice. The excavator is just like an extra arm, levelling the clay like spreading butter.Other volunteers have left their mark on the Peterborough Arms: Frank Keohane and John Phillips have worked on plastering based on the traditional lime mix needed for a listed building, and although their achievements have already been celebrated in a report given to those who've loaned money for the PA, this year their handiwork will be revealed to a much wider audience.
Having moved from the clay soils of central Berkshire, I know how just how much difference there is between the water-logged soft mess in winter and the cracked dry surface in summer. The clay soil at Studley Grange is an order of magnitude stickier and softer in winter, but with a decent towpath it will become accessible this year. In mid-February, an excavator was hired for two days to create a spill-weir at the western end of Studley Grange by Bincknoll Lane; two trenches were dug, two ribbed plastic pipes were sunk in the clay and covered over, and the team's hi-viz jackets ended up a very low-vis grey.
Having moved to a house in Templars Firs (the road), I was asked to become project manager of the Templar's Firs Extension project (the canal). Actually, I've been busy working in the canal itself over the last few months diverting a path – but I hasten to add that this stretch is in my back garden, and not for restoration. Over Christmas and New Year, I was also busy managing the diversion of the all-weather access track, swapping hats between project management and unskilled labour under John's command. Many others joined the extra work-parties to erect the fencing and help lay 200 tons of scalpings.
Behind our back garden is the old Council Depot, which was moribund when I first saw it in 2015, but when we moved in, we found that it was a hive of activity 24/7 from Monday to Sunday, occupied by a consortium named ABC Electrification whose staff have raised funds for us and kindly allowed the WRG excavator to be parked overnight for over a fortnight. Last week, they finally vacated the buildings and the once-busy yard is now empty and waiting for a buyer.
Will the Templar's Firs Extension have to move up a gear soon? Will we need two work-parties in future – one midweek for us 'Last of the Summer Winers' and another at the weekend for those still working?
Trustee representing the Membership.
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