Sunday, 2 April 2017

Fit for purpose

Firstly apologies that this weeks blog is published a little next later than usual but  I was attending the annual CRT/IWA Restoration Workshop in Wolverhampton on Saturday.
Fit for purpose was the theme of the workshop and as ever a wide range of topics covered and of course a great opportunity to meet others working on canal restorations plus a number of senior CRT team.
Richard Parry Chief Executive Canal & River Trust
The whole point of the event is to share best practice so the recent reorganisation of the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust was one of the morning sessions.
Jonathan Till Chief Executive WBCT
The presentations made during the day will be available shortly- well worth a read  
The preceding part of my week had fewer meetings than usual (hooray!) however with an important new connection for the Wilts Berks to be invited to be part of the Upper Thames Partnership where we will have an opportunity to interact with a number of other organisations who deal with issues in the catchment.
All other work has been of completing the response to latest Swindon Borough Council's New Eastern Villages consultation and to work with the Melksham Link project team to try to advance the planning application.
There may be a pause in the blog for next week as I am intending to take in a few days of Mediterranean sunshine but will be back in time for Easter and a chance to get our boat of the moorings for the first time this year.

Ken Oliver

Friday, 24 March 2017


Firstly thanks to Steve Bacon for last week's blog - I hope you liked  another view of the Wilts & Berks - let me know if want to be a guest editor for the week.
Working in partnership was the theme for my week-
On Monday I joined some of the team to meet up with colleagues from the Cotswold Canals Trust . We met at their not so new headquarters building at Brimscombe Port - long since the deserted by industry it is eventually scheduled for demolition as part of the massive redevelopment plans for the area to rebuilt the port so its final meanwhile use is by CCT. We looked at the obvious parts where we might work more closely - Cricklade to Inglesham which will be the route to the River Thames from the North Wilts canal and heard about the CCT efforts to persuade Thames Water to use the Cotswold Canals for water transfer from the River Severn. We will obviously continue the dialogue and look at area of common interest..
I am a member of the Kennet & Avon & Bridgewater & Taunton Canals Partnership so was 'on duty' on Wednesday evening in Bath where the Trustees of Canal & River Trust had been spending the day seeing the newly restored Claverton Pumping Station and had invited local guests to meet them to talk about their work .
Allan Leighton Chairman of CRT welcomes guests
Finally  Thursday  was the quarterly  meeting of the Wiltshire Swindon & Oxfordshire Canal Partnership where among  other items we discussed how our Partnership  could be more effective . Some really interesting ideas came out of the meeting and we hope to take them forward to help deliver the canal.

Ken Oliver

Friday, 17 March 2017

A View from the Back Window

This week I am taking a rest and its over to Guest Editor Steve Bacon

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?
Steve Bacon,
Trustee representing the Membership.

If you would like to be one of our occasional guest editors let me know
Ken Oliver

Friday, 10 March 2017

Slowly coming back to life

Another opportunity this week to visit some more of the canal. This time it was the most recent restoration at Studley Grange Royal Wootton Bassett. I don't think any of the WBCT management team would argue with me when I say that this project has been difficult and is not yet complete. I know everyone is waiting for the official opening but like most things Wilts & Berks a bit more patience is required!  However things are happening and the RWB team are working their way through a long list of installing information boards benchs and leaning posts.

This project is part of the strategy to link the canal from Royal Wootton Bassett to Swindon and my reason to visit this week was to discuss how we can temporarily link the towpath to Hay Lane. This will require the permission of Biffa Waste Ltd to access land to the north of the canal. It was a lovely spring day for the walk and as you can see the canal looks very good and will look even better when Wiltshire Wildlife Trust complete some further planting later this month.

Ken Oliver

Friday, 3 March 2017


It nice to get out of the office and have a look a section of the Wilts & Berks I have not  seen before , so with some of the WBCT team , and with permission of Wiltshire Council's property team, on Tuesday I had a look at Lower Forest Farm just outside Melksham. This is part of the land that Wiltshire Council has agreed to  give to WBCT and most importantly contains the new route out of the river Avon to re-join  the historic route of the canal . It is a very picturesque  spot and the new locks required to come out of the river and climb up to the canal  will be very impressive. The old canal is a mixture of in filled sections and derelict waterway just waiting to be restored.
Derelict Canal  Lower Forest Farm
Site of junction with River Avon

Seeing this section of the canal 100 years after abandonment is very relevant  to  a report by consultants Peter Brett Associates shortly to be published. The study  has looked at the whole canal route as it is today  and relates it to local habitats  and will be an important tool in future planning applications to assess what mitigation may be required as part of the canal restoration.
The start of the week was a meeting with the WBCT engineering  team to finally conclude how the canal will connect from Croft Road Swindon to Coate Water Country Park.

Thankfully  unlike the Whitworths when they had to  physically survey the canal we were able to rely on 21st Century technology and use 'Lidar'  mapping to establish the levels along the route . The meeting concluded  that  we will need 5 locks to get from the old summit pound (99.1m) to  a new summit at 114m . The aim will be to build all the remaining locks at a standard 3m depth.
This week concluded with a visit to the Peterborough Arms ( looks better each time I go) for a meeting of the WBCT Executive.

Ken Oliver

Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Big Picture

The last time I visited the Kings Cross St Pancras area of London was last year by boat so it was a slightly different perspective I viewed the egents Canal  from the meeting room close to Batllebridge basin, where on Friday IWA had assembled 20+ knowledgeable delegates from canal restoration groups. The aim of the day was to work out how IWA could advance waterway restoration on the national stage to further expand the work on their Restoration Hub. It was agreed by all  that a small team needs to be set up and resourced to define a 'vision' for what the waterways might look like in 10-15 years and then to promote this with all its benefits to national and local government and the leaders of relevant national organisations. In my opinion this is a big leap forward and I hope that the outcome will produce effective results for all waterway restoration schemes. The physical outcomes of waterside regeneration were all around us so a very appropriate venue for this work.
The Gas Works St Pancras (Jul 16)

The Cotswold Canal Partnership met this week at a very windy Slimbridge. Their main focus at present is to address the issues raised in the last attempt at securing HLF funding for their Phase 1b (connecting the existing restored section at Stroud to Saul Junction). The exciting news is that Stroud District Council has committed £3m to the scheme.
The Wilts & Berks is also hoping to attract some HLF funding for Pewsham Locks and I met with the bid team this week to assess what needs to happen next before the HLF project officer visits the site at the end of March.
Elsewhere on the project I have just started to review the latest Swindon consultations on the New Eastern Villages and I will be working with the WBCT Exec to see how members can best try to influence the proposals.

Ken Oliver

Saturday, 18 February 2017

This weeks Carry On

Celebrity Carry on Barging (Channel 5 Friday 8pm) to me had a title that raised at least an eyebrow  with an expectation of high jinx on the canal. Hats off to the producers who have come up with a formula  that captures the flavour of canal life seen through the eyes of Simon Callow Lorraine Chase Nigel Havers & Debbie McGee. I have to say that they would have been a bit more exhausted tackling the Caen Hill flight of locks without the help of the CRT volunteer lock keepers!. Anyway in my opinion well worth watching  especially episode 2 (aired Fri 17th) which features a short section about the Wilts & Berks restoration filmed at Pewsham Locks.

Acquiring the route of the Wilts &Berks is clearly the first step in fully restoring the canal and all day last Monday the WBCT Land Team and Branch Chairs met. The whole route of the mainline and North Wilts Canals were reviewed and a number key priorities identified to deliver strategic sections of the restoration.
In 1998 one of the big steps forward for the Wilts & Berks was a comprehensive feasibility study carried out  by consultants Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick.This has been the engineering 'bible' for the project since then, although quite a number of areas have been revised  by subsequent reports.  Currently I am working with the WBCT engineering team to review some of the basic specifications for the canal and we intend to publish a revised document shortly having checked some fundamental issues. This is a crucial piece of work as increasingly WBCT is having to advise third parties on how to build the canal. To ensure that the specifications will be generally in harmony with Canal & River Trust waterways, CRT have agreed to be part of the review procedure for this document.

Ken Oliver