News article created on 11 January 2019

Boaters' Update 11 Jan 2019

Happy New Year! In this first edition of 2019 we get straight down to it with an update on the state of things out on the cut. You can also read a lovely piece about restoration, a look back on the first two Crick Boat Shows as it celebrates its 20th anniversary and the ever-present news and stoppage roundup along with ways to get involved.

Walking in the winter

Welcome to the first edition of 2019. While another year has passed and we still don’t have the hover boards and home assistant robots we were promised 30 years ago, the classic boats you know and love offer the opportunity for a timelessly appealing escape to the UK’s wonderful network of canals and rivers.  

Last year, aside from the mammoth day-to-day job of routine maintenance across a 200-year old network of working heritage, we had to contend with major engineering challenges on the Shroppie (Middlewich breach) and Leeds & Liverpool (culvert failure), all against a backdrop of an unwavering lack of rain in the hottest summer ever recorded in England.

It’s impossible to say what challenges this year will bring so to start this inaugural edition of 2019 there’s an article bringing you up to date with the latest major stoppage news and the current water resource position. Aside from this there’s a great article about restoration from John Dodwell, one of our former Trustees and current chair of the Montgomery Canal Partnership, and we start a series of articles reminiscing about previous Crick Boat Shows, and wider waterways news, as we approach the show’s 20th anniversary.

The regular round-up of other boating news, stoppages and events are, as ever, here for you too. Seeing that this is the first edition of the year, I’m particularly keen to hear what you’d like to read about over the next 12 months. Please do drop me a line.

Happy boating,

Damian

In this edition:

News round-up and the fortnight ahead           

Over the last few weeks you may have heard, or seen, that:

  • 17 Dec – Details of Britain’s biggest canal angling competition were announced, with the 2019 Canal Pairs Championship once again coming to the nation’s waterways.
  • 20 Dec – We issued some winter wellbeing tips to promote that spending time by water makes people feel happier and healthier, and is particularly beneficial over the cold, dark days of winter.
  • 21 Dec – The Shropshire Union Canal, Middlewich branch, re-opened following repairs to a major breach after a section of the 200-year-old embankment washed away into the River Wheelock below in March. More on this below.
  • 21 Dec – Water saving restrictions on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal were lifted after recent rainfall improved reservoir holdings. More on this below.

Below I’ve picked out some highlights to see and do over the next couple of weeks. Of course there are plenty of other activities and volunteering opportunities. Just visit the events section of the website to find the perfect one for you.

  • 14 Jan – Want to become a dedicated Dave or a brilliant Barbara? If so, keep your eye out next week for the start of our recruitment drive for volunteer lock keepers and join the 130 or so Daves who get to meet new people, learn new skills and spend time in the fresh air while volunteering for us.
  • 16 Jan – Ignite your cultural tastebuds at the Poetry Society with ‘Of Water: Nancy Campbell & Robert Powell’ which is both a poetry reading and exhibition launch. You’re probably familiar with Nancy in her role as Canal Laureate while Robert has long been energised by waterways, especially the Ouse and Foss flowing in and near York.
  • 20 Jan – Improve your mind and body on a guided walk with the Inland Waterways Association along the waterways of London.

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Start of year update – what you need to know

The pace of change is relentless – it doesn’t stop for a Christmas break! While most of us were settling in to time worn routines of family gatherings, present opening and celebration, things were still quietly happening on the waterways. Which  is a shame because some of it deserved a fanfare…

Middlewich Branch reopens

Middlewich Branch back in water following the breach restorationIsn’t that picture on the right a sight for sore eyes! It’s taken 4,000 tonnes of stone, countless volunteers and a determined team of Trust staff and contractors to repair but the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal is now open to boats after the equivalent of 200 lorry loads of embankment were washed away into the river below.

Restrictions lifted on Leeds & Liverpool

Wigan PierAs mentioned in the introduction, much of the country suffered drought conditions last summer which led to water-related closures of some stretches of canals, mainly in the north west. However, rainfall over recent weeks has significantly improved reservoir holdings and enabled the remaining restrictions between Holme Bridge Lock (lock 30) and Wigan (lock 85) to be lifted three weeks ago. While levels in many reservoirs have recovered, the overall holding across the group feeding the Leeds & Liverpool Canal remains below the long term average and so we are continuing to carefully monitor reservoir refill over the winter.

Other stoppages

As a boater you’ll know that, every year, we have a major repair and restoration programme over the winter period when it’s a bit quieter out on the cut. We’ve already got a lot done but there are still some major pieces of work underway (or about to start) so do please check the latest stoppage information before heading off for a cruise.

How are the reservoirs looking?

While many of you will have been dreaming of a white Christmas, our Water Management team always look forward to a rainy Christmas, or at least one with prolonged, hydrologically effective rainfall in the right places to help refill our reservoirs for the next boating season!

The Met Office have collated their statistics for 2018 overall, and for the UK it was the 7th warmest year on record. In terms of the summer, it was the warmest for the whole UK since 2006, the driest since 2003 and the sunniest since 1995.

Some rain gauges in southern England recorded more than 50 consecutive dry days and temperatures exceeded 30°C fairly widely on 15 days during July and August. You, as boaters, will be only too aware of the impact that the dry weather had on maintaining water levels for boating, and the restrictions and closures that we reluctantly had to put in place on a number of canals and lock flights in response to the drought. 

The autumn has seen some long-awaited recovery of water levels in most of our reservoirs, improving the prospects for the 2019 boating season. But this recovery has not been across every reservoir on the network. The rainfall in the coming months through to Easter will be particularly important for the Oxford & Grand Union Canals, as the reservoirs supplying these canals are yet to show substantial recovery through the autumn and winter to date, and at the time of this update the group holding is around 50% full. We are closely monitoring the refill of the reservoirs in this group, and may need to consider mitigation measures (as we did during the 2011-12 period) to improve the water resources prospects for the boating season ahead.

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Montgomery Canal impresses in Spain as restoration takes centre stage

To say I was surprised to hear that the Montgomery Canal was the topic of a speech given to architects in Catalonia might be a little of an understatement. On reflection though I shouldn’t be that surprised – it’s a beautiful canal undergoing a renaissance so why not! In any case, chair of the Montgomery Canal Partnership, John Dodwell, picks up the story:

“It might seem odd to receive an invitation to talk to the Catalan Association of Architects in Barcelona about the history and restoration progress of the Montgomery Canal as part of their annual Seminar, this year's focussing on canals. After all, Spain is a pretty dry country and not known for any network of waterways.

“Yet, it turned out that when the Spanish talk about canals, they have in mind Roman and other water channels and aqueducts used to bring water from the hills to the towns and cities. The idea of navigating on them isn't their first one.

“This was the background facing two British speakers last December when we arrived in Spain. The Trust's heritage adviser Kate Lynch talked about the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the Anderton Boat Lift, two remarkable examples of canal engineering, and explained how they came to be built - also how they are maintained.

A boat crossing the Pontycysyllte Aqueduct“Kate explained how the Anderton Lift closed in the 1980s due to its poor structural condition and how it came to be restored and re-opened in 2002. Kate also showed the famous photo of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct being emptied for inspection by pulling a plug in the side of the trough with all the water spewing out into the River Dee, some 120 feet below.

“I spoke about the Montgomery Canal's history and the restoration progress (50% of the Canal's 35 miles have been fully restored) and the valuable part played by volunteers. I also explained that we were now raising money to rebuild Schoolhouse Bridge, in Shropshire, one of the next obstacles. The Architects Association paid a fee - which is going into the Restoration Fund. While impressed by what the volunteers had done, the Catalonian convener doubted if the same could be done in Spain.

“Restoration also featured heavily in an article in ‘The Observer’ last Sunday, headed ‘Drifting into a new era at 4mph: Britain's canals enjoy a rebirth’. MSN News picked up on it as well and put it in their Spotlight slot. Most of it is about the benefits of restoration and featured a forthcoming report from the Inland Waterways Association pointing out that you don't have to wait until the restoration is finished before benefits are seen.

Grantham Canal Lock Works“Projects which got a mention included the Wey & Arun, the Grantham (where the Trust is leading a HLF funded restoration), the Lancaster, the Cotswolds - and, of course, the Montgomery. The article also drew attention to the lack of a national planning policy about canal restoration and its multi-benefits - with particular mention of the problems caused by new road building, with the Lichfield & Hatherton, the Wilts and Berks, and the Bedford & Milton Keynes getting coverage.

“Showing the broad range of benefits that waterways bring, the article even got in a mention of a Wendover (Bucks) doctor who donated money to the Trust and prescribed towpath walking to her patients. "Regular exercise in a beautiful, peaceful natural environment with water has an added bonus. It gives a sense of wellbeing, reduces stress and helps depression".”

Thanks John! And we couldn’t agree more with the good doctor.

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It was 20 years ago in May…

Richard Parry at Crick Boat Show 2018It’s staggering to even contemplate the massive changes that have happened in the world, and on the waterways, since Crick Boat Show’s first outing in 2000. So, in the editions between now and the 20th show over the late May Bank Holiday, I’ll be taking a wander down memory lane and looking back on a couple of past shows, starting with the first two, and the big news of the day:

2000

As the hype, unfounded as it turned out to be, around the millenium bug died away and the world didn’t grind to a halt, we all got on with business as normal. Well, I say normal, we did buy enough copies of Bille Piper’s ‘Day & Night’ song (presumably on CD – do you remember them?) to send it to number one in the charts during the Crick weekend. It was also the year in which the Queen Mother celebrated her 100th birthday, Ken Livingstone was elected Mayor of London and Big Brother was launched. Oh, in case you’re wondering, we mostly went to see Mission: Impossible 2 at the cinema.

Tees Barrage gates workingOn the waterways, our predecessor, British Waterways (BW) took over the Tees Barrage, was digging ‘cut and cover’ style through Sellers Engineering works as it pressed ahead with the restoration of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and, pleasingly, the appeal to restore Anderton Boat Lift was nearing its target.

So, how did the first show fare? Well, little did the planners of the first show know that 2000 would turn out to be one of the wettest years on record. It didn’t stop them from making a real go of it amid the mud and rain – reportedly digging drainage trenches after a Saturday night deluge (it really was that wet!) The dismal weather didn’t keep away too many visitors either – around 13,500 people turned out to see ‘hundreds of exhibits for the boating enthusiast’.

2001

The fabulous Eden Project, in Cornwall, opened its doors for the first time this year. As did the England football team dressing room to Sven Goran Eriksson. One door which had the same people going through it was the big black one in Downing Street as we voted in Tony Blair’s Labour government for another term. If you were boating, or driving, to Crick Boat Show with the radio on, it’s likely that chart topper ‘It’s raining men’, by Geri Halliwell, was playing in the background while the kids nagged you to take them to the year’s biggest film ‘Harry Potter & the Philosophers Stone’.

The year on the waterways started in a somewhat subdued fashion – foot and mouth disease, first detected in February, led to many towpath closures which gradually reopened with control measures put in place to limit the spread. On the upside, the still relatively young BW website offered a novel, and highly popular, automatic update system, to notify people when stretches reopened, which appears to have led to today’s stoppage notification system.

Thankfully the second show at Crick was able to go ahead. Just as pleasing was the weather, with barely a drop falling over the weekend. A new site layout, tons of boats and exhibitors made for a succesful show with BW’s then show director Simon Ainley concluding that: ‘Last year it was Braunston Boat Show at Crick, this year it’s Crick Boat Show’.

In the next edition we’ll take a look back at the 2002 and 2003 shows. If you have memories of these, or any other past show, then I’d love to hear them – please just drop me a line.

In the meantime, did you know that advance tickets are now on sale for this year’s show? You’ll save up to 15 per cent on the entry price for the event, which takes place at Crick Marina, near Daventry in Northamptonshire, during 25-27 May, with an extra Trade & Preview Day to be held on Friday 24 May, in association with LeeSan.

Thanks go to Waterways World for its help in providing archive material for research.

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Get involved

Many boaters go the extra mile in helping to keep canals and rivers in good condition by volunteering or donating. As you’re such an integral part of what makes waterways so wonderful I thought you’d like to know about other ways you can get involved:

  • We’re inviting disabled boaters and/or their carers, partners, or family, to a meeting on 17 January in Newark, to talk about their experience and how things could be improved. The informal meeting will take place at 2.30pm at our East Midlands Waterway Office, The Kiln, Mather Road, Newark NG24 1FB. If you're not able to attend but would like to contribute, we’d still like to hear from you. You can send questions, comments, or suggestions – please get in touch. The notes from the last meeting, held in London, can be found here.

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Maintenance, repair and restoration work affecting cruising this weekend

As someone who’s out on, or by, the water more often than most you’ll know that there are times when we need to fix things that unexpectedly break. So, below, you’ll find a list of anything that’s happening that may seriously affect you if you’re planning on a cruise this weekend. Of course, now we’re into our winter stoppage programme (see above!) there’s a hive of activity repairing and restoring a variety of things. Below you’ll find, by canal or river, those that may affect your plans this weekend:

When any restrictions to navigation happen, we get them up on to our website as soon as we can – always best to have a scan before you set off for a cruise. If you have any questions about a specific closure then you’ll find the email addresses for our regional offices on our contacts page.

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