Welcome to the latest edition. Before you head out to enjoy what is probably our warmest weekend in half a year please spare five minutes to have a read about what’s going on with the breach on the Middlewich Branch of the Shroppie, just how low we’ve got licence evasion and much more besides.
Welcome to the latest edition. Before you head out to enjoy what is probably our warmest weekend in half a year please spare five minutes to have a read.
You’ll find out what’s going on with the breach on the Middlewich Branch of the Shroppie, just how low we’ve got licence evasion, and about those strange marks that you see on many bridges and waterside structures.
As ever, there’s a round-up of the latest news, events and stoppages. If there’s a particular topic you’d like to see in a future edition then please just drop me a line.
In this edition:
Over the last couple of weeks you may have heard, or seen, that:
Below I’ve picked out some highlights to see and do over the next fortnight. Of course, there are plenty of other activities and volunteering opportunities around the network: visit the events section of the website to find the perfect one for you. Or you may just want to escape out on your boat, in which case these cruising ring guides might be handy!
For those who don’t know, a few weeks ago a breach swept away a 70-metre section of the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal. Before giving you the low down on what’s been going on since then, we’d like to give thanks for the fantastic response we’ve had from the community – boaters and locals – with offers of volunteering, free use of meeting rooms, and, of course, the people who've helped fundraise.
Ani Sutton, development & engagement manager, reports from the side of the breach on the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal:
Our contractors have installed a stone access road. Next, they will install the temporary stone ramp to allow construction vehicles access to the bed of the canal.
The design to repair the breach is progressing well. The topographic survey information shows that 2,800m3 of the embankment has been washed away – that's over 200 lorry loads - and it will need to be replaced. Our engineers are assessing the condition of the arch of the aqueduct, currently there has been no structural damage to the arch, however due to the loss of ground, a careful assessment is needed to confirm whether construction vehicles can safely cross it.
Badgers around the breach
Due to badger setts on the opposite embankment, we'll face significant constraints on delivery of materials. The main active badger sett is not directly affected by the breach repairs itself but is close to the access route and western section of lining. It means we will need a disturbance licence: we’re installing cameras to monitor any badger activity and applying for the necessary licences.
We're hoping to confirm realistic budgets and timescales by the end of May but, at the moment, our best estimate is that repairs will take six months from June at a cost of between £2m and £3m.
You may already know that we've launched an appeal - the Shropshire Union Canal: Emergency Appeal - to help people who use the canal - whether it's using the towpath to get to work or school, visiting to get some peace and quiet, or boating on the 200-year old waterway - to do so again.
You can support our appeal directly online by going to our JustGiving page or by texting LEAK515 to 70070 to give £5 (you'll be charged £5 + one message at your standard network rate) or even by snail mail to FREEPOST RSXX-XSGE-KKUE, FAO: Shropshire Union Appeal, Canal & River Trust, Station House, 500 Elder Gate, Milton Keynes, MK9 1BB. Every penny we receive from your donation will go toward restoring this beautiful and treasured canal.
It’d be great if you could spread the word about the appeal as far and wide as you can to help us restore this beautiful part of the network.
The income we get from boat licensing is vital in helping us pay for the upkeep of our waterways. Of course, that’s not the only reason boats are licensed – they also make the waterways a safer place: you can’t get one unless you have appropriate insurance and safety certificates.
This is why we’re delighted that our annual national boat count shows that licence evasion on our waterways is at its lowest-ever level, with 96.9% of boats holding up-to-date licences (2017: 96.3%).
Jon Horsfall, our interim head of boating said: "This is a fantastic achievement for our boat licensing customer support team. They are out every day helping boaters with their licence requirements and trying to find ways to work things out when a boater might run into problems. When boaters talk to us about difficulties they may be having, we are nearly always able to come up with a solution to keep them licensed.
"It’s important that boats are licensed correctly. Not only does this mean they’re insured and hold a boat safety certificate, but it means they’re playing their part in contributing to the huge task of keeping our canals and rivers open. The income from boat licensing is crucial – in 2017/18 leisure licences contributed £20.2m, around 10% of total income – and it’s important that it’s shared fairly by everyone who keeps a boat on our waterways.
"Unfortunately, a small minority continue to enjoy the benefits of boating on the waterways without putting anything back to fund their upkeep. In 2017/18 we had to remove 108 boats from our canals and rivers as they were unlicensed or in breach of our terms and conditions."
The national boat count also paints a picture of the changing numbers of boats across the country. Our waterways in London have seen growth slowing: up 2.4%, compared to growth of over 9% in 2016/17. The North also saw an increase of 2.3%, while other areas remained static.
The survey, completed in March, records boats on waterways across England & Wales and provides a comprehensive snap-shot of licence evasion.
I suspect that most of us have done it – ambling down a towpath, basking in the curative effects of being by the water, your mind starts to wander. It could be about an upcoming event or, as is more often the case with me, I think back to the thousands of footsteps I’m walking in. By that I mean those early generations of boat people who toiled on the towpath.
As you can imagine, when our national heritage advisor, Nigel Crowe, wrote about the history of towpaths and the odd marks you see on waterside structures, I thought you’d be interested too:
“A towpath and a horse led by a boy: from Constable’s great paintings to 20th century photographs, it’s a classic image of the inland waterways. But the towpath is usually the unnoticed bit and, despite its obvious importance, historic accounts of towpath construction are rare.
“In Rees’s Cyclopaedia, an article from 1805 points to the problems of some river navigations not having them at all and applauds those canals that have bridges and tunnels with built-in towpaths. Describing how earth from the canal channel could be used to construct its banks, the article states that ‘in forming the towing path, care must be taken to make the ground sound…with a proper thickness of good gravel…so that the surface may be smooth and even’.
“It goes on to note that towpaths were usually hedged with ‘quick-set or other live fences’ and that ‘towing-horses and boys’ were a common sight. Rural towpaths often had purpose-made gates to prevent cattle from straying or mixing. These gates were typically of wrought iron or wood and stamped with a canal company’s initials.
“There were also mile markers, distance posts, company boundary marks, and the construction details of the towpath itself, such as drains and edge treatment. Urban towpaths were surfaced with gravel and sometimes cinders from nearby industries, or else were paved in brick, with hard edges in brick or stone. Historic surfacing can still be found today, scuffed and worn by boatmen’s boots and horses’ hooves.
“But, there is indeed more to towpaths than first meets the eye. Rope marks are one of the most poignant reminders of the days when horses towed boats on our inland waterways. They can be found on bridges, aqueducts and locks; on handrails, haunches and wings.
“On canals like the Leeds & Liverpool for example, horses or pairs of mules could pull 50 tons of cargo with a cotton tow rope that was up to 25 metres long and was attached to a towing mast towards the front of a boat.
“The tow rope would occasionally go slack and pick up grit from the towpath, and when bridges were approached, especially at a slight angle, the rope would bite into the brick or stonework and rub against it like an iron file. The impressive results are visible on countless arches. Canal companies tried to deal with the damage by fitting iron bridge fenders and wooden rollers, or replacing soft with more hard-wearing stone (as can be seen on the Kennet & Avon Canal). Sharp bends were often equipped with rollers on vertical posts; almost none now survive.
“Horse towing has passed into history, but the hallmarks from that era remain, and they are incredible; rope against iron – like a knife passing through butter.”
Thanks Nigel. And, for the curious among you, there’s a great online resource showing the historical routes of the canals (all the maps for restoration projects free to download).
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:
As someone who’s out, 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, by region, of anything that’s happening that may affect you if you’re planning on an early spring winter cruise.
Just click on the one where you’ll be and a webpage will open listing any stoppages for that region (if your region isn’t listed then, yay, there aren’t any navigation closures there!). If you’re not quite sure which region your planned cruise falls in to please take a look at this map.
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.
Just like driving a car, the more you boat the more comfortable (and adept) you become. Everyone’s got to start somewhere though so, if you’re new to boating then why not have a read (or watch) of the Boaters’ Handbook