The final edition of 2015 is jam packed with a look back over the last 12 months from Richard Parry and Mike Grimes as well as a run down of the news highlights, the Trust Council election results and much more besides!
Welcome to the final edition of the year. With only a week to go until Christmas and two until 2016, I’ve been pondering what 2015, undoubtedly a great year, will be remembered for in the boating world. So, below, you’ll find a swift canter through some of the highlights of the past year, including some sent in by you – thanks.
I’d like to take the opportunity to wish you a very merry Christmas and I hope to see many of you out on the cut in the New Year.
So, other articles appearing in this edition are:
If there’s something you’d like to share with the boating community via this update then please drop me a line.
Over the last year you may have heard, or seen, that:
Before the next edition is published, 2015 will have been consigned to the annals of history and we’ll all be 16 days into our New Year’s resolutions. Hopefully unbroken. Between now and then, if, like me, you’ll want some fresh air and light exercise to counteract copious over-indulgence then look no further than your nearest canal or river:
Of course, there are plenty of other activities around the network so please visit the events section of the website to find the perfect one for you.
Depending on how late you leave it, the last few days before Christmas can be best described as a frenzied forage around shops to get those last few stocking fillers. So, if that sounds familiar to you, then it might be an idea to spend a quick five minutes now crossing one thing off your to-do list - make sure you’re signed up to receive the stoppage alerts you need so you’ve got the latest information to hand before cruising over Christmas.
You can do this in two ways:
Also, make sure you add email@example.com to your ‘safe senders’ list in your email inbox, so our emails don’t end up in your spam folder by mistake.
Richard Parry, chief executive
I'd like to wish all our boating customers a merry Christmas and happy boating for 2016. We've seen a lot of change in the Trust this year and I hope you have seen some of the benefits. We are doing more work, and spending more money, year-on-year and doing our best to focus our efforts on the things that make a difference to you, where we can.
For next year - and beyond - we will continue to put your priorities at the centre of what we do, so that all those who use and value our waterways can enjoy them. To secure a sustainable long term future for our canals and river navigations, we need your active involvement and support - helping us to preserve our heritage, and make them an attractive and special place, available for generations to come.
Mike Grimes, head of boating
Some of my colleagues have been working for the waterways for over 40 years. You’d think, after a life’s work, that they would have seen and done just about everything in their chosen field. They consistently tell me they haven’t.
As I’m quickly learning, every day brings a new challenge and opportunity. Actually, considering my relative ‘newbie’ status, it’s more like ten of each. I’d be naïve to have not expected this but it’s genuinely surprising to hear old hands say similar.
Those without any interest in boating probably think that the 200-plus year old waterway network is a static, unchanging, piece of our heritage. They couldn’t be further from the truth and I have loved learning how waterways, and boating, have been in an almost constant state of evolution from the start.
From ‘canal mania’ in the last decade of the 18th Century, the growth and eventual succession of railways, waterway’s gradual decline until, when now nearly 70 years ago, the voluntary waterway movement rose up to campaign for their revival.
So what happens next? Has all the change ground to a halt? No chance! Up and down the country restoration societies are hard at it reopening historic lines of navigation. And, just a couple of months ago at our Annual Public Meeting, we heard that one waterway partnership is starting on some investigative work to see if a trans-Pennine inland freight route can be opened up.
We too, in the boating team, have some ideas about how we might improve things on the cut for you. Over the coming year I’ll explain these in depth in Boaters’ Update and would appreciate, if you have the time, your thoughts on them.
As we head into 2016 I’ll continue to get out on the water as often as I can and I hope, if you see me, we’ll get the opportunity to have a chat.
Congratulations to Phil Prettyman, Stella Ridgway, Andrew Phasey and Vaughan Welch who have been elected to represent boaters and Nigel Hamilton and Andrew Tidy who will represent boating business on the Trust’s Council. They will take up their voluntary position in March 2016.
The Council helps to shape policy, raise and debate issues, provide guidance and perspective, and acts as a sounding board for trustees. You can see the elected candidates’ manifestos and full election results. Or, find out more on our website about the current Council and its meetings.
Inspired by one of the most well-known Christmas songs, the team over at River Canal Rescue (RCR) sent us their version of the classic. As managing director Stephanie Horton quipped, at least you’ll be able to buy some of the items in their ditty for your true love more easily than eleven pipers piping…
In the last edition I asked if any of you had a favourite boating highlight you’d like to share. A few of you were kind enough to do this while some posted on the Facebook Boating page.
I don’t want to single one out as favourite as they’re all great – incredibly evocative and capture that special ingredient that makes boating such a special way to spend your time:
Martin said: ‘The highlight of this year for me was working up and down the final (for now) 24 locks of the Chesterfield Canal. Tiny locks meandering through an enchanted wood - brilliant. And the best bit was that it was just me and Thomas, my eight year old grandson who did all the lockwheeling.
‘He found having to walk up and down both sides of the trebles a bit of the pain (the gates are too low to have planks to cross) but thoroughly enjoyed himself. Coming back down the flight, all I heard all day was Thomas sitting on the beam of the top gates singing his heart out. Magic!’
Our very own Debbi Figueiredo said: ‘The Rochdale Canal – fantastic trip. Don’t know what was more exciting, extracting ourselves from bog snorkling by boat when we ran out of water on the way up to the Summit, reversing over the Summit to avoid wasting water so we could get off again, discovering the fantastic covered market in Todmorden, exploring wonderful Hebden Bridge and finding the bestest real ale co-operative pub ever, ascending and descending Tuel Lane lock, the wonderful variety of scenery, the great pubs and shops, etc. So hard to choose.’
Steve chose a time-lapse video, mostly taken on the Manchester Ship Canal, to convey his highlight:
I don’t know what it is about the videos but they are so hypnotic! I found myself drawn into watching others such as this one by Roar. Although it’s a pipe dream, I’m left thinking that it’d be fabulous to have some sort of montage of videos that cover the whole network – any volunteers?
So, month-by-month, here’s what we’ve picked out as highlights:
Please note that because we have a shiny new website we can’t link through to pre-October news stories as they were on the old one. If there’s a particular piece of news you wanted more information on then please just drop me a line.
We started the year by congratulating two canal enthusiasts who made it on to the Queen’s honours list – James Dunlop, for his services to the Stockport Canal Boat Trust and to the community in Disley, Cheshire and Evelyn Mills, of Defra, for her services to Inland Waterways.
We also reported on the £1.3 million we spent in vital maintenance work on canals in Greater Manchester and Cheshire, a £100,000 makeover for the Tednambury Locks on the River Stort and the 7,000 tonnes of silt from the Shropshire Union Canal near Chester.
Thanks to a generous £1.3 million donation from The Desmond Foundation, we were delighted to announce a new initiative to create the country’s first ever coast-to-coast canoe trail. The Desmond Family Canoe Trail will connect some of the north of England’s most deprived communities including Wigan and Burnley where youth unemployment and child obesity are well above the national average.
As we continued our winter maintenance programme, our engineers were stunned to discover seven safes along with a car engine, beer barrels, a small sunken boat and other debris when they drained North Lock on the River Soar for routine maintenance, leaving us with a £10,000 clean up bill.
With increasing numbers using the towpath for leisure and commuting, we launched a new policy promoting safe, considerate use of the nation’s 2,000 miles of towpath.
An unusual style of dredger returned to ‘hoover’ thousands of tonnes of silt from Gloucester Docks allowing vessels of all sizes to continue to visit the city safely. Another unusual machine visited the waterways too - working with the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust we used a floating tractor to create wetland along Oxford Canal.
Plans to install a new 84-metre pontoon in Macclesfield town centre were announced. The £130,000 project saw the pontoon fixed to the side of the canal bank, near the A6 Buxton Road Bridge (Bridge 37) creating much-needed visitor moorings for up to six boats.
And, how could any summary of the year not mention Keith the Seal? She, yes she, was reportedly spotted again on the River Severn between Worcester and Stourport.
The first qualifying match in a prestigious new national angling competition, The Canal Pairs Championship, aimed at encouraging people to rediscover their nearby waterways, took place in Loughborough. Just a few days later we announced that we’d teamed up with Glanusk Tymawr and the Wye & Usk Foundation to create a new weekday fishing opportunity offers anglers a mile-long stretch of uninterrupted trout and salmon fishing along the River Usk.
We also had good news for those of you that don’t fish – a £700,000 project to dredge nine miles of the River Soar, to make it easier to navigate, got underway.
You’ll have noticed that I’ve mentioned a few dredging projects now – they’re all part of our plan to carry out £80m worth over 10 years. But with changes to legislation forcing the cost of disposal ever higher we started to trial our own pilot dredging treatment site near Coventry to keep costs down.
We were also happy to announce that our annual national boat count confirmed that licence evasion rates are below 5% for the sixth year in a row – with 95.4% of boats had up-to-date licences.
Fitting in nicely with Mike Grimes’ article above one of our longest-serving employees retired this month after 48 years of working on the Grand Union.
Talking of Mike, he also attended his first Crick Boat Show at the end of this month along with 26,000 other visitors who enjoyed what turned out to be one of few glimmers of summery weather this year.
The historic flight of locks at Caen Hill was awarded a top TripAdvisor award, after receiving consistently high ratings by visitors on the online review site.
The news this month continued with mighty engineering, which the picturesque scheduled monument surely is, as we reported on two big ships; firstly we had the biggest ship in 40 years – the Narwa carrying nearly 6,000 tons of cement - docking at Sharpness Port and then we had a 270-tonne power station transformer making its way up the River Trent.
It wasn’t all about the big beasts of the inland waterways though, we also announced the creation of new visitor moorings and boater facilities in, and around, Leeds to encourage more of you to visit.
As the month came to a close, a new project was just getting underway - performing arts and media students from Chobham Academy embarked on an eight day canal journey from their school in Stratford east London to Stratford-upon-Avon where they performed, to rave reviews, their take on ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.
As luck (bad) would have it, and just as we entered one of the busiest times on the water, we were forced to close a stretch of the Lancaster Canal on the Lune embankment just north of Lancaster after it developed a leak. After some long days and weekends our engineers and contractors had repaired three substantial holes in the canal bed and had it reopened, ahead of schedule, by the end of the month.
In response to boater demand, and to make the canals even greener, we announced that we were starting a project to remove general waste bins and install recycling bins at almost 100 sites around the country.
It wasn’t the only bit of ‘green’ news that month - The Macclesfield Canal in Cheshire became the first ever canal to be awarded Keep Britain Tidy’s coveted Green Flag Award - the mark of a quality green space.
This month saw Mike Grimes appointed as head of boating, bringing his previous responsibilities for business boating together with our licensing and enforcement departments.
A tricky leak repair job on the Montgomery Canal, right next to a Site of Special Scientific Interest, was completed. About 120 metres of steel piles had to been driven down five metres into the bank to strengthen it while minimising the disturbance to wildlife.
Plans to develop measures to encourage more boats onto the River Trent were announced after the results of a survey were analysed. Among others, more visitor moorings, a buddy system and improved promotion of boating charts were being considered.
The announcement above, about the new elected members of our Council, is the culmination of a three month process as nominations for election opened this month.
The last in a trio of tricky repairs was completed as the Rufford Branch of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal re-opened. The £550,000 project was required when a 200-year old culvert that passes underneath the waterway collapsed in July.
In a similar vein to the previous month’s news about the River Trent, a campaign was launched to encourage more boaters to visit the canals in and around Manchester or, as the local team call it, ‘The Venice of the North’.
Proving that waterways have year round appeal, Nottingham’s historic Castle Wharf came alive this month with boat trips, canoeing taster sessions, angling coaching, history walks, live music, street art activities and family games at the city’s first canal festival.
And proving that there are volunteering opportunities even in the ‘off season’, the Macclesfield Canal Society making the Peak Forest Canal easier for boaters to navigate by clearing offside vegetation from its entire 15-mile length.
The final week of the month saw the start of year-long celebrations to mark the bicentenary of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.
After consulting, reviewing responses and formulating a plan, our water management team launched its long-term strategy to ensure that the nation’s waterway network continues to have the water it needs to meet the demands of boaters, support businesses and sustain important wildlife.
The series of winter repair and restoration open days also kicked off this month as our £45million winter maintenance programme – where we do some of the big jobs while the waterways are quieter – got underway. There’s more coming in the New Year so if you haven’t been to one yet then we’d love to see you at one!
The winter maintenance programme includes a boost for the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal which had a £1.3 million project start to reline the canal at Llangynidr, to prevent leaks, plus £400,000 of upcoming repairs to an aqueduct at picturesque Goytre Wharf. £546,000 had already been spent this year dredging the canal, making it easier for boaters to navigate.
And so, we come to this month. As mentioned in the last Boaters’ Update, and above, Open Days continued apace and voting for nominees to our governing Council continued right up until midnight yesterday.
Sadly though, because it would have been spectacularly festive (and a little strange!), atrocious weather did its best to wash out the inaugural Santa Splash. But red hats with white bobbles must go off to the 26 hardy canoeists who did take part in the family canoe paddle event.
A little over a week ago, taking over from boater Jo Bell, Luke Kennard was appointed as the new Canal Laureate – Luke’s work, reflecting his different perspective as a towpath walker, will start appearing on on the project blog www.waterlines.org.uk in January 2016.
Having trawled the year’s events, the calendar of highlights above really does only scratch the surface of what’s been achieved around the network with the help and advice of countless volunteers and passionate enthusiasts. All of your input and help is hugely appreciated and we hope you’ll find the time to do the same next year.
Merry Christmas and a happy New Year,
Think of this blog as your one-stop shop for up-to-date boating news. It's packed full of useful information about boating on canals and rivers as well important safety announcements and upcoming events.See more blogs from The boaters' update