How have you found your water to be in January?

Soaking through your clothes, freezing on your windscreen or seeping under your front door?! On the canals, water is our business, quite literally our liquid assets!

Come hell or high water, it is managed, and put back where it should be when it leaks, which is quite a lot recently.  But like a bridge over troubled water, our hard working teams and volunteers go with the flow to put the hours in to keep our heads above water.

Have I missed any watery puns?!  That’s right, this month our theme is water!  It touches our lives, almost constantly, in such a wide variety of ways, from a cup of tea to the calm we feel taking a walk by a serene canal.

Opening the flood gates this year were IWA Northampton by getting straight back into their by-weir clearance on the Northampton Arm.  Have a look at the transformation photos here!

Like water off a duck’s back, they also braved a bitterly cold day later in January when a hardy group of 13 volunteers undertook a deep clean collecting 60 bags of rubbish, 6 shopping trollies and other assorted rubbish.  Wow!

Stoke Bruerne Canal Partnership and Canal & River Trust’s Ben Bray also braved the bitterness for a day of ‘working off the Christmas excesses’!  No doubt a drop of sweat or two graced their brows as they replaced the collapsed staggered barriers at the southern end of the Woodland Walk.  That looks great, well done gang!

Paddling upstream to Rugby now where, at Hillmorton, the local group are exploring a disused Arm.  They are off to a gentle start so as to not disturb any protected species or damage any hidden heritage in this overgrown area.  Group leader Ian says:

“These two photos were taken just three and a half weeks apart between 15th Dec and 8th Jan.  Having concentrated on clearing the canal bed, we now seem to have a canal…  And it’s holding water!”

It’s hardly been the coldest January on record, but that doesn’t hold water for volunteer lock keeper Tony Foster who captured some beautiful photos of Foxton in the snow.

Aylesbury Arm Towpath Taskforce worked hard clearing the offside of Lock 16 last year and this month the extent of what they’d cleared was made apparent after our contractors chipped all the brash.  A transformation from a dense thicket that was dead in the water and used for camping & anti-social behaviour, to a large open area which the group will be beautifying in the coming year.  As well as reflecting on their successes, the group tested the water with a thorough litter pick along the Arm.

Buckingham Canal Society are never dull as dishwater, having had a very busy month.  Here’s group leader Athina to tell us about one part:

“On Monday 25th January the BCS ran a work party for a group of people with learning difficulties from the MacIntyre Centre, called the 'Green Genies'.  We worked on two tasks at Cosgrove, the first around Bridge 2 where the group sorted out and collected all the loose stone from the remains of the bridge that could possibly be used at a later stage.  In the afternoon we moved closer to the A5 where a large bush type tree was found to be blocking the towpath. The Green Genies have completely removed and cleared the tree from the towpath allowing access along the towpath.  This is the first time I had worked with this group and it proved to be a very enjoyable experience with a lot of work achieved.  I had asked one of our new BCS volunteers to work with me and at the end of the day he thanked me for inviting him along as he had enjoyed himself so much working with this group.  We hope to work with this group again in the not too distant future.”

It looks like they had a great day!

BCS then used their more specialised team for “5 days digging n dredging” around Bridge 1 with a view to re-building it in the summer.  The bridge is currently ‘within’ the bund between wet and dry so there are many technical tasks to undertake before any brick work can begin.  BCS have enlisted the help of WRG (Waterways Recovery Group) for the bridge rebuild.  They will be having 2 week-long camps at the site which are open to anyone.  If you fancy a holiday with a difference, why not have a look at what’s involved here and help (literally) to put water under the bridge. 

Whilton & Buckby Locks Association always go with the flow as group leaders Sue & Geoff explain:

“Two of our members have carried out hedge and tree trimming at the nature reserve, together with sweeping and tidying up the lock side and gathering up twigs that have come down in the winter weather.”

Well done WBLA, your nature reserve is going to be blooming!

This concludes the round-up of volunteer activities that have occurred in the South East waterway this month.  But I cannot sign off before I give mention to all our colleagues and volunteers who have had an almightily busy month up north clearing up the damage caused by the floods at Christmas.  Homes, businesses, canal banks and towpaths were destroyed.  Canal & River Trust Heritage Advisor Ruth Garratt says:

“Visiting the Calder & Hebble for the first time after the floods was a baptism of fire but nothing compared to what people in the canal-side communities must have felt on that day.  The extent of the damage is jaw-dropping, even now, weeks after the event, and our teams have been on site and attending to the massive clean-up operation since they saw the flood waters beginning to rise.”

There are lots of fascinating stories from a variety of people that have been affected on our website.  If you are moved to help, we are taking donations to raise the significant amount it is going to cost to make all the repairs.  Or, have a look at the volunteering pages to see if there is a practical way you could assist.

Now I can lead you to the water but I can’t make you drink!  Here’s what is upcoming closer to home:

Wednesday 10th February – Stoke Bruerne Canal Partnership task day 

Saturday 13th & Sunday 14th February – Stoke Bruerne Stoppage Open Weekend

Saturday 13th February – Aylesbury Arm Towpath Taskforce

Friday 19th & Saturday 20th February – Wendover Arm reed removal & Tringford tidy

Saturday 20th February – Oxford Towpath Taskforce

Friday 4th – Sunday 6th March – Clean for the Queen weekend.  This national event has litter picks happening all over the country!  Why not get involved in your local community to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday.  Have a look here for events on the South East waterway.

Or perhaps you fancy something a little bit different…  Do you want to get involved in a water quality project?  No experience is required, just a good pair of walking shoes and a keen eye!  Our environment team are seeking enthusiastic volunteers to survey various waterways including the River Stort (ideal for those living near Hoddesdon, Harlow, Sawbridgeworth, Ware and Bishop’s Stortford), the Paddington and Slough Arms of the Grand Union (so West Londoners), the mainline Grand Union from Brentford to Springwell Lock at Rickmansworth, and the Brentford Feeder (and possible reservoir).  Training and PPE will be provided, so if you fancy spending some time playing ‘I Spy’ (spotting discharges into the waterways) please email stating which area you would like to get involved in.

Volunteers who expressed an interest in the project previously will be contacted shortly, as we hope that the training will be starting this month.

Well, if that lot doesn’t wet your appetite I don’t know what will!


Last date edited: 2 December 2016

About this blog

Volunteer leader

Every month, dozens of groups and individuals give up their time to help make the canals a nicer place for everyone to enjoy. From hauling trolleys out of the water to lock keeping and giving tours of empty locks, our volunteers are an amazing asset and well worth celebrating.

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