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Regional Round up South - February 2024

Welcome to our latest Regional Round Up, bringing you all the news, views and insights from a canal or river near you in the south.

This month, we’ve got three more fascinating stories to share, so read on, and enjoy.

Giving the Diglis crane a lift

Diglis Island, nestled in the heart of the River Severn in Worcestershire, is one of the most unusual and iconic sites on our network. Built in the first half of the 19th century, to help boaters navigate past Diglis Weir, the man-made island is home to a number of fascinating heritage structures. One such artefact, the island’s imposing crane, is now ready for much-needed repair.

Transferred to Diglis Island from Cardiff in the 1950s, the crane was used for lifting timber and lock gates on and off boats on the River Severn and remained operational right up to the 1990s.

Thankfully, a new project, spearheaded by our regional heritage and environment manager, Morgan Cowles, looks set to restore the crane to its former glory. “We’re hoping to secure the crane’s future,” says Morgan, “it’s a local landmark with a lot of historical importance, and if we just left it to rust, a significant part of the story of Diglis Island would be lost.”

With work due to be completed by April, with any luck, this wonderful piece of our canal heritage will be standing proud for years to come.

Preserving Ponty’s nuts and bolts

Another of our network’s historic structures, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, is undergoing scheduled inspection and maintenance works this winter. Preserving North Wales’s famous “stream in the sky”, while certainly a privilege, is not always straightforward. It involves a great deal of planning, and, because the iconic structure is more than 200 years old, assessing the age and viability of the existing components can be tricky.

For instance, the nut and bolt, pictured above, are thought to date from the aqueduct’s first major refurbishment in the late 19th century. While these are fairly simple to replace, oakum, the hemp-like material which you can see wound around the thread of the bolt (to act as a water-tight seal) has to be imported from Scandinavia.

That’s just one example, and as our local heritage advisor, Mark Somerfield, explains, it’s the tip of the iceberg: “The aqueduct has hundreds of components all with different material lifespans, so assessing what needs replacing, sourcing the correct components and then carrying out the work is incredibly complicated and time-consuming.”

The scheduled works, which also involve replacing the handrails and the steel ledger angles that support the towpath, should be completed by spring. Just in time for the new boating season.

Drink in the history of Camden Lock

Cafe beside Camden Lock, courtesy of Ian Shacklock (Friends of Regent's Canal) Cafe beside Camden Lock, courtesy of Ian Shacklock (Friends of Regent's Canal)

One of the most photographed canalside buildings in London will get a new lease of life this year, thanks to an international coffee chain. In January, Black Sheep Coffee, which has outlets in Scotland, France and the US, moved into Camden’s famous Lock Keeper’s Cottage, which overlooks the Regent’s Canal at Hampstead Road Locks.

The revamp marks a new chapter for the old building, which has stood in the same spot for more than 200 years. As part of the original section of the canal, which opened in 1816 and ran from Paddington to Camden Town, the Lock Keeper’s Cottage was once a vital link on a lucrative trade route.

Fittingly, as part of the lease agreement, a section of the premises will continue to operate as a visitor centre, with a community table for volunteers and information boards, charting the evolution of the Regent’s Canal. In addition, the walls of the coffee shop will be adorned with maps of the canal, and an electronic display by the entrance will show a reel of Canal & River Trust films on a loop.

Now, when walkers, cyclists and boaters pause for refreshments on the towpath, they’ll be able to drink in a little canal history along with their coffee.

Last Edited: 01 February 2024

photo of a location on the canals
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