Next month (November) we are launching our national programme of free, public open days offering behind the scenes peeks at some of our most extraordinary waterway locations in England and Wales.
The 12 open days, part of a six-month, £43 million restoration and repair programme to canals and rivers across the country, are a great way to see the charity’s ‘hidden history’, admire the expert workmanship that went into making the canals over 200 years ago and meet the engineers keeping them working today.
This year the public will be given the rare chance to see up close some of the finest examples of working industrial heritage in the world, whether climbing down into the iconic Marple Lock Flight on the Peak Forest Canal, walking along a 800-metre drained stretch of Wales’ picturesque Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal or discovering the history of St. Pancras Lock in the bustling centre of London.
Each open day provides the opportunity for local communities to learn about the history and heritage of their area from one of the charity's skilled heritage advisers, engineers and other workers who attend the events and provide free tours. The charity's army of passionate volunteers will also be on hand to share their unique knowledge of the waterways and surrounding area with visitors.
Richard Parry, chief executive of the Trust, says: "The Canal & River Trust cares for a remarkable network of historic waterways which are still working just as they were designed to 200 years ago. Keeping them open and safe requires a huge amount of planning, investment and craftsmanship and involves a wide range of knowledge and expertise, from civil engineers and hydrologists to heritage experts and ecologists.
"By showcasing this work to the public we can give them a glimpse into the craftsmanship of the waterways’ original 18th Century design and explain the scale of the Canal & River Trust’s work to care for them now. We hope this will inspire more people to get on board and support our mission to unlock the potential of every stretch of our canals and rivers."
Last year the Trust's construction team unearthed some weird and wonderful items when it drained the canals in preparation for the essential works. Items included a bag of bullets, WW2 hand grenade, 16ft dead python and a Volkswagen Camper Van.
Richard added: "The team will once again be recording what they find and we're intrigued to find out what they unearth this year!"
As part of its maintenance programme, the Trust will be working on around 164 lock gates across the country. The new lock gates are made in the Trust’s specialist workshops at Bradley in the West Midlands and Stanley Ferry in Yorkshire.
Lock gate making and fitting is a skilled and traditional trade and one that remains essential to the waterways. Lock gates are constructed with tremendous strength as they have to control huge water pressures, take the hard usage they get from the thousands of boats which use them each year and survive for a long time underwater and at the mercy of the elements. Each lock gate is hand-crafted by a skilled team of carpenters and made from sustainably-sourced British oak. A single lock gate weighs on average 3.6 tonnes, can take up to 20 days to make and has a working life of 25-30 years.
Our 12 free public open days and weekends this winter are supported by maintenance company Kier, to give visitors a behind-the-scenes, close-up view of some of the finest examples of working industrial heritage in the world. Eddie Quinn, operations director for Kier, says: "We are incredibly proud to support the Trust’s essential work to preserve the canals and rivers of England and Wales. Repairing and maintaining the waterways is a huge task requiring traditional materials and methods to be used to maintain this vital part of our heritage. As well as historical importance, the waterways are now widely recognised for being crucial for wildlife and are a well-loved leisure resource for millions of people every year."