Rebuilding the towpaths

Volunteer lock keeper Ian Kelshaw shares his experiences on the Rochdale Canal and Calder & Hebble Navigation, and the challenges full time staff and their helpers face following the floods.

Ian Kelshaw Ian Kelshaw

Ian Kelshaw joined the Trust as a volunteer lock keeper after he retired from his job as a technical sales engineer. He’s been helping with the aftermath of the floods at Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd and surrounding villages. “I’m a canal person now,” he says. “It just grabs me.”

What’s your involvement with the Canal and River Trust?
I volunteer at Sowerby Bridge, the deepest lock in England, assisting the full-time lock keeper. When the season ended I said I’d be happy to do more, so the Trust asked me to look after locks 19-25 and see what needed doing. So before Christmas, we walked along the towpath from the summit to Todmorden, then on another day from Todmorden to Hebden, noting down what needed to be done with a view to doing that in the New Year.

That could have been bad timing…
Luckily we hadn’t started because events overtook us. I was away over the holidays so I came back to see what had happened. You can’t walk the towpaths now because they’re cordoned off for safety reasons. In places they were washed away, or collapsed. I met a guy yesterday who was measuring the towpath and he showed me a short stretch that was all cracked and moving towards the canal and he said it hadn’t been like that on Monday. The damage isn’t finished yet, it’s ongoing and the full extent hasn’t revealed itself yet. We’re waiting to be called in to assist wherever we can.

What have you been doing since the flood?
Along with other volunteers I’ve put up fencing to make the area safe. Next, there will be a lull while they assess the damage. They’re getting materials and equipment together and then we’ll be called upon to help.

How did you start volunteering?
I’ve been volunteering since May. I saw an ad on the TV and thought it sounded interesting. I applied, joined, did the training and I love it. I genuinely love it. Why? Being outside, finding out about the history, helping people, seeing that occasionally you’re making a difference. You feel a sense of achievement. There’s a hell of a lot of locks on this stretch and boats come thick and fast. It’s 36 miles to Manchester and there are 92 locks, to give you a sense of the work that’s involved.

Would you say you’re a canal person now?
Yes, I would. I just enjoy walking on the canal – it grabs me. Even when I was away over the holidays I was wishing I could help.

Last date edited: 4 March 2016