Conquering the barriers, one step at a time

Restoration coordinator, Katie Woodroffe, took a visit to see the work taking place to restore the Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal. Read on to find out more about this recent historic step taken by the Wendover Arm Trust and the Canal & River Trust.

Wendover Arm Trust Volunteers Wendover Arm Trust Volunteers

Every so often in life, we make small steps that are much, much more significant on the grand scale. The same can be said for those of us working on canal restorations.

The Grand Union Canal runs from London, through Milton Keynes and into Birmingham. A much loved canal that passes through an array of English industrial towns and quaint villages. It is our longest canal, one which acts as the 'trunk route' of the nations waterway network.

The southern part of the Grand Union Canal, running from London to Milton Keynes, is largely reliant on a 6.75 mile arm that was constructed in the 1790s, allowing the delivery of water to the summit of the Grand Union at Bulbourne, near Tring in Hertfordshire. This arm is known as the Wendover Arm or Wendover Canal.

The leaky section

For many years, throughout the 19th century, the Wendover Arm encountered numerous leaks which led to a long period of drought. With the canal losing more water than it was bringing to the Grand Union Canal, in 1903, part of the canal was closed and a pipeline was inserted along the bed. In 1918, the canal company were paid by Tring Urban District Council to tip domestic rubbish into part of this section. The dumping continued for a decade and the first steps to remove this rubbish have just been made.

Removing this rubbish is one of the final barriers to rewatering the full length of the Wendover Arm. A small, but hugely significant step.

View looking towards Wendover from Bridge 4. View looking towards Wendover from Bridge 4.

But this isn’t the start of the journey to make the Wendover Arm navigable again. Volunteers at the Wendover Arm Trust have been working on this canal for many years, clearing and opening up the towpath, restoring bridges and brickwork, creating biodiversity and a beautiful and accessible place for walkers and cyclists alike.

Over the past two years, we have been working closely with the Wendover Arm Trust to ensure the protection of the remains of two heritage sites within the drained section that is being restored. These 'white houses' were originally built for canal and steam driven water pump maintenance workers and included a hand controlled sluice which has since been restored and remains in its original position.

Restored Whitehouses Pumping Station

Preparing for the big task ahead

In February 2021, the trial excavation to remove the rubbish at the tip site began, completed by a team consisting of the Wendover Arm Trust, Canal & River Trust, Ebsford Environmental and Aegean PLC. The volunteers removed 420 tonnes of low-level hazard waste to the Aegean plant in Peterborough. No easy feat! The information obtained from the trial project will be used to develop the excavation and removal project plan for the remaining bulk of the tip, which will hopefully begin in early summer 2021.

Site of tip excavation. Photo: Wendover Arm Trust Site of tip excavation. Photo: Wendover Arm Trust

When this project is complete, and the Wendover Arm Trust has finished the relining of the drained section, the navigable canal will be extended to Buckland Wharf near Aston Clinton. The restoration will be one step closer to completion.

Get involved

Restoration groups across the country are always looking for extra hands to help with practical tasks and admin work too.  The Wendover Arm Trust are currently looking for a volunteer information manager to assist with the digital storage of documents, creating a procedure to help manage vital information.

If this role sounds suitable for you, please do contact the Wendover Arm Trust to find out more.

Follow the link below to find your nearest canal restoration project and see how you can get involved.

Volunteers working hard on a sunny April afternoon. Volunteers working hard on a sunny April afternoon.

Last date edited: 5 May 2021