Canal Camps, Steppingstone Bridge, Wiltshire

PUBLISHED: 16:59 14 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:09 20 February 2013

Canal Camps, Steppingstone Bridge, Wiltshire

Canal Camps, Steppingstone Bridge, Wiltshire

Canal Camps<br/><br/><br/><br/>The Waterway Recovery Group celebrates 40 years of achievement in canal restoration, writes Jenny Black

Britains network of canals and inland waterways are today a huge linear National Park: a leisure park, a vital wildlife sanctuary, an important industrial heritage site and an environmentally friendly transport system all rolled into one. But with the impact of the railway at the end of the 19th century, it was a different picture many waterways had been abandoned and some had disappeared from sight altogether. By the 1940s, a few visionaries had realised that the canals did have a future, and since then hundreds of miles of canal and river navigations have been saved, and more and more are being brought back to life by volunteer groups.

Waterway Recovery Group

This year the Waterway Recovery Group (WRG) celebrates its 40th anniversary. Since the 1970s, the WRG has been the foremost national waterways voluntary coordinating force, helping local canal restoration schemes, providing equipment, expertise, publicity and, most importantly, volunteers. Everyone is welcome to come along and help restore Britains canals, whether its on one of WRGs week-long restoration working holidays called Canal Camps, or on the weekend working parties held around the country each year, mostly in the summer. These restoration working holidays offer the opportunity to achieve a vast amount of work in a relatively short time.

To celebrate its 40th anniversary, WRG has planned an exciting schedule of working holidays this year across the country, with volunteers undertaking projects such as the restoration of Steppingstone Bridge, near Swindon, on the Wilts & Berks Canal.

Wilts & Berks Canal

The Wilts & Berks Canal restoration scheme is one of the most ambitious projects in the whole of Britain, not only because of its length but because it has been derelict for nearly a century and has been largely built over in urban areas such as Swindon, Melksham and Abingdon. When restored, it will forward the central part of the Wessex Waterway Network linking three major waterways the Thames, the already restored Kennet & Avon Canal, and the Thames & Severn Canal.

The Wilts & Berks Canal Trust was formed with the aim of protecting, conserving and improving the route of the Wilts & Berks and North Wilts canals and branches for the benefit of the community and environment. The Trust has a series of branches along the length of the canal and this has enabled the Trust to gain wide public support with work parties underway along most sections of the canal. WRG"has been involved in restoration projects along the lines of the canal for many years.

Steppingstone Bridge

This year WRG has work planned on Steppingstone Bridge, near Shrivenham, which involves the rescue of an accommodation bridge from the last stages of decay. In 2006 WRG rebuilt the collapsed arch and in 2007/08 volunteers continued restoration work on the structure. This Easter, volunteers, along with an experienced leader, will be rebuilding the wing walls, reinstating the towpath and landscaping. Its going to be a busy, fun-filled week, so do something different this Easter and volunteer with WRG!

Seven Locks

Further south, on the Wilts & Berks Canal, is Seven Locks, near Wootton Bassett, which was once a spectacular flight of seven locks and restoration has been underway here for several years. Although WRG is not working on this site this year, the local trust runs work parties (week days and weekends) on this section of the canal.

Volunteering opportunities exist at Wootton Bassett with work parties taking place every Wednesday. Contact John Bower (Wilts &"Berks Canal Trust), 01973 636297.

Volunteers wanted!

WRG always needs volunteers to keep the waterways restoration movement going forwards. No matter how long or short you can volunteer your time, you can be sure you will have made a difference. Volunteers must be aged between 18-70 but need no previous experience, and the work of a modern canal restoration volunteer is just as varied as our volunteers: every canal has its own distinctive features and materials, as the original canal builders used whatever was available to hand to build.

Combine this with the many different jobs involved in restoring a canal and you will find Canal Camps offer a wide variety of different types of work:"from bricklaying and stonework to modern techniques such as piling and concreting, using excavators and dumpers, or nothing more sophisticated than a shovel or trowel.

Whatever you end up doing, you will have a unique and memorable experience while helping us to keep the waterways alive for future generations., 01494 783453 (ext 604).

Facts about the Wilts & Berks Canal

The main line of the canal was 52 miles long, with six miles of branches and nine miles of the North Wilts Canal

It was designed for a 72ft-long narrowboat carrying 35 tons

There were 42 locks on the main line, 11 on the North Wilts Canal and three on the Calne branch

Its main cargo was coal, carrying it from the Somerset coalfield south of Bath to London, as well as agricultural produce and locally produced goods such as bricks and other building materials.

(Source:"Wilts &"Berks Canal Trust)

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