Dig Report

Cotswold Canals, December 2019

LWRG and Kescrg Christmas Party: Cotswold Canals, Whitminster

7/8 December 2019

The 2019 London WRG and Kescrg Christmas party was once again held on the Cotswolds Canals, clearing the canal line west of Whitminster. This is the point where the canal originally crossed the River Frome on an aqueduct – but since closure, significant flood protection work has been carried out on the river, which has had its banks raised, and now follows a different line and level. This means that rather than crossing the river, the canal and river will now merge for around a quarter of a mile, before the canal leaves the river again for the final quarter of a mile past Saul marina to the junction with the Gloucester and Sharpness canal.

This site has seen several visits from visiting groups including WRG Forestry in the last couple of years, as there are many overhanging trees, in particular willows, which need either removing or reducing in size to establish the line of the canal. So on the Saturday a good number crossed the field and descended the muddy track to site, and made further progress on the clearance, with several good fires going by mid-morning.

Accommodation was the ubiquitous Brimscombe Port, and as has been said for several years – maybe this will be the last time… Christmas Party sustenance was provided by the fantastic catering team of Anne, Jude, Liz, Mick and Alan, and the much-anticipated entertainment was as always provided by Martin, in the form of fancy dress, quiz and the traditional ‘make a thing from some cardboard boxes and whatever else you find lying around’ – this year all in the theme of ‘School Nativities’. Cue Camels, Shepherds, Aliens and not so very many Wise Men.

On Sunday most of the team returned to the Whitminster site, while a breakaway group headed to the site of Westfield lock a little further east. This is the last lock before the ‘missing mile’ where the restored canal will take a new route alongside the River Frome to get under the M5 and up to the A38. This site is destined to be the next big volunteer project on the canal, with many digs and camps from late 2020 and 2021 onwards in the pipeline once all the permissions and plans are in place.

The lock rebuild is made more interesting by a brook which originally crossed the canal on the level above the lock – but due to flooding and ecological concerns will now pass under the lock forebay in a new culvert. Though the head of the lock has been obliterated, it is believed that much of the rest of the chamber is in good condition, just awaiting excavation having been buried in the field. By the end of Sunday, the area around brook and the head of the lock had been strimmed and cleared of brambles and undergrowth to improve access and enable a full survey and assessment for the project.

In all a very successful weekend, with much progress on both sites – our thanks as always to Jon P and the Cotswold Canals Trust for hosting us.

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