Dig Report

Wey and Arun, September 2021

A return to weekend digging on the Tickner’s Heath Road Crossing on the Wey and Arun Canal

A weekend of reinforcing and formwork on the wingwalls of the Tickner’s Heath Road Crossing

18/19 September 2021

With the Covid pandemic curtailing our efforts for the last 18 months, it hadn’t seemed sensible up until now to draw our volunteers from a wide geographic region to cram into a village hall to sleep, and the local pub to socialise.  However following our successful single day on this site in June, and all the preparation work done by the IWA head office team to make the WRG summer camp season safe and successful, it felt like the time had come to restart full weekend work parties with sensible Covid precautions such as LFT tests before and after the event and heightened awareness of hygiene and space both on site and at the accommodation.

The Tickner’s Heath Road Crossing is an exciting and very well organised project on the Wey and Arun Canal which will extend the restored summit level section at Dunsfold – the site of a previous restoration project at Compass Bidge – southwards towards Sidney Wood.

The road here originally crossed the canal on a hump-backed bridge on an S-bend, which has long since been lowered.  Modern highway regulations and access to neighbouring properties will not allow for the original bridge to be reinstated, so instead the canal is being diverted to cross under the road through a new bridge constructed a couple of hundred yards east of the original crossing point where the road is straight and high enough to allow passage with minimal alteration to the road alignment and elevation.  A new canal cut excavated through the new bridge will curve round to re-join the original canal to the west of the old crossing, and a separate bridge will cater for pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders.  More details of the project can be found on the Wey and Arun Canal Trust web site.

The first phase of the project is to drill deep concrete piles to define the canal line, install the pedestrian bridge as a standalone structure outside these piles, excavate the new canal approach between the piles and then cast a concrete channel for the canal up to and under the pedestrian bridge, with the plan to complete this work this year.  The second phase starting next year will be for contractors to temporarily divert the road and install the road bridge, with volunteers then returning to excavate the new canal line and cast the channel under the new bridge.

With the first phase excavation already complete, Ed and Adrian joined Dave Evans and a couple of his local volunteers on site on Friday to complete the concrete pour for the base of the channel.  This would give us a safe and dry work area for the rest of the weekend.

And so finally, with evidence of our LFT results to hand a small band of volunteers arrived at Wonersh Memorial Hall on Friday evening to find that popping to the pub with good friends then retiring to sleep on a hard hall floor was as familiar as putting on a favourite pair of old slippers – or maybe like riding a bike; but probably not both at the same time.

Saturday morning came and we headed to site bright and early to join forces with Dave and his local volunteers; and with Clive, Jo, Garry and Rihannon who were joining us on site just for the day.  While Clive, Jo and Nigel eyed up the last 3 trees that needed to come out to align the new cut with the original canal line, the rest of us set to work studying the reinforcing diagrams and gathering all the bits we needed to set up the wingwalls ready for their scheduled concrete pours in the coming weeks.

The main wingwall will be cast directly against the concrete piles with formwork just to the front and is reinforced with relatively simple mesh sheets, whereas the return wall section is beyond the piling and required a standalone box formwork and a more complex reinforcing system stitched from individual bars.  The formwork for both pours uses a panel system with very significant bracing, which all made for a very interesting weekend’s work mastering both the reinforcing design and the formwork system.  By early afternoon on Sunday the rain had set in and we called it a day – but we’d achieved what we set out to accomplish, with the reinforcing and formwork for both walls almost complete, just requiring the bracing feet to be bolted down, and scaffolding to be erected to allow access for the pours themselves. All in all, it was a most successful weekend and a welcome return to digging for the group. 

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