Cotswold Canals

Mark Sharrock, INTO UOG, gave his time to the Cotswold Canal Trust 

A day on the canals

06 Nov 2018

The Cotswold Canal Trust is a registered charity responsible for the restoration of the Stroudwater Navigation Canal, and one that is close to my heart as we live just 3 doors away from the canal. The canal was abandoned all together in 1954, and over the years became overgrown or infilled. Large sections were totally unrecognisable as canal- one section had become a car park, another a dumping ground, and several locks had simply rotted away.

Thanks to INTO Giving, it was the obvious choice for Poppy (my wife, who decided to come along too) and me to spend two days volunteering on a deserving local project. Volunteering days on the canal are Tuesdays and Thursdays, and are very informal: we were told to just turn up and be prepared to get dirty!

On the Tuesday morning, Poppy and I turned up ready for duty. The task for the day was to build a dividing fence separating a farmer’s field from the towpath. No fancy power tools for us, just really hard manual graft. The posts were forced into the ground using an implement rejoicing in the name of ‘the bonker’; a sort of capped metal tube with handles either side. Cue many innuendos, as you can well imagine.

Together with a retired engineer called Les, I spent the day ‘bonking’ (stop it!) the posts into the ground before the other members of the team (including Poppy) linked up the fencing. Several passers-by stopped to thank us for the work, and not just the section we were focusing on, but all of it -- according to the Project Manager, this is a daily occurrence. It’s quite clear that the hard work to regenerate the canal is very much appreciated.

On the Thursday morning we headed out to Saul Junction Marina where we were to work on ‘Flea’. Flea is a 35 foot ‘welfare’ boat, designed to be dispatched to carry out canal side work such as removing fallen trees and repairing collapsed banking. Sadly for Flea, she was abandoned years ago and until very recently was 2/3 submerged in a disused part of the canal. She was rescued by the CCT from British Waterways for the princely sum of £5 on the understanding that she’d be repaired and returned to her duties.

Flea was in a bad way. She’s now believed to be watertight, but she was a rust bucket and our job was to scrape off the thick layer of rust and grime so she can be primed and repainted in the CCT colours -- a fetching pink hue that means you’re not likely to miss her on the canal when she’s fully repaired. This was another day of hard graft, with fairly inadequate tools for the job: an old paint stripper, a screwdriver and a yard broom that I found in an adjoining workshop.

It took ages, but we eventually moved on to priming and painting. My job was to prime the cabin whilst Poppy painted the exterior. By 16:30 we declared the job complete, and stood back to appreciate Flea’s new appearance. Lairy. Still, not bad for a fiver! And when Flea does return to the water, she’ll play an important part in the ongoing maintenance and upkeep of a very special stretch of British waterway.

I’m really looking forward to seeing Flea in operation, as well as cycling past ‘my’ fence, knowing that I have had a hand in the canal restoration. There is a genuine sense of achievement to be gained from volunteering- I’d highly recommend finding a local charity that means something to you, making contact, rolling your sleeves up and getting involved.

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