The canal trust has completed its first, and only, bridge restoration, so what will it do next?
The Caldon & Uttoxeter Canals Trust has completed its first bridge restoration – and also its last. So with no more bridges to repair, what will the Trust do next?
Every canal restoration project passes significant milestones on the long journey from wild idea to fully navigable waterway – and the Caldon & Uttoxeter Canals Trust’s scheme to reopen the Uttoxeter Canal has just reached an important one with the restoration of its first bridge.
As reported in our news pages, Bridge 70 at Crumpwood has been completed, concluding a saga that goes back seven years. It was first proposed in 2009, but it was three years before volunteers first ‘broke ground’ – well, actually they broke some trees. Waterway Recovery Group’s Forestry Team began clearing the trees and vegetation from around the bridge, then a WRG summer camp reinstated a length of towpath leading up to it, but work on the bridge itself had to await the resolution of some technical issues – not least, working out who owned it...
Finally, with support from the Lotteryfunded Churnet Valley Living Landscape Partnership, the bridge could be restored. The rough stonework deck was taken out, a waterproof membrane was inserted, deck and parapets reinstated, all mortar joints re-pointed, and (apart from some work on the towpath under the bridge) it’s all complete now for the footpath that goes over it.
So where next for CUCT? Is there another bridge waiting to be tackled? The slightly surprising answer is no: Bridge 70 is not only the Trust’s first bridge restoration, but also its last. This is a waterway which was closed as long ago as 1849, with parts of its course used for a railway (most of which also shut in the 1960s), and there simply aren’t any other surviving bridges to restore.
So, to repeat the question, where next? We spoke to the Trust’s Steve Wood, who explained that the main focus of practical work will remain in the same area, but shift slightly south east to Crumpwood Weir and its surroundings.
The weir is an unusual structure: it was built to enable the canal to cross the River Churnet on the level, with boats passing right along the top of the weir. Steve reckons it’s unique for a canal (as opposed to a river navigation) in the UK, and possibly in the world – but would be happy for Canal Boat readers to come up with any other examples. And not only is it on a section of canal which escaped
the attention of the railway-builders, it’s also surrounded by several other structures which could be restored.
On the north west side are the remains of Carrington’s Lock, heavily overgrown with hawthorn, its top end partly buried under a minor road (which provides access to a water supply bore-hole pump near Bridge 70). Across the river on the south east side is the better-preserved flood lock which controlled water levels on the next section towards Uttoxeter.
Restoration of the tail end of Carrington’s Lock would be the next major volunteer project, with WRG Forestry just about to start work on clearance as we go to press. Steve explains that this will enable the Trust to have a “proper look” at the state it’s in.
Meanwhile, work on the Flood Lock might receive some support from an unexpected direction. The Environment Agency, which a decade ago was keen to demolish the weir to create a fish pass (and was only prevented from doing so by Staffordshire County Council getting it Grade 2 listed), is looking for alternative ways of allowing brown trout and salmon (reintroduced in recent years) to pass upstream. A convenient field would provide a site for a new design (trialled on the River Aire) in the form of a series of linked ponds.
And for CUCT, the key feature is that this would enter the canal on the far side of the flood lock – which would at the very least have to be cleared of several feet of silt to allow it to form part of the fish pass route. With the EA and the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust backing the plan, this could bring in funding to restore the lock.
Plus, a couple of other restored structures could complete what would make a ‘honeypot’ visitor site: the weir keeper’s cottage survives, and CUCT is optimistic that it could be restored as a visitor centre. And a former borehole pump (the predecessor of the one near Bridge 70), which was powered by the flow of the river, has attracted the attention of a group of pumping station enthusiasts (yes, they do exist!) who hope to restore its hydraulic machinery.
Steve’s medium-term vision for the area is for these to be restored, the towpath reinstated, and a trip-boat put in operation. From a loading dock formed in the restored tail of Carrington’s Lock, it would run across the weir, through the flood lock and for some distance beyond. Situated in the beautiful Churnet Valley but an easy drive from Stoke-on-Trent,
‘Situated in the beautiful Churnet Valley but an easy drive from Stoke-on-Trent, the trip-boat could be a real visitor attraction’
the trip-boat could be a real visitor attraction and a boost to the restoration. But why not link it to the restored Bridge 70? That would be an attractive idea because it would give access to almost a mile of restorable canal heading for Alton – unfortunately, the pipes serving the borehole are buried under the road where it crosses the top end of Carrington’s Lock.
The first quote for moving them is an eye-watering £400,000 – so given that the pump won’t be in use for ever (boreholes tend to dry up after a few decades, and it’s been running for 50 years or so), perhaps it’s prudent for CUCT to bide its time. And there’s more to do elsewhere along the route…
For boaters keen to see some progress at the Froghall end where the canal links to the Caldon Canal, CUCT can’t unfortunately promise much hope of new cruising grounds for some years to come, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing happening. As a precursor to canal reinstatement from Froghall to Oakamoor (which will be tricky, given that it is likely to involve squeezing both a restored canal and a reopened railway side-byside down the valley), CUCT is hoping to open up a towpath walk along this section, which currently has no public access.
Planning permission has just been given for a former quarry at Oakamoor to be used for a ‘Center Parcs style’ attraction, whose developers are keen to see the path opened. Both they and Sustrans might bring in funding and support for this; meanwhile, despite the ending of the Living Landscape partnership, the partners (including the local authorities and CUCT) are keen to continue working together on projects which could include the towpath.
But going back to the idea of actual navigation from the Froghall end, there is some hope on the horizon. The next short length, where four more locks used to descend towards the Churnet but where the canal has long since been filled in, buried under a former railway siding, and blocked by a main road crossing, has just seen a change of land
‘CUCT can’t promise new cruising grounds for some years to come, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing happening’
Volunteers re-pointing Bridge 70
The former flood lock, and the field where a fish pass could be built
Work in progress on the parapets
Reinstating the stone surface over a waterprrof membrane
Next project: remains of Carrington’s Lock
The weir with ivy removed from abutments
Volunteers clear the flood lock entrance
Crumpwood weir before clearance