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?

Canal Boat - - Contents - WORDS BY MARTIN LUDGATE PIC­TURES BY CUCT

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

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