Com­plain away, but give praise too

Canal Boat - - Me & My Boats - KEVIN BLICK From car jour­nal­ism to the canals was a change of pace, but liv­ing on board tug Harry is a con­stant eye-opener

I’d like to give my hearty con­grat­u­la­tions to the Canal & River Trust. There, it’s not very of­ten any­one says that, is it? Es­pe­cially a wa­ter­ways jour­nal­ist.

But this time I re­ally think they de­serve it. I’ve just trav­elled most of the way along the Staffs & Worcs and ex­pe­ri­enced for my­self the im­prove­ments that a mil­lion quid’s worth of dredg­ing has made. And, wow, the dif­fer­ence re­ally is fan­tas­tic.

Here’s what I said in my blog last year about a day spent on the pre-dredged S&W:

“Yes­ter­day was the sort of day that made us won­der if we were in the wrong game – or maybe the wrong boat.

“It was a day of al­most in­ces­sant strug­gle as we dragged a re­luc­tant Harry from Great Hay­wood to Gai­ley. I say dragged be­cause the canal was more a silt filled ditch than a wa­ter­way for us in a three-foot deep boat. It seemed worse than on our pas­sage ear­lier this year and that was slow and sludgy with stretches of reeds and de­bris in ev­ery bridge­hole.

“The low point was when we tried to moor for lunch at some pil­ing and got so badly aground it took half an hour of pol­ing, rock­ing and revving to get free.

“Af­ter­noon saw more locks and, as the day drew on, so the pounds got lower. We were get­ting stuck on the en­try to ev­ery lock and the pole kept com­ing out. We barely made it through the last cou­ple.” This year it couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent. Harry’s big prop has sung its way through deep wa­ter vir­tu­ally all the way; we’ve not had a prob­lem at a sin­gle lock and we’ve able to tie up close to the bank wher­ever we wanted, within rea­son.

Those long stretches be­tween Tix­all and the edge of Stafford, which were a slow, slow churn through reeds and silt, were so smooth and clear it was a de­light.

The Staffs & Worcs is a canal trans­formed. And, for us on a deep boat, that made it a canal we could en­joy. For once, I was look­ing at the beau­ti­ful scenery in­stead of fight­ing my way off mud-banks.

I’m sure even shal­lower draugh­ted craft will en­joy the dif­fer­ence – last year we came upon sev­eral who were shar­ing our woes at locks or moor­ings. And even fish­er­men ap­prove, or at least the ones we spoke to cer­tainly did for thick silt chokes the life out of a wa­ter­way.

It’s no cheap or easy busi­ness, this dredg­ing: as I said ear­lier, this project cost £1m, re­moved 2,500 tons of silt and took eight months. Stricter than strict rules about where dredged ma­te­rial can be dumped make it even harder and more costly these days.

On the S&W, much of the re­moved silt has, in fact, been used be­hind new bar­ri­ers to re­pair dam­aged edges.

Iron­i­cally, most of those dam­aged edges are caused by the wash from boats which chew away the soft soil and send it into the wa­ter. So re­mem­ber that next time you’re tempted to hurry: if we all went a lit­tle slower we’d re­duce the dam­age to the canal edges.

Praise duly given to CRT then. but the ques­tion now is – where next? I’m sure we all have our favourite – or should I say in­fa­mous – stretches of shal­low wa­ter. One of mine is the top three miles of the Coven­try Canal be­fore Fradley Junc­tion, which is an­other thick silt soup.

Or, since we’ve been up there this sum­mer, I could of­fer the Mac­cles­field Canal. I know this is ac­knowl­edged as ‘a shal­low canal’ but that’s no ex­cuse for let­ting it be­come ‘a re­ally, re­ally shal­low canal’. Some of the bridge­holes are sim­ply ap­palling and the in­fa­mous Bridge 20, where we got stuck for 15 min­utes, is so bad it’s be­come a black joke among lo­cal boaters.

So what started off as a col­umn of praise has, I’m afraid, ended up as a bit of a grum­ble. But grum­bling gets things done: CRT only dredged the Staffs & Worcs be­cause enough peo­ple told them it needed do­ing. So don’t just grum­ble to each other, grum­ble to CRT.

But when they get the work done, then make sure you praise them too.

‘That made it a canal we could en­joy. For once, I was look­ing at beau­ti­ful scenery in­stead of fight­ing my way off mud-banks’

No more run­ning aground

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