Complain away, but give praise too
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