BACK­ING FOR BUCKS

With prospects of the first bridge be­ing re­built, the next length of canal re­wa­tered and a re­open­ing to nav­i­ga­tion in the not too dis­tant fu­ture, prospects are im­prov­ing for the Buck­ing­ham Canal

Canal Boat - - This Month - WORDS BY MARTIN LUDGATE PIC­TURES BY BCS AND MARTIN LUDGATE

The fu­ture looks bright to­wards a re­open­ing to nav­i­ga­tion of the Buck­ing­ham

When we last fea­tured the Buck­ing­ham Canal in early 2013, we re­marked that (un­like many canal restora­tion pro­jects) it was at least pos­si­ble to ‘start at the be­gin­ning’. Re­open­ing could be­gin at the junc­tion of this for­mer branch canal with the Grand Union main line at Cos­grove, where the first few hun­dred yards are still used as moor­ings. And we looked for­ward to the re­wa­ter­ing in the near fu­ture of the next length head­ing to­wards Old Strat­ford.

So just over four years on, ex­actly how much fur­ther can you get your boat? Dis­ap­point­ingly, the an­swer is ‘no fur­ther at all’. But, as is so of­ten the case, that doesn’t mean there’s been no real progress – and in­deed, one of the ma­jor causes of de­lays could turn into a ben­e­fit for the restora­tion in the longer term. So hav­ing got the bad news out of the way early on, I’ll spend the rest of the ar­ti­cle giv­ing you the good news…

And the first piece of good news con­cerns Bridge 1, at the end of the moor­ings. This hump-backed farm and foot­path cross­ing was de­mol­ished back in the 1970s, and it wasn’t clear how much if any­thing re­mained. But last year, fol­low­ing the usual de­lays or­gan­is­ing ac­cess and other pa­per­work, the Buck­ing­ham Canal So­ci­ety be­gan ex­ca­vat­ing the in­fill to ex­pose what was left. This is now around 85 per­cent com­plete, re­veal­ing some se­ri­ous chunks of bridge abut­ment on ei­ther side, with a big gap be­tween them. Once the re­main­ing trees have been taken out (a job for Wa­ter­way Re­cov­ery Group’s forestry vol­un­teers), the so­ci­ety’s en­gi­neers will be able to get in and find out if it’s pos­si­ble to re­build from what’s left: if so, Wey­moor Bridge on the Cotswold Canals (see CB June 2016), re­built by vol­un­teers, will pro­vide a use­ful tem­plate.

So when the bridge is com­plete (in 2018, all be­ing well), will it lead on to a re­stored length of wa­ter­way? Well, de­spite slower-than-ex­pected progress since our 2013 re­port, it’s look­ing op­ti­mistic. The next three quar­ters of a mile, which sur­vives as a dry bed run­ning across farm­land, has been cleared by the so­ci­ety to the point where it was pos­si­ble to tem­po­rar­ily re­wa­ter in trial sec­tions all the way to just short of Bridge 2. And to con­tinue the good news, the trial has shown that leak­age is well within the Canal & River Trust’s lim­its for max­i­mum seep­age,

“On the plus side, the new canal sec­tions would help with flood al­le­vi­a­tion and the quarry re­me­di­a­tion works might just in­volve build­ing a length”

mean­ing that the orig­i­nal pud­dled clay lin­ing is do­ing its job and (sub­ject to deal­ing with a few leaks and tow­path slips) re­lin­ing won’t be nec­es­sary.

In fact the de­lays in re­wa­ter­ing weren’t for prac­ti­cal rea­sons, but con­nected with a change in the ad­ja­cent land own­er­ship. For­merly farm land, this was sold a cou­ple of years ago to MK Dons Foot­ball Club, who hoped to use it for a train­ing ground – and were very keen on a re­stored canal as a fea­ture – but they’ve now found a more suit­able site else­where. How­ever they re­tain the land, have fa­cil­i­tated ac­cess for BCS, and for the fu­ture they’re in­ter­ested in com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment: might this in­clude a ma­rina which could help to get the canal com­pleted?

It’s rather harder to see any kind of ‘good news’ in the fate of the canal be­yond Bridge 2. After a fur­ther quar­ter mile it stops dead at the A5 cross­ing, the 1970s road cut­ting through it at near canal bed level, and on the other side of the road, the route’s been oblit­er­ated through Old Strat­ford. Oh, and be­yond there, two ob­struc­tions where the A422 main road crosses the line are sep­a­rated by block­ages in Dean­shanger Vil­lage.

BCS’s ap­proach to this has been to plan a canal di­ver­sion by­pass­ing the whole area – and (re­sist­ing the temp­ta­tion to use the phrase ‘good news’ again), there are pos­i­tives here too. The route would turn sharp left at Bridge 2, de­scend­ing through three new locks as it fol­lows a small stream down to the River Great Ouse. Rather than joining the river (which brings flood­ing and other is­sues), the canal would turn to run par­al­lel, pass­ing un­der one of the side arches of the viaduct car­ry­ing the mod­ern A5. A fur­ther bridge car­ry­ing the orig­i­nal A5 is likely to need re­build­ing in the not too dis­tant fu­ture, pro­vid­ing an op­tion for adding a canal span; be­yond there a new route would climb through a fur­ther three new locks to pass through a quarry site south of Dean­shanger and re­turn to the orig­i­nal route.

It sounds like a lot of new con­struc­tion and it is. But on the plus side there is only one other mi­nor road cross­ing needed; the new canal sec­tions would help with flood al­le­vi­a­tion (by pro­vid­ing a tem­po­rary hold­ing ca­pac­ity for run-off wa­ter from Dean­shanger head­ing for the river); the quarry re­me­di­a­tion works might just in­volve build­ing a length of canal; and parts of the land needed have

al­ready been bought by Mil­ton Keynes Parks De­part­ment. It isn’t go­ing to hap­pen overnight, but plan­ning has reached the stage of sur­vey­ing the route, ini­tial per­mis­sion for change of land use, and agree­ment in prin­ci­ple by the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.

West of Dean­shanger, it’s more of a restora­tion and less of a new canal. A long sec­tion through Lit­tle Hill Farm sur­vives, with a re­stored bridge and a mile length which reg­u­larly holds wa­ter after rain. BCS plans to keep it per­ma­nently wa­tered from the river by so­lar-pow­ered pump – of which more later.

The sec­tion from Thorn­ton to Leck­hamp­stead has yet to see any restora­tion (although the tow­path is open) but west of there is the next BCS work­site. Hyde Lane Lock saw some ini­tial restora­tion ten years ago (plus a set of life-ex­pired gates do­nated by CRT to make it look more like a lock); some fur­ther work (mainly re­point­ing of mor­tar joints) is planned dur­ing the next two years. This lock forms part of a length of canal main­tained as a na­ture re­serve by the Canal So­ci­ety on be­half of the lo­cal wildlife trust, and as part of this a fur­ther re­wa­ter­ing above the lock is planned, us­ing an­other so­lar pump. Tow­path resur­fac­ing as a ru­ral grassy path will com­plete this site.

The next mile and a half to the out­skirts of Buck­ing­ham is more prob­lem­atic, hav­ing been filled in so long ago that no­body is sure what the in­fill is. It could be old road sur­fac­ing, or some­thing more un­pleas­ant – and the

so­ci­ety will seek fund­ing grants for in­ves­ti­ga­tions. But the landowner has agreed in prin­ci­ple to the canal be­ing re­in­stated, sub­ject to the need for one new bridge.

This sec­tion also in­cludes the site where the canal merged with the river for a short dis­tance. There’s no trace of the canal to­day and it would be prefer­able if the restora­tion avoided use the river, but with a steep river­bank it would need some se­ri­ous earth­works (or pos­si­bly a di­ver­sion of the river).

Not far be­yond there is the sec­ond of the two locks on the canal at Bour­ton, which now looks un­likely to be re­stored. The lock cot­tage has been ex­tended right up to the lock­side which could make it im­prac­ti­ca­ble; also it might work out eas­ier to com­bine build­ing a new lock with the earth­works de­scribed above, in a sin­gle en­gi­neer­ing project.

The length above the lock lead­ing to the edge of Buck­ing­ham was re­stored and re­wa­tered as a show­piece length and re­opened in 2013. Un­for­tu­nately a se­ri­ous leak­age prob­lem de­vel­oped, as a re­sult of the chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion of the ground and wa­ter be­ing un­suited to the ben­tonite clay liner used. This has now been sup­ple­mented by a HDPE (plas­tic) liner and it now holds wa­ter. It’s also the trial site for BCS’s first so­lar-pow­ered pump­ing sta­tion. This is made from an adapted bore­hole pump (of Aus­tralian de­sign), and raises 20,000 litres of wa­ter per day from the river. That’s a very mod­est amount com­pared to what a work­ing canal with locks would use, but handy for keep­ing re­stored lengths topped-up in the mean­time. And im­por­tantly, it’s within the limit the En­vi­ron­ment Agency will per­mit in­di­vid­u­als to take with­out a li­cence (The EA has agreed to ex­tend this limit to BCS’s pumps, even though it isn’t an ‘in­di­vid­ual’.) If suc­cess­ful, sim­i­lar pumps will be in­stalled at Hyde Lane, Lit­tle Hill, and other sites on re­stored lengths.

That’s al­most but not quite the end of the canal: the so­ci­ety sees ex­tend­ing back to the orig­i­nal ter­mi­nus as im­prac­ti­ca­ble, but it could to a lit­tle fur­ther, sub­ject to Ayles­bury Vale Dis­trict Coun­cil’s Lo­cal Plan, which is still be­ing de­bated with a ref­er­en­dum likely this sum­mer. It is hoped that when fi­nally agreed it will in­clude pro­vi­sion for a new canal cross­ing un­der the A413 to end at a new ter­mi­nus basin on the edge of the town – which would be the fi­nal piece of good news for the canal restora­tion.

“It’s also the trial site for BCS’s first so­lar-pow­ered pump­ing sta­tion. If suc­cess­ful, sim­i­lar pumps will be in­stalled at Hyde Lane, Lit­tle Hill and other sites”

Of­fi­cial open­ing of the Bour­ton length

...and what’s left of it to­day, prior to the start of re­build­ing

Bridge 1 be­fore de­mo­li­tion in the 1970s...

Re­wa­ter­ing be­gins at Cos­grove

The canal linked Buck­ing­ham to the Grand Union main line at Cos­grove Cos­grove to Old Strat­ford 1½ miles; to Buck­ing­ham 11 miles 2 locks. DIS­TANCE

Cor­po­rate vol­un­teer team build a tem­po­rary dam for trial re­wa­ter­ing

Hyde Lane Lock and in­ter­pre­ta­tion board

Re­point­ing Lit­tle Hill Farm Bridge

Vol­un­teers clear the bed at Bour­ton and ( be­low) the re­wa­tered canal

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