• LOCAL HERO
Judith Basham is encouraging wildlife back to our canals
When I bought my narrowboat, I also discovered the Cotswold Canals Trust. Set up in 1972, the charity pursues an ambitious dream: restoring the canals as a navigable route from Saul Junction on the Gloucester and Sharpness canal, through to Lechlade on the River Thames. Everyone who owns a boat becomes part of a club. You chat at locks, swapping anecdotes and advice. I decided to volunteer for the CCT, as a way to give back to this fantastic community.
I came to canal houseboat living as a short-term stop gap… or so I thought. Recently divorced, I didn’t want to tie myself to a location before getting to know it well and I also wanted to be near my mum. The last credit crunch was then in play and I needed a low-cost living option. Moving onto a boat appealed to me as I had previously built my own house and owned a smallholding. I had no experience on the water, but I thought, ‘I could do that!’
Eight years later, here I still am, living on my 60ft narrowboat called Water Lily (named for my mum Lily) at Saul in Gloucestershire.
I work at a lovely cafe on the canal called The Lavender Bakehouse. But for two or three days every week you’ll find me either at the depot at Eastington, where we carry out repairs to dredgers and tugs, or working on the towpath ‘gang’ – laying paths and restoring locks. My main role is to skipper boats for maintenance sorties with a crew of five or six.
Living on a boat is magical. I love travelling the countryside, through tunnels and past bridges, buildings and bottle kilns – though for me all are eclipsed by the magnificent Pontcysyllte aqueduct near Llangollen. People ask what it’s like to live in such a small space. There simply isn’t room for lots of possessions, but I think that is an advantage. Whenever the mood takes me, I can be off, waking up to a beautiful new view.
On the Stroudwater canal, wildlife is returning. It was built to supply coal to the woollen industry but abandoned by the 1950s. Now, otters have been seen playing on the grass, water voles swim in the reeds, kingfishers dart by, and the water is full of fish. It is marvellous.
The volunteers are a fantastic bunch of people! We cannot get through a day without tea, cakes, chocolate and lots of laughs, all in the fresh air. We have become such good friends that 25 of us go on holiday every year. We also have some wonderful special needs youngsters among us who really feed off the banter and laughs.
A day working on the canal can be muddy, wet and exhausting, but so rewarding. The satisfaction of seeing a restored length of canal is amazing and we all take such pride in it. There have been ups and downs, especially when the bid for funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund was turned down in 2013. But another bid is nearing completion. Fingers crossed we will be successful due to the enormous efforts of so many people.
To discover more about the
Trust’s work or to volunteer visit cotswoldcanals.org.uk
Stroudwater canal, where wildlife is flourishing; volunteers on a Stroud District Council workboat; Judith at work