Every weekend, I look forward to reading the Wilts & Berks Weekly Blog, which since the beginning of 2017 has been written by Ken Oliver, Countryside Officer for Wiltshire Council with responsibility for the county’s canals including the Kennet & Avon and Thames & Severn as well as the Wilts & Berks. Recently, he asked if guest bloggers would like to contribute, and so this week I penned ‘A View from the Back Window’. After all, the W & B Canal used to pass through what’s now the back gardens of Templars Firs. It was a look back in another sense – at working parties over a full year since I’d started to attend them.
I started the article with Dunnington Aqueduct, and should have finished the blog with Dunnington since that was where we were working this week, but I ended with Studley Grange because that’s where we’ll be focusing for most of the Spring. We have a licence at this time of year to clear the embankment at Dunnington which is on private land, and our most recent volunteer, Dom, was intrigued to see a part of RWB that is quite hidden. We’ve only had a few work parties there this year, but we’ve cleared a lot of ground – almost to Dunnington Bottom Lock. The first photo shows the cleared canal from the embankment eastwards towards the lock,with the town to the left.
Dunnington Bottom Lock had been cleared out some years ago by an Army team from the Royal Engineers. They’d got as far as removing spoil and piling it up just to the west of the lock chamber, and it’ll take quite a while to clear this heap before one day working on the lock. Anyway, it made a good vantage point for the second photo, looking towards the Aqueduct.
This morning I took the extended walk past the restored canal at Templars Firs to the next restored piece at Chaddington, de-contaminating the towpath of dog-poo as I went. After last night’s relentless high winds – but little or no rain – I also wanted to see whether our fencing had stood up to the onslaught, which it had. So had a new compound of fencing at the housing site north of the railway, which had been carefully constructed following the earlier damaging winds from Storm Doris. So far, so good.
However, when trying my best to follow the official footpath and having to step over chestnut paling that blocked the way, I came across this piece of fencing. The wind hadn’t blown it over, but a pile of previously-used fencing has caused it to sag over the right-of-way. Will this fencing collapse completely soon?
I made my way further east past the un-restored section to the sound of skylarks.
Reaching the Chaddington spill-weir, I photographed the wing wall that had recently been lowered; it now offers far better protection against storm water flows, with large chunks of rubble at the foot of the wall acting to dissipate the force of the water.
Meanwhile, on the canal side of the spill-weir, I spotted that the swans had already started to re-make the nest from 2016. Not only that, there were two coots that can be seen on the left of the next photo. We get moorhens galore, but it’s the first time I’ve seen their white-nosed relatives hereabouts.
Walking back along the towpath, I reflected on the absence of the heron since mid-January. Then, at the slipway end, a heron with an enormous wingspan rose vertically from the ground. Is our old friend back? Or a new one?