Thames & Severn – a Water Highway?

Our dry summer continues. The promised thunderstorms didn’t happen overnight, and our garden is parched. The restored Wilts & Berks canal at Studley Grange needs to be fully topped up by rain soon, but it seems that Royal Wootton Bassett is in a bit of a rain shadow. Having studied the rainfall radar in recent weeks, I’ve noticed that the hills either side of us seem to get the rain, but our particular pixel on the map remains rainless.

20170706_081939Another indicator of lack of rain is that someone has put a couple of horses ‘out to grass’ along the canal, and they’ve been left to forage wherever they can.

Here they are by the footbridge nearest the Templar’s Firs slipway.

It’s now pretty much standard practice to use back-pumping on canals to send the water uphill again after locks have been emptied. Used on a grand scale, this method could be used to transfer water from one area to another. Our rain-map may disappoint us locally, but not far away in Wales, they seem to get more than enough. The River Severn takes its share from the Welsh hills down towards the sea, sometimes spectacularly. How often have we seen news reports of Worcester Racecourse under water?

Back in April 2012, the country was very much into drought. On 1st April, among the usual spoof stories was a Daily Telegraph article on the possibility of using the Stroudwater and Thames & Severn Canal as a conduit to transfer water from the Severn to the Thames.

20170704_141449I was reminded of this article when our walking group decided once again to tackle the circular ramble around Sapperton. It ends with a climb up the canal line from Bakers Mill Bridge in Frampton Mansell to the western portal of Sapperton Tunnel.

The canal is partly in water, but the locks need attention, like this one covered in greenery. Cotswold Canals Trust has an end-to-end Thames & Severn Canal photographic tour that’s well worth exploring; it shows each structure with images taken at just the right time to see the detail.

It’s not difficult to imagine what this restored canal will look like, nestling near to the bottom of the Golden Valley. Along much of this length there is a steep wooded hillside on the north, and a view across fields to the south, catching the occasional glimpse of the glorious Kemble – Stroud railway. Lock cottages don’t come much prettier than the one seen below patiently awaiting the lock’s restoration. Cotswold Canals


Back in May, Thames Water held a public meeting in Cirencester which we attended, where the company explained the choices available to them to provide water for an estimated 3 million more consumers. As mentioned earlier, one option is to use this canal to transfer water from the Severn, but recently Thames Water has claimed that a pipeline would be cheaper. Why would that be? Pipelines require a lot of legal agreements and tend to go heavily over-budget; how can we trust these figures?

The meeting on May 11th attracted a full house – but it would have been almost empty if those who favour the canal option hadn’t turned up. I asked a question on the lines of:

“If we assume that a pipeline were cheaper overall, but that the Thames & Severn Canal would eventually be restored, the pipeline might become redundant. Therefore, would Thames Water fund part of the canal restoration to the tune of the cost of a pipeline, while other parties funded the additional cost?”

I’m pleased to say that my question was applauded. After the meeting, several Cotswold Canals Trust folk decided to meet at the Daneway Inn near to Sapperton, which sounded tempting but was just too far for a late May evening. I did get there eventually, on this week’s ramble, and downed a very welcome pint of 6X.


20170704_151715After that, back to the canal towpath and on to the Sapperton Tunnel’s western portal, this time dappled in sunshine. Last year’s walk was on a grey day but still worth doing.

I was surprised to find that Thames Water had published a presentation setting out its options in great detail.  Its title is enough to put off casual observers: “Water Resource Options – Phase 2 Investigations: Technical Stakeholder Meeting No. 5, 6 November 2015” , but don’t be put off. Its 61 pages contain enough to convince me that the Thames & Severn Canal could really become a true ‘water highway’.

As summarised in the presentation, it’s “a Multi-functional scheme and needs to be recognised as such; the wider benefits need to be accounted for” (paraphrased from Page 39). Put another way, apart from being a water-transfer solution, it could act to control storm-water and at the same time it could boost the local economy and become a linear park: everyone’s a winner.






  1. Stephen, thanks for this posting. As a CCT long-time member I rather wondered what the meeting with Thames Water in Cirencester had accomplished. It was obvious that TW was only including the canal route in its options because the Government inspector evaluating and rejecting a reservoir at Abington had suggested it. Having been in business myself, I appreciate that those controlling TW want ultimate control over water flow to rest with them, not shared with the CCT. Lower cost for the pipeline was to be expected as an outcome of their studies!!

    I’d love to see the canal route used for moving water from the Severn to the Thames but can’t see that TW will go with that option — unless coerced in some way by Government funding or MPs breathing down their back. I still, however, hold out some hope.

    Phil Jones

  2. When I said in my last email ‘that lower cost for the pipeline was to be expected’, I meant it in the sense that TW would try and find any excuse for favouring the pipeline (even if such ‘lower cost’ was actually not so) and not in the sense that the pipeline approach was actually less costly on objective evaluation!

  3. Here’s an encouraging quote from Nicholson’s Guide 2, ‘Severn, Avon & Birmingham’ (Harper Collins, 2014) on the Siddington page:: “A west-east water transfer scheme utilising the bed of the navigation, is in the early stages of consideration, and could greatly accelerate the pace of restoration.” I’ll drink to that!

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