The 4th of July may be a cherished date in some calendars, but not for us British. However, July 4th 2018 was a special day for Royal Wootton Bassett. A ceremony was held at Chaddington, to the east of the town, to open a new stretch of restored canal known as ‘Studley Grange’. The chairman of the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust, Rod Bluh, symbolically cut the ribbon opening-up almost a mile of ‘cut’.
The restoration was made more difficult because a landfill site had been in business for several decades, potentially de-stabilising the ground. The owners, Biffa, are now tidying up the site and returning it to nature, and a canal snaking around its southern boundary has already enhanced the scenery. The waste site itself has added serenity, blocking out the sound of the M4 motorway to the north. Even the gabions add a stark beauty.
The invited dignitaries including the Town Mayor were able to walk most of the towpath before being taken to a reception at the soon-to-be-reopened WBCT pub, the Peterborough Arms.
Since that day, the dogs and I have enjoyed walking from the slipway at Templar’s Firs to the far end at Studley Grange and back. I did the same this morning, covering about 5 miles round-trip.
Most of this walk is alongside the restored canal, with only a small piece where the canal is yet to be reinstated, and even then it’s easy to imagine the scene because the outline is still there, sometimes filled with water.
This afternoon I and several colleagues attended the funeral of John Allen, who founded the Wootton Bassett branch nearly 30 years ago.
I’m told that John was very much the driving force behind the restoration for many years; without his efforts the canal wouldn’t be what it is today.
John was a Town Councillor during the 1990s, and in 1998 he was himself the Town Mayor. This photo (courtesy of Trust Archivist Doug Small) shows John with his Mayoral chain at the Templar’s Firs slipway during a boating festival.
Tomorrow, I’ll join a working party at Templar’s Firs to help keep the canal and its surroundings looking good. I’m told that John almost single-handedly dug out the canal and towpath at the first bridge, rather like an archaeologist. It’s now a footbridge, well-used by walkers and herons; to me it’s John Allen’s Bridge.