Dream of restoring canal slowly becoming a reality
A canal which has been filled with water for the first time in 100 years has edged another step closer to the biggest town on its route.
A mile of the Wilts & Berks canal was restored last year between Lacock and Chippenham, and already this year the volunteers have advanced another 160 metres towards the foot of Pewsham Locks.
The wharf on the edge of Chippenham is a key strategic point in the canal, with a set of locks taking the canal up out of the Avon Vale and onto the hills towards Calne and Wootton Bassett.
Volunteers obtained a grant of almost £6,000 to pay for diggers, dumper trucks and drivers to help the thousands of hours of their own time to transform what was an overgrown – and dry – wilderness into what will be an operational wharf. They removed roots, raised and widened a towpath and rebuilt the wharf wall at the foot of the locks.
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“Back in the 18th century this was a very busy part of the Wilts & Berks Canal, with Bottom Lock at the southern end of a flight of three locks which lifted the canal more than 28ft on the journey from Melksham to Chippenham,” the chairman of the canal trust John Laverick said.
“It featured a covered dry dock, a carpenter’s workshop, a lime kiln, saw pit and a lock-keeper’s cottage – some of the remains are still clearly visible today.
“We have been able to extend the re-watered section to include the wharf where narrowboats would wait for their turn to enter the flight.
“There is still an earth dam separating the newly-restored stretch from the longer line of canal opened last year, to protect against any unexpected leaks, but we expect this to be removed within the next few weeks.
“Nonetheless, we are sure that people will be impressed by the transformation.
“With the stretch between Melksham and Chippenham being extended further every year, our dream of a fully restored canal is steadily becoming a reality,” he added.
Yesterday, supporters of the project to restore the canal undertook their annual sponsored walk from Chippenham town centre out to the canal at Lacock. When the event first began a few years ago, they walked along what used to be the canal. This year they walked along the fully-restored towpath for much of the journey.
The canal was built in the ‘Canal Mania’ period at the turn of the 19th century, but by the first decade of the 20th century the railway had overtaken the canal and it fell into disrepair. The dream of volunteers from Swindon to Trowbridge is to restore the canal fully, connecting with the Kennet & Avon canal at Hilperton and restoring it through Melksham, Chippenham, Calne, Royal Wootton Bassett and Swindon and joining it with the Thames to the north.