Exploring the Canals

Narrow boats on the Shropshire Union Canal

This week I have been on location doing my research for another Bald Explorer episode. Now that I have the programme on the Community Channel and they are keen to have more I want to up the anti, so to speak, and provide more involved productions.

One subject I have been working on is the history of the canals and in particular the maintenance and repair work to keep them open. The Canal and Rivers Trust have very kindly given me access to their ‘stoppage programmes’. These are days when sections of the canals are closed and a team of dedicated volunteers concentrate on specific repair work. In one instance, I believe, at Welshpool, in Powys, Wales, they are going to remove and replace a pair of lock gates. I should think it will make interesting footage.

I am also going to be following the work of the Shrewsbury and Newport Canal Trust who have given themselves the task to try to open the now disused and totally abandoned canal that once ran from the county town of Shropshire in the West Midlands to the Shropshire Union Canal. In all, 17 miles of restoration work. It wont be easy as most of it has been filled and ploughed over by farmers. Some areas have car parks and brick buildings on it and others have in filled locks. Fortunately, most of the farmers whose land the canal runs through are enthusiastic about the reinstatement.

An infilled lock at Newport in Shropshire waiting for restoration.

Bernie Jones, the chairman of the trust, tells me with great enthusiasm and gusto that it is all possible. Never before has there been a time when there has been more interest in canal restoration. New materials for lining them are available and with a few property developers are on board who can see the market potential of a few desirable homes along the length, the cost of project is a lot lower than one might expect. It makes it more likely to happen.

I am very excited for Bernie and the other Volunteers. I took a trip along route of the old canal to see what elements of the story I could transpose to video. There are plenty of fascinating features. Wappenshall Junction, for example, lying about half way along the route, is an amazing lost in time wharf where at one time merchandise was loaded and unloaded, repairs carried out, supplies obtained and horses that use to pull the barges, tubs and narrow boats housed or exchanged. There is an original building designed by Thomas Telford, the famous civil engineer who did some much work on the canals in Britain at the height of the Canal Mania at the end of the 18th Century. This will be restored and opened up as a centre to pay homage to the great man. The junction is important because a cut leads off from the main canal down towards Telford at Trench, where there was a lot of coal works during the height of the Industrial Revolution.

I can’t wait to get filming on this wonderful project. I will of course keep you posted.

November 1st, 2012 by