Week ending February 2nd

Luckily for us, the bad weather forecast for Wednesday and Saturday wasn’t quite so Biblical as predicted, so we were able to get in a full week’s work, with satisfying results. As further work around the narrows / A51 area is still impossible, we moved our attention upstream into Pound 25, where excavations had revealed inadequate foundations to the towpath wall. Peter, Neil and Malcolm devised a method of underpinning the wall, which was already showing signs of cracks. Although the weather was miserable, we were able to prepare the first 3 sections to be strengthened, the first of which we were able to shutter and concrete, giving us an insight into the best methods to employ.

Saturday and Sunday saw us continuing in the same vein, with a larger workforce on Sunday making excellent progress; our stocks of sand and gravel and cement dwindled rapidly as we fed the mixer throughout the day.

Our dining area, very pleasant in fine weather, can be a bit bleak at other times, but thanks to the donation of 4 old ( but perfectly good ) doors by Rick Nelson, and Barry’s ingenuity, we now have far more shelter from the elements.

Up at Fosseway, The Staffords continue to make a recognisable footpath through the brambles and hawthorn, helped by the Trust’s purchase of a heavy duty brushcutter, which makes lighter work of the task. Hopefully the work being done here will encourage more people to walk the route and promote interest in the project as a whole.

The shop in the City Arcade have passed on the details of possible volunteers, who are always welcome; if you’re reading this blog for the first time and feel you’d like to join us, please  contact me.


Total volunteer hours this week: 152  by 18 volunteers

Week ending February 9th

Sad to report that we fell below 100 volunteer hours this week, the lowest we’ve managed since Christmas, and a reflection on the continuing miserable weather. Wednesday in particular was very unpleasant, and the 7 of us who turned up had to call it a day at lunchtime.  

Saturday and Sunday, although cold and windy, provided better conditions and we managed to do some useful work. The underpinning of the towpath wall in Pound 25 is coming along well, and will keep us occupied for a few weeks, by which time we hope to resume our efforts beyond the narrows.

Meanwhile, at Fosseway Lane, the once narrow and tortuous “footpath” is now a wide and easily walked path; many people use it and all are very impressed by our efforts. The picnic area around Lock 18 is next in line for the treatment, and will soon be restored to its former pleasant state. This area, a good example of what can be done with limited funds but loads of enthusiasm, can be repeated at several locations along the line; the more help we can get, the better, so please come along and have a go!


Total volunteer hours this week: 98  by 12 volunteers

Week ending February 16th

A very satisfactory week to report, apart from an unpleasant surprise on Saturday. Wednesday was business as usual, with persistent heavy drizzle and high winds making life very unpleasant for the half-dozen stubborn souls who turned up, but we managed to complete another 2 x 1.5 metre lengths of underpinning in pound 25 before “Giving it neck” at lunchtime, all of us soaked and cold.

We arrived on Saturday morning to find 2 of the sheds had been broken into, but fortunately nothing appears to have been stolen. Other properties in Tamworth Road have also been targeted, with tools taken from garden sheds and garages, so we were lucky that all our “desirable”  equipment was secured elsewhere. Nevertheless, it was a reminder of how vulnerable we are and of how careful we need to be. While Barry and Rick repaired the damage, the rest of us continued our work in Pound 25,an essential job, but another which is becoming increasingly difficult as the ground conditions worsen with each dumper-load of concrete.

Away from Tamworth Road, Tom Reid (our publicity officer and regular work party volunteer) visited Fosseway with “The Staffords” to put together an article for the Lichfield Mercury, which will hopefully attract some new members to our gang.

Good news!  The sun shone nearly all day on Sunday and we were able to shed the odd layer of clothing as we pressed ahead with the underpinning operation, which is about 1/2 finished. It isn’t one of the prettiest jobs we’ve done, but it’s certainly very effective. There’s a lot of earth moving to be done for us to gain access to the remaining section of wall, but we should still be able to finish the job in about 3 weeks.

I’d like to express my thanks to all the gang who’ve turned up through the vile weather of the last few weeks and worked with determination and good humour, and to my fellow board members for their interest and support.

Total volunteer hours this week: 123  by 17 volunteers

Week ending February 23rd.

Could there be light at the end of the tunnel? For the first time since before Christmas we’ve had a rain-free week’s work, and what a difference it makes to our tasks. The section downstream of the narrows was a small lake last weekend, but has dried out so well that we should be able to resume operations on the towpath extension next Wednesday.

In the meantime, we’ve pressed on with the underpinning in Pound 25, completing another 9 x 1.5 metre sections during the week, a really excellent effort. (Effort being the operative word; feeding the mixer and shovelling concrete into the shuttering is hard work, and, at a mere 67, I’m one of the youngest ! ) Such has been our progress that we could finish this job in a week, but we may leave it for the time being in order to finish off the towpath extension, for which we have a deadline, as the Bower Queen is coming to open this part of the Heritage Towpath Trail in early April. We need to crack on!

We had a new volunteer this week, a lady who can only give us a couple of hours a week and whose ability is limited to light work, but she is valued as much as everyone else. Please don’t think that age, gender or skills are important; come along and join in, we can always find work to suit your abilities and you’ll find it very rewarding.   

Total volunteer hours this week: 137  by 16 volunteers

Week ending January 19th

My lads (and girls); aren’t they just wonderful! This week saw 21 of them contribute a grand total of 170 hours, a really great effort which will be hard to repeat.

The longish range weather forecast for Wednesday led me to postpone our plans until Thursday, but we still had a really good attendance of 14. Half of us spent most of the day concreting the base of Lock 26, a back-breaking job involving 13 tons of concrete which had to be shovelled, tamped and trowelled, all in a very confined space. The end result was excellent, and some compensation for aching limbs.

Peter, meanwhile, took a team to do some surveying and setting out, starting at Pound 25 and working their way downstream to the end of the towpath trail at the A51 bridge. I always praise my lads, but we couldn’t do anything without Peter’s help and experience, which he gives wholeheartedly.

Later in the afternoon a few of us went across to Darnford Park to collect a quantity of fence posts which were surplus to the needs of the Parks Department. In return for this, on Wednesday we will send a team over to help them plant hundreds of trees.

Saturday and Sunday were again well attended and useful work was done. On Saturday, the fence which had been removed to start work on the winding hole was reinstated in a new alignment; Barry and Roger spent the whole day clearing years of accumulated rubbish from the cement shed, while Jean and Sue split up 3 large clumps of ornamental grass and planted them in the top of the pipes alongside the A38, where they should provide a tall and attractive screen.

Sunday saw us clearing scrub from the woodland alongside the A51 bridge and building up the footpath in that area to make the gradient wheelchair friendly. All in all, a very rewarding week.

Total volunteer hours this week: 170  by 21 volunteers

Week ending January 12th  2014

Happy New Year everyone!

We started back on Wednesday after our Christmas break, which obviously worked well, as we had 15 volunteers; this may be a record, it’s certainly a great turnout. After exchanging greetings and stories we went to work with gusto,removing the fence between our land and Mr. Moody’s to enable a start to be made on excavating the winding hole. Although ground conditions were bad after much heavy rain, we were able to add still more material to the towpath extension. The bypass pipe in Pound 26 had become blocked again, but was soon cleared and is now running well.Lock 26 is ready for concreting; weather permitting, we will do that on Wednesday morning.

Attendance at the weekend was a bit disappointing, but good results were achieved, which is often the case with fewer people. The best thing, and one which I’ve wanted to report for a long time, is that the towpath extension is complete, apart from a bit of fine tuning to the levels. This has been a brute of a job, mostly in unfavourable conditions. Although it’s been very much a team effort, I should make special mention of George Cross, our oldest volunteer, who comes along twice a week and has spent most of the last several weeks shovelling and levelling hundreds of tons of earth, a great effort.

Away from Tamworth Rd., “The Staffords” continue to do their own thing, laying waste the gorse thicket which is the canal bed at Fosseway. They go along unannounced, so the time credited to them is probably  much less than the reality.

Total volunteer hours this week: 157  by 16 volunteers

Week ending January 26th

It was inevitable that after 2 exceptional weeks’ work, we would come down to Earth with a bump. More of a squelch, really. Having battled through increasingly difficult conditions since Christmas, we have finally had to call a halt to our prime operation,the completion of the Heritage Towpath Trail between the narrows and Tamworth Rd. bridge. Ground conditions are simply too bad to use the dumper in that area and there seems to be no prospect of significant improvement in the near future.


On Wednesday, as predicted, some of us went into Darnford Park to assist with tree planting, in return for which we now have a couple of hundred assorted fence posts which will be put to good use at various points along the HTT, a job which can be done while we wait for drier conditions. Also on Wednesday, it was good to be visited by the Trust Chairman, Brian Kingshott, and Secretary, Dora Hancock, both of whom made encouraging and appreciative comments about our efforts. It would be as well for us to acknowledge the work put into the project by people like this who, unlike us, are not in the limelight.

A depleted gang on Saturday installed 2 heavy RSJ’s in front of the compound gates, ready for the construction of an improved security barrier. Meanwhile, at Fosseway Lane, “The Staffords” are forging ahead with scrub clearance. The vandalised security fence at Lock 18 has been replaced.

Sunday? Even I had to admit defeat in the face of awful weather, but people still ‘phoned to find out if we were working. Let’s hope for better weather soon; we shall just have to direct our efforts elsewhere for the time being.

Total volunteer hours this week: 113  by 15 volunteers

Week ending March 2nd.

Another excellent week’s work to report, thanks to a high turnout of volunteers and, apart from a couple of light showers, good weather. As our big dumper has developed gearbox problems we’ve hired in a temporary replacement, and with a 50% bigger capacity it’s made a big difference to our rate of progress on the Heritage Towpath Trail in the coppice adjoining the A51. Another couple of weeks of good weather should put us in a position where we can set the final levels and apply the base layer of hardcore. This will be a great relief,not only to us but to the many walkers who’ve had to pick their way through various detours for weeks. With so many hands, we were able to spread the work over 3 sites; the HTT I’ve already covered, but we continued the underpinning operation in Pound 25, a job which is about 80% complete and will be finished by the end of the month.

Further afield, In Darnford Heath, the Staffords have done their usual transformation act, so what was once a narrow, overgrown path is now a wide and comfortably walked track. As with Fosseway Lane, it’s already obvious that people appreciate our efforts and that more of them will use the paths. There’s still a lot of work to do between the lift bridge and Capper’s Lane, but it’s generally quite light and progress should be rapid.

The coming week should see us continuing on the same 3 fronts; if we achieve as much as last week we’ll have a lot to show for all our hard work. Again, as always, my thanks to all the lads and girls for their enthusiasm and hard work, and for all the fun they bring to the job. Best wishes to Rick-the –brick, who’ll  be absent for a few weeks, but should come back just in time for some serious bricklaying!

Total volunteer hours this week: 163  by 18 volunteers

Week ending March 9th

Illness, holidays and other commitments meant that we recorded fewer volunteers than normal this week, although it was still a respectable total, and those who turned  up, as always, punched well above their weight. Their efforts, combined with rapidly improving ground conditions, meant that we’ve made great progress on our 2 main tasks.

The underpinning of the Pound 25 towpath wall will be completed by next weekend; not one of our best efforts, I’m afraid. Although it’s structurally very sound, the appearance leaves a lot to be desired, but we can tidy it up a bit, and considering the conditions under which we were working it’s still a good achievement.

The  earthwork between the narrows and the A51, so long a topic of this report, is near completion and is already open to walkers. The old access steps from the bus stop have been replaced by a gentle ramp leading down to the towpath. A little more fine tuning in the coming week will enable us to install a hardcore base by the end of the month, just in time for the official opening in early April.

The dumper gearbox problems mentioned last week have been investigated, and the expensive noises may not, after all, be too costly to repair, provided that we can get the parts. Thanks to Paul for his photo’s on the blog, a useful feature for people who can’t visualise where different parts of the site are located.

Total volunteer hours this week: 124  by 13 volunteers

The narrows.  In the event of a water leak boards can be inserted to limit the flow.

In the background the team work on the path from the A51 down to the narrows.   (26th Feb.)

Week ending March 16th

After a slight blip last week, volunteer numbers and hours were back to their usual high level, with 18 volunteers contributing a total of 145 hours. This included a small group from Provimi, a company on Eastern Avenue who are keen to be involved in a local project such as ours; although they can only do a couple of hours it’s much appreciated and may lead to greater things.

The continuing dry weather has brought a great improvement in site conditions, although there are still some big puddles, boggy areas and deep holes along the canal bed. Only when it’s dried out completely can we attempt to level the surface.

The towpath trail is more or less finished and we can start to install the edging boards which will retain the hardcore and finished surface of the path. Similarly, our underpinning in pound 25 is almost finished, but we need to clear as much surplus material out of there before we re-surface the towpath alongside Pound 26, as this is our only access route.

The Staffords have finished their work in Darnford Heath and are now clearing the overgrown area at the end of Cricket Lane. It won’t be long before the new season of nettles and other nasties takes over, so there’s plenty of work ahead.

The next few weeks are going to be very busy, with a deadline to meet for the opening of the Heritage Towpath Trail on 13th April, so if anyone would like to come along and give us a couple of hours it would be a big help

Total volunteer hours this week: 145  by 18 volunteers

Week ending March 30th

What a wonderful week’s work. Despite Mothering Sunday commitments we managed ( just! ) to break our volunteer input record, with 23 volunteers contributing a total of 172 hours. We’re going to need a bigger restaurant or have 2 sittings!

At last, the towpath earthwork is complete and we were able to start laying the hardcore base for the new footpath, using reclaimed scaffold planks, ripped down the middle, for containment. About 50 metres has been laid so far and it looks very good, even before the top dressing is applied. A couple of good days should see this part of the job finished all the way up to the bus stop on Tamworth Rd.

Up at the winding hole, the preparations for the wing wall foundations are well under way, with one side ready  for shuttering, but as we have more pressing matters in hand, this may have to be put on hold for another week. The Bower Queen is coming to open the Heritage Towpath Trail on 13th April, so all our efforts must be applied to getting it finished to our highest standard.  A lot remains to be done and any extra help would be much appreciated.

The Staffords have finished clearing the bramble thickets by Cricket Lane, liberating a beautiful display of daffodils and, sadly, highlighting the need for a dog waste bin in that area. Why do people go to the trouble of bagging the waste and then throw the bag into the hedge?  Answers please........

The dumper is back in action after gearbox repairs, but we’ll keep the hired one for a week or two until the HTT is finished. My thanks, as always, to everyone who contributed to such an excellent effort.

Total volunteer hours this week: 172  by 23 volunteers

Week ending March 23rd

For some reason my report for the week ending 23rd. March, although apparently sent from my computer, never reached anyone. The offending machine has now been de-gremlinised ( how about that, George Bush? ) and should perform normally. The text was also lost, so this is a slightly different version; fortunately the volunteer hours are logged in a book.

A very satisfying week’s work, with the completion of our 2 major projects and good progress on our next one. The towpath extension, so long a subject of this report, is finished after months of hard and tedious labour,and in some miserable conditions. We can now crack on with the final phase, the laying of the footpath proper, where progress should be much quicker.

At the other end of the site, in pound 25, the underpinning of the towpath wall is complete, except for a bit of cosmetic work. We need to clear as much material out of here as soon as possible, before the opening of the Heritage Towpath Trail makes access off limits to heavy machines.

Work is well underway on the formation of the winding hole adjacent to the narrows,which will be the focus of our efforts in a couple of weeks’ time. The Staffords (Roger, Jean and Sue) are doing their usual thorough job, this time between Cricket Lane and Lock 24.

For a time this week it seemed that we could break our record for volunteers’ hours, but a low turnout on Sunday meant that we fell a little short. Nevertheless, it was still a great contribution, an excellent and productive week’s work.

Total volunteer hours this week: 163  by 18 volunteers

LHCRT  Working Party Blog   Jan - Mar 2014

Lichfield & Hatherton Canal Restoration Trust