Week ending October 5th.
What an eventful week! After the bearing failure on the digger last week, it was essential that we got it back in service as quickly as possible; luckily we were able to buy a replacement part “off the shelf” from Digbits in Rugeley and by Monday afternoon the machine was ready for work again, although it’s clear that some other components are nearing replacement.
On Thursday our “new” sheepsfoot roller was delivered and was soon put to use at the weekend. Although less than pristine, it performs just as well as the hired one it replaces, and was the star attraction when we were visited on Sunday by a large group from the City’s Twinning weekend.
On the work front, we had a really well-attended and fruitful week, despite a wet and miserable Saturday morning. The excavation of Pound 27 is proceeding rapidly, especially as we’re now working on much sandier and easily-managed soil.Work continues in Lock 26 and on maintenance around the site.
Once again the regular volunteers’ efforts were supplemented by those of 4 Duke of Edinburgh Award lads. A couple of them are particularly keen and interested in the project; it would be good if this interest continues so that they can carry on when we’re no longer able. Hopefully, they can spread the word that it’s as rewarding and satisfying for their generation as it is for ours.
Total volunteer hours this week: 173 by 26 volunteers
Week ending October 12th.
Apart from the occasional shower, this summer and early autumn have been very kind to us, so we had a real shock on Wednesday, when a torrential downpour in the area brought us volumes of water which none of us had seen before. In a few minutes the water level in Pound 26, which had reached a new low, rose rapidly and soon over-topped not only the by-wash but even the stop planks of Lock 26. Such was the flow that all the weed growth was washed from the pound and soon began blocking the grid between the by-wash and the storm drain, giving us some anxious minutes as we struggled to keep it clear. The storm drain (“The Big Pipe”) was barely adequate, and soon the whole area opposite the SMART van was under water to a depth of a couple of feet. Fortunately, the storm was short-lived and the levels soon dropped, but it was a warning of what we can expect in future, as we begin to remove the Big Pipe and line the canal. The good side is that it won’t take long to fill the pound with water!
The winding hole walls are now finished and the excavation of the area is well under way, with spoil being used to raise the level of the offside bank. The stop-plank grooves in Lock 26 have been cut but,sadly, revealed a couple of voids in the brickwork. It’s likely that water tests will reveal more problems, but we’ve always expected that; it is, after all. a very old structure and was never built on solid foundations, but we can sort it out.
“The Staffords” have cleared the whole area from Darnford Lane up to the lift bridge, a huge amount of nettles and brambles being cut down; they’ll soon be going back to Fosseway to repeat the exercise. I hope their efforts are appreciated by the people who walk along these places.
Total volunteer hours this week: 158 by 19 volunteers
Week ending October 19th.
With the brickwork complete, the area tidied up and the excavation of the winding hole all but finished, we’re looking forward to lining the winding hole area. There are still a few bits of detail work around the edges, but they shouldn’t take too long. It really is very impressive and the great result of everyone’s hard work. Apart from the brickies, who’ve been mentioned before, I must thank Keith, Hugh and “Grim Reaper” George for pushing the job along so well.
Up at Lock 26, Barry and the D.o.E lads have prepared the apron ready for concreting on Wednesday, weather permitting. It’s a big job to mix by hand, but as we found ourselves struggling to cope with the rapid delivery of ready-mix when we did the base earlier in the year, we decided to mix our own. We should sleep well!
Total volunteer hours this week: 132 by 15 volunteers
Week ending October 26th.
I’m pleased to report that we achieved this week’s main aim, concreting the apron of Lock 26, quicker and with a little less effort than we anticipated, thanks to a large and organised Wednesday gang. The result is as good, if not better than the lock base, which we did earlier in the year with ready-mix. Once again we were lucky with the weather; cool enough for hard work but with no rain to spoil the concrete.
On Saturday we were able to remove the shuttering and with, at last, a decent surface to work on, fitted the stop planks which will enable us to partially fill the lock to test for leaks. Another useful exercise was to see how easy it will be to remove the big pipe, the storm drain running down to the weir corner. Keith and Rolls-Royce Rick set to, and had the first section off in minutes, without any problems or damage, which is good news as we intend to recycle the pipes later in the project.
Sunday’s small crew continued the fine details around the edges of the winding hole, where any potential leaks are most likely to occur, so it’s essential that we make as neat a joint as possible between walls,concrete and clay.
Total volunteer hours this week: 143 by 18 volunteers
Week ending November 2nd.
Not one of our most productive weeks, I’m afraid, nor a very well-attended one. I suppose it’s inevitable that we have quiet spells occasionally, but we’re so used to making good progress that it’s disappointing to slow down. On Wednesday we installed the stop planks in the new narrows. There are 2 sets of planks, a metre apart; the first set, made of scaffold planks, were fitted some weeks ago, but the new ones are substantial 9” x 3” timbers. The space between the sets is filled with clay to ensure water-tightness. Having trampled around in the clay for a couple of hours, we were all a bit taller and heavier, thanks to the accumulation of clay on our boots; we now have some idea of how the material behaves and how best to handle it.
Away from Tamworth Road, Roland went to help “The Staffords” at Fosseway, where nature is once again trying to take over the footpath. It won’t win!
The weekend was poorly attended, but we still managed to achieve some useful work. On Saturday, Barry, R-R Rick and Adam finished fitting the stop planks in Lock 26, again sealing them with clay. In the afternoon we set up some shuttering in the mouth of the old narrows, where the existing concrete wasn’t thick enough to provide a good joint with the clay.
On Sunday we were able to concrete this new piece, giving us a good 18” depth of joint face. Later in the day, Hugh and Simon continued excavating the winding hole, removing unsuitable, muddy material and replacing it with sand.
I’m off to sunny Spain next week ( I didn’t even fill in a holiday request form ), so I hope to come back to a fully-watered canal!
Total volunteer hours this week: 128 by 14 volunteers
Week ending November 9th.
As I was on holiday last week I’m indebted to Hugh for holding the fort at Tamworth Rd. and for representing the work party at Tuesday’s meeting. He’s also recorded the work done and the hours involved.
Wednesday saw the start of lining the winding hole area with clay. Approximately 20 tons were laid and rolled, but it’s clearly going to be a very hard job, as the clay comes to us in very big lumps which need to be reduced in size before use, otherwise we’ll get big voids, hence leakage. We have, as always, a cunning plan, which we’ll put into operation next weekend.
The area immediately downstream of the apron of Lock 26 has been excavated and cleaned out so that we can continue pointing the wing walls. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, we’ve found that they have no foundations, so another spell of underpinning looms large. The pipe providing a dry-weather flow to satisfy the Environment Agency has always given us problems requiring our attention, so we’ve installed an improved system. Once we’re satisfied that this works consistently we can remove the old one and re-use the pipes.
Saturday was a washout, but a small gang on Sunday continued to work in the lock area, the winding hole being too wet to work in.
Total volunteer hours this week: 84 by 12 volunteers
Week ending November 16th.
Good attendances on Wednesday and Saturday enabled us to make good progress on the clay lining, but the increasingly wet conditions look likely to frustrate our efforts. There’s a fine line between too dry and too wet; we seem to have crossed it without enjoying ideal conditions. The clay is excavated in the quarry by a large machine and comes out of the lorry in wheelie-bin sized lumps, which we break down as much as possible before moving it down to the winding hole area. Unfortunately, that area is becoming waterlogged, despite being very sandy, and the clay is rapidly becoming too fluid, squeezing away from the digger tracks or roller drums, rather than being compacted. Heavy overnight rain on Saturday put an end to operations, at least until we get a decent spell of dry weather, which seems unlikely at the moment.
A small group on Sunday spent the day making a decent job of the stop planks in Lock 26. As we have a lot of underpinning to do along the wing walls, we need to keep the area as dry as possible. Making the stop planks watertight will help to achieve this, as well as testing the integrity of the lock walls.
Total volunteer hours this week: 145 by 20 volunteers
Week ending November 23rd.
A mixed week; well attended on Wednesday, but washed out on Saturday and only a handful of us on Sunday, but we still managed to make some progress. Having thought that we’d sealed the stop planks in Lock 26 last week, we were disappointed to find they’d leaked, so it was back to square one, making a thicker clay barrier. This seems to be effective and by the time we left on Sunday afternoon the lock was full to the top of the planks. This is good news because it suggests that the lock structure is far less porous than we feared. The only water entering the chamber is the slight leakage through the planks at the head of the lock, so if that’s sufficient to fill and overflow the bottom planks, there can’t be a significant loss through the walls.
Conditions all through the site are now pretty miserable and we’ve had to abandon any hope of getting the winding hole into water, it’s just too wet and muddy to work down there. In spite of the conditions we managed to underpin a good section of the towpath wall just downstream of Lock 26. There’s still a few yards to do, but it’s going to be difficult as the area needs constant pumping, but we’ll find a way round it, as usual.
Thanks to everyone for their continued support and good humour, especially those who thought it hilarious to see me fall flat on my back in the mud! That’s what I’m there for, light entertainment!
Total volunteer hours this week: 116 by 18 volunteers
Week ending November 30th
In spite of miserable weather on Wednesday morning we had a good attendance and achieved some good results, marred only by the digger throwing ( and wrecking ) a track at the end of the day. Having established a reliable new “dry weather “ water supply to satisfy the Environment Agency we were at able to remove the original and troublesome arrangement, much to the relief of Mrs. Attwood, through whose garden it ran its unsightly way, often overflowing across her lawn. Further excavation by Lock 26 enabled us to do some more underpinning, while Barry and Rick cut out and rebuilt a section of rotten brickwork.
On Saturday “The Staffords” continued their excellent work at Fosseway while we fitted new tracks and drive sprockets to the digger at Tamworth Road, a job that’s been anticipated for some months. The bad news was that the stop planks in the lock had failed again; a tiny leak soon grows into a much larger one, so on Sunday, supplemented by the D.o.E. lads, we stripped it all out and tried again. It was was one of the hardest, messiest days we’ve had, so we hope that it works this time.
Total volunteer hours this week: 122 by 20 volunteers
Right: The troublesome stop planks of Lock 26
Below right: Entrance to the proposed new Marina
Below: The winding hole awaiting better conditions for puddling
Weeks ending December 17th.
Please forgive the delay in filing this report; urgent domestic matters and a lack of real progress have led me to condensing the last couple of weeks into one update. As is usual at this time of year, we’ve decided to shut down the site for a couple of weeks and will return to work in mid-January, weather permitting. With short days and poor ground conditions we’re not achieving much for the hours we put in, so Wednesday was “it” for this year. Thanks to Hugh for holding the fort in my absence and for pressing on as much as possible.
Our work for the last few weeks has centred around the tail of Lock 26, where we’ve finally managed to make the stop-planks watertight. In spite of this, we still found the area flooded every morning, wasting us a lot of time in pumping it out before we could start work. Water leaks being what they are, it took us a long time to trace the sources of the ingress. The short section between the bywash and the “big pipe” was not sealing properly, allowing water to run through and emerge from the gravel bed some distance from the actual leak. We dammed the bywash and gave our new volunteer, Harry, the job of repairing the joint with quick-setting cement, he being the only one small and agile enough to do it, while Barry supervised and instructed from the open end of the pipe. We were originally going to line this part with clay, but plans to install a concrete slipway a short distance downstream persuaded us to continue with a concrete bed for at least the distance to include the slipway.
Heavy rain on Tuesday night brought renewed flooding; just as we’d cleared the bulk of the water a cracked casting put the pump out of action, a bit of a problem as we don’t know how long it will take to repair. We were able to remove the rest of the water with Barry’s hand pump, and so ended the year with a nice session of concrete-mixing.
I think we can look back at the year with satisfaction, even if we haven’t achieved all our aims (but we always aim high, otherwise we wouldn’t get anywhere). The completion of the disabled-friendly section of the Towpath Trail, on time and against the odds, and the massive task of the winding hole walls are projects of which we should be extremely proud. At Darnford Heath, Fosseway and Muckley Common the public can now enjoy walks unimpeded by nettles, brambles and gorse, thanks almost entirely to the efforts of “The Staffords”.
My sincere thanks to everyone for their efforts, support, good humour and friendship throughout the year, and apologies to those with whom I’ve crossed swords from time to time. Happy Christmas!
Total volunteer hours 3rd - 17th: 274 by 28 volunteers