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IWA trailboat festival shows Cotswold Canals returning to life

The Cotswold Canal Trust's Perseverance and Wilts & Berks Canal Trust's Dragonfly were amongst some 30 boats at the IWA 2012 National Trailboat Festival, each providing boat rides for the public. The festival was part of the Stroud on Water event so that both canal enthusiasts and local families were drawn in and both were impressed with the pace of restoration with clear evidence of work recently completed or in progress.

Upstream of the festival site, at Bowbridge railway viaduct, where some of the line was lost to an A419 realignment, a fleet of earthmoving plant was parked above the excavated channel climbing up through one of the arches, the new line clearly established and apparently nearly ready for lock construction.

CCT members were still reflecting on the February visit in their 40th anniversary year by the Princess Royal to their new visitor centre. On that occasion she reopened Wallbridge Upper Lock and the distinctive new Stroud Brewery Bridge, taking the A46 over the canal near the centre of the town.

Downstream of Wallbridge Lower Lock, still to be addressed, a section of canal through to the festival site at Marling School had been dredged to full width only days before the event. This could be accessed down a steep ramp adjacent to a recent housing development.

Dudbridge Locks also need to be rebuilt but the large excavation alongside was to take a hydro turbine which can be earning over £2,000 per month while other restoration continues. It appears to have potential for use in reverse as a pump in a suggested water transfer scheme. From here the channel was fully restored for over two miles to the railway culvert west of Stonehouse and many minor obstructions had been removed just before the festival.

A floodgate at Ebley now protects the canal and local residents downstream from spates, excess water passing over a new weir and fish pass to the adjacent River Frome and the towpath being taken over a new lattice footbridge. Overtopping of the Dudbridge temporary bund on Saturday evening, following rain, led to concerns for its stability and the moored boats were moved to downstream of the Ebley floodgate although the bund held.

Another lattice footbridge gives access across the canal to Ebley residents beyond.
The staircase Ryeford Double Lock was not actually completed but was back in use for the festival, operated by CCT members who seemed to be working quite hard with the gleaming mechanisms. Adjusting them and finishing off the brickwork could follow after the crowds had gone home. At least they worked and were critical for getting craft from the steep temporary slipway at Stonehouse to the moorings at Dudbridge below the event site.

Ocean swing bridge, just short of the railway blockage below Stonehouse, was in place and in use for pedestrians but not yet swinging. To look at it, it seemed to want just the last of its wrapping paper removed.

In addition to all the canal work there was plenty of evidence of the towpath in various states of restoration in many places, even where the canal itself is still just a reedbed. All of this provides a service to local residents including those with no other interest in canals.

It was the boats decked out with even more bunting than elsewhere on this Jubilee weekend which brought home the message to many Stroud residents that their canal really is returning to life.

Stuart Fisher

Friday 15 June  | Andrew Denny  | 4.29pm, Friday 15 June 2012

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