The Wilts & Berks Canal Trust’s annual sponsored walk to Lacock will be held on Sunday 10th May.
The walk will start at the Buttercross, Market Place, Chippenham, to the Bell Inn at Lacock – about five miles, including a beautiful 1.5 mile stretch alongside the restored canal.
Registration is at 10.00am and the walk starts at 10.30am. After a well-earned break at The Bell, walkers can then either retrace their steps to Chippenham, or for a small donation, take advantage of a minibus trip back.
The entry fee is £5 per person, £10 per family group, or free for anyone raising £20 of sponsorship money.
All money raised will be used locally to help restore and promote the Wilts & Berks Canal.
Ray Canter, project manager said, “We hope that as many people as possible will come on the sponsored walk on 10th May to see the progress we have made; volunteers will be on hand to talk about the history of the locks, as well as our restoration plans.”
Malcolm Hitchinson, Chair of the MCC Events Committee said, “Because there are so many exciting developments at the canal site, we plan to have information marshals at key points along the route to tell people what is happening. Also, while people are waiting for registration at the Buttercross, there will be a chance to hear a bit about the history of the canal.
“Mid-morning tea, coffee and cake, and (most importantly) a portaloo will be available at Pewsham Locks. We would love as many people as possible to come along, especially if they can raise extra money through sponsorship. The form can be found on our website at www.melkshamwaterway.org.uk.”
The walk will enable volunteers with the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust to have their chance to show off the impressive start they have made on the restoration of Pewsham Top Lock for the future, and to explain its turbulent past.
Pewsham Locks are part of the fascinating heritage site near Chippenham, which includes: three locks, a lock cottage, a dry dock, a carpenter’s workshop, a sawpit, a lime kiln and a horseshoe-shaped spillweir.
Following the granting of planning permission in February 2014, volunteers have now excavated Top Lock prior to engineers’ inspections. During the clearance, evidence of the lock’s volatile past came to light. Rumours had proliferated about the locks being used as targets for explosives practice during WW2 by Canadian Forces, by British Expeditionary Forces or by some other group, and the lock’s violent demolition was confirmed by the discovery of one side wall which has a section completely destroyed, despite the weight of soil behind it.
One local member, Peter Williams, recently discovered a newspaper article from the Western Daily Press dated 23rd March 1931, detailing how members of the South Midland Royal Engineers Bristol had blown up ‘an old lock on the Avon Canal’ at ‘Persham’ near Chippenham.
Peter commented, “There is also a report from 27th May 1931. Apparently one of the sappers involved in the demolition was seriously injured during the exercise. He was struck by a flying brick, was taken to Chippenham Cottage Hospital and later transferred to the Bristol General, where he was still seriously ill two months later: the lock wasn’t going down without a fight!”
Ray Canter, project manager said, “We were amazed to see the extent of the damage caused by the explosion. Remarkably, most of the walls stayed intact, but a section of one side was almost completely destroyed, with the base completely shifted out of line so that the lock now has a distinct bend at one end.
“Volunteers, with the help of excavators and dumpers have now completely emptied the chamber of a hundred years’ worth of accumulated rubbish, debris and silt, so it can now be seen clearly.
For more information on the restoration and also the annual sponsored walk visit: www.melkshamwaterway.org.uk
The aim of the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust is to restore the former waterway from the Kennet & Avon Canal near Melksham to the Thames & Severn Canal near Cricklade and the River Thames near Abingdon.
Significant stretches have already been restored near Lacock, Calne, Dauntsey, Royal Wootton Bassett, Swindon, Shrivenham and Wantage.