Branches East Vale News
Brian’s Canal Blog - Summer (?) 2012 Walks

THURSDAY 14th June

IMG 1844-1000First walk of the season. Already had a phone call asking whether it will be on. Replied that if pouring down then will cancel.....Walk due to start at 7.30....and at 6.30 started to chuck it down. Chris Naish and I separately drove out on the off chance that a stalwart walker would decide to turn up. Rather glad that no-one did as very wet. Went home to continue preparing for Sunday. Will rebook walk...and indeed have done so for Friday 13th July...

SATURDAY 16th June

On duty at the shop at Pendon Museum all afternoon....rather worried as have invited John Laverick, Trust Chairman and also, Fiona Roper, the deputy town mayor of Wantage, and various other people including a group from the Wantage Silver Band, a grand door opening ceremony at the Sack House in Wantage....and still not made it into the building. Barratts have lost the key and the locksmith who came out on Tuesday and promised to return...hasn’t!

Go home..load up the car with housebreaking equipment...return to Sack house. Pathetically try to smash small pane of glass on only window without bars...only to find they put in toughened glass when they did the exterior renovation..strange looks from residents in nearby flats.  Gain entry by removing putty....and removing lock from inside. My accomplice takes various pictures to prove it happened....should have worn my classic striped jumper....Lock up premises using top and bottom screw in locks...return home. ( Building now secure again)

SUNDAY 17th June

Arrive Sack house at 13.45. band arrives...dignatories arrive. Grand opening ceremony including cutting of ribbon and me pretending door is jammed. Band plays fanfare.  I say a few words completely ignoring script I had planned and then am followed by John Laverick and Fiona Roper.. excellent reception...lots of people going in to take a look... more strange looks from passers by. Must thank Keith and Babs from next door who played major part in protest against the application for planning permission to demolish. Start to think about the work ahead of us surveying what needs to be done to turn it into a small museum....

Clear up and wonder why the crowd is lingering and then realise that they are here for the Wantage, Grove Top Lock and East Challow walk. A record 28 people along on the walk. Thankfully John is there as well to answer questions ... superb walk in afternoon sunshine. Lots of intelligent questions which I enjoy.

TUESDAY 19th June

IMG 1846-1000Grove Lock flight.    Meet at the layby on the A338 east of Grove...a near record 23 people and 3 dogs....we ramble through woods to Grove Common Lock and then back north east along the towpath to inspect the work at Small March Lock             ( incidentally there was once a lane/track in Charlton village called Small Marsh Lane......) The new fencing is in place and we stop and linger for a while. LockOnwards through to Spirit Lock where although the lock is hardly discernable the footpath is much improved alongside.
 A look at Grove Bottom Lock complete with collapsed brickwork on the cill...and thence along the infill to Neville’s Lift bridge or site thereof. Back to the car park and lots of compliments which is great...Go home collapse into a chair with a can...

SATURDAY 23rd June

Nothing to do with walks but an appearance at Childrey Church Fete

Superb afternoon ...mostly dry until late afternoon. A chance to chat to the locals not only about what is going on down the hill from them but to put everything in context..some really good conversations.... Am introduced to someone with old postcard pictures of the canal some of which I have not seen before...putting him in contact with Doug our archivist..

SUNDAY 24th June

Take Trust Gazebo over to Alan Norris of West Vale branch who is doing Longcot Fete...rather a quagmire. We carry the stuff into the field avoiding the major puddles, set up and then realise too noisy with fairground generator next door, too windy ( wind blowing up the Vale) and too wet.....decide to put up display boards into craft marquee.Take down tent again. Rush home and then out to


Feelings of trepidation. The recent and not so recent RAINS will have made the bridleway bridge under the railway even deeper in water....come up with a sort of plan B.

Arrive as church clock is striking 2 o’clock.   Would have been more poetic if 3pm and if honey still for tea but never mind. Crowd of 16 waiting for me. Paul and Galina, who have been stalwarts of the walks, arrive. Galina has come out without walking boots and is wearing white trainers...I have to admit that they might get muddy. We set off round the corner heading for footpath out to the A417. We are doing this part of the walk in the reverse order to how I prospected it due to aforementioned flooded bridge.. and  we soon get lost in woods running parallel to the A417 for a few hundred yards before I admit all and reverse  until we get to gap in hedge and hollow way down to road. Cross Road and head along path to edge of hill. Glorious views over the Vale......Down the hill we go heading north west ( ish) towards the Lockinge Park Road. It starts to rain and I remember I have everything in my backpack except a waterproof...stop to look at map again, for all the good it did me in the woods. memo to self. Write to Ardington PC to suggest better signage and a strim through the dodgy bits of footpath

Across the field with some very strange faced sheep, across the road and the field where the landowner has very considerately left the footpath through the crop to Nevilles Lift Bridge ( site thereof). Some of the walkers from Tuesday now recognise where we are!.....Back to the road and across the gates into the field on the east side where I have permission from the landowner to walk along the field edge...and so we head north. Completely fail to find Ardington Top Lock hidden in the undergrowth. The canal bridge under the railway has long since disappeared although very obvious where it should be . The accommodation bridge under the railway is fairly wet but do-able. I fret once more about Galina’s trainers. Up along the hedge until we hit the footpath bridge over the counter ditch and thence to Ardington Bottom Lock ...which is a marvel . Still with lock gate hanging there and the remains of the top of the top gate....

We decide to return along the public footpath which then runs across the field westwards...nettle bash. Difficult to see footpath route. Eventually find another new bridge over ditch.  Along field. Check on line railway arrivals board for Didcot and we cross the railway line...

Across the getting very muddy. Decide not to look at the state of Galina’s shoes for fear of what I might see...Back to the road and then retrace steps up hill to village. Lovely to chat and a few people wishing to come to next walk. Have since had e-mail from Galina and Paul and rumoured that trainers now almost white again!

THURSDAY 28th June

And so to the last official walk of the season...starting at the Sackhouse and advertised as an Industrial Archaeological walk around town. Nice warm evening albeit windy...better than I expected it to be. I had left Coventry mid afternoon in the edge of the storm with a black sky and thunder rumbling around find a cloudless sunny sky back in glorious North Berks...

Another gallant crowd arrived for the walk and we proceeded to ramble around the wharf area, taking in the Sack House, the Wharfingers House, Belmont Bridge and thence back via the Mill to Locks Lane and Willoughby’s Mill. From there we ambled along Priory Road looking at the tanner’s houses before heading down Alfred Street to think about the rope making and then into Grove Street where I introduced a young individual to the history of Grove St including that he was living above Bryan’s brook and Slaughter Bridge...and close to the site of the largest tannery in the country...including a windmill for grinding bark....the problem was the subject matter was too wide and the gaps in my knowledge base too large!

Will probably do something similar next year, though, as good fun. ( and no mud!) So the official Summer Festival season comes to and end with a total combined attendance of around 83  However I am going to try again for the Childrey walk on the Friday 13th...and hope for better weather  If you know any groups who would like a guided walk...please let me know

Brian Stovold