Branches West Vale Information
A Brief history of the West Vale Section

The West Vale Branch covers the stretch of the Wilts & Berks Canal that passes through the following parishes - South Marston, Bourton, Shrivenham, Ashbury, Longcot, Woolstone, Baulking and Uffington. (Technically the section stretches from South Marston Bottom Lock eight miles to Uffington Arch Bridge.)

Construction of the canal started from the west in 1795. Shrivenham was reached in 1803 and Longcot in 1805. Between South Marston and Uffington there were ten lift bridges, two arch bridges, two locks (at Longcot), two aqueducts and wharves at Bourton, Shrivenham, Longcot (busiest because of Faringdon) and Uffington. The canal also passes through two impressive cuttings. Shrivenham Arch Bridge is the only original bridge still in daily use on the entire canal.

The decline of the canal started with the completion of the Great Western Railway in 1841. GWR even attempted to have the Wilts & Berks Canal realigned near Shrivenham in order to assist building the railway. The railway eventually had to cross the canal twice (at Acorn Bridge just west of Shrivenham and near Longcot). Commercial traffic on this section of the canal ceased in 1902.

The West Branch was formed in May 1991 and started with great expectations. The original members were, without exception, total novices in canal restoration, however, they were eager and totally committed to their task. Expert advice forthcoming from the Group was - "stick to the easy bits first! Leave the difficult bits and structures until you have more experience." Our first plan was to restore the Stainswick Lane to the B4000, Station Road, towpath. The landowner was known to us and when contacted, was keen on the idea. The towpath was still there and although virtually impenetrable with shrubs, brambles and nettles, it was considered possible to reclaim it quickly and easily. It would then make a very pleasant walkway between the two roads to complete a circular route.

Work began in late summer 1991 with a grand 'scrub bash' and tidy up around Shrivenham Arch Bridge. Then in October 1991 we had all unexpected overflow work party from the 'Big Dig' site at Wantage. This enabled us to broaden our horizons and dredging was soon mentioned, we raised the necessary money and obtained permissions and in summer 1992, just one year after we began, our first section was in water.

First_bit_dredged-1

First_bit_dredged-2

Since then much has been achieved, long sections have been dredged, paths cleared and surfaced, a canalside park has been created and a bridge almost rebuilt, ideas for further major restoration work are planned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See also 10 Newspaper articles from the 1990's about the work of West Vale Branch

 and A Canter Through The West Vale Canal Section for a description of the present state of the route