Branches West Vale Restoration
West Vale Branch's First Project - Restoration of the Canal Section from Stainswick Lane to Station Road Shrivenham (1991-96)

sl2sr_01This length of canal, of approximately 650 metres, is the closest section to Shrivenham village, lying 750 metres south of the High Street. It was considered to be a good place to start for not only would it raise the profile of the fledgling Branch locally but would also provide a most useful footpath between these two roads. The channel was largely visible although much infilled with silt, undergrowth and giant, coppiced willow trees, many limbs of which had collapsed. The towpath was impassable as the adjacent hedge and brambles had encroached.


Looking westwards from Stainswick Lane before dredging

 Fortunately, the landowner was sympathetic to the restoration of the canal. Following on from work carried out by canal group members from Wantage area earlier in 1991, volunteers from the newly formed local Branch started work in September 1991 at Station Road, adjacent to the Arch Bridge (the only remaining original road bridge over the entire Wilts & Berks canal that is still in daily use).


Clearance work continued through the winter of 91/92 with a number of volunteer groups from local businesses and the Waterway Recovery Group (WRG) supplementing Branch members. The towpath was largely recovered but there were over 20 large willow stumps that had to be pulled from the canal bed, some put up a considerable fight requiring heavy equipment!



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 Dredging of the canal started in September '92 from Stainswick Lane. 150m was cleared before the excavator begun to sink into greensand and work stalled. (Later geological studies showed that a ‘spur' of greensand extended southwards and just crossed the canal line).

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Dredging commences at Stainswick Lane




During the winter of '92/93, Southern Electric pollarded many trees that were close to overhead power lines that run along the canal from the sub-station adjacent to Station Road Bridge. A team from Allied Dunbar shifted the felled wood and completed the clearance of scrub from under the Bridge.




In the first quarter of 1993, the remaining large tree stumps were removed and dredging of the "greensand" section of the channel proceeded by standing the excavator on a raft of railway sleepers. These were moved front-to-back as the excavator slowly progressed. By this means approximately 450m had been dredged by March '93, although not to a full depth.
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Views westwards from and eastwards to Stainswick Lane (note no towpath yet!)


The winter rains had partially filled the dredged length of canal so, at the end of February, we took the opportunity to hold a publicity event for the first boat (albeit a very small one!) to cruise this section of canal for 100 years, generating reports in the Swindon newspapers
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As can be seen from the photograph, much work still needed to be done to create the towpath.



Throughout the remainder of '93 Branch effort was largely transferred to the Station Road to Bourton Section but work restarted during the winter of '93/94 with WRG working on levelling the towpath and BTCV, together with the Branch, laying the adjacent hedge and planting up the gaps. This was to become a protracted task taking until March '96 to complete.



During the winter of 95/96 it was decided that we had sufficient funds to re-dredge the partially cleared length to full-depth and to continue as far as practical towards Station Road. It was not possible to reach the Arch Bridge as a high-voltage cable is buried across the canal from the adjacent sub-station. We also decided to spread a weed-proof membrane and stone chippings to the towpath in order to provide an easy-maintenance, all-weather footpath.
These tasks were achieved somewhat more easily than previously and were completed by the summer of '96.

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No further major works have been carried out on this section other than regular maintenance of the hedge and towpath. Although the canal channel now supports a flourishing quantity of reed and some willow re-growth, water is always present, except in the driest of summers and is much appreciated by the ducks, dragonflies and other fauna.


Looking westwards from Stainswick Lane - 2010


Future Plans

When we are able to link this section, with those adjacent, to form a usable length for boats it should be possible to carry out a straightforward re-dredging operation. To link with the Bourton Wharf section this will require the lowering of the high-voltage cable by Station Road and the construction of a bridge for Stainswick Lane to join with the section by the Canalside Park (the site of our third major restoration project). Plans for a lift bridge here have been prepared but the construction cost has been estimated to be in excess of £100,000, so will have to wait a while!

A leaflet for a walk incorporating this section is available to download here.