History The Story of the Trust
Letter to Waterways World April 1977

And this is Neil's letter that started it all, published in
"Waterways World", April 1977

 

Restoration of the Wilts & Berks.

A group of enthusiasts is interested in considering the possibilities of the gradual restoration of the Wilts & Berks and North Wilts canals and wishes to form an organisation to promote these aims.

Saving Canal routes for future restoration

It is not intended that restoration to navigation should be attempted initially: this would be a very long term project and one of the most demanding and challenging ever undertaken. They do not contemplate any physical work on the canals at this stage unless an unexpected situation arises. The initial aim would to be to obtain the co-operation of county and local councils, planners and 200 landowners in safeguarding the routes of the canals against any further losses. It is expected to take years rather than months to achieve this. If and when such co-operation is obtained, plans would be prepared to provide localised amenities such as towpath walks and areas suitable for nature study. At a later stage, when these activities were established, it might be possible to consider re-watering lengths of canal for fishing and canoeing, but work towards restoring locks and linking watered sections for navigation must inevitably remain an ideal in the distant future.

Differences between rural and urban areas

These canals were abandoned in 1914, but in spite of this, a surprising amount of the line is intact. The canals are essentially rural and in these agricultural areas, re-excavation of infilled lengths would be comparatively simple. The major problem areas would be in those parts of Abingdon, Swindon and Melksham where the route has been obliterated; other obstacles would include dropped bridges and the M4 motorway.

A huge task but huge benefits

The Wilts & Berks Canal is a "narrow" canal linking the Kennet & Avon Canal at Semington and the River Thames at Abingdon; the North Wilts Canal joins the Wilts & Berks at Swindon with the Thames & Severn Canal at Latton. Bringing these canals back to life would be a difficult, lengthy and expensive task, but it would open up some beautiful English countryside. It could eventually provide a large area for linear water storage in a region where shortages occur and could allow transfer of water from one part of the country to another.

We must act now or the canals will be lost

These canals can be saved, but something must be done soon, as the situation will continue to deteriorate if no action is taken, with further infillings and obliteration of the route. Readers interested in supporting this project in any way should write today to me, enclosing a sae. It will be possible to follow up these ideas only if there is sufficient support.