I have now finished my summer cruise and am pleased to say back at my home mooring.
It’s hard not to sink into a depression, Autumn on its way, lack of funds, increasing structural failures, lack of dredging, looming canal closures……
I started to think about the reasons behind the current canal network demise. The system started at Worsley, so that the Duke of Bridgewater could extract more coal from his mines and distribute it to a larger group of customers. A sound economic reason. The idea soon caught on as manufacturers saw the benefits of being able to consume larger amounts of fuel and safely deliver more produce. The birth of the industrial revolution. All went well until the birth of the railways as they offered faster and ultimately cheaper deliveries. So canal use began to decline along with the profits, further degraded by reliable road transport.
As the scent of honeysuckle wafts through an open window and is subsequently overpowered by the inimitable odour of barbecue from a neighbour, I realise summer has indeed arrived.
I have received over 50 notices of works and other stoppages in the last week, the presentation of the notices is not great. The headline information, for example ‘Navigation closure notice: Leeds & Liverpool Canal, Navigation: Closed, Towpath: Open’ then on opening the email, ‘The bridge has been repaired and navigation traffic can resume.’ I’m sure it saves a few seconds although it wouldn’t take much to preface the notice headline with ‘Amendment’ or ‘Navigation reopened’.
As we travel around the network I have heard from many people on its perceived state, how it used to be better etc. As a boater for over 30 years, I’m not sure that memory is the best or most accurate way of recording the works required or indeed of the repairs achieved. Stourbridge only re-opened on the 27th May 1967 after a battle with British Waterways in 1962 who wanted to close it, the Kennet & Avon Canal only reopened in 1990 and the Droitwich canal in 2011. Three good examples of improvements in the network that perhaps get forgotten.
On November 22nd 2022 in a commons debate Michal Fabricant (MP for Lichfield), made an impassioned speech, in support of Canal and River Trust, volunteers and their efforts to maintain and restore the network. However, there was a distinct warning in his summary of what is to come:
‘Everyone here realises the importance for the Canal & River Trust to have some idea of what its grant will be after March 2027, when it terminates. It needs to plan which canals remain open.
We do not want to see that happen to our canals and waterways, but we need some certainty. I am a little disappointed, though I understand the reasons why the Minister could not give certainty today. I am sure that “forthwith” means not a year or two years from now. I am sure that “forthwith” does not even mean three months from now. I hope that “forthwith” means that within a few weeks we will learn precisely what grant the Canal & River Trust (C&RT)will be given. Once it knows that, it can plan ahead. Only by planning ahead will we be able to maintain such an important element of our national heritage.’
We are now at the three month definition of forthwith, we still don’t know what the grant will be after 2027 and consequently which canals will remain open. It must be very disheartening to volunteers who have donated hours of their time to be faced with the threat of closure. For example the valiant efforts of people to restore the Montgomery to a navigable state, only to be overwhelmed by a wave of opposition from ecologists and bean counters.
What a time to take up the challenge of editor! Following an experienced editor of many years, I have a lot to learn, not least hundreds of new acronyms. At first sight there seems to be innumerable committees and guidance groups, each with their own agenda and abbreviations.
I have some experience of inland boating starting around thirty five years ago, first with cruisers and for the last seventeen years by narrowboat. Although we did take the last cruiser onto the narrow canals we were always worried by the large steel vessels, although it was enough of a taste to get us hooked!
When we first started boating the River Severn and Sharpness Canal were still in regular commercial use by grain barges from Healings at Tewkesbury and timber vessels. We enjoyed mooring on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal for many years although winter cruising was limited by the River Severn level. Sometimes we even had to wait for the level to drop before embarking on our Spring and Summer cruises. No electronic display of flashing lights then, you just looked at the river level, tide timetable and took the advice of the lock keeper. Partly to avoid the climate change affected Severn, we moved house and boat to the Shropshire Union a couple of years ago. A delightful canal and a house with an end of garden mooring!
So it’s goodbye from me and .....
After 12 years Peter Fellows hands on the baton of editorship.
Another varied set of articles to end the year, with Helen Hutt describing her trip to the Medway on the 75-year old paddle steamer, Waverley, and my article on the unbelievable attitude of a local council towards restoration of the historic stable block at Pelsall in the West Midlands. I’ve also included details of NABO Council, including new members, Alan Douglas and John Sadler – welcome to both – together with Fly on the Wall’s view of Council meetings in October and November. Mike Rodd addressed the AGM to give a summary of the highs and lows of 2022: the highs being the active work by council members in many different ways to improve the lives and welfare of boaters; the lows being the lack of consultation by navigation authorities, especially the EA over changes to the Thames’ management, which he details in correspondence with the Agency. Ken Hylins also reports on work he is doing with boaters who are disadvantaged by age, infirmity or ill-health, to help them in the face of navigation authority obduracy. Paul Monahan struggles with the figures in CRT’s Annual Report and, as an accomplished poet, he has also written a timely Christmas ‘Carol for the Trust’ and a paean to NABO – ‘For those in Peril on the Cut’ – both are most welcome!