The first restoration work party of the year saw the start of construction of the permanent works. Considerable progress was made on both the mooring and reconfiguring the towpath. Apart from the afternoon of the first day the weather behaved itself. The dry conditions proved to be ideal for the earth moving operations which were at the core of the two main tasks.
A large number of volunteers were in attendance on Friday and they were kept entertained by a variety of jobs. The surveyors concentrated on setting out line and level on the 200 metre section of towpath opposite the compound. A second group of volunteers assembled four large reinforcement cages for use in the base of the mooring. This involved wiring up the individual pieces of pre-bend mesh which had been delivered to site in the Autumn. This giant three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle took them most of the day to solve. At the other end of the site the topsoil was stripped off the area adjacent to the mooring using the 8 tonne excavator and stockpiled nearby. Construction of a stone roadway over the bund, and a revamping of the mixer base rounded off a busy day’s work, much of which was done in the pouring rain!
On Saturday morning work started on both major construction tasks. The basic idea was to excavate the mooring and then use the resulting spoil to build up the towpath – what could be simpler? The full implications of having to use a high capacity 8 tonne excavator to do the digging, and small capacity power barrows to transport the spoil away to the towpath quickly became apparent. The towpath was too narrow to take any vehicles except power barrows, each of which could move less than half a tonne per load. The digger could lift that in one bucket load! In a small working area much of the spoil had to go to temporary storage heaps, of ever increasing size, before being loaded onto the power barrows using the 3 tonner.
The towpath along the section was generally in poor condition at the start of work – the effects of subsidence in some areas and general dilapidation over the many years of disuse. The spoil was transported to the towpath to build up the level to ‘grade’ – that is the level on which the finished towpath will ultimately sit. During the course of the two days some 75 tonnes of spoil was moved by power barrow across the haul road on the dam and onto the towpath. Here it was spread and compacted, about 75 metres receiving this treatment. Some earth was moved using more traditional methods! The half dozen volunteers who moved several tonnes of spoil by manual barrow deserve an honourable mention.
By Sunday lunchtime about a third of the mooring was down to foundation level and about 30 metres of the towpath was up to finished level. The final task on Sunday involved every volunteer in installing a temporary surface of compacted stone to the areas of the towpath which had been filled. A couple of Sunday afternoon towpath walkers remarked this was quite an improvement. So after all of the months of preparation and enabling works, construction of the major structures has finally started. Another milestone!