A glance back through the reports of May work parties over the recent past shows two recurring themes – a highly productive four days and unseasonably good weather. Thus it was no great surprise that the weather was kind again which, in turn, permitted uninterrupted work on site. The headline news is that after a long hiatus work re-commenced in the channel and that, combined with finishing two other major jobs, gave a great boost to volunteer morale.
Work kicked off on Friday with further work on the newt ponds. The two ponds constructed last time out had both leaked and, in the absence of any sizable quantities of rain in the interim, the clay had dried out. So commenced a sequence repeated twice more during the weekend – flood the ponds, re-puddle, mark the waterline, go away and await evidence of leakage. As of last thing on Monday the ponds appeared to hold water but, as always, only time will tell. Work also continued on disposal of the seemingly inexhaustible quantity of brash created by the winter hedging work. Two power barrows, a large bonfire and the efforts of a dozen or so volunteers over the four days eventually saw the job completed early on the last day.
Saturday morning brought the moment we had all been waiting for – final shaping of the channel. The plan was to shape the 25 m length alongside the mooring/retaining wall including all the intricate bits required to accommodate the anchor points for the termination of the liner. Work commenced by forming the 1:2 slope on the towpath side. The work was set out using a string line along the top of the bank. The actual excavation was done by the 8 tonner guided by a portable wooden profile. Good weather is essential for work of this nature because standing up on a 1:2 slope is nigh impossible in wet conditions, let alone moving around with the heavy slope profile. But the weather stayed fine and by Saturday night the bank was finished including the detail adjacent to Pryces Bridge. This is a pyramid formed out of earth (honestly!) such that when the canal is eventually opened boats will not be impeded exiting Pryces Bridge.
Most of the volunteers spent Sunday doing manual excavation in various places. Two trenches in the 25m length were formed by hand while the digger pressed on with shaping a further section of towpath side bank. The first of the trenches was to permit the liner system to be attached to vertical surfaces of the mooring foundation, and the second to form a toe at the base of the towpath side slope. The hardest bit of work was adjacent to Pryces Bridge where a considerable quantity of clay fill occupying the former newt pond had to be removed. Newts were clearly still much attached to their old home. The pre-work search of the area yielded four smooth newts all of which were re-homed at Redwith.
All that remained on the last day was to reduce the channel base to grade. This was duly done and the surface blinded with cement ready for laying the liner next time. The importance of being able to get into the channel cannot be over-emphasised. Whilst all of the volunteers realise that retaining walls, culverts, newt ponds, land drains and the rest are all great challenges in themselves and essential parts of the restoration process, the external perception is that progress is measured by the amount of channel shaped and lined. We have now made a start on this.