What a contrast with our first work party of the year! At the March work party volunteers dressed like Eskimos and still were at risk of hyperthermia. Six weeks later a temperature increase of about 25 degrees Celsius, meant that shorts, sun cream and lots of cold drinks were the order of the day. The prolonged spell of dry weather prior to and during the work party greatly aided the two main tasks – the channel drain and the towpath – both of which involved earthmoving.
The first task on Friday was, inevitably, a pumping session. Although the combination of the dry weather and the continuously pumped land drain meant that many areas of the channel were free of surface water, there remained a large pool of deep water in our intended working area. The efforts of three pumps eventually removed this. Friday’s efforts extended the drain by ten metres or so to a temporary termination in a low area of the channel some 100 metres from Pryces Bridge. During the work the ground type changed from clay to a water-bearing unstable gravel and, as a precaution, the machines were withdrawn from the channel for the night.
The wisdom of this move became apparent on Saturday. Early arrivals were amazed to find that the channel was awash to a depth of several centimetres – cue another bout of pumping and the temporary transfer of the channel gang to the towpath works. What seems to have happened is that the excavation into the gravel had penetrated a natural reservoir and the resulting release of the water pressure caused the inundation. The pumps got rid of the standing water but an indication of the volume concerned is that that the pump clearing the drain ran continuously for the rest of the work party. When eventually work on the drain did start progress was more rapid as soon as the gravel gave way to a more digger-friendly clay. The drain got to 130 metres from Pryces Bridge before the stock of pea gravel fill ran out.
On Sunday there was no repeat of the flooding, and the emphasis of work in the channel switched to trying to build up the area containing the gravel to a height above that of the water table. This involved bringing in thirty or so dumper loads of soil and also building up the land drain. This work continued into the last day and concluded with a preliminary shaping of the channel sides.
Work started on the towpath on Friday and continued over all four days. The first task was removing the newt grids from the area of the culvert, and establishing an access for the power barrows across the clay dam. The towpath gang then got down to the main business starting with setting out and installing the inside and outside edge boards. After levelling any low areas a surface of crushed stone was laid and compacted to form the path surface. The area between outside board and boundary was filled with soil and planted with grass seed. By the end of the weekend 60 metres of very neat towpath was finished.
There are always ‘other jobs’ during a work party. This time four volunteers completed abrasive wheels training offsite. Also it was a pleasure to show visitors from Shropshire County Council around the site. However perhaps the most important job during the entire weekend was the repair of the welfare cabin hatch through which the justly famous site tea is served. All in all a productive, if rather warm, work party.