The six days of volunteer effort during October markedly changed the appearance of much of the site. This was partly due to the annual vegetation bash, but also because after months of work the section between the hell hole and the oak tree is beginning to resemble a canal again. All this was helped by six days of almost entirely dry weather.
The main construction work was centred on what had been the very wide section of channel adjacent to the solar farm. During the first weekend the shaping of the towpath was concluded and its surface liberally laced with grout. This done the channel bed was reduced to final level and treated with the ubiquitous grout. In parallel with this, work continued to form the offside bank in this area. This requires a total of about 1200 tonnes of material; some from the ever decreasing stockpile of approved earth fill, and the rest imported stone. Over the last few months one of the features of the site has been the constant stream of dumpers ferrying material from the stockpiles at Crickheath to the banks. Although it is slightly depressing to see the contents of a fully loaded dumper disappear to almost nothing under the influence of the compactor, the final shape of channel is slowing beginning to emerge.
The biggest volunteer effort was the annual clearance of the extraordinary quantity of new vegetation growth over the site. The result is that Phase 1 has now emerged once more from the undergrowth. Also the towpath hedge at Crickheath basin was cut back in anticipation of reopening during next year.
Attention is now beginning to turn to the finishing works that are necessary once the various bank structures are complete. The first of these was the addition of rip-rap and soil to the top of the offside of the section which was lined in September. Since much of the construction is made of compacted stone rather than the earth used hitherto, on other tasks some fresh thinking is necessary. One apparently trivial problem is how to ‘green up’ the stone banks. A trial of simply placing a thin layer of soil on the bank (actually rotted down ex site strip material) and spreading lawn grass seed seems to work. This is a relief given that the alternative is the use of soil retaining grids – a difficult and possibly hazardous job on steep banks. Similarly constructing the standard pattern towpath with wooden edge boards held in place by wooden pegs is not possible because the pegs will not penetrate the compacted stone. A couple of trials of anchoring the boards using concrete gives hope that the resulting towpath will be indistinguishable from the ‘traditional’ design.