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28 October 2014
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Cotswold canal dream is becoming reality
Cotswold Canals Trust volunteer at Blunder  Lock, Stonehouse
A Cotswold Canals Trust volunteer working at Blunder Lock, Stonehouse


The BBC's John Craven checks on the progress of plans to reopen the canal link between the Thames and the Severn - 30 years after he first reported on the issue.
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BBC News: Prince helps canal appeal

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There are people who want to reopen the canal link through the Cotswolds and those who have spent the last 15 years filling in the hole in the garden where it once ran.

Some dream of boats plying the historic Sapperton Tunnel again, and waterborne tourists spending money in the area.

Others are vehemently opposed to the ambitious restoration plans and ask: why renovate an out of date transport system?

In BBC West's Inside Out on Monday (June 16) John Craven, one of the most most familiar faces on BBC television, returns to the Stroud Valley to pick up the thread of a story that all began for him back in 1974 when he was a reporter on BBC Points West.

Back then it looked as if a restoration of the famous old waterway was imminent. But as John now says: "Perhaps I was being a little optimistic time wise."

Thirty years on, however, things have moved on. An £80 million funding package has been put together, with the support of people like Prince Charles, and work has begun to bring the canal back to life again.

Dudley  Greenslade
Dudley Greenslade dreams of seeing
the canal link between
Severn and Thames fully restored

During the bleak days of those last 30 years, when all hope of restoration looked lost, the volunteers of the Cotswold Canals Trust refused to give up hope.

They managed to restore small sections of the canal at Stonehouse, outside Stroud.

Dudley Greenslade, the man who leads them today, says: "We've had a 30-year campaign to keep it open."

quote
We're lucky now that with British Waterways and the Waterways Trust coming on board that within the next five years we'll see the canal open to Stroud and within the next seven to 10 years fully open to link the Severn with the Thames again.
quote
Canal campaigner Dudley Greenslade

"It's been threatened with road widenings - in fact part of it nearly became the A419.

"We're lucky now that with British Waterways and the Waterways Trust coming on board that within the next five years we'll see the canal open to Stroud and within the next seven to 10 years fully open to link the Severn with the Thames again."

Dudley and his group are a dedicated bunch who spend a lot of time on the Stroudwater Navigation, which runs from Saul junction on the Severn to just west of Stroud, and the Thames and Severn Canal which now has only few navigable stretches between Stroud and the Thames at Lechlade.

"We're called the wrinkly brigade. We're all retired. Our average age is 68, some of us have gone 70, and we come here on a Monday and Wednesday and we work until we're tired."

The volunteers don't limit themselves to cutting the grass on the canal banks.

At their boatyard at Stonehouse they've been getting up to all sorts to swell the restoration funds - repairing and selling old boats, turning disused caravan bases into boat trailers - they've even restored an old ice cream van.

John Craven at Sapperton Tunnel
John Craven at Sapperton Tunnel,
one of the greatest achievements
of the canal-building age

Everyone has their own reason for getting involved. For some it's the memory of a relative who worked on the canal before its closure in the 1940s, for some a way of keeping active in retirement, and for others it's a way of keeping alive a fond memory of a narrow boat holiday many years ago on the Grand Union canal.

In fact it was seeing what had been achieved by other canal restorations like the Kennet and Avon, that has driven the volunteers of Stroud on. As one of says: "Stroud was crying out for it."

For his TV update on the ambitious canal campaign John Craven also visited one of the true achievements of the canal building age, the Sapperton Tunnel.

Parts of the famous two-mile long tunnel have now collapsed but at the Coates end it is possible to take a boat trip inside it.

These are organised by the Cotswold Canala Trust but only run on certain weekends of the year when conditions are just right.

quote
I'm sure there are many better things that the money could be spent on. I don't see why the Cotswolds needs that canal.
quote
Canal opponent Una Black

Jonathan Briggs from British Waterways is responsible for the conversation aspect of the restoration and told John: "What is amazing about these great feats of engineering is that they have now become habitats for wildlife. Inside the tunnel we now have bats."

Conservation of natural habitat along the Stroud canal corridor is one of the major concerns of the restorers.

They have to balance that with the economic gains it will bring to the area and with the heritage aspect of restoring a canal that served the woollen industry of the Stroud valleys since it was first opened in 1781.

Another job for those in charge is convincing everyone that restoring this old waterway is a good idea. Not everyone agrees that it is.

In the village of Kempsford, close to where the canal will meet the Thames, Connie Wilson and her neighbour Una Black have no desire to see it open again.

They live right on the line of the canal, in fact it runs right through their back gardens - or did until it was filled in many years ago.

Una says: "I'm sure there are many better things that the money could be spent on. I don't see why the Cotswolds needs that canal."

Connie and Una now face the prospect of contractors digging up their back gardens to put the canal back and even the possibility of compulsory purchase orders being placed on their homes.

quote
There is no other amenity that brings so much to a community. There's walking, dog walking, jogging, bird watching, fishing, boating, education benefits - it'll be great for everyone in Stroud.quote
Canal campaigner Dudley Greenslade

"I would be very angry", says Connie, "and I think many people in the village would agree. We came here to get peace and quiet and people here don't want the crowds that the canal will bring."

But the work goes on, and British Waterways say that they will be doing everything they can to address the concerns of people like Connie and Una.

Back in Stroud Dudley Greenslade has no doubts about how important the canal will be to the people of the Stroud area.

"There is no other amenity that brings so much to a community," he says. "There's walking, dog walking, jogging, bird watching, fishing, boating, education benefits - it'll be great for everyone in Stroud."

And what does John Craven think of it all? He admits he is not an unbiased observer.

"I'm mad about canals, in fact I'm vice-president of the Waterways Trust."

What's the betting he'll be back in Stroud for the official opening?

Inside Out on the Stroud Canal is on BBC1 in the West, Monday June 16, 7.30pm.

 

 


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