Vineyard Hill is in Water!!

Eight months from site acquisition volunteers complete re-construction of 300 metre stretch of canal

The seven months of preparations made by the volunteers at Vineyard Hill led to a successful Waterway Recovery Group Camp that took place over the first two weeks of April. Meetings with stakeholders to explain and agree our proposals, preparing drawings and procedures, procuring materials, setting out the line and the levels on the ground, preparing for the closing of Over Site for public access during the period, hiring plant etc.

Part of our ‘advance works’, of stripping of the topsoil by volunteers Paul and Ivor, has been going very well throughout winter but catastrophe struck; the excavator stopped suddenly. Run out of fuel, thought Paul? But no, the problem was a major engine failure, requiring the engine to be replaced in the middle of the site by our resourceful volunteers at Over.

On the 31 March things really started to happen with the arrival of WRG volunteers from all over the country. Their camp was so popular that it grew from one to two weeks.

Equipped with two 20t excavators, three smaller excavators, 3 dumpers and 2 vibrating sheep’s foot rollers, work began in earnest to actually “dig” the canal. Over the two week period the site was transformed from a gently sloping hillside into a fully formed canal with towpath – and at the end of week two water was flowing over the top of the dam from Over Basin to start to fill the new section.

In the first few days the remaining top soil was removed and temporarily stored for later use. The bed of the canal had a substantial depth of clay that provided the source for constructing the new towpath bank (which was missing for all but the first 100m) and the new winding hole banking. The clay was placed in shallow layers and compacted with a (brand new!) 13t sheep’s foot roller. Once the bed was approximately down to level, and the shape of the banks roughly formed, the work moved on to final levelling of the bed and trimming the banks to the correct height and profile.

Topsoil was then placed on the face. The remains of the original towpath bank, over the first 100m, proved to be more difficult than the new section as it had been made with poor quality material and contained a lot of tree roots. This section required substantial excavation and reconstruction to ensure that it will not leak.

Ground conditions were good at first but some rainy days soon turned the site into a sea of mud, which slowed down the rate of working. No sooner had things started to dry out when further heavy showers came along. Eventually we had to put down hardcore in the area adjacent to the access way in order to get plant through.

In addition to the main work we also inserted French drains on a section of the hillside, on the offside of the new section, to stabilise an area of existing local slippage. This proved to be a difficult task due to the steepness of the slope, and wet conditions which made work impossible at some times, but was successfully accomplished. We also undertook the initial construction work for the new overflow weir close to the end of the existing length of the canal.

The last weekend of the WRG Camp saw all plant being withdrawn from the site for extensive cleaning before going off hire – the final task being the trimming and closing of the access gap through the towpath bank before lowering the dam slightly and, at around 1pm on Sunday 15 April, the pump was started to begin the filling process. Water in the new section finally reached the level of Over Basin on Wednesday 18 April, about 0.3m below the final working level. The dam will remain in place until we are satisfied that there are no problems with the newly constructed length of canal. Just 3 hours after we began filling a pair of mallard ducks took possession of the new stretch of water!

There is still much to do to tidying up, finishing the surface of the towpath and general landscaping before the official opening in September. Despite the weather the two weeks were a great success.

The H&G CT gives a big thank you to all the WRG and Canal Trust volunteers who have worked on and off the site to get us this far so soon after first possession of the site.