Saturday, 9 July 2011

Crumbling to dust?

The sandstone memorial to Waterway Recovery Group founder, Graham Palmer, beside the lock named after him on the Montgomery Canal is slowly crumbling away.
But is the canal that he and his team did so much to bring back from the dead also turning to dust?
Thirty odd years ago the saving and restoration of the Monty was a cause celebre in the fledgling restoration movement. The 'Big Dig' at Welshpool saw volunteers clear out the canal bed and show how good a reborn canal could be. Through the seventies and eighties work was done all along the line.

Only seven miles are open from the Llangollen to Maesbury Marsh but further inland there are 11 navigable miles, with rebuilt locks and bridges and even on the stretches between clearance work and bankside piling can be seen all around.
But the pace seems to have slowed. Even locals admit that any completion date has drifted far into the distance. We took a walk down the eight mile gap between where we're moored at Maesbury and Arddleen where the land locked 11 miles begins to see the current state of affairs.
Beyond the present terminus a further half mile lies waiting, finished and in water. It's been like that since 2007. Another 600 yards is being worked on by Shropshire Canal Society volunteers but that won't be ready until 2012.
The first big goal is Llanymynech three more miles on where the canal is in water and briefly navigable. Apart from one country by- road bridge to conquer it's not hard going - the route is there; the canal bed clear. But at present progress rate volunteers could take 25 years to get there!
And the tragedy of that is that beyond Llanymynech so much expensive work has been done. Work which is already being reclaimed back by nature. The beautiful Carreghofa Locks, below, rebuilt in 1982, are so rotted they already look in need of replacement, in places the bankside piling is rusting, in others vegetation has taken hold.

The canal is entirely in water to Arddleen, though chopped by two flattened bridges taking the busy A483 across it (above). They will be a serious challenge.

We finally reached the so-called navigable 11 miles to find - at least in the first mile - just the same weed clogged, empty waterway that we had been walking along before. This is the winding hole!
Nowhere on the route are there any billboards, explanatory story boards about the restoration or any sign that anything is happening. Something is surely going wrong: so much money has been spent to resurrect a glorious canal that will bring tourism and wealth deep into mid Wales but it risks being money wasted unless the project can be kick-started again.
Walk the route and you see a canal which is a realistic restoration project - far more achievable than some of the pie in the sky, headline grabbing tales of inclined planes and boat lifts elsewhere. Surely it can be done?

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