One of our favourite walks is along a section of the Wilts and Berks canal (pronounced ‘barks’ from the counties ‘Wiltshire’ and ‘Berkshire’ ) that begins on the outskirts of the nearby town of Chippenham.
This canal has been disused for the last 100 years and is part of an ambitious plan to restore it by volunteers and the Wilts and Berks Canal Trust. Built in the early nineteenth century, it was used to transport coal from the mines of Somerset up to the midlands, but was abandoned in 1910 largely due to the collapse of an aqueduct and competition from the railway. The entire length of the canal is 52 miles long, about 8 miles of this has been re-watered. Though several locks and bridges have been restored.
The small branch that led off the main canal to Chippenham once terminated at the wharf, which is now Chippenham bus station. Where once the water would have flowed, there are few signs of its existence. The canal was destroyed in many places by army explosive exercises during the Second World War, and the dumping of rubbish… according to wikipedia it was even used as a dumping ground for pig offal!
The eighteenth century brickwork is visible in many places. This part of the lock is waiting to be restored:
The completed parts of the canal make a beautiful walk, many wildflowers and native species have taken up residence along its banks. In March the paths were lined with thick rows of white flowering garlic, and when we last went in July we saw peppermint, crab apples and lots of butterflies, damselflies, and dragonflies.
If you look up, you can see bat boxes attached to the trees, placed there to enhance the local population of bats.
The restoration began in 1977, so this is a long process. It is quite fascinating to visit from time to time and see the progress that’s been made; the creation of a lovely new/old habitat for wildlife, and an enjoyable recreation area for us 🙂