Sunday, 3 August 2014

Ghost canal: the Wilts & Berks Canal.

In October 2011 I wrote a potted history  about the Wilts and Berks Canal and started to document our walks along the route of the old system. My blogging unfortunately fell by the wayside and I only ever posted the Abingdon section of our walks. We did, however, explore farther afield than the boundaries of our little  town. My photo collection of those days is very muddled and my brain a little foggy too, but I always planned to return to the project.

One of the sites we visited, just off the Hanney Road at Steventon, was Ardington top and bottom locks. Two locks that are remarkable in their state of preservation considering the century that has passed since they last saw boat traffic. They are separated by the Great Western Railway main line that eventually aided their demise.

Today, after a day of rain and grey skies, we thought it would be lovely to revisit the locks and see what still remained.

We sat on the bridge over the cut at the bottom lock and ate our lunch - starving after fighting our way through the undergrowth and the paths-less-travelled to get there. The years of neglect are beginning to take their toll on this part of the canal. One of the lock gates is still in the channel but it is rotten and decaying, and the walls beside it are crumbling in.

The top lock is faring better. One gate still hangs, as it did on our last visit, but it looks precarious and ready to topple. When we first arrived here in 2011 it was autumn and the vegetation had died back. Today we frequently lost the path and our bearings through the undergrowth. This place is beautifully wild in the hazy summer season. Deer tracks are visible in the mud, and the canal is bordered by fields of bronzed wheat and barley. Here we were in the space between the forgotten and the mundane. Here lingered the ghosts of old boats, of journeys across the west country, of commerce. Here a robin proudly guarded his territory, and nature swallowed the brickwork of man's endeavours and his visions of success. It is beautiful. It is quiet, but it is not lost. If the canal is restored the Wilts and Berks Canal Trust will reopen this passage and traffic will once again flow through this abandoned landscape.