Country & Garden: There's a canal in here somewhere

Country Matters

Nobody living can have travelled by boat from Hereford to Gloucester, for after a brief and not particularly successful life, the canal that once linked the two cities closed nearly 120 years ago. Yet now a courageous attempt is being made to reopen the 34-mile waterway. The problems are daunting, since most of the channel has been filled in, and some parts have been built over; but the 700-odd members of the Herefordshire and Gloucestershire Canal Trust (known locally as "the H&G") are convinced that the project is feasible, and they are courageously pressing ahead.

The original role of the waterway was to ship coal from the field at Newent. Work started at the Gloucester end in 1790, and by 1798 the canal had advanced as far as Ledbury. Money then ran out, however, and for more than 40 years the project remained unfinished.

Only in 1839 did work start again, and Hereford at last came on stream in 1845. For a few years the canal earned reasonable income, with barges carrying timber, corn and cider among other products; but its staple, the Newent coal, proved disappointing - of poor quality, and hard to get - and in 1881 the waterway was officially abandoned.

Ideas about restoration began to flicker with the formation of the Herefordshire and Gloucestershire Canal Society in 1983. The first schemes were modest - to reopen one or two short stretches, and repair a few structures - but plans grew more ambitious, not least when the society was converted into a charitable trust in 1992; and now, according to Nigel Bailey, its secretary, "the long-term aim is nothing less than to restore the entire canal."

At the moment work is concentrated at Over, just off Gloucester, where the canal used to lead off the Severn. In the 1890s, an isolation hospital went up there on a shoulder of rising ground, and the builders dumped vast quantities of earth, ash and rubbish into the old basin where barges used to moor before going through the lock to the river.

In time, the march of progress overtook the hospital as well; it closed six years ago, and its former grounds now belong to the developer Swan Hill Homes, which is about to build 30 "executive-style" houses on the land.

But, by patient wheeling and dealing, the H&G Trust has secured for itself the site of the lock, the basin and the first hundred yards of the canal proper. It also won the right to carry off unlimited supplies of dark- red bricks from the old hospital buildings that are being taken down. The canal-men's trump card is that by recreating an attractive wharf and basin, they will greatly enhance the value of the new houses that immediately overlook the water.

At the moment, the site is a terrific mess. Demolition work was temporarily suspended when one of the outlying wards was found to contain three species of bat - which are legally protected. Nevertheless, huge heaps of ground- up brick rise like pyramids among the ruins.

At river level, Trust volunteers have dug out the old canal basin, down to a base of glutinous grey mud. They have built most of a new wharf wall, of reinforced concrete below and brickwork above, have started work on a slipway, and have cleared trees and scrub from the flood plain beside the Severn.

Normally, half a dozen local enthusiasts plug doggedly away at weekends; but earlier this month they received a tremendous boost when 130-odd members of the Waterway Recovery Group - the national co-ordinating body for voluntary labour on inland waterways - arrived in force to hold their annual reunion weekend on the site. Having worked at other camps during the summer, the men and women are each paid pounds 8 a day and travelling expenses for the privilege of toiling like slaves, getting plastered with mud, and sleeping on the floor of the gym or assembly hall of a nearby school.

On the day I visited, a line of amateur bricklayers was making a most professional job of the basin wall. Another gang was laying a new surface on a section of towpath. One man was driving a heavy digger, another a dump-truck.

Huge bonfires were burning rubbish from the flood plain and, up in the ruins of the hospital, yet another little team was chipping the old black mortar off salvaged bricks.

Mike Palmer, burly national chairman of the WRG, turned out on a raw November day in hard hat, red T-shirt and shorts, with a black bin-liner split at the end and pulled down over his torso like a tabard. "Canal restoration used to be all tree-bashing or shovelling mud by hand," he explained. "Now the work we're being asked to do is more and more specialised. We're using machines all the time, and for that reason we do a great deal of training on the job."

Partly because most of the materials are free, but mainly because the work is being done by volunteers, the project at Over, which would have cost at least pounds 250,000 if carried out by contractors, should be completed for less than a tenth of that amount. This, of course, is only a small part of the restoration; but the H&G Trust has already won a major victory in securing the support of local authorities, who believe that if the canal can be reopened it will prove a strong tourist attraction and bring much holiday business into the areas. The result is that if anyone now tries to put up a building along the line of the waterway, the application will be vetoed.

Restoration projects of this kind have recently become fashionable. "Canals are starting to get major funding," said Mike Palmer, "but only because volunteers have been hacking away at little showpiece schemes for the past 35 years. Here at Over, if H&G hadn't gone for it - if it hadn't been for us idiots wading around in the clay - the site would have been covered with houses, and the canal would have disappeared for ever."

Further information from Nigel Bailey on: 01452 533835 or website: http://www.h-

Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower