Wilts & Berks Canal Christmas Camp
26th December 2000  - 1st January 2001


"Jo underestimated the water in the canal..."

    The objective of the camp was to scrub-bash, stump-pull and clear as much of the towpath and bank sides as possible, prior to dredging a section between Foxham Top Lock and the Elephant Spillweir by the end of January, for which we have obtained landfill tax funding.  The main problem was that water voles and great crested newts have been discovered in that stretch (did I bring the latter with me from Stover?), we mostly could not use brush-cutters or strimmers, and all the clearing had to be done by hand tools.

    The good thing was that - with temperatures not much above freezing - we could keep huge bonfires going, and Di turned up with plenty of hot soup lunchtimes.  It snowed overnight on the second night of the camp, and didn’t thaw until the final day, but with clear blue skies and sunny days it was great weather for working outside - known in Devon as ‘Boss′s weather’, because everyone has to work hard to keep warm!

    We had a slightly uneven start, owing to lack of trains and coaches on Boxing Day, but by Thursday there were eleven of us, supplemented by a few local volunteers, and we got an amazing amount cleared.  Tall Dave struggled manfully with the brambles, even though he couldn’t see the thorns, owing to a sight problem.  (Is that politically correct - should it be personfully? Urgggghhh).  Jo stepped backwards through the ice, and underestimated the water in the canal, which turned out to be over welly-depth, and a loud shriek woke everyone up.  It’s certainly a big advantage having the accommodation only 5 minutes’ walk front the site, so easy to nip back and change!  Smaller Dave worked hard in the mornings, but ran out of energy by lunchtime -hope you weren’t sickening for ‘flu, Dave.  Nevertheless, he kept us well entertained, Including a Wiltshire limerick:

There was a young man from Devizes,
Had b..ls of two different sizes.
One was quite small,
And no use at all,
The other was Huge , and won prizes…

    Our cinema outing was slightly disappointing, as we hoped to see 102 Dalmatians, but this was only showing in the afternoon, presumably not thought suitable for adult audiences. (Navvies? Adult??)

    We stuck out a totally over-the-top ‘Meet the parents’, with Robert de Niro playing the worst of a number of odious characters, but it had its moments.

    Even the local pub is only 5 minutes’ walk away: very handy.  After a special meal for New Year’s Eve, some of us trotted down to join in the pub games arranged for the evening.  Jo and Paul managed to beat all the locals, Jo particularly finding it quite easy to pick up a matchbox from the floor with her teeth - in fact, she assured us that even a matchstick wouldn’t have been too much of a problem!

    Of course, no camp report from me would be complete without mention of the third member of our team of leader-cook-dog.  On the BITM Christmas Dig, Katy surpassed herself, acquiring the art of volleyball, leaping high and punching a large balloon with her nose back and forth over an imaginary net to a waiting navvy - the balloon never touched the floor for 10 minutes!

    On this camp, she had to be content with retrieving sticks sent hurtling through the air from various volunteers.  By afternoon, her paws were so packed with snow between the pads that she had to trot back to the accommodation to thaw out.

    She rapidly acquired a name as the official camp waker-upper; once she had had her early morning walk with Di, and polished off her breakfast, she saw no reason for people to still be in bed.  By the time the ‘porridge-ready’ call came, anyone still in a sleeping bag might get at least their noses, if not their faces, washed’ .

    Of the three novice navvies, Australian Lynn really seemed to enjoy herself, once she got used to sleeping on the floor, beside a radiator, and with a hot water bottle to keep her warm.

    She arrived with the biggest backpack ever seen, nearly as tall as herself!

My thanks to all, for their hard work, willingness to tackle anything, and their good company.


Come again soon.

Rachael Banyard

Reprinted from Navvies No 185


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