Reporting from Dauntsey on the Wilts & Berks Canal...
Camp 07: Wilts & Berks Canal Dauntsey, 17th-24th July
The intention on this camp was to work on Locks 3 and 4 of the Seven Locks flight at Tockenham, but after numerous delays to our planning application, permission was only granted at the start of the week and then with a landscaping proviso that should not have been included, as it was all agreed months ago. In the end, the only work we could actually do there was to erect a new fence to stop the cattle in the adjacent field converging on canal and towpath and churning up all the vegetation. This was a 3-strand barbed wire fence that had to be strained by hand, as it was on a curve, but fortunately we had plenty of bodies to help. Apart from that, the work on the camp was divided between Foxham and Dauntsey.
We had twenty people booked on the camp, plus help from local volunteers, and BITM for the first week-end - 29 sat down to tea on the first night! The age range was also quite wide, ten of them being 21 and under, with 5 'D-of-Es', but amongst those over 21 we had some Dauntsey regulars, so they could lead small teams undertaking several different tasks, which was a big help. Phil! Cardy had sponsored the hire of a 7-tonne digger, which Dave Rudland extended for a further two days, and we also had the excavator 'Blue' (although that didn't work very well until George 'Bungle' Eycott could come at the end of the week and give it a quick service), and with 2 dumpers we had plenty of machinery on site.
Fay (Yu Liang), our Chinese student, was unfortunately a bit disappointed that she had picked a camp with not much technical input. She is a postgraduate electronic engineering student, and had hoped for more of a challenge to her engineering abilities (and a shower every night!) and she decided to go home half way through the week. The other student-age volunteers, however, felt that the work and the accommodation lived up to the promises on the web-site, and they cheerfully undertook any task that was asked of them, and I couldn't be more grateful for all their hard work, without which we would never have achieved so much.
Diary of events:
Friday: Dave Wedd and Phill had come down early to help move equipment and materials around to prepare for the camp. About a mile of road up Lyneham Banks had been resurfaced recently, and I had persuaded the contractors to provide us with 27 loads of road planings (free!) for use on the tow-path and several other areas, and using the hired digger these were scraped back into conveniently situated piles, and a start was made on filling in ruts on the towpath. Some of the infill which we were planning to dig out was going to go onto the farmer's field, so the fence was removed in preparation. Dave Rudland arrived on Friday night, so he could put in a full day's work on Saturday.
Saturday: George retrieved Blue from the Hereford & Gloucester and brought it down to Dauntsey, and he and Dave Wedd fixed some minor faults on our dumpers. Dave Rudland spent the day strimming a long length of towpath, and in the process found a wasps' nest - or rather it found him! The result was that for possibly the first time in his life, Dave had some plump bits of his anatomy. We managed to knock over a willow tree, and removed two other unwanted frees, and some satisfying bonfires burned some of the strimmings.
After scraping back the topsoil, a start was made on dumping and spreading some infill out of the wharf area on Farmer Jeff's field. Some of the campers arrived in time to do some work on site, and Luke took them up for some tidying up at Foxham. A towpath-walker's dog peed down Isabel's rucksack, its owner making out that it was no big deal. Obviously happened to her all the time...
Sunday: We had two teams, under Luke and Tom Turner, at Foxham preparing two bridges for painting, and a start was made by Men in White Suits on the actual painting of the wooden farm bridge.
At Dauntsey, Ron-the-brick Robertson, our local brickiemaster, worked with our local work party on the stone-faced wharf wall. Ron promised to come along most days this week to instruct some of the newcomers in this skill. Some big loads of concrete that had been demolished earlier (in true Blue Peter style) were taken by tractor and trailer to the next farm up from Dauntsey, where the farmer needed it for some hardstanding area - he has been an 'Anti', and we're trying to win him round to let us work on his bit of canal. The concrete had come from demolition of a garage that had been built many years ago on the canal infill.
More infill from the wharf area was dug out, dumped and spread in the field next to the wharf Adam Bott was trained on dumpers, and proved an apt pupil. Jeremy was trained on tractors, which he described as a baptism of fire, as he got bogged down! He managed to extricate the tractor, but the trailer was well and truly stuck.
Monday: I managed to retrieve the tractor from the quagmire. Bernd Schimansky was trained on the dumper. The stonework on the wharf wall was completed under Ron's tutelage, and the first row of coping bricks laid, which the younger members found quite challenging.
The three D's - Dave R. Daphne and Daniel - cut back the side branches of the hedge, and piled the brash ready for burning. Phill carried on digging out the infill and emptying it into dumpers for transporting across to the field. Luke, Jeremy and Ray ran around in vans picking up bricks and sand from Wootton Bassett and Seven Locks.
Tuesday: Four large coping stones were set on the wall adjacent to the lock wing wall, and the rest of the wall prepared for the brick coping. The dredging continued for both field and to build up towpath. The towpath team continued cutting back side branches, thus opening up the path to full width. Broken concrete also continued to be taken up to Waite Hill Farm, each time returning with logs from trees previously cut out of the hedge when it was being laid - we can sell logs during the winter for fundraising. All of the brash was burnt, and Jenny. sitting on a log and putting out an arm to balance herself, found that cowpats made good hand cream.
Wednesday: Ron and team continued bricklaying. More; infill dredged and spread in field and on towpath. Dave R. and team reached three quarters of the way along the 1½ mile section cutting back the hedge. Daphne, Jenny and Isabel did a litter-pick of the dredgings, to remove bits of metal. large stones and other unwanted objects. There were almost enough car parts to build a car! More concrete taken up by Jeremy. Daniel, Patrick, etc. had more bonfires.
Thursday: Dave Wedd arrived for two more days with us. Unfortunately we had crawled out of our sleeping bags to find it bucketing down with rain, so it meant a change of plans. A minibus-full went off to the Railway Museum in Swindon, but the keen ones - Tom, Dave R., Dave W., Phill and myself, all of whom had been to the museum before - went off to site and carried on working. It had cleared up enough to do some more bricklaying and dredging. We headed back to the Reading Rooms for lunch, after which the Museum team went down to Seven Locks to start the fencing.
Around 3.30 p.m., there was an almighty thunder-storm, and we quickly found that instead of building a wharf wall, we'd been constructing a spillweir, with water pouring over at a rate of knots! It had rushed down the road and across the car park, bringing debris from Frank Collingbourne's farm up the road, and we had no option but to pack up for the day and head back to the accommodation.
Friday: The first job was to clear out all the accumulated debris from behind the brickwork to pre-pare it for concreting. We then continued with digging out the infill, and concreted behind the wall so the brick coping could go on.
The fencing was finished at Lock 3, and at Foxham the Bascule bridge was painted. After that, some had to go back to the accommodation during the morning to pick up something, only to find that Di had gone shopping and locked up. No problem: Daphne scrambled through the window of the men's loo, thus proving that being pregnant doesn't impede agility, at least in the earlier stages. Incidentally, Bernd and Daphne Schimansky are a true WRG pairing - met on a few camps 2 years ago, Bernd proposed on a Chichester camp, married 12 weeks ago, now 11 weeks pregnant. They reckon they must have sneezed on their honeymoon.
Nearly everybody happily took part in the planned social events. which consisted of testing out the local pubs on Saturday and Sunday nights, cinema on Monday (split between Shrek 2, Spiderman 2, and Around the World in 80 Days, all apparently enjoyed), 'Mystery Tour' on Tuesday (while some of us were engaged in a local branch meeting), skittles night on Wednesday and swimming on Thursday. We rounded off the week with a barbecue on Friday night, ably chef'd by Adam and Daniel, followed by very competitive games of Monopoly. The washing-up rota was abided by without so much as a grumble, and Di struggled manfully (or womanfully) with catering for her large brood (except breakfast, which I have now got well organised after vast experience!). Logistics were quite daunting, with 17 dozen large eggs disappearing, 150 packets of crisps, goodness knows how many loaves for sarnies, and Di baked 12 good-sized cakes, which all got demolished lunchtimes, before she even started on the puddings.
We achieved an incredible amount of work, helping to push the restoration forward, for which myself and our local work party regulars are eternally grateful. I hope the young ones enjoyed themselves - they all appeared to - and will come on more camps. Adam (from North Devon) has applied to join the police force, and has threatened Di that he might well finish up in Newton Abbot.
Reprinted from Navvies No 207