Wilts & Berks: NWPG on the Dig Deep project at Summit Lock
Camp 0207: Wilts & Berks Canal 13th – 20th July
With the suspension of volunteer work at Valley Lock on the Thames & Severn due to the private garden suspended precariously above the chamber, the hunt was on to find a suitable alternative for this year's NWPG camp, preferably on one of the Dig Deep projects.
The obvious site was Summit Lock which needed an urgent boost following last year's delays due to the site being inaccessible because of Foot and Mouth. Three volunteers from Rachael's camp had booked to stay on for a second week in sunny Wiltshire and, in addition to a dozen regular NWPG volunteers, we were joined by five new volunteers, all of whom excelled themselves during what turned out to be at times a fairly hectic and very hot week.
But what about accommodation? Having scoured most of the surrounding countryside and discounted various options Peter Smith suggested Foxham Reading Room. But isn't a Reading Room supposed to be quiet and roomy? Not with the RAF's Hercules transporter aircraft flying directly overhead at minimal altitude seemingly at five-minute intervals throughout each evening and twenty beds crammed into the main hall. However, at least it was clean, had decent washing facilities, and was close to the Foxham Inn. It is even closer to the local Post Office which occupies approx. 20% of the total sleeping space and opens for business every Mon-day and Thursday morning requiring all other occupants and bedding to be cleared by 8.30!
Just as we had sorted out the accommodation Matt arrived with the plans for the foundations of the new bridge for the bottom end of Summit Lock. A very substantial quantity of reinforcing bar was going to have to be wired together to form a rigid cage. (How many lengths of wire!?) Somehow each section had to be put together, carried down into the chamber, formwork constructed, and everything supported with Acrow Props in just two days before the first load of readymix concrete was due on the Tuesday. It is a great credit to all those involved that the job was completed on time, to a high standard, and with a minimum of fuss. The only injuries sustained were a few sore hands from all that wire twisting!
Fortunately a blinding layer had already been poured during a previous work party so at least the ground under foot was reasonably dry and firm, which is more than can be said for the conditions encountered during the laying of the foundation layer for the lower wing walls later in the week – very wet and muddy. Having poured the bridge base on Tuesday the lower walls were cast on Thursday. Two loads of readymix in total.
Meanwhile the offside chamber wall was rapidly nearing completion and, with the hollow-block wall completed behind, the whole lot was backfilled. At the top end Rob and Phill were rebuilding one recess wall while the local volunteers completed the other.
In total seven-and-a-bit loads of readymix were laid during the week - or approximately 130 tons! (I think Clive and his team were very glad that they hadn't been asked to mix that by hand, especially in the hot conditions!)
What appeared at the beginning of the week to be an over ambitious work schedule was almost entirely completed, representing possibly the most work ever achieved during an NWPG camp. (Subsequently all the below water level works have been completed at the bottom end of the chamber, including the laying of the bywash pipe by BITM.)
Evening activities included the usual pub trips, including a visit to Avoncliff and Bradford when the Foxham Inn was shut, the traditional barbecue (in non-traditional fine weather), and a very enjoyable boat trip on the 'Rose of Hungerford'. Frequent trips were made to the 'showers' at Wootton Bassett Leisure Centre where the plumbing left a lot to be desired. (There was more water running down the walls than coming out of the nozzles!)
Particular thanks must go to Sue for the excellent catering and the very welcome ice creams brought down to site and to Bill for leading the bridge construction team. But without the enthusiasm and hard work put in by everyone, including the locals under John Bower, it just wouldn't have happened.
See you all again next year. Graham Hawkes
Reprinted from Navvies No 195