Inspired by a letter from Rev. Rooke (Dragonfly 77) Henry Smith puts pen to paper in order to help members locate the restoration sites and canal landmarks frequently used in his ‘Swindon’ report.
Looking through the last issue of Dragonfly for inspiration, as I do each time I am pressed, by Tim for the next quarterly report, A letter regarding where various locations, frequently mentioned in reports, actually are and how people interested in looking at progress on the ground can get to them, caught my eye. So here’s the lowdown on the Swindon patch including OS references. All references from Pathfinder map 1153, Swindon & Wootton Bassett.
South of Swindon, the main line restoration commences at West Leaze, some 500m north of the M4 motorway at OS 132 827. From this point there is 800m of restored canal, the first in the Swindon area. This has been stocked with fish, by the farmer, Les Fearn. Those interested in fishing can contact Les on 01 793 619204.
The end of this section coincides with the sharp bend in Mill Lane and is the site of the now completed Beavan's Bridge. Beyond the bridge, on the Watkins section, which extends up to the River Ray, there is a plug some 6m wide then the start of the next watered section which was excavated last autumn. John Watkins, the owner of this land, agreed to give the Group a 52-year lease, some 3 or so years ago. The River Ray is crossed by a fairly insignificant two-arch aqueduct which in due course will most probably be the crossroads of the canals, with the North Wilts Canal branching off to west immediately south and the new main line branching off to the east immediately to the north just before Skew bridge, with the original line under the Skew bridge forming the town arm up to Kingshill Road.
Skew bridge, which when built in the 1880’s carried the then Midland and South West Junction Railway over the canal that had been completed some 80 years earlier. It is recorded that some 2000 tons of stone was used in the foundations of this bridge, due to the poor ground conditions encountered. The timber piling to the tow path edge which was discovered and utilised as in situ permanent formwork when the new concrete and brick retaining wall was constructed earlier this year, is almost certainly original. The canal can be accessed from Kingshill at OS 141840 from the A4289, the towpath being behind the Esso filling station or alternatively from Mill lane at OS 137 832, to Beavan's Bridge. Mill Lane can be reached from junction 16 M4 via the 84005 Wharf Road towards Wroughton, turning left in to Mill Lane, alternatively from the A4289 Croft Road in Old Town, turning into Springfield Road and continuing along Westlecot Road and down Mill Lane.
At Moredon, the canal albeit dredged but unfilled, abuts the B4534 at OS 122873, just up from the River Ray. 200m along the towpath, below Moulden Hill is Moulden Lock the last of the three Moredon locks and the only lock of the 8 locks up in to Swindon that is likely to be utilised, the canal having to take a circuitous route through west Swindon to arrive at “Skew Bridge Junction” with some 7 new locks along the way. Beyond Moulden lock, towards Cricklade, the canal is in water for some 750m up to Moredon Aqueduct, which was the first structure restored by the Swindon branch. This can also be approached from B4553 at OS 109 883 via Berrymans lane, a stone track opposite Collins lane which runs in to the centre of Purton, through the farm gate, 100m down the track, on the right and across the field..