Wilts & Berks Canal Trust
In 1977 a group of insanely optimistic individuals formed the Wilts & Berks Canal Amenity Group. Their task – to restore some 70 miles of canal, running from Semington northwards & eastwards to the River Thames at Abingdon, with a branch to Cricklade. Some restoration works were done; the group became a Charitable Trust and in 2001 it secured ‘buy-in’ from Local Authorities along the route in the form of the Wiltshire, Swindon & Oxfordshire Canal partnership – along with many other organisations including Sustrans, the Canal & River Trust and the Inland Waterways Association. An early outcome of this was protection of the entire canal line; mainly along the historic route but where this is not possible (including Melksham), a diversion. This means that any change of use of the land can be only to a canal – easier said than done!
The Canal Trust now has over 2,000 members, 790 of whom are in the local Branch – Melksham, Calne & Chippenham. The Trust has an impressive track record of restoring locks, bridges, wharves and pounds; at Pewsham there is a mile long stretch that is navigable. There is much restoration to see there, and we run boat trips along it in the summer. We have just been granted a lease on a 525 metre stretch of canal at Naish Hill, which will allow us to extend navigable canal from near Chippenham almost to Lacock.
The Trust’s most ambitious project to date is the Melksham Link, that will create a new canal from the Kennet & Avon canal at Semington through Melksham using the River Avon. Much work has gone into this project and many hurdles have been overcome; we feel we are now close to applying for Planning Permission. Funding, from developers, is already in place. For more details, see https://www.wbct.org.uk/our-enthusiasts/mcc-fl
Elsewhere, planning is well under way for a canal crossing under the M4 near Junction 16, funded by National Highways. This will take the canal in Swindon, where we run our trip boat ‘Dragonfly’ from the Waitrose in Wichelstowe, to the Studley Grange garden centre, adding almost 2 miles to that stretch and opening the door to joining Swindon to Royal Wootton Bassett by water and towpath. To cope with these dramatic developments, the Trust has expanded & diversified its management structure – virtually all with volunteers – and by ramping up its fundraising capability. There is much to look forward to! For more information on the Trust, see our website www.wbct.org.uk – we welcome new members, who can help our project just by being members, and of course we welcome actual volunteers even more!