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A canal holiday with a difference – why these amazing volunteers spent their Christmas knee deep in mud

Published: Friday, 4 January, 2019

While most of us were tucking into turkey sandwiches and watching festive films on TV, a group of volunteers braved the elements to help restore part of the Stroudwater Canal.

Forty volunteers from across the country, including one who travelled from Australia, participated in the Waterways Recovery Group’s annual Christmas Camp between Christmas and New Year during which they cleared a neglected section of canal near Whitminster.

“We host a number of residential canal camps throughout the year, but the Christmas camp has a really special atmosphere,” said Stroud District Council’s Canal Volunteer Manager Jon Pontefract. “The volunteers all worked incredibly hard to clear a number of fallen trees that had blocked the canal channel which were then used to create wildlife habitats, and cut back a large amount of overgrown vegetation. This means that we can now maintain it and make good progress on the next section of canal restoration from Stonehouse to Saul. Of course we couldn’t do the work without the good will of the private landowners and tenant farmer who allow us access to their land to whom we are very grateful.”

Australian Eric Rendell from Byron Bay in New South Wales said: “There’s much more of a volunteering ethos in the UK than there is in Australia. I wanted to find out for myself why that is and take some lessons back home, where I’m involved in railway preservation. The Cotswold Canals restoration is a great project and I’ve really enjoyed being part of it.”

Camp Leader Dave `Moose’ Hearnden added: “The fact that many of the volunteers on the camp keep returning to this area goes to show that there’s something really special about it. Thank you to all the volunteers who travelled from a wide area, as well as the local people who joined us. I hope I’ll be seeing many of them at the same time next year, just in a slightly different location.”   

Stroud District Council has invested £3million in the restoration of the Stroudwater Canal. The Heritage Lottery Fund recently awarded £842,000 development funding to continue work on the project ahead of an application for a full grant of £9 million which will be made later this year. This will see the canal between Stonehouse and Saul Junction restored, and will link the canal to the national inland waterways network for the first time since it was abandoned in 1954.

There are many ways to volunteer for the canal restoration project and jobs range from construction and technical to office and research. For more information please contact Jon Pontefract by email or phone 01453 754287.

The next Waterway Recovery Group camps on the Cotswold Canals will be held on 19-27 April, followed by a two week long camp from 3-17 August. For more information please check the IWA website

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