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Canal, cottage and sky: a study of Topsham Lock Cottage in July this year by Friends member Terri Golightly, a volunteer at the Cottage


Newsletter September 2021

Friends' projects make good progress

Dear <<First Name>>

Welcome to our September 2021 Newsletter that focuses on the Friends’ voluntary work at Topsham Lock Cottage and our hopes for a new slipway on the canal.
Steps forward at Topsham Lock Cottage 
by Bob Lucas, project co-ordinator
Our plans are to open Topsham Lock Cottage for information and exhibitions for visitors as well as a café. A dedicated team of volunteers has been working through the Spring and Summer to clear the grounds for outside seating and an exhibition area, removing brambles, nettles and other weeds and freeing the boundary fence of ivy. 
We will shortly have access to the cottage for electric power and toilet facilities and to store tools. This has brought the next stage of levelling and preparing the grounds a lot closer. 
Not only will it mean that we can use power tools but also that we will be able to invite others to the site to assist us. For example, we hope to welcome Inland Waterways Association volunteers to help clear the canal bank outside the cottage. Other groups have expressed interest in helping us. 
We also hope to relocate a pontoon in order to provide a boat dock next to the cottage that will encourage visitors to come by water when we are open for business.
It is still disappointing that we are unable to occupy the cottage and get on with preparing the internal exhibitions and the café. Until essential repairs are carried out to the building this will remain the case. Because of financial pressures, Exeter City Council has so far been unable to tell us when work can begin. We are currently thinking of ways to speed progress.
Meanwhile, future plans include:
  • Working with Topsham Museum to create display areas depicting the history of the canal and its environs
  • Getting back to work on restoring the Friends' boat so we can run a supply boat between the University Boathouse (by the A379 bridges) and the cottage
  • Talking to educational establishments about encouraging student participation in the project that would simultaneously assist their learning.
This is a project with huge potential for a community asset and for increasing awareness of the Friends and of our vision for the future of the canal. We always welcome more volunteers. And we would also gratefully accept any unwanted garden tools and equipment that you may have surplus to your requirements!
Bob’s email is:

A look at what volunteers are doing elsewhere
by Peter Nickol, Friends committee 
A recent holiday in Stroud opened my eyes to the amazing achievements of the Cotswold Canals Trust. We met the canal at Bowbridge Lock and turned left, eastward, walking away from the town.

We are in the Frome Valley, moving gradually upstream and up through a succession of locks. They look smart, in working order, and declare the hard work of volunteers that restored them to such good condition. There are also information boards about locally-notable individuals, and the industrial past of the valley. Benches make welcome resting-places, each labelled as a memorial to someone. 
The valley is becoming steadily more steep-sided, and suddenly we are aware that the canal is shallow, weedy, obviously not navigable. Soon after this we are walking alongside a densely overgrown canal bed: a wetland. We pass a team of canal volunteers with their tools, performing towpath maintenance. We chat, are advised about a good café further ahead, but are quite unprepared for what we find at Brimscombe: a visitor centre run by the Trust and including a massive second-hand bookshop. 
The next day, back to Bowbridge Lock but this time turning right. Soon we come to another visitor centre, at Wallbridge Upper Lock, and here I begin to find out about the Cotswold Canals Trust and its extensive achievements and continuing operations. Cotswold Canals comprises the Stroudwater Navigation and the Thames & Severn Canal, and the Trust dates back to 1972. Currently it has just five miles of navigable canal (about the length of the Exeter Ship Canal!), centred on Stroud’s mill valley, but the Trust’s ambition is boundless. It is actively engaged in funding applications with a view to connecting the canal from Stonehouse (west of Stroud) to Saul Junction where it can join the existing Gloucester & Sharpness Canal, thereby linking with the wider navigation network.

Volunteer effort and local enthusiasm are clearly key to the Cotswold Canal Trust’s success. They have literally hundreds of volunteers, and run two further visitor centres in addition to the two that we saw. For much more information visit their website:
Note to all members of the Friends: the role of volunteer co-ordinator for the Friends of Exeter Ship Canal is currently vacant!
Slipway news  
by Keith Lewis, Friends committee 
One of the Friends’ long-standing aims for the canal is the introduction of slipways that will enable trail boats and other craft to enter the canal easily. We want to work with the City Council to develop plans for a slipway and are currently looking at a site just south of the A379 by the moveable road bridges and the University boathouse.

Although the site has the advantage of good access, until the headroom beneath the bridges is increased it will not be possible for boats to travel towards the Canal Basin without the bridges being opened and traffic held up. This essential improvement is included in a scheme being prepared by Devon County Council in a bid for government funding.
Trail boats are transported on trailers and boaters need to park their vehicles and trailers safely. Committee member Ray Alexander has arranged for the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) consulting engineer to visit the site this month to gain his view on the location. 
So what is next? We are considering a bid to the IWA’s South West Inland Waterways Regeneration Fund in December for funding to investigate the feasibility of the slipway further, and hope that the City Council will match fund our bid. By then we should have more news of the A379 bridges.
There is an existing slipway on the Canal Basin but this does not allow boats to launch safely because of its sudden plunge into deep water. As a parallel project, I will approach the City Council and ECQT to ask for adjustments to the slipway to allow boats to be launched from a trailer. One difficulty with any city centre location is parking for vehicles and trailers—this will need further investigation.

The Stroudwater Navigation at Stonehouse, Gloucestershire. See Peter Nickol's report on the work of Cotswold Canals Trust.

We are always keen to welcome new members who are supporters of the canal. If you know anyone who may be interested please feel free to forward this newsletter to them.

Membership is:
Individual – £8 a year
Family – £15 a year
Lifetime – £100

Corporate or business membership can also be arranged.
For all enquiries please contact:
Mick Green, secretary
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