Winter might seem like a good time for hibernation but it’s actually the busiest period of year for some parts of the canal system. Winter is when vital maintenance work takes place and it’s also when we hold our Winter Open Days, giving members of the public a chance to experience the network in a completely different way.
“The Winter Open Days allow us to show the public the ongoing restoration and repair work,” explains Campaigns Manager Sarah Burns. “But they are also about getting to different locations and making ourselves visible to communities where the canal is an integral part of the landscape but might not be getting used.”
This year’s Open Days all take place in urban locations, with events scheduled on health and wellbeing themes. There will be canoeing, paddleboarding, children’s activities, food, drink, wildlife walks, local heritage tours, boat trips and collaborations with local history groups and businesses. The intention is to celebrate the history and future of canals, encouraging locals to appreciate these assets by drawing new visitors down to the water. “We want to attract people who already know who we are and love the canal,” says Sarah. “But we also want the people who might use their local canal. We want to show the difference canals make to communities. There are so many activities on the canals that people can get involved in.”
Dean Davies, the Trust’s Direct Service Manager, explains that the £38m winter works programme take place between November and March when boats are less likely to be using the network. “That’s when we do the vast amount of any repairs that require a closure of the navigation and draining of the basin,” he says. “It might be an aqueduct, a canal wall, a lock or a bridge. We have about 1,500 locks and the gates all last about 25 years, so we need to change a significant number every year or the system will fail.”
The coming Winter Open Days take place in seven different locations, and feature a variety of types of work. One of the most popular will be the major works taking place at the Anderton Boat Lift on the Weaver Navigation in February. The boat lift is one of the network’s most magnificent elements of infrastructure and will provide a memorable backdrop to the other events taking place. Also of interest will be open days in city centres such as Manchester, Chester and Burnley, while in London and the south east there will be an open day at Cowley Lock on the Grand Union Canal in Uxbridge, again themed specifically for local interests.
Dean says one of the benefits of the Open Days is that they allow the maintenance staff to show the public their skills and communicate with the public directly. “They are life-affirming events,” he says. “We get all sorts of people and such a lot of positive feedback it really keeps you going for the rest of the year. This winter it’s all about the wellbeing agenda, showing where we can have an impact on that area. It’s not just about the work itself but participation, community engagement and water safety. It’s really positive experience, with a vast number of people coming together on the day.”
Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 February 2019
The Anderton Boat Lift is one of the most impressive pieces of engineering on the network, and it will be the subject of maintenance works this winter. That provides the opportunity for what will surely be one of the most popular open weekends of the season, with visitors given the chance to get close to this incredible piece of machinery, which was constructed to lift boats the 50 feet between the River Weaver and the Trent & Mersey Canal. These works will include the overhaul of hydraulic systems, drainage and pumping equipment plus repair of ropes and gearboxes, as well as other general maintenance. The event will allow visitors to see the work taking place and also provide a wide variety of other activities and events related to the local history and the themes of wellbeing and community engagement.
Saturday 9 and Sunday 10 February 2019
An open weekend located around Lock 92 (Dukes Lock) in Castlefield, Manchester. This will be held at the last lock of the Rochdale Canal, shortly before it joins the Bridgewater Canal at Castlefield Basin. The maintenance work will see the lock chamber drained and repointed and the gates relined, which means visitors will be able to step inside a drained lock chamber. There will be the theme of water safety targeting the local students. “We will be handing out beer goggles – glasses which give the impression of being drunk to show the danger of walking along the canal at night if you have been drinking,” says campaigns manager Sarah Burns.
Sunday 3 March 2019
This winter a section of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal will be drained from Manchester Road Bridge to the centre of Burnley. The 500m drained section of canal will be relined, and while this takes place an open day will be held at Finsley Gate. This will be specially created for locals who might not visit their local canal and be aware of the many opportunities the canal provides. Visitors will be able to walk along the closed towpath and see the relining and learn about the works from the Trust’s experts. There will also be canoe taster sessions and fishing taster sessions. The Canal & River Trust is helping to regenerate Finsley Gate Wharf, which has a collection of fascinating Grade II-listed buildings, and the open day will introduce locals to the new development by providing a variety of free family activities on and off the water.