Two icons and arch rivals of the industrial age – the canals and the steam railways - are combining forces, using traditional techniques to solve problems on the waterways of today whilst saving money in the process.
Lock keepers on the Caen Hill Lock Flight on the Kennet and Avon Canal in Devizes are using coal ash donated by the Avon Valley Railway in Bitton, near Bristol, to maintain water levels during maintenance works throughout the year. This technique has saved British Waterways thousands of pounds already.
The traditional method of ‘ashing up the gates’ was used every night in the canal’s industrial hey-day when water on the flight was constantly in short supply. The technique involves pouring the ash into the canal just above a lock. The flow of water then sucks the ash into the small gaps in the gates allowing them to form a totally watertight seal. The method was revived by lock keepers to help achieve and maintain exact water levels which were needed whilst repairs were being carried out, from aboard a boat, lower down the flight. This ‘ashing’ is also helping to maintain and preserve water lever during the summer months when water is in shorter supply.
The Avon Valley Railway donated around eight tonnes of the ash produced by their steam engines to British Waterways, some of which will be held in reserve for future use. This partnership is just one example of the way British Waterways is developing its work with local groups and voluntary organisations as it prepares to become a charity in April 2012.
British Waterways’ lock keeper, Trevor Skoyles, who came up with the solution, said: “Working with the Avon Valley Railway has made all the difference to our works on the Kennet and Avon Canal. It’s great to see traditional techniques, which celebrate the heritage and history of our waterways brought back to life with the support of local organisations and enthusiasts.”
David Cole from Avon Valley Railway said: “It’s great to be able to make use of the coal ash generated from our locomotives. When British Waterways approached us we were delighted that it could be put to use on the canals. Our steam engines date back to 1944 and we take great pride in looking after them.”
The important works carried out throughout the year; continue to help maintain this unique piece of working heritage which is one of the seven wonders of the waterways.
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