Kent and East Sussex Canal Restoration Group

KESCRG run WRG summer Camp at Eisey, July 2011
Words and pictures Adam "Digger" Morris

Every day’s a school day on the Thames & Severn…

Arriving at the South Cerney Scout Hall on a Saturday afternoon was a steep learning curve in itself, seeing just how tight an entrance you can get a WRG van and trailer into was the first lesson of the day. However, a later arrival decided to adjust the width of the gateway with their car so it wasn’t as much of a problem after that! The next lesson was just how quickly Eli can whip up chocolate brownies and get them in the oven to provide a welcoming smell to all of the volunteers. Less than an hour! So, after the usual kit checks, introductions, inductions and site visit, it was certainly time for a pint…or not, the Royal Oak seemed unable to pump beer so despite promising Gem, there was very little to be had and this was our first and last visit here for the week.

Sunday morning was an early start for some due to the lack of curtains. The Burco and toaster were on by 6:15 which meant everybody was up and on site by 9:15 on the first day! This was shortly followed by an emergency call to Eli to bring sun cream and insect repellent as the temperature soared to 30ºC by lunchtime and the horseflies were on the rampage.

Getting started on the first day is always a bit of a challenge. After a little bit of sweet talking I managed to persuade John Hawkins to teach Dave, Alex and Tony the art of installing coping stones along the top of the lock. This also kick-started Derek and Maggie into action on the first mixer providing them with lime mortar to bed them on. With around ten stones left to position on the towpath side this meant that there was well over half a lock side of stones already in place which needed a concrete haunching put behind them to try and prevent boats from dislodging them. Beth and Anne took on this task with Mick J and Alex on the second mixer providing the concrete.

Rob went off to investigate the culvert downstream that requires rebuilding as part of the agreement with the landowners with various members of the group popping along to help when needed. Di started to tackle the ditch which runs alongside the lock which could barely even be seen.

By lunchtime everybody was starting to find their feet and some canal restoration appeared to be happening. But then, the second bag of ballast turned out to be something completely different which meant that half of the job ground to a halt whilst we waited for Jon to track up to the farm in his 15tonne excavator to get us some more.

After a scorcher on site I decided to call it a day at 16:00 as I didn’t want to break the volunteers before the working week had even begun! Off we went to investigate the showers which was another little book of learning in itself. Just how many people will get a warm one before the hot water runs out? How many people can use it before the shower room overflows and floods the club house? And, just how long do girls take in the shower? The answer to the last one is a ratio of 4 guys to one girl! The evening activity was skittles at the slightly further away, but far superior, Eliot Arms. As soon as we walked in and saw the selection of real ales, some ready, some with a sign “just settling, ready tomorrow” we knew that this was the place for us! The skittles went without a single window, wall or ceiling getting broken and a good evening was had by all.

Lesson of the day: Thankfully horseflies prefer D of E’ers called Sam

Monday was not much cooler and the sun cream was again out in force. Ian went straight to the aggregate supplier and picked up a couple of tonnes of ballast and plenty of cement to keep the concreters going until the supplier could deliver us some more. As soon as the coping stones were positioned then the concrete haunching flew in behind them and it was good to see progress. The ladies haunching caught up with the gents laying the stones and so we started to landscape the towpath side so that it looked like a proper job!


Rachael joined us on site after attending one of her own working parties yesterday and this meant that we had a driver for the 15t excavator and could get on with positioning the quoin stones at the tail end of the lock.

In order to avoid the showers, half the group visited the Cirencester outdoor swimming pool (also run by volunteers) straight from site. It was a little chilly to start with, but we soon adapted to it after Mick L warmed us up with a few games. The highlight of the visit had to be when we saw Kate chatting to a random person in the pool, we were all thinking what a small world it is, you go somewhere miles from home and see somebody that you know. But no, it was far more sinister, she was being chatted up…by a woman! It went something along the lines of “that’s an interesting swimsuit you have on…”. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

Lesson of the day: Don’t leave your watch at the swimming pool!

By Tuesday the weather had cooled a little which gave everyone much more energy on site! The aim was to have the towpath side of the chamber complete so that we could move the scaffolding on Wednesday when Jon was there to supervise. Everybody worked hard to complete the coping stones and haunching and also landscape the whole of the towpath side. Meanwhile, Rachael, Mick L and myself lifted the first quoin stone into place which was a rather large beast estimated to weigh around 2tonnes. This went without a hitch and we had time to get the next stone on top straight away. The last job was to replace the Heras fence to make the lock side safe before we left directly from site for the evening’s entertainment.


The locals had organised a trip aboard the Inglesham which had to make two trips to accommodate us all, this meant that Eli had to make us two identical sets of picnic tea. The boat trip was an ideal time and place to explain to people just how a lock works as we were able to go through one. On returning to the hall we found Bungle and Ian PAT testing all of the kit for the Bhaji stand so we left them to it and snuck out for a pint.

Lesson of the day: Find a way of checking your e-mail regularly. You may just get one telling you that you don’t have to clear everything out of the hall that day after all!

Wednesday brought a big change in jobs on site. With one side of the main chamber complete it was time to move the scaffolding across and Jon took five of the team to do this.


Whilst this was going on a very large coping stone was positioned in the gate recess on a separate section of scaffold. At the toe of the lock Beth and Anne switched to bricklaying with Ian and Mick L to secure the two quoin stones that had been placed yesterday…only 20 courses of brickwork required! At around 13:00 when lunch arrived there appeared to be a significant lack of seating, where had it gone? Up came Rob, ravenously hungry after not having eaten for almost an hour and informed us that the seating had been made into a former for his brickwork and we could have it back on Friday! People were soon back to work as there was nowhere to sit and work progressed well in the afternoon with more quoin stones being positioned and bricks being laid.

Being Orange Wednesday we perused the cinema listing for a suitable film but there really was nothing on. Being the taskmaster that I am, this meant that we would just have to work late instead! We just made it back to the accommodation in time for dinner at 19:30 followed by a well-earned pint or two back at the Eliot Arms.

Lesson of the day: Don’t attempt to run a democracy for dinner choices, they won’t choose meatballs!

On Thursday, work could begin removing the top course of bricks on the offside which had been frost damaged at the end of last year. Tony, Sam, Beth, Anne and Kate were all keen for a bit of demolition and it was at this point something very strange happened, people started brick cleaning without being asked! Whatever was going on? I blamed it on the heat! By the end of the day the damaged section was out and cleaned and bricks were ready to go back in. In the afternoon we were treated to a flypast by three Hercules on their final flight from RAF Lyneham.

In the evening we visited The Crown Inn at Lechlade which is also home to the Halfpenny Microbrewery. Being a microbrewery the tour had to be conducted in two parts but this gave the rest of the group plenty of time to sample some of the produce. The chairman took this opportunity to pay us a “passing” visit on his way to Droitwich and also indulge in a Coca Cola or two!

Lesson of the day: However many bricks you clean you’ll always need more!

Friday was a slightly diminished day on site as we lost our bricklaying teachers, John and Ian, who were also going to the opening at Droitwich. Luckily, they had already taught the next generation of bricklayers who were able to continue unsupervised and were perfectly capable of complaining about the mortar for themselves! There were plenty of back bricks to be laid at both the toe of the lock and on the cleaned off section on the offside so this kept everybody busy. We only worked until about 15:00 as we wanted everything to be left tidy and have the kit packed away in time for the evening’s frivolities. Eli prepared a fabulous griddled barbecue and her speciality Pimms Jelly. After a weak of restraint, Bobby relieved his frustration by whipping the cream for the Eton Mess, which he was very good at!

The evening turned to silliness however when Eli produced the Jaffa Cakes for a game which Ken Burgin had trivially mentioned when visiting site. Everybody was issued a Jaffa and had to eat all the sponge and chocolate as quickly as possible and stick the remaining orange disc on their forehead. The winner was the person with the most perfect clean orange circle on their head. Sam took this title! The next game was Fluffy Bunnies as explained (and subsequently won) by Beth. You each take it in turns to pop a marshmallow in your mouth and say “Fluffy Bunnies”, this sounds easy, but when you’re up to about 25 in your mouth at once then things take an interesting turn. I won’t spoil it by telling you what happens…try it on your next camp! Speaking of the next camp, or possibly the KESCRG/LWRG Christmas Party, a fine upstanding member of the camp introduced a new game to us involving condoms and baked beans. The materials required for the game have been purchased for me so I’ll keep them in my bag until then!

Eddie 260112

Back to Pictures