Sunday, 19 January 2014

Somerset Coal Canal - Introduction

Somerset Coal Canal
January 2014

Other posts in this series:

1. Introduction - this post

I have had my eye on the Somerset Coal Canal for some time, or to give it its original title "The Somersetshire Coal Canal". This is an 10 mile narrow canal which branches off the Kennet and Avon Canal at Dundas and follows the line of the Cam Brook its valley and into the heart of the Somerset Coalfield. There was also the short lived Radstock Arm, but that is out of the scope of this exploration.

Its over 100 miles from home so too far for day trips, but at last my patience was rewarded. Helen was attending a marmalade making course at Vale House and I had a day and a half to kill. "What will you do with yourself?" she asked. A quick look at the map showed that the top end of the canal at Timsbury was within walking distance, so with only a few days notice a plan was hatched and a bare minimum of research undertaken to keep me on track.

The photos in this post offer a taster of the things to see on this fascinating route.

Paulton Basin - Somerset Coal Canal

My main source of information came from the maps on the Somersetshire Coal Canal Society's website, which are just about detailed enough to let me follow the canal's course all the way down the valley. Of course, Google Earth came in handy and it was soon clear that as there is no continuous footpath, a car hopping approach would serve me well. It would also mean that I could get back to Helen whenever I wished. My thanks go to the Canal Society and its website for much of the background information, and to their Chairman Patrick Moss who got me back on track when I lost the plot over one section!

Combe Hay Locks - Somerset Coal Canal

A very quick summary of this canal is that it was started in 1795 and largely complete in 1801 save the locks section. This makes it one of the later canals having been surveyed by John Rennie and helped by William Smith (father of UK Geology). The canal essentially runs on two levels - one at the K&A level (with a stop lock) and another 135 feet higher with the rise accommodated at Combe Hay. Most canals have a USP, and this one is no exception. Here it was achieving the climb which became something of an epic tale but more of that when we reach that point in the story.

Somerset Coal Canal below Combe Hay Locks - a "dry" section!

The canal linked the many collieries in the valley to an enthusiastic market in Bath and was very successful, carrying up to 130,000 tons a year for many years. It remained busy right up to the end of the 1800's when it was closed.  GWR bought the line in 1904 and reused much of its course, but this was abandoned in the 1960's and the two lines of communication are now merging back into the landscape. This development complicates the canal hunt and in places one has to refer to the old railway line to establish the location of the waterway.

For the purposes of this expedition I started at the top and worked down over a day and a half during one of the wettest periods on record. The local country lanes were awash, the passing places were quagmires, but the silver lining was that many bits of the canal bed contained standing water!

1 comment:

Halfie said...

You've been a busy boy! I'm looking forward to reading more.