One of the initial aims of the society was to walk the route to map out and put together a continuous walk from Melton Mowbray to Syston – now the Wreake Valley Way. Also, with various permissions, the Oakham was walked and documented. These walks took place during the summer of 1998.
From the beginning our first campaign was to get the old Junction Bridge, effectively our “front door”, replaced by something without steps giving new access to cyclists, wheelchair users, the elderly and people with pushchairs or prams. Our efforts were rewarded when in 2012 work was begun to change the bridge for something more user friendly, with the all-important navigable headroom. With the bridge lying on both a footpath and cycleway, Leics County Council and Sustrans became involved with funds coming from both organisations, the latter via a “People’s Millions” telephone vote.
Around about the same time a database of volunteers was established and regular work parties have been held ever since on the first and third Sundays of the month.
As riparian owners of most of the waterway around Melton Mowbray, the Town Estate became involved in these early days and gave permission for the society to access the “ring” around the town formed by the river and canal. They also gave permission to build a slipway on their ground adjacent the 4th Melton Mowbray Scout Group hut. Planning permission was given and with the help of the Waterway Recovery Group, and a local builder the slipway was completed for use within a couple of weeks. Soon after this, the Town Estate commissioned a steel workboat to be built to access some of the structures requiring inspection and repair, which MOWS were graciously allowed to use for their Sunday work parties.
The first waterborne tasks were to cut back several decades of tree and vegetation growth around the ring, although during the nesting season this had to be commuted to collection of fallen branches and debris in the water-of which initially there was an awful lot.
The scope of the project broadened to encompass the water space between the town and the first lock at Eye Kettleby and soon all areas were clear above the waterline, but below, years of silting and rubbish dumping had brought the bottom to near the top, ensuring that even in times of high water, progress around the ring could be painfully slow.
However, a dramatic turn of events saw this situation change when the society was offered another workboat for just a donation to the “Friends of Buxworth Basin” near Whaley Bridge in Cheshire. Once back at base, the new boat was exchanged for the old, which after funds had been raised, was converted into a river clearance vessel with outrigger legs, a HIAB arm and clamshell bucket and fixed propeller, all powered by a hydraulic pump via an inboard diesel engine.
A programme of dredging ensued, which continues to the present day and, although the spoil cannot legally be removed, there is enough width generally to relocate this to areas of low bank height without interfering with the newly deepened channel.
As the first lock downstream from Melton Mowbray, and easily accessible both on foot and by boat, Eye Kettleby Lock became our next focus. Enquiries were made as to whether we (MOWS) could insure the lock and take on the task of restoring the chamber and re-gating it for use. The Environment Agency, who had taken over from DEFRA as guardians of the waterway by this point, were reluctant to permit anything that would exacerbate flooding in the area, and said a firm No. Not only that but to add insult to injury, fenced the area off and proceeded to fill the chamber with gravel. Luckily they were persuaded to line the chamber with shuttering board which should preserve the brickwork and hold the shape. We shall see in the future!
At the Syston end a mass clean-up was organised in conjunction with the local branch of the IWA, but a breakdown in communications saw the landowner there bring a premature halt to proceedings as he had not been informed that the work was taking place. A salutary lesson learned!
This example taught the society to do its homework thoroughly, and so the intervening years have been spent (alongside the more mundane tasks) making friends and influencing people via guided walks, illustrated talks, attendance at waterway events countrywide, and talking to parish, town and county councillors along the route. The most recent innovation has been the attempts to set up Eastern and Western end partnership groups to bring together various factions – councils, landowners, owners of waterside businesses and the like to speak with a unified voice to the powers that be at the time. These groups are in their infancy and will grow as time goes on, hopefully to forge association with everyone along the route until both ends meet in the middle. What a day that will be!