Friends of the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation

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COATE'S CUTTINGS

FRIENDS OF THE CHELMER & BACKWATER NAVIGATION NEWSLETTER, March 2000, Issue 12

In This Issue

American Pennywort
Chairmans letter to Maldon District Council
Stretched to the Limit
Chelmer Gates - Poem
Rolling Callendar
Short Cuts to C&BN
Copy dates and contact numbers

American Pennywort-the Strength of the Foreign Invader

The American pennywort is gaining ground on all the native species of water plant and is now distributed along the whole 14-mile length of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation. It colonises the slack stretches and grows prolifically across the surface into the main channel. Small pieces become detached by boats, extractive operations, current flows and winds, and float off to find another resting-place. In some places in and around Chelmsford the weed has blocked the channel completely and has had to be physically removed.
There has been action on a number of fronts: in the upper reaches around Chelmsford the Environment Agency has extracted the weed and removed it by road; the Navigation Company has patrolled the canal continuously with its new weed cutter to ensure that a channel is kept clear; and Chelmsford Borough Council has convened a meeting of all those concerned, including the Friends of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation, to pool information and to search out ways of tackling the problem.
One proposition at the meeting was to ask Essex County Council to use their Trading Standards Department to alert garden centres and similar establishments of the risks involved in selling certain aquatic plants to the general public. It is assumed that someone emptying the contents of their fish tank into the river probably caused the pennywort's arrival in the upper Chelmer and Can rivers.
It is interesting that no weed is found upstream of Chelmsford's railway viaduct on the Can or above the gauging weir in Victoria Road on the Chelmer. Below both of these sites the weed is super abundant and it has made its way relentlessly downstream. It has colonised the feeder ditch from the Chelmer to Springfield Basin and fragments have appeared for the first time in the Basin -a very attractive habitat for it with sheltered conditions and still water. How long will it be before it spreads from bank to bank?
There is no denying the fact that the weed is an environmental disaster, as it will quickly change the character of the waterway unless something can be done to control it. Those at the meeting in Chelmsford heard experts suggesting that herbicides could only be used as long as one could guarantee there would be no detrimental effects to the water quality, which is used for drinking. The search for a satisfactory solution could take a long time. Evidently some twenty-nine sites have been identified nation-wide with a similar problem and it is hoped that the most effective cures used at some of them could be applied to our river. Research is also being carried out at The Centre for Aquatic Plant Management.
In the interim the Environment Agency and the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company will continue with their respective removal programmes. While on the surface these appear to be successful they cannot prevent small particles of weed passing downstream to colonise the banks with their myriad adventitious roots.
One radical suggestion made by a member of the Friends or the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation is to use a biological control: feed "the foreign invader" to cattle: these have been observed wading chest deep along the Baddow meads grazing on pennywort! So if all else fails the solution might lie in designing a barge with cattle feeding bays at water level! Or, alternatively, import some Asian water buffaloes to do the job; thereby the deleterious effects of one foreign species could be countered by another.

Dudley Courtman




Extracts from a letter our Chairman wrote to Maldon District Council regarding a cycle way along the towpath from Beeleigh to Heybridge:-

We are very concerned about the proposal to create a cycle-way along the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation from Beeleigh to Heybridge Basin.

We appreciate that a section of cycle-way has already been completed in the Heybridge area: this forms the basis of our concern as its asphalt surface and street lighting is completely alien to the concept of retaining the traditional unspoilt appearance of the 18th century waterway. Any extension of the present cycle-way on to the towpath would be extremely environmentally intrusive. Especially in view of the fact that the proposed route resides in the linear conservation area from Chelmsford to the Blackwater estuary.

There are also serious safety considerations of siting a cycle way adjacent to deep water. In similar situations, countrywide, evidence exists of various drownings where cyclists have either fallen or ridden into the water. Any preventative measures needed would further impinge upon the already undesirable environmental impact of a cycle-way.



STRETCHED TO THE LIMIT
Stories of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation-1952-by Dudley Courtman)

Barnes LockExploration of the whole length of the canal had took place after my twin brother and I read an article in the local newspaper challenging any two man crew to beat the canoeing record from Chelmsford to Heybridge Basin-some thirteen and half miles. Our Sea Scout friends thought that we were the ideal candidates for this venture, particularly in the light of all our former derring-do adventures around Barnes Mill. (Are we to hear more? - Ed.) We were promptly entered.

On the appointed day we gathered at Barnes lock. John Marriage and Eric Boesch from Chelmsford Boating Club, like us, came by bike. We inspected the two boats provided; another crew from the Girls Nautical Training Corps were to paddle as well; needless to say, much to our surprise. The girls eventually arrived by car and got afloat. Once the officials had consulted watches and taken photographs, they were allowed away first. Then, after what seemed like an age, we were invited "to take to the boat" which consisted of a 17-foot long, wide-beamed, canvas and wooden canoe with slatted, wooden seats and double-ended paddles- the latter were something of a novelty as we were accustomed to the single ended variety. It seemed that in the interests of, either chivalry in the Francis Drake tradition, or in the ease of monitoring progress down the waterway, the girls were to be given a generous start. On reflection I wondered whether this was calculated to bring the best out of us as there could be no better motivation for young men than "to chase the girls"- these particular ones had already won our admiration for having displayed the " have a go" spirit as well as possessing other attractive feminine attributes.

Rickets Downstream portageIt started to rain, an event for which, needless to say, we had not planned, and my brother, finding an old sack in the back of the boat, wrapped it around his shoulders; thus attired, and seated in the stern, with his cap pulled firmly down to his ears, he presented the perfect photo-opportunity. We both protested several times that that the girls had been gone long enough, but each time Eric Boesch carefully consulted his watch and said impassively " a little longer yet". When the defining moment did arrive, the coiled springs were released. We were off in hot pursuit amid much clashing of paddles: really fired up we poured on the power! At the first portage, Sandford Lock, the harsh reality of the great weight of the craft dawned upon us as we struggled to lift it from the water, carry it across the road, negotiate the clapper gates and slide down the steep bank to re-enter; the effort involved seemed to be equal to that already spent on the journey so far. On to Cuton and Stonehams, then Paper Mill-by the time we reached Rushes Lock our portaging strength was waning and we had to resort to dragging the boat along the ground: mercifully it was mostly down slippery slopes.

Heybridge BasinFrom the front I constantly scanned the horizon for signs of the girls. I was beginning to fear that the generosity of the officials might result in our quarry escaping us, when in the distance, I caught sight of the glinting flash of paddles. Scenting victory, our energies were renewed and we closed in fast. It was as an easy task, for the girls were paddling with a steady controlled elegance that enabled them both to chat and enjoy the delights of the countryside: this was in stark contrast to our "head down and go!" style. I'm not sure what words were exchanged as we overtook them but as boys we could be relied upon either said nothing, or something completely inappropriate.

And so on to the Basin in three hours something -the time didn't mean much at the time but its full significance was about to be revealed to us.

The girls arrived after a seemly ego satisfying delay and we all stood on the quay swapping stories. Feeling very generous in victory we gave them our undivided attention and when they cooled and shivered I bestowed my favour on the fairest of them all (she was dark actually) by presenting her with my navy uniformed jersey secretly hoping that she would be impressed by all of its regalia. I was beginning to think that fate had brought us together. But, hardly had she pulled the jersey over her head, and relationships were beginning to form, they were gone. Whisked off by their guardians and protectors, along with their boat, in the official car.

Our euphoria evaporated when we surveyed the scene: there we were thirteen and a half miles from home, no transport other than a heavy, sluggish boat, an uphill route, ten portages, a head wind and counter current, no food or drink, and it was already mid-afternoon.

We contemplated our lack of options. There was nothing for it! Clad only in our soggy shirts and shorts we picked up our discarded paddles and set off on the return trip! The journey was interminable: we had spent our energies and lost our incentives. Each reach of the river took an age as we plodded slowly along. Such was our condition that we had from time to time to pause to rest, an experience that we only normally submitted to at bedtime.

Dehydrated, weary, thoroughly exhausted, in fading light, we finally inched our way up the last reach of the river to Barnes Mill and our waiting bikes. Three hours one way and six back! The day's exertions were over. But the coup de grace was yet to be delivered.

Some days later my jersey was returned anonymously in a plain brown paper bag; like us it had been s - t - r - e - t - c - h - e - d     t - o     t - h - e     l - i - m - i - t

Chelmer Gates

Don McCort
Attached to the ends of hedges
That reach down to the river's edge
Leaning drunkenly against the path
Is the hanging towpath gate,
Falling shut against its post
With a heavy wooden thwack;
And its brother, just as solid,
On the other side
That falls back
Thwack, crack, black,
Against the first
To double block the gap.
Both simultaneously held apart
For hauling shires
Before two-gated bangs
Confirm the passing
Of yet another load.

Self shuttingly conceived together
To defeat the staring cattle
Standing mindlessly on either side,
They have become evocative tollgates
Still imposing their loud levy
On the users of this river track,
Still working, still emitting
Their heavy, unfailing
Double-gated thwack

Rolling Calendar

Working PartyCo-ordinator
Chris Copping O1376521179
Sundays 10 - 12 noon 
Stonhams Lock9th July
Essex Willow Farm Visit7th June
Victoria Boat Trip 2.30 - 4.30
Paper Mill to Ulting
10th June
Sandford Mill
Boating Rally/BBQ
15/16th July
Springfield Boat Rally16/17th September
All these dates are confirmed.

Short Cuts to the C&BN - Part 9

Chapman's Bridge
The last of the old brick bridges, recently restored, carries the towpath as it changes from the right bank to the left. A footpath continues along the right bank, however, under the first of the new road bridges, to a left-hand bend in the canal, where it leaves the waterside to reach Maldon beside the tidal Chelmer. This is the closest the canal comes to this fine old town and port, as the merchants of Maldon had opposed the building of the navigation, fearing a loss of trade through their own wharves. The town is well worth a visit for its shops, pubs, restaurants, historic buildings and many points of interest. It is particularly fascinating to visit the old barge quay, where many fine old sailing barges are moored, and there is a maritime museum..

Two Road Bridges
These new bridges carry the traffic relief road which Heybridge and Maldon desperately needed. Maldon was featured in the Lovejoy series. The canal takes a right angled turn between them. Older bridges on the same sites used to carry railways from north and south into Maldon, victim of the Beeching cuts. Just before the first bridge you pass through a narrow flood barrier. Convenient mooring by Tesco supermarket near the new foot bridge. Otherwise moorings can be found on the towpath side opposite

Hatfield Road Bridge
Also known as Black Bridge. This bridge marks the entry into Heybridge village. There are moorings just before the bridge, opposite a backwater which led to Heybridge Mill (demolished in 1954), here the River Blackwater parts company with the remaining hand dug canal to Heybridge Basin. From the bridge the road to the right leads quickly to the village's Benbridge Hotel, pubs and shops. The next, short section of the canal is between factories and warehouses which remind is of the canal's commercial past.


Wave Bridge
Except for the fine old Bentall's building on the right, recently restored, Wave Bridge marks the end of the short industrial length of the canal. There is a useful shopping precinct and access to cash points, on the site of Bentall's once-famous agricultural ironworks, just across the road from moorings by the bridge. There are also various take-away foods available including fish and chips. From here the cut runs straight (well, almost!) under a footbridge on its final mile journey to the basin and the sea lock

Heybridge Basin
Long before you reach the basin, you will be passing seagoing boats on bankside moorings. You might find anything from dinghies to fishing trawlers, dilapidated sailing ships awaiting restoration, to glistening cruisers. Blackwater Boats hire craft must not enter the sea lock in the basin. Next to Lock Cottage , set back, is a private house which was once a navvies bothy, on the ot her side of lock (26' wide and 107' long) next to the Ship public house are Lock Hill cottages (recently converted), these are listed buildings and once were the offices of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company.
The other waterside pub is the Jolly Sailor both offer good food and refreshment. (You should check with the landlord if children are allowed in the bars and restaurants). There is no shop (except yacht chandler). There are pleasant sea wall walks along the estuary. Heybridge Basin has been the setting for various films including the Snow Goose. To the south are views of Maldon, and glimpses of the restored sailing barges moored at "The Hythe"..


Copy dates for 2000

May 31 st, August 15th and November 30th

The views expressed in Coates Cuttings are not necessarily those of the Editor or the Executive Committee of the Friends of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation

Some useful phone numbers:
Friends of the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation - 01621 892231
Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company - 01245 222025
Ron and Judith, Blackwater Boats - 01206-853282
Environment Agency - 01376-572095


(Sorry for the delay in publishing this issue, I hope it was worth the wait - Ed.)

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