Welshpool volunteers celebrate arrival of new work boat

WELSHPOOL canal volunteers were joined by Welshpool Mayor Steven Kaye, MP for Montgomeryshire Glyn Davies, Robert Robinson, Welshpool Town Clerk and Canal & River Trust staff in celebrating the arrival of the group’s own steel Canal work Boat Mantis seen here for the first time afloat at Welshpool’s Town Lock.

The volunteers who meet regularly each week to carry out canal maintenance work in conjunction with the Canal & River Trust as the Welshpool Canal Adoption Group are one of the most active groups in the country and possibly the first now able to operate with their own specially built canal work boat.

Overcoming financial restrictions to the acquisition of such expensive new equipment the unaided arrival of Mantis has demonstrated amazing depths of ingenuity and commitment to canal restoration which were commended by Mayor Stephen Kaye in his welcome.

Coun Kaye speaking in passionate support said: “Welshpool recognises the immense benefits which restoration of the canal would bring to the town,” and commended the great work of the Group clearly visible in the recent improved appearance and condition of the canal within Welshpool.

Both Mayor Kaye and Glyn Davies MP emphasised their encouragement and support for the valuable contribution made by volunteers, congratulating the group and the largely single-handed efforts of David Corfield in this welcome addition to the boats in use on Welshpool’s 13 miles of navigable canal.

Mantis will be seen  on both sides of Welshpool where it is hoped its signs inviting  volunteers to become involved will persuade others to donate and enjoy their time working on and alongside the canal.

Work boat Mantis was originally built and used by British Waterways on the national canal network but found itself stranded on the section of canal near Maerdy by closure of the road bridges yet to be tackled in the restoration plans lead by Welshpool Town Council.

Being redundant to the needs of the Canal & River Trust on taking over from British Waterways, Mantis and other craft were sold by auction. Mantis was bought by South Wales enthusiast Tony Pugh for use on the Monmouth & Brecon Canal. However the Monmouth & Brecon Canal bodies declined Tony Pugh’s generous offer and Mantis remained isolated and unused, a safe haven for fish resting barely visible on the canal bottom for several years.

Meanwhile  Welshpool Canal Group members who were exploring avenues to obtain a boat of their own finally learnt of the identity of the owner of Mantis who on being contacted generously agreed to sell for the serious price of a pint of beer! This however was merely the start of problems faced.

The boat lay some distance from the bank accessible via a farmers field totally submerged if undamaged and needed to be raised sufficiently for pumping out and re-floating. Displaying a reluctance to recovery back on land, this was overcome only by the prompting of three tractors.

Loading the extremely heavy hull onto a farm trailer for transport to a nearby barn was an equally interesting procedure. Working under cover the substantial steel hull has since been cleaned, patched up where needed, repainted in bright Canal & River Trust blue, equipped with pump, flooring and working guard rails and transported to Heulwen’s wharf where again after some further persuasion Mantis has finally been refloated.

Commercial recovery, restoration and relaunching would have involved considerable resources and expense not immediately available since  all Welsh Government financial assistance for canal maintenance and restoration continues to be directed towards the also isolated Monmouth & Brecon canal rather than the equal needs of Mid Wales as instanced by its latest grant of £2.5 million.

Looking to the future however both Mayor Stephen Kaye and Glyn Davies spoke of the importance of volunteer work and volunteer funding as fundamental to future restoration in dramatically reducing the estimated costs of reconnecting the Montgomery Canal to the national network to achievable levels.

The recently announced Heritage Lottery Grant of £2.53 million forms only a part of a £4.2million package for works which will bring the canal on the English side to the Welsh Border at Llanymnech. Meanwhile Welshpool Town Council continue pressing on with plans based on realistically revised cost estimates using the vast resources of volunteer Waterway Recovery Groups for overcoming the obstacles of the three bridges which prevent boats reaching Ardleen despite the canal remaining in water – from there Welshpool’s 13 miles are fully navigable to Refail.

It is the concern of Pat Ward – organiser of the Mantis Launch Celebration party who spoke welcoming the guests – that every possible effort is meanwhile made to show that the fullest possible use and advantage is being made of Welshpool’s 13 miles waterway. This he said will incentivise the efforts of both local and national volunteers in fund raising and canal restoration as the Montgomery Canal is held in great affection by canal lovers country wide.

Mantis will enable volunteers to undertake the vital canal maintenance work needed to keep a clear channel for boats to traverse the full 13 miles and attract much needed tourist trade.”

High on the list are the exciting new plans being formulated and shortly to be announced in conjunction with Welshpool Council members for reinstating the once thriving  canal boat hire  business centred on the Museum / Town lock site.

By providing opportunities for enjoyment and relaxation for visitors to Mid Wales and those who presently merely pass through this will both promote restoration and bring great benefit to the area. Regrettably all efforts to involve the unfunded  participation of Powys County Council in promoting local tourism in this way have so far fallen on deaf ears – “hopefully councillors with an eye to the great tourist potential of our canal will take heed,” he added!

Meanwhile Mantis has no engine, relying upon use of a tug when available. To date a six horse power outboard has been used for the short rather painfully slow but successful first run to the centre of Welshpool, the group are therefore investigating the possibility of obtaining a grant for the purchase of the larger engine needed to operate between Ardleen and Refail.

Mantis will surely repay its cost of a pint of beer – many times over!

Anyone interested in Canal Volunteering or assisting in Canal Restoration is invited in the first instance to register their interest with the ladies operating the Welshpool Tourist Information Centre in Church St, Welshpool – Tel 01938 552043 – ticwelshpool@btconnect.com

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