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The first of our riverbank tales from the local Stoke lengthsman Richard Cant
The River Wey and Godalming Navigations are owned and maintained by the National Trust for the benefit of both river users and wildlife. For this to be possible the navigation is split into six lengths, each looked after by a lengthsman, with my length stretching around 3.5 miles from Millmead Lock to Bowers Lock. My main roles include weir operation to control the water levels, grass cutting, painting, tree work and running events. With the other lengthsmen I work on a rota system so that there is always someone on hand for any incidents that may occur along the Navigations.
The first day of July was also the last working day for the Trigg’s lengthsman Thibaud Madelin, who for the last three years has been working hard to improve and maintain the very long stretch of navigation between Bowers Lock and Papercourt Lock.
With the new lengthsperson due to start at the beginning of August, I was tasked with looking after the water levels on the Trigg’s length as well as the ones here at Stoke. Most summers this wouldn’t be a problem, but 2012 has been an exceptional year in terms of rainfall and with 109 weir movements during July on the Stoke and Trigg’s lengths I haven’t had much time for my usual summer work programme.
The Wey Navigation Conservation Volunteer group met on a very wet first Wednesday of the month on the Stoke length, with plans of constructing a log pile otter holt. This was because back in February evidence of otters was found nearby. So with plenty of enthusiasm the group braved the wet morning and built the artificial home out of logs and brash from along the river.
The site for the holt was chosen for its lack of human disturbance, as well as being in close vicinity of where the otter spraints were found earlier in the year. So with a bit of luck we may have some guests in the near future.
If you are interested in joining in with the Wey Navigation Conservation Volunteers, who meet on the first Wednesday of the month, please e-mail me at email@example.com so that I can add you to the mailing list.
In between the rain and the weir operations I have been busy trying to keep on top of the vegetation growth, with the locksides and visitor moorings having to take priority. Not all the plant life along the Stoke length has been growing upwards though; some of the trees have also been doing there best to fall downwards.
This was demonstrated when, along with the St Catherine’s lengthsman Rob Craig, I went to clear a fallen tree near Bowers Lock, and came across a much bigger fallen tree that had landed in the river and was stopping boats from navigating. We managed to make this passable quite quickly and then I arranged for Guildford Borough Council to come and clear the rest of the tree as it had fallen from its land making it the council’s responsibility to clear it.
On a less positive note, during July the boatyard at Stoke Lock was targeted by thieves. On two separate occasions outboard motors were stolen from boats stored on the trailers in the yard, causing a lot damage to the boats in the process. The police have, of course, been involved in taking fingerprints and carrying out their investigation, but if you do see any suspicious behaviour at Stoke or anywhere else along the navigations please do call the police immediately.
Stoke lengthsman. Tel: 07786 703 832.