The West Vale Branch section has the Wiltshire / Oxfordshire border as it's western limit (where the canal crossed the river Cole) and extends some 12 km to just east of the village of Uffington. The canal meanders through the Vale of the White Horse skirting the villages of Shrivenham and Uffington. Being rural, the line is quite apparent for much of this length; except where crossed by the railway (twice), by roads and access tracks and for a section around Uffington.
The branch has monthly informal meetings, open to all, on the first Wednesday of each month, starting at 8 pm, at the Prince of Wales pub in Shrivenham High Street, with a work-party on the following Saturday for urgent tasks.
We hold regular weekly work-parties most Wednesday mornings, meeting at The Park in Stainswick Lane at 10 am.
We welcome "corporate volunteer teams". Many local firms have visited us for a fun day away from the office/workplace volunteering on canal restoration. We have a variety of jobs always on offer depending upon the time of year and the physical abilities and numbers of visitors. Work can be arranged for small groups, two or three, up to about 50, for a couple of hours or for a full day. (Click here for further information and previous groups).
Over the past 20+ years, the branch has cleared and dredged four lengths of the canal around Shrivenham and opened up 1500m of towpath. Currently, these sections are not continuous being disected by pubilc highways.
Going from west to east -
Bourton Wharf to Steppingstone Lane Bridge
(720m) - The canal at Bourton wharf is culverted twice by Townsend Road as it curves to meet the A420
Like the adjacent length to Station Road, it was infilled with silt, undergrowth and overgrown, coppiced willows; the towpath was not discernible as the bank had washed down and small trees and scrub had taken over. Clearance and dredging started January 1993 and was completed in June '94. The towapth, which is on the north side, was cleared again in 2013 for the "Towpath Challenge" long distance walk.
Steppingstone Lane is a public bridleway from Shrivenahm to Bourton village, the original bridleway bridge over the canal was demolished by the County Council in the 1950s to save maintenace costs. Rebuilding the arch bridge has been a major project, it has been completed in a similar style to the original but, currently, the canal is blocked by bunds on both sides of the bridge until restoration of the canal wing-walls is complete.
At the present time, there is no public access along this section, but the bridge site may be visited via the bridleway from Station Road or from Bourton.
Steppingstone Lane Bridge to Station Road
(310m) - This section was cleared and dredged with the section above and holds water for most of the year but is heavily reeded. For many years the path to Station Road was on the south side of the canal at the base of a steep bank and susceptible to frequent flooding.
In 2014 the Branch decided to reinstate the original towpath that was on the north side of the canal, so the route was cleared and levelled. The towpath crosses to the south side at Station Road Arch Bridge and crosses back to the north at Longcot Top Lock. This change of sides was to avoid building an additional bridge over the Longcot Arm, which goes north from the canal about 3½ km east of the Station Road Bridge.
At Station Road, the original road bridge is still in use but although much clearance was done in 1991 and later, it is silted up beneath. The bridge parapets had sufferred from vehicle impacts on many occasions until in 2017 the bridge was made single carridgeway operation,
At present, the Trust does not maintain this length of towpath but is open as part of the Shrivenham Circular Walk.
Station Road to Stainswick Lane
(630m) - This length was the first major project to be carried out by the newly-formed West Vale Branch in 1991. Work started in the September at Station Road Bridge, with the assistance of WRG and other volunteer groups, the towpath was cleared. Although visible, dredging the canal channel was problematic as over 20 very large willow tree stumps had be removed and on part of the length the sub-soil is greensand. It took from 1992 until the summer of 1996 to complete the dredging to Stainswick Lane.
The electricity sub-station adjacent to Station Road had encroached on the canal embankment causing the towpath to be on the side of the canal channel, resulting in it frequently being very muddy and with a steep climb up to Station Road (as noted above, the towpath did not pass under this bridge as here it changed from the south side of the canal to the north side). In early 2013 SSE drastically reduced the hedge that bordered their compound, so the Branch decided that it would take this opportunity to move the towpath up to the level of the sub-station fence. This required the removal of the remaining hedge stumps and raising the ground level adjacent to Station Road and alongside the sub-station with many tons of subsoil. Finally the path was topped with stone and completed in 2018.
The Branch maintains the towpath which it is much used by the public and is part of the Shrivenham Circular Walk.
Stainswick Lane to Tuckmill Brook
(710m) - Adjacent to Stainswick Lane is the Shrivenham Canal Park, an active project and open to the public.
This section only has water after heavy rain but this has enabled the Branch, with the help of many volunteer groups, to keep the canal channel clear of scrub during drier months.