We get plenty of opportunity to build things around our patch which we enjoy doing because there is always something solid and tangible to show for our work. Recent workdays have enabled us to practice many of our building skills and fix and create structures to the benefit of our sites and the people that use them. I have described this as “infrastructure” since the results are actual things that help frame a site, such as fencing, or can be used by people while visiting a site.
Bowthorpe Southern Park: On a calm and sunny day (Thursday 6th February) a large team of our volunteers gathered at the site ready to tackle a range of jobs: replacing two benches, replacing fence posts, mending kissing gates and sorting out a footpath. Southern Park is a great place to work. The wide-open areas are bordered by the River Yare to the south and houses of Three Score to the north. The Yare Valley footpath follows the river under Tollgate Way to Bowthorpe Marsh and then onto Earlham Marsh and Earlham Park through the UEA grounds to Eaton Village. It is quite tranquil but for the occasional interruptions from ambulance sirens to and from the hospital.
It was all nice and green but one reason for our visit was to repair damage to the footpath caused by recent flooding. One resident told us that it was the worst flooding they had seen in 50 years of living opposite the park. Another resident said the water was right up to where we were replacing the benches which was around 170 metres from the riverbank. But it is a floodplain, so it was just doing its job following the recent heavy rains. But it also meant that as the river levels receded much of that water flowed back across the footpath and washed away the top surface exposing the membrane underneath which had become a trip hazard. A small team of volunteers cut away the exposed membrane and recovered as much of the material form the top surface as possible from where it had accumulated and spread it back on the path. This was only a temporary solution and something more permanent will be required in due course to relay around 95 metres of top-dressing on the path.
The path links Three Score to Colney with the river to the east and a large pond to the west. A family of swans were slowly floating around when one the of the swans stated chasing the large cygnet. The swan was behaving very aggressively towards the cygnet and chasing it around the pond. The other swan joined in and the poor cygnet was having a rough time being chased all around. It kept trying to return to the pond but was being hassled by both swans and not allowed to settle. Eventually the cygnet was chased out of the pond right through the midst of where we were standing and into the river with a lot of splashing and noise. This went on for a while and we could hear the commotion even after the swans were out of sight. Eventually the adult swans returned to the pond and alone and continued feeding as if nothing had happened. A few white feathers floated back along the river. A pair of cormorants sat in a nearby tree and watched the whole thing with disdain. Liz explained that what we had witnessed was the parents evicting their offspring and forcing it to make its own way in the world. It was all quite scary and the swans were so focussed on their task that they completely ignored us standing in their way!
Having done what we could to the path we wandered over to the edge of the site to help replace broken fenceposts. Some 25 fenceposts had broken and needed replacing to stop the ponies that graze the site getting onto the roads (although most of the time the ponies are only interested in us and whether we have any food for them!). The old posts were removed, and new posts knocked into place and stapled to the barb wire. It was heavy work and awkward keeping the wire away from the posts while banging these in. Plus, there was a lot of bramble on the other side of the fence where we needed to work. The kissing gate through to Bowthorpe Marsh was also repaired to strengthen this, and just before we left, we repaired another kissing gate elsewhere on site.
Another big job was replacing two of the rotten benches which had come to the end of their life. The old benches were removed, and holes dug for the supports for the new ones. We use solid oak which is heavy to handle but durable. Struts are fitted to the supports to prevent them being pulled up but will probably also stop them floating away when the site floods again! It takes a while to install the supports for the benches to get them level and the right height before attaching the tops. The final stage is lying underneath to screw the pieces together.
A busy day for all our volunteers with a lot of jobs done and much to show for our efforts. We even have some rare photos of Robert – the man behind the camera.
Train Wood Norwich: It has been a while since we last visited Train Wood but not much has changed during our absence. Train Wood is the site of the old City Railway Station and the track-bed is now the Marriott’s Way path for cyclists and walkers heading off to Reepham some 18 miles away or beyond to Aylsham. A lot of the industrial archaeology from the railway days still exists within Train Wood and a lot of this has been cleared and preserved by the Friends of Train Wood and the Friends of City Station (FoNCS) volunteer groups. The Fringe Project are occasionally invited to employ our skills and expertise to clear vegetation, build fishing platforms and other constructional activities along this section of the Marriott’s Way. We were here on Wednesday 12th February to build revetments around the old coal crane and install a bench.
A revetment is a barrier or retaining wall constructed to hold back soil or other stuff. The base of the old coal crane had been dug out and cleared so that the top and two faces of this can now be seen. It had probably been covered up by dredging’s from the nearby River Wensum and these needed to be contained to keep the area open. Essentially, all we needed to do was to install some posts and fix boards to the face of these to form the revetment. However, this was a heavily used industrial site with weighty machinery (railway engines) on rails firmly embedded over years of use so digging holes was not quite as straightforward as it seemed. The coal crane was used to load coal into the tenders of the steam engines and on the other side of the track was the water tower to fill the water tanks of the engines. So, it was an important and busy section of the rail yard.
We had two lengths of revetment to construct at right angles to the crane base so split into two teams – one on the right and one on the left. The right side had the shortest run of 4 posts and the left a run of 5 posts. However, the right-hand side was on top of the old track bed where the trains pulled up next to the coal crane whereas the left side was between two sets of rails. After digging through a thin layer of soil we hit the remains of the track bed which had several layers of different materials. There was a layer of granite rock mixed with old clinker from the fire grates and an underlying bed of stones melded together by years of heavy weights and grease and stuff seeping into the track bed. We needed to dig down three feet for the posts and it was a slow job using spikes and rabbiting spades to prise the layers apart and then remove any loose material. It probably took an hour per hole to dig down deep enough until we came upon a layer of sand which was as far as we needed to dig. It took ages to dig all the holes on the right side whereas the team on the left made better progress with their softer ground (apart from one of the holes that a metal pipe buried around two foot down so they cheated and cut a piece off the bottom of the post!). It wasn’t a competition between teams, but we all aspire to do well and be equal in what we achieve!
Having got the posts in place we fixed boards to the front of these to form the revetment. The joins were overlapped which required cutting these at an angle so that they fitted accurately and gave a neat appearance. It takes a little while to get your head around the joins and the angles and which bit needs to be cut to create that perfect finish. The final task was to install a bench in front of the revetment so that people could sit and admire the base of the old coal crane. It was one of our usual heavy oak benches with the “lollipop stick” seats with all the bits screwed together with coach screws. It was Lorna’s privilege, on this occasion, to tighten the final bolts for the seat which required her to lie on her back under the bench and operate the ratchet with little room to manoeuvre. Lorna was also first to try the bench when finished as her reward. It was a long day with lots of heavy work digging out holes and handling posts and rails. The revetment highlights the old coal crane and makes a feature of this. Another satisfying job done with a lot to show for our exertions (FoNCS Facebook page has photos and maps of their work and the coal crane being dug out here).