Prince Charles says ‘I’ll be dead by the time this is finished’ on visit to Stroud canal project
Royal visit adds pressure to Lottery to provide cash to finish project
“Maybe I will be dead by the time this is done.”
HRH Prince of Wales was making reference to his advancing years and the pace of progress of the Stroud Waterways Canal project rather than any slight.
Nevertheless the 69-year-old long-standing patron of The Canal & Rivers Trust garnered some laughs as he proudly unveiled a plaque to mark the completion of the Wallbridge Lower Lock just off the town centre.
He was no doubt also marvelling at determination of those behind a greater project he first visited in 1992 to open Blunder Lock and again in 2002 to visit Sapperton Tunnel.
For this particular section volunteers have given an estimated 138,000 hours since 2013 to make the scheme a reality.
His visit drew thousands to the town centre waterway and it is this show of numbers volunteers hope put extra pressure on the Heritage Lottery Fund to loosen its purse strings once more and provide £15m to finish a challenging stretch to Saul Junction.
“We have asked the Heritage Lottery Fund for £9.4m and Sir Peter Luff (chairman of the HLF) is here today – but we have to be careful not to put too much pressure on,” said David Hagg, Stroud District Council chief executive.
The Lottery bid, named Stroudwater Navigation Connected, has been drawn up by a partnership led by Stroud District Council and including the Cotswold Canals Trust, Stroudwater Navigation Archive Charity and the Stroud Valleys Canal Company.
Certainly Sir Peter would not have been able to avoid thinking about the elephant in the room. Along with Mr Hagg he was one of the dignitaries from the town who joined the Prince Charles as he travelled from the canal’s visitor centre down through Wallbridge Upper Lock and along the restored section of canal on board Cotswold Boatmobility’s narrow boat Perseverance.
Quite what three-year-old Lila Courts thought of it is another thing. With her three-month-old sister she was one of the thousands lining the canal banks waiting for a glimpse of his Royal Highness.
“She is hoping he will have a cape and a white horse like real prince,” said her mother, Leah, smiling but looking doubtful.
Four-year-old Barney was another curious youngster waiting as patiently as he could with his parents Iain and Natalie Bushell.
“I am very excited,” he said.
“No one ever used to come down here before they did this. It is a massive improvement,” said Mr Bushell.
Earlier the Prince has alighted from his gleaming black chauffer driven Bentley and met members of Cotswold Boatmobility at Wallbridge Upper Lock near Bell House before climbing aboard his ride to the lower lock.
The 27-ft-long 20hp 12-seater Perseverance and its world famous cargo was ably piloted by retired electronics engineer and former businessman Bob Mulkerrin.
Was he nervous carrying such valuable cargo?
“No,” he said, and he didn’t look it, advancing on the lower lock his steady hand on the tiller allowed the Prince to lean out over the prow brandishing scissors to cut the official ribbon stretched over entrance to the lock everyone had come to celebrate.
It was a moment of emotion – enough to look like it gave Clive Field, manager of the Cotswolds Canals Trust visitor centre, a lump in his throat.
It was, he said “a great day for Stroud”.
Even more dignitaries were kept waiting for the Prince to officially unveil the plaque to mark the occasion as the Prince disembarked onto a canal side carpeted for the occasion (to spare the royal guest the indignity of mud on his shoes) to meet more volunteers still laying bricks around the lower lock.
He waved at the well-wishers leaning over balconies on the opposite bank alongside a solitary Union Jack and they dutifully and enthusiastically returned his gesture.
“I am very pleased to be here as patron of The Canal & Rivers Trust,” said the Prince. “It is a wonderful job. I am so thrilled this restoration of this part of the canal has been possible.
“I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all those volunteers for all their effort and help completing this part of the canal.”
Making reference to the work still to be done he added: “Maybe I will be dead like them by the time it is finished, but it will be a great achievement.”
Neville Nelder, chairman of Stroud Waterways and Canal Trust, called the visit – and the achievement of the volunteers who have restored and reopened yet another stretch of the once ruined canal “fantastic”.
He said: “It is something that we gave been wanting to happen for a long time. We are so pleased to get the recognition.”
Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire Dame Janet Trotter said: “This is a remarkable achievement. I came here five years ago and they have moved on so much. It’s all volunteers. I am in awe of them. It’s also important for regeneration. They want it to be inclusive – for everyone – and it is.”
David Jowett, editor of The Trow, the magazine for the restoration on the Cotswolds Canals, said: “This is 10 years in the making.
“If you saw what it was before – no one wanted to come down here. And there were the doubters saying it would never happen. But now it is busy and open for wheelchair access and walking and everyone is on board.”
As for Prince Charles, the day’s work was far from over. He was whisked away in the aforementioned Bentley to visit Timberpride in tetbury, a stones throw from his Highgrove House home.
Founder of the sustainable oak merchants business, Alec Golesworthy, started the company in 1995 with a £2,500 loan from the Prince’s Trust.
Its focus is on managing forestry, felling, milling and drying oak saw logs for the market and it now employs 10 staff from its Quercus Road headquarters.
Prince Charles is, of course, the president of The Prince’s Trust.
Source: .gloucestershirelive co uk
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