The route of the Somersetshire Coal Canal started at the junction with the Kennet & Avon Canal at Limpley Stoke and ran west to Midford where it crossed the River Cam on a Bath Stone aqueduct at the start of the southern arm leading to Radstock. The northern arm continued from this point leading to Paulton and Timsbury.
The southern branch wasn’t economically viable as a canal and so was soon replaced with a tramway. This tramway was eventually replaced by the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway which obliterated much of the remaining branch.
The northern branch ran from Midford to Combe Hay where it climbed through an impressive flight of 22 locks to the summit level. The canal then hugged the contours of the Cam valley as it ran through one tunnel, and crossed three more aqueducts before reaching its final destination at Paulton and Timsbury Basins.
While parts of the northern canal route that ran across farmland have been infilled, and two of the aqueducts demolished, since its closure in 1898 the canal bed is still clearly visible in many locations and much of the stonework of the impressive lock flight is still standing.
Work to restore the canal to navigation started in 1986 with a commercial venture at its junction with the Kennet and Avon Canal at Dundas Wharf. The first 500 metres are now in water and provide moorings, boat services and a popular public café.
The Society has been working since the year 2000 on exploring and establishing the route and on vegetation management with the aim of conserving the remains of the route from the already restored arm at Dundas Basin to the Paulton and Timsbury Basins, a total distance of approximately 10 ½ miles.
1986 – 1988 – A short section of canal at the junction with the Kennet and Avon canal is re-opened as boat moorings by the Somersetshire Coal Canal Company (an independent private partnership).
2000 – present – Somerset Coal Canal Society volunteers carry out continuous vegetation clearance and maintenance work on sections of the Combe Hay Lock flight and environs.
2002 – Midford Aqueduct is restored by Midford Environment Group, supported by a Heritage Lottery Grant.
2012 – 2014 – Investigation work and excavation by the Society reveals Paulton Dry Dock.
2014 – 2015 – The landowner rebuilds the stone arch bridge across the Dry Dock entrance.
2014 – 2015 – The Society excavates a 750 Mt stretch of canal at Paulton from Terminus Bridge to Radford Colliery Wharf, the bed is waterproofed by ‘puddling clay’ as far as Withy Mills.
2016 – 2017 – Repairs are made to the water intake weirs and culvert at Paulton Basin.
2018 – 2019 – The focus switches to conservation and vegetation management at Combe Hay Lock Flight.
2019 – 2020 – Identification and repair of a major leak between Paulton Basin and Withy Mills (found to be the site of a historic breach).
2020 – 2021 – Most work party activities are suspended due to Covid lockdowns.
2022 – 2023 – Repair of Terminus Bridge abutments and drainage sluice underway. Towpath and banks are reshaped and damaged stonework is being demolished and rebuilt by stonemasons.
The Society is also currently in discussion with BANES local authority to highlight the commercial and environmental opportunities presented by a full restoration of the canal to water with the aim of securing it long-term protection from development.
The Society runs regular work parties at Paulton / Timsbury Basins and at Combe Hay Lock Flight (see Events) and continues to actively work towards the repair and restoration of the historic canal structures and environment – see News.
Volunteers are always welcome at our work parties. If you are interested in joining us, please contact the work party organisers at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.