The Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal saw very little use by boats, mainly because there wasnt enough water in it. The recent push for restoration has ensured navigation as far as Little Tring. And hopefuly one day returning to Wendover. Its a pretty stretch of canal in the Chiltern foothills.
Out of the two arms that serve the countryside westwards of Marsworth, the Wendover route undoubtedly is the emerald queen. The six and half miles to Wendover shut well over a century ago. Its clear waters from the springs at Wendover have since been piped along the notorious dry section from Drayton Beauchamp to Tringford.
Restoration is something that is possible because like so many other notorious dry sections (such as the Kennet and Avon, Whitworth’s ‘Bad Rocky Ground’ on the Thames and Severn etc) modern materials means restoration is a more realistic prospect. At the time of writing, the first phase of restoration – construction of a short length of a new channel, bridge, and winding hole to allow full-length boats to navigate to Tringford has been opened.
The Wendover began in 1794 when a feeder was begun to tap into the plentiful springs at the foot of the Chiltern Hills. Plans were quickly altered for a navigable waterway. At first it brought benefits in the form of a plentiful supply of water to maintain the Tring summit. Eventually it was soon realised that instead of supplying water to the main canal, the Wendover was taking water away!
By 1841 it was discovered that 20 lockfuls a day at least of water were leaking through the banks of the Wendover. Repuddling of four and a half miles of canal made no improvement. Further repairs in 1855 – 1858 had asphalt used as a lining instead of the usual clay puddling. However, it was no good for by 1870 30 locks of water per day were being lost.
By 1897 stop planks were permanently at Tringford, followed by the building of a stop lock so that no water would not be lost to the Wendover, yet allow boats access to the arm if necessary. This ended when the section from Tringford to Drayton Beauchamp was drained and water piped along this section. The nearby Aylesbury Arm saw a dramatic increase in trade due to the loss of the Wendover route. Later the piped section was removed and a sump built near Drayton Bridge allowing water from Wendover to fall into Wilstone Reservoir. The former piped section became derelict and 500 yards of canal was filled in at Tringford.
The section of navigable canal at Tringford became the dumping ground for many former canal boats during the sixties. In some ways this was the ‘Woodhams Yard’ of the waterways system!
The first idea for the restoration of the Wendover arm began when the Wendover Arm Trust was set up in October 1985. Its aim was to protect the arm and put forward a case for the restoration of the route. First was the restoration of the canal from Tringford Lock for 700 metres towards the site of the former Whitehouse bridge (no.5). This has now been completed. The next section, the stretch from Whitehouse to Drayton is being cleared by volunteers in preparation for restoration. The section at Drayton Beauchamp is largely finished, consisting of a new channel built in order to accommodate the new by-pass being built at Drayton. The remainder of the waterway from here to Wendover will be the subject of a much more complex restoration project due to the number of dropped bridges and the very narrow concrete section through Green Park.