HUNDREDS of well-wishers turned out to watch Prince Charles open the first phase of the restored Cotswold Canal.

Restoration has been led by Stroud District Council, with the assistance of partners including the Cotswold Canals Trust and Gloucestershire County Council.

The project has transformed six miles of canal, much of which was derelict wasteland, and is now enjoyed by the whole community.

It has been largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, a large group of volunteers have contributed over 138,000 hours to the project since 2013.

The Prince of Wales has a long-standing interest in the waterways as Patron of the Canal & River Trust, a charity which protects over 2,000 miles of waterways in England and Wales.

He arrived at the Wallbridge lower lock at around 1.45pm, he was immediately greeted by a four-year-old girl named Bella Bijmer.

Bella showed the Prince her picture, who proceeded to speak to Bella’s family.

Rachael Bijmer, Bella’s mum, was delighted to have met Prince Charles.

“We all came out today hoping for a chance to meet His Royal Highness, and that’s is exactly what has happened, said Rachel,” aged 36.

“We couldn’t have hoped for anything more.”

After meeting groups of people who make use of the restored canal including members of Cotswold Boatmobility, the Prince boarded the narrowboat Perseverance at Wallbridge Upper Lock and descending through to the Lower Lock.

He then cut a ribbon to mark the completion of Wallbridge Lower Lock and the re-joining of the two canals.

He was then greeted by volunteers from the Cotswolds Canal Trust and people currently working on the project.

One volunteer, Paul Weller, explained that the royal visit will have done wonders for the next stage of the canal’s restoration.

“Having such a public figure getting behind the restoration of the canal will inevitably increase the support for the further restoration,” said Paul.

The Prince made a short speech in which he thanked everyone involved in the project, before unveiling the plaque commemorating the completion of the canal restoration between Stonehouse and Thrupp and the reconnection of the Stroud Navigation and the Thames & Severn Canal.

“I’m very pleased to have the chance to be here today as patron of the canal and rivers trust,” said HRH.

“I know there are large sections still in need of restoration

“It’s is wonderful how many volunteers are involved in bringing these places back to life, very often it is enthusiasts who help to revive these marvellous things.

“We should give thanks and appreciate all those volunteers who give up so much time to restore place like this, allowing people more of a chance to walk their dog, or ride their bike along the canal.

“I want to congratulate everyone involved and hope and pray the final part of the project will be completed, when it reaches the main canal.

“Maybe I’ll be dead by then but, oh, well.”

All pictures by Simon Pizzey