FAMILIES are being invited to enjoy a scenic stroll through the local countryside while supporting one of the region's biggest restoration projects.

The Wilts & Berks Canal Trust expects hundreds of people to take part in this year's annual sponsored walk along part of the stretch between Chippenham and Melksham.

The charity has been clearing the undergrowth and rebuilding some of the structures so that people can gain a greater understanding of the benefits of a restored waterway.

This year's event includes displays of archaeological finds discovered at the former lock keeper's cottage as well as photographs of wildlife found along the towpath.

Not only are adults and families welcome to take part, but also youth clubs or sports teams who want to carry their own boats of all shapes and sizes, with a prize for the best-decorated craft.

This year's walk will take place on the morning of Sunday April 27, starting in Chippenham Market Place at 10.30am and joining the cycle track south to Reybridge and on to The Bell Inn at Lacock.

This four-mile route can then be retraced back to Chippenham if desired.

Walkers will see remaining parts of the canal such as locks and dry docks which had been lost in undergrowth for a century, as well as a rebuilt bridge and towpath.

Organiser Peter Williams said: "The sponsored walk is an ideal opportunity for local people to see for themselves what has already been achieved so far - together with what else could be achieved in the future.

"We attracted more than 100 walkers last year but the charity has received such widespread media coverage since then that we're hoping to see even more people involved in 2008, especially if the weather is fine.

"It's a great way to get some fresh air, as well as a fresh perspective on all the benefits of a restored waterway."

The charity's ultimate aim is to eventually link the Kennet & Avon Canal near Melksham to the River Thames near Abingdon and The Thames and Severn Canal near Cricklade, connecting Chippenham, Calne, Wootton Bassett and Swindon. Supporters hope that it will provide a multi-million pound boost to the local economy through increased tourism and employment.

Entry is £3 per family or group, payable in advance or on the day. Information packs are available from Peter Williams on 01249 652248 or via peter.williams@ wbct.org.uk Sponsorship is welcome but not obligatory in order to take part.