Walking your worries away by water is good for anyone, of any age. But this month we’re launching a new campaign encouraging young people in particular, to find their happy place by their local canal. Sadly, government statistics suggest young people still have a low sense of mental wellbeing after the pandemic. And while many young people have yet to discover the tranquility of their local canal, 23-year-old David McEntee has explored everything the Grand Union Canal has to offer.
Last November, he walked a massive 137 miles from London to Birmingham along the Grand Union Canal, sharing the epic journey on his YouTube channel to inspire others to take on their own canal adventure.
David grew up in Berkhamsted, in Hertfordshire, near the Grand Union Canal and was struck by the sense of adventure he found on the canal bank. He told us: “Canals really introduced me to hiking and the outdoors. As a child I always used them as a safe place to walk into town or meet friends. My dad always used to tell me they were the first highways of England, long before motorways and railways. And you do see some awesome history on canals from the industrial revolution. Seeing a bridge that was built in hundreds of years ago is always amazing to me.”
When he was a little older, David was looking for a hiking adventure and the Grand Union Canal seemed the obvious choice. He hopped on a train to London and began his trek in Little Venice. Covering an impressive 15-20 miles a day, the trip took him just seven days in total.
“I did it in two chunks,” he explains, “I chilled for a couple of days in between, came back and picked up the trail again. It just shows you can do it however you like… I chose to do it over seven days, but it can easily be done over a couple of weeks or even several weekends throughout the year, just like the Canal & River Trust's Canalathon.”
David also filmed his journey for his YouTube channel, which boasts more than 5,000 subscribers and shares his adventures walking across the UK and even up Mont Blanc. He received an overwhelming response, with dozens of young people messaging to thank him for sharing his experiences and inspiring them to start an adventure of their own.
While David is a great talker and persuasive social media influencer, he realises that it's important to unplug once in a while: “I'm a bit of extroverted introvert. I can talk for England, but I also need a bit of time to switch off, tune into myself and not talk. Walking does that for me. A lot of young people definitely feel disconnected because of social media addiction. But they can find themselves and reconnect with the world around them by going to the canal. There's an entirely different pace of life out there. You don't have to go at 100 miles an hour. You can go at five miles an hour. And live a really happy, fulfilled, connected life with a great community around you. On my canal walk, I only met nice people. Everyone smiled, chatted and made me feel welcome.”
David tells us he's keen to do more canal walks and inspire more young people to find their calm by the canal, but as our campaign explains, canals are also a great way to walk or ride through our towns and cities, meet friends or have fun trying new activities like paddleboarding or canoeing. So, if you know someone, young or old who might find life better by water, why not ask them to come down to the canal with you? Who knows? You might bump into David, along the way.