Read the story of how the Canal & River Trust came to be
Work for us
We have vacancies across all of our waterways and in the offices, museums and attractions that support them. We're one of the UK's biggest charities and we take pride in everything we do
If you're thinking of getting in touch then please take a moment to look through these pages as we probably have the answer on our website
Planning & design
All you need to know about planning and design on our canals and rivers
Find a winter mooring
Find a cosy section of canal to hunker down in this winter
10 reasons to take up canoeing
It's a great way to get fit and explore our waterways at the same time
Share the Space
Take a look at our common sense guide to sharing the towpath
Find a place to fish
From reservoirs to club-managed canals and river stretches - find your nearest place to fish
Get your free guide
Download your free guide today and start exploring the waterway nature near you
Download your free guides
You've nine free days out guides to choose from - where will you go first?
Find a walk near you
Are you ready to ramble? Find a waterside stroll or a satisfying hike along our beautiful canals and rivers
Take a look at our upcoming events here.
Find your favourite waterway
With over 95 canals, rivers, reservoirs, docks and navigations, find out more about your favourite waterway
Something for everyone
Help us make a difference and have fun along the way. Find your perfect volunteer role today
Join our team
Could you join your local Towpath Taskforce team and help us to keep our canals looking lovely?
Desmond Family Canoe Trail
If you're aged 16-25 and would like to get involved with this exciting project, please get in touch
Could you be a volunteer lock keeper?
Find out what's involved with this popular volunteering opportunity
We love and care for your canals and rivers, because everyone deserves a place to escape.
Dark water, yew trees and bears: we explore the origins of ancient river names.
The names of Britain’s rivers are some of the oldest lasting words in our language. Many date back to their Celtic origins, existing long before the Romans and subsequent settlers invaded these shores. Some are simple variations on the words ‘river’, ‘stream’ or ‘water’ – perhaps with an added description concerning a particular characteristic, behaviour, or the dominant flora and fauna of the area. These names leave behind remnants of history, language and culture and a wonderful sense of how important our rivers have always been to the communities along them.
Variations on the River Avon evolved from the Welsh ‘afon’, Gaellic ‘abhainn’ or Brythonic ‘abona’, all meaning ‘river’. The River Ouse, in Yorkshire and Sussex and elsewhere, simply means ‘water’, from the Celtic word ‘usso’.
Many other names describe a specific attribute of the river – the Tamar, Teme, Thame and Thames all coming from the Celtic word for ‘dark water’. The Wye dividing England and South Wales and Wey, in either Surrey or Dorset, originate in the Celtic word ‘weg,’ meaning ‘flowing water’. The Lugg in Powys and Herefordshire is the ‘bright one’. The River Trent derives from the Celtic word for ‘trespasser’, due to the fact that it flooded regularly.
The surrounding scenery played a part too, adding the words for distinctive features by which a river could be remembered. The names of the Darent, Dart and Derwent all reflect the presence of oak trees, from the Brythonic word ‘deruenta’, literally ‘river where oaks grow’. The old words for other trees can be heard in the River Iwerne (yew), River Ann (ash) and River Leam (elm).
Animals were another reference point. Though there can be no prizes for guessing which one gave the river Otter its name, there is also the River Ock (salmon), River Laughern (fox) and River Yarty (bear) all formed from ancient Celtic or British words. Coincidentally, the River Mole isn’t named after the small furry creature but is instead a backward form of the word Molesey – a town on that river.
These back-formations occur when the name of a river is formed by contracting another word with watery connotations. For example, the River Cam didn’t lend its name to the city of Cambridge, instead the river’s name derived from the assumption that somewhere called Cambridge must be have once been a bridge on the River Cam, and therefore the river was christened accordingly.
Perhaps most intriguingly, there are some British rivers which were the object of pagan worship. The name of the River Dee, running through both Wales and England, comes from the Brythonic ‘deva’ meaning ‘goddess’ and in the Middle Ages people living near the Dee believed that its current would bring luck to those it flowed toward. The River Severn is named after the goddess Sabrina. The River Brent and Aeron have similarly divine origins.
Free places to visit
Download our free activity sheets featuring over 120 canals and rivers
Last date edited: 26 April 2017