The quirkier side of canals

What makes our waterways so attractive to millions of visitors every year? Here’s our guide to some of the more curious canal quirks for tourists to spot this year…

OK, we’re the first to admit that our English waterways and the rose and castle covered narrowboats that cruise them are, by their very nature, quirky to start with. But take a closer look and you’ll find an array of features that make our canals and rivers even more fascinating places to visit.

Daleks at Foxton

Dalek at Foxton - the SCADA water measurement device Dalek at Foxton - the SCADA water measurement device

At Foxton Locks, and many other key locations around our waterways, you will see a strangely shaped pillar (or bollard to call it by its English term). These are in fact cleverly disguised SCADA water measurement devices. Designed to blend into the heritage surroundings, the ‘Daleks’, as our water management team call them, are used to count the number of boats going through the lock and monitor water going downhill through the locks.

Houdini’s lock at Gloucester

Houdini's lock at National Waterways Museum - Gloucester Houdini's lock at National Waterways Museum - Gloucester

No, not the name of one of our River Severn locks. It’s a brass padlock from the Calder & Hebble Navigation, which was used to chain lock gates closed on Sundays and is said to have been used in a stunt by Houdini. You can take a closer look at the lock and work out if the legend is true for yourself at our National Waterways Museum – Gloucester Docks.

Walking with planets

Space walk Somerset Space walk Somerset

The Somerset Space Walk is a sculpture trail model of the Solar System. The walk starts at Higher Maunsel Lock in Somerset. The model uses the towpath of the 22km (14 miles) Bridgwater & Taunton Canal to display a model of the sun and its planets in their proportionally correct sizes and distances apart.

Giant kingfisher found at Oxford

Oxford Canal murals Oxford Canal murals

Tucked away, under a bridge on the Oxford Canal, is an extraordinary creature. The kingfisher forms part of a series of stunning murals – the Oxford mural project – one of many arts projects we support across our waterways.

Gruffalos at Woodlesford Lock

Gruffalo at Woodlesford couresty Mike Kirby Gruffalo at Woodlesford courtesy Mike Kirby

If you go down to the woods today it won’t be teddy bears surprising you. Woodlesford Locks, near Leeds on the Aire & Calder Navigation, is home to a woodland walk with a difference. One of the local boaters, with support from the Forestry Commission, has created an entire heard of woodland creatures.

International duck racing

Duck race, Chirk Aqueduct

There is one special place on our waterway network where you can literally stand in two countries at the same time. Part of the 11 mile UNESCO World Heritage Site, the beautiful Llangollen Canal runs from England to Wales and crosses Chirk aqueduct. The border runs right through the middle of the aqueduct, making it the perfect place to hold our new annual international duck race.

Floating cinema

Members of the public watching The Floating Cinema at Kings Cross The Floating Cinema at Kings Cross

Look out for the Floating Cinema, either docked at its moorings in East London’s Elizabeth Olympic Park or more recently, up at Hull Marina in 2017 celebrating that city’s year of culture. You can't really miss it – it's a stunning white perspex cinema and auditorium on a purpose-built wide beam barge. It’s another arts project we support – along with the Arts Council England and others.

More miles of canal than Venice

A stop lock in Birmingham Stop lock in Birmingham

Birmingham actually has around 100 miles of waterways. Often thought of an urban myth, but if measured using our Birmingham Canal Navigations network, you will find the miles add up. Yet, far from being a heavily industrialised part of our waterways, Birmingham’s restoration and regeneration has delivered an amazing collection of canals from high end shops and restaurants in the heart of the city to calm and restful walking routes further out.

On a roll?

Rolling Bridge, Paddington Basin Rolling Bridge, Paddington Basin

Completed in 2004 as part of the Grand Union Canal office and retail development project at Paddington Basin, London, the Rolling Bridge is a type of movable bridge. Despite its name, it’s more accurately decribed as ‘curling’. The bridge was created by British designer Thomas Heatherwick, who also designed the new London Routemaster bus.

Last date edited: 29 July 2019