What is it that makes our waterways so quintessentially English? And, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: 11 April 2018