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Ian McMillan writes special poem celebrating Yorkshire's love of its waterways

The Bard of Barnsley, Ian McMillan, has written a poem to celebrate the special bond between Yorkshire people and the county’s historic waterways, reflecting on the role that local communities have played in improving them for people and wildlife.

The poem, launched last night at the Tetley in Leeds, recognises the Herculean efforts of volunteers in dealing with the impact of the Boxing Day floods, marks the bicentenary of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and hails the efforts of communities across Yorkshire in making their local waterways special, more enjoyable places to visit.

The piece, titled Words on Water, was launched as part of the annual meeting of the Canal & River Trust's North East Waterway Partnership. In 2013 the partnership launched its ten-year strategy for improving Yorkshire's waterways and the poem sets out what's been achieved over the first three years of the plan.

Celebrating volunteers

In it Ian reflects on the major role that local people played in the aftermath of the Boxing Day floods after they gave more than 8,000 hours to help clear mud and other debris, rebuild canalside walls and reconnect communities by repairing 14km of towpath.

He also refers to a project at Mirfield where the local community has improved their local stretch of the Calder & Hebble Navigation by improving the towpath surface, planting trees, creating new flowerbeds and seating areas, improving flood defence walls and repairing crumbling dry stone walls.

A project to improve wildlife habitats and historic bridges on the Pocklington Canal gets a mention as does ongoing work to restore 200 year-old workshops at Naburn, near York, for use by the community and visitors to the town. Historic boat Kennet which recently lead the celebrations of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal's bicentenary is included and there's also a hint of the potential for Yorkshire's waterways to carry more freight.

Ian McMillan said; "The work of the Canal & River Trust goes from strength to strength and I hope that my poem can be part of the celebrations, illustrating the Trust's voyage through the tunnel of history to the lock gate of the future".

Mark Penny, chair of the Canal & River Trust's North East Waterway Partnership, said; "We're delighted with Words on Water. We've worked with communities across Yorkshire over the past three years and the poem is a great reflection of the role that local people have been playing.

“It's a tremendous tribute to all the hard work, creativity and genuine affection that communities across Yorkshire have brought to their local canal or river over the past three years.

Words on Water

A canal is a mix
Of fragility and strength
Of ancient locks
Up and down the length
And breadth of the North
And, for what it's worth (they soon dry, wring ‘em out)
Pairs of soaking socks
Oh yes,
Pairs of soaking socks.

A lot of people lend
Willing brains and hefty brawn
A helping hand
In a flooded dawn
In all the pouring rain;
And in Pocklington (or Mirfield, or Naburn)
Loads of great ideas
Oh yes,
Loads of great ideas.

A canal is a road
For a lot of freight to ride,
Landscape to read
Two centuries wide.
Kennet in the sun
Workshops growing strong
And, to top it off (and here, and now)
Waterside restored
Oh yes
Waterside restored.

A lot of people love
The canals and what they mean
To work and live
By the water's gleam;
They will have their day
Then everyone will say (or sing, or shout)
Canals are back for good
Oh yes
Canals are back for good!

Last Edited: 01 December 2016

photo of a location on the canals
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