The the project to regenerate Britain’s neglected waterways is turning into that rarest of things: a commercial and ecological success. Our 2,000 mile network of canals and rivers thrived on the lifeblood of trade during the industrial revolution before falling into stagnation and dereliction as the roads and rail sidelined their nationwide infrastructure.
For years they lay dormant. Small local restoration societies would voluntarily spend years recommissioning a short reach but it wasn’t until property developers saw the potential of the disused warehouses lining a good stretch of those waterways that any serious attempt at countrywide restoration began.
Almost very summer weekend, there will be something going on by the water. Boatshows, craftshows and historical tours abound. Here’s a sample of what’s going on this weekend.
Leeds on Water Festival, 6-8 July
Aire & Calder Canal, Thwaite Mills, Hunslet
This is billed as a waterside fun weekend with music, street entertainers, fireworks, boat trips, crafts, stalls and plenty to entertain the children.
Navigable since 1700, the Aire & Calder Canal was one of the earliest established canals. In the 19th century, they fought for and lost their struggle with rail. Now in the 21st century, the theme is regeneration, recreation and tourism.
For more information:
The IWA Boat Festival, 7-8 July
River Lee & Stort Ware, Hertfordshire
This event is organbised by the Inland Waterways Association and targetted largely at narrowboat and riverboat owners and enthusiasts. That means there will be plenty of colourful boats taking part in both the pageant and the illuminated procession. Once again, there is tons of stuff for children to do and entry to the festival in Ware town centre is free.
There is evidence that Vikings sailed up the River Lee around 1000 AD and some relics recovered from Walthamstow marshes suggests they weren’t the first. These days, the Lee & Stort Navigations link Hertford and Bishop’s Stortford along the Lee Valley to the Thames. With some 42 navigable miles, the Lee & Stort is perfect for boating, walking, cycling, angling, and runs through rural countryside rustling with wildlife and towns rich in industrial heritage.
For more information:
Ealing Countryside Weekend Special Festival, 7-8 July
Grand Union Canal Berkeley Fields, Greenford
The words ‘Ealing’ and ‘countryside’ tend not to appear in the same sentence generally but this event is an exception. There’s music and craft and loads to keep the kids engaged. Entry is free but the car park in Berkeley Fields, Horsenden Lane North, costs ‘ a day or ‘ for all weekend. Last year’s event attracted 25,000 visitors making it one of the biggest events in the capital
The Grand Union is billed as Britain’s premier waterway because of its former prosperity and sheer size. Commissioned by act of Parliament in 1793, it snakes through 134 miles of changing countryside from Paddington in London to Birmingham and there are branches connecting towns like Slough, Wendover, Aylesbury and Northampton.
For more information: 020 8841 6585.
Saul Junction Boat Gathering, 7-8 July
Gloucester & Sharpness Canal Saul Junction, Cotswolds
This event, held at the eponymous Junction includes a boat gathering, marine trades show, craft market, boat trips and live music.
Running, as the name suggests, from Gloucester Docks to the port of Sharpness, work began on the canal at Gloucester but ended 5.5 miles later when lack of money force a halt.
Over and Under Dudley, 7 July 1000-1630
Dudley Canals Wrens Nest Nature Reserve Wardens Base, Dudley
Take an insight into Dudley’s uniq