Walking the waterways

Walking the Waterways

Initially published on the Ramblers Association's website 


Welshpool Transport Festival

I'm a firm believer in not overlooking the things that are, quite possibly, right under your nose, so I was pleased when, in a highly publicised rebranding, the Canals and Rivers Trust decided to reaffirm that the waterways are relevant to everyone.

Having long been a lover of the inland waterways it seems obvious to me that these vital corridors, containing the essential requirement of life i.e. water, should be used and enjoyed by more people. But what prompted the trust to raise the profile to non-boaters? It would seem that the current renascence in waterways use comes at a time when more and more people are also seeing a direct correlation between nature and well-being. This is what lies behind the decision of the trust to embark on a long-term study to measure the impact of the waterways on the public that use them.

The benefits of engaging with nature are so positive that they are being thought of as the ‘Natural Health Service', and not just by the Canals and Rivers Trust. The benefits of the reconnecting with nature are not new, to those of us who enjoy walking as a pastime. We already know this but what might not be so obvious is that the canals of the UK could be right on your doorstep but not considered as somewhere to walk. The fact that they could be easily overlooked is what lays behind the CRT's thinking.

t's not always necessary to travel to great locations in which to walk (although there's nothing wrong with doing that). But occasionally good, interesting and easy walks can be close by. For those who don't feel able to tackle more challenging routes a towpath, being mainly flat, provides a far more comfortable environment. With the close proximity of water and the fact that wildlife uses these corridors to move from one location to another, makes for an excellent opportunity to enjoy a walk and some wildlife spotting. 

This environment is not only of interest to naturalists but also for anyone with a passing fascination in our industrial heritage. With a little detective work, these transport systems can reveal some fascinating incites. And while we are talking about the environment, the CRT are also keen to point out that in some cases the canal system passes through areas of deprivation. As a result, the waterways have become a neglected resource, but these are just the type of areas that can benefit the most from the regeneration and broader use. 


Crossing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct 

For walkers, the waterways can not only offer a local route, and some time close to nature, but access to the broader network. For some, the fact that the waterways are part of a system is reason enough to explore. Armed with any one of a number of guides highlighting points of interest on or close to the canal or river, walkers can gain almost as much from a journey as boat users. And that's what the Canals and Rivers Trust are hoping.

But for me, the the opportunity to enjoy an environment that mixes boats, wildlife with a dash of local history makes for an ideal mix. If using areas like this can bring people closer to nature, with all it's associated benefits, then it has to be a good thing. So if you've overlooked your local towpath, maybe it's worth having another look. 

© Phil Pickin.

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