Water Ways: Slow Adventures on Britain’s Canals
18th January 2022
Jasper kayaked coast-to-coast across the north of England on the Leeds
and Liverpool Canal and the Aire and Caulder Navigation, and paddled the
route of the 125-mile Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race to challenge the
original 1940s wager. He cycled across soaring aqueducts and through
deep tunnels on the Llangollen Canal and down the Shropshire Union and
along many other canals.
Time was spent with the few horses still pulling boats on the waterways to learn more about the construction of the canals and the skills of the horse-powered golden age.
On the Oxford Canal Jasper crewed a theatre boat performing a production highlighting the contribution of the women working on the canals in WWII, and he in turn worked on a pair of traditional boats delivering coal along the Grand Union giving him insight into the heritage of boat types, early engines and the skills needed to move freight on the ‘water roads’.
There were long walks along rural, urban, historic, abandoned and restored waterways too and meetings with historians, birdwatchers, fishermen (they are, seemingly, always men), eco-activists and eccentrics. The journey was as much through time as across landscape, an exploration of the history of the ‘water machine’ that created the Industrial Revolution.
A journey through four seasons discovering the early genius of engineers like James Brindley and William Jessop, unearthing the lives of the navvies who built the ‘navigations’, and discovering how the working boat families of the 19th and early 20th century lived and worked. He stopped in pubs too finding storytellers and waterways musicians to teach him canal songs. And there was a comic mid-winter trip on a hire boat with a band of friends, a double-bass and a large dog, Wooster.