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This week we wanted to expose the truly enchanting world of UK canals, as we uncover some delightful and surprising facts about these historic waterways. Whether you’re a seasoned canal enthusiast or simply curious about these hidden gems of British heritage, prepare to be captivated by the rich history and intriguing anecdotes that lie beneath the tranquil surface of our waterways.

The origin of towpaths

Have you ever wondered why it’s called a towpath at the side of a canal instead of a footpath? Until the late 19th century boats were pulled along the canal by horses, hence a ‘towpath’. The horses were led along by a super duper long line rope. You can still see the rope marks on the edges of bridges where they pulled them through. Super fascinating! Next time you’re walking down the canal, peek at a bridge and see if you can spot them.

The Great Canal Plug Incident of 1978

In 1978, a group of British Waterways workers who were dredging the Chesterfield canal pulled up a chain that had a heavy lump of wood attached to the end. As the entire canal between Whitsunday Pie Lock and Retford Town Lock began to empty away into the River Idle, they realised they had pulled out a long-forgotten canal plug. Whoopsie!

The shallowest lock: Dutton Stop Lock

People often talk about the deepest lock on the canal network (it’s a tussle between Tuel Lane Lock which descends an impressive 19ft 8.5in and Bath Deep Lock which plummets a wild 19ft 5in – we’ve never done Tuel Lane Lock but we can confirm that Bath Deep Lock does indeed feel rather deep!). But what about the shallowest lock? Dutton Stop Lock raises the water a mere 6 inches!! This lock was solely built to prevent the Trent & Mersey ‘stealing’ water from the Bridgewater Canal. Pretty mad!

The Ancient Fossdyke Navigation

The Fossdyke Navigation dates back to Roman times and is believed to be the oldest canal. It connects the River Trent at Torksey to Lincoln, and is thought to have been built around AD 120 by the Romans. It was refurbished in 1121, during the reign of King Henry I. So, canals are not a Victorian phenomenon as some of you may have thought!

Canals: not just a Victorian phenomenon

While Britain’s industrial heydays of the 18th and 19th centuries are generally viewed as the golden age of canals, there are more craft on our waterways today. Despite the canals being used by far less commercial traffic they have become a mecca for pleasure craft and a growing number of people opting for floating homes. There are now around 34,000 boats on Britain’s canals and rivers, which provide homes, workplaces and holidays for millions of people.

Birmingham: The canal city

If someone asked you to think of a world-famous city with A LOT of canals which one would you pick? Venice!? However, the city with most canals in the world is in fact Birmingham! Ok, ok…we’re splitting hairs here a little, Venice has more ACTUAL canals but Birmingham has more MILES of canals. Birmingham was one of favourite places to travel through a few moons ago.

Underneath spaghetti junction

Did you know that you can travel underneath spaghetti junction on a narrowboat? Three canals come together here; the Birmingham and Fazeley, the Birmingham and Warwick Junction canals with the river Tame running alongside. It is another world down there…all those cars travelling over it daily (200,000 of them!!) I bet they never think about narrowboats chortling along the waterways beneath.

Life aboard 19th-century boats

In the 19th century life aboard a boat was wildly different than it is today. Amazingly some people today think living on a narrowboat is cramped and too small. During the 19th century, there was estimated to be 18,000 families living and working on the canal. A boatman’s cabin was 6ft 8in long (and 6ft 10in in width) and this was the bedroom, kitchen, parlour and bathroom for entire families; sometimes and often up to 8 people!

I hope you enjoyed these sweet magic moments from the UK canal’s history, there’s a load more if you want to hear them!?

With love,


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