24 August 2018 by Phil Pickin
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 (CRT) 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 seeing a direct correlation between nature and wellbeing. 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 advantages of reconnecting with nature are not new to those of us who enjoy walking as a pastime. 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.
It's not always necessary to travel to great locations in which to walk (although there's nothing wrong with doing that). Sometimes 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. The close proximity of water, and the wildlife that this attracts, means canal-side paths offer an excellent opportunity to enjoy an accessible walk and some nature spotting too.
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 insights. And while we are talking about the environment, the CRT is also keen to point out that the canal system passes through some 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 regeneration and broader use.
For walkers, the waterways can not only offer walking routes and time close to nature, but access to the broader canal network. Armed with any one of a multitude 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.
For me, the opportunity to enjoy an environment that mixes boats with wildlife and a dash of local history makes for an ideal mix. If using areas like this can bring people closer to nature, with all its 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.
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