New Canal Lau­re­ate Nancy Campbell rows in

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New Canal Lau­re­ate Nancy Campbell leaves Green­land be­hind for Bri­tish wa­ter­ways

1 What first at­tracted you to the wa­ter­ways?

The Ox­ford Canal was the first I reg­u­larly vis­ited – as a stu­dent, I’d walk out of the city to find new per­spec­tives on the dream­ing spires, and the peace­ful en­vi­ron­ment gave me time and space to de­velop my ideas, and re­lax away from the pres­sure of stud­ies.

2 Which is your favourite water­way?

I’m from the north and I do like a view of hills – not only for their beauty, but also the amaz­ing engi­neer­ing they gen­er­ate: wa­ter­ways go­ing across gorges, like the Marple Aqueduct on the Peak For­est Canal, or through moun­tains, like Stand­edge Tun­nel ( Hud­der­s­field Nar­row Canal). The Peak For­est Canal is my favourite water­way.

3 What do the wa­ter­ways have to of­fer the coun­try?

As the coun­try is in­creas­ingly crossed by roads and rail­ways and con­trails, these ves­tiges of a for­mer trans­port net­work iron­i­cally now of­fer green cor­ri­dors for na­ture and leisure and re­lax­ation – all too scarce these days.

4 Where will your new Canal Lau­re­ate role take you?

I will be trav­el­ling around the UK ex­plor­ing the 2,000-plus miles of wa­ter­ways looked af­ter by the Canal & River Trust and writ­ing po­ems in re­sponse. I’m par­tic­u­larly ex­cited by a planned trip along the 162 miles of the Des­mond Fam­ily Ca­noe Trail, which goes coast-to-coast from Liver­pool to Goole.

5 What do you like most about your job?

Meet­ing peo­ple who live on the wa­ter­ways and vol­un­teers and hear­ing their sto­ries. I also en­joy the chal­lenge of re­spond­ing to the canals in words – there is a great tra­di­tion of English po­ems about rivers and the sea, but the canals are a rel­a­tively new sub­ject for a writer.

6 How was your time in Green­land and Ice­land

In­spi­ra­tional! In Green­land, I was writer in res­i­dence at the most north­ern mu­seum in the world, on the is­land of Uper­navik. It was amaz­ing – and chal­leng­ing – to live in such a re­mote place in the depths of win­ter. It was also dev­as­tat­ing, to see en­vi­ron­men­tal change up close and the im­pact of it on the lives of the is­lan­ders. And Ice­land is a mag­i­cal place – as any­one who has been there will know. In re­sponse to these trav­els, I wrote a book of po­ems, Disko Bay.

7 What’s your mode of trans­port on the wa­ter­ways?

A kayak – or very oc­ca­sion­ally a ca­noe. One of my mis­sions as Canal Lau­re­ate is to teach the world the dif­fer­ence – like po­etry and prose, they’re quite dif­fer­ent ways of ap­proach­ing the same thing.

8 How im­por­tant is con­ser­va­tion?

Very. In the UK we are lucky in that we are not yet ex­pe­ri­enc­ing se­vere con­se­quences of global warm­ing, as the Arc­tic or the small is­land na­tions of the Pa­cific are. It’s essen­tial to re­main hope­ful and be­lieve in­di­vid­ual ac­tions can make a dif­fer­ence, but con­ser­va­tion needs to be a pri­or­ity at the high­est level of gov­ern­ment too.

9 Tell us about your boat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence…

My ex­pe­ri­ence of nar­row­boats since be­com­ing Canal Lau­re­ate is mostly as po­etry venues! We did read­ings on Me­gan and Tinker’s Leen on the Not­ting­ham-Bee­ston Canal dur­ing Light Night, and in March I launched a short film on Fiodora in Lit­tle Venice. Now I’ve dis­cov­ered that boats make won­der­ful in­ti­mate per­for­mance spa­ces, I’m look­ing for­ward to ac­tu­ally get­ting be­hind the tiller, too.

10 What is your proud­est achieve­ment?

Board­ing a plane to Green­land. I’m a very ner­vous flyer, and fly­ing through mid­win­ter storms at 72 de­grees north in a tiny pro­pel­ler plane would test even nerves of steel. I never thought I’d make it safely home – but I am glad I chal­lenged my­self, be­cause of the work I was able to make fol­low­ing my ex­pe­ri­ence of the Arc­tic land­scape.

11 Have you ever fallen in?

Yes, of­ten! In fact, fall­ing in was al­most first thing I was ‘taught’ to do in kayak­ing. I was im­pressed by the fact that know­ing how to fail – or at least how to re­cover from it – was built into the ac­tiv­ity.

12 What are you read­ing?

At the mo­ment I’m read­ing Swims by poet El­iz­a­beth-Jane Bur­nett, a beau­ti­ful book which doc­u­ments 12 wild swims around Eng­land and Wales.

13 Who would be your ideal cruis­ing com­pan­ion?

Jasper Winn, the C& RT Writer in Res­i­dence. His last book Pad­dle de­scribes a per­ilous sea kayak jour­ney round the coast of Ireland – I hope we could avoid such dan­ger­ous wa­ters! I cy­cled the tow­path of the Re­gent’s Canal re­cently with Jasper, and I can’t think of a nicer per­son to share a beer with at the end of the day. 14 What’s the best time of day to be on the wa­ter­ways? I’m an early riser so first thing in the morn­ing, when the day is fresh and the canal isn’t too crowded.

15 What did you want to be aged 12?

A Royal Navy ra­dio op­er­a­tor. I guess what I’m do­ing now ticks some of the same boxes...

16 What other in­ter­ests do you have?

I re­lax by cook­ing ( noth­ing too fancy) and prac­tis­ing t’ai chi.

17 What do you think of peo­ple on the wa­ter­ways?

Ev­ery­one I’ve met so far has been warm, and will­ing to share knowl­edge. Like writ­ers, many peo­ple on the wa­ter­ways are slight out­siders by na­ture, a bit un­con­ven­tional per­haps – we get along well as a re­sult.

18 What do you hope to be do­ing when you’re 70?

Just what I’m do­ing now: ad­ven­tur­ing and writ­ing about it, and per­haps with a lit­tle bit more time for read­ing.

19 Where would your dream cruise be to?

Many of my friends live along the Rochdale Canal, an area which is rich in po­ets as well as canal boats – the well-known na­ture poet Ted Hughes grew up at Tod­mor­den. I’d love to do a jour­ney along the whole canal, en­joy­ing the dra­matic views by day and con­ver­sa­tions about books and boats in the evenings.

20 What su­per­power would you most like to have?

Breath­ing un­der­wa­ter.

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