BRI­TAIN’S WILDEST WATER­WAY

Float along York­shire’s Pock­ling­ton Canal, which, af­ter decades of hard work, is be­ing re­stored to its for­mer glory for boaters and wildlife.

Countryfile Magazine - - Contents -

Land is low-ly­ing be­tween the Der­went and the Hum­ber, ris­ing only gen­tly to meet the York­shire Wolds. In win­ter, Pock­ling­ton Canal is barely dis­cernible from the floods that swamp mead­ows and fens, and at­tract water­fowl such as golden plover and ruff.

In sum­mer great bur­net, meadow fox­tail and sneeze­wort flour­ish while lap­wings, curlew and snipe breed, but the canal re­mains elu­sive. Every­thing is green – mead­ows give way to rush and aquatic plants. Edges dis­solve. But it catches your breath when you find it. The sparkling water teems with lilies and fish.

It could have been very dif­fer­ent. Fol­low­ing the 1968 Trans­port Act, Pock­ling­ton was re­clas­si­fied as a ‘re­main­der water­way’ by Bri­tish Wa­ter­ways, mean­ing it was deemed un­fit for com­mer­cial or leisure use and so there was no need to keep it in a nav­i­ga­ble con­di­tion. As a ‘favour’, the Sh­effield Corporation Wa­ter­works even of­fered to fill it with sludge. Luck­ily, the com­mu­nity ral­lied and the Pock­ling­ton Canal Amenity So­ci­ety (PCAS) was founded in 1969 to re­store the ru­ral water­way.

Restora­tion is no small task – fund­ing, time and labour must be found. But 50 years on, the so­ci­ety is half­way there and the sec­tion be­tween Cot­ting­with Lock at the Der­went Cut and Bielby is now nav­i­ga­ble.

200 YEARS IN THE MAK­ING

Navvies be­gan build­ing the Pock­ling­ton Canal fol­low­ing a public meet­ing in 1814 and by 1818 it was open. Al­most 10 miles long, it had nine locks, four road bridges, two arms to the vil­lages of Bielby and Mel­bourne, and a ter­mi­nal basin just be­fore Pock­ling­ton.

In its hey­day, the canal was quite ac­tive. The Hull Packet op­er­ated a reg­u­lar five-day round trip, mer­chants hired land­ing places, locals fetched water from it and learned to swim in it. Coal, lime, bricks, iron and tim­ber came in, and pota­toes, car­rots, grain

and sawn tim­ber went out. Gra­naries, ware­houses and water mills were built.

But the canal was never pros­per­ous. The water sup­ply, from two small becks, wasn’t re­li­able and led to fre­quent clo­sures. When the York and North Mid­land Rail­way Com­pany ar­rived, it bought out the canal’s share­hold­ers. Dwin­dling trade col­lapsed and, in 1932, to avoid main­te­nance du­ties, the com­pany pre­sented the owner of Pock­ling­ton’s last com­mer­cial craft with a lorry to re­place the boat. The canal fell into dis­use and own­er­ship was turned over to Bri­tish Wa­ter­ways, which later be­came the Canal and River Trust (CRT), a char­ity car­ing for 2,000 miles of water­way.

To­day you can walk along the tow­path, watch king­fish­ers, ca­ress the reeds, lose your­self in a world of green leaves and light, and meet no one. But aban­doned it is not. “It looks nat­u­ral,” says CRT ecol­o­gist Phillippa Baron, “so it’s easy to for­get that canals are man-made and need main­tain­ing. We have to man­age it for ecol­ogy and canal users, so we prune branches to let boats pass but also keep perches for king­fish­ers. When we cut back the com­mon reed, peo­ple worry about the reed buntings and sedge war­blers, but we just do a bit at a time. It’s a balanc­ing act.”

CRT her­itage ad­vi­sor Judy Jones agrees. “We keep as much his­toric

“EVERY­THING IS GREEN – MEAD­OWS GIVE WAY TO RUSH AND THE EDGES DIS­SOLVE”

Church Bridge was care­fully re­stored by vol­un­teers us­ing ma­te­ri­als in keep­ing with its orig­i­nal style

FAR LEFT Work be­gins on the restora­tion of Thorn­ton Lock LEFT Weeds soon took over the water­way when it fell into dis­use BELOW Boat­ing serenely along at Mel­bourne

ABOVE The re­stored weed-cut­ter hard at work en­sur­ing the Pock­ling­ton’s water re­mains clear and nav­i­ga­ble RIGHT Julie and some of the PCAS team at the Cot­ting­with LockBELOW Rushes poke through the water on the Pock­ling­ton Canal

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