living a new life 2
If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change1
Over the Autumn we made our way along the Rochdale Canal from Manchester to Sowerby Bridge. At various places along the canal, we were warned away from stopping, primarily by other boaters, but also by CRT volunteers and once a local security person.
I have read of real attacks on boats and boaters and do not doubt that they happen, but now I wonder how much my personal perception of possible danger was based on reality, or how much it was fed and encouraged by rumour and anxiety. All the negative warnings we were given early on our journey certainly coloured my experience of the south end of the Rochdale but we didn’t actually experience any real trouble. Although the Manchester end of the canal comes across as unloved at times, there are many people who volunteer to keep this canal beautiful.
When we moor, we always try to find a place with other boaters, where the towpath is well used by dog-walkers, runners and others, or is so remote that no one is likely to bother us. The only real nuisance we have ever experienced was on the Macclesfield canal when we had our ropes partially untied by a youth, probably as part of a dare. Ironically, at that time we were moored with others on visitor moorings. It would seem that you can’t plan for everything!
Once on the Rochdale, when waiting for a lock to fill, I stood talking to a passerby. He was bemoaning the state of the canal so I asked him what he would do to change it. How would he engage locals to care for and enjoy their local stretch of canal? Sadly, we didn’t come up with any instant answers during our chat.
In August 2022, the results of a study into the benefits gained from visiting canals and rivers were published. It found ‘positive associations between visits to canals and rivers and mental wellbeing, as well as a positive experience for feelings of safety and social inclusion relative to all other types of environments.’2
It is easy to see this when you experience the most beautiful areas of the canal network, but is it possible to create the same positive association when stretches of the canal have become no-go areas?
How can those areas be reclaimed as places for everyone to enjoy and benefit from? CRT, who supported the above study, believe that it is possible. Their website provides information on the possible economic, environmental and social well-being benefits of waterways.3 Is it something we, as boaters, can play a part in, along with other local stakeholders? Can we see canals and canal communities as part of a real and sustainable answer to wider social issues? It’s an interesting conversation to have.
1. Wayne Dyer, author and speaker.
2. Bergou N et al (2022) The mental health benefits of visiting canals and rivers: An ecological momentary assessment study. PLOS ONE. Available at: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0271306
3. Canal & River Trust (2020) The values and benefits of waterways. Available at: https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/specialist-teams/planning-and-design/planning-policy/the-values-and-benefits-of-waterways