There are over 2000 miles of canals in England and Wales, most of which are overseen and maintained by the Canal and River Trust. Canals pass through miles of beautiful countryside and the hearts of many cities. Not only are they a boating paradise but there are also opportunities for fishing, walking and cycling along the tow paths. Many of the canals we see today were built for transportation during the Industrial Revolution, beginning in the 18th century. This was known as the Golden Age of Canals. Before that, most waterways were built by the aristocracy to transport agricultural products. But the 18th century saw a huge increase in the numbers of canals being built by merchants, textile, pottery and other industrial companies, bankers and coal mine owners. When a canal was built from the coal mines of Worsley to Manchester in the north of England in 1763, the price of coal halved overnight. In its heyday, the mid 1800’s, 4800 miles of canal had been built in Britain. As roads improved and demand for traditional industries such as coal declined, so did the use of canals. By the mid 1960’s using canals for transportation was all but dead as coal was replaced by gas. And thus it was that canals began their life as we see them today, predominantly used for leisure activities.
Fun Tip: Hire a barge and take a leisurely holiday along the canal system. For example, taking a trip from from Stratford upon Avon on the Stratford upon Avon Canal will lead you to the Grand Union Canal which runs for 137 miles between London and Birmingham as well as to a complete network of miles and miles of many other canals all ready to explore.
Check out the Canal and and River Trust for lots of information and maps that will show routes and locks along the way.
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