Waterways are good for us!
We don’t need studies to tell us that being by water is good for us. There is something calming about being near water – especially water features. The Canal & River Trust have recognised this and promote “making life better by water”.
With day-to-day schedules becoming ever increasingly hectic and stressful, time to relax is becoming more and more important. The cost of living crisis is not helping either. Simply being near our Inland Waterways can provide an opportunity to take time out.
Whether you boat, run/walk/wheel, canoe, paddle board, fish, cycle, or just simply sit, you are sure to enjoy a sense of peace and a chance to relax. Studying the wildlife, or watching boats cruising by, there is a feeling of serenity and of being at one with nature and the environment.
People holiday on our Inland Waterways to de-stress and get away from it all. It’s dubbed to be “the fastest way of slowing down”. For some, that first holiday is also their first step to moving aboard permanently. For many, moving onto the waterways is the perfect antidote to the hectic pace of modern life.
For those who are less able, it should be an equal opportunity to “get away from it all”, to benefit from the slower pace of life, and to enjoy being in and around nature – even in our towns and cities. For boaters, whether on a home mooring (marina or online), or continuously cruising, it’s a great way to see life from a different point of view.
It should therefore come as no surprise that a survey of boaters, conducted by the Canal & River Trust in 2022, suggests that there is a higher proportion of boaters who identify as disabled compared to the national average. In recognising this fact, we need to ensure that the needs of these boaters are taken into consideration and addressed where necessary and feasible.
We also recognise that, by the same token, the Inland Waterways are likely to attract a higher proportion of members of the disabled community. With the health benefits of our waterways being promoted, this should be unsurprising. Everyone should be able to gain peace and joy by enjoying our waterways. Arguably, a visit to a local canal should be available on prescription!
Modern life heaps all sorts of pressures and stress on all of us. Many people have discovered that either walking or wheeling along the towpath is hugely beneficial in counteracting these feelings. Simply sitting beside a canal, or maybe by a lock, and watching the boats go by can help to significantly lift the mood and reduce stress and anxiety.
This is why we need our waterways environment to be as accessible as possible, so that everyone, young and old, non-disabled and disabled, can make the most of their visit.
More needs to be done. Our Inland Waterways were built in times when such needs weren’t considered. In fact, they were tough working environments – a far cry from what they are today. Heritage, of course, is an issue. Many structures are listed, which can make things difficult. However, we must strive to find ways to work with and/or around the heritage to facilitate access for all as far as possible.
The Accessible Waterways Association will work with the navigation authorities to highlight areas that need improvement. Simple things like:
- replacing steps with ramps
- making steep slopes shallower
- removing barriers that prevent access for users of wheelchairs, mobility scooters and prams/pushchairs
- upgrading towpath surfaces
These are just a few examples of little things that can make a world of difference.
However, we also recognise that some of these improvements can bring their own problems. With bicycles and scooters becoming ever more popular, these can cause conflict with pedestrians. Therefore, we need to improve education to ensure a safe environment for all to share.
Improving our waterways will benefit the whole community. Working with the navigation authorities, we will campaign for government and local council involvement, both practical and financial as and when appropriate.