Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

WATER WAYS: A Thousand Miles Along Britain’s Canals

  • Written by  Olivia Edwards
  • Published in Books
WATER WAYS: A Thousand Miles Along Britain's Canals WATER WAYS: A Thousand Miles Along Britain's Canals
15 Aug
by Jasper Winn • Profile Books • £16.99 (hardback)

If it hadn’t been for the ‘canal-busters’ of the late 20th century, Britain might have lost its canals. Using a loophole in transportation law, they forced the government to keep these waterways open by using whatever craft they could to fight their way through barely-passable channels and near-derelict tunnels in order to maintain ‘a right of navigation’.

Today the 2,000-mile network of canals is busier than at any other point in its history. Jasper Winn cycles, walks, boats and paddleboards his way around it; hitching lifts, gleaning stories and sleeping in a bivvy bag beside the towpath. The level of research is impressive, turning what could be just an amiable stroll around Britain’s backwaters into an in-depth understanding of their history and geography.
Canals were the physical internet of their day believes Winn. By the early 1800s more than half of England lived within five miles of one, creating an interconnected watery highway that allowed for the distribution of ideas, goods and people in a way that had never been possible before.  Without them, the industrial revolution could have been reduced to a whimper. They converted horse power into a more efficient unit – one animal could pull 40 to 50 times more on water than it could carry on land, and fragile items such as crockery were more likely to arrive in a useable condition.

Winn ponders why they have few devoted folk songs and observes their new postmodern uses – as commuter routes; cheap housing (11,000 of the 37,000 boats registered on canals are full-time liveaboards);for the new sport of magnet fishing (pulling metal debris from the water using high-strength magnets); and as a stand-in Ganges for Britain’s Hindu communities.
More than a charming travel book, this is a roving miscellanea of engrossing canal facts and lore.

Click here to buy Water Ways: A Thousand Miles Along Britain's Canals

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.


Subscribe to Geographical!

University of Winchester


Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester




Travel the Unknown


Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...
    The true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...
    Mexico City: boom town
    Twenty years ago, Mexico City was considered the ultimate urban disaster. But, recent political and economic reforms have transformed it into a hub of...


NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in REVIEWS...


by John Foot • Bloomsbury • £25 (hardback)


by Deborah Baker • Chatto & Windus • £25 (hardback)


By Lucy Seigle • Trapexe • £12.99/£6.99 (hardback/eBook)


by Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin • Pelican • £8.99 (paperback)


by Christoph Baumer • IB Tauris • £30 (hardback)


by Charles Lane • River Books • £40 (hardback)


by Graham Hoyland• William Collins • £20 (hardback)


by Dr Lucy Jones• Doubleday Books • £19.99 (hardback)


by Daniel Pinchbeck• Watkins • £9.99 (paperback)


by Jasper Winn • Profile Books • £16.99 (hardback)


by Nathan H Lents • Weidenfeld & Nicolson • £16.99…


This hard-hitting marine conservation film – part of the Ocean…


Here are the newest non-fiction offerings to satisfy that craving…


The Society’s Earth Photo exhibition captures the planet’s natural riches…


by Alanna Mitchell • Oneworld • £16.99 (hardback)


by Christopher J Preston • The MIT Press • £20.95…


by Jamal Mahjoub • Bloomsbury • £25 (hardback)


by Joanna Kafarowski • Dundurn Press • 15.99 (hardback)


by Peter Dauvergne • Polity Books • £9.99 (paperback)


by Mary Beard and David Olusoga • Profile Books •…