The Pocklington Canal

The walk started at Canal head on the outskirts of Pocklington. Alistair Anderson of the Pocklington Canal Amenity Society kindly joined us for the day to tell us about the history of the canal and inform us about the current position and the continuing restoration.

Constructed between 1815 and 1818, traffic consisted of coal, lime, manure and general merchandise travelling up the canal to Pocklington, while corn, flour and timber travelled in the opposite direction. However, it was considered too costly to take the canal across the turnpike road into the centre of Pocklington and goods had to be transported by cart between canal head and Pocklington.

With the railway being built into the centre of Pocklington the canal’s hey day was very short lived. Ownership passed to the British Transport Commission then to British Waterways and in 1959 a proposal was made to fill it in with ‘inoffensive sludge’ angering landowners, local residents, and members of the Inland Waterways Association. After extensive publicity and lobbying of MPs the canal was saved and in 1969 a group of enthusiasts formed the Pocklington Canal Amenity Society with a view to restoring the canal.

9½ miles long the canal joins the River Derwent at East Cottingwith. Half the canal, from East Cottingwith to Melbourne, is open to navigation and restoration is underway on the remaining section.

Unusually none of the canal is built over or filled in but it is designated an SSSI meaning the Society have to work closely with Natural England. Alistair explained that they meet every 3 months and are now on very good terms.

7 of the 9 locks are on the non-navigable half, the bottom locks have been restored and so has the top lock, this one because many people visit Canal Head and it shows what the Society are doing.

A short way down the canal from Canal Head an excavation is currently taking place. Foundations of a building have been found but no clue as to what it was used for, apart from walls, all that has been found so far is a clump of hand made nails.

Top lock is only a short way, here the metal railway track balance beams have been replaced with wooden ones, the old metal having been recycled to make a lock-side bench and the unusual wheel paddle gear have been kept, new wheels being cast as the old wheels were too rusted.

The next three locks are so far unrestored. Only one lock was in a really poor state of repair, with the walls delaminating and a large crack at the bottom end. At one point this had nearly been in filled with gravel but common sense prevailed and the walls are now being held apart by wooden beams which will make restoration easier. Unusually the coping stones at the bottom of the locks are stepped rather than sloped.

Running through the countryside, away from roads and being an SSSI the canal is very peaceful with an abundance of reeds, wild flowers and wildlife, although in places the reeds have taken over the towing path (and gates) and the path seems to have encroached on the fields at the side. Pocklington Beck supplies most of the water for the canal through a feeder at Canal Head, this means there is no shortage of water but because of the amount of nutrients in the water the there is much weed growth and sections that have previously been cleared are now in need of dredging again.

The Bielby Arm (or Bielby Creek as it is called on old maps) ran a short way towards a corn mill. Just after is the first of the substantial swing bridges. Crossing the swing bridge it is possible to walk up the arm and around the nature reserve, however we did not have time to do this and after much examining of the swing bridge we continued down the canal.

After the impressive Church Bridge we reached the Melbourne Arm, our lunch stop, with walkers either eating at the very pleasant Melbourne Arms or sitting in the sun by the canal.

Some of the group left after lunch and the remainder walked back down the Melbourne Arm to the society’s trip boat ‘New Horizons’ crewed by Richard, Roger and Alistair for a trip to Gardham Lock and back. On board tea and coffee was served and passengers were given the chance to steer. As the boat only held 12 some of us took turns to ride and walk, operating the swing bridges for the passage of the boat.

The boat trip was delightful, the waterway has to be maintained by a weed cutter but only a 6’ passage is allowed to be cut because of the SSSI status. Cruising through the high reeds was very relaxing, giving a wonderful feeling of being away from it all.

This is a beautiful canal and it will be great to see it restored to canal head. Many thanks to Alistair for accompanying us and for providing so much information, to Roger, Richard and Alistair for the boat trip and to Pauline for organising such a wonderful day.