We are not alone


We have traffic outside our house!  There has been the odd boat before now this spring, but the Easter holiday is when the canal really comes alive with boats and our sense of isolation, for a few months at least, disappears.  It also reminds me that we are not living simply in a rural idyll but that we are at the very heart of Britain’s, indeed Europe’s, earliest industrial beginnings.   This canal was built specifically to carry raw materials for the pottery industry.

These days it is all about leisure and most of the boats are kitted out more luxuriously than our house.  Despite rising costs of running boats, it still seems to be a popular holiday choice and I imagine still uses less fuel than jetting off in a plane.  We get the occasional steam powered boat coming by, but never one towed by a horse, which would have been the original green option.  (And a free source of manure for our garden.)  But being the soppy sort of person who still cries at Black Beauty, I can’t really say I’d like to see the horse returned to the era of gruelling burden.


As Willow and I trotted up the towpath this morning for our walk, I was delighted to come across this larger-than-usual patch of coltsfoot.  I like the traditional folk names for plants, and looking at the elegantly poised ‘hooves’ of the spent flowers you can see where the name came from.  Other common names are horsehoof, foalsfoot, coughwort and English tobacco.  The botanical name Tussilago Farfara, means cough dispeller.  The Greek physician Dioscorides recommended smoking the herb to relieve coughs and to this day herbalists use it to treat bronchial conditions, laryngitis and asthma.  It is apparently still used as an ingredient in herbal cigarettes.  There is need for some caution, however, as it contains alkaloids that are possibly damaging to the liver.  If you are anything less than an expert it’s best to leave well alone.

Canals, whether urban or rural, are the green corridors of England. They are relatively undisturbed by cultivation and, lined with hedgerow, they provide  a haven for English wildlife.  If you are out on the canals this Spring and Summer, be it walking, boating or fishing, you might like to join in the wildlife survey being carried out by www.waterscape.com this year and provide valuable data to ensure our canals continue to be an oasis for wildlife.  Good luck to you, as I write the skies have turned black and as they say around these parts, they’re giving out rain this weekend. 


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