been said, the Kennet and Avon Canal closed 'until further notice' in 1950, but within a few years, a few stalwart enthusiasts had formed the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust, dedicated to preserving what was left of the canal and, if at all possible, to repair some of the damage done by a century of neglect.

Actual restoration work didn't begin until 1967; canal enthusiasts were regarded as little better than self-delusional Luddites. The idea of actually re-opening failed canals found little support from public or government.

But with the growth of leisure time, environmental concern and interest in wildlife habitats in the 70s, and 80s, a growing band of volunteers gave up weekends and holidays to stand, butt-deep, in cold, dank water, stripping weeds and other detritus from the waterway. Gradually, banks have been re-enforced, waterways dredged and locks repaired. Until, on the 8th of August, 1990, the Queen finally re-opened the full Reading to Bristol navigation. I wonder if any of the original enthusiasts ever truly believed they would see such a thing?

A few bits still need some work, but the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust (one of dozens of such preservation societies throughout Britain's extensive waterway system) deserves huge applause.

Sadly, there is little of the heavy-goods transport for which the canal was originally built - the canal is purely a leisure amenity - but, who knows? One day, the logic of moving non-urgent goods by the cheapest (most energy-efficient) way possible may one day reassert itself.

If you are interested in a canal trip, especially on the Kennet & Avon, you could start by contacting Norman Briggs of Kennet Cruises (to whom I am indebted for some of the information I have used here) on [+44] (0)1734 871115.

Or, there's Moonboats. Some very snazzy boats there.

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