Four things we learned about the UK’s waterways from Chris Clegg’s Canal Time Map

The Regent’s Canal, London. Image: Getty.

In my ever-present efforts to satisfy the cartography-minded readers among you – i.e. all of you – I stumbled across an interesting map of England’s inland waterways.

What causes Chris Clegg’s Canal Time Map to stand out is that, unusually, it’s scaled by time rather than distance, showing how long it would take to travel around the UK via narrowboat.

Such a map can only work when most other variables such as route and speed are fixed, which is true of the inland waterways, where boats can only travel at 4mph.

With this in mind and a sprinkling of other assumptions, our man Chris has created this handy tool for all types of boaters. Somewhat unfortunately, due to the collapse of waterway industry in the early 1960s, the map now mainly services retired leisure boaters, but I’m sure they appreciate it.

The north. Click to expand. 

Here are four things you can learn about boating from the map:

1) Travelling by water is slow. Really slow.

It takes 45 hours to get from St Pancras to Oxford by boat. If you were going to take public transport, the journey would be less than an hour and a half. So this isn’t ideal unless you’ve got a particularly gruelling working week to spare, but what if you needed to take a lot of luggage to Oxford, like, say 30 tonnes of coal for example? No, okay, it’s still a terrible idea. Driving still takes under two hours and now days we have big trucks and nice roads. You can see why industry on our inland waterways died out.

2) The weather doesn’t just delay trains 

The south. Click to expand.

Within the instructions on how to use the map, you can learn quite a lot about the unpredictability of the inland waterways. The timings are worked out based on “normal” conditions. Abnormal conditions would include “low pounds, ice, strong flow on rivers, excessive weed growth, or water shortage restrictions requiring waiting at the locks.”

Excessive weed growth is becoming a greater problem in the warm months, while ice restricts movement in the depths of winter. As we all saw earlier this year, trains are just as susceptible to freezing weather but if waterway traffic is to compete on the slow and steady mantra, reliability is crucial.

3) Choose your crew wisely

“An experienced and fit crew of 3 adults” is required, along with a whole host of other things, to travel at the speeds specified by the map.

“Fit” is fairly subjective and considering boating on the canal network is now predominantly an activity for the retired, I’m not sure many crews could still accurately be described in this way. An “experienced” crew member is just as hard to come by – judging by my friends, who will show up eagerly for a day of “beers on the boat”, yet rarely return for a second time after the realities of spending a day struggling to open locks. So unless you’re a 19th century boating family, best treat these times with a pinch of salt.

4) It’s (a lot) bigger than you think

From Wales to the Norfolk Broads. Click to expand.

It’s not something you’re really going to get to grips with from the odd walk along the canal around Kings Cross, so it’s easy to forget just how the UK waterway network is. To travel from Guildford to Lancaster by canal, one of longest direct journeys possible, would take upwards of 160 hours. There are 2000 miles of canals across the country, with a tiny proportion in cities like London.

They are living relics of England’s industrial past and have been preserved for our pleasure. Get out there and get exploring.

All images courtesy of Chris Clegg.

 
 
 
 

There isn’t a war on the motorist. We should start one

These bloody people. Image: Getty.

When should you use the horn on a car? It’s not, and anyone who has been on a road in the UK in living memory will be surprised to hear this, when you are inconvenienced by traffic flow. Nor is it when you are annoyed that you have been very slightly inconvenienced by another driver refusing to break the law in a manner that is objectively dangerous, but which you perceive to be to your advantage.

According to the Highway Code:

“A horn should only be used when warning someone of any danger due to another vehicle or any other kind of danger.”

Let’s be frank: neither you nor I nor anyone we have ever met has ever heard a horn used in such a manner. Even those of us who live in or near places where horns perpetually ring out due to the entitled sociopathy of most drivers. Especially those of us who live in or near such places.

Several roads I frequently find myself pushing a pram up and down in north London are two way traffic, but allow parking on both sides. This being London that means that, in practice, they’re single track road which cars can enter from both ends.

And this being London that means, in practice, that on multiple occasions every day, men – it is literally always men – glower at each other from behind the steering wheels of needlessly big cars, banging their horns in fury that circumstances have, usually through the fault of neither of them, meant they are facing each other on a de facto single track road and now one of them is going to have to reverse for a metre or so.

This, of course, is an unacceptable surrender as far as the drivers’ ego is concerned, and a stalemate seemingly as protracted as the cold war and certainly nosier usually emerges. Occasionally someone will climb out of their beloved vehicle and shout and their opponent in person, which at least has the advantages of being quieter.

I mentioned all this to a friend recently, who suggested that maybe use of car horns should be formally restricted in certain circumstances.

Ha ha ha. Hah.

The Highway Code goes on to say -

“It is illegal to use a horn on a moving vehicle on a restricted road, a road that has street lights and a 30 mph limit, between the times of 11:30 p.m. and 07:00 a.m.”

Is there any UK legal provision more absolutely and comprehensively ignored by those to whom it applies? It might as well not be there. And you can bet that every single person who flouts it considers themselves law abiding. Rather than the perpetual criminal that they in point of fact are.


In the 25 years since I learned to drive I have used a car horn exactly no times, despite having lived in London for more than 20 of them. This is because I have never had occasion to use it appropriately. Neither has anyone else, of course, they’ve just used it inappropriately. Repeatedly.

So here’s my proposal for massively improving all UK  suburban and urban environments at a stroke: ban horns in all new cars and introduce massive, punitive, crippling, life-destroying fines for people caught using them on their old one.

There has never been a war on motorists, despite the persecution fantasies of the kind of middle aged man who thinks owning a book by Jeremy Clarkson is a substitute for a personality. There should be. Let’s start one. Now.

Phase 2 will be mandatory life sentences for people who don’t understand that a green traffic light doesn’t automatically mean you have right of way just because you’re in a car.

Do write in with your suggestions for Phase 3.