TODAY, the Pocklington Canal is a popular destination for walkers and canal boat users alike.

It is navigable for more than half its nine-mile length, and the tow paths are open throughout the length of the canal, from Cottingwith Lock near the River Derwent eastwards to Top Lock and Canal Head near Pocklington.

Negotiating the canal's length hasn't always been this easy, however. In fact, sixty years ago there was a proposal to fill it in altogether.

According to a 'brief history' of the canal on the website of the Pocklington Canal Amenity Society (PCAS), in 1959 there was a proposal to fill the canal with 'inoffensive sludge' from a water treatment plant.

The sludge may have been inoffensive (though we're not convinced). The proposal certainly was not. It 'angered many people, including landowners, local residents and members of the Inland Waterways Association', the PCAS website reports.

With the support of the Inland Waterway Protection Society, MPs were lobbied and there was a huge media campaign. Even the House of Commons got to hear about it.

The canal was saved, and in 1969 - 50 years ago - the Pocklington Canal Amenity Society was formed. Restoration of the canal began in 1971 with the repair of the 'entrance' lock off the River Derwent near East Cottingwith. It has continued ever since.

The canal was actually a 'late addition' to England's network of waterways. The first proposals to build a canal at Pocklington were made in the 1760s but came to nothing. It wasn't until 1815 that work on the canal began: it was finished in 1818, at a cost of £32,695, according to the PCAS.

It was mainly used to carry coal and agricultural produce. But it was never a great success, the PCAS says - mainly because goods had to be transferred to horse-drawn carts at Canal Head near Pocklington if they were to continue their journey.

The canal was sold to the North Midland Railway in 1848, then to the North Eastern Railway, but gradually deteriorated through lack of dredging and maintenance. The last commercial craft to use the canal was the keel Ebenezer in 1932. Pleasure boats stopped using it soon after, because of the deterioration of the lock gates. In 1948, when the railways were nationalised, the canal passed into the hands of the British Transport Commission and then, in 1963, to the British Waterways Board, later British Waterways.

The decision to restore it came not a moment too soon - by the late 1950s, many of the towpaths were obstructed, the lock gates rusted and rotting away, and sections of the canal were choked with weed and badly in need of dredging.

Since 1971, thanks to the efforts of the Pocklington Canal Amenity Society, the Canal & River Trust which now owns and maintains it, and various other organisations, the towpaths have been opened up and six of the nine locks brought back into working order: most recently the Thornton and Walbut locks, which were officially re-opened last year.

It hasn't been an easy process, admits Malcolm Slater, editor of the Pocklington Canal Amenity Society's magazine Double Nine (so called because of the nine locks in nine miles). "Great care has to be taken when undertaking any work on the canal because it passes through three separate Sites of Special Scientific Interest," he said.

The canal today starts its journey via a lock at East Cottingwith - a short river cutting connects the canal entrance to the River Derwent. After passing through two farm swing-bridges the canal reaches Gardham lock, which also has a swing-bridge across its centre.

The canal continues through three more swing bridges and one fixed bridge to Melbourne from where, on Sundays (or by special arrangement on weekdays) visitors are able to enjoy a trip along the canal on the Pocklington Canal Amenity Society’s boat, 'New Horizons'.

From Melbourne the canal continues onward through both Thornton and Walbut locks and one farm swing-bridge before reaching the Bielby Arm - the current limit of navigation. Boats have to turn around here, although the canal was dredged onwards to Coates lock in 2017.

The next lock due for restoration is Sandhill lock. "An appeal is ongoing to raise the £200,000 needed to restore it," Mr Slater said.

Work is expected to start in December, but could take 3-4 years. "It will be the most difficult lock of them all to do," Mr Slater said. "It looks as though we will have to go right down to ground level to rebuild the walls."

Stephen Lewis

To find out more about the Pocklington canal, or to contribute to the appeal, visit

The Society is happy to give an illustrated talk about the canal to interested groups or clubs. Email Malcolm Slater on to find out more.