Restoration tales: The Pocklington Canal – North East

How the region’s prettiest canal went from ‘inoffensive sludge’ to a pocket jewel

Photo: Pete Birkinshaw


In 2018, the Pocklington Canal will celebrate its bicentenary. But at one point it seemed unlikely it would make it this far. As early as 1851, some people thought the canal should be turned into a drainage ditch and the last cargo boat came through in 1932. In 1959 a proposal was made to fill the largely unused canal with ‘inoffensive sludge’ from a nearby water treatment plant. As with so many of the nation’s almost-lost canals, the resulting outcry inspired the local community to rally together to save their waterway. The canal is not yet fully restored, so visitors who walk its full length of 9.5 miles can get a sense of what might have been when they pass through the stretches that still await renovation, which helps us further appreciate what has already been achieved.

The Pocklington Canal was completed in 1818 to carry coal and farming produce from East Riding to the River Derwent, around 10 miles away. The canal had a slow and steady start to life but in 1845 was sold to a railway company, at which point a slow descent into disuse began. In 1958, it was agreed that the canal was unsuitable for navigation and should be left to rot. At this point, somebody had the bright idea of filling it with sludge, inspiring the eventual creation of the Pocklington Canal Amenity Society in 1969.

Restoration began in 1971 and has been going on ever since, with the first half of the canal – the stretch from the Derwent at East Cottingwith to the Melbourne Arm – reopened in 1987. The Canal & River Trust and PCAS are now working to restore a further two miles to Bielby.

The canal remains a peaceful spot, with little boat traffic other than that of the PCAS’s trip boat New Horizons, allowing ramblers, joggers and cyclists to take in some stunning views – large sections of the route are designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest so there’s plenty to see, including kingfishers, dragonflies and barn owls.

It is, overall, a tiny local treasure, and a prime example of what communities stood to lose had the post-war restoration movement not been so successful and determined.

Read more about the Pocklington Canal on our website.

Each year, we hold a number of free Open Days for the public. We’re inviting you along to take a look behind the scenes and find out what it takes to keep our canals and rivers open to everyone. Find an Open Day near you.