The Waterfront podcast: dive back in

Unravel the relationship between water and British folk music, discover a forest of figs beside the River Don and hear tales of life on the water in the 1950s.

Waterfront podcast image with an illustration of a boat passing through a bridge

Words by Jo Tinsley

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Heroines of the canals
It was all hands on deck for those left at home to keep the country running during the Second World War. And while many of us have heard of the Land Girls and their contribution to the war effort, less well known are their canal-based counterparts; the so-called ‘Idle Women’. These women volunteered to operate barges carrying vital supplies through the country’s canal network; mainly steel from London to Birmingham, and coal on the return journey. Join us as we travel to Stoke Bruerne on the Grand Union Canal to hear stories about these remarkable women.

In search of a quiet life
Fishing is good for the soul; it calms and connects us to another world. So says Chris Yates – countryman, angler and much-loved author of almost 20 books on the art of catching (or not catching) fish along Britain’s extensive waterways. Taking us on a walk beside his local river for this very special episode of the Waterfront podcast, Chris shares his passion for the pursuit, which he has been practising since the age of five, and discusses its vital role in our health and wellbeing. Along the way, he seeks out signs of otters and kingfishers, remembers spotting minnows in the shallows with his children and reveals his greatest ambition: to record a symphony of the creaky gates he passes through each day.

Words on water with Ian McMillan
Amble beside the Calder & Hebble Navigation with the ‘Bard of Barnsley’ as he shares a poem or two and talks of his love of Britain’s waterways. In 2016, Ian McMillan – poet and presenter of BBC Radio 3’s The Verb – was commissioned to create a poem, Words on Water, celebrating the first three years of work on the Canal & River Trust’s North East Waterway Partnership. A year later, we met up with Ian for a towpath stroll alongside a scenic stretch of the Calder & Hebble Canal in Mirfield, West Yorkshire. Press play to hear Ian talk about his special bond with our historic waterways, to hear a few verses and to learn more about the role that local communities are playing in improving the towpath courtesy of Trust volunteer Hilary Brook.

Green pathways
With roads and railways acting as man-made barriers between habitats, waterways provide an unexpected yet essential corridor for wildlife to move through our towns and cities. To appreciate just how important these green avenues are, Daivd Bramwell met Mark Robinson (national ecologist for the Canal & River Trust) and Hugh Warwick (hedgehog-loving ecologist and author) on the Oxford Canal. Mark and Hugh do important work for conservation groups and the Trust, opening up canals as green pathways and sharing their findings so we can protect these unique habitats. Along the way, the trio chance upon evidence of otters, explain how leaf cutter bees use lock beams as nests and share tales of how canal bridges are helping bats to bypass one of the busiest roads in the country.

Folksongs of the waterways
Cosy up with traditional music specialist Sam Lee, as he unravels the relationship between water and Britain’s folk heritage. A Mercury Prize-winning musician, Sam speaks to Waterfront about the long tradition of folk songs written and sung by the riverbank – from lonely fishermen’s laments and poignant tales of passage, to working songs and sea shanties. And, of course, Sam’s more than happy to belt out a few classics by the fireside. To wrap it all up, Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist Lorraine Bowen plays us out with her enchanting song, ‘Land Shanty’.

Last of the bargees
Meet Alice Lapworth who was born on the Coventry Canal in the 1950s – one of nine children. She went on to work, marry and bring up her own children on the waterway. Now in her 80s, Alice has finally become a land-lubber, but she can’t stay away from canals. In this special podcast, she shares intimate and rich memories of her former life on the canals of the Black Country, from sleeping under her parents’ bed to jiving to gramophone music on the towpath.

The return of the Don
A forest of figs and a flurry of salmon: all manner of unexpected wonders await on our trip to the River Don! Come with us as we head to South Yorkshire to meet Ian Rotherham of Hallam University, to discover how a forest of figs came to be growing along the banks of the Don. In exploring the role recombinant ecology and the Industrial Revolution played in the Don’s history, we also catch up with Chris Firth of the Don Rivers Catchment Trust, who shares one of the UK’s greatest river success-stories of recent times: the return of the salmon.

Christmas in Hebden Bridge
There’s a decorated fir tree in the town square, a choir belting out carols, hundreds of people wearing Christmas hats and the smell of roast potatoes in the air. The only curious thing is the date… because all of this is happening on 25 June. Having witnessed their town being ravaged by floods on Boxing Day 2015, Hebden Bridge residents decided the best thing to do was to postpone Christmas for six months. Amid the sound of a brass band, choir and the occasional bagpipe, we join the town’s alternative Christmas celebrations and chat to locals about how the floods affected their lives and about the extraordinary generosity of those who worked to help the town and surrounding area recover – from Canal & River Trust team members and volunteers, to the biker gangs who watched over the town while the waters receded.

Waterfront podcast celebrates the work of the Canal & River Trust, explores the stories behind some of our iconic stretches of water and meets fascinating people who live, work and play beside our waterways. You can find the entire back catalogue of episodes on the Waterfront website .

Posted on 30/03/2020