Once used to transport thousands of tonnes of coal between Preston and Kendal, Lancaster’s 200-year-old canal has now become a haven for wildlife, as well as boaters, walkers and cyclists.
Its bridges criss-cross the city to the east – and the Lune Aqueduct to the north, which recently received a £2m facelift, is an internationally renowned piece of 18th century architecture.
It can be a tranquil, traffic free route through the city.
But one boater says the canal is letting Lancaster down, due to the amount of rubbish in it, some of which has ended up wrapped around her vessel’s propellor on two separate occasions.
The boater, who does not wish to be named, has a 23ft cruiser and pays the Canal and Rivers Trust £520 a year to use the canals.
She said: “I’m afraid of going through Lancaster.
“There’s so much rubbish in the canal. We’ve seen a trolley, cushions, large plastic bags.
“On two occasions we’ve had material wrapped around our motor, and it takes a long time to get it off.
“This year it was a cushion cover. There’s tins, cans, bottles, paper. I’ve even seen dog muck in the canal.
“Friends have seen wooden pallets and for sale signs.
“I like to go up to Hest Bank and Carnforth and the city of Lancaster is beautiful, but the canal is seriously letting it down.
“Someone needs to sort this out. It’s about time someone got to work on it. There should be people patrolling the canalside.”
There is a general feeling by canal users that the waterway could be cleaner, with some blaming a lack of maintenance.
The Canal and Rivers Trust, which is responsible for looking after the canal, said a programme of dredging would start after Christmas.
Last week, Rob Randall was moored near the Waterwitch Pub.
He keeps his barge in Garstang for most of the year, and is from Heysham.
He said: “It can be particularly bad along here, for me it’s ropes that can cause an issue, if they get wrapped around the propellor.
“We’ve been up here for three or four years now, and we were previously on the Llangollen canal.
There’s rocks and bits of masonry as well that can cause an issue, and that’s lack of maintenance. But otherwise it’s a pretty good canal.”
Another barge owner moored near the Waterwitch, who did not wish to be named, said: “The problem with the cruisers is that they go in too deep, which can pull up stuff from the bottom of the canal.
“It definitely needs dredging, but we’ve been told they can’t do it as it comes to a point in the middle.
“It’s very beautiful compared to other canals, but it’s not well looked after. However it is getting better with the Canal and Rivers Trust. With the transition from British Waterways, there’s always going to be a bit of time needed to get it sorted, but we think in general they’re making positive improvements. We see plenty of people on patrol along the canal.”
Coleen Downing and Jake Williams, from Lancaster, were kayaking down the canal in an inflatable kayak for the first time.
They left the Ridge area and went to the Waterwitch before turning round and heading back to the Ridge.
Coleen said: “We can’t really compare it to other canals, because we haven’t used them.
“It could be tidier, and it could be cleaner.
“But it’s been a nice day and we’ll definitely be doing it again.”
But Jake added: “I certainly wouldn’t want to end up in there.”
The Lancaster Canal Trust charity was set up in 1963.
Its main objective has been to restore, and reopen to navigation, the length of the canal from Tewitfield to Kendal.
Frank Sanderson, from the trust, said the Canal and Rivers Trust took on a “poison chalice” when it replaced British Waterways.
He said: “Some of them are finding it difficult to prioritise things, in general though they’re not doing a bad job.
“Lancaster Canal definitely needs dredging.
“The trust have taken on ecologists and heritage people, which is great to some degree, but it’s not all about letting the weeds grow so the ducks can eat them.
“It’s a canal built by people for people, not to impose silly things like not cutting the weeds down.
“If a canoe turned over, they wouldn’t be able to get out.
“It’s important that the canals are put back into good order.
“They have the potential to attract a lot of tourism money, and we should be taking advantage of that.”
Lynn Pegler, from the Canal and Rivers Trust, said: “Staff from the Canal & River Trust work hard to care for the Lancaster Canal.
“The historic waterway is more than 200 years old and was constructed in a flat dish shape, which results in it being much shallower than other canals such as the Leeds and Liverpool and the Rochdale.
“This can make it challenging for boaters in some places but the Trust is trying to alleviate the worst areas with a planned programme of dredging after Christmas.
“We have two dedicated task force teams of enthusiastic volunteers who help us to keep the canal looking neat and tidy by clearing vegetation, painting bridges, railings and fences, and removing rubbish.
“They do a fantastic job but everyone can help to keep our waterway special by taking their rubbish home and not dumping it in the canal or on the towpath.”