Feature by Marthe Hensmann
Half Past Four in Coventry. You wonder? Well, that's not the time but only one of several narrowboats docked at one of the most interesting sites of industrial heritage in the West Midlands. Coventry canal basin, to be precise.
Wander around the basin where old warehouses meet newly built craft shops and discover outdoor art along the canal which was voted as one of the top ten urban waterside walks in 2003.
Have a look at the canal basin
See the images below for an impression of the canal basin and the award-winning art trail.
The sculpture of canal engineer James Brindley
Located on high ground on the edge of the city centre the Y-shaped canal basin has fine examples of surviving canal architecture with more than 200 years behind it.
Famous canal engineer James Brindley was responsible for the initial planning of the canal navigation and he continues to look out onto the canal until this very day - as a ¾ lifesize sculpture.
New buildings named after canal engineers house little shops and artists studios.
Historical warehouses and vaults
The warehouses facing the basin to the right were rebuild in 1914, but their predecessors would have stood in their place since the early 1800s.
Although there is no more busy coal up- and offloading going on today you can still see 19th century remnants of this part of history, namely two vaults for coal storage and the weighbridge office at the top of the basin.
Towards the canal
Sitting on a bench and enjoying their picnic one couple felt inspired by the canal’s past: "We like walking along the canal. It has got a history behind it and reminds us of old times. Sadly, many buildings that stood here have been knocked down."
The regeneration of the canal area began in the early 90s after it lay more or less derelict for decades after the war.
Industrial place turned leisure resort
Only in the last 30 years the canals have become to be seen in a positive light.
Andy Littlewood, canal ranger
"Only in the last 30 years the canals have become to be seen in a positive light," said canal ranger Andy Littlewood.
"Other canals have been refilled and there were plans to build the new cathedral in this place."
Luckily, the canal basin escaped this fate thanks to the efforts of the Coventry Canal Society.
But there is always work to be done. Early next year a new restaurant and bar will open on site.
"It is a challenge to turn an industrial place into a leisure resort, the old infrastructure needs radical maintenance.
"A new dredge is needed for example. There are over 30 bikes dumped under one bridge alone."
Canal is still unknown attraction
The canal is a brilliant place to relax and walk.
The basin is the ideal starting point for a walk full of discoveries. Andy agreed: "The canal is really an unknown resource.
"People see it as somewhere where you shouldn’t go. But in fact it’s a brilliant place to relax and walk."
The weighbridge office
Once you leave the basin you come to a low bridge that guards the entrance ever since it was build in 1768. Next to it is the canal house used by canal managers until the 1950s.
Behind the first bend of the canal, the Daimler power house tells of a long-gone industrial past. The house was part of the famous Daimler factory where in 1897 the first British production car was made.
Britain's longest outdoor gallery
My aim is to get people involved in canals.
You can walk or cycle along the 5 ½ mile canal towpath, the city’s longest park and Britain's longest outdoor gallery.
This award-winning art and heritage trail incorporates 39 artworks by professional artists and community artists working with local people. Discover what the ‘Snake in the Grass’ and ‘The Traveller and the Stream’ are all about.
"My aim is to get people involved in canals," Andy commented on his work. He works a great deal with community groups and schools and helps to organize local events along the canal.
"The other day we had a boat trip to Hawkesbridge junction together with the Asian Day Centre. The Asian ladies were just fabulous. They sang all along the way."
The canal is brilliant for bringing back people’s memories.
There is a regular program of events such as summer fairs, workshops for kids, guided walks and boat trips.
"Boat trips are especially great for many elderly people who can still remember the canal before the war. The canal is brilliant for bringing back people’s memories," said Andy.
Public art along the canal
The ranger is also responsible for the maintenance of the towpath.
"We keep it as clean as we can and the idea is to attract as many people as possible. Once a week we we pick up rubbish from a boat. All volunteers over 16 are welcome to join."
For more information on the canal and program of events call the ranger’s office on 024 7623 1306.