What I found growing along, the canal side was a pleasing number of plants with herbal properties. I collected a good range to take with me as a starting point for conversation with community members.
My aim was to talk about a number of things with people in relation to the canal: First I wanted to explore if people walk along the canal, and if so, how they feel when they are walking, in particular I wanted to ascertain if people feel safe, and their reasons for visiting. I also asked if people would be interested in walking with me, if I were to host a series of Community Walks between now and next March.
I had a series of really great conversations with people, all telling me that they walk the canal regularly, some people because it is a good route to get from ‘a to b’ quickly, whereas others walk and run there for health and wellbeing. Overwhelmingly, people felt safe to walk the canal in the day, but not so much at night (a couple said they didn’t want to fall in, as it is dark). People expressed that the canal is a place of calm – with one individual describing the canal as their sanctuary. A lovely discussion with a young man who likes to run along the canal; he said ‘you know that feeling when have been away and then you get home, that’s how I feel when I visit the canal.’ We talked together about recognising the canal as a nature haven, and I heard a number of times that people visit to look at the trees and plants, and that it can provide a feeling of wellbeing.
I shared the range of plants that I had found along the canal and noted that quite a few have life-giving properties. It struck me as interesting, that the sense of calm and wellbeing expressed by visitors to the canal is relevant to the plants that are growing there. I found sow thistle, whose medicinal uses traditionally have included as an anti-inflammatory, a painkiller and an antiseptic. Herb Robert which has been used to treat nosebleeds and stomach upsets, coltsfoot which if made into a tea has been used to treat Asthma, sore throat, wheezing, bronchitis and laryngitis. These are all wayward plants, that have self-seeded along the canalside, and I have begun to wonder if a purpose planted herbal bed could supplement these *self-propagated herbalists. The other thing that struck me, in relation to the plants growing along the canal, was the opportunism of some of the self-seeders – who had managed to grow in the tiniest of pockets – pockets of opportunity, something to think a bit more about.
People were really interested in joining a community walk, and expressed interest in being joined on those walks by specialists in a few areas: herbal plant specialists, who could lead a foraging walk to help us identify further herbal species along the canal, or heritage specialists that could link the natural ecology up to the history of the canal, or perhaps an ecologist that could help us understand any endangered species along the canal, and how we can better support them. All brilliant ideas.
The first walk we have scheduled will be a Community Walk, to make visible some of the organisations and people already connected to the canal in some way. We have set a date of Saturday, 4th November 11am – 1pm leaving from the lodge by the Kidsgrove Side of the Harecastle Tunnel.
*propagation - the breeding of specimens of a plant or animal by natural processes from the parent stock.