Hewn out of the land during the Industrial Revolution, they were once Britain’s main arteries of trade. The rise of railways and roads made them redundant and many were left to moulder, alongside the old industrial areas of many cities. But, as those grimy zones have been spruced up, so have the 4,800km (3,000 miles) of canals that remain.
The former towpaths are hike and bike trails. Houseboats and sightseeing boats float through the locks. And actual commercial traffic is up:
the number of containers transported on the Manchester ship canal increased from 3,000 in 2009 to an impressive 23,000 in 2013.
The canals are being refurbished thanks to changes in government policies.
In 2012, as the government sought to slash budgets, it offloaded British Waterways, the state corporation which ran two-thirds of the canals, from its books. The Canal and River Trust was set up.
Various sources of funds now involve the public in funding and managing the canals. And the canals have gone from garbage infested eyesores to useful again.