Feeling down? Visiting one of our region's canals could be just the pick up you need

Hundreds of miles of canals weave their way through our region's diverse communities.

New research has found canals have a positive impact on wellbeing
New research has found canals have a positive impact on wellbeing

They provide a place to relax, get close to nature, enjoy leisure activities and soak up our nation's history.

This vast range of opportunities is available right on our doorstep and each canal has its own heritage and characteristics.

Now a new study suggests that visiting a canal or river when you are feeling down could be just the pick-me-up you need.

According to latest research, the combination of blue and green space with wildlife has a greater impact on wellbeing than spending time in an environment with only green space.

In the Midlands and surrounding areas, we have a rich variety of canals winding their way through cities, towns, villages and open countryside, offering something for everyone.

The Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, at Greensforge Lock, Ashwood Lower Lane

Highlights of our region's canal network include the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, which now forms part of two cruising rings, and is said to be one of the prettiest ways to explore the two counties.

At one end, it connects to the River Severn at the historic Stourport Basins in the Georgian town of Stourport. The southern reaches of the canal run close to the River Stour, which is an important wetland habitat. The canal near Kidderminster and Kinver has unusual sandstone 'cliffs'.

At its northern end, in Staffordshire, it runs through the wild pine woods and heathland of Cannock Chase. It then passes the grounds of the grand Shugborough Estate, before joining the Trent & Mersey Canal.

The towpath of the Stourbridge Canal has been resurfaced and it is easy to walk the entire five-mile length. One of the landmarks to see is the Red House Glass Cone, which stands beside the pretty Stourbridge 16-lock flight, offering a glimpse of town's glassmaking heritage. The terminus of the Stourbridge Arm is now home to moorings and the Bonded Warehouse.

The Shropshire Union Canal at Brewood

Meanwhile, the Dudley No. 2 Canal offers an insight into the area's industrial past, connecting to the Dudley No. 1 Canal at one end, and, at the other, ends at Hawne Basin, near Halesowen.

There is still a trace of the derelict section of the line known as the Lapal Canal, which volunteers from the Lapal Canal Trust are working hard to restore to its former glory.

The Bumble Hole arm of the Dudley No. 2 Canal leads to Bumble Hole Nature Reserve, a tranquil haven with grassland, ponds, wild flowers and birds.

This will be the setting for this year's Black Country Boating Festival which kicks off this Friday and runs until Sunday.

Last year's Black Country Boating Festival at Bumble Hole Local Nature Reserve

The event will include trade and craft stalls, a fun fair, real ale bar, boat trips, classic vehicles, live music and a dog show.

Nicknamed the Curly Wyrley, due to its twisting course, the Wyrley & Essington Canal runs past a number of nature reserves and wildlife hotspots, including Pelsall Common and Rough Wood Nature Reserve.

It was constructed entirely on the level, making for easy lock-free boating, away from the crowds in the central Birmingham Canal Navigations.

The Shropshire Union Canal at Market Drayton

The Shropshire Union Canal is described as a charmingly rural and isolated waterway for much of its length.

It run from Autherley Junction near Wolverhampton on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal to the Manchester Ship Canal at Ellesmere Port.

There will be a floating market on the tow path of the Market Drayton stretch of the canal with crafts, tasty food including wood fired pizzas and face painting as part of the town's Ginger and Spice Festival on September 24.

Drawing visitors from far and wise is the Llangollen Canal which crosses the border between England and Wales.

The Stourbridge Canal Town Arm

The majestic Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the tallest navigable aqueduct in Britain, which carries the canal over the River Dee, is a masterpiece of engineering and will be familiar to many who regularly visit the area.

These are just a few of the waterways we have access to in this region and the new first-of-its-kind study has suggested positive associations between visits to canals and rivers and mental wellbeing.

Researchers used the phone app Urban Mind to collect thousands of real time responses about people's location and mental wellbeing.

It also found a positive experience for feelings of safety and social inclusion relative to all other types of environments, such as indoors, or outside in an urban environment, or near spaces without water.

Andrea Mechelli, professor of early intervention in mental health at King's College London, said: "Canals and rivers contain not only water but also an abundance of trees and plants, which means their capacity to improve mental wellbeing is likely to be due to the multiple benefits associated with both green and blue spaces.

"Canals and rivers also provide homes to a range of wildlife, and we know from other research that there is a positive association between encountering wildlife and mental wellbeing.

"Taken collectively, these findings provide an evidence base for what we thought about water and wellbeing, and support the proposal that visits to canals and rivers could become part of social prescribing schemes, playing a role in supporting mental health."

Researchers found time spent near canals and rivers was associated with a greater improvement in mental wellbeing.

This relationship was still present when factors like age, gender, education and diagnosis of a mental health condition were accounted for.

The improvements continued for up to 24 hours after a visit, according to the study, which was carried out by King's College London, Nomad Projects and J & L Gibbons in partnership with the Canal & River Trust, and is published in the Plos One journal.

Dr Amir Khan, Canal & River trust ambassador, said: "As a GP and nature lover, it's great to see that scientific studies have confirmed what many of us intuitively knew already: that spending time by water, and canals in particular, is good for your wellbeing."

He added that around nine million people live within 1km of a waterway owned and managed by the trust in England and Wales, and urged people to find a happy place by the water.

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