Picturesque scenes, reflections and Beauty whilst being surrounded by “ugliness and urban sprawl.” A short stretch of The Erewash Canal that took me by surprise.
“Contrasting and Surprising” are another two words that could easily be used to describe The Erewash Canal — a canal that starts off underneath a rather unassuming bridge in Langley Mill (Derbyshire) and then follows the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire border to the appropriately named Trent Lock, where it then joins The River Trent as it makes its way slowly towards The Humber. But as a canal goes it is full of surprises and curiosities — but it is also a canal of contrasts that has somehow remained beautiful whilst the times have changed. Those changes of course have involved the building of more urban sprawl and the demolition or restoration of historical structures that back in the day would have played a pivotal role in the history of The Erewash Canal, but it was just last week that I wanted to explore a section of The Erewash Canal that many would ignore and perhaps not even notice was there; which is sad really. But this section of the canal would soon change my mind and make me appreciate even more just how beautiful the canal can be, even when it does gently move along and provide a soothing or calming atmosphere. It was Barkers Lock, again an unassuming lock on an ignored stretch of canal that I first came across a simplistic scene, the sky was just so perfect and the way in which a house sat by the side of the canal in perfect harmony with the reflections was just something that I had to capture, behind me Barkers Lock — and only a short distance away, Ilkeston Town FC, but already I had found something picturesque.
Really what I was looking at was just an ordinary house, only located right next to a canal and the conditions were just perfect — the canal, had a few ripples and that was to be expected, but the reflection is what did it for me, I walked a little further, the canal to the left of me and on one side of the canal, the urban sprawl of Ilkeston, a former bath spa town, and to the right hand side of the towpath that I was walking on, the ugliness of industry and the sounds of a railway line with its passenger and freight services, the people onboard those trains; blissfully unaware that The Erewash Canal even exists, nor would they even know about the canals link to The Cromford Canal. But a little while later and something caught my eye, for the view in front of me on the towpath had become somewhat obstructed, by what you might ask? And that of course was the obstruction of the branches that overhang the towpath that I was walking along.
Perhaps it was the simplicity of the scene in front of me that made me pause, perhaps it was because of an element of framing that it provided or the contrasts between the aquatic side of things and how nature exists in harmony; maybe it was both. But I knew that ahead of me I was approaching Stenson’s Lock, again an unassuming lock, but one that oozes charm and it is one of those locks on The Erewash Canal, that offers something photogenic, for a start it is not a “honeypot location.” Thus meaning that it is not that well photographed, but it is one that when you see it; leaves you realising that there is beauty to be found on the canal, especially the lesser known Erewash Canal.
I know knew that just around the corner that the picturesque scene of Stenson’s Lock would come into view, and it is a view that changes with the seasons, local photographer “Anne Haile” also took a photograph of this lock, only during the winter time — and I can only imagine just how stunning it would also look like in The Autumn, but even in the month of May this scene looks picturesque of Stenson’s Lock framed perfectly by the trees on each side of the canal, and the way that Stenson’s Lock has been constructed means that it really does feel different to other locks on The Erewash Canal, finally the view that I had wanted to capture came into view.
The towpath for a short while changed and an elevation change later, I was now at the top of Stenson’s Lock, ahead of me the canal had changed and it had become something of an oasis of calm, the sky had changed, behind me blue skies, in front of me a build-up of grey skies, but somehow this stretch of canal seemed slightly calmer and whilst I could still hear the sounds of the railway, and certain elements of industry behind me, I knew that I was now walking through natures art gallery, the lush green overhang of the towpath and the flat calm still waters of the canal were so serene, then I literally had to pause, for in front of me was a scene of complete calm, a lone swan in the middle of the frame and the reflections and beauty just stopped me in my tracks.
“I had walked just a short distance from Barkers Lock, past Stenson’s Lock on this stretch of The Erewash Canal, a picturesque stretch of canal that is so often ignored, yet here the canal seems to be more beautiful, a non honeypot location for photography, but it is one that many photogenic compositions can be found, calming and soothing is this charming stretch of canal that has something else to it, for what is that something else? Perhaps it is the mystery that each time you walk this stretch of canal things will always change with the seasons.”
From reflections to something different, I noticed as I made my way towards Cotmanhay Bridge and the former Bridge Inn at Cotmanhay that the side of the canal had changed yet again, for the blossoms this year seem somewhat late — but the winding canal ahead of me flanked by the beauty of this late blossom was something else to see, spectacular and soothing on the eye.
The canal towpath changed again, after taking the above photograph, I knew that it would be a short while until the abandoned yet beautiful Bridge Inn at Cotmanhay came into view, a former pub that back within the day would have looked very different and would have been full of life, now it sits quietly awaiting its fate from a development company, yet here the urban sprawl can be seen in the distance along with the ever elusive sounds of the Cotmanhay Motorcycle Gang, of youngsters who choose to ignore the rules of the land, who instead spoil an otherwise picturesque setting by taking their off road bikes, off road through The Erewash Valley. Rightfully or wrongly, at least why not give these people somewhere to enjoy riding their motorcycles off road. But that slight digression aside, the calmness of the canal and the contrast between the urban sprawl and the way that nature works its magic was just calming in a strange way.
Sitting down on the bench by the side of the bridge I pondered on what had been an interesting walk, the curiosities that I had seen, the ugliness of the various industries that back onto the canal and of course the urban sprawl that encroaches upon this stretch of canal, but soon it was time to make a move — only this time around perspectives would soon change yet again; and the views that I had seen on my way would look different, unusual and different, for the passage of time is linear and what changes would have happened? I was soon going to find out, the sky was grey now but a sense of humidity had built up, I walked along the canal for a short distance and then looked back, another lone swan completely oblivious to human life and in the background the sad looking former Bridge Inn at Cotmanhay.
A sad scene perhaps seeing this former pub that at one time would have been full of life, but society changes and does it change for the best? I then walked, passing by the slope that leads up to The Bennerley Viaduct, and after a short while I could see an unusual perspective of Stenson’s Lock ahead of me, now framed with shades of green and looking lush — and somewhat mysterious with a slight lord of the rings element to it. But this was the side of a canal I was on, and the perspectives had changed, the weather had changed and the elements that I had seen on the way had also changed, yet somehow it seemed more beautiful this view looking directly towards the top of Stenson’s Lock.
Beauty is what I had seen, but as I continued to walk the shades of green also looked different, perhaps more lush and again I looked back on myself and noticed something of simplicity and tranquillity, the canal flanked by the overhang and the shades of green looking like they had been painted, but this painting was one of nature.
Before long I had returned to the starting point from where I had started this walk from, another swan on the water next to the house at Barkers Lock, made for another soothing photograph, the weather had gone humid, grey skies had encroached but the house just looked as photogenic as when I had first seen it. Calming it must be living by the water.
As I had finished the walk, I took time to reflect on what had been a short walk, but despite it being a short walk I had walked amongst picturesque scenes — I had seen reflections like nothing I had seen before and of course beauty, all this whilst being surrounded by the ugliness of industry and the urban sprawl of Ilkeston, yet this stretch of canal seemed to be a place of escapism, calm and serenity, and that in itself proved just one thing, if you want to escape the stresses of modern day life, quite simply have a walk along a canal towpath, and afterwards you will feel a whole lot better, refreshed even and calmer. Perhaps that is the best therapy in life, to walk amongst nature, and yes canals pass through industrial areas and urban areas, but really they provide something of an oasis of calm that we should all experience at least some point in our lives.