Canals - maps, memories and dreams
The Grand Union Canal Race
The Grand Union Canal Race is one of the UK’s oldest still running ultramarathons (or possibly the oldest?), with the first event happening in 1993 to celebrate the opening of the first British Waterways Walk, and marking 200 years since the canal itself first opened. You can read the race report from that first event at the official Canal Race website here.
I was commissioned to create a GUCR map for a finisher a couple of years ago, covering her 145 mile journey along this historic canal from Birmingham to London.
This one was created on an A3 sheet of Khadi hand made cotton rag paper. The illustrated compass took inspiration from how canals were often drawn in some old maps I came across.
The decorative details in the top corners and above the title were inspired by the canal boat artwork often seen on the boats of Britain’s waterways.
Then detailed along the route are the key bridges, locks and sights from Liz’s memories of her race.
Personalised prints of my GUCR map available here:
Grand Union Canal Race | Owen Delaney Art — shop.owendelaney.art A4 or A3 print on 240gsm fine art paper. One of the most iconic ultras in the UK, a 145 mile long race from Gas Street Basin, Birmingham to Little...
The Canal Slam
Fast forward to today, and I’ve just finished a new map for Liz to immortalize her Canal Slam - the full series of three iconic and long (bloody long) distance running events in the UK, totalling over 400 miles - the Grand Union Canal Race (145 miles), the Kennet & Avon Canal Race (145 miles) and the Leeds & Liverpool Canal Race (130 miles).
This piece was created on 30x40cm Hahnemühle Britannia paper, using black ink wash for the coastline, some subtle blue lines for the British Waterways, and bolder blues for the three epic routes.
The text is my hand drawn variation of the Copperplate font used by the Canal Race CIC.
And once again some nice canal boat artwork inspired decorative details, and of course some of Liz’s most memorable highlights from her three races.
This timelapse gives some insight into the process, from initial pencil outlines through to the final inked details.
Personalised prints of my Canal Slam map available here:
Memories and goals
I love the canals in the UK, there’s something so peaceful and idyllic about just chugging along at a leisurely pace to some known or unknown destination. See where we get to.
I was very fortunate to spend many childhood summers on the Grand Union Canal, taking long cruises on our boat from Tring Marina. Sometimes we’d just go for a few days, and sometimes for as long as couple of weeks if memory serves me right.
Mum dug out some old photos from those days and it has me wanting to revisit these old towpaths even more now.
The long tunnels always fanscinated me, and how before the boats had engines, they used to literally walk the boats through the tunnels while lying on wooden planks across the boat’s roof (referred to as “legging it”), while the horses took the scenic routes over the hills. More about the history of the ~3km long Blisworth Tunnel here.
We never did the whole length of the canal on those boat journeys. I’d like to return and do just that one day, but legging it on two feet this time at the GUCR. It’s been my bucket list race for a while now, just not sure my legs have the necessary to take on such a long distance. But I’ll continue to dream about it. At least until I get a place in the ballot one day, then I’ll start panicking, and trying to find a crew…