Sculpture on the canals

There are many engaging pieces of sculpture and public art to look out for along our waterways. Many of them celebrate their historic past and the wildlife that lives on the canals today.

Some of the most famous sculptures that have appeared on our waterways have been temporary installations.  For example, Antony Gormley’s striking cast-iron cube figure that watched over Ned’s Lock on the Stratford Canal at Lowsonford in 2015.

Here we’ve gathered together a list of sculptures permanently at home on Britain’s canal network, to watch out for on your next canal boat holiday:

Jack o’ the Locks, Sowerby Bridge Wharf in West Yorkshire

Sculpted by artist Richard Burnett in 2009, these two bronze life-size figures celebrate the industrial heritage of Sowerby Bridge, once the centre of the textile industry boom.  One of the figures is Richard Tiffany, the town’s lock keeper for many years.  By his side, helping him to push a lock gate is a young boy, modelled on Tiffany’s great grandson.

Drifters has a narrowboat hire base at Sowerby Bridge wharf, which lies at the junction of the Rochdale Canal and Calder & Hebble Navigation.

The Kelpies on the Forth & Clyde Canal in Scotland

Standing at 30-metres high, the magnificent Kelpies are the largest pair of equine statues in the world.  Based on the heavy horses that once plied the canal towpaths, these mythical water horses stand at the gateway to the new extension to the Forth & Clyde Canal, taking it to Grangemouth.

Narrowboat holiday-makers can reach the Kelpies in around four hours from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Falkirk.

Opening the Lock Gate, City Road Basin in London

Sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley has been commissioned to create three bronze sculptures for the 250 City Road development, next to London’s Regent’s Canal.  Rank-Broadley is famous for his effigy of the Queen, which has appeared on all Commonwealth coins since 1998.  The first installation at City Road, which depicts two canal workers opening a lock gate, was unveiled at the entrance to the central plaza in March 2020.  It will be followed by a barge lady this summer, and a boat horse and his handler in 2023.

Drifters nearest canal boat rental base is on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Aldermaston, around 37 cruising hours away.

James Brindley, Coventry Basin

Often referred to as the ‘father of English canals’, canal engineer James Brindley is commemorated at Coventry Basin with a 7ft bronze statue.  Created by renowned sculptor James Butler, the sculpture portrays Brindley dressed in 18th century clothing, poring over canal plans at a desk.  The statue is one of 39 artworks by local artists along the Canal Art Trail, which runs for 5.5 miles from Coventry Basin to Hawkesbury Junction.

The nearest Drifters canal boat hire yard is on the North Oxford Canal at Rugby, around seven cruising hours away.

The Dragonfly at Hatton in Warwickshire

This eye-catching stainless steel sculpture of a dragonfly has landed on a side pond above Lock 42, on the Hatton Flight of the Grand Union Canal.  The sculpture, which measures 6ft across, was created by the Welsh sculptor Gideon Peterson.  Early in his career, Peterson worked for Sir Anthony Caro.  The sculpture, which was commissioned by British Waterways in 2006, celebrates the wildlife of the waterways.

Canal boat holiday-makers can reach Lock 42 from Drifters narrowboat rental base at Warwick in around three and a half cruising hours.

The ‘Hawk/Creation’ at Mytholmroyd in West Yorkshire

Sculpted by the artist Kenny Hunter in 2013, a cast iron hawk can be seen next to the Rochdale Canal at Mytholmroyd.  The work was inspired by the poem ‘Hawk Roosting’ by the former Poet Laureate Ted Hughes.  Born in Mytholmroyd, Hughes spent his childhood years wandering the local fields and woods.

The nearest Drifters base is at Sowerby Bridge, around three cruising hours away.