Barging round Britain with John Sergeant

John Sergeant explores Britain's waterways
John Sergeant explores Britain's waterways
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Britain’s canal network is a true national treasure. Forged in the fire of world-changing historic events, yet set within gorgeous scenery, it’s bursting with undiscovered history and home to a vibrant community rooted in a unique way of life. In this new eight-part series, John Sergeant sets off on a rich and colourful voyage along the eight best canal journeys Britain has to offer, exploring their extraordinary stories as he goes.

It’s a waterway voyage from top to toe of our beautiful country, from the gentle downs of Somerset in the south, via the breath-taking countryside and engineering of the Welsh Llangollen, to the dramatic splendour of the spectacular coast to coast Caledonian Canal in the north of Scotland. Every step of the way, John immerses himself in living history, bringing the past to life by rolling up his sleeves, getting stuck in, and having a go at canal practices past and present.

We caught up with John...

Q: How would you describe the series?

“It’s the most exciting canal programme you’ll ever see. There are so many twists and turns, you think it’s just going to be an ordinary journey but it doesn’t have that ordinariness about it.

“There are people we meet that will surprise and interest you and there are scenes that I don’t think people will expect in a travelogue. So we’re trying to get a mixture between telling people exactly where we are and it’s a beau tiful day and it’s Bri tish summer, but also having a bit of fun.

“But the amusing bits come out of the people we meet and the places we go. We’re not trying to impose comedy on the canals but the comedy naturally stems from the scenes we come across. Making it was just so enjoyable, so when people see it in the winter when it’s cold, they’ll just think, ‘Ah’. Last summer was one of the best summers we’ve ever had, certainly in my life time.

“We didn’t miss a day’s shoot. It waswonderful and it’s an eye opener for people who don’t know about the canals.

People might think it’s going to be for people who are interested in boats or boring machines and diesel engines but it’s not meant to be about that, it’s meant to be a case of, ‘come and enjoy it with us’. “

Q: Where does your own interest in barging come from?

“I’m very keen on boa ting and I’ve been keen on boats all my life. I go sailing every summer with my brother and so the whole life on board, I don’t really know why it’s fascinating or intriguing but I just like messing around on them. The whole boating thing, I enjoy.”

Q: In the series you explore eight of our greatest canal journeys, did you have a personal favourite?

“The one that I did like for all sorts of reasons, was the Caledonian Canal which takes you from Inverness to Fort William cutting across the Scottish highlands, it was fantas tic.”

Q: You meet some interesting people along the way, any stories that touched you?

“Well, Freddie, the horse I met. He was this great big horse, and I don’t normally spend a lot of time with animals but I did bond withFreddie.

“He was pulling a narrow boat with tourists in and I was given the charge of him as we plodded along near Newbury and most of the time I was just on my own with Freddie and we had a good chat. It was funny, at the end I took out some peppermints for him. It was so daft but lovely.

“The live-ons were always interesting too, a guy called Badger, they really were escaping.

“The tailor we meet in episode one was great, like out of central casting in Hollywood. A very thin, pencil like guy and so quick, of course he could immediately measure me up.

The contrast of me and him, I found funny. Also the guy in the whisky dis tillery was fun. I was tasting the whisky and very slowly getting drunk but he is wonderfully serious about the whisky and I’m sipping away and I love all that.

“Not rehearsed, but he was just brilliant.

“Then I run off with the barrel!”