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Unifying theme(s),
integrated territorial development

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The string of communities along
the Castile Canal are united again

[Araceli Gonzalez, LEADER Canal de Castilla
(Castile-Leon, Spain)]


It was the rehabilitation of the former Castile Canal that our group set as the primary objective of its LEADER II strategy. This major transportation route had gradually lost its original purpose and in the end was only being used to irrigate land. However, for us, the canal is one of the area’s most important identifying features.

Situated in the province of Palencia in the heart of Castile-Leon, our LEADER area defines itself through the 207-km long canal which runs across a landscape dominated by cereal crops.

It was in the 18th century that work began to build the canal. The purpose was to connect the port of Santander in Cantabria to the Castile plains, making them accessible to the sea. Consisting of a main waterway and three smaller sections (North, South and “Campo”), the canal was used to transport cereals and other products of the region. But the arrival of the railway marked the beginning of the end for the canal which could not compete with rail either in terms of speed or flexibility. The deathblow came in 1959 with the ban on navigation on the Castile Canal.

In 1994, our LEADER group set as its main task that of restoring the canal to its original purpose as a navigable waterway but this time for tourism. We also wanted to give the region an identity again and unite the string of villages along the old waterway.

The initial phase of the project’s implementation was marked by endless red tape. Four different public bodies had to be convinced before permission was granted to transport tourists on the canal.

Thanks to the close links established between the LEADER group and the Water Confederation in charge of the canal’s maintenance, we ended up obtaining full responsibility to use the canal for tourism. For the project, the Confederation also let us use many of the buildings that it owns along the canal. These were run down but of great architectural value and included flour and paper mills, factories, dwellings and shops. The rehabilitation of this heritage is another important part of the project. Individuals or associations are allowed to use them free of charge if in return they pledge to restore or maintain them but do not use them for production activities.

Rehabilitating the canal was made easier by the cooperation established with the French LEADER group of Lot-et-Garonne which is working on a similar initiative, renovation of the Canal Latéral. Trips on the waterway, which began in June 1998 and follow four different itineraries lasting 45 minutes each, are in small boats which can hold up to eight people. These are rented from a French firm engaged in the same activity on the Canal Latéral. After three and a half months of operations, the canal excursion service had already attracted some 10 000 visitors.

In terms of employment, the project has created four jobs as tourist guides-boatmen, and occasionally one or two people are needed for maintenance on the small boats. In keeping with the project’s main goal - to improve local tourist facilities - a number of rural gites have been opened and hotels renovated in the villages along the canal.

But the project has also had an “intangible” impact that is just as important. The inhabitants are seeing their area in an increasingly positive light. For a long time, the canal and its surrounding area were associated with the years of poverty when many worked in the factories and warehouses along the canal for cheap wages or left the region. The canal’s rehabilitation has quite simply given the people of our area renewed pride and a new identity.


source: LEADER Magazine nr.24 - Autumn 2000

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