integrated territorial development
The string of communities along
the Castile Canal are united again
[Araceli Gonzalez, LEADER Canal de Castilla
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
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
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