The Ups and Downs of a Canal Journey

On a journey Joy and I frequently disagree about whether we are going up or down.

My simple rational is that North is ‘up’ and South is ‘down’ [a discussion here backs this up], however as Joy counts herself as a Londoner (Essex really) she invariably talks about going down to wherever regardless of its geographical location and I found this explanation, confirming what I already had heard, on the interweb which I think is worth quoting as it puts it rather well:

Do you say ‘up to London’ regardless of which way you are coming from and if so why?

This is an odd one. The widespread, if a little archaic, use of ‘up’ when travelling to London is based partly on the importance of the capital and partly on the habit of denoting railway lines as ‘up’ lines (to London) and ‘down’ lines (out of London).

Students are usually said to go ‘up’ to university, especially to Oxford or Cambridge, so an Oxbridge student from London could find themselves going up both there and back. Annoying if you chose to cycle I’d have thought.

Added to that we also have the terms ‘Up North’ and ‘Down South’, which contradict ‘up to London’. From here in the North of England I would always say ‘down to London’, although some would tut-tut about that.

Posted at ‘The Phase Finder’ by Gary Martin

So what about canals? When Joy posted on Facebook that we had travelled down to Cropredy, Maffi queried it and I explained it was because she’s an Essex girl, but it got me thinking… We were headed North, so that’s up, we were climbing the locks, so that’s up; but what happens when we reach the Napton flight, we will still be headed vaguely ‘up north’ but going ‘down’ the locks. Come on Maffi, where does that leave us?’

Joy says that in future she is going to say we are going on to wherever ….. and going through locks!


4 thoughts on “The Ups and Downs of a Canal Journey”

  1. Having been an Essex girl myself, I agree with Joy, but being keen on maps and all things geographical I agree with Chris. However, having been through many such arguments/debates, and now being a fan of ‘plain English’, I think a simple “going to….” is probably the best!

    1. If if you’re in a lock and the water is filling the lock, then clearly if you are not going *up* then you are sinking! So in canal-speak you are definitely going up the locks regardless if you happen to be going daan sarf.

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