David Edwards-May - Volunteer of the Month May 2016

David Edwards-May
Created on 05/05/2016

David Edwards-May successfully completed the 2016 London Marathon on April 24th after months of training and a close call involving a trip to A&E and some last minute physiotherapy.  He managed to finish the gruelling 26.2 miles in an impressive four hours and ten minutes, and has currently raised nearly £4,000 for IWA.

How and when did you first become interested in inland waterways?

At the London Boat Show at Earls Court in the mid-1960s, visited with my grandfather. I bought Stanford's Canoeing Map of England and Wales, because I was attracted by the idea of canoeing down rivers, and was fascinated to discover the network of canals crossing the country. That opened a whole new horizon for me!

When and why did you start volunteering with IWA?

After visiting the IWA stand at the Boat Show, I joined the following year.  My focus at that time was on practical volunteer work.  I went with friends to work on Sulhamstead Lock on the Kennet & Avon Canal, digging a cess-pit at a lock cottage on the southern Stratford Canal, and repainting Denham Bridge on the Grand Union Canal working directly for British Waterways (accommodated on a couple of narrowboats moored at the bridge).

I signed up for the Waterway Recovery Group and my first 'job' as a map-maker was a map of the Cambridgeshire River Ouse for the group's magazine Navvies. At that time photocopies were negatives only, consuming vast quantities of ink, but I remember vividly that first 'proof' copied at Bromley Public Library.

You’re a vice-chairman of the Inland Waterways International.  Who are IWI and what does your work with them involve?

IWI was created from the International Committee of IWA, chaired by the late Ron Oakley, so the filiation is direct! I had worked with Ron since 1974, organising continental waterway tours, so I was a founder member, along with Mike Reid, Roger Squires and former IWA Chairman David Stevenson.

The association promotes inland waterways worldwide and for all their functions, so the job is vast: monitoring all sorts of projects and helping corporate members lobby for their projects, ranging from restoration of historic canals to the modern waterways built for high-capacity inland water transport.

IWI also hosts the annual World Canals Conference, which will take place this year in Inverness, Scotland, on September 19th-22nd.

What are the main differences between international canals and those in the UK?

Size! There are practically no operational canals as small as the narrow beam canals of England and Wales. On the other hand, the waterways of North-East England are similar to a lot of the canals in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Freight has all but disappeared from many of the smaller canals (for 250-tonne loads), but a few hundred péniches are still operating on the system, especially in Northern France.

Other significant differences are the much larger fleets of hire boats on the Continent, and the fact that high-capacity waterways are being planned and built, as priority infrastructure projects for the European Union. It's exciting that the new 106km-long Seine-Nord Europe Canal is going to be built in 2017-2023, connecting the Seine to the Scheldt and the Rhine.

Where is your favourite boating location?

Close to home in Grenoble is the delightful Canal de Savières between Lake Bourget and the Upper Rhône.

In England, the first canals I discovered in a hire boat from Alvechurch in 1966: the Birmingham Canal Navigations. I am a keen supporter of many canal restoration projects: the Montgomery Canal, the Cotswold Canals, the Wey & Arun Navigation and the Lichfield Canal, for example.

Another favourite in France is the Canal du Nivernais.

Why did you choose to raise funds for IWA by running the London Marathon?

This was an opportunity to get back into running and run my first ever marathon, a lifelong ambition. The Mon & Brec Canalathon (canoeing, cycling and 18km running) went well in September 2014, so when the invitation was published in the Head Office Bulletin the following month, there was no hesitation!

What was your best and worse experience of running the marathon?

I was moved at the start, gently jogging on the spot, chatting with my neighbours, as the momentum gradually built up and the mass (33,000 people in that enclosure!) percolated inexorably towards the start line. I had gone into pen 5 for slightly faster runners than me, because I had been warned that the start could be very sluggish. Those moments were even more exciting than crossing the finishing line.

There were two worst moments. One was after my third pee-stop after about 18 miles, when I found it difficult to get back into the rhythm. That took a minute or so. The second was trudging through a layer of Lucozade after one of their refuelling stations. The goo stuck to the soles, an unpleasant sensation!


Thank you to David for this interview.  If you would like to support David in his efforts to raise funds for IWA’s campaign and restoration work, you can sponsor him:

  • By Phone – Call 01494 783453 ext. 611
  • By Post – Send a cheque payable to ‘The Inland Waterways Association’ to Sarah Frayne, IWA Head Office, Island House, Moor Road, Chesham, HP5 1WA


If you are interested in volunteering for WRG or IWA, you can find out more on our volunteering pages.

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