During our early travels on the Canals in the late 1960's there was still a bit of commercial traffic around, particularly on the Grand Union where bulk coal was being moved from the pits of Warwickshire to north London by water.
These were no "hobby craft" re-enacting the golden days of commercial traffic, these were the last remnant of the real thing. It's true that bagged coal is still moved by water, but this is moved by boaters for baters. Not the lose bulk coal which had to be emptied by sweat of a man's (or woman's) brow.
I am no great sentimentalist with a wistful hankering for a return to waterborne transport, far from it. The canals were built for 18th century volumes of commerce - can you imagine the country surviving with trade limited to 200 lorries moving along the M1 each day? However, there was something majestic about the sight of a fully laden pair pressing on purposefully down the canal at twilight, heading for who knows where. Impractical yes, but much more atmospheric than a couple of Fodens or Volvos parked up at Watford Gap Services.
These are the images I treasure most from those early trips.