weather had finally been nice enough to consider the first "real"
ride in quite a while. We decided to head in the general direction of
Richmond. Quite honestly, I wasn't hopeful about finding much more than
yet another downtown shopping district. Not that I have anything against
shopping and I really love "old towns" but I was really looking
forward to something a bit more scenic. It was a nice surprise to stumble
upon one of Richmond's newest hidden treasures, the recently completed
Canal and Floodwall Walk - a 3.25 mile loop along the James River and
Kanwha and Haxal Canals.
began our walk on the James River and Kanwha Canal portion of the walk.
(Later we discovered that the best bet for making the tour was to begin
at the Civil War Center [photos] on
Tredegar Street, where parking is free and so is the information on the
Canal Walk - oh well.) However, at the time we weren't quite sure as to
what we had discovered, so we eagerly stopped and read markers and signs
offered along the way, which seemed to be located almost every where,
including on the drain covers! It seemed as though even the steady rush
of modern-day Richmond's traffic rumbling all around us could not drown
out the echoes of Richmond's historical past.
canals were originally intended to be a part of a continuous transportation
route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River. In its heyday
the canals employed over 200 boats of varying types, 425 horses and 900
men. Richmond was a thriving and vital industrial community thanks primarily
to the canals.
By the early 1900's the canals begin to lose their importance as the
railroads begin to thrive, and once again Richmond prevailed as a leader
and innovator even with this "new" mode of transportation. In
fact, the world's only triple train crossing can still be seen along a
portion of the Canal Walk. Eventually even the mighty railways lost their
reign as the king of transportation to the modern highways that can be
seen in a tangle of highways directly overhead.
It occurred to me that within a mere few feet along this portion of the
walk, you can trace the entire history of Richmond's transportation from
water to rail to roads. As if that isn't impressive enough, Richmond's
1,500 feet of floodwall speaks volumes as to the ingenuity of man. The
floodwater marks from hurricanes past, serve as a devastating reminder
as to natures intensity and man's ongoing battle to learn to harness its
in many places in Virginia, the Civil War has left its distinctive footprints
all along the Canal Walk, particularly on the Haxal Canal portion of the
loop. Browns Island contained the greatest industrial complex in the south
during the Civil War era. In fact, half of the armaments used by the Confederate
army were produced there. Belle Isle is a tragic reminder of the human
tolls of war as it was used to house over 8,000 Union soldiers in a prison
camp where many met their fate due to the overcrowded conditions and harsh
You are bound to get hungry while strolling along the historic Canal
Walk. Picnic tables are available at various places along the walk. If
you prefer to eat indoors, there are great dining opportunities in Richmond's
historic Shockoe Slip area. We discovered the Richbrau
Brewing Company located at 1218 E. Carey St.; a unique brewery and
restaurant inside a restored warehouse style building offering everything
to eat from the unusual such as "Big Nasty Nachos, seafood chili,
duck burritos to the more typical fare of fish and chips. They also offer
a variety of unique beers brewed right on the premises. The warm and cozy
pub-style atmosphere combined with friendly service adds to the overall
pleasant dining experience.
Whether you prefer a leisurely stroll along the beautifully
restored canals, a relaxing boat tour (in season), or perhaps an upclose
study of Richmond's rich history, the Canal Walk offers an excellent way to spend your
day. It is easy to forget you are in the heart of Richmond as the din
of traffic gives way to the echoes of the past. If you listen carefully
enough, you may even hear the echoes of the Powhatan Indians who had discovered
this vital area long before any settlers realized its potential.