The Seven Wonders of the Waterways...
The original "Seven Wonders of the Waterways" was compiled half a century ago by
Robert Aickman (co-founder of the Inland Waterways Association) and published in
his book Know Your Waterways. The list features:
- Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal
- Standedge Tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal
- Caen Hill Lock Flight on the Kennet & Avon Canal
- Barton Swing Aqueduct on the Bridgewater Canal
- Anderton Boat Lift on the River Weaver and Trent & Mersey Canal
- Bingley Five Rise Locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal
- Burnley Embankment also on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal
Videoactive, who produce an excellent series of videos and
DVDs of canals, publish one called "Seven Wonders of the Waterways". We gained
this fairly early on in our canal-visiting, and so for us it was the
seven for some time. Videoactive considers the seven to be Pontcysyllte
Aqueduct, Barton Swing Aqueduct, Anderton Boat Lift, the Bingley Five-Rise, plus
the following additions:
- Foxton Inclined Plane on the Grand Union Canal (Leicester Arm)
- Harecastle Tunnel on the Trent & Mersey Canal
- Crofton Pumping Station on the Kennet & Avon Canal
In 2002, British Waterways conducted a poll of the public to
choose the "Seven Wonders of the Inland Waterways for the 21st Century". The
list selected was Anderton Boat Lift, the Bingley Five-Rise, Caen Hill Flight,
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Standedge Tunnel, plus the following additions:
- Falkirk Wheel on the Union Canal and Forth & Clyde Canal
- Sapperton Tunnel on the Thames & Severn Canal
This produces a grand total of 12. So, for the first time, we present:
The Twelve Wonders of the Waterways!
Anderton Boat Lift
Connecting the Trent & Mersey Canal with the River Weaver
this boat lift, opened in 1875, raises boats 50 feet from the river. Designed by
Edwin Clark it consisted of two counterbalancing caissons each large enough to
take a barge or a pair of narrowboats. Hydraulic cylinders controlled the
movement and the main force powering the movement was gravity, the descending
caisson having an extra 6 inches of water added to its load. A 10 horse-power
steam pump provided extra power for the completion of the process. In 1908 the
lift was converted to electric power, 250-ton counterweights added and the two
caissons were made to work independently. In 1983 problems with the mechanism
caused the lift to close. A grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund enabled the
restoration of the lift, which was reopened in 2002.
Barton Swing Aqueduct
The original Barton Aqueduct was built by James Brindley in
1761 to take the Duke of Bridgewater's eponymous canal across the River Irwell.
This early aqueduct was considered a marvel at the time of its opening although
its design was often surpassed by later aqueducts. When the Manchester Ship
Canal decided to use the course of the Irwell at Barton as part of their
navigation channel it was necessary to demolish Brindley's aqueduct and replace
it with a structure even more marvellous. The Barton Swing Aqueduct was designed
by Edward Leader Williams and opened in 1893. The aqueduct swings open, full of
water, to allow the passage of ships along the Manchester Ship Canal. The
swinging span is 235 feet long and weighs 1,450 tons. Hydraulic rams are used to
drive rubber seals into each end of the moveable tank.
The Bingley Five-Rise Locks raise (or lower) boats through 60
feet in five cavernous chambers, an awe-inspiring experience. The staircase was
designed by the Leeds & Liverpool's chief engineer, John Longbotham, and
completed in 1774. For many, many years it has been the pride and joy of its
resident lock-keeper, Barry Whitelock. More
Rather than take a long tour following the contours of
the land, a large embankment was built to carry the Leeds and Liverpool Canal
across the valley here, almost a mile long and up to sixty feet high.
The embankment was designed by Robert Whitworth, the Leeds and
Liverpool Canal Company Engineer.
As all the earth had to be brought here by hand, it is a very
impressive construction, though why it should have earned the accolade of a
Wonder above some of the embankments on the Shropshire Union Canal is not clear
- perhaps because it was built some thirty years earlier, in 1795, when such an
undertaking was even more remarkable. Also, because the embankment is open, with
views across the rooftops of Burnley, it seems higher than others where the
banks have grown dense forests over the intervening 150-200 years.
We haven't been to the Burnley Embankment yet, but photos will
follow when we have.
Caen Hill Flight
The flight of 29 locks at Caen Hill, Devizes is not the
longest in the country (that honour belonging to the 36 locks at Tardebigge on
the Worcester and Birmingham Canal), but is visually far more impressive because
16 of the locks fall in a straight line, close together with large side ponds.
The locks were the final link in the Kennet and Avon Canal,
and opened on 28 December 1810. The locks became derelict by about 1950, but
after a strong campaign against closure of the canal, followed by a major
restoration effort, were reopened by HM The Queen on 8 August 1990.
Photos of a visit to
Crofton Pumping Station
The summit level of the Kennet and Avon Canal is 450ft above
sea level, some 40ft higher than reliable local water sources needed to
replenish the water in the summit level. The original plan when the canal was
proposed was for a summit level at 410ft, but this would have required a long
tunnel, and a cheaper alternative was sought. The steam engine at Crofton was
used to lift water 40ft into the higher summit level, saving £41,000 on the
total construction costs of the canal.
The brick chimney was built in 1856 to replace a previous iron
one. The top 36 feet were declared unsafe in the 1950s and removed, and the
reduced draft made the pumping station unworkable, and it was closed.
However, in 1968 the pumping station was sold to the Kennet
& Avon Canal Trust, who have lovingly restored it, and the chimney was
rebuilt in 1996-97 to its original height of 82 feet. More
The Falkirk Wheel is a boat lift designed to connect the Union
Canal with the Forth and Clyde Canal, some 25 metres below. It is part of the
Millennium project to restore the canals linking the east and west coasts of
Previously there had been a long flight of locks to make the
connection between the Forth & Clyde and Union Canals, but these have been
destroyed and built upon. The Union Canal to the east has been extended, ending
with a smaller number of locks and then a tunnel under the Antonine Wall, which
emerges along the embankment and aqueduct shown, to the Wheel. Boats are carried
in the caissons of the wheel down into or up from a new basin, which connects
with the Forth & Clyde Canal to the west.
The Falkirk Wheel is the world's first and only rotating boat
lift. Visitors can soon enjoy 'The Falkirk Wheel Experience' using special
amphibious "trip" boats at the site. The Falkirk Wheel boat lift can carry six
hundred tonnes including eight or more boats at a time with a single trip taking
about 15 minutes.
The Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland commented: "There
has been a definite attempt to design the Wheel for the 21st Century. This
design is considered to be a form of contemporary sculpture. The combination of
cultural and technical factors adds considerably to the effectiveness of the
overall concept and has resulted in a truly exciting solution."
Foxton Inclined Plane
The lock flight at Foxton was built in 1810, the journey
through the ten 7' wide locks taking about 45 minutes to climb the 75 ft hill.
With railway competition starting to bite in the late 19th century, the main
canal carriers, Fellows Morton and Clayton wanted to use bigger boats to take
coal from the north to the London factories. As part of this plan, two boat
lifts were planned, at Foxton and Watford, which would capable of carrying boats
14' wide, thus speeding up transport as well as allowing larger boats.
Foxton lift opened in 1900. It had two tanks or caissons, each capable of
holding two narrow boats or a barge. The tanks were full of water, and balanced
each other. The lift was powered by a 25 horsepower engine. A journey time of 12
minutes for two boats up and two down improved the speed tremendously, and the
same lump of water went up and down the hill all day so a very big saving
of water was achieved giving better control of this precious resource.
lift worked well, but the locks at Watford Gap were never widened, and the
traffic didn't increase. This made the lift uneconomic. The locks were
refurbished for night traffic in 1909, in 1911 the Lift was mothballed to save
money, the traffic returning to the locks which have been in use ever since. In
1928 the machinery was sold for scrap.
There is now an
ambitious plan to rebuild (restore isn't really appropriate) a boat lift on the
pictures from Foxton...
The original Harecastle Tunnel was was designed by James
Brindley. The longest tunnel in the world at the time, it took eleven years to
build, was one and three-quarter miles long, and opened in 1777, five years
after Brindley's death. Teams of "leggers" propelled boats through the
towpathless tunnel, taking two to three hours for the journey. Not surprisingly,
the tunnel became a serious bottleneck, and a second tunnel was built with
Thomas Telford as consultant engineer. With advances in tunnel engineering, the
new tunnel was completed, including a towpath, in just three years, opening in
Until the early years of the 20th century, Brindley's
tunnel was used for southbound boats and Telford's for northbound, but in 1914
Brindley's tunnel, badly affected by mining subsidence, was abandoned.
Aqueduct was built between 1795 and 1805 by the Ellesmere Canal Company as part
of an ambitious (and ultimately ill-fated) route from what later became known as
Ellesmere Port on the Mersey to Shrewsbury on the Severn. There are 18 piers
made of local stone, the central ones over the Dee being 126' high up to the
ironwork. The canal runs through an iron trough 1007' long 11'10" wide and
5'3" deep. It remains the highest and longest aqueduct in Britain.
Sapperton Tunnel on the Thames and Severn Canal was opened on
20 April 1789, under the highest part of the Cotswolds. At 3817 yards (3490
metres) it was at the time the longest tunnel ever dug in England, though now it
is the third longest canal tunnel. It took five years to dig (mostly by hand
though gunpowder was also used through the rocky sections) which was only a year
longer than originally intended, and was much faster than most contemporary
The tunnel passes through solid limestone and Fullers earth.
In the limestone sections the tunnel is carved out of the greater oolite rock
and is unlined. Fullers earth is a clay-like substance which expands and shrinks
depending on its water content. The tunnel was lined with brick arching through
the Fullers earth. This section of the Thames and Severn Canal was abandoned in
1927, and roof falls in the brick lined sections blocked the tunnel.
At the Coates end the tunnel passes through solid limestone
for over 1km (half a mile) and it is from here that the boat trips operate on
winter Sundays. The water level fluctuates wildly depending on the amount of
rainfall and it is not always possible for the trip boat to operate. Trips run
every Sunday from November starting at 12:00pm and finishing at dusk. The trip
takes about 35 minutes. Trust volunteers steer and crew the boat which is
powered by a quiet, pollution free electric motor. Flood lights illuminate the
Photos from our visit coming soon!
The tunnel is on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, and at 5698
yards (5210 metres) is the longest canal tunnel in the UK; at 645 feet (197
metres) above sea level is also the highest; and at 638 feet (194 metres) below
the surface is also the deepest.
Cut through over three miles
of solid rock, it took 16 years to build, opening on 4 April 1811. While most
canal tunnels are lined with brick, much of Standedge is just raw rock. The
canal became un-navigable in about 1948, but after a long restoration programme
the canal and tunnel were reopened in May 2001.
As well as
being part of the through route on the canal, trip boats run into the canal from
the Standedge Visitor Centre.
We haven't been to Standedge yet, but photos will follow when we have.