Although the canal network in the UK is nowhere near as extensive as it was in its heyday, there are still plenty of sections of navigable waterway around the country. There are also a number of amazing features which will impress those who are interested in engineering. If you are a gongoozler (person who enjoys things that are related to canals and canal life), then you may be interested in visiting some of the places that appear in this list.
The Falkirk Wheel
The Falkirk Wheel is a large, rotating boat lift which is designed to transport boats between two different canals in Scotland. It connects the Union Canal with the Forth and Clyde Canal by raising boats up over a height of 24 metres. Boats enter at the bottom or the top of the wheel, which then rotates to take the boats up or down. The transported boats must then pass through another two additional locks to gain a further 11 metres in height.
The two canals were originally connected by a series of 11 locks which took around a day to pass through. By the 1930’s, the lock flight had become defunct and the connection way was closed. It was decided that the locks would be reconnected again during the 1990’s, and the local council called for innovative designs to make the transition between the canals much easier and quicker. The construction plans were so impressive that the project was able to secure additional funding from wider sources, including the European Regional Development Fund. The Falkirk Wheel was eventually opened in 2002. Passage via the Falkirk Wheel is free to Scottish Canals licence holders, however all boats must book their passage at least 24 hours in advance of their planned journey.
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is the longest and oldest navigable aqueduct in Great Britain. Standing at 38 metres high at its highest point, it is also considered to be the highest aqueduct in the world. It carries the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee valley. Due to the significance of the aqueduct, it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2009.
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct took 10 years to design and build, and it was fully completed in 1805. From end to end, the aqueduct 307 metres in length. A special plug can be found in one of the highest sections of the aqueduct which allows all of the water to be drained from the elevated portions. This creates an impressive waterfall which cascades down into the River Dee. The water is drained every 5 years to allow structural engineers to carry out a maintenance survey and conduct any necessary repairs.
Barton Swing Aqueduct
The Barton Swing Aqueduct is a navigable aqueduct which takes the Bridgewater Canal over the Manchester Ship Canal. Whilst most aqueducts are static, the Barton Swing Aqueduct is able to rotate to allow larger vessels to safely pass along the Manchester Ship Canal. It is the first and only aqueduct of its kind in the world.
There are two gates at either end of the swing section of the aqueduct, which are used to control the flow of the water. When all of these gates are closed, the water on the rotating section of the aqueducts is completely contained. The aqueduct can then be rotated around to allow the larger vessels to pass underneath unimpeded. Ships must notify the control room of their intended passage. The aqueduct is usually opened about 30 minutes before the scheduled passage time to reduce the risk of collision.
The Barton Swing Aqueduct was first opened in 1894 and is widely considered to be one of the greatest Victorian feats of engineering in the whole country. It was awarded Grade II listed heritage status due to its significant historical worth.
Caen Hill Locks
The Caen Hill Locks is a series of 29 locks which allow boats to rise around 72 metres over a stretch of 2 miles along the Kennet and Avon Canal. A pump which carries up to 7 million gallons of water per day operates as part of the system. It normally takes boats around 5 – 6 hours to pass through the full lock system, although it may take even longer in difficult weather conditions.
National Waterways Museum
The National Waterways Museum is located at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire, at the end of the Shropshire Union Canal. The museum is dedicated to the navigable waterways (rivers and canals) of the United Kingdom. It is operated by the Canal and River Trust.
The museum is housed in a 200-year old port which was built to help to coordinate transhipment between Liverpool and the wider inland waterways network. It was previously one of the largest dock complexes in England. In its Victorian heyday, hundreds of local people worked in this dock. Exhibitions in the museum detail the history of canals and canal boats, including the important role that canal boats played in the Industrial Revolution in the United Kingdom. There are some historic canal boats on site which can be viewed. It is also possible to see some examples of warehouse equipment which was used to load and unload boats which were being used to move cargo.
The museum is perfect for the whole family, because there are hands-on demonstrations and interactive activities for the children. Visitors can arrange to take a short, guided boat trip along the Shropshire Union Canal.