Saturday, 15 June 2013

Walking on Water!

Water over water: on the left of the photo is the Coventry Canal,
while on the right-hand side is the River Tame, in the low-lying
ground below.
I've been walking on water - well over it, to be precise. Today’s Saturday Snapshot shows one of my favourite spots, where the local canal crosses a local river, and you can walk alongside water - and look down on water below you, which is a really bizarre experience.
This photo was taken earlier in the year, when things
looked very dark and bleak, but you can see the
structure of the bridge at the lower level.
I’m always amazed at the incredible engineering skills of the men who designed and built our canals, and this feature intrigues me. It’s known locally as the Fazeley Aqueduct, because it is at Fazeley, which is a very small and not terribly beautiful town in Staffordshire (there, now I’ve upset all the inhabitants, so I shall have to apologise: sorry). Anyway, the structure’s proper name is the Tame Aqueduct, and it’s quite small (there are aqueducts elsewhere in the country which are much longer and higher), and from the lower level it looks just like a brick bridge, with no sign at all of the water up above.

I found this old photo, taken sometime between 1930 and 1950,
on the Staffordshire Past Track site. It shows the old toll house
and footbridge which once stood on the aqueduct.
I think there was once a tollhouse by the side of the canal, with a footbridge from one side to the other, but there seems to be no trace of either today, although I found this old photo on the Staffordshire Past Track site, and it does seem to be the same spot.  However, there is a small concrete ‘pill box’ built during WW2 as part of a nationwide system of anti-invasion defences – you can see the openings where men (the Home Guard presumably) could shoot invading forces should the worst happen. The aim was to provide a last-ditch effort to slow the enemy by hampering and harassing them, but the buildings were usually in strategic positions on transportation routes, and I believe they were manned and used as lookout posts.
The 'pillbox' built during WW2 as part of a last-line of defences
against invasion.
Work on the canal began in 1768, so coal from Warwickshire and Staffordshire could be shipped to Coventry, and trade links could be established with other parts of the country. James Brindley, one of the greatest 18th Century canal masters, was taken on to build the waterway, but work took longer than expected, costs spiralled, and the Coventry Canal Company ran out of money, at which point it seems the directors fell out with Brindley and he was replaced. So it was not until 1785 that this aqueduct was constructed, and it was another four or five years before the 38-mile long route was finally completed.

Over the edge: Looking down at the River Tame.
A short walk along the towpath is Fazeley Junction, where the Coventry Canal meets the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, and this spot must once have been packed with laden barges passing by in either direction. There’s are industrial units and a housing estate nearby, but you can’t see them, and up on the aqueduct it’s very peaceful, with grass and flowers growing on the towpath, and a wealth of wildlife on the water.
Wooden steps leading down to the Tameside Local Nature Reserve.
There are steps down to the area down below, where the land on either side of the River Tame has been turned into a wetland nature reserve, providing a green oasis for the busy town of Tamworth, dotted with pools, drainage channels and a man-made lake with four islands where all kinds of birds nest – with the aid of decent binoculars you can see lapwings, cormorants and terns. The riverbanks at Tameside, which were once quite steep, have been cut back to improve the habitat and create a spawning area for fish, and the last time I walked through I was lucky enough to catch glimpses of tufted ducks, but they moved too rapidly for me to catch them on camera. And there are water voles, frogs, dragonflies, damselflies and all kinds of creatures.
Another view of the aqueduct taken earlier this year.
Saturday Snapshot features photographs taken by bloggers all over the world, and is now being hosted Melinda of West Metro Mommy.

24 comments:

  1. Great post and photos. Love hearing the history.

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    1. Thank you - it was surprisingly difficult finding information for this post, and there seemed to be lots of discrepancies between the various names, dates and accounts.

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  2. I do find canals fascinating...from these you've shown to the Canals in Venice, Italy; and let's not forget the canals in Venice, CA!

    Thanks for sharing... and for visiting my blog.

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    1. Canals fascinate me as well, and I would love to visit Venice and see the buildings and canals there.

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  3. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...I love these photos.

    In answer to your question...the purple smoke tree shouldn't take that long to grow at all. I must have bad soil. :)

    Thanks for stopping by my blog.

    Elizabeth
    Silver's Reviews

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    1. Thank you for commenting, and for the information about that tree - I've never come across it before.

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  4. WE both featured water this week! Thanks for dropping by and visiting.

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    1. Ah, but you went a bit further afield than I did - this is only a short walk away!

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  5. Beautiful photos. Such an interesting juxtaposition of geography, engineering, and history.

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    1. Joy, you put that really neatly, and I think that's why I like this spot so much - it's the mix of man and nature.

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  6. Thank you for a detailed (as always) description of the Aqueduct. I've always been amazed at how they achieved such engineering masterpieces in the old days, some even date back to centuries B.C. I saw them only in my visits to Europe and Israel. The photos are very helpful in understanding what it's like... walking on water, almost.

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    1. I've seen pictures of aqueducts built by the Romans, but never seen the real thing. It seems incredible that after them Europe forgot about waterways (as well as proper roads, central heating and decent sanitation) for the better part of 2,000 years.

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  7. love the "walking on water" bit. Great historical detail, and love the "not terrible pretty" town. Some places are just like that.

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    1. Residents will be very cross if they hear about 'not terribly pretty' - they are proud of their town. It has a rich history (Robert Peel, police force founder and Prime Minister, built a stately home in Fazeley). And you can still see some of the old industrial buildings, including one which housed a cotton mill, and the terraced houses where the mill workers lived. And there is a junction between two canals which I like - I love the feeling that you can follow the waterways and go almost anywhere.

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  8. That is a very cool idea, walking beside water and then seeing water below you!

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    1. I always think it is very odd indeed Deb, and it makes me feel slightly disoriented, like one of those strange pictures of impossible pictures where nothing quite matches up.

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  9. The canals through the UK are something else. I used to walk the one that goes through Camden when I lived in London. We'd sit at the pub and watch the houseboats go through the lock : )

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  10. I love seeing the changes that time brings to a place. Your potted history was very interesting :-)

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  11. The first photo looks as if it has the "Allison's tilt". That's what my husband calls my photos, when I don't take my shots straight. :-)

    I love reading the history behind your photos. Researching the background of the canals would give more meaning to your them. Also, at least to me, half the fun of sharing photos is also giving the explanations. Thanks for the adventure!

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  12. Very interesting bit of history. I love the reflection of the tree in the second photo too.

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    1. Thank you Martha. Canals fascinate me - it must have been such an achievement to create them - I always think of them as man-made rivers!

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