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Digicam report (9): Canals
Page first written 27 February 2003
Last updated 8 August 2011

"Holiday on the Canal Boat"

Digital Camera Report from Birmingham No. 9


Llangollen, a small town on River Dee in North Wales, attracted interests worldwide in July 2002 when most of the local shops there decided, for the first time in all over UK, to accept the currency Euro during the International Musical Eisteddfod. However, when I went there on 13 July, the real purpose was to enjoy a ride on the canal boat; the canal starting from Llangollen is famous for a number of spectacular aqueducts. The most magnificent of them, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, is 307 metres in length and has maximum height of 38.7 metres, and is said to be the first of the great works done by Thomas Telford, one of the greatest canal and bridge engineer. As with most of the canals in UK, this bridge is designed to let narrow (7 feet wide) canal boats navigate. There is probably less than 30 centimetres between the boat and the supporting wall; the tourists can easily look into the deep valley underneath the boat. This makes the aqueduct a popular destination, especially during the summer.

Birmingham seems to be hated by the general Britons. Probably this is due to the fact that the city grew rapidly during the Industrial Revolution ... The word "Brummagem", a colloquial expression for Birmingham, even has derogatory definitions on the dictionary (e.g. "something that is cheap and flashy, especially immitation jewellery"). The recent developments such as the new Bull Ring Centre, would be the reflection of the feeling of the Brummies. Being the "young" town of trades and industries as such, and with few touristic attractions, the recent sales talk on Birmingham seems to be "the canal city". It is said that the canal route length in the city is more than that in Venice. Before the coming of the railways, canals were the lifeline for Birmingham which should rely on efficient means of transport as it was located in the heart of England without a seaport. Surprisingly, the canals were used for goods transport until 1960s; however, the severe winter of 1963 disrupted canal transport because of thick ice, and subsequently many small express companies were forced out of business, resulting in the complete decline of the practical transport. After that, the canals solely served leisure boats. In 1990, canalside areas in Birmingham city centre were re-developed, and it is now becoming a new tourist attraction.

It was in 1769 when the first canal reached Birmingham to transport coal to the local factories. Then came the Canal Mania, during which many canals were projected just as in the mid-1840s' Railway Mania. It was apparently the age of that bubble economy (or financial speculation). However, canals were not so much a new technology as railways were in the 1840s; even Romans two thousand years ago could build the aqueducts like Pontcysyllte. Nevertheless, I feel it reasonable to say that railways are the evolution from canals in this country -- canals that let narrow canal boats navigate, carried through tunnels, embankments or bridges. Natural to see railways made them "unnecessary"; it is quite surprising to see much of the canal network still remains for touristic purposes only. However, even more surprising is the fact that, after a hundred years' break, the new canal is now being constructed. The reason seems to be that canalside houses are more expensive! History so repeats itself...

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct - the side view
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct - from its foot
Canal Boat 'Thomas Telford'
'Thomas Telford' on Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
Horse-drawn canal boat
  • Horse-drawn canal boat
    [Photo 5] Date this photo is taken: 13 July 2002
    (Page published 5 Sep 2002, last updated 25 Sep 2002)

The Lock at Stratford-upon-Avon
Canal near Brindley Place, Birmingham, UK


  1. Brown, D. J. (Translated by Kato and Watabiki), "Bridges" (in Japanese), Maruzen (2001)
  2. British Waterways Home page
  3. Shill, R., "Birmingham's Canals", Sutton Publishing Ltd. (1999)
  4. "Birmingham adds tourism to its 1,001 trades", The Guardian, January 4 2002, p. 9
  5. Chancellor, E., "Devil Take the Hindmost -- A History of Financial Speculation", Macmillan (1999)

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