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Britain is networked by a canal system which is now largely used for recreational purposes. Originally they were a cheap way to carry the new industrial goods but were gradually superceded by the railways in the 19th century. Where pubs sit alongside a canal, we award the ships wheel symbol.
Canals are artificial waterways constructed for drainage, irrigation, or navigation. Irrigation canals carry water for irrigation from rivers, reservoirs, or wells, and are designed to maintain an even flow of water over the whole length. Navigation and ship canals are constructed at one level between locks, and frequently link with rivers or sea inlets to form a waterway system.
The first major British canal was the Bridgewater Canal 1759-61, constructed for the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater to carry coal from his collieries to Manchester. The engineer, James Brindley, overcame great difficulties in the route. By 1761 it had opened as far as Stretford, and was extended to the Cornbrook wharf in Manchester by 1763. The canal, which was sold to the Manchester Ship Canal Company in 1887, continued to be used for goods traffic until the mid-1970s.
The traditional form of transport on British canals is the narrowboat. Narrowboats are long and flat bottomed and would usually consist of mainly cargo space with just a small cabin for the crew. Originally pulled by horses walking along the Towpath, most were later converted by installing engines, formerly steam powered and latterly diesel.
Narrowboat cabins were usually very small, owners tried to make them as comfortable as possible. Both interior and exterior surfaces were very colourfully painted and the tradition remains so today. By 1805, Britains canal network extended some 3,000 miles linking many of the country's natural river system. Today, many of Britain's canals form part of an interconnecting system of waterways some 4,000 km / 2,500 miles long. Many that have become disused commercially have been restored for recreation and the use of pleasure craft. Inns line the route of many canals and sitting outside in the summer at a canalside inn watching the world go by can be a delight. One inn in Netherton near Dudley in the Midlands, has actually installed an old canal barge inside the building and uses it as the serving bar. The Dry Dock is also filled with lots of highly decortated canal related furniture and is located just below the junction of three canals.
The Midlands was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and therefore also the birthplace of Britain's canal network. The Grand Union, Shropshire Union, Trent & Mersey, Staffordshire & Worcester, Worcester & Birmingham and Macclesfield canals all bisect the Midlands area linking the River Trent near Nottingham with the River Severn at Worcester and the River Nene near Northampton.
There are many companies which now offer Narrowboat hire with boats that can sleep anything from 2 to 12 people. A typical narrowboat layout such as the one below would accommodate 6/8 people.
The first canal aqueduct in Britain, across the River Irwell at Barton, was opened in 1761. The longest navigable aqueduct in Britain is the Pontcysyllte in Clwyd, Wales, opened 1805. It is 307 m / 1,007 ft long, with 19 arches up to 36 m / 121 ft high.
The Ashby Canal runs for 22 lock free miles through pleasant countryside and skirts the Civil War battlefield at Bosworth Field.
The Birmingham Canal links the City of Birmingham to the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal and the start of the Shropshire Union Canal at Aldersley, just north of Wolverhampton. The canal passes through Smethwick and under the M5 at Oldbury. There are two branches off the canal at Dudley, where the famous Dudley tunnels pass under the town. The Dudley tunnel starts from the basin at the fabulous Black Country Museum and surfaces at Parkhead Locks.