|A narrow cutting is no place to meet a boat – so we did|
Mind you, as it was built by someone who'd already got the Menai Bridge, Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Caledonian Canal in his portfolio, it was very probably a bit easy-peasy.
Thomas Telford didn't so much build his canal across the Shropshire landscape as rip the landscape up to suit his canal as it charged in an almost straight line northwards from the Black Country to Cheshire.
Nigh on two hundred years ago he tore the scenery apart in a series of deep cuttings and massive embankments to create his level line. And you almost get the impression that the curmugeonly Scotsman viewed locks as an irritation, keeping them to an absolute minimum and clustering them together so they could be despatched speedily wherever possible.
We've reached Market Drayton, 27 miles up the canal and only used six locks (aside from the tollkeeper's little one at the start of the waterway).
But we have been through some spectacular works of civil engineering. The mile long Shelmore embankment took over five years to build, the treacherous soil constantly slipping away. Remember we're talking men with shovels and picks, soil moving by horse and cart. JCBs and earthmovers weren't even a dream. Hell, even decent roads were a rarity and railways little more than a dream.
The embankments spreadeagle the countryside, though there are only glimpses through the trees of it far below. The claustrophobic cuttings, sheer sided and gloomy with damp, dark green trees and runners are far more atmospheric.
|High Bridge rears out of the greenery|
|In the cuttings trees appear to grow right out of therock|
|The old Cadbury wharf at Knighton is still home to boats|
I don't think Thomas Telford would have cared much for nostalgia though I hope he'd be impressed that his fine engineering had stood the test of time.