Last month we were in Wales and I finally got to see the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct near Llangollen. Built by Thomas Telford and William Jessop between 1795 and 1808, it remains today the worlds highest navigable aquaduct and now deservedly part of a UNESCO world heritage site.
My vertigo precluded a picture from the centre so we scrambled down to the river level for this view:
The quality and tenacious problem-solving engineering required to suspend this canal 126ft in the air is all the more remarkable in that it crosses not a dry valley but the raging torrent of the River Dee.
This week we are in Cheshire and today visited the Anderton Boat Lift near Northwich, another remarkable feat of making water go where it doesn't want to.
This amazing construction was built in 1875 to take narrow boats 50 feet from the Trent & Mersey Canal directly into the River Weaver below. It was in daily use until 1983 when corrosion closed it down but it was restored and re-opened in 2002 as a demonstration visitor centre. £7 million had been raised to make the lift work under hydraulic power again (it had been converted to electric power in 1908).
It was most noticeable in the last few miles of the drive to Anderton how much of the route was lined with the decaying empty husks of 19th and 20th Century industrial buildings. The visible signs of long term recession were everywhere and a shock to a Southerner whose concept of recession was seeing a pub closed or a card shop become a charity shop.
Of course we now have 21st Century transport infrastructure to admire - the Eurostar for example is I suppose the best example. Crossrail is a marvel of technology underway as will be the HS2 if it can find its way through Nimbyshire.
I can't help feeling that these projects don't have the human scale of the pioneering canal projects which were bold, extravagant yet technically fathomable by the public. Just like nobody can service their own car these days. If it ever gets finished, one wonders if the carriages of the High Speed rail link will be filled with bankers, tax accountants and curators of the past. We seem to be better at "curating" the past than managing the present.