Sunday 9 May 2010

Bridge one

There is something very distinctive about the shape of a canal bridge, with the towpath running alongside the water. It is easy to imagine the heavy shire horses plodding along here, mile after mile with their creaking leather harnesses and the thick taut rope dragging the barge with its cargo of coal or stone or cotton.

The barges which frequented this section of the Cromford Canal must have been narrow indeed, because the width at this point could not be much above five feet.

This is bridge one, named Lawn Bridge. It is within quarter of a mile of the Cromford Wharf terminus and was once the first of 49 bridges to cross the main line of the canal. Unfortunately, some of the original bridges were either demolished or filled in as the canal fell into disrepair.

The decline of the canal came as a direct result of the expansion of the railway network. The loads being transported by canal decreased until most were only local; the Butterley Tunnel was closed because of subsidence and then in 1944 the canal was abandoned, except for a half mile section at the Langley Mill end. This was finally closed in 1962.

The canal was not completely forgotten though. In the twenty years between 1969 and 1989, the five mile section between Cromford and Ambergate was restored by the Cromford Canal Society. In 1990, this ceased to exist, and the work today is continued by a charitable organisation called Friends of the Cromford Canal, whose aim is to restore the canal to navigable condition and reconnect it to the national inland waterway system. They have their work cut out for them, but I applaud their intentions and would love to see them succeed.

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