Portal:UK waterways

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UK waterways

The United Kingdom is home to a vast network of waterways. These are navigable bodies of water in various forms such as canals, rivers and lakes.

Natural rivers and lakes were the first waterways to be used for the transportation of people and goods. These were then improved to make navigation more reliable, by the construction of artificial channels and flash locks. The introduction of the pound lock enabled more ambitious waterways to be built. The Industrial Revolution required the transport of large quantities of raw materials and finished goods, and this led to a period of 'canal mania' which saw the construction of a large network of canals in the United Kingdom.

Competition, first from railways and later from road transport, started the decline of many canal and river navigations, leading in some cases to their abandonment. The latter half of the twentieth century saw the development of recreational boating and the restoration of many disused waterways.

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One of the 10 swing bridges on the canal

The Caledonian Canal was conceived as a safe route for wooden sailing ships to avoid the passage around the north of Scotland, and as a way of providing employment for the depressed Scottish Highlands. It was completed in 1822, funded by the British Government, and made deeper between 1843 and 1847. By the time of its completion, however, iron-hulled steam ships had replaced sailing ships, and many of them were too large to use the canal. It has been a tourist attraction since Victorian times, but was faced with closure in the 1990s, due to the high costs of repairs required. An imaginative scheme by British Waterways resulted in the work being completed for around one third of the original estimate, and ensured its life for another hundred years.

Main article: Caledonian Canal

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Did you know?

  • …that the Ribble Link is Britain's newest waterway, being the first opened for almost 100 years?
  • …that an unusual feature of the Arbury Canals was a Triple Lock, which had a 'Y' shaped chamber, with two separate entrances from above, leading to different branches?

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