So high above this Lakeland landscape, it’s difficult to imagine its industrial past; in particular, how an army of labourers toiled here, competing with an impossible deadline to deliver a vital transport link between Preston and Kendal.
It’s 1819. The industrial revolution is in full swing.
But this wasn’t the railway. This was prior to the coming of steam. The labourers were navvies – mainly Irish workers whose job was to hew out of the ground the new watercourse that would allow the shipping of goods over long distances at low cost. Coal and gunpowder were the primary commodities related to this high landscape.
This was the birth of the local canal, though it was not the first to be built. The official name was ‘navigation’, which is where we get the name ‘navvy’ from.
They were powerful things, navigations. They required an act of parliament to establish; then a small army of navvies to live and work in tented villages along the route as it grew.
All by hand and shovel and sweat. With horse and cart to take away the spoil.
They were a huge success… but for a mere twenty years. Then came the canal’s slow decline. Too slow and the cargo volume was too limited – compared to the train.
The railway was cost effective and far easier to build… You could ride on the land rather than digging up a boat’s worth every few yards.
Follow my eye in this shot and you’ll see a distant stone bridge at the end of the fence-line. That’s one of the bridges to ‘nowhere’, as we call them; the only proof that the canal was ever here…
Except in those householders that bought their part of the canal (in the 1960s) and converted it as part of their property. Farmers filled it in to restore the original fields. A few householders turned it into twin-level gardens.
Only at the ‘bridges to nowhere’ can you glimpse life as it was. It makes a wonderful footpath, and the views from this section (which was said to be the boatman’s favourite) are stunning.
©Stephen Tanham 2022
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.