Heads or tails

Let’s try and be optimistic, let’s look for the silver lining in this cloud of recession. In a period of non-development the gloomy can take comfort that whilst things may not be actually getting better at least some of our historic survivals are not getting developed out of existence. And while they continue to exist they get even older and more historic and, hopefully, more likely to be recognised for their full worth, and conserved. That is the optimist in me fighting the pessimist.

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These thoughts are focussed, as ever, by the continuing problems of the restoration of the Montgomery Canal. Things have been moving pretty steadily for the last few years at the Welsh Frankton end. The newly restored section to Redwith Bridge is now in water, settling down and growing rushes and the Shropshire Union Canal Society continue stonewalling the towpath towards Crickheath. However in these straightened times there is little likelihood of any big money in the offing for the next expensive section though to Llanymynech. Meanwhile the open section from Burgedin to Refail languishes somewhat, without boats and with only basic maintenance. But it should be said it languishes very beautifully and romantically and it is here that the optimist in me hopes a fresh reappraisal could lead to a different set of priorities and a different sort of progress.

The Montgomery Canal at Berriew

A recent visit to Berriew lock found the lock cottage empty and up for sale again as it has been several times over several years. The ‘problem’ seems to be that there is no road access to the cottage and any modern buyer seems to expect vehicular access as an essential right. This would then give them the equal right to park a couple of big ugly steel cars, and maybe a horsebox and a caravan too in full view of anybody that wants to walk along this historic piece of relatively unspoilt canal. Should they be allowed to? Well of course they can at present, but surely there must come a point when the unpolluted and undeveloped historical importance of such a place must over-ride modern laziness? When will we realise that this unspoilt isolation is a very positive value and not just a negative selling problem? Could we look at it now as a gem to be preserved instead of a development opportunity? I mean now, not when it is too late.

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It  is not just the cottage. The building (which was once clearly two separate minuscule homes) is alongside a lock that still has its own lock tender’s hut and pigsty in situ. The pound below, although steel piled, still feels relatively unspoilt and leads down through a couple of classic Montgomery Canal bridges and onwards to the delightful Luggy Brook aqueduct near Brithdir lock. This whole section of canal is still a remarkable museum piece. Wouldn’t it be nice if it could remain so in perpetuity? But its perfection is being nibbled away. There is planning permission to redevelop the old tin SUCo warehouse above Berriew bridge and the towpath there has been resurfaced into a cycle path with fine granite instead of coarse limestone. The offside of the aqueduct has modern crowd control barriers wired to the railings for no apparent reason and the bridges are about to get duplicate numbers for health and safety reasons….

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In the ‘Country Diary’ column in the Guardian last week Derek Niemann was talking about one of his favourite footpaths in Bedfordshire which had been improved with a caterpillar tractor. “A moment later, two walkers joined me on the path. I watched their faces as they approached. They greeted me but showed no interest in what they were passing. Those who take this path in future will judge only what they see – they cannot grieve for what they do not know has been taken from them.”

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