Saturday 12 October 2013

Things you see on the Shroppie

Most of the bridges in this part of the Shroppie have what I imagine are cast-iron protectors on their inner edges on the towpath side. They may be plastic – I haven't yet got off to examine one as we passed.

No idea whether these bridges are built from a softer stone than elsewhere, or if Shropshire cyclists, wheelbarrow-wheelers, joggers or dog-walkers are more clumsy or of more violent disposition than others. I can't think these objects have any other function than to protect the stonework. The fact that they are all on the towpath side means that whoever installed them was less concerned about boaters than other hazards.

But it is the marks that are most intriguing. They are grooves of variable length, depth and spacing, centred down the centre-line of the protector but at an angle to it so as to be horizontal, generally starting at the top but continuing to an inconsistent height from the bottom. Every protector seems to have a different set, a different pattern.

So what are these markings? I don't think they can be code, or special runes devised by the admirable Shropshire Union Canal Society. They don't look as though they could be anything to do with marking the height of floodwater. Any knowledgeable person is welcome to leave an informed comment!

We'd been promised kingfishers in Woodseaves cutting yesterday, to no avail. But journeying on from Gnosall today we had two sightings, and then one perched in a bush on the bank. I was approaching a bridge, but cut the throttle, whipped out the camera, pointed it in the general direction of the bird and pressed the button. Twice. I don't think either picture is going to win Wildlife Photographer of the Year. But it's my photo of a kingfisher. Blurry – under today's weather conditions the automatic settings on my Lumix G2 were always going to struggle. But it's my photo. Cropped in iPhoto so you might actually be able to see that it really is a bird, and a blue one at that, so defensibly a kingfisher. But not cropped too much, otherwise it becomes completely pixelated.

You'll probably need to be viewing this blog on a 24" high-def screen to make anything of it. But it made our day in the wet.


  1. If I am right the metal protectors were fitted when the bridges were built. The grooves were caused by the rope between the horse and boat rubbing against them. The rope would be full of grit and the abrasion has left these marks over the years. Without the metal protectors the bridges would have needed regular repairs to the stonework.

  2. Kevin is right -- they protect the stonework from the tow rope. Not just on the Shroppie, but all over the network.

  3. The protectors appear in a variety of guises too. The Leeds and Liverpool had large vertical wooden rollers a few of which have been replaced to illustrate them. The Stratford Canal had bobbins, there is still one at the split bridge at the top of the Lapworth flight.
    Most bridges you pass will have rope marks worn into them exactly as Kevin describes.
    Alison & Mike

  4. Kevin, Adam, Alison/Mike – Thanks for this, and very interesting. I suppose I was fooled by their general condition into thinking they are much more recent additions. Do they get regularly blacked, I wonder?

  5. Ahh, now was it to protect the stonework or actually the ropes which would have worn much quicker against the rough brick or stone than the smooth metal or rollers?!

    1. A debate! The anti-discriminatory practice of friction must mean both were under threat, whatever their relative coefficients of wear-under-rubbing-stress. If the canal company owned both bridge and rope, I suppose provision of protection was an economic no-brainer.