Twelve Mile Circle decided to stick with the aqueduct theme once again after the recent discussion of England’s Barton Swing Aqueduct. There were other structures, equally fascinating in their own distinct ways. Some were large, some were unusual, and some offered elements of both. Many of those innovative structures seemed to concentrate in western Europe, an obvious leader in navigable inland waterways.
Aqueducts designed simply to move water were interesting by themselves, however I was considerably more fascinating by those designed to carry boat traffic above the surrounding terrain, akin to a bridge for boats for a lack of better words. For more than a century the title of longest navigable aqueduct had been held by the Briare aqueduct of the Canal latéral à la Loire, the canal over the Loire River in France (map). It was a magnificent masonry structure with a steel trough stretching 662 metres (0.4 miles). Then came Germany’s Kanalbrücke Magdeburg, or Magdeburg Water Bridge in 2003 (map), considerably longer at 918 metres (0.6 miles) albeit more utilitarian than beautiful.
In what’s being hailed as an engineering masterpiece, two important German shipping canals have been joined by a giant kilometer-long concrete bathtub… The water bridge will enable river barges to avoid a lengthy and sometimes unreliable passage along the Elbe. Shipping can often come to a halt on the stretch if the river’s water mark falls to unacceptably low levels.
The Magdeburg Water Bridge provided a vital direct connection between two separate canals on either side of the River Elbe, the Mittellandkanal and the Elbe-Havel, essentially connecting eastern and western Germany directly by water as well as to nations beyond its borders from Poland to France and the Benelux region. The possibility had been envisioned at the turn of the last century when construction first began. Two World Wars and the politics of a protracted Cold War completely halted the dream. German reunification provided an impetus to renew and complete this effort, nearly a century after initial construction first began. Now it’s a reality.
Belgium’s Port of Antwerp locked-up (pun alert) the title for the world’s largest canal lock. It handled 200 million tonnes of cargo in 2015, enough to make Antwerp one of the Top 20 busiest ports in the world, and it "aims to keep growing," Locks were necessary to protect the port from strong tidal actions pushing in and out along the Scheldt River. The locks kept water levels constant on the port side of the structures. Oceangoing cargo container ships kept growing larger so the locks had to follow suit in a continual game of catch-up. They became truly mammoth.
Antwerp first claimed the largest lock title with the construction of the Zandvlietsluis, or Zandvliet Lock, in 1967. That remained sufficient for a solid three decades until a new class of larger ships threatened to diminish the port’s usefulness. The port authority responded by opening a new lock parallel to the Zandvlietsluis in 1989, the Berendrechtsluis, or Berendrecht Lock. It was great enough to accommodate Post Panamax container ships (Panamax being an official set of dimensions for the largest ships that can navigate the Panama Canal). The Berendrecht Lock, currently the largest lock in the world, is 68 metres (223 ft) wide, about 11 metres (36 ft) wider than the Zandvliet Lock.
Right on schedule, however, container ships grew once again to an even larger behemoth class called New Panamax. Elsewhere in the Port of Antwerp, engineers are building the Deurganckdoksluis, or the Deurganckdok Lock. It will encompass the same length and width as Berendrecht, and in addition it will be four metres deeper to accommodate the extra draft of New Panamax ships. The Deurganckdok Lock was undergoing testing at the time I posted this article and was expected to open in April 2016.
Obviously Twelve Mile Circle fixated on superlatives like the world’s longest navigable aqueduct and the world’s largest lock, although the real reason for this article centered on a combination of the two: the worlds longest/largest aqueduct with a built-in lock. Actually there was but a single example of such an unusual structure currently, the Netherlands’ Naviduct. The concept was so new that the term stood on its own. THE Naviduct.
The whole situation seemed odd. The Netherlands was renowned for land reclamation and that figured indirectly into the creation of the Naviduct. The nation planned to drain a 410 km2 (158 mi2) polder — about the size of the Caribbean island of Barbados — to be called Markerwaard. It went so far as to create a 27 km (17 mi) dike between Enkhuizen and Lelystad that it completed in 1975 and called the Houtribdijk, resulting in two large lakes, Markermeer and IJsselmeer. However the project stalled and the Netherlands abandoned its plan altogether a couple of decades later. Nonetheless the nation still had a long dike which, by that time, carried the new N302 Motorway that separated two large lakes. Authorities also built a lock between the two lakes, a necessary step because prevailing winds affected the lakes differently even though they were at the same elevation. However ships and cars couldn’t cross the point at the same time. It created a transportation mess.
Thus, Dutch officials faces simultaneous dilemmas of their own creation: a problematic connection between two bodies of water; and a transportation bottleneck impacting maritime and automotive traffic. They responded by designing an aqueduct with a lock built within it, the Naviduct. Motorway traffic flowed below the aqueduct while ships sailed across it. I don’t know why they didn’t simply build either a tunnel or a bridge for the motorway. Regardless, their preferred solution was infinitely more interesting and it went into service in 2003. The structure remains the only Naviduct for the time being although it has been considered as a possible solution for other locations in the Netherlands. It would be hard to imagine its usefulness elsewhere since few other places face the same set of extreme geographic challenges. We should simply enjoy its existence.
England underwent an extensive Canal Age in the mid Eighteenth Century, lasting for longer than a century. Waterways provided a cheaper means to move goods across a nation, helping to spark the country’s rapid transformation during the Industrial Revolution. Canals offered remarkable improvements over rutted, muddy overland routes and provided the best transportation alternative in the decades before the invention of railroads.
The Bridgewater Canal was frequently cited as the blueprint for a network that quickly evolved across the nation after it opened in 1761. Its builder and owner, Francis Egerton the third Duke of Bridgewater, envisioned a canal as a better way to move coal from his mines at Worsley to nearby towns. Coal from his mines heated homes and fueled industrial expansion. Egerton’s design hadn’t been tried in England before; his was the first canal that didn’t following an existing waterway. He kept his design simple. The canal followed natural topography so it didn’t require locks anywhere along its 65 kilometre (39 mile) path from Leigh to Runcorn; near Liverpool and Manchester. It was a narrow canal designed for small slender boats and it served its purpose well enough to inspire numerable imitators.
The Manchester Ship Canal, by contrast, was one of the last canals built and it didn’t arrive on the scene until the 1880’s. It traced the original paths of the rivers Mersey and Irwell, in a general manner. Industrialists in Manchester felt that they were at a disadvantage because of the city’s inland location inaccessible to oceangoing vessels. Manchester businesses paid dearly for railroad access to the docks at Liverpool. The city lobbied for relief and Parliament approved construction despite Liverpool’s strong objections. Construction required an immense effort with extensive dredging, numerous locks, and high overhead bridges to accommodate the passage of large cargo ships. These improvements allowed merchant vessels to sail all the way into Manchester and the city became an important seaport.
Where the Canals Crossed
That was all fascinating although the stories of two specific two canals didn’t differ materially from many of the dozens of other English canals. However the two canals crossed physical paths and that was where things got interesting. Engineers had to find a unique solution to accommodate the situation. The Bridgewater Canal, being the older structure, crossed above the River Irwell on an historic stone arched aqueduct at the town of Barton-on-Irwell. Oceangoing ships on the new Manchester Canal, following the path of the River Irwell, would never be able to fit beneath the aqueduct. It had to be demolished. In its place rose a marvelous manifestation of Victorian design, a swing aqueduct.
The Barton Swing Aqueduct became the first and possibly the only structure of its type anywhere in the world. It was designed to pivot 90 degrees whenever large ships traveling along the Manchester Canal approached it, allowing them to pass without obstruction. Engineers created an artificial island at the center of the canal that served as the pivot point. A control tower built on the island contained the necessary machinery to operate the swing. Some of process involved manual labor as evidenced by the YouTube video. One can see a worker operating a hand crank to move the watergate at the end of the aqueduct. The swing aqueduct is still in operation serving its original purpose, an engineering marvel.
In addition there was a road that crossed the Manchester Canal near the same point. It also required a swinging mechanism, and was called the Barton Road Swing Bridge. The same concrete island and control tower pivoted the road bridge at the same time it pivoted the aqueduct.
Reader "Qadgop the Mercotan" sent an email message to 12MC recently, referencing a conversation on the Straight Dope Message Board under the intriguing title, "Are there any streets with names containing all four cardinal points?" One of the participants on that board, kunilou, discovered a street that met the criteria: Southeast Circle NW in Albuquerque, New Mexico. And it appeared to run into Northeast Circle SW! (map). Many thanks to Qadgop the Mercotan for passing that along.
I’m working out the details for a short trip in March, a county counting adventure, although I haven’t determined all of the details yet and I’m not quite ready to share the objective. I’ll hit a personal milestone if everything works out as planned so I have plenty of motivation. Part of the drive will push me deep into Appalachia, into the wilds of southern West Virginia. Eyeing potential routes, I noticed an interesting geographic feature.
Big Ugly Wildlife Management Area? That sounded too good to be true. What kind of big ugly wildlife might one see there? The website described "deer, grouse, raccoon, squirrel, [and] turkey" in a setting "steep with mature upland hardwood forest." Are you thinking what I’m thinking? BIG and UGLY animals in the mountains conjured images of Sasquatch and Hairy Man a lot more than grouse and squirrels. That couldn’t be right. Something else must have happened over there to cause the name. Either way, I probably won’t get a chance to star in my own episode of Finding Bigfoot.
Indeed, Big Ugly referred to a local creek.
Big Ugly had been around for a long time. Internet book searches found results going back to the 1840’s, when West Virginia was still part of Virginia. This wasn’t simply a big ugly creek, it was an old ugly. The creek formed a tributary of the Guyandotte River which in turn flowed into the Ohio River, onward to the Mississippi River and eventually down to the Gulf of Mexico. It wasn’t particularly noteworthy except for its unusual name, stretching no more than twenty miles (32 kilometres). Nobody really knew how Big Ugly Creek got its name, either. There was a little weak speculation that maybe it had been named for an ugly settler or maybe in recognition of its twisted shape, although citations never materialized. We will probably never know exactly what might have been considered big or ugly to early Nineteenth Century settlers. That was a shame.
Also, I wasn’t the first person to enjoy Big Ugly references. The Intertubes developed a natural way of gathering unusual place names like that. One reference stated that, "I live very close to Big Ugly State Park in West Virginia. Honest headline from local newspaper, ‘Big Ugly Woman Killed’." Another site mentioned Big Ugly as "one of those place names newspaper columnists grab on a slow news day." Every day was a slow news day on Twelve Mile Circle so I didn’t mind referencing Big Ugly one bit. The difference 12MC brought to the discussion, I believed, was a deeper appreciation of the geography and history than the typical site that simply referenced the humor.
For instance, I admired the Big Ugly Community Center (map)
When Big Ugly Elementary School closed in the mid-1990s, this small, isolated, Lincoln County community lost the one thing that held them together… The county school board was persuaded to turn over the property to the community… It is the only public building within a 30 minute drive in any direction. The building returned to its place at the heart of the community. It hosts gatherings, and provides many services for children including The Big Ugly afterschool program, which is one of the longest running in the state. It offers summer camps, runs greenhouses, and hosts arts programming. Their library program gives away 5,000 books each year and the ‘Grow Appalachia’ gardening project produced 4,000 plants and 24,000 pounds of vegetables in 2014.
According to the video, Big Ugly was the poorest census tract in one of the most disadvantaged counties in West Virginia. A full 98% of children attending the center were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. What they’ve been able to accomplish at Big Ugly with very few resources was remarkable. They earned a Governor’s Service Award for their efforts in 2015.
Large chunks of Appalachian have been stripped to the bone for coal, a process called mountaintop removal mining. That’s exactly what happened on a massive scale immediately north and east of Big Ugly Creek and its wildlife preserve and its community center. The Hobet 21 coal mine quickly became the largest in West Virginia — which was saying something pretty remarkable — as it stretched almost fifteen miles (24 km) over the hills and hollows. Mountains were flattened and debris pushed to the side to create valley fills obliterating all traces of earlier terrain. It also created a string of environmental violations and water pollution problems.