Friday, September 12, 2008

At Play but Looking At Work

One of the great pleasures of running by a canal is feeling close to Victorian engineering, which is solid, wonderfully tactile, displays strength through mass. In addition there is often a little bit of decoration, just to show that it is not all earnest utility.

This is a detail from the turn-back bridge on my last long run. The cast iron pattern is not particularly ornate but it breaks-up what would otherwise be a uniform railing and the intertwining of the climbing plant shows how the functional can become picturesque. .

Now I make no great claims for this as a piece of ironwork, but my eye is taken by the nut. It clearly shows how it ,was fixed together, the size of spanner and the amount of physical force required. I can imagine the muscular effort and can almost picture how it was originally assembled and the hard, hard work that went into the making of the canal.

I compare my physical effort, which is done for recreation and a sense of wellbeing to that of a navvy who would have a life expectancy of about 40. Not for the first time I feel immensely privileged.

Isaac Newton said “If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants”. I can only run here by standing on the backs of thousands of workmen.

Anyway this bridge is at a place called Cow Roast. What an odd name that is. I wonder how many cows they had to roast over what period of time before it was fixed in the local imagination that this was the place to do it? But of course that is rubbish speculation. The place is on an ancient drovers route and the the best guess is that the name is a corruption of 'cow rest', where there were pens for grazing cattle to be held overnight.

Again that is work and the history of work making the landscape.

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