The Red Wheel is the Blue Plaque of the transit world. Run by the Transportation Trust, this sign-mounting scheme honours Britain’s remarkable array of water, air, rail and road heritage – from boat lifts and pumping stations to historic docks. Red Wheels are granted to places that have furthered the country’s transport development and that have rare and unusual features. Public interaction is key too: sites should be accessible, engaging and, essentially, a good day out. There are currently almost 100 sites. Here are a few waterway favourites.
Dundas Aqueduct: Kennet & Avon Canal, Wiltshire
The first canal structure to be designated as Scheduled Ancient Monument in 1951, in autumn 2017 Dundas became the latest Red Wheel on the waterways. This handsome three-arch aqueduct, completed in 1805, carries the canal over both railway and river. And it’s not the only star on the Kennet & Avon: nearby Grade II-listed Claverton Pumping Station, the 29-lock Caen Hill flight and Crofton Pumping Station (home to the world’s oldest beam engine still performing its original job) have Red Wheels too.
Andrew Batram Flickr.com
Plan your visit: Follow the spur of the largely derelict Somerset Coal Canal from Dundas to Brassknocker Basin, where there’s a cafe, and boat and bike hire.
Anderton Boat Lift: River Weaver and Trent & Mersey Canal, Cheshire
Opened in 1875 to provide a 15-metre vertical link between the river and the canal above, Anderton is the only operational boat lift in England. It was closed due to corrosion in 1983 but reopened in 2002, though now using an electric operation rather than the original hydraulics.
Alex Livet. Flickr.com
Plan your visit: Board the Edwin Clark for an up-down ride in the lift and a longer cruise along the river.
Blisworth Canal Village & Tunnel: Grand Union Canal, Northamptonshire
The 2,811-metre Blisworth Tunnel is the longest wide, freely navigable tunnel in Europe. But its construction was a troubled process. Work started in 1793 but the first tunnel collapsed; it wasn’t operational until 1805, causing a horse-drawn tramway – Northamptonshire’s first railway – to be built over the hill in the interim. Blisworth village became a bustling transhipment centre, and both the tunnel and the infrastructure around it have been given Red Wheels.
Roger Marks. Flickr.com
Plan your visit: Go to the nearby Stoke Bruerne Canal Museum and follow its free audio guide along the towpath to Blisworth Tunnel.
Bingley Five Rise: Leeds & Liverpool Canal, North Yorkshire
Opened in 1774, this flight of five locks, with a drop of 18 metres, is wider, deeper and steeper than any other staircase in the country. Operation is slow and complicated – a full-time lock-keeper is on hand to ensure all five locks are set before passage can begin; it can take over an hour to travel through. Just downstream, a three-lock staircase, with a fall of nine metres, awaits.
Dave Stevens. Flickr.com
Plan your visit: Walk the half mile along the towpath, past both flights, and then settle in at the Five Rise Locks Cafe to watch the boats approach.
You can view a Red Wheel Sites Map on the Transport Trust website.