Canal - Features

Features

At their simplest, canals consist of a trench filled with water. Depending on the stratum the canal passes through, it may be necessary to line the cut with some form of watertight material such as clay or concrete. When this is done with clay it is known as puddling.

Canals need to be level, and, while small irregularities in the lie of the land can be dealt with through cuttings and embankments, for larger deviations, other approaches have been adopted. The most common is the pound lock, which consists of a chamber within which the water level can be raised or lowered connecting either two pieces of canal at a different level or the canal with a river or the sea. When there is a hill to be climbed, flights of many locks in short succession may be used.

Prior to the development of the pound lock in 984AD in China by Chhaio Wei-Yo and later in Europe in the 15th century, either flash locks consisting of a single gate were used or ramps, sometimes equipped with rollers, were used to change level. Flash locks were only practical where there was plenty of water available.

Locks use a lot of water, so builders have adopted other approaches. These include boat lifts, such as the Falkirk wheel, which use a caisson of water in which boats float while being moved between two levels; and inclined planes where a caisson is hauled up a steep railway.

To cross a stream or road, the solution is usually to bridge with an aqueduct. To cross a wide valley (where the journey delay caused by a flight of locks at either side would be unacceptable) the centre of the valley can be spanned by an aqueduct - a famous example in Wales is the Pontcysyllte aqueduct across the valley of the River Dee.

Another option for dealing with hills is to tunnel through them. An example of this approach is the Harecastle Tunnel on the Trent and Mersey Canal. Tunnels are only practical for smaller canals.

Some canals attempted to keep changes in level down to a minimum. These canals known as contour canals would take longer winding routes, along which the land was a uniform altitude. Other generally later canals took more direct routes requiring the use of various methods to deal with the change in level.

Canals have various features to tackle the problem of water supply. In some cases such as the Suez Canal the canal is simply open to the sea. Where the canal is not at sea level a number of approaches have been adopted. Taking water from existing rivers or springs was an option in some cases, sometimes supplemented by other methods to deal with seasonal variations in flow. Where such sources were unavailable, reservoirs - either separate from the canal or built into its course - and back pumping were used to provide the required water. In other cases, water pumped from mines was used to feed the canal. In certain cases, extensive "feeder canals" were built to bring water from sources located far from the canal.

Where large amounts of goods are loaded or unloaded such as at the end of a canal a canal basin may be built. This would normally be a section of water wider than the general canal. In some cases, the canal basins contain wharfs and cranes to assist with movement of goods.

When a section of the canal needs to be sealed off so it can be drained for maintenance stop planks are frequently used. These consist of planks of wood placed across the canal to form a dam. They are generally placed in pre existing grooves in the canal bank. On more modern canals, "guard locks" or gates were sometimes placed to allow a section of canal to be quickly closed off, either for maintenance, or to prevent a major loss of water due to a canal breach.

Read more about this topic:  Canal

Famous quotes containing the word features:

    “It looks as if
    Some pallid thing had squashed its features flat
    And its eyes shut with overeagerness
    To see what people found so interesting
    In one another, and had gone to sleep
    Of its own stupid lack of understanding,
    Or broken its white neck of mushroom stuff
    Short off, and died against the windowpane.”
    Robert Frost (1874–1963)

    All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event—in the living act, the undoubted deed—there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask!
    Herman Melville (1819–1891)

    Each reader discovers for himself that, with respect to the simpler features of nature, succeeding poets have done little else than copy his similes.
    Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862)