Art along the towpath

Thursday 16 February 2012, 15:52

Rachael Garside Rachael Garside

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Transporting goods by horse-drawn canal boats may seem like a long-forgotten sight on our waterways, but an arts project in the Wales and Shropshire borderlands is bringing the old ways back to life.

The Ellesmere Sculpture Initiative has commissioned renowned etcher Jason Hicklin who is based in Shropshire and London - to make six stainless steel sculptures which will tell the story of the Llangollen and Montgomery canals' rich history.

At the end of March the sculptures will be transported by 'Saturn' the last horse-drawn Shropshire Union Canal Fly-boat in the world, with the help of volunteers, keen to promote the importance of the area's heritage.

The first of the sculptures will stand alongside the Montgomery Canal at the village of Llanymynech which at one time, back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, was a hive of industrial activity producing quicklime in various types of kiln from limestone quarried on the hills.

Lime products were used by farmers on the land as fertiliser and by industry to extract iron from iron ore. Today, the Hoffman kiln is a distinctive local landmark, a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a reminder of the area's industrial past.

Etched drawings of the canal

The sculpture pieces reflect the heritage of the sites in which they sit through the etched drawings and words on the steel.

The sculptures, acting as way markers, will also stand at Chirk, Frankton Locks and finally at Ellesmere. They were inspired by walks taken by the artist along the Shropshire Union Canal last year.

Today, the area is renowned for its natural beauty and it's easy to forget how different it would have looked in its industrial heyday.

Originally, the canal had been intended to provide a link between the three rivers - the Dee, the Mersey and the Severn.

But the canal proved too expensive and never made it past Trevor to the north and Weston Wharf to the south.

The canal did reach The Shropshire Union Canal and Chester by a different route and became a valuable asset for the local economy.

Today Thomas Telford's famous aqueduct at Pontcysyllte still draws tourists from all over the world. It's the longest and highest cast-iron aqueduct in the world and in 2009 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

From March visit www.thecanaletchings.co.uk for more information.

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