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A spectacular aqueduct hangs in limbo above the village of Coleford whilst deep green ridges carve their way through forest and fields. Tucked away at the eastern end of the Mendips in Somerset, Jules Hudson discovers the secrets of 'The Canal that Never Was'.
Started in the late 1700s, the Nettlebridge branch of what would have been the Dorset and Somerset Canal, stretches eight miles though a quiet valley between Edford and Frome. The canal itself was planned in order to link the Bristol and English Channels and to connect the counties of Dorset and Somerset into the canal network. The Nettlebridge branch was planned to have boat lifts instead of locks and in a feat of extraordinary engineering one balance lock was built by James Fussell as a trial. The site of Fussell's Trial Balance Lock was located and excavated by The Dorset and Somerset Canal Society who revealed an almost completely conserved masonry chamber.
The route was authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1796 but unplanned factors including underestimated costs and inflation due to the Napoleonic Wars meant that the canal was abandoned. Today ghostly structures still rise and fall through the landscape weaving their trail of what might have been.
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