I have a feeling that the man who masterminded the creation of the seven wonders of the waterways, Robert Aickman, may have been having us all on a bit. For how else can he go from the majesty and triumphant fizz of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct to the damp squib of Burnley Embankment?
To be fair, the Straight Mile’s underwhelming nature may have something to do with its environs. Burnley seems to be suffering a bit from trying to live up to its own stereotype. Shopping trolleys in the canal, dog shit on the towpath, one of Tesco’s “Finest” monstrosities, kidz shooting fish with air guns (to a rounding and slightly patronising chorus of ‘shouldn’t they be at school’ from Felucca) and the ubiquitous derelict warehouse. I found myself channelling some sort of late afternoon ITV programme, imagining all the wonderful things you could do if you had the money to convert one or two of them.
And to be fair to Aikman, I think an embankment is one of those feats of engineering that is not at all flamboyant but still rather tricky to pull off with aplomb. I wouldn’t want to have been Robert Whitworth, struggling with probable landslides and breaches and moving people out of their homes. And it was built with shovels (not even steam shovels). And did I mention it’s a mile long? Strewth indeed. But secretly, I’d vote for the Anderton Boat Lift over Burnley’s Straight Mile any day of the week.