Telford's Bridge

by John Warner


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Her age might be forty, though wrinkles tell lies,
And long years of labour are drawn in her eyes;
She puffs her old pipe, leaning outboard to see
Where Telford's great bridge spans the vale of the Dee.
Her husband's asleep in his close, narrow bed,
After fifteen hard hours, he could scarce raise his head;
It's seventy feet from the helm to the bow;
She leans on the tiller; it's her turn right now.

So butter some bread, Sally, brew us some tea,
For it's cold on old Telford's Bridge over the Dee.

It's a fine narrow boat that she handles with skill
On the Shropshire Canal as it weaves through the hills,
With coal for Llangollen or roof slates for Chirk,
Three children to manage and long hours of work;
Her Sally's below brewing tea hot and strong,
If she's owt like her ma, she'll be courting e'er long;
Aye, then there'd be childer before you could know,
And small enough room in the cuddy below.

She's painted the buckets with rich love and care,
Wild roses and castles run riotous there,
But there's no time for fantasy, dreams and such stuff,
For the cut's narrowed down to the Bridge's lean trough.

The aqueduct's channel is seven feet wide,
With a stout iron rail on the broad towpath side;
On the off-side there's nothing, no shelter at all;
She steers from the hatchway, three feet from the fall;
The Dee's foaming waters roar distant below;
The wind up the valley will bluster and blow,
And six year old Ted sits up high on the horse,
But she's seen it before and she steers a straight course. (Chorus)

Captain, the Clydesdale, bows his noble mane,
And plods proudly on through the fierce scuds of rain;
The towline curves upward, wind-snatched to the lee,
And ninety-five tons rides over the Dee;
The steam engine's coming, or so she's been told,
But she'd not trade old Captain for all the Queen's gold,
And here's Tom a-waking; he'll soon want his tea,
Where Telford's great bridge spans the vale of the Dee. (Chorus)
Written by John Warner, an Australian, on a visit to the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal. It was recorded in 1997 by John Warner and Margaret Walters on the CD 'Who Was Here?'. Details of this and other John Warner recordings can be found on his web-site.

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