Whittington Horse Bridge in Kinver voted the nation’s second most scenic waterside setting

The bridge over the Staffordshire and Worcester canal has been voted the nation’s second most scenic waterside setting in the largest study of the UK’s waterside spaces ever conducted.

Thousands of images of landscapes featuring canals or rivers were uploaded and assessed to identify and investigate what elements create scenes of ‘everyday beauty’. More than 5,000 images were submitted by members of the public through the Canal & River Trust’s ‘Rate this Scene’ initiative this year.

The six-week study saw more than 15,000 people casting over 800,00 votes to rate the scenic quality of the pictures. In collaboration with the Data Science Lab at the University of Warwick, the project' objective was to collate real world data to provide scientific insight into the importance of ‘everyday beauty’.

Using an online game, ‘Rate this Scene’ was developed in partnership with the team at Warwick Business School and Fellows of The Alan Turing Institute. Participants are asked to rate canal photos from 1-10 depending on how beautiful they think they are.

New findings have revealed that some of the most popular scenic elements include trees, reflections on the water and big skies. However, when these features are combined with elements unique to inland waterways including boats, bridges, locks and marginal vegetation, they are deemed even more aesthetically pleasing by members of the public.

The image of Whittington Horse Bridge features the bridge itself on a sunny summer’s day, with grand trees arching over the gently rippling canal to provide a stunning canopy of green. The overall highest-rated scene captured in this year’s study was a picture taken at Grand Union Canal in Wistow, Leicestershire, which plots a meandering course through rolling hills and unspoilt countryside.

The image features an early summer evening, with a setting sun that casts a warm orange glow between a ceiling of scattered clouds and tree lined fields beneath, all of which is captured in reflections along the canal itself, with reeds framing the canal’s banks and a narrow boat moored on the bend.

Other West Midlands canals featured in the top ten including Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal  in Wolverhampton and the Tame Valley Canal in Birmingham.

The project was backed by a number of celebrities including Grayson Perry,  Chris Packham, Gaby Roslin, Jo Brand, Angellica Bell, Tony Robinson, Dr Amir Khan, Iolo Williams and Brian Blessed.

The initiative comes after research carried out by the Trust’s academic partners, that looked at internet searches and postings on social media sites such as Instagram, found that landscapes featuring water are more likely to appeal to people aesthetically than those without - with canals and rivers considered to be the most scenic spaces in the country. Heather Clarke, Strategy, Engagement & Impact Director at the Canal & River Trust, said:

“This research is fascinating because we are learning more about the scenic quality of the Trust's waterways and how this ‘everyday beauty’ can help make the many visitors to our network happier and healthier.

“Rate this Scene is helping us to identify the underlying contributory factors to beauty on the waterways so that we can better protect and enhance those features across the network.”

The study of canal landscapes builds on research published in August by King’s College London and backed by the Trust, showing that time spent on canals, with their unique mix of water, greenery and wildlife, shows that canals are good for people's mental health and wellbeing.

It’s hoped that the fresh insights from this year’s ‘Rate this Scene’ study will help the Trust to further understand why the human brain responds so well to these 200-year-old industrial environments and what elements have the biggest impact on positively contributing to our health and wellbeing - and help it pinpoint what elements it needs to preserve, protect and enhance to boost the wellbeing impact of waterways up and down the country.

The study aims to further evidence the unique value of the nation’s canal heritage. Built to be the motorways of their age, today’s canals have gone from dereliction and decline to being reinvented as places for leisure and wellbeing.

However, a changing climate, rapidly rising costs and the inexorable tests of time are taking their toll; assets constructed in the 18th Century weren’t expected to be used so intensively 250 years later. Rate this Scene is an integral part of Canal & River Trust’s #ActNowforCanals campaign that is raising awareness of the increasing importance of canals and how people can take small actions to help look after them.


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