Sunday, 24 February 2013

Walking Around the Caen Hill Flight.

Even though a bitter wind was blowing, and I would, once again have to wear my blue Peruvian hat with the bobbles, I took a long walk this afternoon around the famous flight of locks.  I've written here so often about this place, which for me is always a thrilling sight.  The plaque left, gives the public information about the construction of the locks and pounds, their measurements, and also details about how a lock works.  I like to imagine the canal's engineer John Rennie, surveying the site in the 1790s, before building started.  He had not intended the flight to climb up the hill, but the business men of Devizes realised how useful it would be for trade, for the canal to pass through the town.

Building this flight of 29 locks would be a mega scale engineering project now in 2013, but poor Mr Rennie had to construct it using  labourers who worked without the help of modern cranes and diggers.  This flight was dug by hand, by men with picks and shovels , wheelbarrows, horses and carts.   I would love to have seen it being constructed, and what an effort for the navvies, who were, I gather,  a very lawless bunch!

This photo was taken at lock 23, with the flight going up the hill in the background.  A brick works was built to the right, where the bricks for the locks were produced.  A small railway track ran up the towpath, so that horse drawn carts could pull brick laden wagons up the hill for the construction of each lock.   Each canal bridge  from the bottom of the flight to the top has two tunnels, one for the canal to pass under, and the other to allow the wagons to supply bricks to the locks as they became constructed.  It was lucky that a plentiful seam of brick clay was readily available at that particular site.  The remains of the flooded clay pits can still be seen.

This is lock 50, the very first lock at the top of the flight, were the Bath Road travels over the canal, and enters Devizes.  This stretch of canal leads to the Wharf, just out of sight in the middle of the photo.  A notice on the balance beam warns boaters to stay forward of the gates, for fear of smashing the back of the boat onto the cill.  Note the spelling of the word "cill," used mostly for wooden beams, and a variant of "sill" used in the British building industry.  I live about 5 minutes from this place, so here I started looking forward to a welcome cup of tea when I   arrived home after my 1.75 hour walk.    Nice walk but really cold!

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