Friday, 15 February 2013

Winter Maintenance on the Devizes "Caen Hill Flight" of Locks

The "Caen Hill Flight" of locks is world famous as one of the "Wonders of the Waterways."  With 29 locks, of which 16 are consecutive, it is the second longest flight of locks in the UK, and raises the canal 237ft in two miles.  YouTube shows several videos of journeys up and down these locks, and especially interesting are the time lapse videos, which show in two or three minutes, a journey that normally takes up to four hours.   I needed a good walk on Tuesday morning, as the weather here has been so terrible for days. I´d been shut in for a couple of days, and was fast developing "Cabin Fever,"  and lazy leg syndrome.  

The flight was busy with men working on several of the 16 consecutive locks, strengthening the gates with metal plates, preparing for the erection of new gates, and dredging and draining the large pounds on each side of each lock.  

The large side pounds act as reservoirs, collecting water to fill each lock as a boat travels downwards.  Since the opening of the canal in 1810, obtaining a good supply of water for the locks has always been a problem.  The summit level at Crofton is supplied with water from a pumping station, and with rivers feeding into the canal at various points, the water level has been maintained as it gradually flows downhill towards Reading in the east, and to Bath in the west.

At lock 30, the pound (right) has been drained of water, with all the fish and eels having been collected for safe keeping, until they can be returned to the water when the pound is refilled.  On a previous occasion I watched a pound being drained, and was very surprised at the number and size of the fish removed, and also with the numbers of eels and cray fish.   Some of the fish grow to a very large size, and on the very day I passed a fisherman struggling to land a huge pike, I had left my camera at home!  I witnessed the catch, and he could safely say that he caught a very big one that day!

Two men repairing the lock gates at lock 47.  Metal straps were being added to strengthen the wooden gates, with work on renovations to the paddle gearing.

The bridges on the flight have two arches, one for the canal and the other for the old rail track that allowed horse drawn wagons filled with bricks to come easily up the flight.  A convenient bed of clay lay at the bottom of the hill, and this was utilized for the making of thousands of bricks needed to build each lock.  To the left is the old rail track arch, and on the metal brick protector in the centre, you can see the grooves, that were created by the constant rubbing of the ropes as the horses pulled the old barges up the hill.

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