What is 2 1/2 miles long, 70 metres tall, and takes 3 hours to climb or descend? Caen Hill!
Caen Hill is a series of 29 locks near Devizes, Wiltshire, on the Kennet and Avon Canal. Drew and I have been moving to boat towards Bath as we have some work in the West Country and Wales over the next few weeks.
We hit Caen Hill a few days ago, and began the slow descent towards Bath around 11.30 in the morning.
Thankfully, we met a boat that wanted to "share" the locks with us, which sped up the entire process a bit - and took some of the weight off my shoulders!
For those of you who don't know about locks on canals, very quickly, locks on broad canals (like the one we are on) consist of 4 gates - two at either end of the lock - and 4 paddles (which are plates of metal or other doors inside the lock gates that can be opened to let water in or closed to prevent water escaping.
To operate the lock (going down) goes something like this:
1) Skipper moors up and drops off the "locker" (for want of a better term! - the person operating the lock)
2) The locker checks to see if the lock is full. If it's full, he opens one of the gates so the boat can get in. If it's not, he opens the two paddles on the top gate to let water in so that the water level in the lock comes to the same level as the level on the canal where the boat is.
3) Once the boat is in the lock, the locker closes the gate, goes to the end of the lock, opens the two bottom paddles and lets the water escape from the lock (thereby making the boat drop down)
4) Once the water level in the lock is even with the water level below the lock, the locker closes the two paddles and opens a gate letting the boat out. Once the boat is out, he closes the gate and tries to hop back onto the boat.
Doing this 29 times is hard work! The paddles are heavy to raise, the gates often sticky and also very heavy - and running up and down the lockside to open and close gates and doors is good excercise.
When doing a "flight" (series) of locks, if you manage to do it with another boat, the whole process is sped up as while the crew of one boat operates the lock both boats are in, the crew from the other boat can run on to the next look and get it "set".
It was a long afternoon -but afforded us with some beautiful views of the Wiltshire countryside!
The next week or so will be spent mostly behind the wheel of our car as we speed up and down the M4 going to our many gigs over the next few weeks. We may end up looking back on the Caen Hill day with envy - but at the moment - well, my arm is still sore!