When we were on our way west, we rushed through Crofton when I noticed that the locks were on a restricted schedule. In the meantime, Canal and River Trust (CRT) have updated their website so that the time restrictions are correctly displayed on their interactive map. While we have been in the west, there have been a number of issues with this section of the canal. For a few days last month the summit level was closed because there wasn’t enough water. I was pleased to see it reopen, but with a further dry spell forecast, I am relieved we are now back over again.
CRT have installed an electric pump to lift water from the nearby Wilton Water reservoir. When the water shortage was at its worst, they decided to use the steam powered beam engine in addition to the electric pump. I was keen to have a look around, so once we’d got down the locks we moored up and went to see. The engine house was open for visitors but not steaming. I learnt that each of the steam pumps can shift a lock’s worth of water every fifteen minutes – that seems more than enough to keep the summit level supplied.
The pump house is very cramped. Getting far enough away from most of the machinery to take a photograph was surprisingly difficult. The toolkit hanging on the wall was easier.
The pump house and its chimney is clearly visible just opposite our mooring. The pumps lift water up from the level of our mooring and deliver it at the level of the summit pound, six locks and nearly a mile away from where we are moored.
A mile or so from our mooring point is another ancient machine, the Wilton Windmill. I’d spotted that it was open on Sunday afternoons, so we settled on staying put for another night and going to see it. We took the opportunity to run a load of washing in the morning and get it out to dry while we were away.
On the way, we came across a group of exotic birds – we are pretty sure they are emus.
We arrived just as a guided tour was starting. Inside the mill was even more cramped than the beam engine. Our guide warned us to move carefully so as not to bump our heads. The machinery inside had a number of similarities with the pumps despite being used for completely different purposes. One of the other guests on our tour was a trainee miller from Holland. He was intrigued by the differences between the mills he knew from home.
Alongside the mill is a rebuilt granary. This stands on nine staddle stones to keep it off the ground. The stones are intended to be high enough that rats and other vermin will not be able to reach the underside of the floor and gnaw their way in.
We stopped for a drink at the pub in the village on the way back to the boat. By the time we got back, the washing was dry and the batteries were fully charged. The evening stayed warm and still enough for us to have dinner on the stern deck and watch the sky gradually change colour over the pump house chimney.