Canal Infrastructure

Today was dominated by canal infrastructure.  We began the day by working through the Bratch Locks.  These are a flight of three locks set unusually close together.  The pounds between locks can be many miles long, but on some flights can be as short as a couple of boat lengths.  The Bratch Locks pounds are only a few feet long.  They serve to divert water in to side ponds and allow it to enter in to the lock below.  A sign told you to look out for the pumping station disguised as a fairy tale castle.  We were unimpressed with the disguise of the building we saw.  We later found it was the toll house – we’ll have to visit again to look at the pumping station.

Bratch Locks Toll House
Bratch Locks Toll House

There are signs up explaining what you have to do.  Some of the paddles are topped with blue or red paint – the instructions say which ones to open first.  There were two lock-keepers in attendance so no thinking was required, I just did as they suggested.  Clare and Bartimaeus simply drove through each gate as it opened in front.

A few locks further on we came to a staircase lock.  This is where the bottom gates of one lock are also the top gates of the next.  This was very simple to operate, you just have to check nobody is coming the other way before you start.

Bridge Over Botterham Bottom Lock
Bridge Over Botterham Bottom Lock

A little later we were warned that there was dredging going on near the next lock.  When we arrived we found an enormous barge at the canal side, and land based machinery for emptying it in to lorries.

Empty Dredging Barge
Empty Dredging Barge

At the lock, we had to wait for a full barge to come through.  I watched it being moved slowly in to the lock, and then I (helpfully I thought) closed a gate behind it.  I was about to close the other when a workman rushed over telling me to leave it – there was a boat coming in.  At that point he realised that the boat was already in – so we carried on.  We had a pleasant chat while we worked the lock together.

Full Dreding Barge in Lock
Full Dredging Barge Being Pushed in to Lock

The full barge sits much lower in the water.  I estimate the dredgings must weigh 30 or 40 tonnes.  We went through the lock and saw that the dredging was continuing ahead of us.  We moored up and had some lunch hoping things would be clearer, or perhaps the workers would have their lunch break.

I’d nearly finished eating when I glanced out of the window to see another full dredging barge very close outside.  We then felt the thump as it bumped against us!  We don’t think any harm was done, but I decided that was a good time to move on.  Unfortunately, just at that point an empty barge went the other way (without bumping us).

We set off anyway and soon found the empty barge in the middle of the channel alongside a floating digger that was heaving stuff out of the canal.  The operator waved us on.  I wasn’t sure there was room to pass, but he kept waving, so I kept going.  With his helpful fending to protect our paintwork we got through unscathed.

The rest of the days locks were uneventful, though some of the paddles and gates were quite stiff.

It’s great to have the canals dredged, but I’d prefer not to be part of the action.

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