The Keeper of the Key

The Caen Hill Locks being locked and time limited, we had made an “early” start. I hadn’t finished my breakfast or taken a tablet for my slightly sore shoulder so was a but grumpy as I set off to do double locks before caffeine or calories had kicked in. (For anyone concerned, my shoulder is fine now and isn’t related to lock working as far as I can tell.) There was a lock keeper at the first lock but as he crossed over the gate, he was carrying an unwieldy keb, not a windlass, also known as a lock key, though they aren’t only used for locks. They didn’t seem very easy to crossing the gate itself having a steeply sloping but to get past before getting on to the crossing point of the gate. I crossed over myself. There was always the small bridge but that was the long way round. I remarked to him that I had hoped for help but he didn’t have the right tool. He looked at my “go windlass” and said he could see I looked like a professional. I don’t know about professional, the lock keepers and volunteers often have quite an old fashioned one, rather than a shiny new one. I explained it was a birthday present from my husband which he found amusing, but did say he really wanted one himself and had been trying to get one but they were always sold out.

Even with the sought after quality tool, I found the winding was quite tiring, so, on the third lock I thought I should nip in for that Ibuprofen as there was a very long flight ahead. Shane took the windlass and took over locking for the rest of the morning and I drove and several volunteer lock keepers were assisting and radioing each other with messages about the different boats’ progress in each direction. Most were coming the other way, in pairs.

I noticed that some locks were named, not after wealthy donors or place names but to people with a passion for locks. It was nice to see them being honoured. One was to a specific person but some were generically praised.

Fundraiser’ Lock

There were spells when we had to wait for on coming boats and one lock keeper had suggested it was more pleasant to wait outside the lock as it was a bit claustrophobic and lonely for the driver to spend a long time waiting at the bottom of the lock and indeed all the socialising was at the side of the lock, not inside, since we were not buddied up. At one the lock keeper came to ask if wanted to stay in the lock and pass the boat crossing over, or wait at the side. As there was only one, not a pair, I said I was happy to cross with the boat but would do either. The other boater looked seasoned so I reckoned it would be an easy swap. When both the lock keeper and Shane trained their cameras on us, I foolishly thought they were capturing a slick bit of shimmying last each other, but it was soon apparent that they were interested in the unusual propulsion of the other boat, a paddle narrow boat.

Bartimaeus swapping with a paddle powered boat.

Lunch was welcome and afterwards we had a few more spaced out locks to get through. I took up my windlass again and went to help out the son and daughter of the man who was buddied with us. I thought the lad had no windlass, when I stepped out, then saw he’d purposely dropped it by the gate ready for use. He had his own system. We got smoothly through the last few locks, though they were quite hard work, with either me or him working a lock ahead.

Later we came to a swing bridge. I got off to work it, to meet a man walking his dog, coming over to the bridge. He told me I could go back on as he would open it. He didn’t have a windlass ad I thought it might be needed to unlock the bridge, though sometimes they are only hand tight. In this one it was broken. The chain and bolt shaped so a windlass acted as a spanner, were intact but the stone the were attached to has been dislodged. It was no use there.

Displaced locking mechism

There were still a few more locks to work an one was nicely planted. There were two flower beds honouring others.

“Paul’s Garden”, named after the Seend locks lock keeper, Paul Boardman

Again it was nice to see friends of canals being remembered. I had never seen a bench with a photo on the brass plate before.

Roy Few on his boat

The next day was very wet and it was good we had got most of the miles done. There were a few hold ups so we were doubly pleased to have made good progress before. As we approached the first lock we saw a queue and a two way system set up. A very wide boat was coming up.

Approaching a lock with laning and a queue

We made it to Trowbridge, ready to receive guests the next day, and in better weather. When Cath and Michael were having a week’s holiday away from festival city, in Bath, so we were pleased to be able to have them aboard at last. When they rocked up, it was turning out very hot and hat, suncream and shades were all being pressed into service. This was a much better day for a cruise. Cath was soon having a go at driving. She was getting the hang of it, when a wide boat coming the other way, on a bend made Shane decide he should take back control. It was a fine day for just sitting back and enjoying the ride.

Shane, Michael and Cath enjoying a sunny cruise

We stopped for water by a lock and Cath and Michael has plenty time to watch the lock in operation while we filled up with water. A man approached to ask if he could come into the lock with us. Cath volunteered Michael to make use of the windlass at the lock and he and I picked one up each, only to find there were people already posted at each lock paddle, already equipped. We were out of a job and we just had to style it out, looking willing and part of the locking scene. When we went to get back on the boat we found it difficult to find the way to get on. There was a road to cross then we had to pass round the back of a pub and then there were so many boats waiting or moored there that Shane couldn’t get to the edge. Once two boats had moved, he came in close and picked me and Michel up, but the other buddied boat was further away and his wife couldn’t see how to get on so Shane said to step on with us and then he ferried her over to their boat.

Michael did get to use the windlass later though. At a swing bridge we both got out again and found this one was not just hand tightened but when I tried my windlass, I found it wasn’t quite the right size to fit on, but Michael’s one was, so just as well we both had one.

Michael locking the bridge

Michael drove for a while too. Cath and I sat at the front to chat and look out for herons for a bit. She takes a keen interest in all the aspects of the boat so we had all the cupboards and drawers open to check out all the storage and once we had moored, Shane had the deck up showing the engine and battery compartments. 


Michael taking the helm with Shane as co-driver

We had moored up at a pub but found that they were short staffed and only taking pre booked customers and had no vacancies on their booking system. Cath to the rescue. She searched for a pub that was near the canal and made a telephone booking before we set off, so there was no repeat disappointment. Far from it, we had a lovely walk along and saw some hot air balloons on the way and a cut through Sidney Gardens took us to the busy but attentive Pulteney Arms and we all enjoyed sitting outside in the warm evening.

Balloons over Bath

We got a little bat spotting done with our beer after the tasty plates were done with, wrapping up a great day. Cath gave us some tips to help us enjoy Bath before we made our way to our respective homes.