Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Wigan Locks

I have a little health problem at the moment that,whilst it doesn't keep me off the cut, doesn't allow me to do much in the way of winding paddles or moving lock gates so when I was asked if I could help move nb "Sunshine" from Adlington to Manchester - a journey that involves the descent of 21 locks of the Wigan flight - I jumped at the chance.

Sunshine was tied up opposite the marina at Adlington and when I arrived, Bernard was in the middle of an oil change. By the time he'd completed this and we'd eaten a belated lunch and got away it was mid-afternoon, so we didn't arrive at the top of the flight until nearly four o'clock. We nearly didn't arrive at all - I'd forgotten the sharp right turn that leads to the locks and was so busy puzzling out how to negotiate the apparent barrier of weed in the channel ahead that I almost didn't notice we'd got to the locks and nearly overshot the junction.

This section was originally intended to be part of the Lancaster Canal and to run to Westhoughton or even, in one plan, to Worsley where it would have joined up with the Bridgewater Canal and this is the way you go (for 100 metres or so) if you don't turn right for the locks.

Nicholson's Guide says that the locks are now "not as daunting as they once where." I'm not sure what they've done to take the "daunt" out of them though as two broken paddles and one left slightly open by a previous boater meant that it took us over 20 minutes to get through the top lock and a quick calculation showed that as this rate we still be going through after dark.

Things did improve after that although many of the gates were leaking badly

as were some of the lock walls

The top half of the flight has a veneer of rurality about it, although one suspects that behind the trees the semi-industrial landscape of south Lancashire is never far away.

The surroundings become more urban as you descend and approach the town centre, although even here things are not as gloomy as you might expect. Expectations (or is it experience?) of security issues have presumably lead the inhabitants of this former lock cottage to take quite heavy-duty precautions although the owners of these more modern dwellings a few metres away don't share their concerns (or, again, perhaps their experience?)
Being banned from lock work I had to concentrate on the steering - and making the occasional cup of tea for Kristine and Bernard. I also had plenty of time to observe the locks at close quarters and to see that they are actually numbered in two seperate series - the present-day system, under which the locks are numbered from the Leeds end and an older system ( OK, I know its not that old) under which the numbers run uphill from Wigan!
It took us the best part of four hours to negotiate the flight, which is not bad given one unfit crew member and most of the locks being "against" us and we were grateful to tie up at the visitor moorings just past the junction with the Leigh branch at around eight o' clock.

The photo was taken the following morning, after which we had to be on our way as these obviously desireable moorings (with a noisy recycling depot behind the wall) have a 24 hour limit!

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