Daughters of the British Empire in Tennessee
Not Ourselves but the Cause
Canals of Britain
Oh yes just imagine it! You rent your holiday Canal Barge and head out onto one of Britain’s many canals. You open the throttle only to find out that you are restricted to 4mph maximum speed. What a thrill tearing through the countryside at this heady speed. If you speed up you may hear an angry cry from other boaters "WASH". You need to slow down because your boat is creating a wash on the banks or rocking other boats.
But seriously if you wish to take a holiday where you just step off the world and relax. then this is the one for you. Meander along a canal taking in all the sights at a pace where you can actually see them, stop at a canal side pub for a leisurely lunch, then head on again to your first headache. Oh yes there are some. Right in front of you, you see a hill. Now you know that water cannot go uphill so maybe the canal goes round the hill.
Wrong. It goes up and over it.
OK so how does it do that? Well you use an ancient system named “Locks” As you approach the lock you need to slow down. Yes you can slow down from 4mph without stopping. If the lock gate is closed you berth outside the lock, tie up and walk over to the gate.
Now comes the interesting part. If the water in the lock is the same height as your barge, no problem just open the lower gate and drive your boat in. If the water is higher than your side then you must even the level to your barge. Oops you forgot bring the sliuce gate winding key from the barge! Go get it and return, align your key in the lower lock gate mechanism and open the gate slowly.
Water rushes out of the lock, into your side of the canal. Once the lock level has equalized with your level, you push open the lower gate and drive in. Ok so I am in the lock what now? You get back off the barge, do not forget the key this time.
© Copyright Chris Reynolds and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
First of all close the lock gate on the side that you just drove through and the lower sluice gates
that you just opened to drain the lock. Now slowly open the upper side sluice gates and allow the
water to raise your barge up and equalize the levels again. Do not forget to loosely tie your barge
up when in the lock, that prevents your barge bouncing around as the water rushes in. Once the
water equalizes open the upper gate and drive out.
Do not forget to take your winding key with you.
Easy huh? Well it can be fun especially if you have more than just your self on board, but then
there are several places where one lock is followed closely by another, sometimes another,
or like the Tardebrigge Ladder, 30 locks in just over two miles and that is
where a good crew come in handy.
However once you are through, that’s it for a while just set the power and off you go again.
Shout down below for someone to bring you a nice cuppa and relax. Enjoy the scenery as it
sedately passes you by.
If your crew still has energy left, they can get off and walk along the towpath.
All of a sudden a thought pops into your mind. Who made all these wonderful canals for me to cruise on? Well believe it or not they were not built just for you and I to relax and cruise on. They were built centuries ago as working canals to transport cargo on.
Take your self back to the days when roads were merely level (ish) mud tracks and when it rained they became mud baths and you are a business man wanting to transport your goods. Ok got it? So, how do I get my goods from my factory to where I want to sell them, or how do I get my construction materials from the quarry to where I want to build a new castle? There may not be a road suitable and even if there were, there are highwaymen all over the place ready to steal my goods.
Well the easy way would be by floating them on a river. Back in the day that is how most of the cargo was transported around Britain, but herein lay a problem. Rivers do not always go where we want them to go and they silt up easily.
Insteps medieval Britain’s answer to Bill Gates. The Duke of Bridgewater! He came up with the idea of “making rivers” or canals as we now know them. He was able to make these canals to transport coal from his mines in Worsley to the markets at Manchester. He also had an excellent and far seeing engineer named James Brindley who designed and built the first canals, which mainly connected rivers. James was to go on to be the main man to go to for canal designs and he built many canals in the 18th century. Some for other business men like Josiah Wedgewood.
Josiah saw an opportunity to transport the bulky clay to his potteries and then transport his delicate and fragile pottery to market and so he used canals to do this and reduce the chances of breakage.
The barges on these early canals were pulled by men from paths alongside the canals. These paths became known as “Tow Paths” but men were soon replaced by horses who could pull a thirty ton barge with ease.
The early barges were built at six foot six inches wide which was six inches narrower than the canals. Having the canals at seven feet was intended to keep construction costs as low as possible. This standard is what all Narrow Boats are now.
Let these thoughts drift through your head as you meander through the countryside but never forget the feat of building these canals and the modern day upkeep of them. Your diesel powered boat will house you and your family comfortably for a wonderfully relaxed vacation with small periods of frenetic energy when you come upon a lock.
The modern holiday barges come equipped with kitchens, bedrooms, showers and toilets as well as TV, so you do not have to step away too far from your modern comforts.
One other method of propulsion you may wish to try while canal barging is called “Legging”
The towpaths did not always follow through tunnels so the horse was disconnected and led around the tunnel while the
barge crew laid on their backs on the barge roof and using their legs against the tunnel roof propelled the boat, slowly,
through the tunnel. This is an extremely tiring exercise.
Another term you may hear to do with canals is “Flight of Locks” No you do not fly through them or over them.
Imagine the hill we discussed earlier and the canal goes over the summit. Well to get there may take a few
interconnected locks known as a “Flight”.
Sometimes one lock will run straight into another, these are referred to as “ A Staircase of Locks”.
The usual method is for your barge to exit one lock into a holding pool before going into another lock and repeating the lock procedure. There are many Flights of Locks in Britain.
Some locks are wide enough for two barges to enter at once. This saves water in the system and also makes
it easier on the crews as you now have more bodies to do the work. It is also a great way to meet fellow travelers and exchange stories.
For further reading or information on canals or canal holidays follow the links below.
,British Waterways , Canal Junction, Geograph
For a very interesting and exciting system for raising a barge to a higher water level follow these links
and see the pictures in the next sheet.
Falkirk Wheel, Anderton Boat Lift, Foxton Locks
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