Caen Hill Locks

The Caen Hill Locks form the steepest part of one of the biggest canal ‘hills’ in England. There are, altogether, 29 locks in the Devizes flight and they lift canal boats 237 feet. The Caen Hill part of the flight consists of 16 locks often (and technically wrongly) called a staircase. In a true canal staircase the top gate of one lock is also the bottom gate of the next lock. At Caen Hill the locks are separated by short lengths of canal. In canal parlance, the lengths between locks are called pounds. If pounds are short it is all too easy for them to run out of water so at Caen Hill lakes were constructed alongside the canal – known as side pounds to act as stores of water.

That’s enough technical stuff! When I first knew the canal, back in 1970, The Devizes flight was entirely derelict. Boats hadn’t passed that way for many a year and there looked to be no prospect of them ever doing so again. It was a total mess.

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We are by a lock ahead of us is a short pound with the side pound off to the left. It’s a pattern that repeats for the 16 Caen Hill locks.

With virtually no water, you get a chance to see the workings.

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Up on the left hand side is the mechanism to operate a lifting gate. It’s called a ground paddle and lifting the gate allowed water out of the lock. People who have never done it just won’t realise that you can’t open a lock gate until the water level on both sides is the same.

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You can also see, when you stand in the bottom of a lock, just how massive they are. Building the canal had been an amazing undertaking at the start of the 19th century.

Here’s a view down Caen Hill

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I am so pleased to say I was wrong about boats never returning. The canal has been fully restored. These days it serves the leisure business rather than freight haulage, but the restored canal makes a grand sight.

That’s a 2007 view down the hill.  Some difference!

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It’s no quick matter working boats up and down the locks. You can probably expect about four hours of hard labour! I know. I’ve done it!

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