Caen Hill Flight – 2nd August 2019


We think this photo from our Pearson’s guidebook tells it all. This was our challenge for the day and this completed our set of the original seven wonders of the inland waterways in the UK. There will be an additional post tomorrow of what those seven wonders are.


We had moored up at the top lock number 50 last night in the town of Devizes. There are 29 locks altogether in the flight which are split into three groups. The first group consists of six locks which have slightly longer pounds followed by 16 locks all equidistant with shorter pounds and then the final seven locks which are spread out a little more.


The construction of the locks commenced in 1794 and not completed until 1810. It was the last major engineering work to be completed before the canal was opened. The flight raises, or lowers in our case, the level of 237 feet in just over two miles. Each lock chamber is a universal eight foot two inch depth.


Before we set off we found another boater and his family who were also going to go down the flight so we paired up with them. It is a lot easier and quicker to do it in pairs in a double lock.


We completed the first six locks and then came to lock number 44 where you get this spectacular view and where you feel you are going to drop off the side of a cliff. We spoke to John the other boater and asked him if he would like to try to go from one lock to the next driving side by side. Thankfully he was keen.


We had two other boats in front of us so we gave them a head start and sat up the top having an ice cream. We didn’t want to be too close behind them as then you just jam up and we felt our crew needed a reward/incentive before we started.


We just so lucked out on the weather as doing this kind of work in the rain can be miserable plus adds another degree of danger to working with the locks. It can become very slippery.

John’s team had his wife, daughter and partner and grandson and with one of us that made five people on the ground. There were also volunteers spaced along the flight.


This picture probably looks like chaos but it is organised chaos. Two boats coming up hill out of one chamber and two going down hill. You could call it a Mexican Stand Off but all you had to do was for two of the boats to make an opening wide enough to allow one boat to go ahead and then the other to follow. There was enough room to do this without going too wide as it got very shallow.


Looking down the flight.


Looking up the flight.


Aerial view of the flight.

As we had so many boots on the ground, Di worked the locks whilst Fras drove. If she got stuck with heavy paddle work or gate work she could call on people. As it was, all the mechanisms were well greased and with a little grunt she could get the gates open. She worked two locks ahead of everyone else and got the next ones ready. As there was the two boats going down in front of us, it meant the lock chambers would be empty, so her job was to go and fill them up.


We did the 16 locks in just over two hours which really surprised us. We met five boats coming up and there were only four of us going down. Talking to the volunteers, they said this was about average for a day during the week. We stopped for lunch at the bottom in the shade and then Di had a rest and took Ange De L’Eau down the remaining seven locks. We will reverse this going back up in about five days so each of us can enjoy the experience.

We pulled in at 5.30pm and used the early finish by filling up with water and also washing one side of the boat. You can never do both sides of the boat at the same time – think about that one. We had been told about The Three Magpie Pub and after today’s effort we felt we earned the right not to have to cook tonight. This is the entrance to the pub and has to be the most magnificent flower display we have ever seen. The publican told us that they get a professional gardener to do the flowers each year. If you were to take the flowers away, it really is a very bland building.


In a previous blog we mentioned how they had repurposed a lot of the old phone boxes and outside the pub was this little beauty. One hopes one does not need to use it any time soon. In case you cannot see in the picture, it is a defibrillator.


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