Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The Wigan Flight (Hard!) & Johnson's Hillock (Much Easier!)

(Boat Chalice- text by Cath, completed by Alan)
Retrospective post for Tuesday 5th August.

Most of the locks are deep, and many leak badly.
We got up at 6 am, as Derek and Pam had indicated that they would set off at towards Wigan at 7:30.
However, as we found we had very little milk, breakfast consisted of cheese and Marmite rolls, with coffee. The canal was attractive towards Wigan, with large flashes on both sides of the canal. We probably could have moored here safely, especially as we had spurned the pub the night before.

It is a very large climb at Wigan, as the distant view makes clear.
A small boat that had been moored just up the canal from us the previous evening, with two men rollering green paint onto it had disappeared. We found it again at Poolstock locks. The men had absolutely no idea how a lock worked, and were setting off towards the notoriously difficult Wigan flight.

Some have more elaborate tail bridges.
"I just bought it last week, my mate did all the locks." I suggested that this might have shown a lack of foresight. I was concerned for the possibility of serious injury.

Slow but steady progress up the 21 locks at Wigan
We had a conference with Derek and Pam, and I set off back to the partly green boat to suggest that we went ahead of them, and set all the locks behind us, so that we could teach them what to do. However, we hadn't been given the most important part of information - they were going to pull over and wait for the 'mate who knows how locks work'. So we went ahead, and didn't see them again.

It leaks so badly you'll never open the gates unless you do!
The 21 locks in the Wigan flight are very deep, much deeper on average than the locks we are used to in the South and the Midlands. They are shorter and wider too, so that there is a gap of two or three feet beside the boat and stepping on and off becomes much harder. There is no way of crossing the head of the lock, so if you want to open paddles on both sides you have to walk around the lock and cross the bridge at the tail of the lock. This isn't a problem if you have enough crew to work both sides of the lock at the same time, but it was a problem for the couple who were moving one boat up ahead of us. The paddles and gates are heavy. Some paddles went up very easily, but others took all my strength and weight to get moving. On at least one occasion I just couldn't move a gate at all, and Derek had to come to help me.

Reason why signs like the one above are necessary.

Typical reason why many ground paddles don't work
David got the bike off the boat, and started to set locks ahead, but there were also a lot of boats coming down the flight, so we were often waiting for them. Derek and Pam said that they had often done the flight seeing no other boats at all, so this was very unusual. There were some very large widebeams moving down the flight, on their way to Manchester or Liverpool.

Johnson's Hillock - tackled at the end of the day
David came back to report that the crew ahead were flagging. The man had had heart surgery, and the woman was beginning to get hip pains with all the walking around the lock. They were looking to pull over and try to team up with another single boat. David went off on the bike to see if there was any viable boat coming up the flight, but quickly reported back that they were on their own for the time being at least. They decided to pull over, but a CRT employee set the next lock for them, and they went into it anyway, only to find that above that lock the pounds were all very short, and they wouldn't be able to moor up in them. They carried on, aided by the occasional boat coming down, and by David, who was still working a lock ahead of us. Near the top they found a longer pound, and decided to moor up for a while, only to be told by some stroppy fishermen that they couldn't moor there, because it might affect their fishing.  The moral of this story is that if you have health problems and are intending to do the Wigan flight, then team up with another crew. To be honest, even with David ahead, and with Derek and Pam sharing the work it was very hard work. The flight took a long time, much longer than expected.

Possibly the least effective lock repair ever done?
After the flight we set off into attractive countryside, aiming to get to at least the bottom lock of Johnston's Hillock. This flight of seven locks is set in glorious scenery, and are mostly very close together. They were also much easier than the Wigan flight, although the same size, so we decided to head up them. David discovered that he could cross the top gates here, much to our consternation.

Johnson's Hillock
We moored below top lock, where there is a flower-bedecked pub of the same name. I investigated it and it seemed very welcoming, although all the food on offer was very heavily meat orientated. We decided that we would visit the pub after dinner, but tiredness overcame us, and we headed off for a very welcome bed.

Johnson's Hillock locks were much easier than those at Wigan.
We imagine that being soft Southern vegetarians in the North might mean that we have to do a lot of cooking on the boat, and far less eating in pubs - perhaps that's not such a bad thing.

Dover Lock Inn to Johnson's Hillock
Miles: 15.5 (Chalice), 0 (Sickle), Locks 29

Total Miles: 447.0, Locks: 229

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