Sunday, August 28, 2011

Seend, England - August 28, 2010

Our next stop was another Camping Club site in Seend, Wiltshire, lying alongside the Kennet and Avon canal and just a few miles west of the market town of Devizes. The Kennet and Avon Canal was built under the direction of John Rennie between 1794 and 1810 to link Devizes with Bristol to the west and London to the east.On the last Saturday of August we decided to cycle along the towpath to Devizes.
Along the canal, between village of Rowde and the town of Devizes, lie the Caen Hill Locks, a flight of 29 locks that rise 237 feet in 2 miles - a 1 in 44 gradient. The locks are in three groups with the lower seven locks, Foxhangers Wharf Lock to Foxhangers Bridge Lock, spread over 3/4 mile - roughly 600 feet separation on average. The next sixteen locks form a continuous flight in a straight line up an inconceivably steep hillside. Because of this steepness, the pounds between these 16 locks are extremely short necessitating that all 15 of them are equipped with unusually large sideways-extended pounds to store the water needed to operate them. The final six locks take the canal into Devizes and are of more normal separation .
The astonishing flight of 16 locks was engineer John Rennie's solution to climbing the very steep hill and completing the 87 mile route to Devizes. While these locks were under construction a tramroad provided a link between the canal at Foxhangers to Devizes, traces of which are still visible in the towpath arches of the road bridges over the canal.
The locks take 5–6 hours to traverse in a boat and use such a large volume of water that a back pump was installed at Foxhangers in 1996 capable of returning 8 million gallons of water per day to the top of the flight - roughly one lockful every eleven minutes.
With the advent of the railways, the canal slowly fell into disuse with the last cargo barge making the journey from Avonmouth to Newbury in 1948. For a  dozen years or more the canal was neglected until a cleaning and rebuilding operation got underway in the 1960s. Gradually the canal became navigable again and joined the many others around the country providing leisure to numerous boaters and holidaymakers. Queen Elizabeth II actually opened the new locks officially in 1990 some years after they had been restored to service. Better late than never!
For pictures of the amazing flight of locks, click here.

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