Sir Hugh Stockwell Lock to Lower Foxhangers Lock
The locks were being unlocked as we had breakfast. We’d no intention of being the first down the flight, but got ourselves ready should another narrowboat arrive that we could share with. According to Frankie volunteers would be about today, so we waited for signs of them. I soon realised I’d made a mistake whilst getting dressed this morning and changed from a C&RT blue to Environment Agency Blue t shirt.
A chap from the cruiser walked down to set the top lock for them, they were wide so no sharing with them. Where are our friends on days like this, Bridget and Storm, Clare and Graeme, Alison and Laura, Aileen and Mike! It looked like we’d be making the big descent on our own. Oh well.
Mick walked down as there were signs of Volunteers, three on duty this morning. There were two wide beams who’d already been offered assistance, but they’d do what they could for us too. If one of them set the lock ahead after the cruiser had gone through that would be just fine. The cruiser headed down and by the time we’d rolled back the covers they were a couple of locks ahead of us.
Oleanna was sat in the sun, but the top few locks were very much in the shade as I filled the top chamber for us. The off side gates on the top lock are very close to the fence, the bottom one so tight I couldn’t squeeze past, so I did an undignified scramble along the floor only to be shown up by a volunteer using a secret gate in the fence!
The volunteers had split up, Lez went down with the cruiser. Mike/Mick went down to help with a narrowboat coming up the flight and Pete came to help us down. The lock below would fill as we entered the lock above and we made steady progress down the flight.
There are 29 locks in all at Caen Hill, yesterday we did the first 6, today we’d complete them. The next 16 locks are designated as a scheduled monument. If you’ve ever seen photos of a flight of locks it’s likely to have been Caen Hill one of the seven wonders of the waterways.
The pounds in between each lock aren’t very long but stretch out to the side. None of them have bywashes, so if the pound fills enough water flows over the top of the upper gates and fills the lock. Once that is full the water backs up and the top couple of pounds can flood the surrounding area, the C&RT workshop being one of them.
The flight was John Rennie’s solution to climb the steep hill and it was the last section of the 87 mile canal to be opened in 1810. The last commercial cargo was transported up the flight in 1948 and the flight was the last stretch to be restored in 1990. The lock gates are all metal and the paddle gear varies from being low geared to clunking stiffness.
After three locks we waited for the narrowboat coming up so that we could swap chambers. This was NB Wishbone that we’d last seen in Abingdon a few weeks ago. There was time to chat to Alistair and his wife as their lock finished filling. Hope the rest of your cruise back up the Oxford is a good one.
Pete and I carried on downhill, a hired wide beam gradually coming uphill to meet us with plenty of crew. The pound between us was a touch low so we held back and let them ascend.
The rest of the flight was ours, straight down gradually catching up with Les and the cruiser who had inexperienced crew on board. Mick/Mike came and joined us locking down hill making a very efficient team.
With a couple of locks left in the flight we offered ginger buns around but there were no takers, oh well more for us.
The chaps suggested I walk ahead to the next lock after the flight so that I could get THE photo of Oleanna at the bottom. Apparently nobody takes the photo with the volunteers in, so I took two one with and one without. Thank you all, you made the flight easy.
The cruiser had pulled over for a well earned break, managing to plonk themselves slap bang in the middle of the available space, they did offer to nudge up should we want to stop too!
With encouragement from the Lockies we decided to continue on down the next 7 locks to Foxhangers. The general consensus was that the cruiser would hold us up and there was still plenty of energy left in our tanks. A ginger bun and a swig or two of water at the next lock would keep us going.
The next seven locks are further apart so I resisted setting the one ahead, most were in our favour anyway, just needing a touch of topping up. We passed one widebeam coming uphill on their fortnightly move.
The 48hr mooring at the bottom of the locks had enough space for us so we pulled in opposite the Foxhangers Hire fleet, all their engines running, charging the batteries for the days hirers. Tilly was allowed out and the oven lit ready to bake well deserved sausage rolls.
They were tasty but my pastry is far better than shop bought.
We’d entered Lock 44 at 9:39am and exited Lock 22 at 1pm.
The afternoon was spent with the cricket on. Several boats came down the locks and a few headed up. I prepared a paint order for Puss in Boots and Tilly explored the old railway bridge just by our mooring. Just about all the hire boats headed out, one stayed put for the night and two returned back to base a night early. I think we will sleep well tonight.
23 locks, 1.52 miles, 4 miles walked, 2nd down, 3 volunteers, 3 boats passed, 4 hrs 21 minutes, 188ft 10”, 2 ginger buns, 12 sausage rolls, 8 hire boats out, 1 paint order, 1 test match looking up, 1 pooped cat.