Hand Cuffs. 20th September

Wolverhampton Tunnel to Laches Bridge 73, Staffordshire and Worcester Canal

Tea with breakfast this morning and then we pushed off. Yesterday afternoon a boat had come past heading to the top of the locks, so we more than expected them all to be empty. It was however good to see that they had moored above the flight and that the top lock was sat full ready for us.

Wolverhampton Top Lock

The morning was a chilly one, it might be time to pack the summer duvet away and get the heavier tog one out from under the bed. I was glad of my Boaters PPE gloves and a jumper to start with. The sun soon came out and things started to warm up a bit.

September sunshine

I left Mick to close the gate behind Oleanna and lift a paddle as I walked down to set the next lock. Sadly this was not full, so I lifted a paddle and returned to the top lock to lift the second paddle, open and close gates. Then I walked down to open the now filled lock below, drop the paddle and then walk down to the next lock to start filling that whilst Mick did his bit above. This now set our routine down the flight, every lock bar the top one was empty.

Sun glinting on the roof

By lock 4 my jumper came off, the sun along with walking and paddle winding warming me up quite nicely. As few of the locks on the flight have handrails on the bottom gates I end up walking round the lock to get to the other side to open the other gate. Once Oleanna is out of the lock Mick closes the off side gate using a boat hook, saving me another walk round the lock.

Closing the off side gate

Every lock on the flight has locks on the paddles, this is to prevent vandals lifting paddles and emptying pounds. Many of the BCN locks have these, you require a hand cuff key (water conservation key amongst other names), a t shaped key that fits into a tube, you twist it and it releases a metal bar that has been inhibiting the paddle gear from winding. The majority of these actually work on the flight which is rare.


Squirrels were busy in amongst the yellowing leaves, one stopping to have its photo taken, another complaining close by that it wasn’t classed as being photogenic enough.


The recycling waste depot had an almost constant stream of bin wagons arriving, each waiting their turn on the inward ramp. In the sunlight the high chimney and building didn’t look too bad, obviously not a romantic scene, but the good lighting helped.

At lock 8 a group of volunteers were busy painting railings black. One chap opened and closed the towpath gate for us, then carried on with his paint brush. In the last few days I’ve been spotting blue C&RT rubbish bins about the place, I don’t remember these, are they new?


Lock 13, I think, had railings on the bottom gate saving me from walking round, so I kicked the bottom gates open. At 14 there were more but a couple stopped, looked at the anti vandal locks and opened and closed that gate for me, by now I really wished I put a t-shirt on. We chatted for a while, they were on a walk up the flight whilst their boat was being serviced at Oxley Marine down on the Staff and Worcester. I did wonder if we’d have more assistance from them, but they carried on with their walk down the flight.

Under the impressive viaduct, always a photo opportunity.

From Lock 16 the gaps between locks become that bit too far to walk three times, so no more setting ahead. The bywashes had been flowing all the way down the flight so there wasn’t a lack of water anywhere.

Single bottom gate

The end was just about in sight now. Lock 20 is the odd one out on the flight as it only has one bottom gate, the others having two. The original Wolverhampton flight had 20 locks not 21. Lock 20 was the final lock to be added. The present Lock 21 was previously very deep and it required a long time to fill it. So the now Lock 20 was added to alleviate this problem reducing the amount of water needed on the flight. By the time the lock was added the BCN locks were being built with one gate at each end, so this one was built in the same style. The ground levels also had to be adjusted between 20 and 21 and you can see where the previous land levels were. There is a walking trail with a guide here.

We’d had the flight to ourselves until now

As we rounded the bend to Lock 21, the final lock, I could see that the bottom gates were open and just make out the bow of a boat below. A chap stood on the towpath and indicated that a boat was coming into the lock, he then walked away, I presumed to his boat. I indicated to Mick that one was coming up, the only boat we’d come across on the flight. Then I walked down to help close gates.

Almost at the bottom

Oh blimey! Just what was happening below? The boat seemed to be reversing and going askew at the same time. Their angle of approach to the lock had been good, but now they were well off course. I could hear a bow thruster, were they trying to rectify the situation?

Set for us now

Then it became obvious what was happening. They were winding! It was the couple I’d seen on the flight earlier who had picked up their recently serviced boat and come down to the junction to wind, the gates just happened to be open and the chap on the bank had put two and two together making 61! I closed the gates and we filled our twentieth lock of the morning, unlocking and locking handcuff locks as we went.

Our last BCN lock for a while

It had been a very pleasant trip down the flight at our own pace, no-one behind or in front and no-one to pass, with the sun out it had been a pleasure.


We turned right onto the Staffordshire and Worcester Canal and pulled in for lunch opposite Oxley Marine. This was where our route plan had us mooring for the night, but with a road just behind the sideways trees it’s not somewhere we’d let Tilly out, so after disposing of rubbish in the bins at the end of the Shroppie we continued our way northwards. One choice had been to join the Shroppie, but visiting our lockdown ‘Home’ mooring will have to wait for another time.

From no boats we were now surrounded by moving boats! The narrows by Pendeford have three passing places (we counted them this time). With a boat coming towards us when we reached the second one we pulled over and waved them on. Then there was stale mate, the chap facing us was also waving us on, or was he?! Mick wasn’t convinced of the meaning of the hand signals, but we crept along the narrows to where the chap had stopped at a passing place. By now there were another two boats behind him. We pulled over and as he passed the chap said ‘It would be great of you could stay there and let the boats behind come through’. Well we would as there was nowhere else for us to go!

Three to pass

Once past the M54 and A449 we started looking for somewhere suitable for Tilly. We pulled in with a few other boats and claimed our length of armco.

Up ahead a group of school kids were in canoes screeching and paddling the wrong way. A constant stream of narrowboats was coming past those already moored and each time the kids needed to get out of the way which took quite a lot of screaming to do. After a while things calmed down and peace returned, although none of the consternation had disturbed Tilly in the slightest.

Back out on the towpath prowl

21 locks, 6.34 miles, 5.5 walked, 68 handcuff locks opened, 68 handcuff locks locked, 0 boats passed, 1 winding, 1 right, 1 straight, 1 goodbye to the BCN,3 passing places, 3 passed, 1 quiet world to 1 ever so busy noisy world, 1 SHOUTING cat, 3 hours shore leave, grade 3 hair cut, 2 plates of very nice lamb pilaf, 1 year since we moved back into our house.


2 thoughts on “Hand Cuffs. 20th September

  1. Anonymous

    One year ago back at Goole and Scarborough! Time flies doesn’t it just. I wondered which way you we’re headed, Great Heywood left or right!

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