Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The Wigan Flight

No, I am not about to recount another exotic holiday that Janis and I have experienced with Virgin Airways but rather the somewhat shaky climb on Monday from the coal and steel besmirched town of Wigan, up that boaters Tower of Babel called affectionately by the locals ‘The Wigan Twenty One’, towards the green and undulating heaven that is The Pennines; that paradise portrayed in beautiful photographs with a waterway winding its way across a green rolling landscape dotted with the odd ancient stone built farmhouse and perhaps one peaceful lock in evidence.

But as in life heaven is not easy to attain and the Wigan Flight is no exception. Yet in Nicholson’s Guide there is just twenty one double locks to work; no more difficult than the Hatton Twenty One near Warwick surely, which I have done many times now in about four hours and have actually with experience, grown to view them even affectionately. So maybe I thought, this could be the start of a similar beautiful relationship with The Wigan Twenty One.

It didn’t bode very well however when ‘Futurest’, just as she was about to enter the bottom lock, caught around her screw a pair of trousers that at one time must have been draped around the loins of an enormous giant. This took a whole hour and a half of scrabbling upside down in the weed box to clear. It was therefore well into the afternoon before we were able to begin the climb.

The locks are spaced close together and experience in the past in this situation has taught us that the quickest and most efficient way of navigating through is for one of us to stay on the towpath and prepare all the locks ahead while the other, with the boats made fast together abreast, steers them through the pounds and into the locks using one engine only. Janis elected to go ashore leaving me in charge of the two ships.


DSCN0971  Rising in Lock 71 of Wigan Flight

Rising in Lock 71


DSCN0972  Unusual bottom gate supports

Unusual lock gate supports


Unusual balance arm counterweight


With a little difficulty, we raised ourselves up through the first unfamiliar lock. The gates were large, ill-fitting and heavy and the winding gear was not customary to us; the ground paddles needed a horizontal movement with the windlass instead of the vertical as down south.

It was hard work in all the locks, which were very ancient and each one needed attention of some kind. One inoperative ground paddle was taped off and had the ‘British Waterways’ aware notice still attached dated ‘2010’. We were slower than we could have been too as all the locks were against us due to a single boat one chamber ahead that was also slower than us. Janis was actually locking them through, as well as preparing their next lock.

However after steady though heavy work we reached the top and moored just beyond the water point at 9 pm, with the Sun right ahead and dazzling us low in the clear blue evening sky; it would not be long till the bright vivid sunset. Eleven hours ago we had set out from Wigan and we were tired. However we were up in the rolling countryside of the low Pennines and full of righteousness now that the passage was over.

Heaven was worth it and we celebrated with a late salad dinner and a couple of Gin and Tonics.


……..asleep or otherwise

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