First stop on Thursday just had to be Sainsbury’s at Womborne. Right on the canal (it’s just the other side of the bridge), and the visitor moorings have a nice garden just perfect for Sir to explore while we were shopping. Pub opposite, and potentially a nice place to moor for the night, marred by quite heavy road traffic, and the pylons overhead. Some you win…
A little further up comes Bumblehole Bridge and Lock. Approached at the bottom from round a blind bend, getting Song & Dance aligned and into the bridgehole without hitting anything was challenge enough, without the excitement of oncoming traffic. And no, we don’t know where the name comes from, but there appears to be another one over at Dudley (not far away as the corvid aviates).
And then one comes to the impressive, if bizarre, Bratch Locks. Sometimes, when space is tight, a staircase lock is used. This is where the bottom gate of one lock is the top gate of the one below. You can pack a lot in (Foxton has two 5 chamber staircases), but you have to traverse the whole flight before anyone can come in the opposite direction, which can severely restrict traffic flow, while the potential for fiascos is dramatically increased. At Grindley Brook on the Llangollen canal the six locks with a three chamber staircase at the top is a well known bottleneck, with delays of up to six hours in the high season. As far as we can work out, the main role of the lockkeeper there is to stop the punch ups and queue jumping attempts with hire boats trying to get back to base on time, and running late.
At Bratch locks, things are even odder. There are three complete locks, each with their own top and bottom gates, but the distance between the locks is only about 10 feet. So you have the disadvantages of a staircase, with the added complication of more paddles, diverting water in side pounds and whatever. No wonder the lockkeeper looked harassed. Woe betied you if you get things wrong.
When we arrived, there was a 45 minute delay, as they were having to sort out water levels from and earlier problem. The volunteer assistant had undergone a solo operation competency check earlier, and passed, and was clearly so relieved he screwed up the middle lock paddles and drained the system… There but for the grace of <insert your favourite deity> go us.
By the time we made it up to the top, we’d had enough, and moored at a very pleasant spot opposite the local cricket club, and spent some time watching the youngsters do their stuff. A classic British scene, but with the sun low on the horizon and glowering low rain clouds, there are no pictures. Wonder what tomorrow will bring!