Friday, 1 July 2016

The flight that didn't fly

Halfway up the flight in the gathering gloom and rain
We might have been on a flight but this one certainly didn't fly. The 21 locks of the Wigan flight took us over five hours yesterday. And it was 300+ minutes of sheer hard work. We started in the afternoon sunshine and finished in the gloom amid pouring rain.
Worse of all, the pub at the top had stopped serving food!
Along the way we helped rescue a couple of abandoned tiny ducklings at one lock and got stuck half into a lock for 15 minutes when the water ran low in one pound.
Only another dozen of these to go
The Wigan Flight has a fearsome reputation, stepping the canal over 200ft up the hills out of the town through 21deep, wide and heavy locks*. We've been on it twice before but going downhill, which is considerably easier. The first time we also had help from our own 'Whirling Windlass' son-in-law Nick; the second we were on our own and it took four hours. So going up I was expecting a long haul.
Up or down, it's easier to pair up with another boat - more hands on the locks and two boats to fill the chambers where one can bang around. But of course, there wasn't another boat in sight and indeed we didn't see one on the whole flight.
Seadog Brian sat them out on the roof - until it rained
You only have to look at the sheer size of the locks to gather that they are going to be hard work. And they were; every one was heavy, a couple were nigh-on impossible and one simply wouldn't close without the aid of a hefty passer-by. And he had to go to the hospital with a hernia afterwards (joking).
The paddles provide a delightful combination of being heavy, very low geared and often lacking in grease so they drag themselves up reluctantly with endless windlass winding.
International duckling rescue success
It's best to stop counting the locks – after the first hour I realised we'd only done five. And then we got recruited into International Duckling Rescue. Two tiny ducklings, barely a couple of days old, were drifting around motherless and evading all efforts from the bankside to reach them. We took a lad on the front deck and he managed to pick the shivering cold pair up. We last saw them en route to the RSPCA.
With smiles still on our faces we reached lock eight to find the pound was worryingly low. And we got stuck on the sill. While I flushed water through Mrs B battled to get into the lock. Of course, by the time she did, the pound for the lock above was low - fortunately there was plenty of water higher up to refill it.
The flight starts in urban Wigan where everyone on the towpath was friendly and helpful (as they've been in the past) but by midway is well into the countryside. Hard to imagine, even as we near the returning industrial spots at the top, that 10,000 people were once employed at a vast canalside coal and ironworks up here.
Home cooked food too - but not after seven
It's raining now as we enter the final five locks. And there's still an hour to go. At Lock Two is the welcoming sight of a pub (the earlier one is now shut) but when a dripping lockwheeler enquires it turns out food ended at seven. It's now eight!
The most welcome sight in the world - the top lock
Finally we're through, round the corner and moored. A pile of wet clothes in the engine room, two tinned curries inside us and we can finally relax. Two hours later, after ten pm, another boat arrives up the locks. Even more daft than us. Today will be a rest day we agree.
And the view from high up at the top this morning

*Pedant corner: there are actually 23 locks in the full flight but we entered off the Leigh Branch and missed the first two.

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