Pushing Water Uphill...
Whether you live on a narrowboat, enjoy vacations on a canal or like strolling along towpaths, we feel these landmarks are well worth a visit. They demonstrate how modern invention can harmoniously exist alongside the natural world.
Engineering that stands the test of time
The UK is home to some amazing feats of engineering when it comes to locks, so we've listed a few of the ones we feel are truly special. From the steepest locks to the longest, oldest and the most unique, here are the ones that caught our eye.
The Ups and Downs of Canal Life
Neptune's Staircase - Fort William, Scotland. Built between 1803 and 1822, Neptune's Staircase on the Caledonian Canal comprises of 8 locks. Ranging over a quarter of a mile it's the longest staircase lock in Scotland. Built by Thomas Telford, it was initially worked by hand power before turning to hydraulic power, which as you can imagine made life much easier.! It takes approximately 1.5 hrs for a boat to travel through the locks and has an eventual lifting height of 62ft.
Foxton Locks - Leicestershire. Situated on the Grand Union Canal these locks comprise of a staircase of 10 locks, making it the longest and steepest in the UK. It holds a set of 5 locks together and then a further 5, forming two staircases over an inclined plane. Built in 1810, these locks are a spectacular feat of engineering and carry a Grade II listing. They raise boats up to 75ft in approximately 45 minutes.
Caen Hill Locks - Devizes, Wiltshire. Located on the Kennet and Avon Canal, these locks are known as the "Wonder of the Waterways" and were constructed by John Rennie in 1810. Whilst the whole system comprises of 29 separate locks, 16 of these form the middle section and are the steepest. They can take a considerable time to pass through, usually between 5-6hrs.
Bingley Five Rise Locks - Bradford. These locks are interesting from an engineering perspective as the lock chambers are not separated, and consist of five rises formed into a staircase. The engineer John Longbotham was the first engineer for North West Canals. He was so revered that fellow engineers travelled from as far as Prussia to view his work. These locks were opened in 1774 and are now Grade I listed. It remains one of the steepest staircases in Britain with a total rise of 60ft and takes nearly 2hrs to pass through.
Kings Norton Guillotine Lock - Birmingham. Orginally dating back to the 19th Century, this lock was restored in 2012 for an estimated £200,000, and is situated on the Stratford Upon Avon Canal. It's Grade II listed and may soon be recognised as an ancient monument; which would give it the same status as Stone Henge..! Although the Guillotine Lock is unlikley to behead you, it does mimic the design of a guillotine with it's down blade.
Tardebigge Locks - Worcestershire. Found on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, this is one of the longest locks in Europe, stretching over 2 miles with 30 locks. Built between 1810 and 1814 some of the locks are particularly narrow. The boat lift was invented and built by Engineer John Woodhouse, and this canal was became pivotal in the trade of Porcelain and Cadbury's Chocolate. It also became famous for being a meeting place, following World War II, to revive the inland canals of the UK.
The Falkirk Wheel - Scotland. If there was ever a lock that enabled boats to pass from one level to another in a unique way, this is it. Although it's not technically a lock, more a contemporary boat lift, we think it's worth a mention. The site was orignally home to 11 locks, which the Falkirk wheel replaced in 2002 costing a staggering £17 million..! The wheel connects the Forth and Clyde Canal to the Union Canal. Boats are raised through a pair of locks and a gondola, between two hydraulic steel gates. This is not the style of lock that you see on many canals, more a piece of architectural mastery which brings moving boats into the 21st Century.
Bath Locks - Somerset. These are a set of 6 locks surrounded by beautiful scenery and are famous for holding the UK's second deepest lock at just over 19ft. It was constructed by Engineer John Rennie between 1794 and 1810 and is situated on the Kennet and Avon Canal. It was orignally used as a vital commercial canal route between Bristol and London, and several listed buildings are found along its path.
Tuel Lane Locks - Yorkshire. These locks are pratically brand new compared to many others as they were built in 1996 to replace several "aged" locks orignally constructed in 1804. They are believed to be the deepest locks in the UK with a depth of some 20ft. Due to the extreme depth, only a designated Lock Keeper is allowed to operate the opening and closing of the locks.
Fourteen Locks - Wales. These locks, which form one of the steepest rises in the UK, are a unique piece of engineering designed by Thomas Dadford Jr. in 1799. Originally used to transport iron and coal from the Welsh Valleys to Newport, it's also known as the "Cefn Flight". Located on the idyllic Monmouthshire Canal, it's resident to the Fourteen Locks Canal Centre which is a popular tourist attraction. The locks rise over some 800 yards and there are no gates between individual locks. It holds a "Mystery Lock", as number 11 was built after the others, but there is no history to suggest why this was!
Let's not forget the people who made this happen....
It's truly incredible to think that many examples of engineering brilliance have lasted for centuries. They remain as true testaments to the architects, engineers and labourers of a bygone time.