Holidays in the UK Masthead

UK Canal Locks, Tunnels, Aqueducts and Bridges

Locks are fun!Locks
Locks are a great opportunity to meet people, as most people will be very happy to give you some helpful hints on negotiating your first few locks. You will receive some general instructions on locks before you leave the boat base, and perhaps assistance through your first lock, but for now, here's a quick guide.

To raise or lower your boat through a gradient, you take it into the lock chamber which has gates at either end. Close the gates then fill or empty the lock by raising or lowering 'paddles' or small trap doors with an L-shaped winder (windlass). When the chamber is completely full or empty, you push the solid wood balance beams to lever the gates open.

Norton Lift Bridge, Caldon CanalAll this does require some physical effort but even older children will love to help out and the reasonably fit should have no difficulty at all. With two people on board one person steers, with the other opening and closing the lock gates.

You can't rush locks - each takes about 15 minutes - so there's plenty of time to get it right. And when you've taken your boat through two or three, you'll be wielding a windlass like an expert.

Bridges
Generally speaking, the boat nearest the bridge has priority when going through narrow bridges. You'll soon learn how to judge this.

You will encounter lift bridges, where a balance weight assists the opening, or swing bridges which rotate to allow the boat through. Opening these bridges may often hold up vehicular traffic!

Aqueducts
Chirk Aqueduct and ViaductAqueducts afford spectacular views over the surrounding countryside. A magnificent feat of engineering is Thomas Telford's Pontcysyllte aqueduct, towering 120 ft over the Dee Valley on the Llangollen Canal, where the boat travels across in a narrow metal trough with a sheer drop to one side.

Tunnels
Tunnels are part of the fun of boating, and can vary in length from a few boat's lengths to the 2700 yard long Harecastle Tunnel on the Four Counties Ring near Stoke-on-Trent.

Your guidebooks will identify which tunnels are wide enough for two boats to pass and which are single way working only. Tunnels are not illuminated, so put your headlight on and leave your cabin lights on to show how near the tunnel wall you are.

Holidays in the UK, Bowers Wharf, Skipton, BD23 2PD