Thursday, December 10, 2020

Herbie Awards resume - Best Locks

 After our two day "comfort break", well I've been busy, we resume our glittering ceremony with an item of interest to all of us canal boaters.  Best Locks.

Due to this year's extraordinary circumstances we're picking from a pretty limited field here as we've only covered the ground between Cropredy and  Stretton Stop with a brief detour up and down the three Calcutt Locks.

Well let's get Calcutt out of the way shall we?  It's fair to say that that's one set of locks I have learned to dread if the weather is at all windy.  Actually the locks themselves aren't the problem, big and heavy as they are, it's the pounds between them.  The flippin' wind howls across the canal pushing the boat into the concrete bank on the towpath side and it's a real pig to get off again.  Just below the bottom lock we had to do a sharp left to get into the narrow marina entrance (to get our engine mount fitted).  So strong was the wind that we had to use full revs and whizzed through the entrance at such a speed that a poor chap on the pontoon just inside appear to be horror struck as we swerved to narrowly miss his boat.  At that's not the only time we've had to do that.  Rick will well remember an almost identical occasion on a previous visit.

So that leaves us with North and South Oxford canal locks.  After a few years pottering up and down between Cropredy and Oxford, you forget how easy some locks can be.  Much as I love it down through Banbury and beyond it is fair to say that for heavy or broken paddles, and gates that won't fully open, they take some beating.

Hang on, this is sounding like a Worst Locks Award.  Sorry it's just for contrast to explain our delight at travelling through better maintained ones at last.

One of my favourite locks is Broadmoor lock the first one above Cropredy marina, the one where the man sells windlasses and fenders and there is a nice little lawn where he puts out apples for sale.  I'm always glad to be there even when there is one paddle out of action (well this is the South Oxford).  Nice one.

Then after a couple more up the hill we get the Claydon flight.  Well they're quick to do but  that's about all.   Then quite a few hours later we come to the Napton flight. We went down them three times this year and up them twice (work that one out) The paddles and gates are mostly good (well, bloody marvellous in comparison to locks towards Oxford).  What are there - eight or nine of them? On the lower part of the flight, the locks come thick and fast and t all goes pretty smoothly and quickly, or it would do if there weren't queues.  Our grand daughter Grace actually chose to go up and down them twice this summer, just for the fun of it. However, this year because of water restrictions limiting lock hours there were queues of several hours at the top, so in spite of the locks themselves being fine and the chance to see the buffaloes on the way down, and the reward of the Folly pub at the bottom, it would be hard to give them the Award.

So that just leaves us with the Hillmorton locks, arranged neatly in side by side pairs and with their unusual paddle gear, they wind down the hill very nicely.  The paddles are light and the gates are fine.  At least one paddle was out of action this year, but at Hillmorton it really doesn't matter that much.  The duplicated locks not only speed things up, they make for  a nice bit of social interaction with other boaters too. There was a bit of a queue at the top, but considering that the stats regularly show Hillmorton bottom lock to be the busiest on the whole canal network, the delay was minimal. Always a pleasure.

So that's it folks, not many to choose from, but this is 2020, normal rules do not apply


for an Individual Lock  my vote goes to Broadmoor Lock

and for a flight, Hillmorton Locks.  

Hows that?

How about an Award for Best Boat Name?  See you next time.

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