Thursday, 30 May 2013

At Foxton Locks and the Inclined Plane.

Thursday 30th May, 2013 near Foxton.
Other than one early shower, the day stayed dry. We arrived at Foxton Locks at mid-day, turned above the locks and moored up close to a magnificent bronze statue of a working horse with its "boy".
Also moored close by was another Kingsground boat nb "Novae Vitae". We walked to the top of the flight and admired the far-reaching views across the countryside. We did not want to go any further north on this canal on this trip so we had no intention of going down the locks, which have ten narrow locks arranged in two staircases of five each with a passing place between each group. The total fall is 75ft in just a couple of hundred yards, so they are very impressive.
We had a super day, walking up and down the lock flight a couple of times and then walking up the "Inclined Plane". In 1900, this was opened to allow wide beam boats to get round the bottleneck of the Foxton Locks. It consisted of two 250 ton caissons, each capable of holding two narrowboats, mounted on rail tracks that ran up the inclined plane at an angle of 30 deg. The one going up counterbalanced the one going down by means of a series of cables and the whole thing was driven by a steam engine that generated on 25hp! It must have been spectacular to watch, a great example of innovative Victorian engineering. Unfortunately, like Concorde, it proved to be uneconomic as the freight traffic was already declining and it closed after just 11 years. In 1928 the whole lot was scrapped and the scrap merchant paid the princely sum of £250 for the lot!
There is now a plan to restore the Inclined Plane, there is a very good museum and the whole site has been cleand up beautifully. Unfortunately, talking to the people in the museum, there are two big problems to be overcome. One is, unsurprisingly, the cost - although that is probably just a matter of time. The other is our old friends Natural England and English Heritage. On the one hand, if the site is restored, they want it to be exactly as it was, but on the other hand 'Elf and Safety' would require significant changes to make it safe to operate today and they say that would not be restoring it correctly. And so the bureaucratic arguments go on. NE and EH seem to be much more concerned with preserving a few bits of broken concrete than having a magnificent memorial to the brilliance of Victorian engineering that would attract people from around the world.
At the top of the locks is a cafe in what was once the Lock Keeper's cottage - in fact the Lock Keeper is still there!
At the bottom of the locks was a small shop with a great selection of books, of which we bought three including a facsimile of the 1904 edition of "Bradshaw's Canals and Navigable Rivers of England and Wales" and two books by Tom Rolt (founder of the Inland Waterways Association).
On the way back to MM, we passed a robin (the feathered variety) sitting close to us on a post and chirping happily. R (the non-feathered one) chirped back and the robin stood for a while with his head cocked on one side listening intently. What was he thinking, we wondered?
We set off south again to find a pretty mooring place. M walked the towpath, partly for the exercise and partly to photograph the "Living Mileposts".
These were mileposts that were originally carved into living trees beside the canal. The trees have long gone but the authorities planted replacements with little notices next to them to say where they used to be.
Today: 7 miles, 0 locks and 3.7 hours (1.5 for power).
Trip: 73 miles, 45 locks and 52.2 hours.

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