Illustration by Ali Mannan
Words by Peter Watts
There are few more dramatic views on the canal network in any season than the one down the daunting flight of Caen Hill Locks on Devizes Flight of the Kennet & Avon Canal. This flight of 29 locks covers a rise of 237 feet in a little over two miles and features at its heart 16 locks that are the steepest in the country. Head to the top of the flight this winter for some wonderful views down the canal and of the stunning countryside around, and marvel at this meeting of nature’s beauty and humanity’s engineering brilliance.
When John Rennie was surveying a route for the Kennet & Avon Canal through Devizes and on to Bath, he knew he’d have to get the canal from the high ground in Devizes down to the Avon Valley. His solution was to construct one of the wonders of the waterways, the staggering Devizes Flight, a series of closely packed together lock pounds with vast side ponds to ensure the locks are always full of water. They were completed in 1810 and ran day and night, being originally lit by gas light, with boaters paying one shilling to travel during the night.
The last cargo to use the flight went through in 1948 and by the early 1950s, the flight was in poor condition and eventually closed to traffic. Like much of the canal network, it was only saved by the hard work of volunteers, who worked alongside government bodies to secure the funding and manpower necessary to restore the canal. Caen Hill has since become a popular location and has a café, new woodland and visitor centre on a boat. The side ponds are havens for wildlife and there are several trails around the locks and a nearby woodland planted in 2012 to mark the jubilee. The visitor centre is staffed by Canal & River Trust volunteers and many of the lock keepers that work so hard to keep the flight moving are also volunteers. The Trust’s work would not be possible without them.
Plan your day out to Caen Hill Locks.
Posted on 17/01/2020