After the Caen Hill flight on the Kennet and Avon Canal, the toughest flight of broad locks on the system has to be the Wigan flight. Over a distance of a little under two miles the Leeds and Liverpool Canal drops 201 feet through 21 locks. There are another two just below the junction, slightly removed from “the thick”, taking the totals up to 215 feet and 23 respectively.
Tomorrow we’ll be tackling the 21, then turning left at Wigan Junction to finish the descent with the two Poolstock Locks. From there we have a long, long level pound, all the way to Middlewich on the Trent and Mersey, 52 miles away. For the purists among you – you can hardly count the diminutive fall at Dutton Stop Lock, can you?
Anyway that’s for the morrow, back to today. Rain met us when we woke up, fairly light but wet nonetheless At least it wasn’t snow...
We weren’t quite ready to go when our locking partners from yesterday turned up, so they set off sharing with another boat that had arrived last night.
This left us as billy-no-mates looking forward to working down the seven Johnson’s Hillock Locks on our own. But just as I’d got the lock filled a hire boat turned up. “Do you want to join us?” I shouted across. “We’ve just got to fill with water”, was the reply. “Do you mind waiting?” Oh no, not at all!
With Mags on our tiller and a steerer on theirs we still had four crew to work the locks and dropped down easily, clearing the seven locks in 75 minutes. Good do.
The hirers were actually just one couple, the other couple were friends visiting for a few days. I was surprised when they arrived, Silsden hire boats wouldn’t normally get this far but it turned out that this one is out for eight weeks! The couple who’ve hired it are maybe heading for Birmingham, but haven’t any definite plans. Unfortunately they won’t be here at Wigan Locks till Friday or Saturday, it would have been good to share these with them too!
Johnson’s Hillock Locks
We parted company at the bottom of the locks, as they were stopping for a well-earned brew. We pushed on, eating on the hoof.
Leaving the locks, the Walton Summit Branch on the left.
At the bottom of Johnson’s Hillock Locks the lower end of the Lancaster Canal sets off, heading for Preston. Now known as the Walton Summit Branch of the L&L, it should have crossed the River Ribble on an aqueduct, then joined the northern section of the Lancaster Canal at Preston, connecting it to the main network. But financial restrictions meant that the aqueduct was never built, instead a tramway connected the two ends until the canal fell into disuse. Now even the short 3½ mile branch has been further truncated by the building of the M6 motorway.
The southern end Lancaster Canal was intended to join the Bridgewater Canal near Westhoughton, but an agreement during the construction of the Leeds and Liverpool saw both canals sharing the stretch we’ve covered this afternoon, from Johnson’s bottom lock to the top of Wigan Locks. The locks here and the Leigh Branch were constructed by the L&LCC, the locks in 1816 and the branch opening in 1820.
We had a steady run along the wide and fairly deep channel, making good time until encountering the long lines of moored craft near Adlington.
Across the fields the the pale grey walls of the Mormon Church north of Chorley stand out in the sunshine.
Dedicated to a different god entirely, the retail outlet of Botany Bay
…and an extremely narrow boat!
Our first duckling!
The ten or eleven miles to Wigan Locks runs past Chorley and Adlington, neither settlement having much impact on the navigation apart from a boatyard apiece and the inevitable moored boats. The sections of open country are a relief, though.
A last look back at the moors
Arriving at the top of the locks we were surprised not to see that two boats that had preceded us down Johnson’s. Chatting to the lockie after we tied up was further surprised to hear they’d not gone down. So we must have passed them somewhere without noticing!
Wigan Top Lock is just around the corner to the right.
The canal continues ahead, a short, choked length of what was the original Lancaster Canal route. We moored on here, just in front of the blue boat in the distance.
An early night tonight, we’ve a long day tomorrow. But there’s help on the way…
Locks 7, miles 11½