Day Thirty Two

Time for a more relaxing pace today. We catch the bus into the next
village, Hemden Bridge.

The village, also once know as Trouser Town, was once famous for
milling and garment work. These days though, it’s geared to tourism
and is a popular weekend retreat. It’s full of quirky little shops and
cafes, but the real appeal is the canal, which has 92 lochs and is full
of noddy boats. At least that’s what they are called in fun, they are
probably really called canal boats.

I’ve always wondered how the boats move through the lochs – the
gates for each loch are huge and the water levels in each section
vary greatly. We debate this happily for some time, and ask the local
ducks who are none the wiser. The ducks seem to be the same
species that we saw on Staten Island – unusually large with dramatic
black, white and milk chocolate feathers. Very tame, they sleep at
our feet.

As luck would have it, one of the boats was on the move and we got
the opportunity to watch its progress though two of the lochs and
chat to the guy operating the gates. It works like this: one man stays
in the boat to steer, the other gets out and ratchets the gate from
the base to slightly lift the gate and equalise the water level, when
it’s equal, the gate is pushed open. It looks impossible as the gates
look like they need an elephant to open them, but via an impressive
bit of engineering, it takes a huge lever arm and one man’s efforts.
When the boat goes through, one gate is shut and it’s steered
backwards to bump the other one shut, or they just open one gate
and go through that. Having moved through one gates, they then
re-equalise again and go through the second gate.

The boats are long and skinny so that they fit side by side in the
canal and can fit through one gate only – for the second crossing,
only one gate is opened. Across each loch is a small bridge to
facilitate running from side to side to manage each gate.

Not a bad bit of engineering, considering how long ago it was
designed. It’s a slow process though. It takes around 20 minutes to
navigate two lochs but it does allow boats to travel up hill, and for
the milling trade, each boat carried the equivalent of 400 pack
horses, so it was a huge innovation at the time. These days they are
leisure craft and a slow way of seeing the countryside.

Back home afterwards, a little wiser.

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