It poured with rain overnight and was still raining when I took Duggie out for his morning walk. I was togged up in waterproof trousers, jacket and leather hat, but by the time we returned the sun was out and I was down to T shirt and jeans for the start of our descent down the twenty one locks of the Wigan flight, yep, you read right, TWENTY ONE!.
Jacquie took the helm and followed Honley Lass, helmed by Mary, into the first lock, no. 64, whilst Michael and I worked the paddles and gates. 1816 is proudly engraved into the head stones of the first bridge under which the boats passed as they exited the lock, one down and twenty to go.
The boys got into a steady routine, with one of us moving on down to fill the next lock in readiness and generally the gates were open for the two boats to glide in together as if breasted up, with Jacquie proving to be as accurate as ever in getting the boat neatly into the locks. All was going well until Duggie found a new four legged friend and refused to return, I had to abandon the lock duty to recover him and for the rest of the way he was on the naughty step. There was a little rain shower about three locks down and we all grabbed our jackets, but soon hung them back up again.
The locks came and went, suddenly I realised that being in lock 82 meant there were only three more to go. My thighs were tingling, and it did seem that the paddles were getting harder to wind up but otherwise I felt fine, in fact only one lock gate defeated me and Jacquie bravely climbed up from the bottom of the lock chamber and fortunately our combined weight got the gate to open. Some of the gates that were close to bridges had shorter beams and a drum and chain arrangement to open them was used, others had a rack and pinion mechanism and these gates were by far the easiest to open and close, except one lock where a new mechanism had been fitted, but it was so low geared that although easy to turn the windlass, the number of turns was exhausting.
In lock 85 we said our farewells to Michael and Mary as they would be turning off onto the Leigh Branch whilst we would continue on to Liverpool. However almost immediately Henhurst Lock confronted us and our stomachs and muscles demanded that we stop for lunch. Just four hours in total, which works out at eleven and a half minute a lock, not bad.
We really did want to visit Wigan but didn’t fancy an overnight stay in the centre, so we summoned up our last reserves of energy and moved on. Through two locks under a bridge and a sharp turn to the left and the famous Wigan Pier appeared, originally a coal loading staithe and the warehouse behind it is now the Orwell pub. Two more locks and three miles, before we moored in a pastoral place, where the little River Douglas meandered alongside the canal, just before the little commune of Gathurst. There is a train station here and hopefully there would be a Sunday service to get us back to Wigan.
Saturday was spent resting the aching muscles and relaxing, but we did check out the train service back to Wigan. Fortunately, ‘the computer said yes’ there was an hourly service on the half hour for £1.70 return for the five minute journey and the station is only one minute walk from the canal.