As it was such a lovely day I decided to have a day out with my camera and indulge my interest in the canals of this sceptered isle. One place I had heard so much about was the 5 Rise Locks at Bingley in West Yorkshire so off I set under blue skies and camera at the ready.
The five-rise is the steepest flight of locks in the UK, with a gradient of about 1:5 (a rise of 59ft 2in (18.03 m) over a distance of 320ft (98 m)) – we still use “old money” when measuring, none of this fancy meters and centimeters.
The intermediate and bottom gates are the tallest in the country. Because of the complications of working a staircase lock, and because so many boaters (both first-time hirers and new owners) are inexperienced, a full-time lock keeper is employed, and the locks are padlocked out of hours.
The Locks also have an overflow waterfall at the side, which water runs down when the lock is not open. When descending boat enters each lock chamber, the water level rises slightly and the excess overflows via a channel at the side of each lock, which runs into the main overflow.
The five-rise opened on 21 March 1774 and was a major feat of engineering at the time. When the locks and therefore the canal from Gargrave to Thackleywas opened in 1774 a crowd of 30,000 people turned out to celebrate. The first boat to use the locks took just 28 minutes. The smaller but no less impressive Bingley Three – Rise opened at the same time just a few hundred yards downstream.
It was still quite early when I arrived so headed for the little café at the side of the canal for the obligatory cappuccino and toasted teacake.
Then wander along the canal side to take in the view of this magnificent piece of civil engineering. Blood, sweat and tears must have gone into the construction of the locks and when you stand at the bottom of the 5 Rise and look up, the enormity of the job hits you and takes your breath away (real Yorkshire grit was needed to build these!)
After a while a couple of barges appeared and prepared to descend the 5 locks with the help of the lock-keeper and his volunteer assistant. Of course the kids watching wanted to be involved so helped with pushing the huge wooden lock gate arms as the water had been drained off.
It was quite a spectacle to watch these two huge barges descend side by side into each lock (I wonder who came up with the actual water drainage system?) then slowly move forward to the next one.
What did surprise me was how quickly they move through the locks from top to bottom. It was a wonderful site to see and many people who had come to view the locks were fortunate to time it so that they could see a barge travelling through them.
If you want a “grand day out” then I recommend a visit to the locks and also take in a stroll along the canal side to Saltaire, another excellent industrial heritage site (take about 30 minutes to walk).