During My Leeds & Liverpool Canal walk the Bingley Five Rise Locks were a perfect place to start a new day with its own visit. This magnificent feature, the steepest staircase locks in UK, on the canal needed to be looked at closely and in more detail. Also an opportunity to learn more about the huge feat of engineering it would have been in its heyday plus how it works today.
The Types Of Locks
As you take a walk or boat trip along Britain’s canals you will see many locks of all sizes and number. The nature of our country and terrain means hills and inclines had to be overcome, there was just no way of getting around it.
You will see lots of examples of Single Locks, for slight inclines. A single door that is opened and closed to help get the water level to the height of the canal above or below depending on direction.
If you have a bigger climb or drop you cannot just use one lock, you need a series of locks that are near each other. On a flight there will be a piece of waterway in between each lock. If you have ever been on the Kennet and Avon you will see a great example. Caen Locks (Devizes Flight), a flight of 16 in a row.
As is the case with Bingley Five Rise, sometimes you really need to go steeply up or down suddenly. Staircase locks are a series of locks all as one together. So the top gate of one lock is the bottom gate of the next and so on upwards.
Who Invented The Canal Lock?
Canals locks have been around since the 10th Century and beyond. Originally big cumbersome closed gates like the portcullis lock, that took lots of hard work to open and close due to the power of the water and weight of the gates etc.
Have you ever looked at most locks here in Britain and wondered why the huge gates do not seem shut flat and full but at a V shape? Well the lock system we see today was invented by Leonardo Da Vinci in the 1400s. The Miter Lock. It is one of his inventions that really has lasted in time. He worked out that two gates at 45 degrees, pointing upstream, would shut tight and sealed when water is against them at a higher level, but also a lot easier to open and close by a single person once the water is equal either side.
History Of Bingley 5 Rise
It is difficult to fathom what an incredible engineering feat these locks where to build. You need to consider that they were opened way back in 1774. This is a five rise lock too, and was to be the steepest rising 60m upwards. Plus, this being a wide canal at over 14 feet then not just water maintenance needed to be thought about but the huge doors etc.
The middle and bottom gates are the tallest in the UK too. Each gate weighing over 5 tonnes.
Looking After The Locks
I was honoured to be given some time with Geoff, an Explorer Volunteer with the Canal & River Trust.
If you are ever on the waterway or towpath you will find Explorer Volunteers like Geoff in places on the way and have a vast amount of knowledge about the canals, locks, wildlife and workings. They spend many hours teaching children and school classes all about the canals and life around it.
The Canal & River Trust Explorers work is closely linked to the schools national curriculum too, an incredible way to learn about history, wildlife and a key part of Britain’s network.
As well as giving me a fascinating lesson on the history, Geoff showed me exactly what goes on at Bingley Five Rise. It may seem sedate and in a beautiful setting but behind the scenes, manpower from the Trust keeps it all going. These locks are more complicated than normal as you can imagine. A lock keeper is there every day to help boats up and down so you don’t have to be scared or daunted if inexperienced.
There is so much more to think about too, for instance, the amount of water used is immense and levels have to be maintained from top to bottom. I will talk more about the water level and how it is maintained when I get further on this walk up in the Pennines.
The gates are as they were when built around 250 years ago. But being made of wood they cannot last that long so need to be replaced every 25 years or so. A huge task for a carpenter! Plus a huge task today when actually replacing. A sight for many a gongoozler!
What Is A Gongoozler?
The word gongoozler is likely more known as simply someone who watches something idly. However it more technically means someone who watches and has an interest in canals. Let’s say the nearest thing is saying a gongoozler is to canals what train spotting is to the railways.
It is said to have started with canal workers using Lincolnshire dialect to describe people idly standing and watching on the towpath. Gawn and gooze roughly meaning stare and gape.
Because Bingley Five Rise is so unique you get lots of ‘gongoozlers’ and day trippers watching the boats make their way up and down.
From the top of the locks you get an incredible view over the trees, along the canal and to the old wool mills of Bingley itself.
And approaching from the bottom you may have been impressed by the 3 rise you had just passed but then cannot miss the 5 rise ahead between the trees.
Phew, I had started my canal walk from Leeds only 24 hours before and have seen and learnt so much. I said my thank yous to Geoff, said my goodbyes to Bingley and a new days canal walk was ahead. See you in Skipton.