Victor tackles Heartbreak Hill—again

Published: Sunday, 05 September 2021

UP THROUGH the locks at MIddlewich to King's Lock and we espied a volunteer. 

VolunteerInCabinSo here will be a bit of help thought I, but alas, no such luck. He was firmly ensconced in his cabin, specially provided by CaRT, but we didn't even get a wave.

Surely he could not be so tired this early in the morning?  And how long have huts been provided for volunteers, complete with toilets.  Mind you, as such must be provided, I would gather this is a way to get the volunteers where toilets don't exist.

But a clever way for CaRT to get the volunteers spread around the system, but not too good for boaters if they have somewhere to hide!

Leaving Middlewich we could not help but notice that all its locks were nicely painted, no matter their condition—after all the public would most likely not be aware not knowing if a lock was actually in decent condition or not—then immediately out of the town the locks became unpainted and grotty.


Then a warning of gate damage and a permanently secured unusable paddle had me worried for our progress.

The notice on the beam of the next lock told of damage to the top gate, and so to keep your boat away from it, not doubt for fear of extending the damage.  If it was just a plate as stated, surely this could have been easily and quickly replaced.

But the condition of the notice, that had obviously been there for quite a while, showed the plate had been missing for some time.

Methinks it is not so much damage but CaRT afraid that more boats may get their bows stuck in the lock and sink, but of course are afraid to say so—as we only too well know.

PaddlePermanentDisabledPaddle problem

On then to the next lock, and another problem.  This time a paddle permanently locked out of action, leaving just one top ground paddle.

An examination of the paddle showed it to be in fairly good condition with no obvious defects, but not only was it locked-up, but as can be seen from the photograph, the spindle had been welded so that it would be impossible to take a windless.  It was permanent indeed.

And should the sole remaining paddle give up the ghost, as alas they so often do, it would be quite an operation to get it back in use.  Or perhaps there is something wrong with the paddle and the current policy decrees it simply be locked out of action until the remaining one breaks.

ThankSlowingDownBut whatever, it doesn't look so good for our future progresswhich brings to mind—'on a wing and a prayer'.

Wrong place?

Then we came across the sign in this picture telling boaters to slow down as there were permanent moorings, and another sign some hundred yards or so further on facing the opposite way of course. But what permanent moorings?

There wasn't any!  In fact as can be seen these moorings were right on the outside of a bend.  There were no rings whatsoever, no piling and a solid towpath impossible to put in pins.

Obviously in the wrong place, but with this lot, not in the least surprised.

HousesGaloreHouses galore

We have noticed a massive increase in building by the canal with literally thousands of houses all along the waterway, a vast difference to the last time we cruised Heartbreak and now nothing like it was when we first came down around 21 years ago, with no new building anywhere.

I often wonder where all the services for such building that is obviously taking place all over the country is coming from.  The trend now is for 'green' energy produced by wind farms and solar panels, but they are hardly a source of permanent energy as there is little from the wind farms if there isn't any wind and solar panels give out bugger all in the long dark winter nights. 

TwinLocksAnd how about the vast demand on water and sewage disposal?  Are lot of reservoirs and disposal plants being built?

Along the waterway we noticed a cormorant following the boat, diving into its wake and coming out with a fish, then back again and again!  Showing that passing boaters do not harm fishing, but actually help by stirring up the water making the fish active.

Twin locks

Now to the twin locks on Heartbreak, that allow two boats to use each lock at the same time, but alas they are getting fewer and fewer, with too many now having one of them securely locked-up, with Jan remarking that all the locks fastened-up will never get repaired whilst there is another working by its side, to which are progress clearly showed.

TwinLockedUpBut what is so obvious is the general condition of the locks that are actually in use and how they relate to the condition when we first came down this flight that first time, when there was just one of the twins not in use, it being used to allow water down from a pump, and is still in use for that purpose.

Even though it was the Bank Holiday week we were surprised at the lack of moving boats on Heartbreak, perhaps due to its condition that has definitely been allowed to deteriorate over the past few years under CaRT's now obvious 'wait until it breaks then mend it' policy.

That of course does not allow for the distress to boaters held up by such a policy.


Then panic as a passing boater told us that Trentham Lock by Wedgwood Works had been closed and divers were needed to find the problem, so as we should be passing through next week there was a panic!

This boater told us he was the last one through, with the workers winching the stuck lock gate open for him to get through then closing the lock and locking it up.

NarrowChamberBut this time the CaRT team had been on the job, and thankfully not the contractors who seem to take a week for anything, with our Keith shortly telling that all was sorted and the navigation open. One thing for sure, this CaRT team seem to know what it is all about and are responsible for some quick repairs.

Yes, yes. a bit of praise, but for the effort at least of getting the navigation quickly open again.

Wrong choice—twice!

Approaching twin locks, alas not in our favour, which one to choose?  The wrong one! For without any warning it was an extra narrow lock chamber, so with our fenders down we became jammed!  So it was a awkward maneuver to get out and the paddles up.

PaddleLockedYet later there was a notice telling of a narrow chamber.  Must have been too much trouble to warn boaters of the first one.

The other wrong choice, of the two locks against us, and without any warning—of coursethe one we picked had just the one paddle working on its top gate, whilst the other lock had two.

But as we progressed there were so many locks with paddles securely fastened-up and unusable that I reckon it would be difficult for Cart to keep track.

And then those with both top gate paddles securely fastened as the lock was of course out of order.

Still the same

The last time we tackled Heartbreak I well remember remarking, that like in Middlewich, where the waterway passes through a bit of cilvilisation all the lock gates and bridges were well painted. looking in decent condition, yet once out in the sticks, the word 'grotty' just about describes them.

LadyNHSI just wonder who CaRT think they are kidding.  Not those who walk or cycle away from the vicinity and certainty not us boaters who have to suffer their condition.

For the NHS

Then a bit of light relief in the form of a lady from the village collecting for the NHS by one of the single locks.

She was complete with an array of jams, cakes and tea towels and the like, standing at the lock every weekend in return for a contribution, but I should imagine that most walkers and boaters who gave, like Jan, did so without any recompense.

LockNoticeCome autumn, as she thinks coffee mornings are boring, she is going to do breakfasts at her house to raise funds.

Strange notice

Then we came across a strange notice at one lock.  It just telling it was a lock!  Which after all is somewhat obvious.

I just wonder, is CaRT now about to erect such notices at the locks to tell us what it is?

These days, anything is possible, and perhaps followed by another four notices stating 'paddle'!

BothWrappedI'll end our cruise up Heartbreak with a couple of pictures that really shows what it has become, for which I make no apologies whatsoever for the continuing complaints of the way our waterways has become so neglected under the 'trust' of Canal & River Trust.

Remembering we have cruised this section of the Trent & Mersey Canal many times, from its hey-day under British Waterways and for over 20 years, having well noticed its decline, from the days when the navigations were all-important and kept in peak condition to how it is now.

The first picture shows an all too familiar scene at the twin locks of Heartbreak Hill, of both paddles wrapped-up and of course the lock, out of action.

This second one below showing the lack of control over the water in the locks, this picture being taken at 5pm on a Saturday when approaching the tunnel.  No, we did not risk it.

Not really good enough would you agree?

Victor Swift