For over twenty years Jim and Karen planned to head abroad for a second OE. Now, they’re doing it, and they’re sharing their adventures with us through regular blog posts recounting their escapades along the canals and rivers of the UK. In this latest instalment, they navigate the Foxton Locks. 

What a day! First, an 800m tunnel to boat. Then an incredible bit of engineering – a staircase of ten locks to climb to get us up 75ft to allow our trip to continue.

The Foxton Locks

The Foxton Locks occur at the junction of three canals. Nowadays it is a major tourist attraction and Sunday day outing attraction for the locals.

Needless to say we arrived there on Sunday of a Bank holiday weekend. There were people and boats everywhere. The junction has pubs and cafes catering for the onlookers and boaters who turn up to either look at or go through the flight. All in all it’s a bit nerve-wracking when you first look at it. Plus you know hundreds of pairs of eyes are watching. But as with everything in life the reality is not usually as bad as we imagine.

We turned up around 11ish Sunday morning. If you’re going to do this stuff you may as well have max watchers. First off we parked up to see what the go was.

We had already been advised that you have to contact the lock keepers and book a slot to traverse the locks. It’s definitely not a case of just starting up doing your own thing. As luck would have it we found one of the lock keepers running all this and they literally gave us a slot straight away. Just a minimal half hour wait till it was our turn to ascend. Some boaters choose not to rush these things, but I just want to get stuck in.

The Foxton Locks system

The system has ten locks, five above and five below with a small holding/passing pool in the middle. Ideally on busy days one boat is coming up while one is coming down and they pass each other at the holding pool. The whole system is controlled and orchestrated to get boats through as quickly as possible. Volunteers staff the lock system and control the boat flow, while the onlookers – especially the kids – love helping and working the lock gates. There is no trouble finding helpers.

The logistics

In our case we were climbing the Staircase of locks.

The locks are all connected so that once we enter the first lock at canal level, the gate in front is the “top gate” in this first step of the staircase. The paddles are opened in the top gate, draining the lock above us into the lock we are in. Once our lock is filled the “top gate” is opened and you boat through directly into the next lock. Now the gate you have boated through is closed and becomes the “bottom gate” in this second lock. The lock is filled again from above and we rise up and go out through this second step/lock into lock three. Then upwards you go through locks four and five to the passing bay in the small holding pool, where you wait for the boat coming down before continuing through the next five connected locks.

If this is not making sense think of five steps leading up to a small landing, the equivalent of the holding pool where you pass the boat going down.

The whole process took us about an hour to pass through. It felt like we were fish in a barrel, with all the people watching and chatting to us, but very interesting and fun to do.

Looking at the photos and from the description I’m sure you can appreciate the amazing engineering that went into this system in the late 1800s. This staircase replaced an even more amazing system long abandoned and scrapped that was built in the late 1700s.

Time to relax in Foxton

By 2pm we were securely parked – sorry, moored – up in the top canal, and free to walk back ourselves and watch the other boaters negotiating this staircase of locks. Being a Sunday, a pub lunch was top of the list for us after this amazing morning of boating. The Sunday lunch at the local is a UK institution and you can’t go past the carvery roast beef, Yorkshire puds, and all the trimmings with lashings of gravy, washed down with a pint.

Sunday lunch at the local pub in Foxton

After lunch we visited the local canal museum with the history about the structures built on this site to elevate the boats the required 75ft. It’s worth checking out at:

Tomorrow we will move on heading towards Warwick and Stratford-upon-Avon.

Got to say though this has been an amazing day or two of boating. I think on my next blog we might summarise exactly what this type of holiday involves and why you should ring World Travellers in Riccarton and book one.

Until then …

5 thoughts on “Canal boating in the UK: The Foxton Staircase

  1. Mike Lester says:

    Wow, what a experience and an adventure, must do this one of these days, where did you hire the boat from?

    • Jim says:

      We hired our boat from the canal cruising co in stone with help from Mike and Sandy at World Travellers Riccarton

  2. John Moyle says:

    Wow what a day, certainly a great adventure what with the tunnel and the locks – possibly a bit of nervous tension at times?

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