Dealing with canal bridges

One of the other hazards, if that’s the correct word, that boaters will encounter on their travels is bridges. These occur in varying forms and for the most part, the canal boat will travel serenely underneath them without incident but at the very least you need to ensure your roof is not so laden with miscellany that it does not collide with some of the lower ones, of which there are several.

However, along several stretches of canal such as the south Oxford or the Caldon or the Peak Forest, there lie bridges which simply lie flat across the canal at towpath height and which are therefore impassable without action by the boater.

Such bridges come in two forms: lift bridges and swing bridges (their precise action being clearly defined by those names!).

When you rock up to such a bridge, there will be the equivalent of a lock landing on either side, to which you may temporarily tie the boat while the bridge is lifted or swung open. You then take the boat through, pause on the complementary lock landing while you return the bridge to its closed position (unless another boat is coming along that quite evidently also wishes to travel through the bridge hole) and then potter on your merry way.

(There are exceptions to this such as on the Gloucester and Sharpness canal where the bridges are operated by CRT staff or volunteers and the boater merely arrives and looks hopeful whereupon the bridge will magically swing open then shut behind you)

The lift bridges are operated by a crank handle to which the standard lock windlass is attached, the handle wound many times, gently lifting the bridge until a boat can fit under it. Do not expect the bridge to end up vertical, they tend to come to a stop at about 45 degrees which is just enough to slip a boat through without snagging.

Swing bridges are typically pushed through 90 degrees using a balance beam a bit like a lock. You will often need a CRT waterways key to undo any padlock on them, which is there to stop passing idiots messing about.

Occasionally such bridges will have notices giving instruction on how they are to be left such as open or closed. Do, please, obey those orders.

The main issue with these bridges is when you’re travelling single-handed since the controls / pivot are inevitably on the non-towpath side which means once you’ve got off the boat and opened the bridge, you now can’t get back onto your boat…