This portion of the canal was walked on a pleasant sunny afternoon while visiting 31B at Nead’s bridge. We didn’t manage to get through the bridge on that occasion, allowing me to go a-wandering. I hoped to do the remainder of the section later in the week but life got in the way… and before I forget the detail, I’ll compile a gallery at this point.
The walk is along the Summit level… between Lock 25 in the east and Lock 26 which is well west of Mulingar. Map 8 of the IWAI guide covers the whole area. My immediate brief was to see if I could locate the stop gates situated somewhere along this section of canal. Also, we needed to get an idea of the bank condition as it had been reported that a bad section of bank was causing water loss and preventing the summit level from retaining high levels of water.
This walk marks a slight deviation from all my previous walks… I’ve started looking at the conditions from a boaters point of view as well. Things like water levels, obstructions, overhanging trees, trash visible in the canal… stuff that snags boat props… these are some of the things obvious to boaters but not always to the walkers.
I set off without much forethought… no water, no fruit… the going good, the pleasant towpath freely accessible to vehicles, which turned out a benefit later on the day. Something of importance for walkers along this section… if you should use the gates (and not the turnstiles) ensure that they are securely shut when you move on. You wouldn’t want the farmers, or their bulls, chasing you later!
Within 50 meters of the bridge the canal makes a sharp right bend… and follows a gentle route along the open countryside. The first point of note comes where the canal crosses a small stream. This is where water is pumped in to raise levels, especially in the summer.
Soon after passing the pump station area a spill weir can be seen on the north bank, then it’s on to the draw bridge. I have never seen one so I spent a few moments looking at the mechanism. Simple… cables and pulleys… driven by a chain drive and powered by… wait for it… human endeavour. I was tempted to give it a wind… just for the fun.
Onward toward Downs Bridge. This is a very picturesque stretch of the canal. Some way before the bridge is what appears to be a boat turn-around point… easily identified from quite a distance by a large shed on the northern side. The shed is ‘decorated’ with a massive red and white marker for a local oil company. Large beech trees line the southern side of the towpath… making for a tranquil atmosphere. Patches of summer flowering fireweed (Rosebay willow-herb) add colour to the lush bank vegetation.
The stop gates (not marked on the map) are located beneath Downs Bridge. If they’re still operational they’ll prevent the canal from losing too much water, should a breach occur to the east of the bridge. A few barges are tied up here as well… one being so new it is still nameless. I moved on… still looking for the area of bad bank.
Within minutes of saying cheers to Downs Bridge the canal rounds a left bend, the N4 now virtually next to the water. As you can imagine… tranquility is mildly interrupted by constant traffic noise. Soon the foot bridge comes into view… it seems a bit of a white elephant. I could see no signs of a path leading anywhere on the northern side… I most certainly wouldn’t want to try and negotiate crossing the busy dual carriage motorway!
I carried on past the footbridge… calculating my distance back to Nead’s Bridge. A little too far? Get the good lady’s taxi services to rescue me? Yes! The good lady was soon on her way and after collecting junior son at 31B, to do the gate opening duties, they headed in my direction. In the meantime I strolled slowly on… finding the area of bad bank where the WI lads had added soil to the southern bank.
I eventually turned and headed back to Downs Bridge where the taxi collected me. Just as well… I may have been in a little trouble if I had walked much further… the blood sugar levels were by now the levels of more concern…
Hopefully I can soon return to complete the section… it promises to be an interesting walk as between the spot where I turned back and Mulingar the canal passes through rock. To think, it was built in the early 1800… by hand!