Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Coltishall Lock, River Bure

Coltishall Lock, River Bure
November 2009

Whilst Horstead Mill was most certainly the local "A List" playground, the adjacent lock came a close second.

The lock stopped functioning as a navigational structure in 1912, when a huge flood swept down the Bure Valley are tore out every bridge wier and lock in it's path. By the time I came to make it's aquaintance it had been converted into a manually operated sluice to carry surplus water away from the mill race. The top gates had been removed and the bottom gates replaced by two wooden guillotine paddles, bedding down onto masonry infill.

Coltishall Lock 2009

Whilst this lock blocked the path of motor craft, a good slipway had been built round it which alowed unpowered rowing boats and canoes to be portaged round with relative ease. The sliopway has been replaced but boats can still be pulled round on it and allows exploration of the upper reaches.

 Coltishall Lock 1910

By the late 1960's the lock keeper's cottage was empty and starting to crumble, and the adjacent boathouse had mostly sagged down into the water. Today, all signs of the boathouse have vanished and only a vaguely rectangular mound of rubble in the trees indicates the location of this remote dwelling.

Coltishall Lock sluice gates 2009

The lock pool itself provided huge scope for bored teenagers, especially when the sluices were not locked down. Given 20 mins of effort the gates could be fully raised sending a solid 15ft by 3ft block of green water down into the pool below - great fun to jump through if you didn't mind having hour head ripped up when you surfaced into it's flow. These regular surges did wonders for keeping the bed of the pool clean and clear, but was less kind to the long pound between Horstead and Buxton which on occasion was run dry.

I guess that the farmers who used river water for irrigation kicked up a fuss because in the end the sluice handles were removed and an automated water control barrage was built above the remains of Horstead Mill. Undeterred, we set about hacking out the gap at the bottom of the gates which resulted in a good plume of water coming through a one inch space - enough to keep our swimming hole clear. Those old wooden sluices are now gone, replaced in vandal proof steel.

Top of Coltishall Lock 2009

The same scene in 1905

The place looks very pretty these days, but the magic has gone and I doubt that sunny Saturday afternoons find the locals gathered on blankets in the adjacent meadows, taking a cooling dip in the crystal clear waters and helping push boaters off the sandbar caused by our attentions to the sluice gates above.

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