It's time once again for the annual splurge of lockage data from the Canal & River Trust. 2018 was a tough year for the canal network, the dry summer forcing various restrictions and closures, with overall lockage down 10% nationally on 2017.
As we all know, lockage is defined as the filling and emptying of a lock chamber, which in turn allows the movement of water and passage of boats. This is not necessarily the same as the actual number of boats which travel through a lock, a simplification which avoids averages being skewed by the boat:lockage ratio. Also, because automated counters and full-time lockkeepers are a rare breed, only about 10% of the 1569 locks in England and Wales are included in the statistics. That said, within these limitations the data is of course fascinating.
England and Wales' ten busiest locks (2018)(with changes since 2017) 1) -- Hillmorton [Oxford Canal] (8621) 2) -- New Marton [Llangollen] (7866) 3) ↑1 Colwich [Trent & Mersey] (7729) 4) ↑2 Woodend [Trent & Mersey] (6811) 5) ↑1 Tixall [Staffordshire & Worcestershire] (6080) 6) ↑5 Bradford on Avon [Kennet & Avon] (5942) 7) ↑8 Glascote Top [Coventry & Ashby] (5727) 8) ↑8 Wheaton Aston [Shropshire Union] (5558) 9) ↑10 Calcutt [Grand Union] (5526) 10) ↑2 Wychnor [Trent & Mersey] (5460)
Hillmorton once again takes the crown, as befits its central location (on the outskirts of Rugby, not so far from Braunston where the narrowboaters gather). New Marton retains second place, no doubt popular because it's the last lock before the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, even if it's five miles distant. All the other locks in the lockage Top 10 are on the climb, demonstrating the innate instability in the annual figures, and ticking off a broad range of canals across the West Midlands. London's busiest lock (of those surveyed) comes in at number 11, namely Stonebridge Lock on the Lee & Stort Navigation.
n.b. Lest you think these lockage totals are rather low, Hillmorton's 8621 is equivalent to one fill/empty per hour across the entire year.
England and Wales' ten busiest canals (2018) 1) -- Llangollen (6556) 2) -- Coventry & Ashby (5492) 3) ↑2 Staffordshire & Worcestershire (4487) 4) ↓1 Oxford (4480) 5) ↓1 Trent & Mersey (4469) 6) ↑1 Monmouthshire & Brecon (3096) 7) ↑3 Grand Union (2750) 8) ↑4 Kennet & Avon (2729) 9) ↓3 Shropshire Union (2626) 10) ↑4 Caldon (2609)
I should start by saying these are average lockages, not total boat movements, and based on a very restricted number of sampling points. However the Llangollen Canal clearly comes out on top, no doubt for its Welsh Borders scenery and elevated aqueductery, as befits a canal that's a UNESCO World Heritage site. Second place for the Coventry Canal is due to its central interconnecting location on the network (we can ignore the Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal, bolted on for administrative reasons, because it's famously lock-free). The Staffordshire & Worcestershire has nudged ahead of two of its Midlands rivals this year, and I'm surprised to see the Monmouthshire & Brecon remains ahead of the mighty Grand Union.
n.b. The Lea & Stort Navigation has fallen out of the Top 10 this year, to 12th, with the Hertford Union one place behind.
It's been a particularly disappointing year at GravingLock in the centre of Chester, part of the brief branch connecting the Ellesmere canal to the lower Dee Basin. Lockage has also been notably depressed in Glasson, by the marina and the swing bridge, alongside egress into the Lune estuary. The Huddersfield Narrow and Rochdale canals unsurprisingly feature heavily in the Bottom Ten, and it should be noted that the Rushall Canal is one of the most rural in the Birmingham Canal Navigations.
n.b. Bow Locks, with an annual total of 41, is not included because this figure is for boat movements rather than lockage.
Again I should stress that this list is based solely on canals with surveyed lockage, so omits several quiet backwaters and dead-end stumps. The Huddersfield Narrow takes pole position having endured several emergency closures last summer due to water resource management (and large voids being found in the walls of Isis Lock). Similar drought restrictions affected the length of the Rochdale Canal. The Pocklington Canal's renaissance was assisted by the opening of a new section between the Melbourne Arm and the Bielby Arm last summer, ensuring a 50% uplift in lockage far exceeding the national trend.