Our Jinx Lock - Aston 3 Trent & Mersey

We rarely pass along the Shardlow section of the Trent and Mersey Canal but when we do we seem to have trouble at Aston Lock 3.

Aston Lock 3, Trent and Mersey

In the late 1990s we navigated the Leicester Ring in our first boat, Bertie. Arriving at Aston from Shardlow, that's going up the lock, we found a car parked directly on the lockside with the driver's door overhanging the lock chamber. The driver, a young man, was sitting inside the car with two teenage girls in the rear seats. He was on his mobile phone and sitting in the passenger seat. Not wishing to cause any problems I indicated to the driver that his door needed closing and I waved to him before gently closing it for him. This simple act caused  him to go into a violent rage. A torrent of foul threatening language followed. Trying to defuse the situation as we operated the lock I apologised for touching his car and tried unsuccessfully to explain that I was only trying to protect his property by closing the car door. This had no effect and he continued to rage against us, the boat, boaters, the canal and even the countryside! I was glad that I was standing on the boat and not on the lockside and luckily his anger was directed at me and not Maggie who was quietly operating the lock. What his car was doing in that position I shall never know, but eventually he left the scene driving furiously down the field track that connects the lock to the main road with a cloud of dust behind. Quite frankly it was the most unpleasant incident we have had on the waterways since we became boat owners 16 years ago.

So last year, when we went through the lock for only the second time during our Northern Cruise, we took particular notice of this lock. Unlike during the incident with the car owner, last year we were accompanied through the lock by another boat. All went well as we dropped down until we tried to leave the lock and I slipped Albert into gear. The other boat left without any difficulty but Albert was firmly stuck on the bottom! No amount of poling, or weight adjustment, moved the boat but we finally got out of the lock by opening all  gate paddles and riding out on a wave! It was quite spectacular. Albert draws around 30-31", which is fairly deep, but there are boats that draw far more so we were perplexed by our problem. As we continued towards Shardlow we found some BW staff sandbagging a small breach where water had run across the towpath. I told them of our problems and they indicated that they had dropped the pound by about a foot to carry out their work and maybe that was why we had difficulties. This appeared plausible so I took this explanation on board and put our experience down to perhaps a little bad luck.

With this background, this year we approached Aston 3 with even more interest than before. Again we were accompanied by another boat, and again I chose to use the right side of the lock (going down). As the water level dropped I recalled to the steerer of the other boat that had had problems the lock, but quite frankly I wasn't prepared for more . I was therefore really quite surprised when the gates were opened and I tried to move off, and just like last year Albert was firmly stuck on the bottom! The boat was level and there didn't appear to be any movable underwater obstructions, so just like last year we flushed Albert out using the gate paddles. When we were half way out, and it appeared we were going to make it, the gate paddles were closed prematurely.  This caused Albert to settle squarely onto the bottom again - indicating that the problem isn't just a small obstruction.

When we finally got out I checked the level in the pound from Aston to Shardlow. It appeared from the watermarks on the shuttering that the water this year was nearer its usual level, but it was maybe 6" down.

Water levels near Shardlow

Why we should get stuck in Aston 3 lock twice is difficult to understand. It appears that this lock is critical, so far as water levels are concerned, but that doesn't match with BW data. The shallow point on this section of the Trent and Mersey Canal is over the cill at Dallow Lock near Burton-on-Trent and we had no problems there. We have just travelled to Llangollen, which is notorious for being shallow, and had no problems; so why get stuck at Aston?

I have reported this incident to CRT but they can offer no real explanation except that maybe the lock needs to be cleaned out and they promised to monitor it. The local supervisor did thank me for informing them since, as they pointed out, it helps if they are informed.

The next time we pass that way we will be very wary indeed since so far as the Aston Lock 3 is concerned we appear to be jinxed.