Strepy-Bracquegnies Canal Lifts
This series of 4 canals lifts was built between 1880 and 1918 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Monument. There were 8 hydraulic lift locks built at about the same time and now the 3 working here are the only ones like this from that time that are still in working order - the 4th one is currently under restoration.
Turbines (like that one up there) drive the water pressure through the system in order to make the lifts work - we were told that water is the only source of power used to make these lifts work! The turbines in use are the original ones as well, dating all the way back to the 1880's!
Above you see us entering the lower caisson (that's what they call the big tubs of water) in our boat - we will be lifted up to that gate at the top and then let out onto the canal that the gate is currently holding back.
Sonya was the only one from the family on this trip - the literature and signs here are all in French and Dutch only so she took a guided tour with her favorite American Women's Club guide to get the scoop in English so we can then go back as a family and she can fill them in on it all. We had a gorgeous day - sunny and in the mid 60's - so it was a glorious day for a ride on the canal.
This canal was built to connect the Meuse and Scheldt rivers. The change in elevation from one river to the other is a total of 66.2 meters so these lifts are what was built to compensate for that change. Back in those days, Belgium produced the most steel of any European country and that product had to get out. This is the system used to do that - it would have taken too many conventional locks and increased the transportation time too much if they had used the "traditional" lock system like we think of on our rivers.
Lift #1 (the one under renovations) raises or lowers the boats 15.4 meters and the other 3 lifts each raise or lower the boats 16.93 meters. We went on two of the slightly bigger lifts.
This is the back of the caisson (and our boat) as we wait for them to equal out the water levels in the two caissons - they must be equal for the system to work so the one our boat came into must let out enough water to equal the weight of the boat and make the caissons even again. You can see the dock where we got on the boat back there as well.
We have just started our way up to the higher level of the canal.
This is the caisson we are not in - the one that will come down so we can go up!
We are reaching the top of the lift - the gate is called a "guillotine" gate - you'll see why...
Almost all the way up - you can see that the next lift is not far down the canal from the one we are still in!
We have reached the top and the guillotine gate is lifting up to let us out onto the higher level of the canal - now you see how it got it's name! When the boat goes under it you get to have the wonderful experience of having canal water drip down on you... Fortunately it's not much.
Here we are going out of the one lift and heading for the next!
This is the upper lift mechanism that keeps the caisson stabilized and helps with the lifting
This is the hydraulic cylinder (you can only see less than half of it because of the structure). Each one of these (one under each caisson) goes about 20 meters down into the ground when the caisson is down and water pressure is used to raise it up and lift the caissons - amazing!
We are almost to the top of the second lift now and the view back shows just how much higher we are now - we started at the lower part of the lift you see at the back. Those two guys ride up with the boats and make the whole thing function - they also like to tell jokes (in French) and even I knew what they were saying was pretty corny!
After going through the lifts we had to get past this little bridge. We had passed it in our little train on the way from one end of the lifts to the other and saw two gentlemen fishing right by it - now we know they were waiting there for boats to come so they could swing the bridge out of the way! As we approached, one set up cones at each end to stop the cars and the other went onto the bridge and inserted this hand crank into the decking and cranked the bridge out of our way! He has started to turn it back in the picture above since we are past it now.
See him working hard to put the bridge back! Guess they will fish some more when they are done...
We then had a leisurely ride on the boat back to the place where we left our cars. This was a really fascinating experience and I can't wait to take the family back and also to try going on another unusual canal lift they have here - an inclined plane elevator!
Our day trip next went to a castle for lunch and a tour, so off we go - - -