Gill, volunteer lock keeper Gill, volunteer lock keeper

Meet Gill, volunteer lock keeper

It’s all about people, boats, fresh air and outdoor activity.  I’m into my seventh season as a volunteer lock keeper here at Diglis in the heart of the city of Worcester and I’m loving it more all the time. Each year I learn new things and meet new people. 

Being by water

I’ve been taking narrowboat holidays for over 40 years, and been around canals even longer if you count childhood walks on the towpath. I moved here from the seaside and it was definitely the prospect of being by water with the river and the canal that made me choose Worcester. We have plenty of towpath miles to walk with the dogs. 

I’ve volunteered for all sorts of organisations over the years but decided when I retired that I wanted to volunteer doing something for myself, something I’m really interested in. It ticks all the boxes. I’m involved in canals and boating, I’m getting great exercise in the fresh air, I absolutely love the history of the waterways and I get to meet some fascinating people. 

"Something for myself"

It’s not just people on boats, it’s cyclists and people walking too. We have local people and visitors from the UK and around the world, and quite a lot of them with stories to share as they pass through. Boats working through locks fascinate people of all ages. There’s nothing like the magic of demonstrating how a lock works, especially to children. When small children help to open or close a gate that weighs in at 5 tons, I tell them it’s “heavier than the family car, and you’ve just shifted it with no grown-ups to help.”

Unlocking the Severn

If you’re interested in wildlife, especially in this area, keep up to date with the Unlocking the Severn project. The Trust is one of the partners in the project to build fish passes at a number of locations to encourage native species to return to their historic spawning grounds. One of these passes will be opening soon at Diglis Weir, just downriver from the canal junction. 

If help is required, we see boaters through our two large locks between the canal and the River Severn. We try to keep people safe around the water, particularly where beginners leave the canal in their hire boat for the river where a formidable weir lies just beyond the junction. We’re also ready with local knowledge about moorings, facilities and shops, but if I’m honest, we’re mostly asked about pubs and the best places to eat and drink.

Canal history

Diglis is where the Worcester & Birmingham Canal leaves the River Severn to work its way to the heart of the industrial midlands in Birmingham. It’s no accident that the canal goes by what was once the historic Royal Worcester Porcelain Works. It was economically more efficient to transport fragile bone china by narrow boat than overland on a horse and cart. Cadbury still make chocolate in Birmingham, right next to the canal. What were once the arteries of the industrial revolution are now the holiday routes for families today. It’s great to share some of the history of our city and the canal with people of all ages.

Not forgetting my fellow volunteer lock keepers. We all share an absolute passion for these waterways and an endless fascination in how they work. We have a lot of fun and share our own stories. I can’t wait for the season to start.