A Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Bike Ride

Swains Lock to Sycamore Landing

These are photos from a 22.4 mile round trip ride on the C & O Canal tow path. The tow path, where the mules that towed the barges walked, is fairly smooth in this area. The Canal is almost flat because the elevation change between Georgetown end and the Clumberland Maryland end is only 605 feet. Although the surface is fairly smooth in this area the tow path is not suited to the small width tires on a touring bike. Mountain bikes and hybrids give better control and a better ride.

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0001LoadingtheBike.JPG
0001LoadingtheBike.JPG

My roof rake wouldnít work on my new Nissan Sentra so Iím now using a trunk mount. This means exercising more care when loading to prevent scratches on the paint.
0002Readytogo.JPG
0002Readytogo.JPG

Ready to rollÖ I hope!?
0003SwainLockParking.JPG
0003SwainLockParking.JPG

Sign at the entrance to the Swains Lock parking area.
0004Unloadingoilingchain.JPG
0004Unloadingoilingchain.JPG

On the left is the old Lock Keepers house. A contractor who runs a canoe rental now lives their. Note the canoes tied up on the right.
0005SwainLockandflood.JPG
0005SwainLockandflood.JPG

This is a view of Swains Lock from downstream. Note the stone work and bypass which allows the water to flow down stream but not to the point of emptying the canal. This is early 19th Century technology and an engineering masterpiece.
0006SwainLockandKeeperHouse.JPG
0006SwainLockandKeeperHouse.JPG

This is the interior of Swains Lock. When the doors (gate) Iím standing near are closed and small doors at the bottom of the gate in the distance are opened the water level will rise to the upstream level. By reversing the procedure it will lower the water level in the lock to the downstream level.
0007waterbeyondlockdoor.JPG
0007waterbeyondlockdoor.JPG

This is a look at the top of the upstream lock door and the water beyond. The canoe rental is on the right just beyond the frame of the image.
0008Swaincampground.JPG
0008Swaincampground.JPG

This is the campground at Swains Lock. The U.S. Park Service maintains a number of these campgrounds along the toe path. They usually have pit toilets, or porta potties, water (usually from a cistern that is treated with Iodine and although safe to drink tastes horrid), picnic tables and enough flat area for tents.
0009PotomacRiverslackwater.JPG
0009PotomacRiverslackwater.JPG

This is the view from the Swains Lock campground. This particular part of the Potomac is what is called a slack water, no rapids. I noticed that there are a few rocks that would make is imposible to safely navigate an old barge... hence the canal doesn't have a Guard Lock (entrance/exit lock) at this location.
0010Toepathewateredsection.JPG
0010Toepathewateredsection.JPG

A watered section of the canal between Swains Lock and Pennyfield Lock. Not all of the canal has water in the ditch. Damage from storms has ruined lock gates and the wall of the canal in a number of places and leaves the ditch dry.
0011drillmarks.JPG
0011drillmarks.JPG

This is in the same area as the previous image. In this area the ditch was blasted out of rock using hand driven star drills driven with sledge hammers and black power. The red circle encloses an area where the charge holes drilled into the rock still show a little. Carefully looking at the image might show other areas where the holes show.
0012PennyfieldLock.JPG
0012PennyfieldLock.JPG

This is Pennyfield Lock and the Lock Keeper's house.
0013Pennyfieldpresident.JPG
0013Pennyfieldpresident.JPG

Pennyfield Lock has another house, this one frame and falling down, across the canal from the Lock Keepers stone house. Supposedly one of the Presidents liked to come here to fish and stayed in the frame house when visiting. I forget which President...
0014Pennyfieldlockflood.JPG
0014Pennyfieldlockflood.JPG

This, not so good photo, shows Pennyfield Lock and Lock Keeper's house with a fisherman near the large tree in the center. Supposedly there are some nice bass in the watered parts of the canal.
0015Potomacrapids.JPG
0015Potomacrapids.JPG

Further along, going northbound, I noticed this view from the tow path. It clearly shows the rocks and rapids the canal was built to avoid.
0016Violettelockfeederguardlock.JPG
0016Violettelockfeederguardlock.JPG

This is Violette Lock and Guard Lock. The canal lock is on the right. The other lock, a Guard Lock, is on the left. Guard Locks combined with a small dam in the river provide a means of entering and exiting the canal into and out of slack water in the river. This was handy when shippers from the other side of the river wanted to access the canal. The Guard Lock with the Dam also provided a means for water to enter the canal when needed.
0017Violetteguardlock.JPG
0017Violetteguardlock.JPG

This is the interior of the Violette Guard Lock. You can clearly see its proximity to the river slack water.
0018drysection.JPG
0018drysection.JPG

Due to damage from storms and sometimes other sources of damage like the American Civil War, the canal is dry in many long stretches. The depression on the right is where the water once was. The large trees growing in the ditch indicated that it has been dry for a long time.
0019SenecaCreekAqueductinterior.JPG
0019SenecaCreekAqueductinterior.JPG

Interior of the Seneca Creek Aqueduct. The Seneca Creek Aqueduct carries the canal over Seneca Creek, a tributary of of the Potomac River. This aqueduct in spite of storm damage is a beautiful example of early 19th century engineering. The depressions in the side walls of the aqueduct are where lock gates were. The lock on the aqueduct made it possible to maintain water in the canal even if the aqueduct was damage. This was not a lift lock.
0020SenecaCreekAqueductarches.JPG
0020SenecaCreekAqueductarches.JPG

Seneca Aqueduct was originally had three arches. One collapsed during flooding caused by a hurricane. This area, and the aqueduct, were envolved in the Civil War. Confederate Cavalry attacking the outskirts of Washington forded the Potomac nearby, blocked the canal by turning barges sideways and sinking them. They then blasted out the gates and a section of the canal wall which drained this section of the canal. The purpose was to take the canal out of the war while they made their attack on Washington. Within months the damage was repaired and the canal, in this area, was back in service.
0021KeeperHouseSenecaAqueduct.JPG
0021KeeperHouseSenecaAqueduct.JPG

Seneca Aqueduct Lock Keeper's house sits right next to Seneca Aqueduct.
0022PotomacSenecaCreek.JPG
0022PotomacSenecaCreek.JPG

This is the view from the locks at Seneca Aqueduct. The area of the river you can see is about where the Confederate Cavalry forded the river.
0023SenecaAqueductsouthviewPotomac.JPG
0023SenecaAqueductsouthviewPotomac.JPG

The view south, Potomac on the right, from the north end of Seneca Aqueduct.
0024turtlesnearSycamoreLanding.JPG
0024turtlesnearSycamoreLanding.JPG

In this watered section of the canal I saw a number of turtles sunning themselves on logs. You might be able to see them inside the red circle. Unfortunately, I didn't bring a camera with a telephoto lens on this trip. This about two or three miles from Sycamore Landing where I turned around and headed home.

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