BRITISH Waterways made a PR exercise out of the necessity of replacing a set of lock gates on the stretch of the Kennet and Avon Canal at Devizes at the weekend.

They dropped in the new gates, each weighing more than an Indian elephant, four times over the two days to give as many local people as possible the chance to see the spectacle.

Visitors were also fascinated by the brick-lined floors of the locks and the engineering, which allows amateur boatmen and women to operate the gates themselves.

The replacement of the gates is part of British Waterways' annual winter stoppage maintenance work.

Asset engineer David Berezynskij said: "These gates had reached the end of their usefulness. The life of a lock gate is about 25 years, as it is constantly in water and also comes into contact of varying severity with boats all the time.

"The wood from the gates will be recycled and used in other ways to maintain the canal.

"We took the opportunity afforded by this work to give people the chance to see what an empty lock looks like and to see the new gates being swung into position."

Over 500 local people turned up over the weekend to see the spectacle, many with young children, and most sporting still and video cameras.

The lock chosen for the work was Lock 41, named in honour of Boto-X, the crazy race in inflatable dinghies over five lock pounds on the flight. The event raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for good causes in the ten years it ran.

British Waterways officials were delighted with the turn-out over the weekend. Public relations officer Lucy Poulton said: "There was a steady stream of people over the two days. We don't have exact figures but there must have been at least 500 people.

"The weather was perfect, and was slightly warmer on the Sunday."

The nearby Caen Hill Café was enjoying a great deal of activity, selling teas, coffees and refreshments.

The works at Caen Hill are costing around £300,000 and are part of a £600,000 winter gate replacement programme on the Kennet and Avon Canal, which, says British Waterways, is essential to maintain the canal.

Dale Marshall, construction supervisor for the Kennet and Avon Canal, said: "This has been a great opportunity for people to come and see the work we do, meet the staff and enjoy the picturesque surroundings that the Kennet and Avon Canal offers.

"Public events like this are really important to our staff. It gives us at British Waterways the chance to involve the public and our users in our work and means we can show them what happens and why during the winter stoppage period."