Saturday, 8 November 2008
Monday, 3 November 2008
We wanted to get started early, so go up, ate breakfast, while I started to make a thermos flask of coffee. The locks are close together and you don't get time to boil a kettle or prepare food.
We make the coffee into the big thermos coffee pot using a filter on top of it, we've never had any problems in the past with this method, but on this occasion I knocked the filter sideways, just as I'd put the first lot of hot water into it - it shot everywhere, spraying water and damp coffee grounds into the gas hob and around a large part of the galley area. It took me half an hour to clean up the mess to the stage that we were able to function in the kitchen, and walk through again. We finally left at soon after 9:00 am.
It was cold, and damp, but we were booted (Wilderness Boot bought a few weeks ago in Guildford from Cotton Traders for £20 - we found them very effective) and wearing warm coats, hats and scarves, and Berghaus waterproof overtrousers - which I think are brilliant. I applied a bandage to my arm for pressure (RICE - rest, ice, compression and elevation - I'd done the ice, and couldn't do much about rest and elevation so I took an anti-inflamatory painkiller and we set off.) We headed up through Apsley, and on through Boxmoor, where a fishing match was due to start at 9:30. As I cycled through lockwheeling at 9:20 the fishermen were standing around chatting, and checking their watches.
We worked up through Fishery Lock, and into another set of fishermen, separated by regular distances. I cycled on past them, by now the competition had started and some were deep in concentration, staring at the water. Nowadays fishermen have very long carbon fibre rods, which they use to fish the other side of the canal. As the boat approaches they will either move it backwards into the hedgerow behind them or leave the rod out as long as they can and raise it for the boat to go underneath - you can't tell which they are going to be. Some fishermen are friendly, and you can exchange a cheery greeting with them, others do everything they can to be looking the other way when you pass, but looking on the Internet forums you can see evidence of some fairly angry opinions of boaters by fishermen, and vice versa.
As Alan brought the boat through the section of pound he went slowly and down the middle of the canal - as fishermen have indicated is best. The fishermen moved their rods steadily out of the way as he approached them, until one who didn't. Alan was expecting the rod to be raised over the boat, but the man so deep in concentration that he hadn't heard the boat. He whipped the rod out of the way and began to yell at Alan in colourful and very aggressive language, combined with interesting non-verbal signals. Why hadn't Alan sounded his ******* horn? Alan tried to explain calmly that if he honked his horn when approaching every fisherman he would quickly aggravate them. This only served to annoy the fisherman further, and Alan began to worry that the man was going to come after him, or catapult maggots into the boat. Three 'pegs' on, at the end of the line of fishermen, one of them called out to Alan "OK mate? There's always one isn't there?"
On through Winkwell, where I watched a large group of long tailed tits flitting through the bare branches of an alder tree, and I saw a heron stalking across the path away from the canal, then catch something small in the hedgerow - I thought they only ate fish. Michael rang saying he was low on supplies and could we stop at the supermarket in Berko - no problems, we would have enough time to do this and get back to the marina by dark.
Bottomside needs to be left empty after use, so I told the fisherman that I would be emptying the lock after we had gone through. I didn't want a tirade about stirring up the canal bed, but he said "Oh, I know, I know". He had chosen to set up there, making life difficult for any boaters, with no apology for the inconvenience he put anyone to - and despite the signs saying no fishing from the lock, precisely because he knew that we would stir up the fish when it was emptied. Some fishermen seem to want the bottom undisturbed, others want it stirred up - how are we supposed to know which is which?
We ate the rest of yesterday's chunky vegetable stew, mashed up and turned into soup which I'd warmed up on the stove - we really didn't have time for much else.
In Berkhamsted, above Broadwater lock, there were fishermen again. The towpath side of the canal was completely filled with boats for as far was we could see, and the other side was set out with fishermen competing again. Then, as we approached the supermarket, which is on the towpath side, there was just one mooring, the closest to the supermarket itself, which is set back from the canal, and under a footbridge - it was ideal for us.
We moved in to moor and were accompanied by a very loud tirade from the other side of the canal. "I don't ****ing believe it the ****s have ruined my day - ******s!!! You're not ****ing mooring there, ****!!! I was at the front of the boat, and could hear this, but Alan, at the back by the engine, couldn't. He jumped off with the centre line, and I went back to let him know that we had upset another fisherman. This continued at full volume for the whole time that we were mooring. "****ing brain-dead ****s!!!" We said nothing, although Alan did look at the man with a long stare of complete disbelief - there was no point in saying anything, he clearly couldn't see that it was a bit like him bellowing at us for parking our car in the supermarket car park. He seemed to be trying to get other fishermen to listen to him and agree, but they were, perhaps wisely, looking the other way. I decided to go to the supermarket alone and leave Alan to watch the boat - we were underneath the footbridge after all, and anything could have been dropped on the roof, or in the front well. Or he could have tried putting a lead weight through one of the windows - it's been known.
When I returned shortly afterwards the man had stopped bellowing at me, although Alan said that the man considered that he was fair game whenever he stuck his head out. We pulled the mooring pins and left quickly, and with as little disturbance as we could - resisting any temptation to stir up the canal bed as much as possible. As we left the man continued his tirade, but rather quieter now - perhaps he had begun to realise just how preposterous he was?
miles 7.81 and 19 locks
Sunday, 2 November 2008
Water Heater Problems - Alan got up later in the morning and decided to look at our Morco water heater, as the water was coming through very cold - it was just about tolerable, but nothing like as warm as it had been. We were wondering if it was just a matter of the heater only being able to heat water by a given amount, and when we were out in September it was quite warm.
No, the Morco is filled with soot, and the flame is burning very yellow - not good as this means Carbon Monoxide. We do have two CO detectors on the boat, but that is for emergencies, and we can't use a dangerous water heater. We spent quite a lot of time trying to look at it, and Alan got some helpful advice on the Canal World Forum.
No miles, no locks
Alan decided to look at the Morco, so we began to take it to pieces, which took a very long time. It was filled with soot, which we brushed and vacuumed out - just at the point that we stuck our heads out of the boat we were passed by Les and Heidi walking their lovely dog. We were covered with soot and must have looked quite a sight, but we stayed and talked for quite a while.
No miles (unless you count the trip of a couple of hundred yards to fill the water), no locks
At Bulls Bridge we turned right onto the Grand Union Main Line, and soon afterwards we saw Arundel, a replica working boat, loading with sand. The boat was right down to the gunwales - it's nice to see what working boats looked like in the past.
Coming through Uxbridge an unseen assailant on a bridge threw half a banana accurately at Alan.
I made a chunky vegetable stew on top of the stove to eat on the go and to keep us warm - we ate it with cheese and the remains of the previous day's seeded loaves.
9.87 miles and 17 locks
Wednesday, 29 October 2008
Chalice moored outside of Blackrose at Brentford.
At the Archive Alan found his grandfather’s war record, I failed to find any mention of my great great grandfather. However, I did get a good insight into the lives of Victorian railwaymen, so it was an interesting visit.
I rang my father, who lives not too far from Brentford Lock and we arranged to meet him and his wife for a meal in the evening. We had an interesting and pleasant evening together. My father decided not to bring his cornet this time!
Tuesday 28th October 2008
The lock took a very long time to fill, so much so that we went and rechecked that the bottom paddles were down – they were. Some workmen by the lock reckoned that there is something wrong with the ground paddles.
At the next lock – Osterleys – we met with LesD and Heidi coming south on Blue Pearl. They were planning to spend a little time in Brentford and come north again the same day, with the plan of reaching Paddington on Wednesday.
We finally reached the top of the Hanwell flight at around 12:00, and started off on the long, lockless stretch to Paddington. It was 4:20 before we finally moored at the first possible place in Little Venice, so we were grateful that we hadn’t gone down through the gauging lock, as it would be dark by 5:00. I set off on the folding bike to see if there were spaces in Paddington Basin. There weren’t, and some boats were displaying notices saying “winter licence applied for”, so it looked like there wouldn’t be any coming available soon. However, we moved the boat up a few spaces to be away from the footbridge over the canal. We’ve stayed here before with no problems at all, but while I was away on the bike a rather nasty fight had broken out on the bridge, and as it was possible, we decided to move a little further up.
Shopping in Paddington station, then by 9:00 I was so tired that I went to bed, leaving Alan to stay up for some time.
Today Alan is feeling unwell, and has gone back to bed for the moment. I may go out later, once I’ve tidied up the boat a bit.
Sunday, 26 October 2008
We woke up to rain. Which stayed with us to Brentford.
We were up at about 6:30 by GMT, but 7:30 by the clocks on the boat, which we hadn’t reset from the clocks going back last night.
We had breakfast, got ready, then Alan went to start the boat – nothing. Had our dodgy starter battery finally bitten the dust? Alan went and dug out a multi-meter, but found it wasn’t working, fortunately David seems to carry a complete workshop around with him, and had a multimeter. It turned out that the starter battery wasn’t in too bad a state, but more research suggested a dodgy connection, which was quickly fixed and we were on our way.
Above Uxbridge lock we passed Baldock and Tafelberg - but it was too early to go and knock on peoples' boats. There is a strong outflow of water from the right below the lock, and there isn’t anywhere you can easily pick people up as you exit the lock. This means that you don’t get a good run at the outflow and are in danger of being pushed into the dutch barge which is moored opposite. However, we managed it, then at Cowley lock we were watched down by a posse of police officers who suddenly appeared.
Then we had several miles of lock free canal. I was steering while Alan was in the shower, David was on the back, chatting to me, when we noticed something orange in the canal, and what seemed to be a pallet. Since we had left most of our kindling at home, and already considerably spent over the odds for a tiny bag of firewood it seemed like a good idea to pull the pallet out. We slowed down and David fished it out and put it on the roof to dry in the rain. The orange thing turned out to be a life ring. I’m always keen to return any found item to its rightful owner, but we could see nowhere that this object might have come from, so it ended up on our roof too. At this point Alan came out after his shower, and was horrified to find a pallet on his roof, and was all for throwing it back in.
At Norwood lock we needed the anti-vandal keys, and while I got the lock ready David and Alan took a hammer and pincers to the pallet on the lock side, discarding into the rubbish anything that was too heavily filled with nails. The anti-vandal measures on these locks are the hardest to use that we've yet come across - it always surprises me that each different area makes up its own versions of thing.
A lot of the Hanwell flight is alongside the old ‘mental asylum’. Notice boards explain that in Victorian times the asylum was completely self-sufficient, producing vegetables, fruit and animal products. Anything that was surplus to requirements was taken out by narrow boat and sold – there is an old bricked up archway where the boats went in and out. Alan has only been down this section of canal once, in 1971 when he and his brother Mike retrieved a boat for Wyvern Shipping at Leighton Buzzard. Alan had a part-time job for Wyvern, and one of their boats which was on the “Thames Ring” had been abandoned because of flooding. Alan and Mike went to fetch it back to Leighton. He remembers going up past the asylum as being quite unnerving, it still has a disconcerting air today.
We arrived at Brentford, but there were no mooring places, fortunately Blackrose had already said that we could moor next to him if there were any problems, and as we pulled up next to his boat he appeared on the front deck to catch a rope thrown to him. He’s been very helpful including lending us local maps to find the station so that David can get back to uni tonight.
Brentford moorings are attractive housing on one side, old factories on the other, and right under the flight path to Heathrow.
Friday, 24 October 2008
South of Berkhamsted we nearly had complete disaster strike - the prop seemed to be fouled with something, possibly just a mat of leaves, and our weed hatch is a nightmare to get through, particularly with a hot engine, so Alan decided to see if there was anything that could be freed from outside the boat. He took his glasses off while he poked around under the boat with the boat hook, so that they didn't fall into the canal - then he promptly stood on them. For various reasons he only has one pair, and without them he is unable to read anything, or do very much at all. He took the mangled frames and carefully bent them straight, but it really is time that he went and got a couple of new pairs.
Many, many years ago Alan and I worked at John Dickinsons (well, let's be honest, he worked, and had the misfortune to have me in his team - I didn't want to be working there, and so somewhat immaturely I didn't very much). The lock at Apsley was in the heart of the factory, and our office overlooked the lock (or to be honest again, it wasn't so much an office, more the corner of a warehouse that had been breeze blocked off from the fork lift trucks and the racks of paper products). Nowadays, the lock is surrounded by attractive housing but I can't pass through the lock without remembering the old factories which still displayed their faded wartime camouflage, and the strange business practices which even in the 1970s were long outmoded.
It's been a pleasant, but not really sunny day. We've taken turns to steer, or cycle, although cycling has been fairly difficult on the wet muddy towpath strewn with leaves. Our towpath bike is a £3 special from the tip - a rusty folding bike with small road wheels, so cycling on mud means the back wheel regularly sliding about beneath you.
At Lot Mead Lock the boats Ara and Archimedes were delivering coal, so we bought a bag of coal from them - this photo shows them when we passed them later on.
Sunday, 28 September 2008
We arrived at a little after six, still with an hour or so of light. The Aylesbury Canal Society's basin was completely full, so we turned the boat and reversed into the mooring outside the Inland Revenue offices. We each had a shower then headed into the town.
We went back to the boat, half expecting disturbance from the town during the night, but quickly fell asleep and heard nothing.
SUNDAY - despite having set an alarm we really couldn't be bothered to get up early - it was cold and very misty outside. Eventually Alan got up and lit a fire, then we made coffee and porridge before setting off through the fading mist at after 10 o'clock.
Once out of Aylesbury I cut up the root veg and put them on the stove with some stock and a tin of tomatoes to cook. Then we got to some more locks and I was needed to help with them. After those I put in the other veg - beans, leeks, mushrooms, peppers, etc and put the soup - now looking very chunky - back on the stove to finish off.
We worked on until about 1 pm, and decided to stop for lunch - quite unusual for us - so we moored, and ate what was far more like a stew than a soup with some cheese and crusty bread from the supermarket.
Near Puttenham I saw one of the red kites again, but this time being mobbed by angry seagulls.
We were finally out of the Aylesury arm by about 4:00 pm, and had good luck working up through the Marsworth flight - with many of the locks for us, and many spectators out in the autumn sunshine. Several times I was asked if we wanted help with the gates on the other side of the lock, and people seemed quite surprised that we only needed one opened. We got back to the marina at soon after six, tidied up, loaded the car, and off home. A great weekend - time to spend together - time out in the fresh air - but very tired after 20 miles and 46 locks.
Monday, 1 September 2008
14th August 2008
A strange day weather wise, everything from sunshine to pouring rain. We were now trying to get home as quickly as possible - well, seriously, how long would you leave an 18 year old in the house on his own? It's not quite as bad as it sounds, apart from the fact that we know he's sensible, I had left my mobile number with several neighbours "in case of an emergency". I knew that if anyone was concerned, for any reason, I'd get a phone call, and that I could be home by train in a few hours. However, we knew we'd been out a long time, and despite Michael being happy to be left on his own for ages, we felt it was time to be back.
A long slog through lockless miles around Milton Keynes, we took turns steering, while the other stood or sat at the back while we talked. We decided we wanted to find a last meal out before getting home, but the only place that we knew of in Leighton Buzzard that would feed all of our very different tastes was the Lytton Tree - a place with large TV screens showing sports. Not the kind of place we wanted to find ourselves in in the evening. So we were faced with finding somewhere for lunch. We stopped at the Plough in Milton Keynes, and I went in to check the menu was OK. When I went in the place was full of people eating, but by the time I had gone back to the boat, and we'd finished locking up the pub was almost empty and were only just in time to order food.
When we got going again it was just taking turns at steering through more miles. Through the locks at Fenny and Stoke Hammond and on towards three locks at Soulbury.
At Soulbury there was a boat going up in the lock and a lone figure was sitting on the balance beam drinking a pint of beer, so we pulled over to the moorings below the lock and David and I jumped off with windlasses ready to help if needed. From where we were moored it was easy to see water turbulence below the bottom gates - a paddle was partly up, so David ran across the gate and dropped the paddle quickly. The single hander who was drinking the pint had only one top paddle half up, but said to us that the lock was taking forever to fill - undoubtedly because she had a bottom paddle half up too.
Once she had gone on we emptied the lock, and were joined by another boat that seemed to have problems with its gearbox - they shot into the lock and braked it by wrapping the centreline around a bollard - an interesting process, but a very cheerful and willing crew. At this point we saw the state of the short pound above the lock - perhaps two and a half feet down, with little more than a ribbon of water through the mud.
I wandered up to the top lock of the three since I knew that I'd need to let some water down as the other boat in the lock with us was very deep draughted. At which point the dog on the boat ahead of us decided to abandon ship over the back. It was harnessed, with a short lead, so that it just hung in the water, unable to swim, or to get back on. "I'll go and get it out," I offered, starting to climb down the ladder, somewhat concerned about the dog as it was only a short boat, which was banging about quite a lot in the lock. But no, she wanted the dog left, to teach it not to do it again - I have to be honest I was somewhat concerned that it wouldn't get the opportunity to do it again.
When we had filled the lock and the two boats attempted to cross the pound we were accompanied by screeching noises as the boats tried to cross the cill and drag across the bottom of the pound. Now, I know it's easy to miss the fact that someone else has not completely dropped a paddle, but if you are sitting there for ages with the lock failing to fill while you watch the very short pound ahead of you emptying.... you might think that the penny would drop.
Near Old Linslade we passed the boat of a former teaching colleague, Barbara, who is now retired, and who was setting off towards the north on an extended trip with her husband. I shouted news about our trip across, saying that I'd catch up properly later. Just around the bend, where we'd moored on the first night of our trip was a BW boat across the cut. Now, most people would just push it out of the way, but somehow... Well, David likes to do things right, so we 'rescued' the boat, making the only use of our boarding plank during the whole trip.
David rescues "Blaby"
Only two hire boats moored outside Wyvern Shipping, and one of those was "Ocean Princess", the sea going narrowboat. Virtually every boat was hired out.
Anyway, on to Leighton and we moored up at Tescos. I went to get essential supplies, while Alan did various checks on things. Back at the boat we were exhausted, so we moored where we could, ate, and fell into bed.
Daily Total: 20.66 miles, 7 locks
Running Total: 331.3miles, 346 locks, 19 tunnels.
Leighton Buzzard to Cowroast
15th August 2008
So, our last day, with very mixed feelings, both wanting to be home, but also wanting to continue cruising for much longer. "Why don't we just keep going when we get to Cowroast?"
For us this stretch is very familiar, across the flat plain north of the Chilterns, seeing the white lion of Whipsnade Zoo carved into the hillside to the east.
We had some burst of bright sunshine interspersed with the threat of rain, which thankfully held off. We made good progress, working through most of the locks with a boat from Harefield.
Outside the White Lion at Marsworth in sunshine
We went up Marsworth in good time, and then the three miles of the summit, which I used to strip beds, load bags into the front cabin and unload perishables from the cupboards in the kitchen. We turned into the marina, refilled with diesel, emptied the cassettes, and made the final trip down the marina to our mooring - at which point the heavens opened and drenched us completely. Home again.
Two days later, we were passing the marina so went in quickly to drop something off at the boat. I saw another teaching colleague and her husband just leaving their boat after a trip out. "I saw Barbara while I was out," she said, "she told us you were out for three weeks, and you'd had a great time". Towpath Telegraph.Daily Total: 11.83 miles, 18 locks
Running Total: 343.1 miles, 364 locks, 19 tunnels.
The figures for miles and locks for this trip don't agree with those suggested by Nic Atty's Canal Plan AC - so I'll check these when I've got a bit more time (Cath)
Thursday, 21 August 2008
Foxton to Watford Gap
Clear weather, although windy still - many miles of lock free cruising, and perhaps some of the most beautiful quintessentially "English" scenery I've seen for a long time.
Just steering, and passing by distant villages - the canal doesn't pass through any towns or villages, but through two tunnels - Husbands Bosworth Tunnel and Crick Tunnel.
Just to show how dense we can be - we spent ages discussing the Battle of Bosworth Fields. Was it a Civil War battle? What happened? Who won? Would there be any point in looking at it? Isn't the Battlefield Steam Railway nearby - that might be interesting? We couldn't find it in the pages of Nicholsons on Husbands Bosworth. Then we realised that the Bosworth Fields was at Market Bosworth, on the Ashby Canal - several days cruising from where we were. Well History and Geography were never our best subjects - obviously.
Just before Crick tunnel a bloke sitting by the bank said - "It's wet - well the first half is anyway", and it did indeed seem to be wet for the first part. Alan disputes this, but I was sat at the front with an umbrella.
British Waterways were dredging a lot of the pound near to Watford Gap - we've seen a lot of this new restraining edging while on our trip. It seems to be set up in front of a weak and broken up bank, then BW seems to fill it with dredgings. Here there were big 'dumb barges' filled with dredged slurry, as well as the dredger itself, which seems to be propelled by pulling itself along by the dredging arm.
Suddenly we arrived at the top of Watford Locks - the roar of the M1 motorway was absolutely deafening. We went to find the lock-keeper who was painting some paddle gear, and told us that a boat was working up - we could start down as soon as it arrived. Once again, despite warnings of long waits we got going through the flight almost immediately.
Watford Gap flight is one lock, a staircase of four, then two more single locks. Like Foxton, it's red paddles first then white on the staircase.
I said (loudly) to the lock-keeper "It's very attractive here, but the motorway and the railway are very intrusive. "YOU GET USED TO IT," she answered. I'm not sure that I would.
Looking up Watford Gap Staircase - beautiful, looking so peaceful, and ruined by the constant roar of road and rail.
After a refill of water at the bottom lock we passed by the noise and bustle of Watford Gap Motorway Services behind the hedgerow. then looked for a place to moor for the night where we wouldn't be kept awake by the noise. The motorway and railway parallel the canal for several more miles, including Buckby flight of locks - we just wanted to tie up. About a mile past the bottom of the locks, near a small marina, is a section of canal which is somewhat shielded by a slight hill - we moored up overlooking farmland, and with very little noise to disturb us.
Daily Total: 22 miles, 7 locks & 2 tunnels