Saturday, 8 November 2008

We've had a mention on Granny Buttons

Andrew Denny on the well-known Granny Buttons site has said some nice things about this Chalice blog. You can find what he has said here.
Thank you Granny Buttons, it's always nice to get encouragement.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Preposterous fishermen

Sunday 2nd November - Apsley to Cowroast
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.

Lots of water as we approach Winkwell bottom lock.
At Bottomside lock there were three fishermen on the lock apron - one set up on the steps to the lock. These were not in any competition, they were just fishing. Fishermen are not supposed to fish where the mooring bollards for the lock are - however, they seem to think that it is fair game. It does however make it very difficult for boaters to bring the boat in to be able to use the lock. For us we can manage with me jumping off at the front, but for a single hander, or for someone less agile it is very hard if you can't bring the boat in and tie her up. I jumped off and walked up, and the second fisherman along said to me about the one on the lock steps "I told him not to go there". I restrained myself from saying - "so why are you where you are then?"

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?

Almost home.

We continued our journey, managing to avoid any further confrontations with fishermen, and arrived back at the marina at about 4:30. We packed everything in the car, and got home about 6:30 to find the house clean and tidy and Michael starving hungry.
miles 7.81 and 19 locks
Total miles: 95, Total locks: 110

Sunday, 2 November 2008

The story continues

Sorry about the gap in the blog - various problems with uploading info while out and about, combined with other distractions.

Wednesday Continued
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.

Toilet Troubles - While we were looking at this I noticed that the carpet in the hallway outside the bathroom seemed to be a bit damp - had we just walked in some water from outside where it was raining, or was the answer more sinister? We have had one of the water hoses on the Thetford toilet leaking fairly spectacularly a couple of times in the past so we were hoping it wasn't the same thing again. No, it wasn't, but the cassette had pools of water on top when we pulled it out. Erm...

No, fortunately, it didn't seem to be wee, but it appeared that the flush was leaking - we took the fuse out of the toilet so that it couldn't flush and filled a couple of plastic milk bottles with water to use as 'non-automatic' flush.

Out and about in London - the afternoon was wearing on, and I was getting pretty feed up with being in London and not going out, so I decided to head off and see if I could at least find a bookship, having managed to set off on this trip with not a single book (anyone who knows me well, knows that this is tantamount to extreme torture - I was getting very tetchy and beginning to gnaw at my knuckles). Although Alan was still headachy and feeling unwell he decided to come out with me, provided we didn't have to walk too far. Just as we were leaving the boat we were passed by Les D on Blue Pearl, who had decided to try to moor in Paddington Basin itself, as all the moorings near us were taken up. They eventually moored right under the Westway.

We went for a walk around Paddington Basin, and eventually found ourselves in the Edgware Road. Thirty years ago this was full of electronics shops of the type that sold electronic components, not electronic equipment. It was always a cosmopolitan area, now it is largely arabic, with halal butchers and arabic supermarkets, and many cafes with groups of men or young women sitting outside at tables smoking hookah pipes. We went into various shops, wandering down towards Marble Arch, but I still haen't found a book shop - so we set off along Oxford Street, as I sort of expected to find something fairly quickly. Now, one of the problems that Alan has is that he really doesn't have any kind of mental map of where anywhere in Central London is - he doesn't know distances, or directions, so when I say we'll walk along Oxford Street, he doesn't really understand what this entails - and, it proved, neither do I these days.

I was born and brought up in North London. When I was a kid I was regularly taken up to London to watch my dad, who played in the band of the Grenadier Guards - Changing the Guard, playing at a band stand in one of the parks, Trooping the Colour, and so on. During my teens I thought nothing of going into Central London with some friends for an afternoon or an evening by tube train. I did my degree and teaching qualification close to Euston, and got very used to walking around a large area between lectures, going into interesting shops, or to the museums and art galleries. But all that stopped in the mid 1980s. I still know the layout of the streets, but many of the shops have changed, and the number of people around has increased enormously. I thought that a lot of people had moved away from London, and fewer people were working in Central London, but the pavements were far busier than I remember them before.

We walked for a long way, right past Oxford Circus, before we found a book shop, where both Alan and I spent some time browsing, and we bought a few books. Then we decided to catch an underground train back to Paddington. At Oxford Circus we got into a huge press of people that didn't seem to be moving at all, and more and more people were joining it from the exit to the station. It was hard to keep together, and people were beginning to jump the barriers to escape the crush - it was beginning to get quite unnerving. We eventually escaped from the crowd and decided to head to a parallel street and to try to catch a bus instead of trying to force our way through the press of people entering the underground station. We continued walking for some distance, and eventually found a bus stop, only to find another change from when I used to jump on a bus and pay 10p for virtually any distance in the days of the GLC in the early 80's. You don't buy tickets on buses now, you buy in advance from a machine - so far so good, but the minimum fare is £2!!! We had just bought some rolls and orange juice and could scrape together £3.90 in change, so no bus tickets. We walked back to the boat - so much for Alan not wanting to walk very far.

We ate on the boat that evening.
No miles, no locks

Thursday 30th October - Little Venice
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.

Further investigation of the toilet proved that the water leakage was from the flush water, so we reinstated the fuse in the toilet and taped up the flush button so that we couldn't use it by accident.

Once reinstated the Morco was working better, although still quite cold. Alan bravely decided to have a shower, and I had a full wash then washed my hair under the shower - which was just tolerable. We're not sure what's wrong with it, but it looks like yet another reason to install a calorifier. Les kindly offered to let us use his shower, but we were already clean by then.

We took the boat up to the water point and refilled the tank, then headed back to the mooring having turned the boat ready for our departure the following morning. We went out for a meal at Zizzi in Paddington Basin.
No miles (unless you count the trip of a couple of hundred yards to fill the water), no locks
Friday 31st October - Little Venice to Stocker's Lock.
Little Venice in the autumn sunshine.
We woke early and saw no reason not to get going soon. The first 17 or so miles are completely lock free, so it was just a case of taking it in turns in the cold. We had coffee and hot porridge for breakfast to set us up and got going very soon after 8:00 am. We hardly saw another boat moving along the Paddington Arm.

Approaching the North Circular Road again.

We also realised that it was the 31st October, the final day before the duty on Red Diesel for boat use increased considerably, so it was important to fill our tank. However, the coal boats, Ara and Archimedes, which we were hoping to see to buy fuel from were tied up and locked up with no-one aboard.

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.

At Uxbridge Chandlery we bought fuel at 78p a litre - the next day the price would rise by more than 40p plus VAT per litre for fuel used for propulsion - fuel used for power, heating, light, etc remains at the same level of duty. However, no-one seems quite sure how you are expected to measure what proportions you are using for propulsion and domestic uses. It looks like if you declare a 60/40 split you are unlikely to have problems, and if you are completely residential, then you will be able to continue to claim 100% domestic use.

We kept on all day in the cold - I made seeded loaves in my breaks from steering, and in the long pounds between the locks.

We moored at Stocker's Lock, the last half mile was done in the gathering dark, and we moored at 5:15. We were kept awake for hours by the honking of geese on the nearby lakes.

24.54 miles and 7 locks
Total miles:77.2 miles , Total locks: 72

Saturday 1st November - Stocker's Lock to Apsley
A cold and very wet day. A quick stop at Tesco's at Rickmansworth then pressing on as we were increasingly aware of how far we had to go before dark.

Passing "Elstree".

Very few boats were moving, although we ended up behind a very slow single-hander who was not going more than a couple of locks, but did them so slowly that it was hard not to keep running into her. I know that some people say that if you can't go slowly then you shouldn't be on the canal - but perhaps those people don't have the same constraints on getting the boat back to the marina and being back at work on Monday morning. I don't want to rush everywhere - for goodness sakes, you can't - but I would like to know that my schedule isn't going to be completely ruined by someone whose top speed appears to be considerably less than 1 mile per hour. If people want to go at that speed, fine, I have no problems whatsoever, but I have got to get back to work - let me go past.

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.

A silly mistake - At Nash Mills bottom lock we met up with a single hander who was delivering a boat to the New Boat Company who have a base near Blisworth - he told me that he had delivered three boats to them in the last four weeks. He hasn't done much work on this section of canal, but is employed to take boats that are for sale to a central brokerage. It was streaming rain and getting dark by this point, but we agreed to press on for a lock or so together. At this point I made my mistake, my hand slipped in the wet while lowering the gate paddles and I let go of the windlass, which whipped around at considerable speed, hitting me on the arm and the hand, before spinning off into the lock. I was cold, and very tired, and the pain was excruciating. I genuinely thought that I might have broken a bone. Fortunately I keep instant ice packs on the boat, and I applied one as soon as I could. Alan drained the lock hoping that our best windlass might be lying on the cill - but no. So we caught up with the delivery man, and went through the lock at Apsley where we used to work - then pulled over and moored, while fireworks burst all around.

I began to think that I would have to go to A & E for an X-ray, but a bit of prodding when I took the ice pack off made me think that I had only badly bruised my arm, and not broken anything, although the pain was far worse than anything I could remember for a very long time. Later, as I warmed up in the boat, it became clear that a large part of the pain was sheer cold, which was added to by the ice pack on my arm. I applied a bandage for pressure, and had a drink.
9.87 miles and 17 locks
Total miles: 87.1 , Total locks: 89

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Brentford to Little Venice

Monday 27th October 2008 – did not move from Brentford
Chalice moored outside of Blackrose at Brentford.

We walked to the National Archive at Kew, it was bright and sunny, if cold, and gave us the opportunity to look at some of the boats on the River Thames. Some of them are truly enormous, they don’t seem to float very often, so presumably need some way of supporting them on their fairly small bases. There were a couple of narrow boats moored nearby, and which were completely dwarfed.
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
Chalice passing the old loading wharfs at Brentford.

We returned maps and keys to Mike on Blackrose – our considerable thanks go to him. He was feeling unwell as we left – I hope it doesn’t last long.

We had considered going down through the gauging locks as low water mark was approaching and below the locks is semi-tidal, but at the last minute decided not to, which turned out to be a good decision in the end. We untied from Blackrose at about 9:00 am, and set off up towards Bulls Bridge, and the Paddington arm.
At the first lock – Clitheroes, lock 99 – we suddenly lost power and Alan had to go down the weedhatch. He pulled out an enormous piece of heavy duty red nylon, with various straps attached. It was tightly tied together in such a way that it must have been done by someone before they threw it in.

What is this equipment for? It has heavy straps and metal buckles like those on seat belts.
NOTE: We subsequently found out that it is emergency evacuation equipment that goes under a hospital mattress, then the whole mattress, with patient strapped in, can be dragged along the floor, taken down steps, etc.

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.

The attractive fencing alongside the Hanwell flight.

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.
Locks: 10, Miles: 18.3
Total Locks: 65 , Total Miles: 52.7

Wednesday Morning
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

On to Brentford

Denham Deep Lock to Brentford – Sunday 26th October
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.

Alan lockswheels back past "Asylum Lock", with parts of the old asylum in the background.

Chalice in "Asylum Lock", I liked the unusual lock cottage.

What surprised me was the considerable amounts of very high mesh fencing which accompanies the walls of the asylum and carries on further down the flight. It is very high, and has a curved top, to stop people climbing over it. It also seemed to be sectioning off various ‘compounds’, but it was hard to see because of the tall brick walls of the asylum. It reminded me of Winson Green Prison that we passed in Birmingham this summer, despite the fact that there seemed to be some kind of housing in amongst all the fencing. I eventually stopped a passing local couple and asked if the fences meant that there was a prison here now, but they said categorically no, and suggested that it was anti-vandal fencing. They must have extraordinarily athletic vandals around here.
The route into Brentford is very attractive, but I don't think I've ever seen quite so much rubbish in the locks.

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.
Exactly one hour after putting David on the train at Brentford we received a phone call from him saying that he was walking up from the station to his accommodation at the university.
13 locks, 12.41 miles
Total locks: 55 , total miles: 34.4

Friday, 24 October 2008

On the 'road' again

Cowroast to Home Park Mills - Friday 24th October
We had planned to go down to London, maybe with our son David's help, and meet with some friends who live in Wiltshire, who would then stay with us for a few days, and help us work back to our home moorings. However, our friends are having an extension built and are having problems with builders. As they want their building problems sorted before the winter they have regretfully decided that they could not meet with us this week. After some deliberation we decided that we wanted to go to London anyway - and hopefully we'll be able to meet our friends somewhere for some boating together next year.

Nothing is ever very simple and our original plan was to do an hour or so travelling on Thursday night, but after getting my car back late from its MOT, and all the things that we needed to do, it just didn't happen. We did the packing, went to bed some time after midnight, and got up at 6:30 to finish things off. We left the house at about 8:30 and Chalice left the marina an hour later.

It's four weeks since we were out with the boat on our trip to Aylesbury, and autumn is really with us and the corners above the top gates are filled with a floating mat of yellow leaves, occasionally with small bobbing crab apples from a nearby tree.
South of Cowroast the locks come thick and fast, with only the occasional pound that give you time to make coffee or a sandwich. At 10 am the sun came out, and stayed out for the rest of the day - it was cold, but sunny.
At Bushes Lock a smiling man approached me and asked if the boat was nb Chalice - I had a brief moment of complete puzzlement - how did he recognise the boat - had he known the previous owners I wondered? How did he know, I asked. No the answer was, obviously, far more sensible. He had seen the post that Alan had made on the forum last night to say that the boat was travelling south today, and while walking north along the canal was keeping an eye out for us. We had met with Batavia from the forum, whose boat we later passed in Berkhamsted.

Around the next corner we passed the final Jam 'Ole Run boats heading north again after Alan saw them earlier this week.

As we passed through Gas 2 lock in Berkhamsted, Alan was standing on the foredeck of the boat and looking up towards me when two brilliant blue kingfishers flew only feet above his head, and along the length of the boat before flashing over the balance beam of the boat and into the bushes above the lock. Alan hadn't seen any of it, but I was completely astounded to see them so near in to the middle of the town.

Jam 'Ole Run

At Canal Fields, opposite the supermarket in Berkhamsted a boat was across the canal - it had pulled its pin at one end, we pushed it out of the way. I went to do some quick shopping, Alan lit the fire, and then went to put the pin back on the drifting boat.

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.

Alan steering through Boxmoor in autumn sunshine.

We kept on south, wanting to get far enough to be able to meet our son who was planning to join us from university for the weekend. We needed to be near enough to the railway that we could meet him, but not so near that we were disturbed by the trains. Then steering through Boxmoor, while Alan cycled ahead lockwheeling, I had one of those brief moments of complete peace - life is often a rush, there are many things that worry or stress me, but I know that out with the boat I will find the occasional island of complete contentment.
Chalice Passing Banstead south of Apsley - the boat from the (appalling) film "the Bargee", in which Harry H Corbett (as Hemel Pike - "the Bargee" passed through the Dickinsons Paper mill, with the female workers leaning out of the windows of the offices and waving to him.

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.

We finally moored above lock 70 - Home Park Mills at a little after 5 pm. I mixed up a sponge pudding and put it on the stove to steam. David arrived at Kings Langley station and we went to meet him at the station, then back to the boat for dinner.
10 miles, 25 locks one swing bridge

Home Park Mills to Denham Deep Lock - Saturday 25th October 2008
Very cold this morning, but the fire was still just alight, and Alan quickly had it blazing again.
At Lady Capel's Lock we saw a boat approaching, which Alan thought might be Fulbourne, which he knew was travelling north. A man approached the lock from that direction, so I asked him if he knew if it was Fulbourne - he turned out to be Tim Lewis, so we met up with another forum member - nice to meet you Tim.

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 Iron Bridge Lock in Cassiobury Park, Watford

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.

Moored above Denham Deep lock

12 miles, 17 locks
Total: 22 miles, 42 locks

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Weekend trip to Aylesbury

SATURDAY - The weather forecast for the weekend looked fine, so we thought we'd go to Aylesbury, which we haven't done for a couple of years.

As always, we were later getting started than we intended - mostly getting things sorted a bit before we left home. It was misty in the valley, and over the marina - which didn't burn off until quite late in the morning. At the marina we went and bought another cylinder of gas - and then set off just after 11 am. As the trip to Aylesbury is about 7 hours, we were a little apprehensive about possible hold-ups and maybe ending up travelling after dusk.

It's late September, the trees are still green, although the green is turning to a yellower shade, and a couple of the trees on the hillside overlooking the marina had flame red tops - but only the first few leaves were beginning to drift down onto the canal as we went across the summit. The summit was quite chilly, although the weather forecast was predicting 21 degrees - but by the time we were working down the Marsworth flight the sun was on our backs and jumpers were quickly discarded. The hedgerow was heavy with autumn fruit - I can't remember seeing so many blackberries, hips and haws - but I didn't see any sloes until we were on the Aylesbury arm, and no damsons anywhere.

Incidentally Bluebell's cafe by the last lock in the flight sells excellent ice cream, as well as a balsamic vinegar flavoured ice cream (I kid you not!) - quite the most disgusting flavour I think I've ever experienced.

We worked quickly down the Marsworth flight, and I said to Alan that I'd walk the couple of hundred yards along the towpath from the White Lion down to the Aylesbury arm. Passing the garden of the pub I saw bench tables groaning with massive ploughmans' lunches, and huge jugs of beer - the reason quickly became obvious - there were ready for the two 'teams' of morris men who were entertaining the customers. I took a couple of photos - then sprinted along the towpath to arrive panting and wheezing just as Alan was bringing the boat to the side by the first lock of the Aylesbury arm, and wondering where I was.

As we took the boat down the first two locks - a staircase - at the beginning of the arm I looked up to see a pair of red kites wheeling overhead - twisting and turning by a slight turn of their distinctive forked tails. They were too far away for me to take a photo, but this is what they look like - they were re-introduced to the Chilterns a few years back and have flourished.

The first mile of the Aylesbury arm the locks come thick and fast - nine in all. The next seven locks take another five miles. The arm is beautiful, rural and remote, it doesn't pass through any towns or villages until you get to Aylesbury itself. At this time of year the fields are empty, some filled with stubble, others already ploughed. Often with a lone heron standing, or a staghorn oak, and fringed with Corot willows, their characteristic silver green turning yellow. Here on the Herts/ Bucks border, where the canal crawls slowly away from the still misty Chiltern hills, you can look to the west and see the cars and lorries scuttling by on the distant A41 - seemingly a hundred years away.
We ate on the hoof, grabbing a mug of soup, and a bite of baguette when we could - we didn't want to have to slow down. Strangely the locks are wider than most narrow locks - leaving a good 18 inches room at the side of the boat. However, the bridges seem extremely narrow - we took our chimney off to ensure it didn't meet the same fate as it's predecessor.

As we approached Aylesbury we went through a section where there is only about 6 feet between the reeds on each side of the canal. We've been down here before, and the reeds have been rampant, but nothing like this, with reeds brushing both sides of the boat. We were a little apprehensive about meeting another boat in this long section. Notice the missing chimney in this photo

Aylesbury arrives, as does the need for a key to operate the locks. Two of the locks on the final run-in to the town have anti-vandal locks requiring a British Waterways key. As I've left my keys behind in these types of locks before now I detached my BW key from my keyring and tied it to my jean's belt loop by a long piece of string, then tucked it into a pocket.

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.

There was something quite surreal about the town. The streets were empty, and there didn't seem to be very many restaurants where we were. Then in the square in the middle of the town was an ambulance, with it bored looking paramedics waiting for the night's work - making us somewhat apprehensive about what it would be like later. We wandered on, and we found the streets where the restarants and bars were - rejecting the possibility of a Portuguese restaurant. Pizza Express said that unless we had booked then they couldn't accommodate us for at least an hour and a half. We were beginning to feel that the only possibilities were KFC or a takeaway pizza, and Alan had already turned to go back towards the boat when I spotted Prezzo. They could offer us a table quickly, and we had excellent pizza and pasta meals with good service, and good coffee afterwards.

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.

Chalice moored opposite nb Chiswick, and next to the IR offices in Aylesbury

Aylesbury Canal Basin in the morning mist.

We moored up after the first lock, and went into Tescos.

Looking at the tins of soup in Tescos I decided that it would be far better to make our own, using the heat from the boat's stove to cook it. So I went back to the fruit and veg section and picked up a wide selection of vegetables. Then back to the boat and the next few locks - by now we were in full sunshine.

This heron was on the towpath opposite factories or warehouses in Aylesbury, and seemed fairly unperturbed by me walking along carrying a boat hook to allow me to push the both the bottom gates open without having to cross the lock.

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.
There was lots of water, often pouring over the gates, as seen in this photo of Black Jack's lock (No. 4).

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

Summer Cruise - Thrupp Wharf to Cowroast

Thrupp Wharf to Leighton Buzzard
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

Summer Cruise - Watford Gap to Thrupp Wharf

Tuesday 12th August 2008
Watford Gap to Thrupp Wharf
Once past Norton Junction we were back onto canal that we have done before, and what for us feels like 'home territory' as we have to go through it to escape from the southern Grand Union. So we didn't want to hang about, we'd already been out longer than we felt we should have done.
Coming down Buckby locks we were joined in the second lock down by a remarkable crew. The owners of the boat were a retired RN officer, who I was told confidentially by one of the crew members, was 84, and his wife who was in her 70s and did all the steering as she has a bad back and finds the locks too difficult. Both seemed as fit as a fiddle, and very game for everything, the gentleman was very happy to stride out on the long lock pounds, as well as seemingly having little difficulty with the paddles and very heavy gates. With them were friends who were visiting for a few days. They stopped at Whilton Marina and we carried on.
BW were doing some of piling of the new edging to the bank - since it seems to be based around wooden pilings rammed into the canal we did wonder at what kind of lifespan it will have. BW pile the dredgings behind the front row of pilings which seems to have some kind of mesh stretched over it, and which is braced by wires to the rear pilings.
Through Blisworth Tunnel, then down the flight at Stoke Bruerne, where David and I watched the clouds piling up rapidly from cumulus into whispy topped cumulo-nimbus as we worked down through the locks. Then I rather stupidly took a tumble down a grassy slope. Having recently removed the elastic bandage from my knee I decided to run towards the next lock to get it ready for the boat - and put my foot down a rabbit hole in the bank. I went head over heels and fell heavily against my arm on my right side, and trapping my arm against my chest. At first I thought that an injured ankle would be the main result of this - in fact that took very little time to recover, the bruising to my ribs was so bad that it disrupted my sleep more than a week - ah well, don't run!
We moored at Thrupp Wharf, Alan and I went for a well deserved pint. If I haven't said so before -David at 19, while he is very welcome to drink with us, doesn't like alcohol, and so tends to stay on the boat and surf the Internet - it certainly means that he has fewer budgeting problems than many students do while at university. We sat in the pub watching the gathering dusk and the panorama of clouds of all shapes and sizes at many layers of the atmosphere as they changed colours in the fading light.
A strange day weather wise, with sunshine mixed with drenching rain, and unfortunately the wind that has dogged this part of the trip.
Daily Total: 22.32 miles, 14 locks & 1 tunnel
Running Total: 311.6 miles, 339 locks and 19 tunnels

Summer Cruise - Foxton to Watford Gap

Monday August 11th 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
Running Total: 289.3 miles, 325 locks, and 18 tunnels