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