Saturday, 31 July 2010

A Quiet Day With Cath's Father & His Wife

(Posted by Alan)

Brentford to Widewater near (Harefield)

On two successive trips on the tidal Thames we have tried to take Cath's father and his wife for a trip, but each time he has been busy, (or so he claimed, anyway!).

With hindsight we now realise this would not have been a very clever idea, as neither is young - in fact Dot became 85 yesterday. We found the two and a half hours, much of it crashing through waves physically exhausting, and realise it would have been very difficult for them.

Anyway we had agreed to take them out for the day today - they could get to Brentford on public transport, and if we could deliver them to Uxbridge station, getting home would be quite straightforward too.

They couldn't get to us particularly early, but we should have time, including a lunch stop,

Now, I have to say, if you wanted to show off the Grand Union, you would not by choice start at Brentford. This has to be the most litter strewn bit of the entire cut, locks are filled with floating debris, and the prospect of large plastic bag tangled on the propeller is ever present.

Jim and Dot at Hanwell, (shame there is nowhere else for the bikes!)

Also you probably would not choose a route that fairly early on includes a flight of 8 double locks, which is what you get with Hanwell and "Norwood Top" combined. Furthermore these locks were unusually busy, many of the intermediate pounds missing a foot or more of water, and a few boats reversed locks on us that they probably should not have done. I think our guests may have been initially perplexed about an arrangement that took maybe an hour and a half for only a mile travelled!

Locking up through Hanwell - the threatening clouds never did deliver much rain.

One of the few remaining parts of the old asylum buildings, viewed from a lock. They have always had a kind of menace for me, since I first encountered them in the 1970s.

The next part of the plan didn't work too well, a suggestion to have a pub lunch. The canal guides indicate three possible canal-side pubs each at a different bridge separated by around half a mile. The first was deserted, and looked uninviting. The second proudly announced outside that it did food, but when Cath enquired, it did not. The final one looked far more promising, but was in the middle of a refit, and not doing food at the moment. The guide showed few more options, and the next pub along apparently has strippers - we decided not to inflict them on a couple in their 70s and 80s.

So a change of plan saw us stop at the supermarket at Bulls Bridge, and buy what was needed for a lunch on board.

By now we were into a fairly long lock-less section, so hopefully our guests got a better idea that canals is not all being static in locks.

We eventually arrived at Uxbridge, by which time I think we had worn them out. Cath ensured they were safely on a train, before returning to the boat.

We were by a noisy road, and a noisy pub, so decided to push forward for a few more locks starting with Uxbridge lock itself.

We moored at one of our regular quiet overnight mooring spots, just above Widewater near Denham.

I just wish the boat we shared Denham deep lock with, and who then followed very slowly behind us, had told us their intentions. Having set up Widewater lock for two boats, and waited very patiently for them, they instead turned into the marina entrance, just before the lock.

Oh well, that's boating for you!

Brentford to Widewater (near Harefield)
Miles: 14.0, Locks: 14

Total Miles: 153.6, Total Locks: 139

Friday, 30 July 2010

The Tidal Thames - again

(Posted by Cath)

Stonebridge, Limehouse and Tidal Thames to Brentford

The day started overcast, and while there were occasional sunny breaks it remained fairly cloudy.

We knew it shouldn't take too long to get down to Limehouse, but set off with plenty of spare time. I decided that the boat was filthy after our trip up the Lee, and began washing her down, as well as cleaning inside.

Last lock before the Thames at Old Ford - there was consid-erable surface weed on this stretch!

We stopped at Three Mills at Bow, where there is a large Tesco next to the river. I went there while Alan took Charlie for a walk prior to heading onto the Thames.

Alan realised that we had left a "goat chain" (used for mooring against piling) at Stonebridge. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, Alan sent a message to our friends and the chain was recovered - not quite sure how we're going to get it back yet. We ate a light lunch at Bow, then set off again.

At Limehouse we breasted up next to a boat that was going to Teddington, so we knew that he would be leaving half an hour or so before us. There were two boats going to Teddington, but we were - once again - the only boat going to Brentford.

The river boats rather dominate the narrow boats - this one passed us later on. (Chalice waits in the back -ground).

Somehow, it doesn't seem to matter how much preparation we have done, we always end up in a rush - trying to get the anchor chain out of the locker - and the anchor set up on a chain and line at the back of the boat - the bikes inside, and everything stowed safely away.

We waited until 2:15, after the hourly Thames Broadcast from London Vessel Traffic Services, and set off onto the Thames once again. This time it looked even more choppy than last time - it was - very much choppier.

Back on the big river again, soon after leaving Lime- house.

It's hard to show how rough it was, although the number of blurred photos we have is probably the best evidence.

Charlie took one look at it and headed inside to his bed, David and I stood in the front well deck. Within two minutes we had been splashed from head to toe, and my shoes were soaked with the water that was running over the front deck. It was also very windy, and quite cold.

Fortunately it became a bit better once we got past the Tower, such as when passing HMS Belfast.

Alan makes a poor attempt at a "no publicity" plea to the photo- grapher.

We waved at passing trip boats - although the passengers looked at us as though we were some species of lunatics.

Another shameless image of Chalice passing famous London landmarks.

Cranes at Battersea Power station.

Attractive housing further up river.

Shortly after Hammersmith Bridge we saw a bright orange boat coming towards us at a huge speed, which proved to be an RNLI lifeboat. This stretch of the river normally has an 8 mph speed limit, but Google reveals that these craft have a 40 knot (46 miles per hour) capability, and we can well believe it was doing that! It had flashing blue lights and a two tone horn, and shot past us so fast that it barely appears in our son's time lapse video. It is very reassuring that they move quite so fast in an emergency, but we would not like to see anything get in the way of one!

Did we enjoy it? Well, yes, but perhaps not as much as last time. Maybe we should have waited longer before trying it again, although when the opportunity presented it we weren't going to go the other way around.

As we arrived at Thames Lock, Brentford, a tiny boat with an outboard came out of the lock. As it puttered past us in a cloud of blue smoke, David pointed to it's name - Purple Hayes - somehow appropriate.

A Canal World Forum member was waiting by the lock, she had read that we were coming through, and was taking some pictures before heading off to work.

David put extra power batteries into his camera which held up though the whole journey this time. He has produced a new time lapse video (without the break for replacing batteries that he had last time), which shows the whole trip - because of it's size it won't be uploaded onto the Internet until we get home. However, one of the problems with it is that the first section is very jerky, because we were being thrown about so much by the waves.

We got just about the last mooring at Brentford. The man on the next boat was interested in our trip, as he'd been seeing two boats off towards Teddington from Thames Lock and had seen us arriving. He saw Alan straightening out a chain on the towpath. "That's someone who knows about mooring in London," he said. "It's an anchor chain," I replied. "Oh, I thought he was going to moor up with it."

Once again we got to go for a nice walk in the nearby park with Charlie. Before getting a dog we would have slumped about on the boat, now we get out in the fresh air, and get to know more of the areas near to the canal or river.

Stonebridge, Limehouse and Tidal Thames to Brentford
Miles: 24.4, Locks: 6

Total Miles: 139.6, Total Locks: 125

Thursday, 29 July 2010

To Stonebridge Lock on the River Lee

(Posted by Cath)

Harlow to Stonebridge

Another long push south today. It started overcast, and even rained slightly at one point - but a lot of the day was hot and sunny again.

Chalice at Parndon Mill, south of Harlow.

Heading south on the Stort.

We kept on South for the whole day, with little to distract us from the travelling. All along the canal were bramble bushes hanging with huge, ripe blackberries. I must get my jam kettle out when we get home.

One of us cycled ahead a lot of the time - and Charlie got a lot of walks between locks. At Waltham Common Lock I decided to walk Charlie through "Waltham Marsh" down to the next lock. On the map it had looked very simple, but I got lost and although I had a walkie talkie I didn't have my phone with me. I couldn't hear Alan on the radio, although he could hear me saying that I was lost.

Then suddenly I turned a corner and there was Waltham Town Lock, I couldn't see the boat, and began to wonder where they were when they appeared. They'd been slightly delayed at the previous lock.

We decided to moor up near to our friends on Rallentando at Stonebridge Lock, and Charlie got another walk through Tottenham Marshes. Rallentando is nearing the end of a long and thorough paint job, and looks amazing. I suspect that our approaching painting session is unlikely to produce anything like as good.

Harlow to Stonebridge
Miles: 17.4, Locks: 17

Total Miles: 115.2, Total Locks: 119

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

*$~@$&!!!! goosegrass - and Bishops Stortford

(Posted by Cath)

Sawbridgeworth to Bishops Stortford and back to Harlow

Another baking hot day.

Attractive cottages by the Sawbridgeworth Lock

As we set off towards Bishop's Stortford, I decided that it would be a good idea to walk Charlie up a couple of locks. I put him on an extendible lead - usually he's on a short lead to help with his training. He had a great time, running through the long grass, and trying to get down to the water. He was panting more and more, and clearly wanted a drink.

When I caught up with the boat I got David to bring him a bowl of water on the lockside, as he was clearly so thirsty. He lapped it up lying down - he was obviously more puffed out and thirsty than I'd realised.

Back on the boat I discovered that Charlie was covered in goose-grass seeds. Not just a few, but several hundred at least. I sat on the front of the boat trying to brush them out of his hair, but as he got more and more fed up with the process I resorted to hacking at the longer 'feathers' of hair on his legs with a pair of trimming scissors. I doubt that I've managed to remove half of the goosegrass, it's going to be a long process and he'll probably need a 'number 2' cut when he gets back home. My priority at the moment is to remove them from his feathery feet, where they will cause him considerable discomfort between his toes, and from his ears - which are becoming more disreputable with every day..

Nicholson's guide seemed to suggest that there were interesting riverside pubs on the route into the town. The idea of a nice meal in a riverside garden seemed very appealing on a very hot day. The reality was very different. Like many towns there has been a lot of building going on recently, and there is a lot of new housing backing onto the river. The pubs that seemed to be riverside were close to the river - for example, on a road next to a bridge, but with a frontage only onto the road. None of them seemed very welcoming or suitable for a meal.

Moored at the end of the navigable section of the Stort.

I went shopping for food while Alan emptied the loo and filled the water tank, then I persuaded him that we should go for a coffee and some cake. We found somewhere, but only our coffee appeared - we eventually gave up waiting, paid for the coffee and went back to the boat. Our over riding feeling about what little of the town that we managed to see was that it seemed much like every other provincial town, with the same range of shops. Perhaps it was too hot, and we were too tired.

The Stort is really very attractive. Towards the south it is particularly wooded, while towards the northern part there are many open fields. Near Stortford it becomes wooded again.

Passing under Kecksy's Rail bridge, North of Sawbridgeworth.

After our brief visit to the town we set off south again. If we are to get to London on Friday we needed to get quite a long way, so we kept on through Sawbridgeworth where we passed a very attractive housing development. The strange thing is that the riverside frontage is bordered with a row of mooring bollards - and accompanying 'no mooring' signs. Why go to the cost of the bollards and then forbid mooring? There is also a marina, which is still completely empty - why?

Passing the new housing in Sawbridgeworth, above Sheering Mill Lock

"No mooring" bollard.

The empty marina. Where are all the boats?

We carried on into Harlow, where we moored next to the railway station, and went to eat at the Hungry Horse on the other side of the river. Our concerns about the railway, and in particular the platform announcements, proved unfounded, and we slept well.

Sawbridgeworth to Bishops Stortford and back to Harlow
Miles: 14.8, Locks: 15

Total Miles: 97.8, Total Locks: 102

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

And from the Lee on to the River Stort

(Posted by Cath)

Waltham Abbey to Sawbridgeworth

It's been a very warm and humid day, relieved by occasional (mostly light), and very welcome showers.

Alan took Charlie for a walk before I'd even woken up. We were a bit late getting started, and I walked up through the next few locks with Charlie. I was very surprised by the size of the blackberries growing - although Jessica had told us that they were very good along the Lee and Stort.

We were working up with two other boats, a narrow boat and a 30 foot GRP boat.

The three boats at Aqueduct Lock.

We carried on to the Stort, with the GRP boat following. The locks are narrower on the Stort - 13 ft 3 inches, too narrow to get two boats side by side. However, as our boat is 50 foot, and the locks are about 85 foot long we thought we could fit the GRP boat in behind us. We could, but the locks fill so violently that we were being thrown all over the place and we were worried about causing damage to the fibre glass boat. As they could travel a lot faster than us, and we knew they only had a few locks to go we suggested that they went ahead of us, and we carried on alone.

The Stort was opened for traffic in 1769, allowing access for the farmers and markets of Essex to the River Lea and from there London, and the rest of the world.
An attractive cottage, at Brick Lock.

At Roydon we went under the low rail bridge. We took the chimney off - just in case - Alan, who was steering, had to duck.

The banks of the rivers are covered with Himalayan Balsam, an invasive non-native plant which was introduced in the 19th C and quickly spread along waterways. It's considered a pest, but the flowers are bright and attractive.

The River Stort becomes narrower and very meandering, particularly after Harlow, requiring considerable concentration to make sure that you don't meet with another boat coming the other way. In fact, we only came across one day-boat out of Broxbourne. Given that the country is in recession and more people are supposed to be holidaying at home we don't understand why there is so little traffic on the river.

We rounded one corner to be faced with a river full of children in canoes, and nobody seemed to have noticed that we were bearing down on them. We reversed, and the instructor herded them off to one side, although one girl clearly hadn't grasped the difference between 'forward' and 'backward'. The centre also had kids jumping into the river as part of the many activities that were going on - the children all looked like they were enjoying themselves.

We kept on until Sawbridgeworth, where Alan and I took Charlie into the town while we shopped. We ate here two years ago, but were sad to see that the excellent pub appeared to have changed hands, and is now a very different type of establishment. So we ate curry on the boat - followed by blackberry and apple crumble, made with very local, and very fresh blackberries.

Waltham Abbey to Sawbridgeworth
Miles: 14.6, Locks: 15

Total Miles: 83, Total Locks: 87

Monday, 26 July 2010

Through London on to the Lee Navigation

(Posted by Alan)

Little Venice to Waltham Abbey

One of the things that has struck me since I started to co-author the blog with Cath is how sporadic our photography efforts can be. I suppose it's not surprising that the more we do, the less time there is to think about taking pictures, but it is certainly often the case that we end up with frame after frame on something inconsequential, but the bigger, more dramatic, or simply more unusual, happenings of any day go unrecorded.

This is brought to the fore if one of us writes a day's blog, then tries to find related pictures to illustrate it! If we choose the pictures first, then try and weave the blog around what we have actually taken, it often gives a less accurate feel as to how the day unravelled.

I'm not sure we have done any better today, but did at least manage to belatedly capture the "Girl Guides" on their travels.

Anyway you can't really photograph lost keys, which is how the day began, when I managed to drop the bike lock keys over the side when transferring bikes from the safe haven in the engine room, to their usual day-time position in the well deck. I suppose I could have photographed David and I fishing for over half an hour with a powerful Sea Searcher magnet, (we knew the keys were unlikely to be magnetic, but assumed the ring they were on might have been).

But I didn't, so here instead is standard photo of boat on it's overnight moorings - but while we still had the bike keys!

Another thing I have noticed, is that if we pass through London from West to East, it always seems to rain for at least part of the transit. And, lo and behold, today was to be no different, although nothing like the torrential rain of some previous passages.

We soon found we were following other boats, and indeed soon 'caught up the Girl Guides'. Cath was on locks, and chatted more with them about their trip, and their boats, one of which is a 12 berth Springer owned by the Guides, and much in demand. Unfortunately it is old enough to have "middle age spread", and regularly gets wedged in the narrowest locks, so they are fund raising to replace it with a brand new boat. They have raised about £40,000 so far, but still need about £55,000 more - sounds like a good cause introducing many new youngsters to the canal in a kind of way now largely lost.

The "Guides" lock-down through Hampstead Road Locks. I'm sure they'll not be offended if we say they were not the fastest of crews, but they seemed to be having a marvellous time!

Another feature of a passage along the Regents Canal from Paddington to Old Ford, is a number of locks that are very hard to work, because bottom gates self open almost immediately as soon as anyone has closed them. You really need three people on locks, so that two could hold a gate shut each, whilst a third winds paddles. We are usually only one, when a lock is being set, so a bit of ingenuity is usually required to (for example) slightly open a top paddle, before bothering to try and "shut up" at the bottom. If you get it right, the flow of water will hold one gate shut whilst you walk around and close the other, but get it wrong, and they either drift open again, or slam together with indecent force.

Many of the locks have various issues, but how this had been achieved with a ratchet we could not work out.

The pawl is the wrong side of the 'cog' on which it should run, and can't be got in the right place, due to the bar above - but nothing looked like it had been dismantled for months.

But more serious problems were looming. The fastest route to the River Lee is via the short Hertford Union Canal, (often known as "Ducketts"), but our last two passages through Ducketts have found seriously emptied out pounds between locks. We were warned it was bad down there, and when we checked the shortish pound between the top tow locks, there was someting like 4 feet of water missing, with clearly less than the two feet of water we needed to get the boat from lock to lock. (The water mainly failed to reach the shallower sides of the canal near the bank).

We have got more bold now when we encounter such conditions, so simply spent some time running through water from above to put enough water in to guarantee getting through. I'd say we made up only about half the deficit, which was enough - we could have perhaps put slightly less, but were aware the 'Guides' were following too.

I suppose I'm become a grumpy old git, but the fact that the same bit of canal is causing major problems not just months, but years, after we first encountered it, is a disgrace, and Duckett's really does feel like a canal British Waterways would like to forget about.

To prove my point about photography, I could easily have taken a picture of the extent of the water shortage - but failed to!

Once on the Lee, we were surprised to find vast mats of duck-weed, thick enough for the water fowl to be walking all over.

There is usually some weed on this navigation, but we have not seen it like this. Further up the stench coming from mats of some other weed types was particularly revolting, but these fortunately were few.

We were also surprised by the sheer scale of large outbreaks of the particularly nasty Giant Hogweed

There seems to have been an explosion in the numbers of live-aboard boats with no home moorings on the Lee. We try not to get involved in the rights and wrongs of this, but were unhappy that the complete lock landings for the first lock you encounter were being permanently occupied by such boats, making working the lock difficult - there are still miles of empty bank, for God's sake!

We had also been warned about British Waterways having continued not to address another issue for a very long period. The locks you encounter first were all part of an (I think!) 1950s modernisation program, with twinned locks, one worked with electrics and hydraulics, but the other requiring a lot of hand cranking. At Stonebridge problems with the "electric" lock regularly mean BW turn off the power, forcing you through the "manual one". This should not be an issue, but all the "hydraulics" on this lock are faulty, meaning about 80% of your effort is wasted, and only about 20% results in the desired things happening. Another maintenance shambles, whilst where everywhere you go, BW wastes money in stupid things that add nothing to the canals and rivers.

Cath works Chalice through the "manual" lock at Stone -bridge, whilst David attempts the pointless 200 turns of a windlass.

Above the lock we spotted our friends with boat Rallentando, who have revived it with a wonderful paint job. I was fascinated to watch the sign-writer they have employed adding much of the lining, and seeing what he achieved at the first attempt free-hand. Our friend Jessica pointed out that there was excellent dog walking there, so she offered to take Cath, Charlie and their dog Rocky on a guided tour. Charlie had been inside much of the day, so the walk was well received. I also failed to photograph the newly painted Rallentando, (or Rocky!).

Usually Cath is keen not to push on too late into the evening, but last night said she rather fancied running on, and trying to get really into the country, and further towards the "better" bits of the Lee. So we worked on through several more locks to Waltham Abbey. Splendid walks for Charlie again, and, as I write this the following morning, he has had two more marvellous romps.

What else did we see that was unusual - well whilst we had seen Orthodox Jews up here in the past, we had never seen anything like the numbers we did today. Huge numbers of youngsters on bikes, but those out canoeing still wearing their traditional clothing somehow presented a more unusual sight.

But, (as you have probably guessed by now!), I failed to photograph them to!

I'm sure this blog would be better with more pictures, and less words!

Little Venice to Waltham Abbey
Miles: 20.6, Locks: 17

Total Miles: 60.4 , Total Locks: 72

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Into Paddington - With the Guides

(Posted by Cath)

Stockers to Little Venice

Knowing that we had to get into Paddington to pick up our son at about 7 pm, we set off fairly early. We were on our way by 8 o'clock.

At the first lock, Springwell, I was approached by a cyclist, "is this the way to London?". "Um, no, that's the way to Birmingham."

"Ah, good thing I asked. So does this way go to Harrow on the Hill?"

Frantically trying to scan my mental map, all I could think was that it is unlikely that the canal goes anywhere near a hill, as it's downhill all the way to London. "Well, this will take you through Uxbridge, and there's a branch towards Slough."

"Oh, I must have the wrong canal then."

"No, sorry," I replied, "this is the only canal anywhere near to here." My problem was that all I could think of was canal based locations, but not the names of nearby places. I doubted he'd understand "Bull's Bridge". "If you keep going you'll get to Brentford, or there's an arm that takes you up towards Paddington."

"How far is it to Paddington?"

Once again, I had a problem, he wouldn't begin to understand "a day's journey", so I hazarded 20 to 25 miles, and he set off towards Paddington.

I have been very struck when reading histories of the canals that the boat people undoubtedly had very vivid mental maps of the routes they used, but these probably bore no resemblance to any geographical maps. I find that I have two mental maps: the roads that I drive alongside a vague idea of where various cities are in the UK and a completely separate canal map. The two intersect at various points, but I have difficulty in finding my way between two nearby points on the two separate mental maps, even at places I know well.

Working narrow boat pair Archimedes and Ara were back home after delivering gravel to the Coventry Canal.

As were Arundel and Joe

I walked Charlie down through a couple of locks - they are fairly well spaced here so it was a reasonable first walk of the day. Then at Widewater a boat was waiting for us in the lock, we followed them down until we got to Uxbridge, where we pulled over at 11 am, as they opened, to go and buy some paint for our repaint when we get back from this trip. This took far longer than we expected, we needed to do some more calculations, and then we spent ages deciding on exactly how we want to do the roof. We are planning to change the colour to mid to light grey, as the dark green roof becomes so hot that it is impossible to touch on a hot day.

We set off again at nearly one o'clock, then at Cowley a series of small boats slowly entered the lock, a new one arriving in view just as we were on the point of closing the gates, it probably didn't take very long but we were beginning to panic about arriving in Paddington on time. After Cowley it's a long stretch of lock-less miles to Paddington, so we took one hour turns at steering. I spent some time trying to sort Charlie's ears. He has very long ears, (ridiculously long really), and very long hair both on the outside, and the inside. While we try to keep them brushed, he's managed to get goose-grass caught in the them, and the hair has become matted in places. I sat on the front deck with his head on my knee, armed with some tasty treats to keep him interested, and worked on the ears with a comb and brush.

Approaching Kensal Green we could hear the deep booming sound of a rave going on in the trees to one side of the canal. A number of young men were slumped or supine on the tow-path. Ahead of us were two boats, both across the the cut. As we approached them we could see banners draped across them proclaiming "Girl Guides, Birmingham and Northamptonshire". However, the women on the boats were the oldest girl guides we've ever seen - some of them being a decade or so older than us. The guiding boats were pulled in towards the tow-path, allowing us to pass. As we went by one of the 'girl guides' waved and called out, "We were just thinking of going to the rave".

Alan turned to me and said, "You know, today has suddenly got a lot weirder".

One Alan's favourite boats on the Paddington Arm near Kensal Green

It is good when you arrive at Little Venice late in the day, and can still find a mooring!

Having tied up at Little Venice, we took Charlie for another walk and then set off down the Paddington Arm to meet David at the station. The guiding boats had moored up down the Arm, with 'guides' sitting on the cruiser deck chatting.

David appeared, looking quite flushed, but not surprisingly. It turned out that instead of catching an underground train from King's Cross, he'd walked down the Euston Road, and Marylebone Road, before following signs towards Paddington - while carrying some 30 kilos of kit.

Back at the boat David showered and changed and we headed out towards Zizzi in Paddington Basin, where we had an excellent meal - although we ordered before we saw the size of the portions. The garlic breads were huge and we had to ask for a box for some of the pizza we couldn't manage.

Charlie is temporarily fooled by the walker we found him down the Paddington Arm.

We went to buy milk at Sainsbury's in Paddington station - I'm not sure what time this closes (if it ever does), but it was still open at 10pm on a Sunday night. Then on the way back to the boat we got brave and went to ask the guides what they were doing.

It turns out that it is the centenary of the guiding movement. There is a tall ship going around the coast, visiting lots of guiding regions, but the ship can't visit the interior of the country. So, a relay team of 'guides' has brought a couple of boats down from the Midlands, to celebrate the centenary. They seemed very cheerful and were having a great time. Tomorrow this team will hand over to another team in Limehouse Basin, who will take the boat back to Leighton Buzzard, for the next team to take over. Oh, and for the record, they hadn't been planning to go to the rave - one of the boats had got something through the prop.

Stockers to Little Venice
Miles: 24.8, Locks: 7

Total Miles: 47.8, Total Locks: 54

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Winkwell to Stockers

(Posted by Cath)
Winkwell to Stockers
A sunny day, Alan was up early, and took Charlie for his first walk. We ate breakfast and then set off around 9:00 am. I walked Charlie from Winkwell down to Apsley - although he pulled constantly the whole way. He's been taught to walk to 'heel', which he's generally pretty good about, but he's so excited by being on the boat, and walking down the towpath that he's constantly pulling ahead.

Unlike yesterday we were largely on our own, we caught up with a couple of boats, but neither stayed with us for long. After Charlie was back on the boat we got one of the folding bikes off, which allowed us to get the locks ready. It meant that we both got quite a lot of exercise, although Alan is - not surprisingly - still a little nervous about getting on a bike.

Going through Hunton Bridge with a cheerful group of people who'd hired a local community boat for the day.

At Common Moor

We did quite a lot of miles, and a lot of locks, on a hot day. We walked a lot, and cycled a lot. By the time we got to Stocker's Lock, just south of Rickmansworth we were quite tired, so moored up with a plan to take Charlie for a good walk. It was only too late that we realised that David, our son, is planning to meet up with us tomorrow, not on Monday, which means that we really should have pressed on south for another hour or so. It's going to be hard to get to Paddington to meet up with him, and we'll have to set off early.

We took Charlie for a long walk around the lakes that are only just a short distance from the canal. We've moored here many times, but have only just discovered the lakes - as a direct result of having a dog.

Winkwell to Stockers
Miles: 12.4, Locks: 23

Total Miles: 23.0 , Total Locks: 47

Friday, 23 July 2010

Difficult Decisions - Should I stay or should I go.

(Posted by Alan)

Cook's Wharf to Winkwell

For various reasons we have known for some time that it would be impractical to do one of our summer "mega trips", where we usually stay out at least 3 weeks, and pile on both the miles and the locks. A great shame, really, as the two weeks at Easter largely also fell off our boating schedule when yours truly contrived to fall from a push bike beforehand, and smash his pelvis in three places, and an elbow in one.

So the idea was to start the school holidays with a trip which of necessity had to be rather less than 2 weeks. We should have set off yesterday, the day after Cath's term ended, (although I'll be the first to admit we were ill prepared!) However, soon after her school day had ended, unfortunately Cath got a call from her mother, who apparently had been suffering severe pains in much of her body, had seen a GP, but was now being despatched to hospital. We live miles away, but fortunately a very caring neighbour had stepped in, even to the point of going to sleep at Cath's mums house on Wednesday night to look after two dogs and a cat. So plans rapidly changed, and Cath drove up yesterday, first to deposit son David at his gran's house to act as a longer-term animal minder, then to see her mum in hospital.

The short version of events, (I'll spare you the long one), is that hospitals communications are seldom great, and knowing when anything will happen, tests be done, results known, or feedback given is at best a guessing game. All we knew by this morning was that Cath's mum felt better, was awaiting results of some extra tests, but likely to get sent home today.

Difficult decisions then. If we didn't start our planned break, (already shortened by over a day), then we would run out of time, but what if the situation ended up being less favourable ? Fortunately we live close to the boat's mooring, we had two bikes on board, and the canal runs close to the railway for many miles. We reasoned that if we had to abandon the boat for a bit we could, (even if it then only got taken back to base quite quickly at a later date), whereas we could not claw back time lost by not trying.

So eventually we were on our way South by about 11:30, just the two of us and Charlie the Spaniel, as David was now elsewhere.

Not too much to report on the boating. A fair day, mercifully free of the excessive heat we have had. Canal levels were unusual, after all these dry conditions, as a few pounds down from the summit were unusually low, but in pounds around Berkhamsted where levels do drop quite often at any time, water was pouring over some lock gates for no obvious reason.

Good water levels between "Gas Two" locks

Unusually we shared locks the whole way. Initially we shared with a Wilderness boat, with a couple taking grandchildren on a day trip. These charming boats are made of glass-fibre, so it is usual to agree how to handle entering and leaving to keep steel and plastic well apart! As soon as they made their first planned stop, another boat was just casting off, and has stayed with us all day, (now being about 10 feet behind, actually).

The lady we shared with most of the day had just bought her ideal second-hand boat in the Braunston area, and was bringing it down to it's new mooring.

By mid-afternoon our decision to travel was suddenly made to look "iffy". It turned out that the hospital were now saying my mother-in-law needed an ultrasound done, but this was not going to be until Monday, and they would be keeping her in over the weekend. The usual heart-searching followed, but we decided to carry on, whilst we contacted people, and to see who would be available to visit, and when.

But later on, David rang us to say that his Gran was now at home having been taken home by Cath's brother! Apparently another doctor had seen her, and reversed the decision to keep her in as quite unnecessary! Based on what's happening this time around, and on my own hospitalisation in February, I'm starting to think it's no exaggeration to say that whatever you are told is going to happen will not, (or at least not then, anyway!). David is planning to spend a few days with his Gran and then meet up with us.

So at the moment the decision to travel is still working for us, but tomorrow is of course another day!

A less sound decision was probably to visit the "Three Horseshoes", however. What they can charge for a pint and a large glass of wine almost beggars belief, and my beer proved to be cloudy enough to need replacing something you could see through properly. The food, whilst delicious, did not come in sufficient quantities for those who have just done 24 locks, and was over-priced. However, as usual Charlie came in for much admiration, including from a girl who gave him enough attention to cause him to jump up her for even more. "Hello, Georgia", said Cath, recognising one of her pupils. "Oh, no! Don't give me a detention," said Georgia, "I didn't realise it was your dog". (Cath note: I had no idea I am considered that scary!) Although the dog rescue said Charlie would be admired everywhere he went, I don't think we expected anything like the adulation he actually receives! He was less popular this morning when he managed to eat a small plastic bag - something we rather fear we may not have seen the last of, (yuk!)

Cook's Wharf to Winkwell
Miles: 10.6, Locks: 24

Total Miles: 10.7 , Total Locks: 24

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Another Unusual Day On The Grand Union!

OK, I'm a sucker for old working boats, (even in ones or twos). I'm a real sucker for old loaded working boats, (even in ones or twos). So when seven are known to be working through my home turf loaded, one day of being a spectator, or even a lock wheeler, was never going to be enough, was it ?

Charlie the dog, after all, needed a walk, and Marsworth reservoirs are one of his favourite spots. He'd not mind being "moored" by the odd lock, while I wound a paddle or two, would he ?

So I set off to Marsworth by car, hoping the fun was not over. Luckily for me, if not the steerers, low pounds around Berkhamsted, and general slow down on Tring summit meant even the lead boat had only made it less than half way down the flight.

So some more pictures, that represent the different order the boats were in on this part of the trip.

Mike is on the lead boat, the massive Royalty class Victoria. He is carrying a similar load to the others, and needs as much depth of water, but the Royalty boats were built with much deeper hull sides, giving the untrained eye an impression they are carrying less.

Mike waits whilst a BW man is trying to clear an obstruction behind a gate that would mean the later boats breasted together would get stuck.

Archimedes and Ara are the next boats down. The steerers of this pair switch fairly freely between motor and butty, so you never quite know who to expect to be on the tiller.

As I spent lots of time with this pair yesterday, I let them go, to get some pictures of the single motors following.

Next down were Callisto and Themis. Although both motor boats, Callisto had been having fuel issues with it's Russell Newbery engine, so they were breasted together, and being powered by Themis' National, (I hope I have that the right way about!).

Here they are in the second lock down at "Maffers"

Moving on between locks - all but the bottom the pounds at Marsworth are short, but few of the locks are in any alignment, as the canal twists and turns.

Third lock down - The BW man has cleared the gate with an obstruction, so they can stay breasted.

The white former lock-keepers cottage is a useful marker in this flight for those who have lost track of where they are, as being beside the fourth lock, whichever way you are travelling, it marks mid-way through the locks.

Some of the 'S' bends between locks need some nifty tiller and speed wheel work to first miss the bank as you leave one lock, and then to have to get right across to the other side of the cut to get a good line into the next lock.

Most of the work of the flight over, there is a much longer pound to reach the bottom lock. Always popular with moorers, they may have been surprised by the time 7 loaded boats had all made their way past in not much over an hour.

Themis pulls Callisto into the bottom of 7 locks of the main Marsworth flight. Congratulations to their crew for making me a hot mug of tea, that kept me as a captive audience for a few locks, and so guaranteed my presence as a lock wheeler.

By now Charlie the dog was finding it all a bit much. Being tethered up quite a bit, and with Marsworth being so popular with dog walkers, he was getting a bit bored by having other dogs sniffing his bottom! I decided to not wait for Arundel and Joe, who were slightly separated from the 5 boats ahead of them.

I went on up to Chalice's mooring, giving me the opportunity to see the whole fleet pass in the period from about 11:20 to 12:30








And, all too soon, sadly, the last one had gone, and life on this stretch of the Grand Union reverted to the more normal mix of private leisure boaters, interspersed with hire boats, day boats and wide-beam trip boats.

Thanks to the crews/owners for bringing this spectacle to our canal!