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


Anonymous said...

The metal bar is hollow and quite loose so you can raise it up and then the pawl slips back into place very easily.


Cath said...

Ah! The power of the Internet - I stand corrected.

It looks fairly solid, so it didn't occur to me it could move laterally.

We are not going back that way, so someone else needs to take the corrective action, if it's still knackered!