Sunday 31 August 2014


A day which turned out slightly differently from the way planned.  I finished my night shifts this morning, and drove up to our marina.  Adrian arrived a few minutes later from home.  Then we went back down the M1 to High Line Yachting, where Briar Rose has been staying for a few weeks.

We unloaded the car and made the long trek along the towpath, with all the clothes we'll need for our next cruise.  We changed the bed and put the washing machine on, filled the water tank to the brim, and did something we'd been meaning to do for a while: fit a SmartGauge battery monitor.  I cut the hole to take the display, and Adrian wired it up.  We got it mail order from Canal Shop Online at Hillmorton Wharf, who delivered it to us very promptly.

We'd intended to go up to the end of the Slough Arm to turn the boat around, but there had been a bit of a staffing crisis at work, and I'd been on stand-by to do an extra night shift tonight.  Just before lunchtime, it was confirmed that I would have to work.  While Adrian was fitting the SmartGauge, I drove to the nearby Co-op to get us some lunch, and once we'd eaten, Adrian headed home while I went to sleep for a few hours.

One of the good things about High Line is the proximity of Langley Station, with trains taking a little over half an hour into Paddington.  I meant I didn't have to head to work until gone 8.30 this evening.  Moving the boat will have to wait until the morning.

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Mercia marina

A quick dash up to Mercia Marina today for a boat test.  The marina's new development, the Boardwalk, which I don't think was even started when I last visited, is nearing completion.  Signs said there's to be a Grand Opening on the weekend of 11 and 12 October.

Monday 25 August 2014

2015 calendar

The other day I received three copies of the IWA 2015 calendar, which features my photo of Briar Rose on the Northampton Arm as the picture for August.  What's quite nice is that each photo can be detached and used as a post card.

The calendars are available from the IWA online shop.

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Just The One on test

The September issue of Canal Boat is out, and includes by boat test on Just The One by JD Narrowboats.

Sunday 10 August 2014

London-bound: Day 10

After the pleasures of yesterday -- the excitement of a journey into Central London, the sunshine, getting a good mooring, and seeing family -- today was always going to be a bit of a let down.  The last day of this part of the trip, combined with the difficulties of getting everything back where it needed to be.  Plus the weather forecast, of the remnants of Hurricane Bertha bringing heavy rain and strong winds.

Things didn't look too bad when we got up, but by the time we were ready to set off just before 8, the rain had started.  We were going in different directions:  I was taking the boat back along the Paddington Arm, while Adrian was going to get the car from our marina.  The exit from our mooring was text book, but it was early so there was no-one to see it!  As Adrian headed off to the underground to Victoria and the coach station, he took a photo of me leaving the basin.

At first the rain wasn't too bad, and there are always things to see, like this cormorant drying its wings, just along from Little Venice.

Further on there were torrential downpours, plus thunder and lightening.  Combined with the less than picturesque scenery along parts of the Arm, it all looked rather depressing.

Adrian was also having a frustrating time, as the coach to Milton Keynes (there were no trains because of engineering work, and the replacement bus only started from the end of the Jubilee Line) was stuck in traffic because of flooding on the North Circular.

As I passed through Alperton, I had a very welcome text from Kath from Herbie, offering the assiatance of her and Neil along the Slough Arm, where I was headed.  They know it well, having moored along the arm, and are familiar with coping with the legendary weed, which can clog props and bring boats to a halt.  It made me wonder quite how bad the weed would be, but gratefully accepted -- pointing out that they must be mad wanting to come boating in such foul weather.

I reached Bull's Bridge Junction on schedule at 12 noon, and turned right.  It was another 40 minutes or so before I reached the bridge where Kath and Neil were waiting.  By now the sun was out, although it was still pretty breezy.  It's quite a tight turn into the Slough Arm, immediately after a bridge, and I was a bit too busy turning to take a photo.  But although there's quite a lot of floating pennywort, the blanket weed which has blighted the Arm in the past didn't seem to be there at all.

The Slough Arm is pleasantly rural, has aqueducts over a couple of rivers, and then passes under the M25

We were soon at High Line Yachting, where we came alongside a boat outside the office and I went in to pay our fees and find out where we'd be staying.  The linear moorings stretch a long way, and we had to go half way along.  As we did so, we could see a torrential downpour heading our way.  It looked as though the canal up ahead was boiling, and we could see the storm coming for us.  it was in this torrent that we found our spot, and moored on the outside of a residential boat.  I was really grateful to have Neil and Kath with me, as it was very helpful to have an extra pair of hands at this stage.

Once moored up, we had a late lunch.  Adrian arrived in the car to take things home, and Kath and Neil headed off too.  I had a sleep, as I'm starting night shifts tonight.

19 miles, 0 locks.  (106 miles, 102 locks)

Saturday 9 August 2014

London-bound: Day 9

Last night we thought we'd eat out at the Toll House Bistro, which was plastered in signs saying it was now open on Friday and Saturday evenings.  It wasn't.  We went next door to the Malt Shovel, which was OK but nothing special, and not as good as other Vintage Inns we've been to.

This morning we wanted to make a prompt start, so we were up and setting off by 7.10.  It was half an hour before I could go faster than tickover, because of all the moored boats.  At 8.30 we turned onto the Paddington Arm at Bulls Bridge Junction.

The first part of the arm isn't that interesting, although I noted lots more moored boats than when we were here three years ago, and lots of new apartments being build around Alperton.  After about two hours we crossed the North Circular on the aqueduct, and saw there was a traffic jam below.

Last time we did this journey, it took five hours from Cowley Lock to Paddington; this time it was more like six, because of all the moored boats -- there were boats in places which have previously been deserted.  Still, the trip soon gets interesting, with plenty to see.

The entry to Little Venice is through a narrow, and we had our photo taken plenty of times.  Just beyond, there was a huge queue for the Jason's trip boat.

We followed a very slow widebeam into the basin, with a feeling of trepidation as to whether we'd be able to find a mooring.  In fact there were several spaces, including the same one we used three years ago, next to the bank, outside the M&S HQ.  We went down to the end of the basin to turn;  it was pretty breezy, so we needed to use a bit of power to get round.  What was nice, though, was that they'd opened the new fan bridge to herald our arrival!

Adrian had spent most of the journey inside making a cake and a lasagne for later, as we had some of his family to visit this afternoon.  So we've had a great afternoon with an extra four adults and two children on board, and we've been to explore the new landscaping down the far end of the basin, which is really coming on.  They're currently installing a new fountain next to the fan bridge.

Quite a few boats have arrived this afternoon and this evening, so the basin is now pretty full.  The wind has been making it tricky to manoeuvre, but it's also clear that one or two of the steerers don't have much idea what they're doing.

17 miles, 0 locks.  (87 miles, 102 locks)

Friday 8 August 2014

London-bound: Day 8

So much for the forecast heavy thundery rain.  We've had one shower, which lasted about two minutes, and just about made the roof wet.

We were awake early, possibly because of the joggers pounding past at 6am, and seeing that the rain was now due to come through this afternoon rather than in the morning, we decided to get going.  Consequently we set off at 7.15.  Cassio Bridge Lock was the first of the day, and has the Metropolitan Line just beyond.

A couple of hours later we were at Rickmansworth, and moored outside Tesco.  We were the only boat there, so this time could stop on the bit without the fence.  We did a shop, and set off again in increasingly sunny conditions.

Below Springwell Lock there are some lovely houses, including one with a huge glass extension, and one where the owner was mowing diagonal stripes on his immaculate lawn.  It's just a pity they're right opposite the sewage works.

While we waited for Widewater Lock to fill I sent a text to Bob and June from Autumn Myst, to see where they were.  It turned out they were only about a mile away, so when we got there we stopped and had an hour's chat over tea and cake.  It was great to see them, and meet their latest guide dog puppy, Jimmy.

We continued through the miles of moored boats at Uxbridge.  At our last lock of the day, and the last on this bit of the journey, Cowley Lock, there were a couple of volunteer lock keepers, who'd apparently had quite a busy day.  Plenty more boats have come down while we've been here.

We squeezed into a space on the moorings immediately below the lock.  It's a solid towpath with a concrete edge, but there are stupidly few mooring rings.  We've had to 'reverse moor', with the ropes coming back towards the centre of the boat.  The little boat which was behind us has gone, but has been replaced by another.

12 miles, 12 locks.  (70 miles, 102 locks)

Thursday 7 August 2014

London-bound: Day 7

Another lovely sunny morning, but a slightly later start.  The clock on the cricket pavilion said 9 o'clock as we left, straight into Boxmoor Bottom Lock.

A little while later we stopped at the water point at Apsley middle lock to top up the tank, and get rid of rubbish.  At Apsley bottom lock there's a nice modern bridge which featured quite heavily in the photos when I did a boat test here a few years back.  There's a similar picture of Briar Rose (in the un-repainted state) in this post from the last time we came this way three years ago.

Three years ago they were building on the old Nash Mills paper mill site.  They still are.

We'd shared the lower Nash Mill lock with a couple on a little boat called Desdemona.  They'd bought it at Swanley Marina on the Llangollen and were taking it home to London.  They reckon it'll be their holidays for the next ten years.  I think they were hoping we could share the next few locks, but we had an appointment.  We knew Carol and George were moored just round the corner on their widebeam boat, Still Rockin'.  After a couple of attempts at getting to the side, we eventually moored up a few feet out from the edge, right in front of them, and had a great hour or so catching up over tea and biscuits.

Housing and offices line the canal over the next few miles, but there are also some unusual boats.  One has most of a Volkswagen Touran mounted on the bow, in place of a cratch cover.

Before long we were passing under the M25, which crosses the valley here on a long viaduct.  The walls are so high you can't actually see cars at all, and only the tops of lorries are visible.  I guess the drivers don't realise they're crossing a canal and a railway line.

When we got to the two Hunton Bridge locks, there was clearly some kind of problem.  Water was being run down through the first lock -- but the cause of the problem was at the lower one.  Our previous lock sharers on Desdemona were there, and had been unable to fully close the bottom gates, so the lock wouldn't fill.  They, plus the owner of a widebeam which was also above the upper lock, and I, all tried various things, including poking around on the cill with a boat pole, but we couldn't get the gates to close. With the middle pound now at a reasonable level again, the widebeam and we came down, as a CRT chap had arrived to sort out the problem.  It turned out to be the same one, Steve, who, we'd seen yesterday at Berkhamstead.  He managed to shift whatever was on the cill using his keb, although he couldn't fish it out.

When everything was back to normal, we shared the lock with Desdemona, and stayed with them for the next few locks.  Grove Bridge is an attractive spot (and there's another picture just like the one below on the post from three years ago, so you can compare how the offside vegetation has grown; the trees are so big now, they spoil the symmetry of the bridge).

There's a very impressive converted water mill just past the bridge, but we also liked a little house at the next bridge, which looks as though it's been recently modernised.

Our lock companions were aiming for Uxbridge, which is a good few hours away yet, but by around 4pm we decided we'd had enough.  Last time we stopped in Cassiobury Park just above Iron Bridge Lock; this time it was rather busy there, so we came down the lock and moored below.  Fortunately this side of the canal is shade by trees, so we're a bit protected from the heat.

Tomorrow's forecast looks dire, so we may modify our plans for the weekend.

6 miles, 15 locks.  (58 miles, 90 locks)

Wednesday 6 August 2014

London-bound: Day 6

There was heavy rain in the night, but by the time we set off this morning at 8.30 the cloud was beginning to lift.  Indeed, by the time we were in Cowroast Lock about 15 minutes later, the sky looked a whole lot brighter.

Most of the locks on this stretch have to be left empty with a bottom paddle raised, which is a right pain when you're going down hill.  It means each lock has to be filled.  Even so, we got to Berkhamsted in good time, having seen the local CRT man at a couple of the locks.  At Northchurch he was fishing out weed, and also managed to scoop up a crayfish; at the same lock, Adrian saw a little mouse, which apparently lives in a crack in the brickwork.

At Berkhamsted we started meeting boats coming up.  The town was looking very nice in the sunshine, with its signature totem pole, and then three pubs very close together.  We particularly liked the look of The Boat, with colourful hanging baskets along the patio.

We stopped for lunch after the top Bourne End Lock.  We'd put the bread machine on before we left, so we had a nice fresh loaf.

After lunch, the locks kept coming.  They're not really in flights as such, but they're not far apart either, so it's not really worth getting back on board.  I reckon I must have walked at least five of the seven miles we travelled today.

At Winkwell, we passed the Three Horseshoes pub with a very busy garden, and then swung the electric bridge out of the way, stopping about four cars in the process.

There's a boat yard at the next lock, and Adrian was amused to see that a lorry with a widebeam loaded on the back was having trouble leaving the yard.  It didn't seem to be able to get round the corner, and there was much reversing and trying again.  You'd think that by that stage in the process the difficult bit would be over, but apparently not.

Below the lock, the river comes into the canal quite strongly from the right hand side, pushing the boat all over the place.  Adrian steered us through without incident, but a boat going into the lock was shoved right into the wall.

We'd been planning to stop in the Winkwell area, but the best moorings turned out to be before the swing bridge, and we didn't really fancy the look of places further on.  So we did a couple more locks, and eventually chose a nice spot immediately above Boxmoor Bottom Lock in Hemel Hempstead.  There's parkland on the towpath side, while across the canal is a cricket pitch, with a match taking place.  I wondered who had time to play cricket on a weekday, but it turns out it's the local club's cricket week, so there are special events each day.

It's felt like a bit of a slog at times today, but with eighteen locks under our belts that's not really surprising.  The upside is that the weather has been far better than forecast, and that tomorrow looks good too.

7 miles, 18 locks.  (52 miles, 75 locks)

Tuesday 5 August 2014

London-bound: Day 5

We had a very quiet night in Aylesbury Basin, until 7 this morning when there were foreign voices very close to the boat.  Adrian stuck his head out the side hatch to find several Chinese people in wheelchairs.  They said they were taking photos, but Adrian told them it was a private area, and we were still trying to sleep.  The finger moorings are actually gated, but the lock wasn't being used.  It seems the hotel alongside the basin is used by people going to events at Stoke Mandeville hospital, which is nearby.

Once the work had started on the building site, we moved across the basin to one of the many water points, filled the tank, started a wash load, and had breakfast.  We set of back up the arm at 8.30.  Once we were rising in the first lock, Adrian went to the adjacent Tesco for some hayfever tablets; I finished off the lock, and started the next one.  We were soon passing the Aylesbury Canal Society's new basin at Circus Fields.  This is another mooring option on the arm -- they let visitors stay for a couple of weeks for nothing.  Apparently we were spotted passing, as we had a comment from Tony from Holderness (whose blog is on the list) saying he'd seen us.  It seems he was about to pay us a visit, so it's unfortunate that we missed out on that.

At the Aylesbury end of the arm, the locks are relatively few, but the bridges are many.  The sound of cars hooting as they approach, without showing any sign of slowing down, becomes quite familiar.  Many have clearly been hit on a regular basis. And it's not surprising that some need holding together.

Lock 12 is the one which had a wall collapse last year.  The new brickwork has the date set into it.

Most of the locks on the arm need to be left empty, which seems quite good going up, except that you then have to go back to raise a bottom paddle.  We passed a total of three boats today, which helped a bit.

We stopped for lunch in a lovely spot between locks 5 and 4.  The Hudson boat we met the other day had overnighted here, and we could see why: nice views across farmland, not near any roads, and very quiet.

Lock 4, Black Jack's Lock, has a house alongside with a beautiful garden, complete with a stream which runs under the canal.

The staircase pair at the top of the arm takes quite a while, as there's only one paddle working at the very top, and there is only one paddle between the two locks.  While we rose, I looked over the fence to find that quite a lot of bricks had been laid since yesterday on the new housing development.  They're using white bricks, which doesn't seem very Marsworth to me!

From the junction, we went straight into the seven Marsworth locks up to the summit.  At the first lock there's a cafe (which always looks closed from the canal side, but is actually usually open) and Adrian went to get a couple of little tubs of ice cream to help us on our way.  

The flight took an hour and a half -- pretty good going, particularly as people coming down seemed to be doing their best to delay us.  At one lock, a day boat was in the lock, with adults working the paddles and three teenage boys doing the steering.  They had the boat pole across-ways, and their method of steering was to use the pole against the lock walls.  When they tried to get out of one gate with the pole still across the boat, I suggested that the pole would be better on the roof and left there.  Anyway, we were at the top in reasonable time, and without it seeming like hard work.

We considered stopping at Bulbourne, and there were plenty of spaces available with a decent outlook and mooring rings.  But it was only 3.15pm so we decided to head along the summit pound, past the former BW Bulbourne workshops, which are now used by metal workers creating works of art.

It came over very dark while we were in the Tring cutting, and it even tried to rain.  It's not nearly as deep as some of the cuttings on the Shroppie, but it's still rather atmospheric.

We moored up at just gone 4pm, a little way before Cowroast marina.  The Virgin trains are just beyond the towpath hedge, and we can hear the main road between Aylesbury and Berkhamsted -- and we've had to use mooring stakes.  But it's a nice enough spot.  The towpath is also on the other side, so we washed the dirty side of the boat, which now looks a whole lot better.

With 23 locks done today, our lock count for this trip has now exceeded our miles total -- and is likely to stay that way for a while yet as we begin our descent towards London tomorrow.

10 miles, 23 locks.  (45 miles, 57 locks)

Monday 4 August 2014

London-bound: Day 4

Although we are still generally London-bound, today we've actually got further away -- by taking a detour down the Aylesbury Arm.  We tried to do this stretch of water on two previous occasions, and both times it's been closed.  So it was third time lucky.

We set off at just before 8am, making our way along to the junction -- again wondering why most of the visitor moorings were empty.  Work is progressing on the development at the junction, with the new houses having steel frames.

The top two locks are a staircase, and it's just as well we knew what we were doing, as the instruction sign is behind the development fence, with just the CRT logo sticking over the top.  Lock 2 has a new balance beam, fitted just a few days ago -- in fact, at one stage I feared that stoppage would scupper for a third time our chances of doing the arm

At first the locks come thick and fast, with the first nine in about a mile.  They're narrow locks, which should make things easier, but in fact these aren't as easy as some.  The bottom gates are mitres, but the way to cross them is on top of the gates, rather than with a projecting walkway, so it's really not possible to step across when one gate is open and the other closed.  The depth of most meant that once the lock was empty, I could walk across the roof of the boat to open the second gate.  Also, most of the locks have to be left empty, so we usually had to close a bottom paddle and fill the lock before we could use it.  There was quite a lot of water coming down, too, often cascading over the top gates.  However, it's a very pretty run down the hill into the vale.

I worked the first nine locks, then Adrian did the next four, which are in two pairs.  Lock 12 is the one which collapsed recently and had to ave one wall rebuilt.  It's next to the vast new Arla dairy.

After Lock 13 is a stretch of a couple of miles without a lock.  Again, the countryside is very attractive, the channel is narrow and lined with reeds, and the bridges seem impossibly small, partly because the offside is frequently rather overgrown.  At one bridge, two horses appeared to enjoy watching the boats, one on one side of the bridge, and the other facing the opposite way -- like a classic push-me-pull-you.

A couple of locks from the end of the arm, we passed the new basin when the Aylesbury Canal Society is based.  They used to be in the basin in town, but moved and have brand new facilities at Circus Field instead.  Houses are being built alongside.

We carried on down the final two locks into the basin at the end of the arm.  A lot of work has been done here, with a new Waitrose and Travelodge having been built, and the Waterside Theatre a major new landmark.  There's more work being carried out now, with a new educational centre currently at the below-ground level.  Some new finger pontoons have been installed, and Adrian did a great spin and reverse into one of the gaps.

It was almost 1pm, so we went and had a very nice lunch at the cafe in the theatre, then walked around the town centre (everything you could need, but not very inspiring), before returning via Waitrose.  It really is just steps to get back to the boat.

This afternoon, Adrian went to Costa just over the road to make use of their wifi, with only limited success.  I washed the roof of the boat, which has looked like a disgrace so far this trip.  Before we left the marina, the neighbouring field was harvested, meaning the whole boat was covered in baked on dust.  We then both washed the pontoon side, which looks a whole lot better.  We'll do the other side later in the week.

All in all, the Aylesbury Arm is a worthwhile detour.  It's very pretty, and Aylesbury itself is beginning to make the most of the basin.  There's been some noise from the building work this afternoon, but the workers all knocked off at 5pm.  Tomorrow, we retrace our steps back up the hill.

7 miles, 16 locks.  (35 miles, 34 locks)