Monday 29 September 2014

Some stats

The three week trip we've just completed was of course only part of our summer cruise, thanks to the extra week we managed to grab in August in order to travel down to London.  Briar Rose then had three weeks at High Line Yachting on the Slough Arm, and we had the best part of a week at Paddington Basin before setting off again.

We left our home marina on 1 August, and returned on 28 September.  In that time, we covered 407 miles, and passed through 312 locks (which, by the way, doesn't include the open flood locks on the Wey).

We travelled on the following waterways:

  • Grand Union
  • GU Aylesbury Arm
  • GU Slough Arm
  • GU Paddington Arm
  • Regent's Canal
  • Hertford Union Canal
  • Lee Navigation
  • Stort Navigation
  • River Thames
  • River Wey and Godalming Navigations
Ignore the day marks; I've set it to show as few as possible.

This was a route with lots of dead ends.  We turned around in seven places:
  • Aylesbury
  • Slough
  • Paddington (twice)
  • Hertford
  • Bishop's Stortford
  • Godalming
  • Cliveden reach
I think it's also the first time we've done a trip involving four navigation authorities:
  • Canal and River Trust
  • Port of London
  • Environment Agency
  • National Trust

Sunday 28 September 2014

Home Counties Cruise: Day 23

Another fine and warm day to finish our holiday.  We set off at about 8.15; I walked up to the lock while Adrian brought the boat along.  Stoke Hammond lock is another that has signs asking that it be left empty; a Wyvern boat had not long come up, and had ignored the signs, leaving the lock full.  The neighbouring cottage may not have been pleased, but it meant I had only to top up the lock.  This lock is also one of those with a twin arch bridge, from the days when there used to be a narrow lock alongside -- long since filled in, unfortunately.

From Stoke Hammond there's a long run to the next lock at Fenny Stratford.  We normally seem to meet a boat here, and today was no exception.  Adrian went and swung the bridge, and a Wyvern boat came up, as the lock was in their favour.  It's only a foot anyway.

Then begins the long pound right through Milton Keynes.  We soon passed the widebeam hotel boat, Tranquil Rose, which we saw a couple of weeks ago at Papercourt Lock on the River Wey.  Then a bit further on I noticed an approaching boat with someone apparently taking our photo; it was Sharon and Clinton on Tacet.  We had a brief chat as we passed, and hope we have indeed given them some ideas of places to go on their boat.

As we went through Campbell Park I was on the look out for Free Spirit, but knew that if the boat wasn't there it would be a bit further on.  Sure enough, after Giffard Park I spotted a boat ahead that looked a bit familiar.  As we approached the first winding hole at Linford the boat pulled over and we were waved past.  Then Irene recognised us, and we had a very quick chat, as she was about to wind.  Hope we didn't disrupt the manoeuvre!

We made a brief stop just before Bridge 74, and took the used oil from the last oil change to the tip just down from the bridge.  The whole exercise took no more than 15 or 20 minutes -- it seems easier to go by boat than by car.

The pause meant a boat from our marina that we'd been following, on tickover, had a bit of a chance to get ahead.  We caught up with them again at Cosgrove Lock, where they'd kindly waited as they'd seen us coming.  We got back to Thrupp Wharf a bit before 2.30, and were soon reversed onto our pontoon, secure, and ready to go.  Adrian had spent much of the long lockless sections sorting things out, so packing didn't take long.  By a little after 3pm we were in the car and heading for home.  The journey turned out to be very quick and easy.

15 miles, 3 locks.  (279 miles, 210 locks)

Saturday 27 September 2014

Home Counties Cruise: Day 22

It's been one of those days where things seem to have taken much longer than they should.  We set off at 8am, and as we looked back to the lock just behind us we could see a hot air balloon.

At the two Ivinghoe locks, we had to fill the first one, but two boats were just approaching the second, so they came up first.  I walked on to Horton Lock, which was also empty and with wet walls; it appeared someone was in front of us.  We waited for a boat setting off from the moorings above the lock, after the couple on board quickly finished their breakfast.  I walked to Slapton Lock, and saw a widebeam just leaving the lock.  We shared this lock too, then our companions said they'd probably stop for a cup of tea before the next lock.

All the pounds were well down.  As we passed boats below Slapton Lock each of us was in danger of running aground not far off the middle of the canal.  We both tipped over somewhat.  When we reached Church Lock, the lock was set with gates open, but the widebeam hadn't yet entered.  Adrian helped him down, then waited for a boat approaching from below.  The water was low in this pound too, and they got a bit stuck trying to pass the widebeam.  Once they were in the lock, a Wyvern hire boat appeared to be setting off from the moorings, so we waited for them too.  They were sat on the bottom, so getting away from the edge was a challenge; it turned out that getting in the lock was also a challenge, but for different reasons.  By the time we actually got into the lock, we must have been there for at least forty minutes.  At least the surroundings are attractive.

At Grove Lock a boat with dozens of Scouts on board was coming up.  The boys all ignored the instructions from their leaders not to get on the roof or the gunwales.  It didn't look very safe to us.

We stopped at the shopping moorings in Leighton Buzzard, mostly to get some battery top up water from Homebase.  We had lunch while we were there.  Setting off again, Leighton lock proved to be another challenge.  A boat was coming up, but couldn't get the lock to fill because the bottom gates wouldn't close properly, probably because of something on the cill.  We tried all sorts of things to shift whatever it was.  Two further boats arrived at the bottom, one carrying the unpleasant boater of the day.  Eventually, possibly thanks to a grappling hook from the other newly arrived boat, the gate appeared to close properly, and everyone was on the move.

Just after Old Linslade, we saw Gary with the fuel boat, Ascot and its butty, Beverley, moored up so we went alongside to fill with diesel.  With three boats across the canal, it's just as well no more boats came by.  We put in 110 litres; we've worked out that our fuel consumption since filling at Bull's Bridge has been 1.13 litres an hour -- which is pretty good, considering we've done so much river work this trip.

As we got to the Souldbury three locks a widebeam had just come up.  There was a boat coming up the middle lock so we swapped with them, and the bottom lock was also full.  The pub garden was full of walkers we'd been seeing all day.  They'd walked to Grove Lock and back for a brain tumour charity.

By now the sun had come out and it was really warm again.  We moored up at Stoke Hammond, another of our favourite spots in this area.

10 miles, 10 locks. (264 miles, 207 locks)

Friday 26 September 2014

Home Counties Cruise: Day 21

Yesterday there were a couple of signs that we were getting closer to home: our first sight of the West Coast Mainline, and passing a Wyvern Shipping hire boat out of Leighton Buzzard.  Today we really feel as though the end is in sight, as we're back on waters we've done in this direction.

Last night we decided to eat out in Berkhamsted.  We had a voucher for Cafe Rouge, so went there.  It was fine, in unremarkable.  This morning we set off at 8am; the water level in the pound had dropped by a good six inches or so, and the stern was well stuck on the mud, so took a bit of shoving to get away from the side.  There were seven more locks up to the Tring Summit.  Between the two Dudswell Locks, the pound was very short of water, and the CRT lenghsman and his trainee were about to run water down.  It meant we had a wait of twenty minutes or so at Cowroast Lock while water was sent down the hill.  We used the time to start a load of washing.

Cowroast Lock is one of the many in this area which have signs asking that they are left empty; but it seems some people arriving from the north have failed to notice the raised paddle, because there's now another sign on the balance beam.

Having gone up Cowroast Lock we were on the Tring Summit.  We've climbed just over 374 feet since coming off the Thames at Brentford on Monday.  The weather celebrated by starting to drizzle, then there was proper rain for a little while, but it didn't last long.  At the other end of the summit pound, we began dropping down the other side of the Chilterns.  Adrian worked the seven locks of the Marsworth Flight.  The first and second locks were empty, so he had to fill them, then we met a couple of boats coming up so the locks were full or just needed topping up.  The bottom lock was empty.  Even so, we completed the flight in around an hour; these always seem like fast locks.  They're also very pretty, with glimpses of views across the reservoirs.

We stopped for lunch opposite the junction of the Aylesbury Arm, right next to the junction finger post which pointed out that it's 39 and a quarter miles to Brentford.

Work on the development at the junction has advanced since August, with the frames of houses now up along the waterside.

We set off again, and did the two locks below the junction, crossing with a boat in the middle pound.  Adrian realised he'd never done the Pitstone Swing Bridge, so got off to swing it.  A Wyvern boat was coming the other way, so they went through too.

We then did the three Seabrook Locks.  At the middle one, there's one of the Northern Engine pump houses, which Adrian always thinks would make a good conversion into a house.  There's no road access, of course, which could be why it hasn't been done already.

We stopped at 3pm below the bottom Seabrook Lock -- having dropped almost 77 feet from the summit.  It's just a couple of hundred yards from where we stopped, almost in desperation, three years ago; they've installed a nice bit of piling since then, so mooring is much easier.

9 miles, 19 locks.  (254 miles, 197 locks)

Thursday 25 September 2014

Home Counties Cruise: Day 20

It was chilly this morning, probably the coldest start we've had.  Adrian even gave in and put jeans rather than shorts on, although he swapped back again later in the day.  It was a bit misty, but sunny.

We were away by 8am, soon passing under the M25 link road, and then the M25 proper.  Although we've done this section twice, both times have been in the opposite direction -- and you see different thing when you're going the other way, like the dinosaur at King's Langley, which is hidden by bushes when you're travelling south.

At Nash Mills, they've done quite a lot of work on the latest stage of the housing development since we passed in August.  Then there was no more on the waterside than a few concrete columns.

There are lots of locks along this stretch, but at least quite a few are grouped together, with two or three at a time.  We worked a few of these mini flights each.  We stopped at the water point at Apsley and filled the tank to the brim.  Boxmore Lock was where we stopped on the way down in August.  There are views of the different ages of Hemel Hemptead, as demonstrated by its buildings.

At Fishery Lock, a boat was preparing to come down;  Adrian had just made lunch, and we had time to eat it while we waited.  At Winkwell Swing Bridge, I pressed the buttons, but held up only one car.

At Top Side Lock there's a rennovated lock cottage, which has a very nice extension which they were building when we came this way three years ago.  There's a glass linking section to separate the new and the old.

At the same lock, we saw a squirrel doing a high level run along a telephone wire, then sit at the top of the pole.  Then another followed.

We did the three more locks up into Berkhamstead, and moored in the pound by Waitrose.  We've done 23 locks today which have raised us just over 146 feet.  And there are still 7 locks before we reach the summit.

10 miles, 23 locks.  (245 miles, 178 locks)

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Home Counties Cruise: Day 19

 There was rain in the night, and just as we were thinking of getting going this morning there was another downpour.  However, fifteen minutes later it had stopped, and we set off at just after 8am.  It was still a bit misty and drizzly.

The first few locks were done in similar conditions.  Then it began to rain a bit more, and I even put my waterproof on for about half an hour.  Then we swapped with a boat at Springwell Lock, and the lady on board said it was supposed to have stopped raining by now;  within a couple of minutes it had stopped, and the sun came out.

Below Stocker's Lock I was looking out for one of the coal tax obelisks, marking the point twenty miles from central London where coal tax became due.  I'd spotted one on the Slough Arm a few weeks ago, but completely forgot to look for the ones on the Lee and the Thames.  I spotted this one, but it's not surprising I've not seen it before -- it's halfway down a long stretch of permanent moorings, hiden by a boat.  If you weren't looking for it, you wouldn't see it.

We stopped at the Tesco moorings in Rickmansworth for a quick shop, and got a wash load going at the same time.  Groups of children were being shown how locks work as we went up Batchworth Lock.  Lot Mead Lock took an age to fill, as both gate paddles are out of action.  Fortunately, it's a pretty place to wait.

Below Common Moor Lock the towpath is being improved, and the same workmen are putting in a new path on the offside, to serve the permanent moorers there.  We had to wait a long time for the lock as they were taking up a wide flat, to be filled with the aggregate that forms the base of the path. Once it was up it had to be bow hauled out; we had lunch while we waited.

The locks in Casiobury Park are all very pleasant -- even more so as it was now quite warm in the sunshine.

Just before we stopped for the day we passed a boat with a butty moored alongside, carrying a very nice store of wood.  The rest of the butty appears to be home to several birds of prey, and something of a greenhouse.

It was only about 3.15, but we'd reached our target for the day, Grove Ornamental Bridge.  We discussed carrying on, but neither of us could remember what potential moorings were ahead -- and thought we might end up having to do a lot more locks.  And as it was a day where most things seemed to have taken a long time, we decided to stop.  There was no space opposite the water mill, but we chose a spot just though the bridge.  In a field on one side a group were being put through an inflatable assault course; it appears the Grove Hotel and golf club offers a whole range of team building activities, of which this is one.

10 miles, 12 locks.  (235 miles, 155 locks)

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Home Counties Cruise: Day 18

We decided to eat out last night, and after considering some options ended up at The Weir, a gastropub overlooking a section of the River Brent.  It was pretty good.  Opposite, a former magistrates court has been converted into flats starting at nearly half a million pounds, and houses at almost one a half million pounds.

This morning we were up reasonably early, and set off at 8am.  The sun was shining, but it was pretty chilly to begin with.  The old warehouses which overhang the canal have been given some attractive cladding -- although other parts remain rather derelict-looking.

There are two individal locks beginning the climb up to the Tring Summit, and we also passed under the railway, the A4, the Piccadilly Line, and the M4.  One of the big office buildings has a series of knot sculptures along the canalside.

Before the start of the Hanwell flight, there's a prize winning length of piling.

When we reached the bottom of the flight, we had to turn the bottom lock.  But a couple of CRT guys had brought a boat down, and helped with the second lock.  It also meant all the other locks were in our favour.  All along this stretch had been notices about the missing girl, Alice Gross; at the second lock there were lots of police, and a film crew.  We saw two further crews walking down the flight as we went up.

The Hanwell Flight is really very attractive.  The water was so clear you could see all the rubbish on the bottom, but in general it's leafy and green, with plenty of people making use of the towpath.  Next to the locks are Ealing Hospital, which appears to have a very secure unit; and the former Hanwell Asylum.

At the top of the six locks in the 'thick' of the flight is Three Bridges.  Here the canal crosses a railway line, at the same time as a road crosses the canal.  It's not easy to get to photo of all three levels!

There are two more locks, and at the top one we found two CRT volunteers who helped us through.  We stopped at the water point at the top, and filled the tank and started a wash load.  Then it was continued along the long pound past Bull's Bridge Junction.  This stretch of canal is mostly through suburban areas, with lots of back gardens; it's disappointingly rubbish-strewn.  Bull's Bridge Junction looks completely different from this direction; as we passed the junction bridge we crossed onto waters we'd travelled before, and completed the Grand Union: over the years, and on Debdale and Briar Rose, we'd now covered the whole of the GU main line and its arms.

At the Nestle factory there was a very strong smell of coffee; it seems they make Nescafe there.  We had lunch on the go, then arrived at Cowley Lock, where another volunteer was on duty; his usual colleague had gone home as he had a new washing machine being delivered.  We did two more locks, Uxbridge and Denham Deep, then moored up alongside Denham Country Park.

12 miles, 13 locks.  (225 miles, 143 locks)

Monday 22 September 2014

Home Counties Cruise: Day 17

With a very relaxed agenda for the day, we were in no rush to get going this morning.  We started a wash load before setting off, and pulled away from the deserted Hampton Court moorings at 9.15am.  At Thames Ditton Island, someone was moving house.  The removal van was parked on the opposite side of the river, and the guys were going back and forth in a boat loaded with household goods.

We stopped on the John Lewis moorings at Kingston, just managing to tuck in behind someone else.  This time we knew where Waitrose was, so there was no head scratching or frustrated wandering.  Having done a top up shop, we set off again, quickly arriving at Teddington Lock, where we had virtually the entire length of moorings to choose from.  I went to see the lock keeper to confirm the tide of our departure on the tidal Thames down to Brentford.  High water was at 1450, so he suggested we leave half an hour before.  While we waited, we both did some work, we had lunch, and then I walked down past the lock to find the obelisk which marks the river boundary between the Port of London and the Thames Conservancy (now the Environment Agency).  It could do with someone having a go at it with some weed killer.

Our departure from Teddington was a little later than planned as a couple of boats came up the lock.  The drop down was only about a foot and a half, and for the first part of the trip, around high water, there was no discernable flow in either direction.

We passed Eel Pie Island and Ham House, while the Star and Garter Home for Disable Servicemen is prominent on the hill ahead.

The conditions were ideal -- sunny, warm, and with very little wind.  Richmond was fairly busy on the waterside, as we passed under Richmond Bridge.

The Richmond half tide barrier was up, so we could go avoid having to use the lock alongside.

Soon the office blocks of Brentford came into view in the distance.  Then it was a matter of looking out for the entrance to the Grand Union Canal at Brentford.  Fortunately we knew what we were looking for -- a big silver sculpture.  It's just as well it's big, because the CRT sign isn't.

The turn in was a lot easier than I expected.  I'd thought the tide might take up sideways as we turned, but in fact there wasn't too much effect at all.  We were now on new waters again, as we've never done the GU between Brentford and Bull's Bridge.  The lock keeper at Thames Lock was waiting for us.

The rise at Thames Lock took us by surprise.  We must have gone up at least three inches, possibly four.  The next section is fairly twisty, and lined with large boats and houseboats.  Soon we arrived at the Gauging Locks.  A big black widebeam was already on the lock landing and took one lock, while Adrian went and pressed the buttons for the lock alongside.  Above the lock the visitor moorings were full, with quite a few boats breasted up.  So we moored alongside another boat.  Fortunately the side doors are on the outside, so we have a view.

Tomorrow we start heading up the Grand Union bound for base.

10 miles, 3 locks.  (213 miles, 130 locks)

Sunday 21 September 2014

Home Counties Cruise: Day 16

It was very sunny this morning, and has been most of the day -- although there's been a stiff breeze which has made it feel quite chilly at times.  We set off from Runnymede at around 9.15, turning round so were were heading south again.  The first couple of locks were staffed, but Chertsey Lock was on self service.  Below Shepperton lock we opted not to take the more direct route of the Desborough Cut, and instead follow the longer, natural channel of the river.  It's rather nice round there, with some parkside moorings and a sailing club.

We stopped for lunch at Walton on Thames, having done a u-turn in the river to moor upstream.  It proved to be a good place for plane spotting, including one of BA's new Boeing 787s.

We've seen every shape and size of boat today.  On the approach to Sunbury Lock we saw The Love Shack, which is a houseboat which actually seems to move.  We then shared with a lovely little wooden boat, which in spite of appearances is only about twenty years old.

When we got to our intended destination, Hampton Court, the moorings looked fairly busy, so we tucked into the very first space -- this time facing downstream so the side doors are on the water side.  The rings are poorly spaced, so we've had to be quite inventive with ropes at the stern.  It's important to be secure here particularly, as there are dozens of trip boats, and they go past fast.  We walked across the bridge to Hampton for a walk up the busy little shopping street, and looked back at the moorings.

The steps up from the moorings are a bit odd.  It's actually a slope, but a few stones have been laid flat to form steps.

We then had a walk round Hampton Court Palace -- but decling to pay more than £18 each to go in, stuck to the publicly accessible bits.

In the open part of the grounds, there were parakeets in the trees, and a squirrel posed for photos.

Returning to the boat, we found that we were pretty much on our own.  Obviously all the people who were out for the weekend have headed back to their moorings.

14 miles, 6 locks.  (203 miles, 127 locks)