Tag Archives: Grand Union Canal

Apsley to Droitwich: Day 4

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Heading out at last on Day 4.

You know the routine by now….all the engine checks etc., and off we go. Except this morning, in the mist when we went to push-off, we were going nowhere. Stuck in the reeds on a shallow bank. Didn’t matter how much power I gave to the prop, forwards or reverse, we didn’t move.

The Cut is just that, land cut into a trough a few centuries ago with a deeper middle and shallower sides. Like a giant, wide V shape. The bottom is mostly very soft silt, dredged infrequently and sporadically, building up at the sides as props churn up the silt, pushing it outwards. Eventually, even the middle silt builds until you have a quagmire of thick, silt soup. Very often, the bottom of my boat drags along silt, pushed through by the prop. If you look behind as you go, clouds of silt bubble up to the surface as you go.

Stuck, but drifting ever closer to that big patch of reeds behind us, Deb has the solution. She’s the old salt on this voyage. “Right,” she announces when all other methods have failed to release us, ” Everyone to the Port side.” Deb and Bestie move along the Port (left) side gunwales and I helm, standing as far left as possible. Deb orders, “Right, now rock the boat and ease the engine forward.” I start singing (quietly) the tune ‘Rock the Boat’ by the Hues Corporation as the craft gently eases out to the middle and off we go….5:40am. Must make up some time.

First stop, a rubbish bin just past one of the Fosse locks, first of the day. Just off to the left is a mysterious looking boat that looks rather sinister. Pirates? Then, just before the bridge, two figures that aren’t exactly pirates loom ominously by the way. On we go. Through Royal Leamington Spa.

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First locks of the day – the Fosse Locks. Candle-shaped lock releases.

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My best friend disposing of the rubbish.

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The mysterious boat

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Strange creatures by the bridge. What did he say?

The city of Leamington Spa was given its Royal status by Queen Victoria for the popularity of the salt spa which is no longer there. The baths are now an art gallery and museum. Leamington became a retirement location. The canal runs through the south of the town and on to next door Warwick. I was disappointed in the lack of development along the canal. So much more could be done. It’s as if there were no canal at all, just a rubbish pit. That part has been cleaned up, but the potential for canalside recreation and business does not seem to have been a priority. It doesn’t appear to be visible at all.

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Royal Leamington Spa

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More Royal Leamington Spa. Garden by the Canal.

Moving on along the canal, we finally reach the Hatton flight of locks, a challenge and a wonder to behold. Fortunately, Deb’s husband Tony joined us to help get us through these 2 miles of 21 locks in a row, which rise (we were going up) 148 feet (45 metres). The locks were widened in the 1930s to accommodate wide working boats or 2 narrowboats. The locks were dubbed ‘The Stairway to Heaven’ by those who worked on the them because by the time they got to the top, their pay awaited just a little further along the canal.

So….up we went, one lock at a time. It was a hot day by now. Half way up the locks we were joined by a family on their boat who had moored along one of the water compounds between the locks. It had been late in the day when they began up the flight and they decided to moor and finish the next day. Lots to see and do on the way up and down….pubs, parks, children’s’ playgrounds, picnic areas, tourist information, cafes and a CRT (Canal and River Trust) hut where Tony stopped on his bike to give the volunteer workers a piece of his mind.

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Beginning of the Hatton Flight of Locks. 21 locks rising 148 feet.

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Moving up the Hatton Flight.

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Looking back at the Hatton Flight. Still some to go.

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Tied to another boat half way up the Hatton Flight.

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Tony giving CRT crew a grilling at the Hatton Flight.

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Nearing the top of the Hatton Flight with a park on the left. Plenty of Gongoozlers (narrowboat watchers).

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One last look back from the top of the Hatton Flight. 21 locks and 148 feet later.

The CRT run the canals, or are supposed to, and have failed to look after the system to make it better for boaters. They have left maintenance of old locks too late, not dredged nearly enough to make the Cut passable, failed to cut foliage and growth along the banks of the Cut, allowing overgrowth to virtually cut the Cut in two in many places. And…the whole organisation is basically mismanaged. They have tried to rebrand themselves and change personnel, but nothing changes. There are lots more gripes, but I have bored you enough.

Tony says if they spent more of their time and our money on the system, rather than on, as he says, voles, moles, water fowl and fish, leaving them to interest groups (there are many), we might have a viable network of usable canals after all. The CRT workers listened politely and even agreed with Tony on many points (Tony does his homework), but said they were powerless to effect change. The 2 bullies at the top of the chain see to that. Their solution? Raise our license fees x4 (already nearly £1000 annually) to get the work done.

OK, now that’s enough of that. Back to the Hatton Flight. The family who joined us half way up the flight, consisted of a man, a woman and their daughter, a precocious 10-year-old who loved to jump all over the place. The husband worked the locks (thus freeing Tony to pontificate) and the wife steered the boat. I tried to get her to follow me closely into the next lock, but she she was too busy trying to control her craft and keep her daughter in check.

We did the next best thing. We tied the front and back of the boats together and I drove both of us from lock to lock. Hard on my engine, but better than the alternative. Up we went until finally we reached heaven. And lovely it was too, to be free again. The engine thanked me for cutting us loose and off we went.

Tony went home. We left him still having his say. More beautiful countryside and then another 90 degree turn on to the Stratford-Upon-Avon Canal. But it was tricky because there was another boat in front of us, taking its time on the turn and then mooring up just under the bridge at the entrance to this arm of the canal.

By now we were extremely tired but decided to push on and do the Lapworth Flight of locks….all single locks and my first. Another climb to the top, 16 locks and then we would push on for another hour. We had earlier decided to moor up before the Lapworth Flight, but Tony called and said we had better continue. He joined us again and off we went, a climb of over 100 feet. Because of the time of day, we were nearly the only boat on the system, everyone else having the good sense to moor up for the night.

We were nearly to the top when another boat approached, coming down the flight. Four men were on board, apparently on their annual boys trip they had been taking for years together. They seemed to be in a bit of a flap. Tony asks, “You’re late coming on the this flight. Where’re you off to?” “We were at the top and heard they found a body in the canal ahead and the police shut down the system” said one of the crew, “so we’re going back down and taking the canal through Birmingham. We have to get this rental boat back.”

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The narrow single locks on the Lapworth Flight of Locks on the Stratford Canal.

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Looking up the Lapworth Flight.

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Looking back on the Lapworth Flight.

Shock. A dead body in the canal? It could take days for the police to sort it out. What to do? Go back too? What if it was open tomorrow? We decided to moor up after the top lock and wait the night. Lovely spot that was known as the Lily Pad. Tony took Deb home for the night so she could have a proper shower and see her children (3 Springer Spaniels). They would return late morning the next day after assessing the situation ahead.

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Another look back on the Lapworth Flight. Nearly at the top.

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Last lock of the day on Lapworth Flight Locks.

Reprieve! We could sleep in. Tony and Deb headed off. Me and my best friend walked back down the lock flight on the towpath to a pub we had heard about to have a meal. It was Saturday evening and a big screen TV in the alfresco setting was showing the FA Cup football (soccer) match between Manchester United and Chelsea FC. It had also been the day Prince Harry and Meghan were married. Big day and all we could think of was food (not really that unusual for me).

Back to the boat after the meal and 2 pints, some down-time and sleep, a nice long one. It was nearly 11am when Tony brought Deb back. No info on whether the canal ahead was open and what had actually happened, except that it was a woman’s body they found. Poor thing. We decided to go ahead. This was supposed to be the last day push to Droitwich Spa Marina. Day 5. The delay was unavoidable. We only hoped the way ahead was clear.

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Moored for the night above the Lapworth Flight.

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Why it’s called the Lily Pad Pond.

 

 

 

 

Apsley to Droitwich: Day 1

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Das Boat ready to leave the lock.

And so it began. 5am on Wednesday on a rather cool day in May. We headed out of Apsley Marina, our home for 3 years, and headed north to our new home at Droitwich Spa Marina, near Worcester. A new chapter in our lives. A change of scenery and a challenge to get there. The trip ought to take 11 days. We did it in 5. Madness.

It would not have been possible without the help of our boating friends Deb and Tony. Deb travelled with us the whole way. Tony joined us when we did flights of locks where 20 or more in a row were involved. The plan was to travel 12-14 hour days, moor up, eat, sleep, get up and go. And so long as the boat held together and the engine didn’t  seize or blow up, we would reach Droitwich within 5 days.

The plan for Day 1 was to get to Leighton Buzzard (nothing to do with the winged foul) . And to start us off, there was our good friend and boat neighbour, Eddie, emerging from his boat at 5am to see us off. It was Eddie who greeted us and helped us moor up when we arrived at Apsley Marina 3 years before.

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On our way to Droitwich. Deb and Best Friend pushing the heavy gate open.

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Lock and bridge at Cowroast (not a BBQ).

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Cowroast info board.

Eddie was still in his PJs, not unusual. “Couldn’t sleep,” he said. “Been up since 3am. Thought I’d come and say goodbye.” So, we untied and Eddie opened the lift gate bridge at the entrance of the marina and out I cruised, turning right with the first lock of the day just ahead. Eddie helped with that one too….still in his PJs and bare feet. As I cruised out of the lock, we said our goodbyes, Eddie heading back to his boat in the marina and me heading north.

The route for most of the way on the first day was very familiar. We had travelled it a number of times over the last 2 years, helping other boaters from the marina move their boats to have the bottom blacked (to preserve the hull) or have a new paint job. Apsley has no facilities for such work. You have to go north to Winkwell (nothing to do with ink) or Cowroast (nothing to do with roasting cows) to get work done. My best friend and I usually helped with the locks. On one trip we had walked the entire 8 miles. We can walk more quickly than the boats can travel.

Through Hemel Hempstead, a place we had walked into a number of times to shop, through the swing bridge at Winkwell where you get to stop traffic as your boat passes through. And there’s that lovely pub on the right, the Three Horseshoes, just past the bridge. But, no stopping. On to Berkhamsted with 2 great pubs in a row, The Rising Sun and The Boat (couldn’t get any more obvious) and still no stop. Through Northchurch (can’t tell it from Berkhamsted) and on to Cowroast.

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Open countryside along the way on Day 1.

We finally get to Cowroast, past the marina and on to the Tring Summit, a beautifully wooded stretch of canal with no locks and no pubs until we get to the end of the summit at Tring. The place is actually known as Bulbourne and the pub is The Grand Junction Arms….not an appealing name, but the food is supposed to be good. No time for that. The Anglers Retreat comes next. Not quite canal side, but a short walk. No walking anywhere today.

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Through the heavily wooded Tring Summit.

Too many locks to negotiate, the Marsworth Locks, 6 in a row. We pass 2 branches coming off the Grand Union Canal, The Wendover Arm and the Aylesbury Arm, past another pub, the Red Lion, a stone’s throw from the canal. There are over 600 pubs in England named the Red Lion. You can’t miss them. Through more locks and a swing bridge, known as No. 125, which is an unusual configuration. You have to grab the end and push it along a track to open it.

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Image result for swing bridge 125 grand union canal

Then we come to the Brownlow canal side pub and Inn. It sails by. We pass the Ivinghoe (no knight here) Locks and on to Leighton Buzzard.

The Buzzard part of Leighton has nothing to do with the bird. It’s just a person’s name changed over time, from de Busar to Buzzard….logical, don’t you think? I don’t know how that works, but then I’m not a local. The town also has the dubious distinction of hosting The Great Train Robbery of 1963 just outside of Leighton Buzzard at Bridego Bridge.

And, of course, we pass another pub as we approach the town, The Grove Lock pub. Now it’s becoming a tease. Nothing really memorable as we go through Leighton Buzzard (given the second name to distinguish it from the next door Leighton Bromswold) except maybe a boat yard that offers holiday boats for those who think narrowboating is a jolly.

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Approaching a lock and one of those canal side pubs

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Sharing a lock with another boat. Not a newbie. Saves water.

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Approaching a lock on Day 1.

We ran across a few over the days who thought differently. There are experienced holiday boaters and newbies. The latter are the ones to look out for if we only knew who they were. I think newbies ought to have a marker or flag on the boat letting the rest of us know they are inexperienced. My best friend and I took a 2 full days course to get our helmsman’s licence. First-time renters are given a half hour if that and off they go. Scary thought.

I’m sure there is much to see and do in the Buzzard. I read they have a narrow gauge heritage railway. Being a lover of the old trains, I would want to see that. One day, I guess, when I’m not in a rush. Plus the fact that after being on the go since 5am and it was now nearly 7pm, I really couldn’t have given a %*&@ if the Queen had been canal side waving to us. Better still, someone who mattered to me like Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page.

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The 39th lock of the day.

We moored up just past the town after the Leighton Lock, a lovely countryside spot and not far from the Globe pub. We were too tired to walk there. We had travelled 20 miles, done 39 locks and completed the voyage 2 hours sooner than the trip book says it takes. We had a bite to eat and fell into bed. 5am comes early on the Cut.

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Best friend tying the boat to mooring pin. End of Day 1.

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View across the canal from where we moored at the end of Day 1.

On The Move

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The Tring Summit on the Grand Union Canal.

I got what I needed. My best friend was away for a few days and I had come out to shop for survival purposes. I tend to buy things I like the most and a couple of sweet things I ought not have. It’s the rebel in me. I also bought some fruit and salady bits to feel healthy. Time to return to the boat.

I thought no one would be on the puddlepath on the way back. And I was right for most of the way. Then, up ahead, I a saw an elderly gentleman slowly making his way toward me. He looked fed up. Bummed-out for the more erudite among you. As we passed, he looked at me, then down at my boots. His shoes were soaked and caked with mud. “Fucking rain. Should’a wore my wellies” was all he said and on he trudged. Typical English understatement.

 

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My best friend happy in her work at the locks.

I took photos with my trusty LG Mobile (Cell) phone to give you an idea about everything along the route. I could have taken pics every couple of minutes, there was so much to see. But my poor old phone kept telling me I had no more space. And if you know me, 1 photo of an object is never enough. Because I helmed (drove the boat) the whole way….spelled off occasionally by a good friend who came with us to help with locks….it was difficult to snap and steer.

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The rolling countryside around the canal.

So difficult, in fact, my best friend laid down the 2 second rule. You see, I have a bit of a focus issue. I am like a goldfish. I can concentrate on one thing at a time for a very short moment. If I am helming, all my energy and attention has to be on the driving. If a duck with a new batch of cute, fluffy little ducklings goes by, I watch them until the boat is ready to smash into the canal side. Hence, the 2 second rule. Ducklings for 2 seconds, drive. Lovely house with gardens by the canal, 2 seconds, drive. Inviting pub, drive. Remembering the rule is another thing. Swan with cygnets….best friend, “2 second rule!!!”, drive.

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The 2 second rule in play here. Duck on the ledge of an aquaduct.

When we passed a particularly lovely spot, the friend helping us offered to take the helm while I took photos. She was a great help the whole trip. She is an experienced boater and talked me through numerous tricky situations. “The boat has 3 gears,” she says, “Forward, neutral and reverse. Use them all in a pickle, but use them slowly. You can’t rush your way out of a difficult situation.” “Yes ma’am.” I tend to ram the thing into reverse , then ram it into forward when I sense trouble or become stuck on the bottom. That can be a tad scary on a 20 ton, 60 foot boat on a narrow canal.

Which reminds me. A little info is called for here. The canals do not have an endless supply of water. Apparently, and don’t take my recollections as gospel….my best friend doesn’t….the ground in this country doesn’t drain very well. Though we get our fair share of rain, most of it evaporates before it seeps into the ground. If we have a dry spell of only a week or 2, water reserves dry up and hose pipe bans are put in place.

The CRT (Canal and River Trust) tells us that canal water levels have been going down over the last years due to all kinds of reasons. More boats on the Cut, boaters leaving gate paddles open thus draining water pounds, old locks leaking too much and a lack of rain. They say that within 5 short years unless there is a concerted effort to reverse the trend, there won’t be enough water for travel. That would be disastrous for us boaters to say the least. 15,000 marooned boats.

But now to the brighter side. You could not have picked better weather in May for this move. The 1st day was a little chilly and overcast but stayed dry. Then the sun came out and the rest of the trip was glorious. The best of England spread before us. Some of the most breathtaking scenery anywhere on earth and at only 4 mph, it goes by slowly enough to allow us to appreciate it.

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Das Boat heading toward a lock. is there enough water in the pound? This time there was.

And now for the trip itself….each day’s journey with commentary and photos. 5 days of the best this country can offer. Come on along. You won’t be disappointed and you may even find yourself booking a holiday on a canal boat to see it all. But hurry, you never know when the well will dry up.

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At the helm on the cold 1st day. My best friend and Deb the helper in the background.

 

 

A Jolly with Jools

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A Jolly with Jools

My best friend and I, along with our boat neighbours Eddie and Mimz, are becoming excellent boat movers. We really do need to rent out our services to people wanting their narrowboats taken from one place to another. But, being the lazy sod that I am and chief procrastinator, I don’t think that’s going to happen. But the times we’ve done it recently are worth the whole experience.

On this occasion, we moved a friend’s boat because it was going to be painted. The name of the boat is Lyra, a 68 foot Titan Trad owned by one Julie, or Jools as her friends call her. She owns a tiny Spaniel named Nysa, but she doesn’t factor into the following equation until the very end of the trip. We had to take it up to a place called Bolbourne, just past the Tring Summit on the Grand Union Canal and back again. Up on the Wednesday and back the following Monday. So now, those are the boring facts of the case.

The trip usually takes about 10-12 hours. We did it, both ways in less than 7 hours each way. That’s because we were under the orders of Mr. Boat himself, Admiral Edward (Eddie) Starck. The man is lightning in a bottle….after the bottle breaks. And, to be fair, he had the best crew no money can buy. Not to mention we’re all handicapped in some capacity given our ages and other medical particulars not for public records….I’m old OK? My knees hurt. My back aches, my hands ache. I get headaches….and I’m the healthy one.

Nothing stops us when the promise of SADS awaits at the end of a long journey (Safe Arrival DrinkS) and I ain’t talkin’ tea or coffee here. We are a dedicated crew that stays with the job until it’s done. It’s as if we were a unified machine with Eddie as our engine. Not only are we motivated by the promise of a bevvy at the end of the day, but the promise of good exercise for those of us who need to drop a few pounds and inches. Plainly and simply, it’s good for us. Keeps the blood flowing and the sinews stretched.

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In the old lock at Bolbourne. The boat is painted and ready to go.

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Jools on the gunnel. Last minute checks before casting off. A-Team to the side.

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Water rising in the lock at Bolbourne. Nearly ready to go.

So, the crew is off, early mind you. Got to keep ahead of the late risers. Boaters are, by and large, a lazy bunch. Just look at the state of many of the boats along the cut. We did and were not impressed. Don’t know how some of them stay afloat. But our ship was sound and ready for a new paint job. The way up provided no drama. I rode in the front some of the way. Very calming. All alone, only the sound of water lapping against the sides of the boat. Eddie had wanted to do the locks but we elected him as driver. He had more experience and this 68 footer gave him all he could handle.

The girls walked all the way to Cowroast. Then they were picked up and driven to Bolbourne where they sat on a bench outside a pub drinking until we showed up, with the chap who was doing the painting. Took us another 50 minutes to get there by boat. 5 minutes in the car. At 4mph on the boat, we don’t get anywhere fast. But that is the point of boating after all. Leisurely does it….unless you’re with Eddie.

The way back, after the boat was painted a lovely blue was more eventful. Partly because Jules drove from Cowroast. None of us was impressed with the facilities at Bolbourne. An old Lock converted into a dry dock for working on boats. Electric cable tangling in the water, rotting wooden steps and gangplanks, old unused tools hanging about and the back-end of Jools’s boat not under cover. Not ideal. And filthy with it. But Eddie deftly backed us out and turned us around for the trip back.

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Leaving the old lock at Bolbourne. Good riddance.

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Admiral Eddie and Jools as we begin our journey from Bolbourne to Apsley.

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Bolbourne Ironworks with CRT (Canal & River Trust) equipment beside it on the Cut.

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Admiral Eddie at the helm instructing Jools on the Tring Summit.

Back to Jools. She took to steering her long boat with style. Problem is, every time the boat scraped against something she had a fit. But this boating. You get bumps and scrapes in the locks and along the banks of the canals and occasionally from other boaters. And you must have your wits about you every moment. Lose concentration even for a moment and the boat can veer off to one side or the other. Jools has a short attention span and a few times things went awry. Especially when another friend joined us further down the cut. The friend sat on the roof of the boat at the back with Jools. The two chatted away….well, you can imagine what happened next. A stiff warning from Admiral Eddie, “Pay attention Jools!” Not too much damage done thankfully.

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Jools at the helm. She’s steering in the rain….

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Jools steering her boat toward a lock. The gates are open. A-Team has done its work and moved on. B-Team awaits the boat to enter the lock….come on Jools.

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Jools in a lock ready to leave. B-Team has opened a gate for her.

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Admiral Eddie of B-Team heads down the Towpath toward the next lock.

So, we carried on. The A&B teams worked in a seamless harmony until a few locks from home. Jules was tired and making more errors of judgement so Admiral Eddie mercifully took over driving and Jools’s boat buddy took over with me on the B Team. Problem? She was working on a huge hangover from the night before and I had to keep waking her up as she leaned on an arm of the lock gate. “Don’t forget to lower the gate paddles” I’d say as she walked by them in a fog. “Oh yeah….thanks” she’d say and continue walking on by. It took a few goes, but they got closed.

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Moored at Berko (Berkhamsted) for lunch.

The highlight of the trip? Well, the high and the low wrapped into one. If you follow my Blogs, you may recall way back when that I wrote about Admiral Eddie when he was Photographer Eddie, searching for the elusive Kingfisher bird last year to get a photo. He never did. Then I wrote more recently that he spent over 2 hours on the back of our boat from 6am at Cassiobury Park. No Kingfisher. I had seen it 3 times. You see, they flit onto a branch and at the slightest movement, they’re off.

So, here we are on the Tring Summit, Admiral Eddie at the helm, heading to Cowroast where Jules would begin her driving apprenticeship, when up ahead, a Kingfisher flits out of the trees and lands on a branch hanging over the Cut. What to do? I had my camera handy but couldn’t get in focus thinking any second the little bugger would be gone. My best friend and Mimz scrambled for their iPhones and poor Photographer/Admiral Eddie had left his camera at home on his own boat.

We glided by the wee kingfisher in awe. It just sat there, on the branch, watching us go by. Eddie swore (and he did) that the little so-and-so wagged its tail feathers mockingly at us. Then it flitted off. We saw another one later but neither B Team Eddie nor yours truly had a camera then either. But, Eddie at least saw one at last. Beautiful plumage. Just have to see one when Photographer Eddie is around.

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The amazing, incomparable A-Team: My best friend on the left and Mimz on the right. Windlasses up! At the main lock at Berko.

 

The Crocodile, The Gorilla and the Swans: The Cut Part 1

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The Crocodile, The Gorilla and the Swans: The Cut Part 1

You think you’ve seen it all and then you travel the canals of Britain into the city of London. The trip on our 60 foot narrowboat was to end at Limehouse Marina right beside the Thames in East London. We gave ourselves 2 weeks. 2 boats, ours ‘The Glad Victor’ and Eddie’s and Miriam’s “My Precious’ (our marina neighbours) travelled together down the Grand Union Canal and across and down The Paddington Arm of the Grand UnionCanal into the heart of London.

Only a couple of problems though. There was no room for us at the Limehouse Marina during the time we had chosen to travel and major work was being done on the locks at Camden Town with a total closure at the critical time when we would have been returning from Limehouse. The marina manager at Limehouse said he’d let us moor outside the marina along the 20 foot high wall, but none of us fancied climbing up ladders to get to civilisation and so that wasn’t an option. We’d play it all by ear.

Our first day out was a relative breeze. 2 other friends came with us to help with the locks and enjoy the pleasures of cruising. They are landlubbers, Sandy and Graham, friends who live in one of the apartments surrounding our marina. They helped with locks and steering and such until we reached Rickmansworth. Then we all partied on the back of the boats, went to dinner and said goodbye to our landlubber neighbours.

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At Rickmansworth. The first night with (from left) Sandy, Miriam, Eddie and Graham.

The next morning we set off. We were in uncharted waters for us. Eddie had been this way before and led the way. The amazing thing about The Grand Union Canal, even down into the city, is the diversity along the way and mostly feeling like you’ve never left the countryside. The banks are lined with trees and other greenery, reeds and the like. It has been well-preserved, even to the point of overgrowth. Positively bosky. There were sections where I thought I was on The African Queen, my best friend taking the place of Kate Hepburn.

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Vegetation along the Cut in the city.

We cruised through Copper Mill Lock N0. 84 and south to Black Jack’s Lock No. 85. With a name like that I was expecting a story of nefarious goings on, maybe a smugglers’ or thieves’ den or some fellow named Jack who murdered people. No….it was an old flour mill and no one knows who Jack was. Which is a mystery in and of itself. But never mind. Out of the lock we went, under Black Jack’s bridge. And there it lay.

I almost lost my tiller. Over on the left bank sat a crocodile. A great bigger than life reptile. There is precedent here. Some people photographed a croc somewhere down along the Thames a while a go. Real or not? No one can say. And you hear tales of crocs in the sewers from time to time. I stared at this one, but it didn’t move. No one on Eddie’s boat seemed concerned, so I assumed it was a fake….a damned good one too.

When we got to the next lock, Eddie told me the croc wasn’t even a stuffed real one, just a plastic thing. Could’a fooled me. Eddie said it had been there for years. But last time he passed by here in another boat, the croc’s mouth was open with a baby inside….not a real one of course. I guess the years since then have politically corrected such attempts at humour. I’d have put an effigy of Tony Blair in its mouth. Not going there though.

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Looks real doesn’t it?

On we went, along to Uxbridge, with no harrowing incidents when suddenly, up ahead, hanging from a steel beam on the skeleton of an old cement factory, I thought I saw King Kong. It wasn’t. Someone years ago put the monkey up there and not a soul would dare remove it. We are nothing as human beings if not superstitious. It brings all who pass under it good luck. We needed it, we were heading toward Southall.

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King Kong of the Cut

We were making our way to the Paddington Arm of The Grand Union Canal. You’d think it was the best kept secret on the Cut. Here you are, chugging along, straight ahead because the canal doesn’t deviate at this point and suddenly, with no warning, an old, white, stone bridge appears to the left. If there is a sign pointing out that under this small bridge begins The Paddington Arm of The Grand Union Canal, I didn’t see it. Not even when I discovered what the bridge led to and looked for a sign.

Turn the boat 90 degrees, under the bridge and onto The Paddington Arm….I hope. but Eddie, at least, knew the way. We passed a marina and some parks and homes. This section of the Cut seemed more urban and easy to ignore. Up ahead swam a mess of swans. I’d never seen so many in one place on the canal. At last, something ordinary. Swans. Beyond the swans we moored up for the night, as far away from people as possible except for other boaters. Out came the Prosecco and the barbecue.

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Swans on the Paddington Arm.

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Moored near Southall.

The next day we headed toward Alperton and were scheduled to moor alongside one of Eddie’s friend’s boat and the boat of someone else mooring there. It was a relatively short journey, but the rubbish people throw into the canals was beginning to build up. You could hear it trying to interfere with the boat’s propeller. You wouldn’t believe what people throw or drive into the canals. But more on that another time.

For now, we were about to be entertained by a magician who also happens to be a comedian. A real comedian, not just a funny guy. But more about him in the next Blog. This has been enough excitement for two days. Read on and be amazed, bedazzled and certainly bemused.

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Homes along the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal.

Narrowboat Down

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Boats sink. It’s inevitable. And they sink for all kinds of reasons. I’m not going to deal with shipwrecks at sea. This is about Narrowboats on the canals of Britain and one sinking in particular. It happened on my way back from Cowroast on a blustery, snowy Monday. If you read my last Blog, you know the reason for the trip. I was with my friend and neighbour, the Redoubtable Eddie, Eddie the Dauntless, the Peerless Eddie, Eddie the Bold….you get the idea. The man has many titles. His partner and crewmate, Miriam the Patient, made tea, helped crew the locks and generally looked after us.

We travelled from Cowroast with another pair, Graham and Jan, who, on their boat ‘Whistler’, shared the work on the journey. Jan and I did the locks (most of them) and Graham and Eddie helmed. I mentioned in a previous Blog about boats on the cut, that Eddie’s boat name is my favourite, ‘My Precious’. The Gollum-like creature painted beside the name at the front of the boat gets a lot of comments from other boaters and Gongoozlers alike.

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Eddie the Great on his boat ‘My Precious’, coming out of a lock.

The sun shone for a moment, heavy cloud moved in, snow and sleet fell and the sun came out again. This pattern repeated itself throughout the day. But nothing interferes with Eddie the Indomitable as he fearlessly navigates ‘My Precious’ from one lock to the next. As he goes, he hums, whistles and generally acts weird in a loveable way that is Eddie. He is an experience. Miriam has gone below into the bowels of the boat to recoup.

Everything is floating along nicely. We pass Winkwell Marina and boatyard. The lock here gives us some trouble, but we’re up to the challenge and through we go. Eddie could have come here to black his boat. It’s much closer to our marina. But Eddie preferred Cowroast. He knows the chap who runs the place and trusts him. Past Winkwell. Getting closer to our destination now, Apsley Marina. Just a few more locks to go. “On the home stretch now Larry” says Eddie. “Not long to go and in record time.”

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Winkwell Lock, Marina and Boatyard

At the 17th lock of the 22 we had to negotiate, the unthinkable happened to us. Up ahead at Lock No. 62 on the Grand Union Canal a commotion was taking place. We saw a woman sitting on the far side of the lock, head in hands and a man running about as if looking for something he’d dropped.We thought there might be a medical emergency. We moored the boat along the side of the canal. I held the boat in place with a rope from midship while Eddie headed toward the conflagration. 10 minutes later Eddie returned. “Boat’s sunk in the lock” he says. “We’re going to be here a long time, mate” Eddie says in a doleful tone. “Bloody nuisance! I shoudn’a said we were on the home stretch. Jinxed us.”

Eddie tied the boat using mooring pins front and back. I walked up to the lock. The woman was still sitting on the side, mumbling incoherently. Her husband was stumbling around the canal from one side to the other repeating, “I don’t fucking believe this!” in a rather calm voice. Graham tried to talk to him to get a plan in place but the poor chap was not up to it. Re-enter Eddie the Planner. He secured the sunken boat with ropes so it wouldn’t roll over and got the man to focus on getting help. He also posted the news on narrowboat websites to warn other boaters that might be coming down or up the cut.

Meanwhile, the sunken boat couples’ dog, a little black something-0r-other ran amok, chasing ducks, yapping at other dogs as they passed by on the towpath, their owners restraining them while at the same time looking over the scene. A crowd had gathered. Dogs fought, people scratched heads and muttered sympathies to the man who owned the boat. Advice was given all round, but nothing was going to move that boat without expert help.

I asked the boat ownner if he minded me taking some pictures for a Blog I write. He was very gracious, considering, and said, “Go ahead. May as well make something of this mess.” Thanks” I said. I snapped away.

The back of the boat had caught on the cill as the lock emptied. The cill is found on the high water (upper) end of the lock and sits as a shelf at the bottom of the high water gates inside the lock chamber. The cill appears as the water lowers. If your boat is too far back in the lock chamber as the water lowers, it gets hung up on the cill when the water goes below it. But the front of the boat keeps going down. Thus the dilemma. Water pours in the front, sinking at least half of it. The poor Griffen floundered.

Eventually, the woman began to come around and was able to speak coherently. The man was by now on the phone to his insurance company. Finally, after heated negotiations, a CRT (Canal And River Trust) rep came. He was no help really. Courtesy call I guess. Although the chap who owned the boat had not paid his boat license fee. Oooops. No matter, a fine young man came along from the insurance people and knew exactly what to do. He would be back the next day with a crew to pump out the front of the boat, raise it and take it out of the lock.

The next day it was done. I wasn’t there to see it. I had gone home that night. I could have walked from here but my best friend picked me up and Eddie and Miriam joined us for diner at The Fishery, two locks away. We were all very tired. The wine went to Eddie’s head and he began singing his nonsense songs. Eddie the Entertainer. No one could ever ask for more.