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The journeys of the Narrowboat Indigo Dream

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Archive for June 9th, 2008

The Odyssey – Summer 2008 Day 6

Posted by indigodream on 9 June, 2008

Marsworth to Aylesbury Basin

I should mention though that odd delays in posting the blog are because of poor internet reception rather than any mishap! I guess that’s the one problem with Marsworth – it’s a wi-fi blackspot!The two pubs were disappointingly empty and weren’t serving food on a Sunday night (hardly a tragedy as we had plenty of supplies on board!). Other than that it’s a great place to moor – peaceful and quiet.

After what Richard had said about the doggie swimming lessons in yesterday’s blog I was a bit surprised to see Lou running back to the boat from her morning walk totally soaking wet from head to toe! Apparently she’d been chasing some ducks and didn’t apply the brakes fast enough and went flying after them into the reservoir! No harm done and very funny! Pity Blue didn’t do the same (he doesn’t chase birds) – I think she benefited from the cool down – it’s been remarkably hot today – the inside of the boat felt cool at 27oC!

A rural idyllI’m going to run out of superlatives today though – we’ve come down the Aylesbury Arm of the Grand union and it is a stunning bit of canal. It’s very quiet and the countryside has an almost manicured perfection about it. The canal is surrounded by rolling meadows – well cultivated and full of livestock. The hedgerows are neat with textured hawthorns and big white puffs of elderflower. The cascades of pink dog roses shower their fragrance over the water and as the boat passes the reeds sway and sigh gracefully. It is absolutely idyllic yet not anywhere that you’d find in a holiday brochure.

Narrow staircase lock

I particularly like this canal because it has narrow locks- they’re so much easier than broad locks as they’re a snug fit and the boat can’t jostle about in them. Interestingly the first lock is a staircase lock where the bottom gate of one lock is the top gate of the next – it’s the only staircase on the whole of the Grand Union. The trick with a staircase lock is to make sure that you set both locks right before you start – locking down we needed to make sure that the lower lock was empty before opening the top lock (so that the water from the top lock had somewhere to go! The bridge holes are slightly narrower than the locks and most of then have gouges and scratches where boats have scraped their way along!

High water levelsThe water levels all along the canal were very high – this makes a pleasant change as they tend to be much lower when we do our autumn cruises (making for shallow mooring spots). However, most of the top lock gates were totally submerged and when we emptied the locks the water just cascaded over the gates. This was quite alarming at first but them we got used to it! We let the British Waterways guys know about it but they didn’t seem bothered so we just carried on.

The dogs had another day of inertia after the excitement of Lou’s dip this morning – it’s just too hot for them.

Tame duck posing for photos at the lockOn the wildlife front we had the usual ducks, including two very tame white ducks at one of the locks (Lou luckily didn’t spot them!). Another thing that caught my eye though was a pair of Goldfinches feeding on the seed-heads of the water grasses that grown intermingled with the bulrushes. The birds are so light (and the grasses so tall) that they barely bend when the birds land on them. I also saw clumps of yellow irises and the small yellow flowers of large-leaved wild waterlilies. In the one of the fields we spotted a couple of herons – they looked like two old fenceposts standing there and I was surprised they weren’t at the water’s edge. The other things of note was the Dock leaves growing by the canal – they were the biggest I’ve ever seen – around 2ft per leaf – as Richard wryly commented, just the right size for treating stings from the super-abundant nettles!

Dates on the Grand Union

Richard’s noticed that the engineers who built the Grand Union (and who subsequently maintained it) put dates on key structures and components – we’re glad that they did – it gives a real sense of the canal’s continuing history.

lock wall dated 1915We ended up at Aylesbury Basin which is run by the Aylesbury Canal Society. It’s a very comfortable place – there is a ‘welcome boat’ and the volunteers from the society are friendly and helpful. They’ve found us a perfect mooring spot where we can easily get the dogs on/off board and which is conventietly close to all the amenties of the town centre. There are a lot of boats moored here so it feels secure. A town mooring is a bit barren for the dogs but, to be honest with you, they’re knackered from the heat and wouldn’t make much of a more rural spot.

It’s funny but you lose all sense of perspective when you’re on the water – it felt so odd to be back in town (Aylesbury looks to be a modern market town – very pleasant). We went to the cinema to see the new Indiana Jones movie – not a classic but good fun and just what we had in mind. We passed by a ‘rock bar’ which was open but so totally empty that we decided not to eat there – we put it down to being a Monday night. When we got out of the cinema the bar was heaving with hundreds of the town’s youth – they looked to be at least 25years younger than us so we just walked by quickly!!

News Flash

Boaters at Tring reservoir were appalled at the yobbish behaviour displayed by the local gang of male ducks today as they gang- raped a female duck in front of her 10 dear little ducklings. The obviously distressed female, who wants to known as ‘mother duck’ to preserve her reputation said “quack, quack, quack”. Rumour has it that this gang culture has been imported from the big town ducks at Batchworth where male ducks regularly bully baby moorhens and, in a shocking eyewitness report, have drowned a duckling who’s mum had resisted their strong-arm tactics. Although it is said that canal crime is on the way down, this reporter begs to differ……….

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The Odyssey – Summer 2008 Day 5

Posted by indigodream on 9 June, 2008

Berkhamstead to Tring Reservoir (Foot of the Marsworth flight between lock 39 and 40)

We have had amazing weather today – hot and sunny all day. It made for a perfect day’s cruising through this so typically English countryside.

We had a peaceful night in Berkhamstead and reluctantly said goodbye to a very sociable couple moored behind us. Our pins only just held after a few early morning cruisers went past. We soon found new company in the form of nb Leigh owned by an older couple – “old and decrepit” (her words!), “pushing 80” (his words!). We shared locks with them up as far as Cowroast and they were thoroughly pleasant company. I hope we’re still as fit and still boating when/if we reach that age. One top tip for all girl boaters though – LEARN TO DRIVE – otherwise you’ll end up pushing two-ton lock gates around when you’re 103! Best way is go and do a quick course with Malcolm at Toplock Training <insert link>. Even Richard (typical bloke thinks he can drive anything) admits he learnt loads.

On the wildlife front we saw loads more ducklings and cygnets but maybe of more interest was the crow dipping right into the canal to pick up some morsel of food. Then there were the large flocks of swallows dipping and wheeling after insects and touching the water fleetingly before swooping off again. They come so close to the boat it’s a wonder there aren’t more collisions. It was such a hot day that on the towpath I saw several just-fledged starlings sitting with their beaks wide open – panting in the heat. I don’t know why, particularly, but I’ve seen more Jays in these last few days than I’ve seen all year.

Entering the Tring CuttingCowroast is the last lock up on the canal – we’d reached the summit and now we had a long-ish lock-free pound at the canal summit before starting the long drop down towards Marsworth. The summit passes through the Tring Cutting – a deep cutting with the canal, in places, at the bottom of a 30-foot deep slope lined with trees. It was blissfully cool here under the trees and we stopped for lunch near Bridge 134. The towpaths are overgrown but the moorings are deep and previous boaters had helpfully cut down the vegetation to give us a clear space to tie up. I thought that the dogs would love this spot – cool, overgrown, lots of trees – perfect place for a rummage – but they weren’t interested. They’ve been flat out all day – it’s been too hot and they’re still tired from their exertions on the first two days!

Mooring in the Tring CuttingFor anyone who takes the Indigo Dream out solo (this is a very short select list as we don’t trust our boat to just anyone!) the freezer compartment is just the right size for a big bag of ice cubes!

We had a heavy day on the locks today and Richard cycled between most of them – he says I’m making him cycle all the way to Birmingham! I want it on record that the cycling is entirely his idea – I’m very happy to pick him up at each lock and give him a lift to the next one! “Believe that if you want” says Richard!

Because we’re not on a strict timetable we’ve decided to explore the various arms of the Grand Union Canal – there are quite a few! We chose not to do the Slough Arm as that’s within easy reach of our mooring so we’ll visit that in the winter. Today though we explored the Wendover arm – this is just a thoroughly beautiful bit of waterway – not very long, as it’s just a feeder canal which supplies water to the mainline from the several large reservoirs. This is essential – it’s always a problem with canals – how do you keep them in water when boats keep moving the stuff downstream in the locks! Big reservoirs with large pumping systems are the answer!

A view of the Wendover ArmRichard did a 20-point turn in the very small winding hole (turning point) near the end of the Wendover Arm. We’d already turned into the canal before Richard said that the winding hole was only good for 50ft boats – bad news – we’re 60ft – this could have been a real boat jam! However, the notes also reassured us that in high water, larger boats could turn and so it proved.

One interesting thing on the Wendover arm was a large modern flour mill (Heygates) – it fitted in nicely with the landscape as the modern machinery (clearly visible through the windows) were housed in traditional red-brick buildings. We spotted some machines made by Sortex but could not spot Nick’s engraving.

Richard wants it noted that he did the 6 Marswoth locks in 45 minutes even though most of the locks were set against us. I’ll let him expand on this feat!

The sunset part 1We’re moored between lock 39 and 40 of the Marsworth flight next to the Tring Reservoirs – this is a magical mooring. The scenery is lovely and the sunset across the water was amazing – the light show just went on and on. We had a long evening walk with the dogs who perked up when it started to cool down and they’d had an enforced slosh in the local stream [1]. We perked up after an ice-cream each from the fine teashop nearby! We sat on the back deck and just watched the sunset – what a great end to the day.

The Sunset Part 2[1]: Dogs should consider themselves lucky as the last minute change in route to avoid the Thames meant that they missed out on their annual swimming lessons – basically Richard wading out to as close to the middle as he can and then letting them swim back [2]. Greyhounds are not that good at swimming and the whole scene tends to have innocent walkers wetting themselves laughing.

[2] After this palaver, the greyhounds tend to run away when they reach shore adding whole new show to the towpath entertainment as Sue tries to catch them!

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The Odyssey – Summer 2008 Day 4

Posted by indigodream on 9 June, 2008

Kings Langley to Berkhamsted (below Lock 52)

The moorings at Kings Langley started worryingly with some of the local youth generally horsing around on the towpath. I know we shouldn’t tar all youths with the same brush (after all, one saved Blue’s life on the road!) but it always sets the alarm bells ringing. We needn’t have worried – the mums in King’s Langley obviously have very efficient curfews and by 10.30pm the moorings were deserted, peaceful and quiet. The temperature dropped overnight and though we were snug under our duvet both dogs got a bit chilly. Richard got up early and wrapped them in blankets – by the time I got up they were toastie dogs!

Lou lounging by a lock!The dogs were very tired today and didn’t show anywhere near as much interest in their surroundings as in previous days. They live in the moment so they’d splurged all their energy on the first few days and haven’t paced themselves for the whole holiday. They’ve spent most of the day asleep on the sofa – Blue has been using Lou as a cushion – this is unusual – Lou normally sends him packing. It just shows how exhausted they were. Blue has managed to get back into my good graces by being cute and thin – his ribs are sticking out and I’m worried that he’s not eating enough. But his enthusiastic scoffing of the best part of a tub of fried rice from the local Chinese takeaway soon put an end to that idea!

Richard is not quite as thin as Blue yet but he has lost weight – I’m very impressed by his exercise regime as he’s done a lot of locks today, has cycled between most of them as can frequently be seen doing press-ups etc on the locksides!

Anyway, on to what’s caught our eye today. The first bit of note was Apsley Basin – about an hour’s cruise from Kings Langley and utterly civilised – lovely moorings, good looking housing developments, very hospitable looking pubs – the works! We will aim to moor there another time though we know that we couldn’t have managed another hour last night. This civilisation lasted into Hemel Hempstead which was as typical an English town as you could imagine – with people practising at the cricket nets and a cricket match going on at the local ground. I was highly amused by the cricket – I’ve never sent the fun in it, but when I saw one of the fielders leaning on a tree and lighting a cigarette I realised that cricketers agree with me! Maybe that’s why the national game lacks that certain something……

I want to make note of a pub for the future – The Fishery – by lock 63. It was crowded with eaters and the smell as we went past was mouthwatering! We decided not to stop but it’s on our ‘must visit’ list!

Comfrey!On the wildlife front, today I successfully identified a plant! Typically, though, it’s another poisonous one – Comfrey! It grows in abundance along the canals and has a beautiful purple flower. I know about Comfrey because I had to write a report on it when I worked for the RPSGB many years ago – a council member had a bee in her bonnet about banning it for internal use. Apparently, it’s good for wounds and bruises etc when used externally but causes liver failure if taken internally! Not much on the bird front apart from three orphaned moorhen chicks by our mooring – we’ve been feeding them off the boat but they’re being intimidated by male ducks – it’s a jungle out there! We also have 6 tiny ducklings at the moorings – the canal is fraught with danger for these as we actually saw a tiny duckling being dragged under by a pike last year.

There was abundant human wildlife along the towpath today – it’s easy to lose track of the days on the water and we’d completely forgotten that it was Saturday! It was great to see the towpaths being used – it’s another way of keeping the waterways alive. I wasn’t so enamoured of the two young couples who draped themselves over a lock gate and generally made a nuisance of themselves – Richard handled them with great patience! We had the usual question of “can we have a lift” but “sorry we can’t because our insurance doesn’t cover it” seemed to work well.

Sign at Sewer LockThere were very high water levels coming up to Berkhamsted with water cascading over the lock gates. At the aptly named sewer lock this was due to an outfall of very foamy water. In other places we’re not sure whether this was because of the recent rain or because someone’s not using the locks properly. I guess we’ll find out when we eventually reach a dry pound (the stretch of canal between locks)!

Our target for the day was Berkhamsted – it’s another very civilised town which has made good use of its waterside with a number of very attractive pubs, parklands and, this time, a waterside Waitrose! It also has a great water point (a canalside tap where boaters can take on water) next to a garage so we could pop in for milk and other provisions. I was so disappointed though when the Costa Coffee sign on the garage proved only to be a self-serve coffee machine – I’d set my taste buds up for a caramel latte to while away the 40 minutes or so that it takes to fill our water tank! The water point signage is in Esso’s standard style so Richard wondered if this was a clever company wondering what will happen when red diesel goes to some funny self declaring tax land.

Berkhamsted\'s totem poleBerkhamsted’s got a lot of history but unfortunately we didn’t stop to read the abundant information boards along the canal today – maybe we’ll saunter into town tomorrow to get more info. However we did see the large carved totem pole – the genuine article imported from Canada many years ago by the owner of a local timber yard (the yard is now housing but the totem pole’s been left as a great feature).

Several boats passed us while we were filling up with water – we didn’t think that any of them were going particularly fast but a boat moored opposite still got dragged off its mooring. Luckily the wind pushed it back to the bank so Richard could secure its mooring ropes (there was no-one at home!).

We’re now comfortably moored in Berkhamsted in almost the exact spot that we occupied two years ago. It is peaceful, adjacent to a park for the dogs and next to a fast running but shallow stream, which was previously used to grow watercress (now good for doggie sploshing!). Most importantly though, the mooring is near to an excellent Chinese takeaway. We’d kept the menu so very efficiently rang in our order, collected it and had a fine dinner and a chilled bottle of wine up on deck wine chatting to random passers-by – magic!

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