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Archive for June, 2008

The Odyssey – Summer 2008 Day 8

Posted by indigodream on 13 June, 2008

Marsworth Junction to Soulbury Three locks (past bottom lock)

I think we’re finally getting over our ‘no holiday for 6 months’ tiredness as we both woke refreshed at 8am. We left our mooring at 9am (earliest so far) though the move had a certain urgency to it – we ran out of water! Not a big deal as we’d moored opposite a water point to fill up this morning but it’s a tremendous motivator if you know that the loo won’t work until you’ve visited the water point!

Practical Points:

When the water tank is running dry then the water pump makes a different noise – listen out for it if you haven’t filled up for a few days.

There’s no need to fill the tank every day but do keep an eye on consumption. We’ve left it 4 days but that was a bit tight, as we’d been having four showers a day between us in the hot weather! Talking to other boaters some have meters fitted which they are very happy with. Richard is very tempted but it will need a bit of a change in the position of the pump.

Depending on local water pressure, an empty tank takes a minimum of 30 minutes to fill.

Although the water tank was empty the toilet tank was full so we stopped for a pump-out at Pitstone wharf. There’s a chandlery here as well but their pump-out machine was a bit feeble. If you don’t know what a pump out is then here goes: We have a Tecma Macerator Toilet. Great bit of kit, works well. good support from Aquafax. The toilet pumps waste into a big stainless steel tank that we have inside our engine compartment – most boats have their tank under the bed or dinette but as we have an extra long back deck we could move plumbing bits out of the main living space. When the tank fills you need to find a pump out machine which normally requires a token from a shop or a BW pump out card. Timing is everything so first read the instructions on the machine, open up the pump out point, unravel the big hose and put the business end into the pump out point. Put your token or card into the machine, press the start button and open up the handle on the business end – normally a big red handle. Once you see through the sight glass that flow is stopping, close the handle and hit pause on the machine as you should have time to flush your tank. Take the hose out and pour some water into your tank – don’t use your drinking water hose unless you can keep it well away from the hole. We aim for a minimum of 2 minutes flow, ideally 5 minutes if we know the machine. Put the hose back in and pump out again by hitting start or whatever the instructions tell you to do. Once your tank is empty suck in a bit of canal water to clean the end of the pump out hose. Add your chosen toilet chemical – we use a green alternative but “Blue” is most people’s choice. [1]

It is a very strange arrangement at Pitstone Wharf as you moor up against another boat and drag the pump out hose across their boat. As we turned the nozzle down towards the hole a lot of mess came out. Handle seemed a bit incomplete so awkward to use. Granted we have a tank the size of a small boat but this is the first machine we have encountered that could not fully pump out our tank before time ran out, hence no doubt the mess inside the tube.

carpPitstone Wharf is on the edge of a large winding hole which is absolutely full of huge carp. Someone had thrown some bread in the water and the fish were right on the surface gulping it down noisily. Some were the full metre long though a local BW man said that they get bigger!

We had an interesting trip through the locks this morning as we caught up with a boat that had been hired by a consultancy specialising in team building. They run 3-day narrowboat-based teambulding courses. We shared locks with one of their boats – a gathering of RBS Business Managers from the NE were apparently on a timed team task so their mission was to get through the locks as fast as possible. This meant that we had a huge crew at each lock with some of the team running between locks to get the next one ready. Richard enjoyed the pace and the company – he was ahead of the game because he could cycle between locks and so was a valuable additional member of the team! I supplied them with a few slices of bread for their lunch (they’d run out) and generally kept up with their boat. The crew did tend to get carried away – at one point they tried to close the locks gate before the boat was in and it wasn’t unusual for them to open paddles before the lock gates were shut (much shouting ensued – no harm done). They tried to beat Richard at closing gates without Richard even noticing but being mean Richard never told them the secret (push right at the end of the balance beam). Their task was to get to the pub at Grove by 2.30pm and they just made it!

leaving the rolling hills behindAfter that we were by ourselves – I was relieved as I’d caught a little of the urge to speed from the team build and had to remind myself that I was on holiday! We passed through some pretty countryside today – a different character to the Aylesbury Arm – not so ‘prim and proper’. We left the Chilterns behind and they made for an attractive rolling backdrop to our trip.

On the wildlife front I noticed that the towpaths had more meadow flowers than previously – red clover, buttercups, red campion and one very pretty flower which I think is Square-stemmed Willowherb. I also spotted a marsh mallow! In one spot there were warning signs on the towpath flanking a large leaved plant – “Giant Hogweed Do not touch”. I can’t remember what the Giant Hogweed does to you if you do touch it but it must be pretty nasty to warrant a warning sign!

Hitch-hikerWe had relatively few locks to do in the afternoon as the canal meandered round the contours. We largely had the canal to ourselves (bliss!) apart from four mad canoeists. One of them hitched a lift with us – apparently it was their first day of canoeing (possibly ever) and they were getting weary!

We came though the locks so fast with the teambuilders that we passed our intended mooring point (The Globe pub by bridge 111) far too early to stop so we carried on through Soulbury Three Locks and moored just below them. We ate in the ‘Three Locks’ pub – a plain and slightly shabby place but the food was really good – plain pub grub but very well done and very cheap all in a friendly environment. Note: dogs are allowed into the Thee Locks pub.

Note:

In future pass through the three locks and cruise round the corner for a quieter mooring further from the road.

[1] Did I not warn you a few days ago not to get a narrowboater started on the subject of toilets!

Big dutch barge

When you’re only seen narrowboats for a few days it comes a shock to see a giant dutch barge suddenly looming round a corner!

A heron poised for the kill!

We could take photos of heron all day – there are that many! But here’s one watching very avidly for a fish – it’s not a pose we often catch so we thought we’d share it.

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The Odyssey – Summer 2008 Day 7

Posted by indigodream on 12 June, 2008

Aylesbury Basin to Marsworth Junction

We spent the morning having a bobble round Aylesbury. We took Blue to the local veterinary hospital today to have is staples removed. They were very helpful at the hospital –the vet had a young assistant in with him and he was explaining the typical musculature of a racing greyhound to her. We listened in, fascinated. Apparently, racing greyhounds run through their backs and have large back muscles to give them full extension when running. He pointed out how Blue’s back muscles overhang his ribs and how Lou has a ‘table top’ back. The vet says they never lose this shape but we were proud that the dogs are looking so fit that he could actually still see the muscles! On the staples front the vet thought that Blue should keep them in for a bit longer so if they’re not bothering him then we’ll see our own vet when we get back next week.

Leaving Aylesbury behindAylesbury itself is a busy market town which carries an air of importance about it – as if it’s been a town of note in the past but has since faded. There are modern shopping malls and blocky redbrick offices but there are also pleasant town squares with fountains and grand statues – there’s a larger than life bronze of Disraeli, further on there’s a life-size statue of some earl or other flanked by two magnificent sleeping lions – think Trafalgar Square but about two thirds of the size! In between these fine sculptures was the shabbiest flea market that I’ve come across for a long while! The town has a particularly grand civic centre – in total contrast with the horrible block of the cinema behind it. We found out later that Aylesbury is the ‘county’ town of Buckinghamshire – hence this faded grandeur, and their pride in Disraeli who was, apparently, MP for Buckinghamshire. Sadly we don’t have any pictures as we didn’t take the camera with us!

Very Narrow bridges - check out the bricks knocked out by narrowboats going through!We moved back up the Aylesbury Arm today – I described that yesterday so today I’ll do a photo blog so that you can see what it’s like – check out the pictures dotted around and at the end of this section! I just need to add that there’s a very handy canalside Tesco on the left after lock 16.

Last night we moored at Marsworth Junction – there are visitor moorings opposite the turn into the Aylesbury Arm. Soon after we moored we noticed an exodus along the towpath and found out that everyone was off to see the Mikron Theatre in the local pub. The Mikron is a professional travelling theatre company that tours around the canal during the summer in an old narrowboat called the Tyseley. Its claim to fame, as far as I’m concerned, is that Mark Williams (often on telly and Arthur Weasley in the Harry potter films) started his career with them and is still a very good narrowboat driver! The play last night was ‘Debtonation’ – a modern morality tale about debt – thoroughly bad play but well performed by four very capable actors who were also talented musicians on a wide number of instruments. Regardless of the play, though, the whole idea of a travelling theatre on the canal is so evocative and the atmosphere was great. We took the greyhounds (the play was in the pub garden) and they had so much fuss – even from the actors (who couldn’t believe that we carry sheepskin mats with us). Little did the actors know that they’d have had a chorus of whining if the dogs didn’t have somewhere comfortable to lie in the pub!

And sheep shall safely......laze!It must be exhausting to be an actor with the Mikron. We assumed that they had a crew to help them but looking at the programme, it sounds as I they do all the boat driving, locks, setting up of scenery, acting, dismantling the whole thing and starting again the next day!

Practical Notes:

Do not eat in the White Lion – it looks thoroughly unclean!

HeronWild waterliliesYellow Irisisthroughthe whispering reedsLovely Scenery (1)Cascading rosesThe Red House - beautifully maintained lock house (formerly an Inn!)Lovely scenery (2)View towards the ChilternsBullrushes in flowerFlourishing plant life inside the lockThe imposing middle gate of the staircase lockA wild rose

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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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The Odyssey – Summer 2008 Day 3

Posted by indigodream on 6 June, 2008

Batchworth to Kings Langley (Lock 69A)

Another lazy day’s cruising – well, it was for me! This section has quite a few locks so Richard has actually had a very vigorous day especially when ‘lock wheeling’ (the boater’s term for cycling back and forth between locks). We did a lot better today as we started before midday (well, 11.40am) – the boater that’s moored in front of us this evening made the totally bonkers suggestion that you could get up at 4am now with the light and have a magical sunrise cruise – I don’t think so!!!!!!!

As always, we have a few things to report. We passed through Rickmansworth today – that will be familiar to devotees of “The Hitch-hikers guide to the galaxy’ as the place where Fenny had her revalation about the meaning of life a split second before the first earth was demolished. If you haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about then read the books – you don’t know what you’re missing!

The next bit of interest was Croxley Green – we had another one of those strange ‘displacements’ here as the canal is really very rural but above us was a high bridge carrying the tube – Croxley Green is at the end of the Metropolitan Line!

We also met several ‘floating classrooms’ today – one boat actually looked as if there was serious learning going on with a group of kids at the front of the boat with the teacher pointing things out along the waterside. The other three boats just looked like a jolly with kids (9 or 10 years old) draped on the boat roofs, dangling feet and hands into the water and generally being a health and safety nightmare! They did look like they were having fun though! Richard reckoned that he would have loved that when he was a kid; however I wondered how the teachers had got such poor karma as to end up supervising 30 kids on the boats!

You’ll be glad to know that the dog’s wounds are looking better though I’m still a bit concerned about Blue so he is still wearing his fetching blue bandage. They’ve had another energetic day as the canal has been amazingly rural and we passed through a stunning bit of landscape called Cassiobury Park (photo above). I don’t know the history of the park but it is basically a large stretch of old woodland with the canal at the bottom of a steep embankment. It’s like being in some celtic fairyland (or Tolkien’s Lothlorien!) – you can barely see the sky for the trees and the dappled sunshine gives a surreal air to the place. The trees are widely spaced and the dogs had a wonderfully unrestricted rummage round the woods. We stopped for lunch here – it was just too lovely a spot to rush past.

On a more mundane note, our search for doggie boots was in vain – none of the local vets had any so Blue will have to stick with the bandage! Blue is currently so far in my bad books it’s hard to see what he can do to redeem himself! In a 7 mile stretch of canal the found the only gap in the hedge which would take him onto the busy A41. One minute he was by the boat (we were waiting for the lock) and the next minute he’d vanished. Luckily some young fishermen had seen where he’d gone and one of them immediately ran after him and got him back – but not until Blue had reached the road and managed to cross over. Blue thoroughly enjoyed his adventure but I was beside myself – I’ll have nightmares forever. Richard, being a typical bloke, is siding with Blue – no harm was done so what great fun that was. For that they’ve both had all off-lead privileges revoked until I’ve got rid of my stress with a glass of wine!!

Earl of Essex\'s grand canal bridge!After the ‘wilderness’ of Cassiobury Park we then passed through a stretch of canal that looks like a country estate – manicured fields, restored mill houses, grand bridges and seriously nice houses, oh, and a golf course. The canal is very winding here (ok, I’ll admit I did miss one turn and had to reverse back to get the right line). Apparently the reason for this landscape is that it was once all owned by the Earl of Essex (around the time that the canal was built). Winding routes are often a feature of canals built through private land as (in the old days!) aristocrats were notoriously difficult about what got built through their estates.

We finally passed under the M25 today (photo below) so it felt as if we were out of London at last – ironically since we passed that point it’s become more urban!

Under the M25 (Junct 20-ish)

We saw some familiar faces today on nb Spirit, who we met last year on the Kennet and Avon canal at Bradford-on-Avon. Spirit is owned by a couple of guys who sold up their house, bought a second-hand narrowboat and are living on the water for a year. They’re really nice people but the main thing that bought Spirit to our attention is that it is a lovely sky blue boat with the most immaculate paintwork ever – even after almost a year’s cruising.

Two interesting bits of wildlife today were a pair of terns fishing in the canal – if you haven’t seen one before, they look like small white seagulls but they have forked tails like a swallow and are immensely graceful in the air. My ‘bird’ book says they’re common in inland waterways but I’m still blown away when I see them. The other bird hardly counts as wildlife because it was, in fact, a trained falcon sitting on the wrist of a fisherman on the towpath. Although we didn’t stop to chat, I’ve never seen a falcon up close before and it was utterly beautiful.

Oh, while I remember, the lakes that we mentioned on day 1 in the lower Colne Valley are a by-product of the old brick industry when clay was extracted to make bricks.

On a practical point – the canal books say that Kings Langley has an award winning Italian restaurant – unfortunately it’s now been converted into an award winning Indian restaurant (Richard doesn’t do Indian food – long story, you don’t want to know, really!). We ate at the definitely non-award winning Oscar’s pizzeria instead – was very disappointing.

My last tale of the day is that Indigo Dream was serenely moored up when a boat passed really near to our bow (giving us a good rocking in the process) – either deliberately or by coincidence, the passing boat’s name was ‘Close Shave’!

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The Odyssey – Summer 2008 Day 2

Posted by indigodream on 6 June, 2008

Stocker\'s LockCowley Peachey – Batchworth

We’ve had another leisurely cruise today – we have NEVER cruised without a schedule before and it’s rather nice!

We started our after lunch (unheard of for us) – the morning was occupied by Richard’s search for a puncture-proof bike tyre and for free parking in Uxbridge – this didn’t materialise! In the meantime Blue and Lou made the best of our dog-perfect moorings and had several energetic rummages in the woods interspersed with cooling dips in the shallow River Colne and long snoozes to recover and dream about whatever it is they were chasing in the bushes. This was a great mooring.

Being the first night of the cruise I didn’t sleep so well – there’s something about the noises outside being different to those at home. Every time I wake up yet again at the sound of crunching footsteps on the towpath I remind myself of Caliban’s words in Shakepeare’s ‘Tempest’ – “The isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not” – I always find this reassuring! However, this waking up at odd noises doesn’t last past the first night as the fresh air seems to be the best sedative -it’s only 8pm now and I could just nod off writing this!

It’s been the most glorious day – brilliant sunshine, hot but moderated by the cooling breeze on the water.

There were a few things that caught my eye today – at our moorings I spotted peacock and Red Admiral butterflies – made it really feel like summer! There was a profusion of birds – the usual ducks and swans but also jays, great crested grebes and the high pitched squawk of wild parakeets. Nothing rare but good to see the wildlife thriving anyway. I was captivated by the colours on a male mallard – they get so close to the boat – they’re so vibrant. Where we moored there is a pair of swans with 11 fluffy cygnets – I’d be amazed if they all survive but there is a marina opposite and narrowboaters are complete suckers when it come to feeding the birds.

A few days ago I ‘what’s in a name’ – we were particularly taken by a small cruise today called “may contain nuts”!

If I ever offer you a green salad made from plants that I’ve picked from nature then REFUSE! I’ve been trying to identify the unbelliferates which grow in profusion along the waterway. So far for the one plant I’ve guessed at Cowbane, Hemlock Water Dropwort, Angelica and Chrevil. The problem is that while Angelica and Chervil are edible, the other two are deadly poisonous! I think I’ll keep buying my salads in bags in Tesco! One plant you can’t mistake though is the wild dogs roses flowing like pink waterfalls from the hedgerows. The trees have stopped flowering now (I can tell because my hayfever’s better!) and have given way to the summer blossom.

We passed the infamous ‘Stink Hole’ today – a mooring basin which is entirely surrounded by a large sewage works. When we went past it soundly deserved its name though Richard said it wasn’t so bad when he cycled back to the car. Last year we met a couple who moored their (in nb Clumber) – they say it’s amazing what you’ll put up with when a mooring’s that cheap!

We moored up about a mile north of Batchworth Lock – by the Ebury Way – a long and useful footpath which took us back to Batchworth for the car. There are good facilities in Batchworth but for supper we went (by road!) to a fine canalside pub called the Coy Carp – really good food – we’ll call there again! No worries about towpath noises in this mooring – it is silent apart from the birds. Their chorus, together with the loud banging of ducks pecking weed off the hull woke me up at 6am! Only long enough for me to look out the window, observe what a beautiful morning it was, say ‘b****r off’ to the ducks, cover Lou with a blanket (she was a bit chilly) – I soon went back to bed and slept through ’til 9am. Richard cycled back to get the car last night so he heard nothing at 6am

Out mission today is to find a vet which sells protective boots for dogs’ paws. Both Blue and Lou managed to acquire cuts on their pads yesterday. They’re not too serious though Blue’s cut is quite deep and Lou’s is right at the base of the nail. This means they’ll take ages to heal and I’ll worry about infection hence the protective boots. Typically we have several pairs of these boots at home but I didn’t think to bring them – I don’t know why – minor wounds are a regular feature with these dogs! Other than that they’re having a great time rummaging around the footpaths – Blue now has a dressing on his side (to cover the staples) and a blue bandage on his foot – this means that he’s getting a lot of sympathy and kisses from ladies on the towpath!

Meanwhile Richard has stuck his head into the engine compartment. Our central heating uses a Webasto (supplied by BK Marine, fitted by the excellent Neil Coventry – based in Cheshire 07960 454492) but with loads of extra filters. We got an airlock after Richard changed a filter and the self bleed was not working. Fortunately Neil had fitted a little pump on the last filter so we could do a manual bleed. Thanks Neil.

Our previous share boat (Dragonfly http://www.boatshare.co.uk/dragonfly/index.htm) used to use grease in the stern gland by the kilogramme. The annual greasing of the Vetus used less than 10g of grease! We got our grease from Kings Lock Boatyard in Middlewich 01606 833633 (not a lot of money plus £1 for postage and packing and really useful advice), when they first said 25g tube Richard wondered how many we should buy – we were told one tube will last years and that seems to be spot on.

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The Odyssey – Summer 2008 Day 1

Posted by indigodream on 4 June, 2008

tired doggies!Grand Union Canal: Engineers Wharf, Northolt – Cowley Peachey Junction

Hurrah – we’re on holiday at last! Let me tell you about Day 1 – please forgive me for including boring things like location of water points etc – this blog is replacing our logbook in which I normally record all our practical cruising tips!

Following the month’s rainfall that fell in the west yesterday we’ve totally replanned our holiday as the Thames is basically unpassable until all that extra water flows through. Not a big issue as our mooring is a perfect spot for us to just join the Grand Union mainline and head north on the sedate canals rather than the raging river!

We had an extremely relaxed morning without our usual regimented rush to get packed up and out of the door. This may have been our downfall as I’ll explain later! We didn’t arrive at the boat until about 11.30am – the poor dogs were so excited to be out in the car and then so disappointed when we arrived at the boat! Blue whined non-stop for the usual hour after getting on board but it could have been worse – he’s kept it up for half a day before now! Lou just wanted her bed as usual! The basin at Engineers Wharf is looking very picturesque now as almost all the moorings are full and the residential moorers have the usual array of pots and troughs full of flowers. I’ve put a ban on flowers on the Indigo Dream – mainly because my major talent is growing stinging nettles (regardless of what I actually planted!) and I’m allergic to almost everything that produces pollen!

So, with big cheesy grins on our faces we left our picture-perfect mooring and set off in the warm sunshine for our first adventure. The Grand Union was looking serene, with lush overgrown hedgerows which deceive you into thinking you’re in a rural idyll rather than round the back of some hefty industrial parks in West London! Unfortunately you don’t get to see much animal life on the canal (apart from the odd drunk, joggers, dog walkers etc) as the grumph of the big diesel engine tends to frighten everything off – even so there were birds aplenty and the green scenery made up for it all. Though we were most fascinated by a large chemical plant which turned out to be a factory for producing bitumen, followed closely by a cement batching plant! The main reminder of our industrial surroundings was the amazing smell of roasting coffee from a large factory (presumably a coffee processing plant!) which was enticingly aromatic for the first two hours of our cruise.

First stop was Tesco in Bulls Bridge – great 24-hour moorings right by the store – you can bring your trolley to within a couple of feet of the boat – fantastic. So we stocked up for the hols – I went shopping with Richard so there is more in cupboards than just chocolate and beer! There’s also a water point here and good facilites for recycling. Just up the mainline were two BW rubbish barges which are good for getting rid of other domestic waste. On a more interesting front, the Grand Union used to be a major commercial waterway which linked London with the Midlands. Tesco have preserved a bit of this heritage by restoring an old dry dock – it was a great bit of engineering – the ribs which would have supported the boat when the dock was drained were magnificently built of a blue engineering brick with fantastic brick arches all along to allow the water to drain (yes it is Sue writing this – Richard was even more enthusiastic!). What an elegant bit of canal history!

It was shortly before this that I discovered the flaw in our relaxed departure – I’d left a bag of stuff at home -I’d assumed that Richard had packed it then didn’t do my usual fingertip search of the house to check if I’d left anything behind. It was a crucial bag (of course!) – the one with Blue’s antibiotics – essential because he’s got staples in his side (from Sunday) and there’s a high chance that they’ll come into contact with canal water which would be a great source of infection. The reason I’m writing this blog tonight is because poor Richard has had to go back home to get said bag – big drama as he was intending to cycle back to the car (about 6 miles) but he got a slow puncture and had to abandon his bike with some friendly boaters at the ‘halfway’ point while he got a taxi back to the car. What a saga!

However, I’m ahead of myself – after Bulls Bridge we went a bit further along the mainline until we got to the PERFECT doggie mooring near the entrance to the Slough Arm of the Grand Union. This mooring was recommended to us by some great boaters we met in Bulls Bridge – owners of narrowboat ‘Wet Dream’ – so called because it’s their dream and it’s on the water – what other interpretation could there be?! 🙂

The Slough Arm of the Grand union is amazingly rural – this bit runs through the Colne Valley and it’s been preserved as a wildlife haven (don’t know how – the land would be worth a mint if it were developed!). Blue is ecstatic – we moored up just before 7pm and he didn’t get back on board until 9pm – and that under protest! He’s been rummaging round the woods, chasing rabbits and allsorts. It really is lovely here. On one of our longer walks we even saw a Muntjack Deer bounding into the undergrowth – luckily Blue didn’t see the deer or we’d have been here for a fortnight! We walked to Little Britain Lake – so called because it’s shaped like the map of Britain. It was getting late so I didn’t read the information board properly – I’ll take Richard there in the morning and fill you in on the details tomorrow. There are a lot of lakes in this part of the valley and I wonder if they’re the remnants of old quarries. The strangest thing about all of this was being able to walk freely with the dogs in this verdant parkland while, in the background, the M25 roared loudly and incessantly – unseen but definitely not unheard!

The photo is of our knackered dogs sleeping on the sofa – they don’t often share and since this photo was taken Lou has ousted Blue to his duvet in the front of the boat and she is stretched out along the whole length of the sofa!

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Indigo Dream – the beginning (part 1)

Posted by indigodream on 3 June, 2008

The naked......boatI said I’d keep the tale of Indigo Dream’s beginning until a rainy day – well, we’ve had a month’s rainfall in a day today so I guess that qualifies. However, I’m far too excited about starting our cruise tomorrow to dwell on the misery and sheer hard work of the build so I’ll give you our top tips for getting a bespoke boat built instead

1. Be clear on what you want – in our experience communication and customer care are not key skills in boatbuilders (they tend to want to build the boat that’s in their heads rather than yours!) so it helps to know what you want and be able to describe it in language they understand. “The narrowboat builder’s handbook” by Graham Booth was helpful!

2. Get lots of graph paper and spend ages sketching out different layouts – be creative and really give some thought to how YOU will use the boat. Don’t be bamboozled by ‘oughts’ from the traditionalists (unless that’s what you want). We drew us up in autocad but then Richard is an Engineer.

3. Watch your finances but more importantly watch those of your boatbuilder. The magazines are littered with people who’ve lost money to bankrupt boatbuilders.

4. Choose a boatbuilder that’s accessible – believe me, you’ll want to keep and eye on progress – partly out of excitement and partly to make sure that it is actually progressing! Ours was in North Wales which was a weary long way but at least there were good cheap trains which made our frequent trips a bit less of a burden.

5. Pay for as many components yourself as possible- get title to each major component – this means that you’ll own something if your boatbuilder goes bust. We paid the manufacturers direct for the shell, we also paid direct for the engine (well actually we paid for the engine twice) and for the painting. This stood us in good stead – our boatbuilder went bust a few weeks after we took our (incomplete) boat from him – because of the way we’d handled the finance there was no argument about who owned what when the debtors came to call. We hear that people ‘next in line’ with the boatbuilder weren’t quite so lucky.

That’s enough for now – as you’ve seen from our previous entries the naked boat was finally clothed and suits us just fine – so we, at least, had a happy ending!

What’s in a name?

I forgot to mention yesterday that we’ve since found out that Indigo Dream is also the name of an indie band, a variety of passionflower and, in dream interpretation means that someone’s is taking advantage of you. We’re honestly not like that, unless you count the relentless rattling of the charity collecting tin whenever guests come on board!

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Why ‘Indigo Dream’?

Posted by indigodream on 2 June, 2008

We haven’t started our summer cruise yet so I’ll keep filling you in on some of the background.

Indigo Dream was launched in May 2006 after the usual boatbuilding saga – I’ll keep that story for a rainy day!

There are a million decisions to be made when you design your own bespoke boat ranging from size of toilet tank(if you’re not a narrowboater then just don’t get us started on the subject of toilets!) through to the colour of the curtains. But the most important decision of all is, of course, the name. In a way it was just as well that our builder was 6 months overdue on delivery – it took us that long and more to decide on a name!

I’d love to tell you a mystical tale about how we came up with the Indigo Dream but we’re scientists and approached the task with our usual logical methodology! We started by listing potential names – painstakingly divided into categories – nature, comic, literary, astronomical – well, this got us a lot of logical lists but no logical decision! So we ditched the science and came back to what we loved instead! We started with the fact that we wanted our boat to be gorgeous blue – this was the one decision we agreed on immediately and unanimously. Anyway, that got us onto colours. Then we thought about our dog at the time – a lovely old lurcher called Indie (pictured above) who was still very fast even into old age (hence indie-go!). So that’s the first part of the name sorted! But Indigo seemed a bit spare as a name so we then though some more – Indigo spirit – nah, too new age (did I mention we were scientists!); Indigo Blue – nah, didn’t work for us; Then one evening we were having a rather tipsy muse on the crystalline perfection of the summer evening sky when it came to us – Indigo Dream – yes, that’s it, to have our own boat (rather than a share) was our dream and it obviously gave us lots of potential to be Indigo Dreamers, to go Indigo dreaming etc etc – perfect.

Indigo Dream was designed as a dog-friendly boat for our aged lurcher. Sadly, because of delays in the build she died a month before the boat was launched so she never did see her namesake :’-( . We were desperately sad but there’s no use being sentimental – when I say the boat is dog-friendly what I actually mean is that it’s dog-proof (the stern is fully enclosed). Indie wasn’t fond of boating and would leap off whenever she could. Jumping six foot off our old boat onto the bank was her forte – often in very inconvenient spots (like just before tunnels) – she considered the conundrum of how to get her back on board to be entirely our problem!

Just one day to go before we start our cruising blog – a VERY rainy day is forecast for tomorrow so maybe I’ll tell you the painful tale of the build then………

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