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Boat Blog: Slough Arm

Posted by indigodream on 27 October, 2008

Saturday 25th October

Looking back towards Cowley Peachey Junction

Looking back towards Cowley Peachey Junction

It’s been a bit dismal since finishing our summer odyssey – I’m not at all sure that we’re suited to mouldering in a marina after the joyful freedom of months of continuous cruising.

We’re not off to a good start at the marina, though we are getting to chat to more people there and relations with our fellow boaters are starting to thaw. Later in the day our neighbours were very helpful indeed when our prop was fouled and left us at the mercy of a brisk wind – I’ll tell you that story shortly!

We’ve had some trouble with the shore power connection. 16 seconds after plugging into the shore power, the circuit breaker on our post cuts out! If we plug into a different post it all works fine. We asked the marina to check their post and we got an electrician to check our electrics. The marina plugged a kettle in and that at first tripped the circuit breaker but then seemed to be ok.

Looking down the Slough Arm

Looking down the Slough Arm

Now, here’s where it get technical, as both appear to be fine but according to the electrician the cause of the problem seems to be with the power supply post. Our circuit breaker appears to have been changed from the standard GE type used elsewhere and the new type of breaker is not happy when our charger suddenly demands 10 amps. So now we’re in a bit of a stand-off – the marina’s not too bothered, no-one else is complaining so they’ve just put it down as a routine maintenance thing which they’ll see to at some unspecified future date. In the meantime, we’ve not got the proper shore power which is a large part of what attracted us to a marina in the first place (to protect our brand new batteries). We do have the option of setting our inverter to draw only 6 amps or sharing a post with another boater who’s not using his supply. The marina have been quite sharp with us about not running down the other boater’s credits and only using the post when absolutely necessary. This didn’t go down too well, we do try to live honourably and theft isn’t our normal m.o.! We have de-tuned our inverter, that seems to be working but have told our neighbour to simply disconnect us (and give us a ring) if we trip the post out – she is on board more than us so needs power more than we do. We don’t think that 6 amps is enough for the coffee machine.

Lou making a dash for home...

Lou making a dash for home...

Anyway, we’ve only paid up until February then we can review our mooring arrangements. We were thinking of staying at the marina for an extra month – we’ve got until early January to decide. I’m sure I’ll be pleased to be in a marina when the cold weather really sets in and I’ll want to spend weekends at home with a novel and large cups of tea!

Anyway, I’ve been booked to run a few training courses in Slough and in Brent – both conveniently placed near the canal. As I hate (car!) driving and both locations are nightmares to get to by public transport, I had the grand plan of moving the boat nearby and using it as my base. Hence our first ever exploration of the Slough Arm.

Now, both Nicholson and Pearson have very little good to say about the Slough Arm, but you know us,

Fly tipping

Fly tipping

ever the optimists! I had hoped that the suggestions that the basin at the end of the arm was a shallow midden were exaggerated and that it might have been developed since our guidebooks were written. I was looking forward to mooring peacefully there, strolling to the training venue just down the road, delivering the training to a keen and grateful group, then strolling back to the boat for a well-earned glass of wine. This will NOT be happening πŸ™‚

We set off in the late afternoon having sadly lost the early sunshine. We immediately got into trouble with very sluggish steering. We tried our standard prop-clearing measures (blast of full reverse, blast of full forward, blast of full reverse) – that helped a bit but we were still crawling along.

Traditional canal bridge - there aren't many on this stretch

Traditional canal bridge

Blue was complaining mightily about not having had an exciting walk yet, so Richard hopped off for a stroll down the towpath with them while I plodded on with the boat. With his own flair for adventure, Blue almost stopped my heart by shooting off up the embankment towards the M25; he was soon followed by Lou who was too scared to walk under the M25 bridge and thought she might be better off crossing over! For some reason Lou has a thing about being under bridges, especially railway bridges. Richard caught them both and I decided to get them back on board before I had a nervous breakdown! I knew there was something amiss though when I tried to bring the boat into the side. Despite Richard’s detailed advice on how to bring the boat into the side (he could benefit from some of Bruce’s wisdom πŸ™‚ )Β I failed miserably and he finally had to agree to catch the stern rope and pull me in. The culprit was a tough plastic coal bag round the prop – you can tell it’s winter!

Signs of another brick bridge - now long gone..

Signs of another brick bridge - now long gone..

With the prop cleared we carried on down the largely deserted canal. Even so we were struggling to move. There’s something about the shape of the canal here – we had 1400 revs on the counter but the boat was barely moving! The canal’s deep enough in the centre but seems very shallow at the sides. We did pass two boats going towards the mainline – they were friendly enough and there was enough room for us to pass without going aground!

I haven’t been able to put out finger on why, but this is a bleak and cheerless bit of water. Yet it’s quiet and wooded and, for the most part, amazingly rural considering where it is. I think that part of the problem is the garbage – the canal’s in quite a deep embankment – does anyone know why fly-tippers like to dump rubbish down embankments? There’s also a lot of garbage in the water. Maybe it was just the day – although it was dry, there was a fast cold wind, heavy grey clouds and a general air of autumnal gloom. I wonder how I’d feel about the canal if I came down here on a sunny day.

Online moorings at Iver

Online moorings at Iver

The first bit of excitement after the M25 was the boatyard at Iver. We came here several years ago (by car) to view a second-hand boat (lovely boat but not enough internal headroom for Richard) and did consider mooring here. The yard has over half a mile of online moorings – most are residential and the boats are brested up – double for the most part, but triple in places. When we visited we were impressed by the friendliness of the place but I’m so glad that we didn’t moor here. Given how slow the canal is, I think we’d have found it a bit of a slog to get back to the mainline every time we fancied a cruise. I think we’d have also got fed-up with carrying things down the long path from the car park to the moorings.

Bit narrow in places....

Bit narrow in places....

It’s pretty narrow here with moored boats, especially in the bits where three boats were brested up – it would have been impossible to pass another narrowboat here. We were surprised that it was allowed but, quite frankly, I don’t there’s enough boat traffic here for anyone to care!

Past the marina the canal takes on an even more neglected air. We got the impression that no-one travels any further than the winding hole just below the marina. Having said that, foot traffic increased a bit and we noticed some good dog-walking on the offside between bridge 7 and 8. There’s plenty of water in the canal (but watch out for shallow edges) and it’s not overgrown. But you do get a nagging feeling that this is a dying waterway. Maybe its the absence of moored or moving boats other than at the boatyard.

Tidy housing and the natives are friendly

Tidy housing and the natives are friendly

A little further down we got into the suburbs of Slough. There were a few parks and tidy enough housing. There were lots of young people out and about and they were no bother. The older people on the towpath smiled and waved delightedly as we cruised past. Funnily enough, there wasn’t any more trash in the water here than further up so maybe the locals do care for their waterway.

The housing was only a temporary bit of interest – the rest of the outskirts lapsed into industry, most notably a gigantic chemical works which exuded a strange smell into the air. Not a nasty smell, just chemically pervasive – strike this from the list of potential mooring spots!

Call that a basin!!!

Call that a basin!!!

According to the map, we were near the end of our trip – we couldn’t quite believe it. Ahead of us was a widening which only the most wildly imaginative, with the benefit of mind-altering drugs, would have called a basin. It was the most miserably abrupt end to a canal that I’ve come across – surrounded by the back-ends of industrial units. Despite this, the water was NOT full of garbage and there was plenty of room and water for us to wind. We had a bright chat with some local lads who were very interested in the boat and were greeted very cheerfully by some local fishermen. We felt welcome down here. But I think I’d worry about mooring here overnight (especially by myself) but I’ve got no rational basis for that belief.

Plenty of room to wind though

Plenty of room to wind though

It was seriously gloomy by the time we headed back – our aim was just to get back to the marina as fast as possible. Obviously, this wasn’t very fast at all – we couldn’t make any headway and the more revs we put on the less we seemed to move. It was a bizarre phenomenon. There weren’t any moored boats to worry about apart from the stretch near the boatyard, where the canal’s entire boating population is huddled together for comfort. Because of the way the brested up boats were tied, it was only possible to pass them at the slowest crawl imaginable. Richard chased me off the boat for a bracing walk with the dogs – I hopped off at Bridge 8 – cross the canal to the offside and there’s a footpath through a field which was perfect rummaging territory for the dogs. It’s strange but this signed footpath ends at a locked gate.

Friendly natives at the basin

Friendly locals at the basin

Fortunately generations of walkers before me had forged a clandestine trail through the undergrowth so we did just manage to get onto the road and across the canal to rejoin the towpath. This scrambling through the bushes put us well behind the boat, but it’s such a crawl past the boatyard that we actually caught up by the time Richard pulled the boat in under Bridge 6.

It was nigh on pitch dark by the time we got the last stretch – I was desperate for our cruise to end. I’ve been full of cold all week and was feeling a bit feeble, not helped by the chill and gloomy surroundings. But it would be a while before I’d see my bed….

Vast chemical works on the outskirts of Slough

Vast chemical works on the outskirts of Slough

When we got back to the marina it was getting dark and there was a ferocious wind blowing across the pontoons. In fact, blowing in such a way as to make it almost impossible to reverse into our berth. Richard tried valiantly but in order to back into the berth we had to turn broadside to the wind and we just got swept away. We turned and tried again. We had our headlight on and the inhabitants of one boat looked up through their picture window as went past – I waved but they just kept staring at me in the most hostile manner. Richard turned the headlight off.

So here’s the scenario, it’s a bit dark, we’re manoeuvring without lights, the marina feels like hostile territory and the wind is making life impossible. At this point, we lost all steerage – as we found out later, the prop was totally immobilised by bits of ragged clothing, plastic bags and other detritus.

This incongruously bright roof cheered us up though...

This incongruously bright roof cheered us up though...

We were feeling pretty hopeless when we saw the other side of the boating folk here. One guy saw that we were helpless and being swept (literally) towards the end of the marina, and called out to his mate on a neighbouring vessel – “boat in trouble”. Unfortunately we were too far from their pontoons for them to catch our rope but we we appreciated their help and support. They even suggested that we take up an empty berth nearby but without steerage there was only one place we were going – straight into the side of the dutch barge moored at the end of the marina. Fortunately we were broadside on and we did manage to slow the boat down using the pole so that we only touched the barge (rather than a wholesale clang). The lady on board the barge was lovely – she just told us not to worry, apparently they often make new friends in this way as the crosswind regularly blows boats their way! She told us to moor alongside for the night, no problem with offloading across her bow, move in the

Surely it has the makings of a canal that boaters could enjoy...

Surely it has the makings of a canal that boaters could enjoy...

morning when the wind dies down etc. She had a wonderful attitude because by now we were cold, tired, frustrated and extremely embarrassed and needed all the reassurance we could get. In the meantime, Richard was down the weedhatch and after 5 minutes of unwinding and cutting off various unsavoury items finally cleared the prop.

Despite the barge’s kind offer, we decided to try for our berth one more time. We were relieved to make it (not very elegantly, but who cares). It was gone 7pm by now and I was at the end of my tether. We bundled the dogs into the car and headed for home and a soul-renewing take-away from our favourite chinese.

Would we do the Slough Arm again? Out of desire – probably not; out of principle – YES! As with near-derelict waterways, we believe that the trick is to use them more, so that means cruising down and back many times until others join us. Cruising along, you can almost see Slough Arm’s future written in the water – first the basin will fill up; then the next part of the arm will be abandoned for lack of a winding place; the canal will stay open as far as the Iver moorings but if the boatyard folds then I sense that’ll be the end of the arm. “No great loss”some will say, but as the many canal restoration societies around the country will tell you, once it’s lost it’s b****y difficult, if not impossible, to get them back again. The biggest encouragement to use this waterway would be if Slough itself actually made something of its basin – then at least there’d be something worth cruising to…. Mind you the pub at the end looked quite nice.

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5 Responses to “Boat Blog: Slough Arm”

  1. Greygal said

    Good on you for giving it a go – use it or lose it don’t they say? And as for those dogs heading for the M25? Cripes, they do like to frighten you in style don’t they?

  2. indigodream said

    Use it or lose it is dead right.

    The M25 and dogs thing was not toooo bad. The M25 was properly fenced off, Blue was just exploring the embankment behind the bridge abutment. Lou was the one that got me worried as she was spooked and heading up the embankment looking pretty determined so owner paranoia took over there. I suppose letting greyhounds have so much off lead time is sometimes a bit fraught though very rewarding. I am sure that we (inevitably) over react at times, the dogs are (now) getting really good off the lead, recall almost works … πŸ™‚

    Sue is off for a few days on the boat cruising round North London as she is doing a few days training near Wembley. Blog entries to follow ….


  3. An interesting read. Do try the arm again in spring /early summer, then you’ll see it in a much better light. We moor (non residential)down at Iver and everyone is friendly, the electrics work and the place is well run (and about a grand per annum cheaper than Packet Boat) – and we get no wind!! Residential boats are all against the bank and non residents outside them.

    As you discovered, you can’t hurry in the shallow water, just stick to the middle and enjoy the wildlife which is unusually abundant in summer – dragonflies, kingfishers, fish easily visible in the water, and even a terrapin. Apparently Slough Council has ideas of improving the basin as part of a future regeneration scheme.


  4. indigodream said

    Neil, we’ll definitely be back as we think that the arm has a LOT of potential. Have you heard of the ‘Friends of the Slough Arm’? Are they still an active organisation? I was thinking of writing to Slough Council about the basin and wondered if a collective voice would be more effective.
    I did think about mooring in the basin and doing a coffee morning for any boaters who came down to join us! There must be some way of making Slough a desirable destination πŸ™‚
    Richard, who is an engineer and tends to have BIG ideas, was looking at the feasibility of opening the link from Slough to the River Thames. Now wouldn’t that be grand!

  5. indigodream said

    Oh Neil, we forgot to mention that we’ve really enjoyed the “Herbie Awards”. We had a feeling your were moored in our vicinity but hadn’t realised just how close you were. Hope to see you on the cut sometime.
    We also enjoyed another blogging coincidence in your post of 18th October
    Our first ever narrowboat cruise was Llangollen to New Mills on Silver Saturn and we ran the bilge pump a few times a day …. It was the start of a slippery path for us from hiring to sharing to buying our own boat!

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