October 27th to 30th 2008
Grand Union on a grand day
As you may have gathered, my main source of income is writing and delivering training, mainly to nurses and pharmacists. More often than not I work from home but sometimes I have to leave the comfort of my squashy armchair to deliver training courses, often with my friend Camilla, who also has her own training consultancy.
After this week, we’ve decided to deliver training only in venues within reach of a canal!
The plan was for me to cruise down to one of our favourite mooring spots opposite Willowtree Cruisers in Perivale (by Bridge 13), within 2 miles of where we were training near Wembley. Camilla was to join me later on and we’d stay over for a couple of nights, using Indigo Dream as a base.
Anyway, back to the boating. I’ve cruised alone before now but always with dogs on board and with the prospect of being joined by Richard later on. However, this was to be my first ‘proper’ solo cruise. I was a bit apprehensive – don’t know why, I’m perfectly capable of moving the boat along a lock-free pound! I think my biggest worry was fouling the prop – my arms aren’t long enough for me to reach the prop from the deck (as Richard can) so a prop clearance would involved me getting wedged uncomfortably into the engine compartment.
I needn’t have worried – after all, I wasn’t going down the Slough Arm!
It took me a while to load the boat up with all the paraphernalia that two girlies need for a mini-break, as well as all our training materials. I took all the provisions that I’d need up to the deck – sandwich, chocolate, diet coke – if I’d realised how cold I’d get I’d have included a flask of coffee and a hot water bottle!
Concrete and asphalt plant - smell that cement!
When all was ready, including the tiller extension, I stopped dithering, took a deep breath, cast off and started my trip. Once I got going all my apprehensions disappeared. There’s something about being on the tiller – all your petty concerns just melt away.
The exit from the marina’s a bit awkward – there are what I presume to be winter moorers tied up right opposite the entrance which makes it a tight turn for a 60 footer. But I got Indigo Dream out and onto the mainline with no drama.
The canal was nigh on deserted – very few boats and hardly anyone on the towpath. Despite the fact that it was a lovely crisp autumn afternoon, it felt a bit eerie. After all, the Grand Union was the M1 of its day. Even the commercial wharf looked lonely and forsaken!
New housing shooting skywards (and a rare bit of boating traffic)
We’ve cruised this stretch many times now so I tried to concentrate on things I might have missed before. I’ve certainly never noticed the floating classroom before. It is half-term so I guess that’s why it looked so abandoned. I also wished that the camera could record smells – the huge concrete/asphalt spread the dusty smell of cement across the canal, but this was soon surpassed by the smell of coffee. It’s a VAST Nescafe factory and you can smell it for miles. It was a damn sight more pleasant than the chemical factory in Slough.
There are several smart new housing developments going up by the canal – I swear that one was just a pile of blocks when we passed in June but now it’s inhabited. I was a bit worried as there was a group of newly resident kids throwing stones into the canal. They picked up handful of gravel as I approached, I steeled myself for a hard shower. But as it happens they were fascinated by the boat,
Wake up and smell the coffee - VAST nescafe plant...
greeted me cheerily, waved and asked lots of questions. The gravel was for throwing at each other! Fair enough, I can live with that 🙂
I was against the clock today, literally! When I first planned this adventure I hadn’t allowed for the fact that the clocks were changing on the Sunday. I left a bit earlier but I couldn’t waste any time if I wanted to moor up while there was still a bit of daylight. The deserted canal suited me perfectly – I could press on the revs (without breaking the speed limit, of course). I was so relieved to reach Bulls Bridge junction – I’d been anxiously watching the sinking sun and wondering if I could race it to my destination. Of course, once I’d turned at Bulls Bridge I realised the futility of it all, the sun was now behind me and I was travelling towards the rapidly darkening evening.
Along this next section I realised one of the BIG benefits of having crew. With the sun behind me, the canal got seriously cold and I lost all the feeling in my extremities. The few passersby were treated to the sight of me jiggling up and down, doing a routine reminiscent of Riverdance while still trying to keep the boat moving in a straight line!
If the whole pack had been on board I could have:
a) gone inside and stayed inside on ‘urgent’ business, like feeding the dogs or rubbing Lou’s tummy
b) gone inside and put on another 20 layers of clothing
Ok, I could have moored up briefly but I was on a deadline!
Richard did ‘coach’ me through my adventure. I texted him my location after each landmark and he texted back encouraging notes from Canalplan about how long the rest of my journey would take. I didn’t believe him – 4.45pm was my target and I was sure I’d make it, despite him adding 30 minutes to my eta!
I went past our previous home in Engineers Wharf and waved to our old neighbours on Blue Moon. I’d have loved to stop but the evening was drawing in alarmingly.
But I did get to my planned mooring spot at precisely 4.45pm. Richard accused me of being a ‘speedy gonzo’!
Lovely views from our fine moorings in Perivale
This is great mooring spot – it feels very secure as it’s directly opposite a line of residential boats at Willowtree Cruisers. The people here are so friendly, so even though I was on the towpath, the residents advised me where to moor – there’s a shallow bit by the bridge. This we helpful as I could then bring Indigo Dream in for an effortless solo mooring. I banged in some precautionary pins (two stern and aft), calculated the angles for my springs and secured the boat with gordian knots. It would have been so embarrassing to have drifted loose on my first solo trip!
Luckily I’d had the Webasto central heating running all afternoon – giving me the tantalising glimpse of the warm interior from my frigid post at the helm. Once the boat was secure I snuggled inside gratefully. Now, which is worse, losing all the feeling in your fingers and toes or the agony of having the feeling come back when you warm up?!
I was gradually making the boat habitable (cleaning fluff of the floor and cobwebs from the sink) when Camilla tapped on the window, making me jump out of my skin. She’d found the boat easily and reported that it wasn’t a long walk from Perivale tube station.
Leaving for work.....
We had a wonderfully relaxed evening on board, Webasto going full pelt, no dogs to walk, no husbands to cook for and loads of trivia on the telly – bliss! We had an even more relaxed morning; after a great night’s sleep (it’s the fresh air!) we got up at 7am, put the kettle on, went back to bed, made the tea, went back to bed. We didn’t leave the boat until 8.25am – if we’d stayed at home we’d have both had to leave home by 7am!
Camilla had left her car at home and mine was at the marina. No worries, we’d get a cab up to the training venue, shouldn’t be much, it’s only 2 miles. But it’s not 2 miles by local taxi – we hadn’t realised how many routes there were from Perivale to Wembley, all costing between £8 and £12. We felt thoroughly ripped off but consoled ourselves that it was still much cheaper than a travelcard from home. In fact, our whole experience of life outside the canal was one of being ripped off – the hotel where we were training charged £4.70 for a tiny cup of ordinary coffee and a small diet coke, £6 for two small cappucinos!
"Excuse me, just who's bed is this?"
Nevertheless, after a hard day’s training it was absolute heaven to get back to the boat. We were back by 5.30pm (would have been gone 7pm to home) and the boat was toasting (the Webasto’s on a time switch). We were all set to go for an evening stroll up Horsenden Hill before settling in for the evening but disaster struck – the toilet stopped working. I got on the phone to Richard straight away – this was a dire emergency – it was way to cold to contemplate just visiting the bushes 🙂
Richard was a complete hero and dashed up to our rescue, accompanied by Blue and Lou. In the meantime, I tried some emergency repairs, but to no avail. As it happened, this emergency delayed our walk – just as well. We were contemplating setting out when there was a huge clap of thunder followed by torrential rain which quickly turned to big globs of snow. The temperature outside became arctic and we forgot about the walk and got some comfort food going on the stove.
One feature of both nights has been the fireworks – constant from 5pm ’til around 10.30pm. We couldn’t understand it – youth often set off fireworks long in advance of the 5th November but this was excessive. Where would they get the money? Surely it was too early for big public displays, besides, it was midweek. After talking to one of our participants today we finally worked out that the fireworks were part of the local Diwali celebrations. There’s a big Hindu community nearby and I have to say that they really went for it!.
We’d enterprisingly bought in a bucket from outside for the essentials but we were so relieved to see Richard. Blue was just pleased to be indoors – it was raw outside and he’s terrified of loud bangs – the fireworks definitely didn’t meet with his approval. The dogs were delighted – their already comfortable sofa had been converted to a bed with an extra mattress, thicker duvet and three pillows. Lou got on there straight away without waiting for permission, Blue soon joined her. It was funny, the two dogs and Camilla looked at each other suspiciously and simultaneously said “excuse me, but this is my bed”!
Luckily Richard did a quick fix to the loo (problem with the hose) and I fed everyone on board. It would have been nice if they could have stayed – it was warm and companionable with the complete pack. But realistically it would be easier for him to drive home in the evening than in the following morning’s rush hour. Blue had to be dragged off the boat (fireworks) but it was much better for him to go home – we don’t have big Diwali celebrations in Redhill! At this point I was also glad that the camera didn’t have a smell-o-vision function – the dogs are their own amazing chemical factory.
By the time they left it was snowing in earnest and the giant flakes were turning the deck white – urghh – I hate snow. We battened down the hatches and had a little giggly girl rebellion in leaving the heating on all night. I’m so pleased that we did – even with heating going full pelt the temperature inside was only 18 degrees.
Now, Richard’s been my one and only partner for over 24 years so he’s got nothing to worry about if I go off on my own. But just in case, the following should reassure him…
Sue’s night attire (boat):
1 thin sweatshirt, navy;
1 pair three-quarter length jogging pants, fuschia pink;
1 pair socks, fluffy, turqouise and white stripes
We had another good night on board though we got out a little faster in the morning because our water was showing signs of running out. That’s the only advantage of staying in a hotel – they rarely run their tanks dry!
nb Shoestring who we met on the trip to the Royal Docks 2 years ago
I only had to work the morning as I had to be back on board by 2.30pm in order to get back to the marina before dark. I had a great trip – the fresh air was invigorating after training in a stuffy hotel conference room. It was a glorious afternoon, freezing cold but what a sky, there’s no blue like it. It was such a spectacular afternoon that I rang Richard to see if he wanted to join me. He was already in the car! He dashed up with the dogs and I picked them up in Black Horse pub (by bridge 15). I’d had a desperately slow trip up to this point – I got stuck behind a community widebeam – I didn’t think it was worth overtaking because I needed to stop the the Black Horse for water anyway. There’s a useful water point here with very good water pressure.
Our old home (looking very swanky)
Despite my eccentric attire I did find a new soulmate at the waterpoint – a young-ish boater who was admiring my rioutously coloured cardigan. “It’s from Peru”, I said, “so’s my jumper” he replied and almost dislocated his shoulder to show me the label. It was nice to chat with him; I think he was a sole boater and seemed rather lonely. But I was aware of Richard fidgeting in the background and the almost imperceptible but relentless darkening of the sky behind us so I bid my new friend goodbye.
The dogs were hungry so I handed the tiller to Richard and went inside to feed them and tickle Lou’s tummy (nothing to do with keeping warm of course). It was amazing – when he turned up, Richard was still carrying an obvious load of angst from his morning’s work. As he took hold of the tiller he visibly relaxed; by the time we got to Engineer’s Wharf he was smiling broadly.
I took the tiller after Bulls Bridge (Richard caught on the phone) and cruised back to the marina. By now it was fully dark but we kept going with the headlight and it was quite magical. There was a lot of light from the shore so it wasn;t as alarming as coming down the pitch black Slough Arm on Saturday. The air was crisp and cold – we were a bit slow to put the thermometer outside but when we arrived at the marina it was 6 degrees and falling.
As I was on the tiller I opted to stay on there for the mooring. Despite my earlier misgivings (and Richard’s concern that I wouldn’t manage a single-handed mooring), I reversed the boat into our berth with no problem at all. In fact, it was a piece of cake – isn’t everything when there’s no wind and your prop’s not fouled 🙂
Blue in the Black Horse (Lou's photo was out of focus)
We finished off the evening with dinner at the Black Horse – we had to go back there to collect Richard’s car. There’s good pub grub here and it’s dog friendly. Blue and Lou stretched out on their blankets and contentedly scoffed four sausages between them. We had a convivial chat with a Polish woman in the pub – not sure what her agenda was (left before we got too embroiled) but she certainly had an interesting tale to tell! Blue topped off the evening by scaring away two ‘trick or treaters’ who were wandering hopefully round the pub (who on earth lets their under 10s wander unaccompanied round a pub?). Blue didn’t like the look of them and just gave a little ‘woof’ – they scarpered – top dog!
Feeling relaxed and satisfied, we set off towards home. We’re training in Wembley again in November – I think we’ll take the boat again…..
Couldn’t resist adding some cute dog photos. Since these were taken we’ve been back to the vet – Lou ran into something (suspect the garden wall) and has bruised a bone in her foot. Not serious but usual drama – she is now enjoying some strong painkillers and looking totally spaced-out but content!
Patches of sunshine are at a premium this time of year...
Lou loves sunning herself