Sunday 29th March
We’re free at last. What a wonderful feeling – we’ve got the boat and, for today at least, we’ve got the weather and we’ve got the whole of England’s magnificent canal and river network at our disposal.
It’s hard to describe why, exactly, but we never settled at Packet Boat Marina. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief as we slipped out of our mooring and headed for the open water of the Grand Union.
We made a superhuman effort to get to the boat this morning – we’d had a very late Saturday night by our standards. An old friend lavishly celebrated his 50th birthday by hosting a meal at Corrigan’s in Mayfair. It was all best frocks (well, not for Richard, he’s funny that way!) and gourmet food – quite different to our normal m.o. Of course, the mucking around with the clocks didn’t help either! We finally got to the boat at 11am-ish though minus a camera (curses) so no photos today. I took the dogs for a walk and Richard did the essential pre-odyssey engine checks and filled the water tank.
My feeling of discomfort at the marina wasn’t helped when Lou had a game of chase (just play, honest, no barking, growling or malice) with another dog whose owner was very dour about the whole thing. Ah well, we enjoyed our walk in the marina’s fine surroundings and spotted Herbie, moored on the towpath opposite. I knocked on the window but it didn’t look as if Neil and Co. were there. Too bad – catch you some other time hopefully.
Ironically, though, we enjoyed a proper chat with our neighbours at the marina today – how typical. After months of hardly seeing/chatting to anyone, on our last day we finally break the ice. Maybe that’ll stand us in good stead if we ever decide to spend another winter here.
Our plan for today was to get down to Brentford – eminently possible even with our late start provided we divided our labours. Richard drove off to get a bulb (£7.44 !!!) from those nice people at the Uxbridge Boat Centre before dropping the car in Brentford and cycling back to meet me. In the meantime, I took Indigo Dream (and the dogs) towards Tesco’s at Bulls Bridge where I was in charge of stocking the boat with essentials like water, beer, diet coke, beer, dog food and beer (we already have chocolate on board!). You can’t get quite get your trolley down to the towpath, but you can get quite close. Poor old Richard, he cycled uphill from Brentford just in time to load all the heavy shopping onto the boat! He had to go round the houses a bit as the Police had closed the top path just outside the Trans-shipment warehouse. They had put up tapes both sides of a boat and declared it a crime scene but would not tell Richard any more. Wonder if it was related to this incident?
I love having guests on board, but there is a simple joy to be had from a solitary cruise down the cut. And it really was solitary – there wasn’t a single boat on the water. This first bit is now so familiar that Indigo Dream seemed to drift down the canal as if she knew the way and barely needed my touches at the tiller. Who can blame me if I imagined that she pulled towards the Paddington turn at Bulls Bridge – we always turn there after all! The only blots on my tranquil landscape were three young lads who threw a stone at the boat just after I’d cruised past them. Oh for a camera, they looked thoroughly wicked – fully aware of how moronically wrong their actions were. It just makes my blood boil – not the stone, but the attitude, which I’m sure will lead to worse criminal activity later.
Anyway, I resolved not to let them spoil my day – the weather was crisp and clear – comfortably warm in the sunshine, numbingly chill in the shade. The Grand Union was our private canal for the day and, after indulging in lunch from the hot chicken counter (and the Krispy Creme doughnut stand) we were in ebullient form. There was a flurry of boating activity round Tesco but once we moved on we had the water to ourselves again.
I let Richard have the helm for a while and I unpacked the shopping. It’s dull work but I still felt a little thrill – the mere fact of stocking up the boat was a sign that we were back on the road, as it were.
Richard continued his fitness campaign at the top of the Hanwell flight. After the first lock, the towpath’s well clear of any roads/other sources of trouble so dogs could run free. It’s one of their favourite places on the waterways. Richard cycled between locks, Blue and Lou rummaged around them. I quietly drove the boat, occasionally shouting instructions if I caught a glimpse of Blue’s tail disappearing into the undergrowth. I hope this isn’t famous last words, but Lou finally seems to be settling down with other dogs.
We had an efficient trip down the locks – all but the last two were set our way with the locks gates left open – easy peasy! We only had one strange delay. As we came down the first lock, Richard spotted a boat coming down the canal. I moved into the next lock to wait for them while Richard refilled the first lock ready for them. He cycled back and asked them whether they were coming down the flight to Brentford and they said ‘yes’. So he explained that we would wait for them at the next lock.. We waited, and waited, then waited some more. There was no sign of them so we just had to carry on down. There are lots of walkers on this flight so we asked one of them to pass a message to the boat behind us to tell them we’d moved on. Our messenger caught up with us later to say that the boat had turned round at the lock and hadn’t come down at all. Now, did Richard misunderstand their intentions or did they misunderstand his and decide not to risk the flight with this bearded giant? 🙂
The stretch from Bulls bridge to Brentford is full of interest. There are always lots of onlookers who seem genuinely interested in the canal and its workings. They’re a chatty bunch and coming down the Hanwell flight is a bit of a spectator sport! The canal is pastoral – now with just a skim of spring green on all the vegetation, but later it will be lush with leaves. It’s an opportunistic scrubland rather than a manicured park, with the surreptitious spread of brambles rather than the bursting blooms of more civilised plants. You’d never guess you were passing through the busy outer fringes of London. You get the odd clue from the low-flying planes heading for Heathrow and the odd London Underground or motorway bridge towering over the canal, but they seem a world away from the water. However, the canal has the signature of the urban waterway – garbage. Maybe a little less this time than when we came up in October but enough to foul the prop halfway down the flight. It’s fair to say that we’ve had to get into the weedhatch to clear the prop EVERY time we’ve done the Hanwell flight – shame.
This stretch also has the apparently famous ‘three bridges’ (according to our old Nicholsons) – a curious feature where the canal runs above the railway and below the road. It’s always amused me as the ‘famous’ three bridges that I know is a train station just South of Crawley. You’d only make the mistake once 🙂
Within five minutes of clearing the last Hanwell lock, the canal changed abruptly, throwing off its green cloak and donning a smart suit of wealthy industry, immaculate canalside housing and neat residential moorings. We were at the end of our day’s cruising. Even so, we noticed, for the first time, that there are useful mooring bollards directly opposite GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSKs) amazing offices. We also noticed what we think is a new and attractive cascade running from GSK’s lovely lawns into the canal. We wondered whether this was part of the ‘heat exchange’ scheme that we’ve read about. GSK were planning to use canal water as a coolant for their ‘green’ air conditioning system.
We moored up at the Brentford Visitor moorings in the basin above the gauging locks. They’re 14-day moorings with just about every BW facility you can think of. We got a particularly fine spot just beyond the water point/pump-out facility. It’s within reach of a tap but doesn’t block the waterpoint which means that we can wash the boat to our heart’s content next week – she really does need a good scrubbing.
As usual, we found it almost impossible to walk away from the boat – Richard found that a spare tub of paint for the boat HADN’T fused into a gloopy lump so he started touching up the scratches in order to check the match. He painted a wooden board so that we’d have something to send to the paint company for matching (we’re going to need an awful lot in order to cover all the dings we’ve accumulated in 3 busy years!). But the dogs forced us to move. As I was disposing of our rubbish, Blue spotted the car and ran around it ecstatically. He was in no doubt that it was time to go, neither was Lou. They dived into the back seat and snuggled in – we took the hint!
Blue had the time of his life on the Hanwell flight. He ran and rummaged to his heart’s content. Lou enjoyed herself as well, but she’s more likely to lie down lock-side soliciting fuss and kisses from all the passersby. They both came on for a drink and a quick rest about halfway down, then they were off again. Blue found himself a path just out of sight of the canal – we were yelling for him to come back and unseen people on the path were shouting back ‘he’s here’ – it was quite droll! It was Blue heaven – way after Lou had come on board (she’d had enough exercise on her chronic knee), he continued to run around unabated. But Blue did manage to outsmart himself at the penultimate lock – he went off for an extended rummage in the sure knowledge that soft-hearted mummy would wait for him. But Richard sent me on with the promise that he’d wait for Blue, and so he did. But that left Blue with an unexpected mile-long run behind the bike to the last lock. Needless to say, the dogs are both catatonic at home now and I predict a quiet week while they catch up on their sleep.
Update on Blue’s Sister
If you read our last post, you’ll know that we had a little dream of rehoming one of Blue’s twin brothers or sisters. We’ve now had the brilliant news that his sister Amy has found her forever home and will be moving to Rome in April. We’re delighted for Amy but a little sad for ourselves – we’ve lost our little dream and the only plausible excuse that we had for taking on a third greyhound 🙂