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Archive for October 20th, 2009

The Odyssey 2009: Day 60

Posted by indigodream on 20 October, 2009

Monday 12th October

Croxley Green to Cowley

Common Moor lock in Croxley - all very civilised.

Common Moor lock in Croxley - all very civilised.

What a magnificent autumn morning – we’ve cruised in sunshine all day, enjoying surprisingly rural stretches of canal considering where we are. One small bridge over the canal had a ‘Transport for London’ low emission zone sign on it – are you kidding, transport for London, out here?

I’m hoping that the low emissions doesn’t apply to our boat diesel engines and the various entrails and feathers that seem to go into the onboard stoves around here. I won’t be giving Boris ideas – I can’t see him slogging though this blog 🙂

The only cloud on our otherwise azure horizon was the sheer number of online moorings around Batchworth, which made for a slow cruise. The fact that many were unlicensed and moored in random places made us ‘tut’ a bit, but I hate ‘tutting’ so I tutted at myself and put a stop to it 🙂

Tesco's at Frogmoor Wharf - now that's a supermarket mooring - empty too...

Tesco's at Frogmoor Wharf - now that's a supermarket mooring - empty too...

We met a few boaters today, all very jovial and all linked by a common theme – alcohol. I was a bit shocked by the amount of beer that had already consumed by 10.30am. Of course, maybe it was the influence of the media. One boater was a little disgruntled because they’d been asked to move off their towpath mooring by a film crew. We were intrigued, and at the next lock there they were – an unbelievable number of people clustered around an eccentric cruiser. We asked a member of the crew what they were filming – it was an episode of the detective series ‘Lewis’. I had to ask whether they’d be putting dummy bodies into the water and they assured me that the gruesome bits had been done elsewhere – this was the investigation! Our contribution to the episode was lending their safety man our sea-searcher magnet – one of the ‘children’, as the hard-bitten crewman called them, had dropped something into the canal. It was returned remarkably quickly after a successful search – there, we’d saved them from a tantrum! I did look out for the star, Kevin Whately, I might have seen the back of his head – that’s my day made then!

On the set of 'Lewis'...

On the set of 'Lewis'...

Interestingly they were filming at Stockers Lock, according to our Nicholson’s but the sign at the canalside sign read ‘Fiddler’s Lock’. Now is this a genuine name change or something done by the film crew to create a new location? Look out for Fiddlers Lock on an episode of Lewis coming your way soon …

Online moorings notwithstanding, there the stretch below Batchworth has a special magic – the Colne Valley to the right has been extensively quarried in the past. The lakes extend all the way down to Denham, and between the rich towpath hedgerows you catch glimpses of the sparkling deep blue waters reflecting the brilliant sky above. There was a sense of something precious in the air – I tried to soak it all in, trying to store something of the day against the gloomy winter to come.

Nicholson’s warns of a lively flow from the left below Copper Mill lock. The hazard of the flow has had an extra frisson added since we were last here; there’s now a canoeing club there obviously enjoying the thrill of the bywash. As we emerged from the lock, one of the canoeists had capsized, couldn’t get back in his canoe and was swept over to the

Black Jack's Lock - attractive, eh?

Black Jack's Lock - attractive, eh?

towpath where, thankfully, he was able to get out of the water safely. So, keep a lookout at Bridge 177 – it’s distinctive because it has a canalside pub – the Coy Carp (which, from memory, does good food).

The next lock along, Black Jack’s lock is particularly attractive, not least because of the buildings clustered around it. It’s obviously been a mill at one time, it looks residential now, and a very nice home it would be too.

We had the next stretch to ourselves – no other traffic and no moored boats. I was bit surprised, it’s stunningly attractive here and usually where moorers can they will! But the clear water soon explained all – it’s only about 6 inches deep at the edge of the towpath with a large gravel strand coming out into the canal. Is that a deliberate ploy to deter mooring or is it just a lack of dredging?

The aggregate barges seem to fill the locks, and the canal, from end to end :-)

The aggregate barges seem to fill the locks, and the canal, from end to end 🙂

Maybe to compensate for the lack of towpath moorings, there’s a long line of mooring bollards above Denham deep lock. We’d assumed they were lock moorings, but they’re actually 14-day spaces. We’ll have to remember that for the future – 14-day moorings with proper rings and/or bollards are a rare thing.

We picked up a pencil fender from the deep lock, figuring that someone else has probably benefited from picking up one of the many that we’ve lost in locks over the last year!

I handed the helm over to Richard at the deep lock – I’d volunteered to go and get the car so I’d be jumping ship in Uxbridge for the tedious train journey back to Bletchley. But the day’s interest wasn’t over – we met a huge wide-beam aggregate barge at coming out of Uxbridge Lock. Richard passed another one later on – it’s good to see freight on the move though it is a bit of a squash in places.

A fine day on a grand canal (oh, and anotehr aggregate barge on the move!)

A fine day on a grand canal (oh, and anotehr aggregate barge on the move!)

Richard dropped me off at Bridge 185 which is a short walk from the town centre. In the meantime, he single-handed through Cowley lock and stopped for lunch at the tearooms (Blue and Lou had their usual sausage sandwich). He bumped into Derwent 6, but he wasn’t sure where he’d knew them from so a blogging meeting went unregarded. After lunch, Richard took Indigo Dream along to our old home in Packet Boat Marina to pump-out and fill with water.

Big Note to Richard: To make the pump out machine work put the card in upside down!

He then took her back up the canal a little way to the 14-day moorings by Bridge 189. It’s a very convenient place to stop with very good road access and convenient street parking.

I had a slow old trip and didn’t get back to the boat ’til around 5.30pm.

As we packed up to leave, I suddenly realised that our Odyssey was over, we have come full circle to where we started.  Obviously we will keep cruising but not at the same intensity. The Odyssey 2009 was 10 days longer than last year’s and we’ve been privileged to cruise some extraordinary waterways. Richard has to do the count up properly but he estimates that on the Odyssey, we’ve travelled 800 miles and done around 500 locks, mostly on weekends.

So I guess it was worth investing in Indigo Dream then – imagine what that trip would have cost in hire charges :-).

It is hard to pick out the highlights of this trip, it has again been a wonderful journey but perhaps two we should mention are the SPCC Cruise to the Royal Docks (and that was before the odyssey!) and the BCN Challenge. If they run either next year and you have the opportunity then so take part folks – both are great adventures.

Photoblog:

It's only the first lock of the day and Lou's already looking for her bed....

It's only the first lock of the day and Lou's already looking for her bed....

Blue had an extended rummage at the first lock of the day so now he's looking for his bed as well!

Blue had an extended rummage at the first lock of the day so now he's looking for his bed as well!

What a poser....

What a poser....

Random moorings.....

Random moorings.....

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The Odyssey 2009: Day 59

Posted by indigodream on 20 October, 2009

Sunday 11th October

Bourne End to Croxley Green

Holding up the traffic at Winkwell swingbridge; the sign warns that boaters who don't close the bridge properly will be fined 10 shillings!

Holding up the traffic at Winkwell swingbridge; the sign warns that boaters who don't close the bridge properly will be fined 10 shillings!

We slept late this morning, enjoying the quiet mooring after a busy day’s locking yesterday. We eventually got going mid-morning. The first obstacle was the Winkwell swingbridge – it’s electrically operated so you’ll need a BW key. I took the helm while Richard sorted the bridge. I always get very embarrassed at stopping the traffic – part of me thinks that drivers will be charmed by the sight of a narrowboat going past at eye-level; the other part of me thinks that drivers can’t believe that this ancient form of transport can be allowed to block the road!

Despite the proximity of the Hemel Hempstead and the railway line, our cruise felt very rural at first. The dogs had many rummages and runs between locks. We passed by nb Aquila by lock 62 – there was some unusual activity going on here – they were getting ready to replant their duck-shaped flowerpot – it looked like quite an enterprise – Richard thought they were setting out the towpath equivalent of a boot sale!

At Two Waters (between Lock 64 and 65) - good dog-walking around here...

At Two Waters (between Lock 64 and 65) - good dog-walking around here...

There’s good dog-walking below lock 63, where there’s access to a shallow river for sploshing. It’s obviously a popular area though there are horses in the first field adjacent to the lock and there are a few busy roads, but the fields looked well-fenced. There’s road-free access to the footpaths around Bridge 149, where the Boxmoor Trust has kindly provided an access gate from the towpath.

Hemel Hempstead has a useful Sainsbury’s close to the canal by Bridge 153A; the moorings aren’t quite as convenient as for some waterside supermarkets but they’ll do. Look out for the ‘shopping’ moorings on the right below the lock. On this, as on other occasions that we’ve passed through, the towpath moorings opposite were full.

The back end of Hemel Hempstead feels a bit bleak compared with the welcoming canalscapes of Milton Keynes or Berkhamstead; but the locals here were very friendly and it feels perfectly secure. Even the fishermen taking part in a competition were genial! We also met another greyhound here, Bess, a dainty girl who’d sadly lost one eye to an infection when she was only a year old. She was very cute though –

Bess the greyhound....

Bess the greyhound....

her missing eye made it look as if she was winking. We met at a town lock so our two were inside and they refused to move from the comforts of the sofa to say hello.

We admired Apsley Basin yet again – this part of town has definitely turned its face to the canal.

We met a pair of working boats at Nash Mills Locks, carrying coal and tied abreast to take advantage of the broad canal. They were low in the water and I imagine that they must have quite a job to get through the shallower sections and to thread their way through moored boats. We met between the locks, the working boat’s crew having asked Richard to just let some water run straight through the top lock into the pound – that was the only way they’d get through. I tucked Indigo Dream into the towpath out of the way but I was amazed by the draw created by a heavy working pair. Indigo Dream was sucked forward at a rapid pace and I had to leap on board to engage reverse before we were swept into a BW butty moored in front. So that’s another lesson learnt. I discussed it with Richard afterwards – was it the weight of the boats or the force of the engine? We concluded it was the weight – they must have been drawing, what, 30 tons or more each, that’s a LOT of water to be displaced.

The marina at Apsley

The marina at Apsley

There’s a relatively long pound between Red Lion Lock and King’s Langley lock so we stopped here for lunch. It’s a pleasant spot – sports fields to one side and a large lake just below the towpath. We looked for a path through for the dogs to have a swim but it’s well fenced – shame. We did well to stop here, the only heavy shower of the day passed over while we were snug inside eating bacon baguettes! As we were contentedly eating, the peace was disturbed by a boat coming in close to Indigo Dream’s back, too close, in fact. We went out to investigate and it was the curious sight of a narrowboat being towed along by its centre rope by a wiry man on the towpath. There was a young man on board, fending off and making sure that the towing rope didn’t get fouled on anything on our roof.

Needless to say, we caught up with them a bit later on and found out that the boat’s engine had blown and the owner, Dave, was spending every weekend towing the boat, by hand, from Tring to a winter mooring site in Cassiobury Park. It seemed like a desperate physical effort so we offered them a tow.

Working pair at the Nash Mills locks

Working pair at the Nash Mills locks

Lashed abreast with Indigo Dream, the boats handled surprisingly well though I left Richard on the helm – I wasn’t quite tall enough to see over our companion boat’s roof and I didn’t feel confident to manouevre them safely. As Richard wryly pointed out later, he couldn’t see over the roof either! The reason we couldn’t see was a solar calorifier which took up quite a bit of roof space and challenged the headroom under some of the bridges. Richard did a good job of getting below the lowest arches with an inch to spare and the calorifier survived the journey intact.

The boat we were towing was “Island in the Stream”, owned by Dave and his wife, originally from South Africa. Today he was being helped by Neil, another friend who hails from South Africa. Now how’s this for serendipity, Neil works for a firm who manufactures cranes, they are Richard’s crane company of choice and they both had common acquaintances – really, what’s the chances of that happening!

The M25 marching across the landscape

The M25 marching across the landscape

As our target for the day was Croxley Green, we ended up towing nb Island in the Stream the whole way to her winter mooring. It was no effort for us and we had a very convivial afternoon. Dave was immensely fit and ran forward to set each lock, even the ones that were a mile or more apart. Neil helped us to work the locks – I did some of the grunt work for a change. I even walked between some of the locks with Blue (who was looking for another opportunity to sneak onto the A41 as he did last year!).

The afternoon flew by – we had good company and the canal’s particularly nice here, even where it passed underneath the monumental M25. So, we were back in London, theoretically; you’d never guess. Almost immediately after the M25, the canal passes through Grove Park, with it’s immaculately manicured golf course and elaborate bridges. It’s another world.

Careful manouevers....

Careful manouevers....

The sheer swankiness of the Grove is soon supplanted by the wilderness of Cassiobury Park, one of my favourite places on the waterways. I love the deep cuttings flanked by rich woodland. Blue loves it too – he and Lou had a good rummage. By Iron Bridge lock, Lou soon came back to the boat – the next lock’s a good half mile away and that’s a bit too far for her to run at the end of a busy day. Blue, however, went rummaging in the adjacent woods, lost sight of the boat and got lost. Now, he was only lost for about 10 minutes but that an eternity in my paranoid little world. I tracked back and forward calling for him, imagining him stolen by gypsies (though there were none around!), drowned in the stream or just gone forever. I needn’t have panicked – while I was wandering through the woods, he’d spotted the boat further down the canal and came flying onto the towpath to be picked up.  It’s a toss up as to which of us was more relieved – Blue will try to push the boundaries but he really doesn’t like being lost and out of sight of the pack.

Almost artistic arrangement of canalside trees approaching the Grove 'estate'

Almost artistic arrangement of canalside trees approaching the Grove 'estate'

There’s a lively boating community by lock 78, our last lock of the day. We said goodbye to nb Island in the Stream here. They weren’t sure of the exact location of the winter mooring so they tied up above the lock until they got more precise directions. Dave was very grateful – he reckoned we’d saved him a month of manual towing. Our towing may have saved him time but I don’t know if it saved him any effort – he’d run the whole way anyway in order to set the locks!

We weren’t sure how much further to go – by the time we got through Lock 78 it was just gone 6pm and the light was fading fast. In the end we moored just beyond Bridge 169 and the disused railway bridge just after. It was a quiet spot and a convenient walk to the nearby Harvester pub which did us a reliable supper. Of course, the Harvester wasn’t dog-friendly but the hounds were fine on board – they’ve done a LOT of rummaging today. We got back to the boat quiet early and watched a DVD – ‘Armageddon’ – good stuff, though it’s hard to be stirred by the action on screen when we’re actually sitting either side of an upside-down greyhound lying with her tongue hanging out in ecstasy as we tickled her tummy!

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Photoblog:

Sofa Wars (2) - Lou having to balance one paw on the floor so that Blue doesn't push her off :-)

Sofa Wars (2) - Lou having to balance one paw on the floor so that Blue doesn't push her off 🙂

Fishing rods across the water....

Fishing rods across the water....

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The rare sight of me actually doing some work....

The rare sight of me actually doing some work....

Ornate Bridge 164 - i think this is the one that was built to placate the Earl of Essex who wasn't keen on having a canal on his land.....

Ornate Bridge 164 - I think this is the one that was built to placate the Earl of Essex who wasn't keen on having a canal on his land.....

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Late afternoon reflections...

Late afternoon reflections...

Rummaging at the Cassiobury Park Locks. See what I mean about the height of that solar calorifier?!

Rummaging at the Cassiobury Park Locks. See what I mean about the height of that solar calorifier?!

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