Indigo Dreaming

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The Odyssey 2010: Day 4

Posted by indigodream on 11 April, 2010

Saturday 3rd April

Bourne End to Marsworth (above Lock 132)

These lock gates look new - check out the shiny gate paddle - is that galvanised?

We had a quiet-ish night at Winkwell Swingbridge, despite the proximity of the railway line. I never know whether that’s because the trains stop running quite early in the evening  or whether it’s because we’ve been poleaxed by the fresh air. Lou has finally resigned herself to sleeping in the galley when we have overnight guests – Liam and Lena reported fewer nocturnal visits this time!

There was a disturbance at 4am, with an almighty racket from the local canada geese. When I used to work for Tesco (many years ago) one of the store managers told me about the “three F’s” – the only misdemeanours that would result in instant dismissal – “Fighting, Fu”£$^ and Fieving'” (they were an elemental lot!). Now I know that in ancient times, geese were used as watch-birds but I’m afraid they wouldn’t survive today’s modern employment practice as, from the sound of it, all 3 dismissible offences were being perpetrated on the canal this morning 🙂

Despite the disturbance, Richard woke up full of beans – how very irritating! I am NOT a morning person, never have been, never will be; other non-morning people will share my pain at having someone bouncing around and wanting to be off 🙂

Luckily his partner in crime, Liam, is also quite perky in the morning, so men and dogs were able to get us going through the lock while Lena and I got ready at a more sedate pace. Richard did redeem himself after the first lock by making coffees and piles of bacon and egg sandwiches – all perfectly cooked to order (hard, soft or medium egg; bacon lightly cooked or cremated?). I started to perk up under the influence of an extra-strong latte and the prospect of a delightful trip through the Tring cutting later in the day.

There's so much water in this stretch of the canal - I wonder why?

There were a few more boats on the move today but still far fewer than we expected. I know there aren’t many hire bases around here, but considering it’s a bank holiday the canal was deserted. We had the locks to ourselves for most of the morning and enjoyed waving at the trains rushing along the railway line adjacent to the canal. No-one waved back today but the trains seemed to be moving so fast. I wondered whether we’d achieved some sort of blessed state of boating, our own waterway nirvana – you only know you’ve reached it when the rest of the world seems to be moving obscenely fast!

Not that canal life is dull – today’s little drama was up near Tring where a boat drifted broadside to the canal in front of us. We thought at first that it was turning but Liam spotted that the canal was too narrow and  there was no-one on the helm. It turns out that its front pins had been dragged out – we saw another boater on the towpath who went on board to pole the boat back to its mooring, but then the owner popped out – I don’t think he’d noticed that he was adrift! They blamed the ‘pensioners’ in the boat in front of us for going too fast, but I didn’t think they were travelling that quickly….

Anyway, back to the start of the day. There are plenty of locks along here and we had them all to ourselves right up through Berkhamstead. We continued to be amazed at how few boats there were on the move.

Berkhamstead looked mighty fine in the sunshine. For all my cruising years I’ve been meaning to read the many signboards here but I’ve always been busy in the locks. But today, with a willing crew on board, I finally managed to find out more about the town – by reading the boards myself and by getting Liam to photograph them for me. If you pass through the town then do take the time to read them – there’s a wealth of information. I won’t repeat what the boards say, there’s just too much! But Berkhamstead is another thousand year settlement with a broad succession of industries reflecting changing times and fortunes. Needless the say, the River Bulbourne and the canal have played a large part in putting Berkhamstead on the map. I was struck by the irony that the town which once sustained a thriving watercress growing business in its clean water is also famous for being the home of the original sheepdip – a noxious compound of sulphur and arsenic!

Another boat in need of TLC - we're seen a few sunk or half-sunk boats - I guess it's been a hard winter....

Blue and Lou enjoyed their customary lockside rummages, drawing the usual attention from passersby and having their photo taken by random tourists.

Unusually I’d walked ahead of the boat with the dogs and met a narrowboat just going up Lock 52 (on the outskirts of Berkhamstead). They were already halfway up when Indigo Dream came into view below- they offered to wait for us at the next lock. Maybe we should have gone in with them but there was another narrowboat coming up behind us so we shared locks with them instead. The boat we shared with was on her ‘maiden’ voyage – she’d been bought by a young London couple who were starting out on a life aboard.  They had another couple and a bottle of champagne on board to celebrate their first cruise and from the outset we didn’t get on with them. We didn’t NOT get on with them, but there was no rapport. It made for a long couple of hours as we climbed to the summit at Cowroast Lock. The culmination of our dislike came when Richard left us to get the cars – the young man asked us whether “that bloke on the bike was just some random person we’d picked up at the locks”; he was coldly informed that “that bloke” owned Indigo Dream 🙂

Our locking partners stopped for water above Cowroast Lock, leaving us free to enjoy the peace of the Tring summit. The trees were bare with the white afternoon light falling unimpeded into the deep cutting but this place has the feel of an endless afternoon – dusky and timeless. The sign for Tring train station seemed to point to a world so distant it might as well have been a fable.

What a contrast then when we came to the busy-ness of Bulbourne – online moorings, workshops and our favourite artist blacksmith with his enticing displays of unique inronwork.

Berkhamstead's famous totem pole - remnanat of a local timber industry that's long since gone....

At this point we decided to visit the Wendover Arm again. The last time we came here, we weren’t sure how far down we could go and ended up turning just past the Heygates Mill. But we’d heard that it was possible to get quite a bit further. We turned left at Bulbourne junction, stopping briefly to get an information leaflet from the little box on the towpath (open with a BW key). The Wendover Arm Trust do an excellent information leaflet and it was good to get the most up-to date view of the Arm.

As we cruised down the arm, the views across the surrounding countryside opened up, with glimpses of the reservoirs at Marsworth as well as the far Chiltern Hills in the distance. The arm is gradually being colonised by moored boats – one proudly proclaimed that he’d been there for 4 weeks already. Another told me that he’d been forced to moor there long-term because he’d been pushed into the bank by the wind and couldn’t move .  It’s such a quiet spot that I can see a lot of continuous mooring going on here unregarded – after all, it’s not for the Trust to police it.

But that said, the Wendover Arm is beautiful and so very quiet. We stopped at the (48-hour) moorings just beyond the newly built Bridge 5 near the terminus. What a magical spot – Bridge 5 carrries a small road but there wasn’t a sound and I thought that loudly twittering skylarks deserved an ASBO for disturbing the peace! We had a very late lunch here, everyone enjoying a little rummage along the towpath, talking to other boaters and breathing in the deep calm. I was very reluctant to cast off – if you were having a hard time at home or work then the far end of the Wendover Arm would be the perfect retreat.

Note: There’s a proper winding hole at the current terminus so don’t be afraid to explore right to the end of the navigation.

We came back to civilisation all too quickly and had a decision to make – stay in Bulbourne or go down the Marsworth flight. Lena voted for an early finish, and so did I, but when we came to look for a mooring she said “oh, you mean we’re stopping now?” and sounded so disappointed that she quickly changed her mind, much to Liam’s delight. He did a nifty reverse turn at the junction and we headed off down the Marsworth. I couldn’t complain – I love the flight and the fine views over the reservoirs. We had the locks to ourselves apart from a hire boat coming up at the penultimate lock, ensuring that the rest of the flight would be set our way. Liam and Lena shared the driving and locking between them, taking turns to keep Seamus amused. In the meantime, Richard cycled ahead to set the locks and supervise Blue and Lou’s last big rummage of the day – he didn’t have much to do on that score – the dogs were almost catatonic after a busy few days.

The perfect tranquillity of the Wendover Arm.....

We moored just above the bottom lock – there’s a handy pay ‘n display car park for walkers and fishermen visiting the area. Richard had dropped the car off here earlier, so he went off with Liam to get the other car while we packed the boat up and got ready for the trip home.

My heart went out to Liam and Lena – I think they’ve really enjoyed the balmy peace of the narrowboat and were sad to leave. Of course, we have the luxury of being back on board next weekend though I hope that they’ll join us again. I’m already looking forward to the day when they have their own boat and we can have a little cruise in convoy with them 🙂

Today’s Trivia

Today’s trivia is an unashamed plug for the Wendover Arm Trust and their ambitious initiatives to restore this beautiful stretch of canal. I hope they won’t mind my taking some information from their leaflet in the interests of promoting boaters to explore.  The Wendover Arm was opened in 1797 and was just over 6 miles long. The current navigation is around 1 and a half miles between Bulbourne Junction and Little Tring Bridge (Bridge 5) but the whole length is open for walkers. The Trust’s aim is to restore the arm as far as Wendover Basin – they’re doing well, there’s the challenge of around half a mile of dry canal separating the current navigation from a shallow but watered section to Wendover. But it all takes time and money – they’re working on the dry section at the moment, in the hope of re-watering it by 2020. My goodness, we’ll be pushing 60 by then – I do hope we’ll still be boating on Indigo Dream 1,2, 3 or even 4 and will be in a position to enjoy the lengthened navigation.

Walkers can already enjoy Wendover, but the parish website gives an idea of what we boaters have to look forward to when the arm is fully restored…..

So, forget ‘band aid’ how about getting excited about ‘blockaid’ instead – the next part of the Wendover Arm restoration needs 90,000 concrete blocks – you can become part of ‘blockaid’ by sponsoring a block! It costs £2 per block. If you’re passing then you can get a sponsorship form from the information ‘box’ at Bulbourne Junction or if you’re further away then check out the ‘blockaid’ website –


Seamus enjoying his boat trip.....

A harmonious juxtaposition of rail and canal....

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There are a few of these brick constructions above Lock 53 and the next lock; they have panels to say they were build in the mid-1940s. We think they're pumping stations.

This pretty carpet of moss and flowers made for a slippery lock edge!

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The beautifully restored Tring Bridge (No 5) on the Wendover Arm

Rose are red, violets are blue, atishoo, atishoo, atishoo...... Spring blossoms herald the hayfever season!

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The Heygates flour mill on the Wendover Arm - good to see some living industry, though it doesn't intrude on the peace at the far end.....

Another one of out winter jobs - we've finally secured our deck doors using the simplest of all the mechanisms we've considered over the years. The dog-proof doors have also been toddler-proof as well!

4 Responses to “The Odyssey 2010: Day 4”

  1. Minnie said

    Glad you found old Berko interesting – not that I’m biased, of course … ;-)!
    Have really enjoyed reading your blog, and the photos are terrific, too. Impressed by your powers of observation. Bon voyage.

  2. indigodream said

    Berko is a great canalside town – we always feel really welcome there. We’ll be back there towards the end of June with a posse of sightseers – wave if you spot us!

  3. Minnie said

    Let me know – afraid I’m now living elsewhere; but will definitely be there in spirit,waving from the towpath down near the castle.

  4. indigodream said

    Ah Minnie- sorry that you’re not in the area any more – we’ll send you a virtual wave when we get there….

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