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Boat Blog: Exploring the Lee and Stort Navigations (1)

Posted by indigodream on 23 September, 2010

Saturday 18th September

Limehouse Basin to Cheshunt

Phew, I’ve managed to drag the keyboard away from Lynx and Ty – they’re becoming prolific diarists!

Setting off along Limehouse Cut on a fine autumn morning...

Our cruise last weekend was postponed because of the unanticipated happening of our second foster dog, Ty. We stayed at home to give him a bit of time to settle into his new environment; but it was just as well that we stayed put, we had an unexpected invasion of family followed by a 48-hour fever which laid us low all day Monday. Some cruises just aren’t meant to be!

Anyway, our latest plan is to mooch around the Lee and Stort for the next several weekends. We haven’t been here for a few years and it will be interesting to see how it matches our rather hazy memories. We also have two charity cruises booked for the 25th September and 2nd October – one thing that we do remember is that the Lee Valley Country Park, which surrounds the navigation, is particularly lovely.

We had a slow start on Saturday morning. Poor Ty still get confused about where the dog loo is (definitely in the garden Ty!) so we had a clean-up operation before we left the house. We were excited, Greygal and three of her pack (Miffy and Ranger, who’ve been before, and Sidney, who’s never been on a narrowboat) were joining us for the day.  They really went for it – parking their car in Cheshunt and taking the train to Liverpool Street Station where we picked them up (by car). Their hounds coped very well with the train and lapped up all the fuss they could from random strangers.

Note: The entrance to the country park and towpath near Cheshunt station is a very convenient place to pick up/drop off visitors. The station is close to the navigation and there is parking on the streets, in the station car park and in the country park car park though the latter is locked at sunset-ish.

In the meantime, we took our new pack to the boat. Ty coped very well – he was fearful but although the boat was totally unfamiliar, he did recognise the big fluffy duvet on the floor and curled himself up straight away. I got on with my usual boating chores – draining the water tank and refilling it with fresh while Richard collected our crew. We did have a small calamity later on when I offloaded the hounds to go and meet Greygal’s pack on neutral territory. Lynx and Ty got tangled coming out of the deck door and Lynx half fell into the water between the pontoon and the boat. He was quickly hoicked out but though there was no apparent damage done he screamed the place down for several minutes while I massaged the leg that he was waving in the air. I couldn’t find anything amiss – I think is was mainly fright. Luckily everyone on our end of the pontoon are dog people so they held onto Lou and Ty while I administered sympathy to Lynx.

The olympic stadium coming along nicely - could we offer to host this year's Commonwealth Games at short notice? Maybe not....

Lou had her usual ferocious barking session when she spotted the rest of the pack, but we soon had six calm greyhounds walking together and causing much comment. They had a run around the little dog park and once we were satisfied that a) they were empty and b) they weren’t going to kill each other, we wended our way back to the boat and got started.

It’s very relaxing to cruise with competent friends who are familiar enough with Indigo Dream’s steering to be left on the helm. The dogs settled down on various duvets and sheepskins (including 2 – 3 dogs on deck at all times!) and we cruised up the very familiar Limehouse Cut, reliving previous cruises and our tideway adventures.

We soon reached Old Ford Lock – the first of many electrically operated locks along the navigation. This was the first chance for the pack to have a rummage – Ty wasn’t at all sure – there weren’t any familiar items on the towpath. He did come out on the lead and although he didn’t look as if he was having a very good time, at least he didn’t panic. I know it seems cruel, but we can’t wrap Ty in cotton wool – he needs to experience new things and learn that they’re not going to harm him. The rest of the pack rummaged around interestedly – Lou joined Greygal’s pack and left the boys with Richard (Lynx likes to stay close – he’s such a sweetie). In the meantime, I held the boat and brought her into the lock. As I came in, I noticed that the lockside was thick with gongoozlers – a walking tour had arrived just in time to see the marvellous sight of a narrowboat coming through a lock and six hounds clambering on board at the top.

When we came up the lock we were amazed – the towpath moorings were jam-packed. This spot has certainly become popular – is that because of the Olympic security or just some weird narrowboat osmosis? We passed by Foreman’s again – their recent claim to fame is that they appeared on the latest series of Celebrity Masterchef – wish we’d seen that episode – we’d have been interested to know what their normal fare is like. Unfortunately you can’t download old episodes from the website so we’ll have to wait for the repeats (shouldn’t think it will be a long wait!).

Lunch at the Princess of Wales with four of the dogs in view - Lou and Ty were lying on sheepskins behind me - it's a hard life!

We soon passed the turn into Ducketts Cut and took Greygal and A into new territory. We were pleasantly surprised – Hackney is much nicer than I remember. In fact, the whole stretch up to Tottenham Locks, which I recall being a right dump, seems to have improved over the last few years. There’s still a bit of garbage around, but the water is clear enough to support a luxuriant growth of underwater weed and shoals of fish. I wondered about the prop, but the fronds appeared to be waving gently just below our baseplate!

We made good time through Hackney, but were so busy chatting that we forgot to look at the sights along the way – including the outskirts of the Olympic Park! It was a glorious autumn day – chill in the breezy shade but warm in the sun. Unusually for us, we hadn’t been shopping other than a cowful of milk for our lattes and a pile of Danish pastries (Greygal generously donated doughnuts and other goodies), so we had to find a pub for lunch. We stopped off at the Princess of Wales pub, just down from Lea Bridge (opposite the weir) – it was warm enough to sit outside with the six hounds laid out on sheepskins and duvets around our table. We noticed an inordinate number of people dressed as pirates walking down the towpath – they were doing a sponsored walk for the Pirate Club – a canalside youth club in Camden (their distinctive ‘castle’ straddles the canal there). A lady was video-ing the walk and asked whether she could video the dogs as well – she filmed us introducing each dog in turn – all a bit bonkers really but we were all excited by the thought of the hounds being on YouTube!

We had a good lunch here – plain and plentiful pub grub and they didn’t charge us too much for a whole heap of doggie sausages either. Poor Ty was too scared to eat (though he did lie down on his sheepskin) – not a problem – his share of the sausages soon disappeared! Richard did the traipsing back and forth to the bar and discovered that the barmaid came from Transylvania. We did discuss whether that was a real place or just a mythical land of vampires – it’s real, part of Romania, so Richard can take his kevlar polo-neck jumper off 🙂

Interestingly there used to be a lock just south of the pub. This site is putting together a fascinating history of the Lee and is well worth a read.

Smart new towpath - it does feel as if this area's on the up...

We were having a wonderfully relaxing day – it’s difficult to remember what it was like here before, but is seems that the progressive gentrification rippling out from the Olympic site has reached this far. The navigation is very pleasant – if you were teleported onto a boat there you’d never guess where you were. The navigation is flanked on the right by reservoirs and green parks for most of its length; on the left there is a mix of new and old housing with some interesting contrasts – the old Anchor and Hope pub looks totally out of place, huddling at the base of a series of towering blocks of flats.

Even Tottenham Locks seemed nicer today – the last time we came here, the prop stirred up a noxious fume from the sludge below – it seemed considerably cleaner today! There is a pair of wide locks at Tottenham – the right hand lock is electrically operated. We waited for the electric lock – this saved quite a bit of work – the manual lock gates on the Lee are very heavy.

Although the lower stretch of the Lee has improved almost beyond recognition, it’s fair to say that the navigation becomes more attractive with every mile cruised. This must be the case – the towpath moorings were jam-packed with mainly unlicensed boats – if the BW enforcement officers were paid by results then they’d bag a big bonus patrolling along the Lee. Worryingly one boat had the most dodgy looking gas installation, glancing at something as you go past is not a great test but no way did it look BSS compliant or even common sense compliant.

We stopped off for a pump-out above Stonebridge Lock – there are useful services here including rubbish and elsan disposal. There’s also a handy cafe – we sat and ate ice-creams while Richard dealt with the loo. We were a bit annoyed – we’d only done a pump out a scant cruising day ago when we stopped at Pyrford Marina. We knew that Pyrford’s pump-out machine wasn’t very good but we hadn’t realised quite how bad it was – it barely cleared anything from the tank. The pack came out for a bobble – Lynx was particularly bold, rummaging around by himself and lying down in the soft grass a distance away from the rest of the pack. Lou stayed on her sofa but we persuaded Ty to come out for a desultory wander.

There is abundant wildlife along the navigation, confirming yet again the importance of these waterways as green corridors. We even saw a kingfisher in Edmonton – it’s East London, who’d have believed it! We also saw another exotic beast – an asian fisherman relaxing under a bridge with the most beautifully crafted shisha pipe (or hookah) – we speculated on what he might be smoking – he certainly looked very happy!

This is East London! The reservoirs, lakes and associated parkland on the right make sure that the navigation never feels too urban...

The dogs go off at most of the locks – they were confined at a few because of roads or awkward footing. With Ty in the house we’ve been reminded of how accident-prone greyhounds are. He did hop off the boat by himself at one lock (the rest were confined and NOT happy about it!). It was interesting as we didn’t think he’d be confident enough to be that naughty. I caught him quickly but he didn’t try to run away – he’s quite clingy (good!) and his recall is coming along nicely (under controlled conditions).

It wasn’t just the dogs that were bobbling – we’d had a late start and a leisurely pub lunch but as the sun set, realisation dawned – if we didn’t get a move on then we wouldn’t get to Cheshunt until after dark.

We pressed on apace, but by the time we’d reached Waltham Abbey it was pitch dark with a gibbous moon pressing her pregnant belly against a thin veil of cloud. We turned on the navigation lights and headlamp, thinking that if we’d managed an entry into Limehouse Lock from the tideway after dark then these locks wouldn’t be a problem. And so it proved!

We reached our mooring point near Cheshunt Station at around 8.30pm – a LOT later than we’d originally planned. Greygal says we’re a bad influence, the tideway, long cruising days. cruising after dark, foster dogs (Sidney was a foster for a week before they relented and adopted him for good!)…….

They’d parked nearby and because it was so late they offered to drive Richard back to Limehouse. He could have done it by train but it’s slightly fiddly and it was getting late. So the pack was split after a great day’s cruising.

I wandered back to the boat with our three, fed them and started on the cleaning. We don’t like to leave the fridge on if we’re away for more than a day or so without shore power so that had to be cleared. Richard came back to the boat just after 10pm and we loaded up and headed for home. We got home after midnight but it was worth it – we had so many jobs to do at home, plus an unexpected visitor for Sunday lunch – we’d never have managed if we’d stayed overnight on the boat. It was also better for Ty – he coped with the boat better than I expected but it’s small steps. We were so pleased to see how ecstatic he was to be back in the house – he was scared stiff there last week so progress is being made. Anyway, the plan was to give him day at home to get settled before going to the office with Richard on Monday….

The Anchor and Hope as it is now.....

Today’s Trivia

East London has its fair share of old pubs, some of which have earned the moniker ‘historic’ with colourful tales dating back hundreds of years. The Anchor and Hope in Hackney certainly looks old and, according to Wikepedia is a ‘war survivor’. If the rather ugly post-war blocks surrounding the pub were built on properties destroyed in the blitz then it’s remarkable that the pub survived.

The pub is not quite as ancient as it looks – I found an useful website dedicated to the history of London pubs. I didn’t find out many colourful stories, but it does seem that the first publican resided here in 1871. The few reviews that I read called it an old cockney boozer, but apparently the locals are friendly and do allow strangers to join them for  a “welcoming, edgy experience’…..hmmmmm. It does look a nice pub, we do like Fullers pubs, most allow dogs so this could be somewhere to stop on our way down?

World War II Bomb Damage Map

Richard has scanned part of the old London County Council bomb maps. During the Blitz the London County Council Architect’s Department hand coloured large scale maps to indicate the severity of damage all with the aim of planning for post war rebuilding. This part of London is right on the edge of the old LCC area so the recording here was probably not so complete – think war time, right out in the border lands at the limit of their area, probably hard to get to. On the map you can see the blue shaded Lee Navigation, just north of the railway bridge is a red shaded building then a purple shaded building. Across the road from the purple shaded building are shown some unshaded buildings. We think these are the Anchor and Hope.

Now the circle is where a V1 flying bomb landed, purple shading indicates damage beyond repair, dark red indicates serious damage, doubtful if repairable. The various bombs must have missed the pub by a whisker!

This area has also got a fair share of known unexploded bombs – a list was published a few years ago by the then Armed Forces Minister Nicholas Soames – click here. Even now bombs are being found and more often odd shells and the like. Not so long ago and not a million miles away from here a guy digging found something and tossed it to his mate commenting “Does this look like a grenade?”. His mate thought yes so threw it across to his foreman who decided it was most certainly a grenade, put it down gently and legged it. Lucky there was no cricket on at the time.

Just to the south on the map you can see that there used to be a timber yard, there was another further south on the same bank which I think is where Lathams used to be.  These yards have all gone, though there seem to be ongoing discussions about the fate of Essex Wharf on the other side of the river. That debate is interesting as the archeology reports are online eg click here (warning – reasonably big 1.1 MB pdf file) and they contain all sorts of interesting maps showing how the line of the River Lea / Lee Navigation has changed!

Ty’s voice

Ty is very worried about how to present himself in the media – when he was being video’d during races he could just let his long legs do the talking but now….

He’s an Irish dog but he thinks that he’s lost his brogue on account of living and racing in Romford for so long. So, what a does a Romford accent sound like? On the other hand, he does look like a bit of a bruiser while still being a complete softie on the inside – he reminds me of Frank Bruno – so should that be his voice? Ty says he refuses to be a chavvy Essex boy like Lynx…….


Limehouse Cut feels as if it's really coming up in the world with these smart developments - shame about the graffiti though....

Ranger in the classic 'Indigo Dream' pose - Greygal's hounds enjoy being out on the back deck - we're trying to persuade her to modify her own narrowboat accordingly 🙂

Coming up Old Ford Lock - see the moorings above - they're really filled up recently...

Miffy, Sidney and Ranger - Sidney, the new boy, stayed on deck for most of the day - he's a natural narrowboater!

Towpath moorings filled with a mottley assortment of boats.... Richard is doing something with the bridge so took loads of photos.

River Arch Market - I wonder what it's like - the sun mural is very welcoming....

Remnants of the old copper mill - there seems to be a living timber yard next door with cranes over the canal - I wonder if they do still freight timber this way?

Greygal, A and their pack, hang on, that black dog is Lynx! We had to make sure that they took the right black dog home with them - all three are sweeties!

Lynx enjoyed his bit of ice cream at Stonebridge Lock...

Edmonton - probably the most industrialised stretch of the navigation - still doesn't look too bad though...

Nice place to sit and watch the world go by????

The pylons march through an otherwise tranquil landscape as we move up the navigation....

Black beauties - Ty and Lynx using Sidney as a headrest!

Five on deck - Ty was on his duvet inside. Now, if we had Greygal's full pack on board could we really fit nine on deck? Only one way to find out.....

Somewhat derelict lock cottage at Enfield - it seems like such a shame. There's a derelict pub just down the road as well - it does give the place a slightly forlorn air....

2 Responses to “Boat Blog: Exploring the Lee and Stort Navigations (1)”

  1. Greygal said

    I don’t need to blog when you do it so darn well! Fab pics too – what a great record of a great day!! There looks to be room on that back deck for 2-3 more hounds I’d say..

  2. Geoff said

    Hi Sue
    Great dog pics!
    I particularly like the “Black Beauties” and “Five on deck”. Hope Ty continues to make good progress.
    Enjoyed the tidal trip posts, too. Entertaining and informative. Keep up the good work!

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