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The Odyssey 2011 – Day 2

Posted by indigodream on 9 April, 2011

Friday 9th April

Paddington Basin to Cowley Lock

Unique dwelling - fancy living in that old water tower?

The plan for today was for me to move Indigo Dream to Cowley Lock, finally getting us out of central London. I’ve cruised this route solo many times, but I’d been a bit worried by nb Balmaha’s report of terrible trash in the water around Bulls Bridge. The local moorings officer had also mentioned in passing that there was a substantial amount of  “turn-up” happening on the Paddington Arm from Norwood to almost Park Royal i.e. “rubbish, weed and yuck floating the surface with the remains of vegetation such as last year’s autumn leaves”.

As I mentioned in the last post, I was a bit worried, because although I know the principles, I’ve never actually cleared the weed-hatch myself. We’d been considering various options, including Richard joining me later for the worse bits – I blush with embarrassment for being such a wuss! But then my knight in shining armour turned up in the form of a text! Adam from nb Debdale gallantly volunteered to cruise with me – I was grateful for the company and for the spare pair of hands. It would have been churlish of me to send him down the weed hatch, but I felt better knowing that I’d have someone on board to hoist me out of the engine bay if I got stuck down there myself!

In her email, the moorings officer had assured us that BW were doing their best to clear the ‘turn-up’ – well, they succeeded! Despite my misgivings, the Paddington Arm was as clear of trash as I’ve ever seen it i.e. plenty of plastic bags but not the bank-to-bank raft of rubbish seen in Balmaha’s photo. I don’t know whether the rubbish has:

a) sunk back to the depths

b) been cleared by BW

c) been cleared by other boaters’ props

d) all of the above

But whatever the reason, we had  a great day’s cruise with NO visits down the weedhatch to clear the prop. I did have to  do a few prop clearances using the throttle (hard reverse, hard forward, hard reverse) to dislodge the odd bit of plastic but otherwise we had an untroubled trip – hurrah!

Terrapin....

The only canal denizens that seem to appreciate the trash are the coots – they’re busy building nests out of the available materials including highly insulating polystyrene takeaway boxes. One female coot had quite obviously sent her partner out to forage for a sheet of plastic  for the nest – he was very diligently investigating each available piece (there was a selection!) before carefully choosing the right one to line his home. While on the subject of nest, we saw a very large terrapin sitting on a moorhen’s nest (with the moorhens) – they didn’t seem to be too pleased but the terrapin was unperturbed by their fluttering or by the noise of a narrowboat being reversed back so that we could take a photo! Now, I used to think that terrapins were seen as a pest, but according to this article they’re not seen as particularly harmful to native wildlife.

But back to the start – it was a most glorious day and, for once, there wasn’t a breath of wind in Paddington Basin. I had a smooth journey by train (minus hounds) and got the boat ready for cruising. With a bit of time in hand I also did some singing practice (sorry Paddington) and listened to the recording of my last singing lesson – excruciating! The thing is that my voice is improving, which begs the question of how bad was it before? 🙂 Ah well, learning to sing is a journey not a destination (a b”££$% long journey given that I’ve been singing in public since about age 6!).

Luckily for Adam, I’d given up on the singing by the time he arrived, and with teas and coffees in hand we got underway with an air of peace and tranquillity on this most perfect of boating days. The water in the basin was crystal clear, revealing the bottom of the canal deep beneath us – the bottom was remarkably clean – often when canals are clear it reveals a tableau of submerged crisp packets and beer cans! It’s not often you can say that there’s a cloudless sky, but that was literally true today – off with the fleeces and on with the sunhats and suntan lotion!

We seemed to get out of London proper in no time at all, noting what’s changed and what, by and large, has stayed the same. The wall under the M40 is now so graffitied as to be almost black and someone’s futile attempt at growing flowers there has been utterly abandoned – so it’s back to its previous dismal state. Other than at Kensal Green and Black Horse, the towpath is largely empty of moored boats. So London isn’t really full – the (wild?) West is there – enticingly empty- rich pickings for the pioneers who dare to moor there 😀

"It's behind you" - giant hopper barge leaving Old Oak Wharf on its way to Cowley..

I haven’t worked out the etiquette for sharing the helm with visiting boaters. We always assume that visitors want to be on the helm so tend to plonk them on the tiller and get on with chatting and making coffee. But what if they wanted to relax and not do any helming for a change? And what if we’re all too polite to express our preferences? Ah, it’s an etiquetty minefield 🙂

Adam and I solved the problem by taking relaxed turns on the helm as the fancy took us!

One of the notable changes along the canal was the transformation of the old concrete water tower by the Sainsbury’s in Ladbrook Grove. Years ago it look like a martian tripod from War of the Worlds, looming darkly above the landscape. Today it looks as strange as ever, but windows have been installed and the whole thing clad in timber – it’s quite a sight. According to this link it’s being turned into a 9-storey four-bedroomed house – the view from the roof terrace will be great and the owners are sensibly installing a lift!

Further along, we came across the Powerday recycling facility at Old Oak Wharf – it’s changed beyond recognition as the photos below show. As we approached, the canal was blocked by a gargantuan hopper barge being deftly manoeuvred by a tiny Wood, Hall and Hereward tug. The helmsman cleared the bridge hole and we overtook him, assuming that he was stopping a the wharf, but as we edged past we realised that the barge was empty and the helmsman asked us to warn oncoming boats that he was on his way behind us. I was very pleased that we’d got away in front of him, though when we looked back he was pushing the barge along at a fair pace. Typically there were many oncoming boats – the canal was busier than I’ve seen it for a long while – we told each boat about the behemoth behind us – I’m sure it would still have been a shock for them to see that mountainous craft coming towards them  mid-canal!

We made good pace along the canal, gaining ground on the barge. This allowed us to stop for provisions at Sainsbury’s in Alperton and move on before we were overtaken. Actually, I’m not sure that he would have caught up with us – there are a few narrow places – the aqueduct over the North Circular for starters and, further on, bridge works where work vessels narrowed the channel on one side, while piles of earth/rubble blocked the towpath side – Indigo Dream’s bottom scraped ominously as we went through – I’m not sure how the barge managed behind us, though at least it was running light.

Seeing this cottage go back to the earth always makes me sad...

As the fine afternoon wore on we relaxed as we move through increasingly familiar and attractive scenery – it felt like home to me, but this was the first time Adam had cruised this way so he had a sharper eye for the scenery.

The old BW cottage at Bulls Bridge is continuing to decay – there is now the sad sight of a fireplace standing along against a wall that’s long gone. A man with a van was unloading some timber but I think that the cottage is beyond saving now – I wish someone would do something with it – I can never understand how owner can afford to leave properties empty. Mind you, looking at our house maintenance to-do list, I can quite understand why they can’t afford renovate either – a classic catch 22!

Bulls Bridge had its usual crop of garbage but not too excessive – unless you count the paved area under the big road bridge (? A40) – that was strewn with a substantial heap of mattresses and blankets – we wondered whether it was a haven for fly-tippers or some desperate soul’s home. Either way, we hope that the mattresses don’t end up in the canal – we’ve heard that they’re very hard to untangle from a prop.

I was really at home now – goodness, the number of times I’ve cruised this stretch. I can’t take anything for granted though – half-built housing developments are now finished, the aggregate wharf is silent and empty, and the new canalside Tesco which was just a few steel beams the last time I came through is nigh on complete – it’s a huge development. The towpath round the development is particularly smart – it’s still closed for the moment but I wonder when it will be finished.

As we cruised past the entrance to the Slough Arm I realised that we were near the end of our cruise. Oops, time to get rid of the rubbish – I’d forgotten to get rid of it at the rubbish barge in Paddington Basin and, unusually, there wasn’t a rubbish barge at Bulls Bridge. We stopped off at Packet Boat Marina’s service wharf and I took a little look around our old winter home – it looked very fine but I don’t miss it – Limehouse is much more friendly!

New Tesco development - huge superstore, blocks of flats and towpath improvements...

Surprisingly, the towpath moorings at the end of the Slough Arm were empty, but the moorings on the mainline around the junction were full. I was a little worried about whether we’d find a spot below Cowley Lock but there were plenty of spaces available. I chose a spot on the last of the 14-day moorings but there were spaces on the 7-day moorings nearer to the lock.

The nice thing about having visiting boaters on board is that they understand the mundane necessity of stopping at rubbish points and sorting out the boat before departure. Adam helped me to moor, clear the boat roof (we don’t want our centre ropes to be stolen this year!) and sorted out a taxi while I locked up. The moorings at Cowley looked quite idyllic in the westering sun – it was a fitting end to a fine day’s cruise.

We got a cab to Uxbridge tube station and abruptly we were back in the real world. My trip home seemed to take an age but by this time a day in the fresh air and sunshine had taken it’s toll as I started to suffer from fatigue, sunburn and lack of cold beer! I picked up Richard’s car in Croydon (he was having a night out with his work-mates), picked up the hounds from Richard’s mum and hastened home for an ice cold cider which soon put the world to rights. By 10pm the hounds and I were fast asleep – a good day all round then 🙂

Today’s Trivia

Old Oak Wharf as it is now....

I don’t know much about loading/unloading freight from barges, but I was surprised to see the new high walls now separating the Powerday ‘sheds’ from the wharf itself. These relatively new walls made the whole operation look terribly inaccessible from the water, though there were two empty barges moored there – the rusty old behemoth that followed us down the canal and what looked like an ‘olympic’ class barge.Previous photographs (including the one in the 2008 report mentioned before) show a rubbish lorry coming right down the water’s edge – I doubt if that’s possible any more.

According to this 2008 report, the ‘Olympic’ class hopper barge was specifically designed for british waterways in order to minimise wash and avoid the problem caused by high-displacement vessels that lie close to the canal bed, restricting the amount of water that can reach the propeller at the stern. The Olympic barges are lightweight and shallow-drafted so that when fully loaded (85 tonnes) have a working draft of less than 4′ 6″. Now, this still sound pretty deep to me!

Land and Water’s report paints such a glowing picture – but the ‘olympic’ class barges that we used to see around Uxbridge have gone – the quarry at West Drayton no longer carries its freight by water. Apparently there are many, and somewhat contradictory, reports of why sand/aggregate is no longer being moved by canal along this stretch.

Powerday Wharf in December 2009...

I had a look at Powerday’s website, and though they mention the wharf and its capacity for mooring 3 barges carrying around 90 tonnes of waste apiece. I’ve never seen that many barges regularly travelling along the Grand Union, but resident moorers may disagree. Althought Powerday’s green credentials are strengthened by its reported capacity to freight waste by water, I didn’t find any mention of actually how much waste they ship by this method. Powerday are planning a new facility in West Drayton, but their plans don’t seem to involve the canal at all.

So the question is – “Will the Grand Union realistically to be used as a commercial waterway again?”. It doesn’t look hopeful at the moment, but although I love the idea of the canal being used for freight, I was glad that I didn’t have to follow that barge for the slow trip from Old Oak to Cowley!

Don’t forget – Birmingham Canal Navigations Marathon Challenge – 29th May 2011:

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Photoblog:

From last week's trip - tame cormorant at Camden top lock

From last week's cruise - I loved this bird - totally fearless!

4 Responses to “The Odyssey 2011 – Day 2”

  1. Adam said

    A thoroughly enjoyable day, Sue. Thank you for letting me tag along, and become part of The Odyssey!

  2. indigodream said

    Hi Adam

    You’re very welcome – I hope you’ll come again – maybe a little boating top-up between trips on Debdale? 🙂

  3. When we passed under the bridge at Bulls Bridge last Sunday lunchtime most of the mattresses and duvets were occupied. There appeared to be about 10 fellas living there.
    Graham
    http://jannock.blogspot.com

  4. indigodream said

    Hi Graham

    That’s interesting – it had the look of a colony under there – what a dismal place to live. I guess the positive is that if those mattresses are needed then they won’t end up in the canal!

    Have a good trip

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