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Boat Blog: Mooching along the Grand Union (1)

Posted by indigodream on 5 April, 2013

Monday 1st April

Brentford to Cowley Lock

Indigo Dream - beong overseen by Spiderman, who's still in his tree!

Indigo Dream – beong overseen by Spiderman, who’s still in his tree!

With various cruising plans scuppered, today we decided to start a little mooch up the Grand Union – we’ve only got a few cruising weekends available before we need to get back to Limehouse so we won’t get very far. Our initial thought was to get to Marsworth with a visit to the Slough Arm, Wendover Arm and maybe have a bobble down to Aylesbury. Ha! There’s another plan scuppered – there’s been an unbelievable lock collapse on the Aylesbury Arm – dramatic photo here!

Anyway, the journey of 1,000 miles starts with one step, or so they say; so our modest target for the day was to get moving (big achievement in itself!) and get to the vicinity of Cowley Peachey. It’s only 20-odd lock miles so really only a half-day cruise. Because of that we left Ty at home, clinging to his new safe bed (home version) like a limpet – he really does hate adventures. We knew he’d be ok though – he loves the peace and quiet of home – he’d just sleep all day! Ollie, on the other hand, hates to be left alone, so he was up for the trip in the car, even though he had no idea where we were going. I decided to transport Ty’s new bed to the boat today, so Ollie lay in that in the car boot on the way up – bliss!

We got to the boat mid-morning – she’d been fine, though we noticed that the Brentford visitor moorings were now full. Luckily, I think that many of the boats moored here are planning to transit to Teddington so spaces will come and go. We unloaded the car, loaded the boat and were just getting ready to cruise when a chap came up and said “hello neighbour…..”. It was a gentleman called Sean, from the boat moored behind us (he did tell me the boat name but I didn’t write it down so it’s gone!). He was an Irishman who had the most charming aura – he hadn’t just kissed the blarney stone, he must have given it the full works, with tongues! He wanted to pick our brains about cruising the Thames, Wey and Basingstoke – we were happy to oblige, but how the rest of the morning disappeared! We eventually got away just before midday, winded near the locks and headed back up the canal, much to the relief of a boat who’d brested up on the visitor moorings and was making haste to move into our newly vacated spot.

I'm so glad that they've kept these old "piling competition" signs on the canal - I love the idea that the canal workers had such a pride in their work that they thought it was worth competing...

I’m so glad that they’ve kept these old “piling competition” signs on the canal – I love the idea that the canal workers had such a pride in their work that they thought it was worth competing…

We had the canal to ourselves as we went up the first few locks – Ollie got off for a little rummage at each one – he really is turning out to be a natural boater. There are relatively long pounds between the first few locks so we had time for coffee, hot soup and bread before we entered the flight proper. We had lots of friendly greetings from passing walkers and I felt a surge of affection for the Hanwell flight. I’ve always liked it, but really, when you think of where we are in London it’s a miracle, a wonderful engineering feature and haven for wildlife – I bet it’s not mentioned in many London tourist guides though…..

When we got to the moorings near Hanwell bottom lock, with their easy access to the Fox pub, we thought we might see a few of the other boats that had been due to join to Basingstoke convoy. But the moorings were nigh on empty. However, we had nice surprise – we were soon hailed by nb Cherie with crew Sally, Eric and canine crew member Alfie, brother of Mr Biggles, the marina manager’s pet and THE dog at Limehouse Marina. They were two locks ahead of us and waited for us to arrive, incidentally setting the intermediate lock for us. That really made our day – they were fine locking partners, veterans of many a tideway convoy; Alfie and Ollie enjoyed rummaging around the locks and running between them as Richard lock-wheeled. Eric and I, on our respective helms, practised our tandem manoeuvres, which really does speed up the locking process. It was a great transit and having company took my mind off the icy wind which seems to be gusting straight from Siberia!

We parted company at Hanwell top lock – nb Cherie carried on up the GU, Richard grabbed his bike and cycled back to Brentford to pick up the car while Ollie and I mooched up the cut towards Tesco at Bulls Bridge. I had a lovely solo cruise, enjoying the canal despite its winter bleakness. You can tell where my head was at – rather turning the boat clock forward to British Summer Time, I put it back an hour to a sort of special “Double Winter Time” – and no surprise – it was still trying to snow at this point, but the day ended in sunshine. Funnily enough, I’d thought it was starting to snow at Brentford, but it was just a white shower from the local seagulls who seemed to object to our engine noise!

Tandem manoeuvres with nb Cherie..

Tandem manoeuvres with nb Cherie..

When I arrived at Bulls Bridge, I was gobsmacked to find the moorings totally deserted; I was able to moor up near to, but not on, the water point so that I could fill up with water then go shopping in Tesco without having to move the boat – result! I’d no sooner got the hose organised when Richard turned up with the car. He took over supervising the tank while I went food shopping. The water pressure here is rubbish, but we had plenty of time….Tesco was quite horrible, with flocks of young men (probably students) wandering randomly across the aisles like bewildered sheep. They were regularly scattered, bleating, by professional shoppers, before being expertly rounded up by hard-faced women deploying baby buggies and trolleys as offensive weapons. The last time I saw the flock it had been corralled in the pot noodle aisle out of harm’s way….

I was very relieved to get back to the boat!

We then did another car shuffle – lock-free pounds are so useful! Richard took the car up to the bridge below Cowley lock and I mooched along the canal again, with Ollie practising his “looking” up on deck. I can’t say that he’s a champion “looker”, but he’d take the award for whining – he “talked” the whole way!

I was a bit dismayed to see a large raft of trash under the railway bridge just ‘up’ from Bulls Bridge – I let the boat coast through, afraid to spin the prop in such an unsavoury soup. At one point I thought I’d hit the towpath, but it just something big in the water – even bigger than the melancholy body of a swan which drifted past – it was a large tree trunk and I was glad to see it behind me after it had clonked its way down the side of the boat.

Such a companionable way to cruise - overseen by Alfie on the towpath!

Such a companionable way to cruise – overseen by Alfie on the towpath!

Past that point though, the canal was clear of rubbish (apart from the occasional plastic bag) and I enjoyed another solo cruise. The Grand Union here is deep and, for the most part, unoccupied, so I could open up the engine and move along what would have been the M1 of its day at the pace it was designed for (without breaking a wash or speed limit I should add). It was interesting to see how various developments had been finished off since our last trip this way – it feels like an age ago.

At one point I spotted a man on a bike who waved and stopped under the next bridge. I had bright sunshine in my face and sparkling off the water but I was pretty sure that it was Richard, though that would have involved supersonic cycling on his part 🙂 As I approached the bridge hole, the man started gesticulating wildly – waving his arm over his head – I obediently pushed the boat in the direction of the waving. But the man carried on waving, now looking as if he was trying to disentangle shelob’s web from his hair. His gestures became wilder, he looked as if he was throwing eggs at the bridge wall – I was fascinated by this extraordinary display from someone whom I believed to be my usually sane husband. Distracted, I managed to bang the bow quite solidly into the edge of the towpath and, as I got into the shadow of the bridge I realised that the man on the bike was not Richard. He seemed very worried that I’d damaged my hull; I did explain, successfully, that narrrowboats are tough, but I gave up on the explanation of mistaken identity and why I’d tried to ram him with my boat! He, in turn, never did explain why he’d stopped and was waving his arms with such passion – he rode off, leaving a solitary bread roll behind on the towpath – who knows what it all means!

A little while later, I was quite relieved when Richard rang me to ask me to stop at the appropriate bridge so that he could hop on with his bike – having advance warning saved me more embarrassment!

The flow from the gate paddles is dramatic...

The flow from the gate paddles is dramatic…

With Richard on board, we soon approached the junction with the Slough Arm. We had thought of having a little trip along there, but my excursion to Tesco had taken far longer than expected; we needed to get home to Ty so we hastened on. Except that we didn’t hasten – it’s fender to fender with moored boats here – mostly permanent moorings on the offside. We had mixed feelings going past Packet Boat Marina – I like the environs – there’s great dog-walking hereabouts and there are handy shops on the main road (towpath side), but we never felt at home when we moored at Packet Boat, so unlike Limehouse…

Richard had parked the car by Bridge 189, below Cowley lock. There are good towpath moorings all along this stretch, but the ones nearer the lock are 7-day moorings and tend to fill up (though there were spaces today apparently). But we moored by the bridge – there is old heavy piling here with just enough of a gap for us to use a mooring chain at the back. At the front we had to resort to old-fashioned brute force as Richard hammered a pin into the cold, dry ground. I gave Ollie some food (which silenced the whining!) and packed up. Of course, we’re on the move now, so packing up is a bit more involved. We feel more vulnerable with the boat moored on the towpath (though crime is mercifully rare) but we’ve had our ropes stolen once too often (i.e. twice!) so now we remove our gear from roof/deck and lock it away.

We had a good drive home, though a nasty accident on the clockwise carriageway of the M25 was just starting to create an almighty tailback as we drove past on the opposite carriageway. Ty was ecstatic to see us, and even more ecstatic to see the hot chicken that I’d brought home from Tesco. He’d been absolutely fine at home – much happier, I’m sure, than if he’d been on the boat – especially with all the noise that goes with locking through a flight. Poor Ty will have to come with us next weekend though – that’s when we find out whether “operation safe bed” will make a difference to his mental wellbeing. If not, then it’s back to the doggie valium….:-)

Photoblog:

Ollie practising "looking"....

Ollie practising “looking”….

Nice to see a bit of pink blossom - probably a wild cherry - the tees think that spring is here!

Nice to see a bit of pink blossom – probably a wild cherry – the tees think that spring is here!

Last time I was here they were still landscaping the canaside here (just "up" from the Nestle plant) - now that would make a nice mooring but there aren't any rings :-(

Last time I was here they were still landscaping the canalside here (just “up” from the Nestle plant) – now that would make a nice mooring but there aren’t any rings 😦

This tree is very much alive but it's perched quite precariously on those railings - wouldn't fancy walking under it myself - I gave it a wide berth on the water...

This tree is very much alive but it’s perched quite precariously on those railings – wouldn’t fancy walking under it myself – I gave it a wide berth on the water…

Sunshine :-)

Sunshine 🙂

Given the position of that truck I assume that the gravel barges still use this wharf - I had thought that they had stopped..

Given the position of that truck I assume that the gravel barges still use this wharf – I had thought that they had stopped..

New bridge across the railway lines - the architecture doesn't sit well alongside the traditional canal bridge...

New bridge across the railway lines – the architecture doesn’t sit well alongside the traditional canal bridge…

The developments and towpath works around the new Tesco near Uxbridge are very smart - great moorings here - very convenient for topping up supplies from the superstore (which also has a Costa - wow, what more could we want!)...

The developments and towpath works around the new Tesco near Uxbridge are very smart – great moorings here – very convenient for topping up supplies from the superstore (which also has a Costa – wow, what more could we want!)…

One Response to “Boat Blog: Mooching along the Grand Union (1)”

  1. neil said

    Interesting to see how the new tesco’s etc have changed the view south of Cowley. They were still building it when we moved up to Crick. Pity you didn’t do the Slough Arm. they have been due to dredge it this year but I don’t know if anything has happened yet. Hope to see you this spring /summer.

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