Friday, March 24, 2006

and so to "home"

Last day of Herbie's homeward trip. We awoke in Paddington basin to the sound of splashing and shouting, and peering through the windows we saw alongside us a group of Kayakers playing a sort of water polo.

Anyway, the sun was shining although it was still cold, and we quickly got ready, turned the boat (now getting good at this) and headed back to Little Venice to turn left and head for home.

No locks today, just 17 miles of cruising.

Soon we passed the wonderfully gothic (and huge) Kensal Green cemetary with some decent visitor moorings opposite - not to mention a big canalside Sainsbury's.

Then it was on past the Old Oak Common railway works, over the North Circular aqueduct

(not sure why it has a pedestrian island in the middle)

and through Greenford and Southall.

Surprisingly the landscape immediately alongside the canal is green and rural feeling except for the warehouse and workshops dotted along the way. I imagine in summer, its quite nice.

Eventually we reached Bulls Bridge, the junction with the Grand Union Canal main line. After a short stop outside Tescos for a spot of lunch we headed North, keeping an eye out for decent pubs for future reference, as this will be quite near our home base. One such pub advertises daily striptease shows from lunchtime. Our handbook notes that it is not a good pub for children. Quite!

It was nice to see working boats on this stretch carrying gravel to an aggregate plant. As usual, there were very few "pleasure" boats out.

Then our final turn, at Cowley Peachey junction and into the Slough Arm. Over three little aqueducts, keeping to the middle, " for 'tis proper weedy and shallow down 'ere", and on to our base at High Line Yachting where they were expecting us.

We're moored up against another narrowboat belonging to Phil, our new neighbour who we haven't yet met. He seems to have a pet rabbit so he can't be all that bad! We were too busy to take photos of our resting place, so I'll take and publish some later.

So here we are after our first decent trip. 48 miles, 26 locks and 2 tunnels. Not long as canal trips go, but an encouraging start. We had a great time and Herbie performed immaculately.

Next time out we'll head North up the Grand Union. Huge numbers of locks up there. Better get fit.

Limehouse to Paddington

Day 3 of our journey home (ignore the blog date, I'm writing this up after the event). 11 locks and 2 tunnels to do, so we made a prompt start and had bacon sandwiches on the way. We partnered narrowboat "Headline" through most of the double width locks, only sying goodbye to them when we stopped for lunch. Here we are leaving Limehouse.

This is the Regent's canal, through Mile End, Victoria park, Islington, St Pancras, Kentish Town, Camden market, Regents park, Little Venice, and finally to Paddington. What a way to get accross London - no traffic, and more ducks and swans than people! There are some nice old lock cottages.

The Islington tunnel is over half a mile and too narrow for boats to pass. Luckily you can see through to check that no one is coming the other way. Here we are, just going in.

St Pancras lock was hairy. We left Kath to steer into the lock across a vicious cross current (and wind) - and she succeeded. She might not have done had I yielded to the temptation to point out that if she looked to her left at the critical moment she could have seen the famous Gherkin building.

We decided to stop and have a look at the London Canal Museum in Battlebridge basin. I did a superb turn to draw up right outside the door. Just as I was feeling pretty pleased with myself, the curator came out and asked us to move off because he was expecting a boat load of school kids any minute. So we went to the pub instead.

The canalside houses got increasingly posh as we neared Regents Park. We passed the Zoo but the animals were all sensibly in their warm houses, it was freezing outside! In Regents park, Pete turns his back on the chance of a floating Chinese meal:

Then another short tunnel to get us through to Little Venice,

a nice smart mooring area, but too full for us to stop.

So we swing a left towards Paddington Basin, and suddenly everything becomes modern and high-tec. Mooring in the basin is good because it is lit at night and has security guards. So that's what we did. It was very odd leaving the boat in the tranquil basin, and walking through a few yards to bustling Praed Street to find somewhere to eat. Not difficult, there must be dozens of eateries there.

And so to bed.

To Limehouse basin

Day 2 of the trip. We headed south down the Lee, heading for Limehouse basin where the Lee meets the Thames. Not a pretty trip, it must be said, but fascinating and rewarding. Most of the day was spent with industrial plants on out right and reservoirs, gravel pits, or marsh land (including the famous Hackney marshes) on our left. As we neared London, the locks took on a new design and were electrically operated (see our picture). They were also in parallel pairs, presumably to speed up traffic. This didn't always work out because on one occasion the lock we chose out of the pair truned out to have no top gates, so we had to pull back and move to the other one.

Our first choice of pub for lunch the "Narrowboat" turned out to be (permanently) closed so we tootled on for the next one, the "Anchor and Hope" at Clapton. What a gem! This tiny one bar pub is on the waterfront (we had to climb over a fence to get at it) and is simple and plain but very friendly and has good beer. A painting of the previous landlord hangs above the fireplace - apparently he was awared an MBE for services to the community after a lifetime at the pub.

Having "rested" we pressed on towards Bow, where a set of locks control entrance to the tidal Bow Creek, we passed them by on our left , and with the giant Canary Wharf tower in our view, headed down Limehouse cut to the basin.

I had imagined Limehouse basin to be full of working barges and warehouse. How wrong could I be. It has had a major refurb and is now a trendy yacht basin with (presumably) expensive apartment blocks surrounding it.

Anyway we moored there for the night, and afetr a brief look at the Thames beyond the tidal lock, the river seeming vast and much to wavy for us, we walked of in search of the "Grapes", a lovely old pub dating back to the 18th century and reputed to have been visited by Charles Dickens. Any way we ate Fish and Chips there and drank Timothy Taylor's Landlord and allwas well with the world whe we went to bed.

Our pictures this time show the electric lock controls on the lower Lee, the entrance to Limehouse cut by Bow locks, and Limehouse Basin before and after dark.

Day2 journey: 14 miles and 7 Locks

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Herbie Heads Homewards

Forgive the alliteration! Sunday was cold and bright and the lock being fully open we headed south for the first time. This was to be a four day trip down the Lee navigation and right across London. Our good friend Pete Higson joined us as crew, particularly fitting as he did the same last year when we delivered our son Richard's boat to Huntingdon. Our picture shows Pete suitably clad against the cold wind which dogged us for the entire journey. Very few other boats were out and about, more joggers and walkers.

Just to cheer us up, almost the first thing we passed was the burnt out shell of a narrowbaot which had been the subject of an arson attack at Waltham lock, where we were to moor that night! We were fine in the event. This "top" end of the Lee is mostly rural and attractive, and we galnced up the pretty river Stort as we passed its junction with the Lee. Definately something for another day. Near there we were greeted by a lady aboard "Wizard". She knew Herbie well and was interested to meet us as her new owners.

Mooring at Waltham we walked in to see the Abbey and the supposed burial place of King Harold (of 1066 fame). Naturally we also visited a nearby pub the "Welsh Harp" and sampled a couple of gallases of McMullens "Sweet Chariot" - a special brew for the six nations rugby tournament and very nice too.

8 Miles and 7 Locks that day.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Home base all set

Popped in to our intended home base at Iver to leave a car for when we arrive "home" next week. All seems well. We strolled along to the spot where we'll be moored and met a couple of the neighbours who seem very friendly.

A bit surprised to be asked £50 deposit for the electronic key to get in and out of the boatyard out of hours. Apparently people don't bring them back when they leave so they've upped the ante to make an incentive! Repeat twenty times "mustn't lose the key, mustn't lose the key . . . "

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Lock opens! (plus quiz answer)

Just phoned up John Milton who lives alongside Stanstead Lock and he tells me that boats are moving through, albeit under BW escort because of all the paraphernalia they have yet to dismantle. So (fingers crossed) it looks like we're OK to head southwards on Sunday.

The answer (as promised) to the quiz question about average speed of underground trains is 21 mph. My original guess was 20 so I was pretty close. However Kath persuaded me to reduce it to 14 so it just goes to show something!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Will we ever escape?

Put on your best Victor Meldrew voice dear reader, and repeat after me: “I DON’T BELIEVE IT! The b*%&*y lock is still closed!” BW have broken deadlines, extended deadlines and extended extended deadlines on this one. Pity the poor live aboard boaters stuck up here with nowhere to pump out their loos!

Only a week to go before we are supposed to head homeward and we are still marooned here. BW were out today – well two blokes were, and seemed to be planing off bits of the bottom gates and the cill to get a watertight fit. It looks as though the top gates are done, and they have gate paddles with what look like baffles on them to reduce the ferocity of the incoming water for which this lock is notorious. Lets hope they work. The bottom gates don’t yet have any paddle gear installed. Not only that, there must be at least a days work in dismantling all the ladders, fences, scaffolding, drain pumps, etc, not mention shifting the motley collection of barges, floating diggers etc. However I’m still hopeful that they’ll be finished before we need to leave.

We were visited today by number one son Richard who was interested to have a nose round Herbie, and he gave it a general seal of approval although he wouldn’t swop for Bankside, his somewhat larger boat. We tootled up to Ware and back, twice passing Cliff on “Axe”who we met last week, and who today gave us a fender he had found and which we needed. We also talked to Roy Cox on his boat “Orange Pippin” (get the connection?). Roy built his boat entirely on his own, including steelwork, plumbing carpentry, electrics, even down to the decorative canal style roses and castles on the doors. Mind you it took him 15 years in his spare time.

Monday, March 06, 2006

A pub quiz and some new aquaintances

Sorry, no photos this week - forgot the camera!

Stanstead lock STILL closed so no option but to go north again for this week's outing (Sun/ Mon). Remembering that the Old Barge in Hertford had a Sunday night quiz, we tootled up for that. We pulled up at Hertford allotments to moor and were warmly greeted by Cliff (who we had never met before) on the neighbouring boat "Axe". Within five minutes we were on board Axe with mugs of hot tea! Cliff, a Fire Safety Officer, lives on board, mostly on the Lea and the Stort and was quite familiar with Herbie under her previous ownership.

As to the quiz, we got 30 out of 38 which put us in mid field, but that was just the two of us against teams of up to 7 or 8, so we were quite happy with our efforts. There was a special prize of beer for the answer to the following question "What average speed, including stops, does a London Underground train do (averaged over a day)?" I'll give you the answer in our next blog entry.

Monday morning we set of at about 9.30 in bright warmish sunshine in convoy with Axe towards Ware. Hertford lock gates are so stiff and heavy that to have another boater on hand is a good thing. Had it not been for some helpful onlookers on Sunday, I don't think I would have got the gates moved at all! Cliff left us at Ware when we stopped for Tescos, but we joined him further downstream as he was chainsawing up logs next to a friends boat. 6 of us sat at a picnic table with hot drinks and flapjacks. Very sociable.

We are assured that Stanstead lock will be open by next weekend, so maybe next week we'll be able to explore to the south -and fill up with diesel, as we can't get to any at the moment. We may get a visit from Richard next week as he is interested to compare boats, and probably pinch an idea or two for his boat Bankside.

Then the great journey home is scheduled for 19-23 March, with overnight stops at Waltham Abbey, London's Limehouse basin, through Regent's Park to Paddington basin (now a high tech office complex I think), and then on through the rest of London and home to Iver. Our friend Pete Higson will be joining us as crew, which probably means we will visit a pub or two on the way.

Still trying to think of a new name for Herbie. Apparently its ok (good luck-wise) to rename a boat while she is out of the water, and as we plan to get Herbie's bottom reblacked ths spring or summer, that's when we might go for a new name.