Sunday, 18 April 2010

Stowe Hill

No locks and a beautiful morning as we cruised the final section to Stowe Hill where we have arranged to leave our boat for the next month. Andrew was to meet us there in order to take Mike back to Devizes to collect the car.

We had also arranged to have a late roast lunch with the joint we bought at the Farmer's Market in Wolverton. As a slow roast joint this entailed fitting in the cooking with cleaning the outside of the boat and cruising along!

We moored just short of Stowe Hill at a winding point so that we could more easily clean both sides of the cabin. Andrew arrived as planned.

The lunch, not too late, went down well even if the pan of gravy decide to tip itself over as service was beginning! At least the Yorkshires cooked well.

As we were preparing to wind the boat in order to proceed to Stowe Hill (at this stage it was the wrong way around) a mooring pin was dropped into the water. Andrew quickly located it with the mooring hook but could not lift it up. Eventually, the only option was for Mike to strip off (partly!) and jump into the water. This very quickly retrieved it after the long time spent trying to hook it up!

We moored for the night on the bank opposite Stowe Hill. Mike went back to Devizes with Andrew where he was shown the new pond under construction. The drive back to the boat was not too tedious although there was a little extra delay at the M40/A43 intersection as a result of an earlier incident just after the southbound slip road.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Stoke Bruerne

The day started with a cloudless blue sky and continues that way until sun down. Although chilly at first, it soon became very warm and layers of clothes gradually removed!

With no locks ahead for several hours and a need to go shopping, Mike set off just after eight o'clock, leaving Christine to finish her mug of tea in bed! After a while, we passed the ;point at which the proposed new canal to link with the Great River Ouse at bedford is likely to begin. We only hope that one day we will be able to see it for ourselves.

Cruising in these conditions is fabulous! And the design of the linear park around the canal is a lasting reminder of the skill and determination that went into the original Milton Keynes Development Corporation. All those who were involved must be proud of what they were able to create and that, unlike so many other new towns, Milton Keynes remains as attractive now as it did when it was built in the Seventies and Eighties.

Shortly before Wolverton, Mike made an attempt to photograph Christine and Take Five as they cruised over the Grafton Street Aqueduct - not as easy as he thought! Shortly afterwards we pulled in for lunch and a chance to enjoy the sunshine.

We arrived at Wolverton late morning and were pleasantly surprised by our planned mooring. Three years ago when we were last here it was a building site, with the old railways works in a derelict condition. Now, there are some attractive apartment developments on one side and, on the other, the refurbished railway workshops are close to being occupied as a multi-use retail, eating and recreational use. Hopefully, the next time we pass here we shall see it in full swing, as it were.

We walked the short distance to Tesco but spotted a farmers Market opposite. We bought items from several stalls - no doubt much higher ticket prices than in Tesco, but we hope that we will be rewarded by better flavours! certainly the special flapjack (3 for £5!) went down well at tea time. Still two to go . . . We treated ourselves to a joint of beef from a farm stall: tomorrow lunch when Andrew meets up with us at Stowe Hill to do the car swap should be all the better for it!

The solitary Cosgrove lock came shortly after we started off once more with another long pound to the bottom of the Stoke Bruerne flight of seven locks. There was a large number of people out enjoying the sunshine and many of them, especially the younger children, we more than willing to help open and close the lock gates and paddles. As a result we completed the first five locks in under and hour and the whole flight in ninety minutes.

Nowhere much to moor above the lock in the short distance before Blisworth Tunnel entrance so we pressed on. The tunnel is one of the straightest on the system given its length (over 2800 metres). (The circle in the left picture above highlights the other end, not long after entering the tunnel) We had the tunnel all to ourselves so no chance to practise passing in the dark! The tunnel was closed for several years a short while back and the repairs are still easy to distinguish from the original.

When we first started cruising the canals there was no way of knowing how far you were through - sometimes it can seem a very long time  - but now there are markers every 100 metres and, especially important, a midway marker.

Shortly after completing the tunnel we found a mooring spot with a fairly short run to Stowe Hill in the morning.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Fenny Stratford

As we were preparing to set off, three boats came past us so by the time we arrived at the first lock of the day we were sharing water with a pleasant three-generation family boat, hired from Wyvern Shipping. This helped considerably as they has plenty of experienced crew help to descend quite efficiently.

It was again a chilly, grey morning but dry and actually quite pleasant. We were intrigued to notice one section where a very well laid hedge had recently been constructed alongside the towpath. We moored up just before Leighton Buzzard for lunch. An adjacent moored boat had come adrift (there was no-one on board) with one mooring line and pin pulled out of the ground and the other end nearly so. Mike went back and did his best to fix them more securely.

Some of the accommodation bridges below locks reveal the time when the locks were doubled, although the remains at one lock did indicate that the second lock was only a narrow one.

The afternoon turned sunny and often warm - the evening was fantastic. As we passed Wyvern Shipping a boat was just setting off and being shown how to go through a lock. They shared with us - in fact they did so all the way to Stoke Hammond. they went ahead of us at Fenny Stratford as we needed to fill up with water and to use the sanitary station.

Having achieved our target for the day, we went just a little further as the evening was so delightful - and to allow for the fact that Christine wants to call at Tesco in Wolverton to stock up for the weekend.

Most of the stretch through Milton Keynes shows what a properly maintained canal can look like - the New Town development embraced the canal rather than tried to ignore it. Nevertheless, we read in Towpath talk with interest an article on just how many items were recovered in a recent clean-up operation by the local IWA branch.

Thursday, 15 April 2010


A very pleasant day - a bit grey and chilly to start with but the afternoon and evening were sunny and sometimes rather warm.

We began by completing the three locks to the summit at Cowroast where we were able to empty the elsan whilst filling the lock (this would not be allowed on the Thames but here there is not much alternative as the only spaces above the lock were occupied apart from a small length for a lock landing)

After completing the lock we turned into Cowroast Marina to fill up with diesel. They also had an excellent chandlery shop where we bought a replacement lightweight lock handle, identical to the one which was lost over Easter. Mike also treated Christine to a long handle version to see if this will make raising paddles a little easier. (The offset is that the longer handle makes it more effort to lower them and may also have clearance problems on some locks but we shall see.) They also stocked chimneys - our existing one is falling to pieces, they probably do not have a very long life. Until you have a close contact with the output of solid fuel fires you do not appreciate how gungy and aggressive the smoke is! Unfortunately we later realised that we do not have the right sort of bolts to fix the Witch's Hat (aka Coolie's Hat, both names are probably not pc any longer but that is how they are known!) to the main chimney. For now, then we will extract what life we can from the old one.

The Tring summit pound was subject to some improvement works a few years back and is most pleasant. Apparently at that time the vegetation was cut right back but has now matured to a degree that make the cutting attractive. One wonders whether the current level of maintenance (or not) will eventually see it once again too overgrown for comfort.

We pulled in for lunch just above Bulbourne. We took the opportunity to check the engine bay and found that there was still a small leak from the calorifier and so we needed to use our new handpump once again. However, we opted to screw it to a wooden base before too long as this makes it much easier to use, but these simple things always take a little longer than anticipated.

The former BW workshops at Bulbourne have closed and the attractive buildings adapted for other uses. The main part is currently a workshop for a garden sculpture maker.

As we arrived at Marsworth Top long, another boat was just preparing the next one down and they waited for us so that we continued down the flight together. These locks are described as pleasant to operate and we did indeed find the experience a whole lot better than some of the uphill work of the past couple of days - much less rope work is needed to control the boat in the lock, especially when sharing it with another boat!
Having made better progress than our schedule to reach Stowe Hill as planned, we were able to stop a little earlier and have roast vegetables for dinner.These take rather longer than at home as the oven is not fan-assisted! Turned out better than last time but it did need the three hours allowed.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010


A day without any particular features other than unremitting locks. No sooner had we done one lock then there was another looming into sight. Just occasionally they were close enough to work together.

The weather was still kind to use, although the morning began grey and chilly. However, by the afternoon the sun broke through and it was quite warm at times.

Our route took us first through Hemel Hempstead. Again, much of the former industry has been replaced by housing. There were one or two part-demolished factories, no doubt awaiting an upturn in the market.

There is a rural section after the town and we moored up for lunch above the Boxmoor Locks. We enjoyed a bowl of soup as well as the part-baked bloomer - something we had not seen before. We had picked it up earlier in the trip on one of our shopping forays.

Setting off again and before long we were entering The Port of Berkhampsted - as it styles itself! Numerous pubs lined the canal, mostly focused around each lock. Sadly, the boatyard has closed and does not seem to be awaiting a new life.

As we drew away from the town we were tiring a little but just after passing the railway station, Christine went in search of a Post Office and also picked up some special choc ices at Waitrose. Meanwhile, Mike continued through a lock and then topped up the water tank. A rather smart children's playground is in a park area close by, with some unusual items of play.

Eventually, and with some relief, the last lock appeared in sight and we opted for a mooring immediately after!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010


Today's stretch up to King's Langley was generally most pleasant. The weather was yet again kind to us with sun all day, often quite warm.

At one stage we passed a pusher tug - perhaps on its way back down to the Gravel Wharf we passed yesterday.

Both Black Jack and Copper Mill locks are quite pretty. The warning about a strong current under one bridge was well justified!

The first section ran through various former gravel quarries, now flooded and later, after Troy Cut the lakes were former chalk quarries. Most of the way points in the old distance tables are no longer, replaced by neat, housing estates.

At Batchworth, a large Tesco adjoins the canal, built on a former wharf. Moorings for customers are a not very clear reminder of the site's former use. We stopped here for shopping.

Above the next lock we pulled in for lunch. But more locks beckoned so,once refreshed, we pushed on. There are many moored boats, some permanently moored, others rather suspicious 'continuous moorers'. Some of the dwellings have been constructed from eccentric bases!

Later afternoon we passed through Cassiobury Park - at the lock there was quite a crowd of school children who took some interest - about eight on each lock gate and still the struggled to open them!

The famous Grove Park Bridge came and went - by now it was a beautiful sunny evening and around six o'clock Mike was all for mooring, but Christine suggested carrying on with the hope of getting further away from the motorways and railways. This meant a few more locks and when we looked for a mooring, the banks were surprisingly shallow. The only good places seemed to have been all previously occupied! In the end we opted for a pleasant spot but with a defensive moat between us and the bank!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Bull's Bridge and Cowley Peachey

We set off in good time and immediately started up the locks to Hanwell. One of the bridges was an early construction by the Horseley Fields foundry, better known for similar designs used throughout the BCN.

The first two locks were spread out and the main flight began at lock 97. They proved quite heavy, but by the top of the six lock flight we had worked out a better routine for these broad locks. We were warned earlier by a passing cyclist that there were water level problems further up. This indeed was the case. although BW had run some water down to an empty short pound, it was insufficient for us to float over the top cill and we had to bring down some more. Otherwise, this was no more of a problem than is usual in urban areas.
In the middle of the flight is a reminder of the horse drawn days and the perils of the work. Apparently, horses in this flight would become entangled in the tow ropes and fall in the water. The special slope was built to help them recover to dry land!

At Norwood Top Lock we stopped to use the usual services. The water tap was very slow so we took then opportunity to have our lunch. By the time the tank was full, a boat approached also wanting to fill up. Fortunately, we had by now just about finished our soup and sandwiches! (Soup courtesy of the bones which Mike removed yesterday from the huge joint of pork that we bought in Windsor)

There followed quite a long level stretch. The section as far as Bull's Bridge Junction was marked with a large amount of plastic bags in the water. We seemed to be going rather slowly so Mike inspected the propellor and found a shirt wrapped around it!

After the junction the water quality improved. The day was still quite cool but at times the sun came out and it felt pleasantly warm. The occasional threat of rain passed without any actually falling.

The journey continued in like vein to Cowley Peachey Junction. We remarked how much development there has been alongside the canal - much of it since we were last here in the mid eighties. At the junction there is now a large marina.

Through another lock brought us to Uxbridge where there were numerous visitor moorings, quite a few for up to 14 days. Although the views were not great, they would be quite acceptable if one arrived needing a mooring urgently.

As it was, we proceeded a little further to get away from the road noise and eventually pulled in on the long straight stretch with the lakes formed from old gravel quarries on both sides. We selected a spot which seemed to give a chance of a tv signal through a gap in the trees!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Down to Brentford

We were determined to clear Richmond Locks on the high tide - when it is possible to navigate through on the level as well as leaving the Thames today. So, we set off by 8:15. It was a generally sunny day, although a cold wind blew at times, especially when straight along the river. The first lock we had to operate ourselves as it was still before the time the keeper comes on duty (9 o'clock). However, it was just after nine when we arrived at Shepperton Lock, the second for the day and the keeper had just turned over the sign board from 'Self Service'.

Sunbury Lock still has the second lock at this site operational, alongside the newer, powered lock. The original lock, slightly higher up, no longer exists.

The river gradually widens and the range of chalets, houses, houseboats and other eccentric dwellings develops as we progress downstream. We also had to contend with a wide variety of water activities. Not just the more familiar rowing crews, but also skiffs, dinghies and different types of canoe, including some with outriggers. There were also the trip boats which start from many different places along the river.

The bridges are usually quite elegant. as we approached Kingston Bridge, we were able to ask some of the people on the bank about where we could buy some milk as we had suddenly realised that we were about to run short! Turned out that we were very close to Waitrose so we moored at a convenient site just above the bridge and made a quick foray for basic items, including a rather tasty loaf which we soon demolished as lunch after we set off once more.

At Teddington we were reminded by the lock keeper of the need to inform Brentford of our passage - she kindly contacted them for us, but no prior booking was needed at this time of the year.otherwise we might have had a difficulty!

Large, historic houses and other prominent buildings are a feature of this stretch of the canal, including Syon House, built on a large bend in the river and placed so that two sides of the house have river views.

Richmond Lock seemed rather insignificant at the end of a bridge across the whole width of the river. we had no need of it and sailed through the arches on the level.

By the time we arrived at Brentford we were quite pleased - the very evident difference in maintenance levels of Thames locks compared with those on the canals was immediately apparent.

Overall we enjoyed today's trip rather more than we had anticipated and there was plenty of variety in the scenery and navigation was not as daunting as some descriptions have it! No cause for complacency, however.

We moored early, after a couple of locks with the prospect of a roast dinner, courtesy the friendly butcher we found in Windsor yesterday!

More Thames

We set off as usual and gradually navigated our way down the Thames.The locks were all manned - it is Easter holiday - so it was not heavy work. Again,it was a warm and sunny day - at the end faces feel as if they have been in the sun!

The section below Cliveden is peaceful and the 'big' house is not visible until some way down stream. No doubt its inhabitants enjoy the long view of the river!

As we neared Windsor we began to see the trip boats - most of them turn around at the weir below Boveney Lock.

We found a suitable mooring at the place in Windsor which Joanna recommended - it was very busy with lots of groups out having a picnic or a barbecue. We had our lunch and then walked into the main shopping area of the town. It is clearly mainly geared up to the hordes of visitors - even at this time of the year there were plenty.

Whilst there is no specialist greengrocer or baker in the town centre, at least a specialist butcher survives and we bought a joint of pork for tomorrow - and had a good chat about the fate of specialist food shops!

Back to the boat and we continued through Windsor and Old Windsor. yesterday, Ellie was amused by a comment from her Grandad about warnings when people moor where they are not supposed to! She really should have seen the signs alongside the Crown Estate which threatens prosecution as a criminal under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act if one so much as puts a foot ashore! Not quite being shot on sight, but a close run thing!

Of course, Windsor castle dominates the skyline for several miles along the river.This also lies directly under the flight path for planes inbound to Heathrow - one every ninety seconds at busy times.

At Old Windsor, Christine spotted the house with a 60 foot mooring, whose details we were shown last night - alas, with a main road alongside may tick her boxes but probably not enough of those who might have to live there! The road in front did seem rather busy.

An odd and eclectic mixture of houses and chalets lines the river - one still being finished, but of a modern design, might be of future interest to Ellie.

We planned on mooring at a designated spot just below Penton Hook lock. Although not where it was indicated on the map, the signposted mooring spot was full - as a result of other boats mooring with maximum inefficiency. We tried to moor at the place indicated on the map but there was not enough depth of water for a boat of our length. We eventually moored - not without some difficulty, using a couple of trees as a backup to the mooring pins!