Monday, 31 December 2012

New Year's Eve Walk

In the morning we did not do too much - Mike walked to the nearest shop for a paper and then settled down to updating this blog.

After lunch we were ready for a walk - the weather was not great: windy, chilly and somewhat damp. We wrapped up well and set off northwards along the canal towpath.

This stretch has a number of houseboats of varying quality. Soon we passed a 'rec' - playground in modern parlance but the older name still persists on some fingerposts - and then arrived at Cowley Lock.

Cowley Lock
Bridge over River Colne
River Colne
At the next bridge we left the canal and walked along the road for a short while - crossing the River Colne - before taking a bridleway that passed a farm and several houses before crossing over the M25. The cars were not having an easy time with poor daylight and lots of spray.

The path continued the other side and brought us out onto a private road along which the footpath continues. The people who live here obviously have concerns about their security - one house had two security fences - and the approach, when we arrived at it, clearly did not welcome visitors!

Shortly afterwards we reached Iver, coming out onto the road through the village opposite the church, which, alas, was locked. It is only opened in term time.

Iver Church
Continuing in the same direction the road brought us to the Slough Arm of the Grand Union Canal and we re-joined the towpath. Shortly afterwards we went underneath the M25 and then a short aqueduct crosses the River Colne.

Slough Arm
River Colne Aqueduct
At a former railway bridge we left the towpath for a woodland footpath that took us back to the main line of the canal alongside Tesco. It was sad to see just how much rubbish is abandoned alongside the footpath - an important alternative to the otherwise unremitting urban landscape. At one point, a load of old car tyres had been thrown carelessly away. Ugh!

We picked up ingredients for a stir fry for tonight at Tesco as well as some milk and ice cream. The boat was only a short walk from the supermarket but just as we emerged from the car park onto the tow path a heavy rain storm arrived and we were quite soaked by the time we made it back to the dry of the boat! Up til then it had be quite satisfactory for a well-wrapped walk!

Aerial Day

Andrew stayed overnight - one reason was that he had brought up some coax cable to help complete the installation of an external aerial for the radio - we have long had an internal one that did not work very well at all and depended on where we were sitting as to whether it generated a good enough signal!

Mike had experimented a couple of days earlier with a car aerial he had bought a few months ago (our last attempt at using it was unsuccessful but we did not have a means of mounting it upright at the time) This time, Mike tried it mounted on a biscuit tin which was strapped to the roof and seemed to give much better results.

So, today Andrew led the charge to thread a cable through the various spaces between the radio and the front of the boat where we mounted the aerial on the roof overhang in front of the cabin. After connecting it up it still seemed worth the effort!

By now it was lunch time after which Andrew made tracks for home. We had an uneventful afternoon, broken only by a trip to Tesco for a few supplies.

Museum of Childhood

Today we took Jess and Alice to the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, helped by having Andrew with us as well. The motorway was almost deserted as we popped over to Windsor to pick up the girls - Adrian and Joanna suggested that we use Hillingdon as it is a popular commuter station with plenty of car parking. We had already discovered that there is very little by the nearest station to the boat at West Drayton.

Hillingdon is on the Metropolitan Line so we did not have to change onto the Underground system at a main line station (which was the plan if leaving from West Drayton). Saturday parking is also not especially busy and we were only charged £1 for the whole day.

It is quite a long journey into London as, of course, the train stops everywhere, 18 stops to Liverpool Street. The first half of the journey is overground so there were some things for the girls to see on the way before we dived into the darkness of proper underground lines!

After changing onto the central Line it was just one stop to Bethnal Green and then only five minutes walk to the museum. originally built as a general museum for the East End of London, it gradually specialised in the 1970's. It is not over-large and comprises a single large space with galleries around the outer edge supported by cast iron columns, rather like converted mills we have seen elsewhere, including the Hockney Gallery in Saltaire which we visited with the girls when they were with us on the boat in the summer.

There are several activities during the day and shortly after we arrived there was a story telling - the Nutcracker. The girls sat on the huge mat in front of the two ladies telling the story - Jess especially joined in the different actions!

Following the story we divided into two groups to begin to look at the various displays of old toys and childhood amusements. Actually, Jess thought that going outside to the adjacent playground was a good idea but as soon as she, Andrew and Christine went outside it turned wet so they came back inside and found a sand pit on the top floor.

Alice and Mike looked at several displays, mainly of construction toys - Lego was by no means the only one! Mike pointed out to Alice a set of stacking plastic cups that were popular when her Mum was very little! Sadly, Mike recognised many of the items as current in his own childhood . . .

By one o'clock we all met up in the cafe, which occupies most of the central area of the museum. It was very busy but we eventually collected a range of snacks and drinks and found a table.

By the time we had finished the Arts and Crafts activity was about to start. Alice and Jess were given a card with the figure of the Nutcracker Soldier printed on it with aq couple of other pieces to cut out and glue together to make the mouth change shape. Alice carefully selected matching colours for her soldier and added some tiny pieces of shiny paper and tissue to add to the effect. Jess found that decorating her figure with glitter was a quicker way of covering a lot of space in one go! She too added some pieces of paper.

We again divided up to explore the main exhibits. Alice particularly noted a paddle doll, the oldest item in the museum, dating back to 1300BC and came from Egypt. The zeotropes - forerunners to moving picture - were also interesting. She also made pictures with iron filings and a magnet.

Jess enjoyed riding on two huge rocking horses as well as seeing the displays about how photos and then films followed by videos gradually evolved.

Time then to set off back to the Underground and the trip back to Hillingdon. It was already dark as we left the museum.

Hillingdon proved to be an excellent choice of station and it was not long before we were back at the boat where Christine quickly lit the fire and Mike set about making the meal which had been decided during the train ride back. Eventually it was time to return Alice and
Jess to Windsor.


Although we are on the boat at the moment for a few days, we are marina-bound. We came here on the 27th after spending Christmas Day and Boxing Day with Andrew in Devizes. We drove up in the morning, taking with us most of the components for a Christmas Dinner. After a shortish walk  down to Caen Hill Locks in the afternoon we assembled everything, cooked the veg and settled down to the meal in the evening.

The next day Christine was still recovering from the cold which we both had just before Christmas and she opted to stay in and sleep (doze) it off whilst Andrew and Mike went for a walk up one of the few hills around Devizes - the last before Bristol! On the top are two former war time radio masts now well adapted to the mobile phone business with three of the four major companies having equipment on site. Close by was a much smaller mast with little identification other than the name of its technology (RTK) which neither of us knew about before. A quick Google by phone gave us a short answer but we found out more about it when we returned home.

It was rather windy but the rain largely held off whilst we were out. However, a very dark cloud threatened to change all that so we made our way back from the top of the hill to the car park in order to beat it. However. a last minute change of direction took the weather away from us and a little blue sky even emerged for a few minutes as we arrived back in Devizes! It was soon replaced by steady rain!

The next day, Thursday, we set off to Packet Boat to stay there until the end of the next week. We had the usual set of tasks to de-winterise the services but before long we were rather snug with a good fire burning in the stove and the central heating going!

On Friday afternoon, Joanna was visiting her Gran in Sussex so we popped over to Windsor to give Adrian a chance to do some emails and other work whilst we looked after Alice and Jess. We also made plans for the next day - a visit to the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green which the two girls had heard about. We also finalised arrangements with Andrew to come up to the boat for a couple of nights.

Mike had by now decided that the priority for IT equipment upgrade was him to have his own tablet - Christine keeps moaning that he is always using hers when she wants it! So we called Andrew, by now en route, and arranged to meet at PC World just a short distance from the marina. Alas, when we arrived there it seems that the news reports of tablets being the must-have item over Christmas were actually correct and anything Mike might consider was out of stock and the few that came in were reserved on-line within ten minutes of them being released! Later online research indicated that this was true everywhere and for all the major suppliers! Ah well - the iPad will just have to be shared for now!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Back to Packet Boat

Last day for this season - just an hour and a half back to Packet Boat Marina. The morning again started bright and sunny but distinctly chillier.

Opposite to where we moored overnight is an unusual dry dock - constructed from an old steel barge. One end can be opened to allow a boat to be moved inside and then the hold is pumped out, leaving the boat dry for work on it, typically blacking the underwater part of the narrowboat.

One of the results of photographing the same stretch on successive trips is that changes c an be tracked. Alongside the M40/A30 bridge used to be a gravel wharf, filling boats that carried their cargo a few miles south to an aggregate processing plant. The traffic ceased a while back but last year we noticed that the loading gear was still in place (see)  but now it has been cleared away and replaced with a private narrowboat mooring.

At Uxbridge Lock a wide beam boat from the learning disability charity based at the Red Lion Lock at Nash Mills came through the lock. They had been out for several days, enjoying the opportunity to join in working the locks.

Not sure if this boat could make it under some of the bridges if it ever decides to move on!

Oops - not as life-threatening as some pictures we have seen recently.

Another converted lifeboat - this one looked as if it had a ballast issue although if it had its maximum stated load of 70 passengers it might not need to be weighed down so much!

A mile long straight section forms most of the run to the final lock of the trip. Uxbridge Gas Works Bridge 187 is in the middle.

All too soon we arrived at Cowley Peachey Christine to boat cleaning, Mike made the same trip as last year to collect the car from Milton Keynes. Other than some tiresome congestion delays on the motorways, the journey went smoothly - the public transport leg especially.

3.1 miles - 2 locks


Tesco just below Cowley Peachey Junction

Wednesday, 31 October 2012


We had moored overnight just below Lady Capel's Lock and woke to another bright morning. we were a little later setting off than planned but with still enough time to get close enough to Packet Boat. Another boat had moored a short distance from us and, as we set off, they turned around and also set off in our direction. As a result we shared locks for the rest of the morning - they were heading back to their mooring at Harefield Marina.

Lady Capel's Lock
Bridge 163
Equally close to our mooring was the first bridge - not so famous as the one following, Grove Bridge, but perhaps the more interesting as it is a turnover bridge. It follows a design seen on other canals but less common on the Grand Union. It was devised later in the canal building age so that horses could cross from one side of the canal to the other without having to un-hitch the towline. The curved shape makes the process as efficient as possible.

Grove Bridge
The Grove
We no doubt have shown Grove Bridge before but it is included again just to show the blue sky! It's ornamental style resulted from being located in the grounds of a large country house, The Grove. We had not spotted it before as it is well hidden from the canal by trees, both alongside the canal bank and in the estate. However, with the trees no longer in leaf, there was just enough gap for a zoomed picture. The house once belonged to the Earls of Clarendon but was converted to a 5 star hotel in 1996 having had various uses since the Clarendons left the house in the 1920's, including being the wartime headquaters of the LMS railway company (see)

Occasionally today we saw, in addition to the familiar mileposts, some intermediate quarter milers as well.

Another sunny morning
Iron Bridge Lock
Iron Bridge Lock is on the edge of Cassiobury Park and a popular place people to watch boats working through. In the past we have had quite a crowd but perhaps we were too early today as there were only about six! Several rivers and streams flow in and out of the canal in this long valley and just above the lock the River Gade (we believe!) passes over a waterfall as it helps to make a series of ornamental lakes.

The name seems to be a misnomer as the bridge immediately below the lock is a brick bridge - so far we have not been able to find the origin of the name. Anyone know? (We've shown a picture of the lock rather than the bridge, just because of the colourful tree in the background!)

Iron Bridge
Oh, I give in - here's a picture of the bridge as well.

We have spotted some unusual boats at times - how about this one? We are not sure what would happen if 42 people tried to operate the lock all at once!

Shortly after Cassio Bridge Lock a former railway bridge cross the canal. In about four year's time the scene will be rather different as approval has been given for the Croxley Link which will see the Metropolitan Line connected to Watford Junction station, rather than ending at the Watford station which remains rather out of the town. Two new stations will be added and the line will connect in close to Croxley Station.

Little Union Canal
Just below Batchworth Lock (where we used the sani station whilst the boat was dropping down the lock) is the Little Union Canal which claims to be the "Only UK's Only Working Model Canal System" - but it was not very working today!

Royal Quay, Coppermill Lock
Alongside Coppermill Lock is an impressive building, now home to a number of small businesses and called Royal Quay. As far as we can discover, it became a copper mill, powered by the River Colne, from the start of the eighteenth century. It specialized in sheet copper and bolts which it supplied to the Royal Navy but later was used to manufacture asbestos goods.


The river joins the canal below the lock where it creates a notorious cross current alongside a road bridge and can easily catch boaters unawares.

Entrance to Troy Cut
Troy Cut was originally a private arm leading to a mill but is now disused and surrounded by the flooded remains of gravel pits.

Denham Deep Lock
Denham Deep Lock is what it implies: deep. At just over 11 feet rise, it is very different from most of the locks on this part of the Grand Union. Shortly below the lock we pulled in to moor for the night as we were unsure of where we might find if we went any further. Compared with previous times we have come this way there seems to be many more long term moored boats, whether officially or not, and numerous temporary Winter Mooring notices by CaRT.

10.2 miles - 13 locks


Tesco, with own mooring, just below Batchworh Lock 81

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Kings Langley

It was a bright morning as we arose, with a hint of mist across the canal. Although there had been some clear moonlit periods during the night, the temperature had not fallen quite as much as we had expected.

Morning Mists
We set off in good time and the boat we shared with yesterday saw us set off and decided to join with us again. We worked the locks together until Aspley when we stopped for the facilities. Although it is good to share broad locks - saves water and gives a chance to chat with other boaters - it does actually take longer as a result have having to manoeuvre two boats in and out of the locks.

We were close to our first lock of the day - starkly named Sewer Lock although we had not been able to see the nearby sewage works - and arrived just as another boat started to come up. This took some time and it was almost half an hour later before we were through to the next pound.

Winkwell Swing Bridge
There was a bit of congestion around Winkwell Swing Bridge and Mike did not manage a particularly good photo! However, it is now fully back in action - it was under repair with a temporary footbridge in the Spring when we came through (see

We continued, lock after lock. This stretch rarely offers more than ten minutes between locks so there is no let up! However the continuing bright and rather warm sunshine, combined with the attractive autumnal colours, meant that time passed very quickly.

We passed though Hemel Hempstead - not quite as attractive as Berkhamstead and no obvious central place by the canal.

Footbridge 153B (near Aspley Station)
Above Aspley Lock we stopped to use the sani station and fill up with water. This meant that we bade farewell to our lock sharers - we half expected to catch up with them later but it was not to be. Whilst Mike completed the servicing, Christine popped to the adjacent Sainsbury returning just as he was finishing. Another boat arrived to join with us through the lock but they moored up beside Aspley Marina to wait for more arrivals. Some modern bridges are very attractive.

New footbridge below Lock 68

We opted for lunch above the Nash Mills site. There are two locks close together and in between once stood a large Paper Mill. This was demolished a few years ago and is in the process of being developed as an extensive housing estate. A new footbridge is being completed below the upper lock. The detailed design lacked care and part of the footings at one side juts out and has had to be protected with a rubber fender.

Footbridge 157
We were on our own for the afternoon although a surprising number of boats were on the move and arriving at locks at the same time as ourselves. Sometimes this worked in our favour and sometimes against! Most of this section was unremarkable but not unpleasant. We did pass one footbridge (157) under repair. Not too sure what was going on under the wraps but it needed a hefty air conditioning unit and there was a strong resin-like smell.

A large wide beam trip and function boat came bearing down on us! It belongs to a charity based below the Red Lion Lock.

By three o'clock the sun's shadows were lengthening and, although still providing us with brightly coloured views, meant that we were beginning to think about where we might moor. two motorway crossings, a busy railway line and some major roads mean that the night stop has to be chosen with care. However we did also want to make as much good progress as we can so that tomorrow we can be close to Packet Boat although our mooring contract does not actually start until November 1st!

Eventually we found quite a reasonable spot just below Lady Capel's Lock - we came in slowly, trying not to disturb the water too much as a couple of keen fishermen were still at work on the bank. One of them told Christine later that he had been out since 8:30 this morning but had a good day's fishing and a satisfying catch.

Something new for the blog: Christine has requested that we make a note at the end of each blog of any helpful shops or other services close to the canal - for future reference. (She is clearly hoping to come this way again some time in the future!)

7.8 miles - 18 locks


Sainsbury adjacent to Aspley Lock 66