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

Monday, 29 October 2012


The day started rather differently from our plan! We had been experiencing strange and worrying rattling sounds from the engine mountings which appeared to be loose. We made contact with the engineer at Cowroast marina (he works from the workshop and dock on the site but is a separate business). He agreed to take a look if we brought the boat back up through the last lock we went down yesterday and into the marina.

We started to organise this - it meant reversing for a hundred metres or so passed a few moored boats - and Christine went ahead to open the lock gates. Not long after casting off, the drive ceased and the boat headed straight into the bushes on the opposite bank!

Nothing for it but to punt as by now the boat was too far from the towpath to throw a line. Fortunately we do have a really effective long pole which meant that at least it was possible. Once around the moored boats, Mike could come alongside and complete the last bit by towing into the lock.

Above the lock we had to do much the same to back up to the marina entrance, turn and come into the dock side. Although a bit of an effort, it was essentially not difficult exercise but, at that stage, we still did not know what problems lay ahead.

Darren, the engineer, finished off the job he was doing - jet washing a boat that had just arrived for blacking - and then came to see what our problem was. As soon as Mike lifted the engine cover the immediate diagnosis was not difficult - there was clear space between the engine and the prop shaft as the bolts connecting the two together had vibrated loose.

He set about rectifying the problems and, in the process, re-aligning the engine to the shaft. The RCR annual inspection back in February, had noted a concern about this but we had not known quite what to do about it and all had seemed to well.

In any event, we were able to set off once more just before 12:30 - in the circumstances we were really rather pleased about that and can recommend Darren to anyone in the area needing help!

Lock 48
Another boat, from Bishop Stortford, had just arrived before we came out of the marina and we went down the lock with them. In fact we shared all but two locks with them for the rest of the day.

The morning had begun bright and sunny but gradually clouded over so we were with grey skies for the time cruising. Apart from a very small amount of drizzle, it kept dry until shortly before we moored.

Lock 52
The more observant of our readers may well wonder why we left lock 52 with a bottom paddle still raised. (the photo was included for the view not the technical quiz!) This would normally be against all good practice - to leave all gates and paddles closed to prevent loss of water - but several of the locks on this stretch have notices asking them to be left empty with a bottom paddle raised. We guess that this may be to combat a leaky bottom gate but the notice offers no explanation.

Pretty pictrure - leaves by the side of a lock
We arrived in the centre of Berkhamstead and, as we have done before, Christine popped to the nearby Waitrose whilst Mike filled up from the water point.

Extra railings on bridge 140B
When we were chatting with Darren he said that some bridge have had to have extended railings where they are cycleways - new Health and Safety recommendation to prevent cyclist from toppling over the edge! The footbridge (140B) from the park to the town centre has indeed such railings and they were not there in the photo we took last October.

Lock distance post
Below the next lock we spotted a Distance Marker - not too many of these are on the Grand Union but quite common on the Oxford. They indicate the point at which a boat gains the right to take the lock and so avoid, hopefully, controversy if a boat coming the other way claims it as theirs! Of course, this dates back to the time of commercial freight traffic when time was definitely money and every opportunity to cut precious minutes would be grasped.

Ravens Lane Lock
We came down Ravens Lane Lock on our own but our companions from earlier in the day were just leaving and they waited for us at the next lock. We stayed together until the light faded and we had to give in and moor for the night!

Many of the lock cottages from here down towards Bulls Bridge are built with their ground floor below the level of the lock, as here at Top Side Lock 56. We only hope that the lock walls do not start to leak as they have in other places!

Mooring was a little tricky tonight. The pound is fairly short and the level changed quite significantly when a lockful of water was added by another boat coming down after we stopped. Although the boats either side of us had managed to come right to the bank, we found a spot where piling repairs have left a very shallow shelf some distance out from firm land. Mike checked the mooring ropes after ark and found that the level had dropped sufficiently that the boat was at a distinct angle. It took some while to prise the boat back to a position in which it was floating freely but some distance out. Only just possible to clamber back aboard at one end. We shall see how things are in the morning!

3.4 miles - 10 locks

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Tring Summit

Definitely cooler again and rather grey for most of the day. At least the threatened rain stayed away until after we had moored. We also managed to remember that the clocks went back overnight!

All Saints, Marsworth
We were moored in the centre of Marsworth so that we could go to the church just a few hundred metres away. as we walked up from the canal we could hear the bells being rung. We already knew that the service was at 10 and that it would be a Songs of Praise family service. There were about 35 including a ladies choir of 8 singers. The worship was led by one of the choir - it seems that the person who would normally do it was away. this form of family service happens only very occasionally.

The hymns had been chosen by various members of the congregation and an excellent organist ensured that they were sung to a lively pace. Although it was obvious that the local people were very friendly and relaxed with each other, no-one actually made any attempt to speak to us either before or afterwards. still, much better than some places we have been to this year!

Afterwards, we walked back a different way - there are a good number of attractive buildings in the centre of the village.

Once changed we moved the boat under the adjacent bridge to the water point where we filled up our tank before setting off properly up the Marsworth flight of seven locks. The former workshops have almost all been demolished - leaving just the former office building - as work is about to commence on the housing development (which caused some controversy when the planning application was submitted)

Marsworth Bottom Lock
When we came through here in the spring, the drought was with us and the adjacent reservoirs were quite empty (see Today, however, things are very different. The summit pound is still being kept at a reduced level and we understand that it appears to have been successful in preventing so much loss of water, said to be the result of a lower water table.

Lock in autumn
Marsworth Top Lock
Most of the locks were against us but, with Christine going ahead to prepare them we made steady progress and before long the top lock was in our sights.

Bulbourne Dry Dock
Bulbourne Junction is a comparatively complex location - as well as connecting to the Wendover Arm (now open - it was closed in the spring) and also a dry dock, still in use. Just above the lock we found an empty mooring (there were quite a few boats here, perhaps gathering for the winter mooring season that starts on November 1st). A further helping of the soup saw that brew finished off - Christine will have to start again tomorrow, no doubt helped by the bones from the belly pork joint for tonight's roast)

We were still experiencing alarming rattles from the engine at low speed and, after a trip into the engine bay, we suspect it may be a problem with the engine mounts, but a lack of mobile signal along the summit pound prevented us from trying find any advice.

We keep noticing the more unusual boats - wondered if this was a granny annex, or perhaps a children's naughty corner!

Tring Summit
Progress along the Tring Summit pound was quite slow because of the reduced levels but the autumn colours gave us plenty to admire as we chugged along. Strangely, a short distance before we arrived at Cowroast our speed picked up quite considerably to a respectable pace.

Top Lock Pumping House
We eventually reached the top lock at the other end of the summit - we debated about where to stop, still uncertain about the engine mounts but opted to go down one lock (using the sani station as we did so) before mooring shortly afterwards. The pumping station building dates from the 1930's.

We took another look in the engine bay but remained as uncertain as before - we had a chat to the next moored boat where they were working on their engine (an historic Mercedes marine engine with an unusual steering mechanism) but they were not much more expert that ourselves, but they did recommend the mechanic at Cowroast marina.

4.1 miles - 8 locks