Friday, 31 October 2014

Lady Capel's Wharf

Today's Canal - Grand Union Main Line

Jess was the first of the ladies to be ready this morning so she was happy to go with Mike into town to get a newspaper. In order to get to the main shopping area they had to negotiate the famous roundabout of roundabouts. This intrigued Jess so much that she wanted to taker a photo of the road sign as we walked back.

The shopping centre is undergoing a lot of upgrading - it looked rather like many other places with life-expired shops of the 1960's with no real coherent image. However. it is gradually being replaced by more modern shopping malls - sadly this reduces the variety shops in the process. We had to walk right to the other end to find a newspaper!

On the way back Jess was amused by a statue of young children and took this photo.

Back at the boat the others were now ready so we set off as quickly as we could. We had a schedule to keep ass Mike had agreed last night with Adrian where he should meet us to collect the girls, They have to go home, change and then be ready as dusk gathers to join in Trick or Treat for tonight is Halloween!

Just behind where we moored a workboat was being used to trim the overhanging branches. Such maintenance is very welcome but it was a bit unfortunate to see that they dumped the chippings in the water rather than on the bank - quite a lot floated down to the next lock where they joined the leaves in helping to block the water flow.

For several years we have taken a photo just below Boxmoor Lock and always with the spectacular colours of the trees.

Our research last night told us that the car park for B&Q was at one time a wharf for Roses Lime who transported barrels up from the River Thames to here - 12 hours in none trip!

We stopped to use the sani station above Lock 66. As Christine was preparing the lock, a local gentleman insisted to her that she really ought to go to the nearby Sainsbury for their doughnuts - in fact he told her twice! So whilst Alice helped Mike take the boat down the lock, that is what she did. A little later one pound was long enough to boil a kettle for coffee and we all made sort work of demolishing the sugary jammy doughnuts!

This is the other Stephenson railway bridge (see yesterday's blog) - still not sure whether the original structure has been replaced or just clad in concrete. However, the photo also shows that the weather today was excellent - sunny and notably warm. the forecast was for up to 18C!

After a close encounter with over-hanging branches as she sat on the stern of the boat, Jess spotted a grub that had been dislodged. She tried to see what sort of leaves it favoured - but neither seemed really to grab its fancy. Anyway, she carefully returned it to the hedgerow when we stopped at the next lock.

At Home Park Lock both girls turned out to help - useful as we were now sharing with a single hander on his way to London.

The lock cottage seems to specialise in carved pumpkin lanterns - just as well it is Halloween as several of them were starting to look rather the ancient and grey!

The long M25 viaduct strides boldly across the canal. This inspired an impromptu set of jokes about caterpillars! (and the difference between them and cats . . .)

Our unusual boats gallery was expanded by two all at once. We have never seen such a large awning being used on a narrowboat before - we wondered what might happen if the wind strengthened any more - perhaps it provides a new from of propulsion!

A few metres away was another entry - we have seen photos of this car on other blogs but never passed it ourselves. What we had not realised is that it is joined to its partner by metal rods! (Does that mean it only has one licence, someone asked?) Oops - in our haste we messed up the focus - sorry!

Beautiful sunshine as we neared Hunton bridge - our planned meeting point and time also for a late lunch!

At the expected time, Adrian arrived - actually he called by mobile as he was a bit unsure what to do. We had made plans based on Google satellite images but the layby alongside the former brewery is no more as the site is now covered in houses! However, Mike had just discovered by talking to a couple of other boaters (who obviously knew the area) that Adrian would be able to park outside the church on the opposite side of the A41. Mike provided a running guidance as Adrian drove along the busy road! Fortunately there is an underpass.

By the time that the Windsor party had left, we only had a short time left for cruising and to find a slightly quieter spot (the A41 is at least as noisy as the motorway)

As we dropped down through Lady Capel's Lock the sun had already fallen below the horizon. We found a mooring but whilst Mike made fast, Christine went to check if there was a better spot just around the corner by the well-known Grove Bridge. To get there she had to cross over the turnover bridge and was surprised to discover how narrow the path across is.

On the way back, Christine attempted to take some long range paparazzi shots of Mike at work - perhaps she should invest a few grand in a special long lens camera!

10.73 miles - 11 locks

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Hemel Hempstead

Today's Canal - Grand Union Main Line

The morning was rather grey but during the afternoon the sky cleared somewhat although it was not very clear. However, the temperature was surprisingly mild for the end of October.

We did not make an early start! Whilst the girls and Christine were still getting up and having their showers, Mike popped once more to Waitrose for a paper, milk, cheese and bread. After returning to the boat he took it across to the opposite bank for the water point and to fill up.

Whilst we were waiting the girls again exercised themselves on the nearby training equipment. Alice was so vigorous on the swing thing that she ran it into the end stops!

Berkhampsted was the original destination for the canal out of London and worked with barges that fully occupied each lock. (The wide locks further north were mainly intended to take a pair if narrow boats and the bridges are not as wide.)

The locks all come at much the same intervals, around three to the mile. Occasionally some are a little closer. In the towns, a number have quite old pubs alongside.

Below Lock 68 is a group of cottages that look as if they had some canal use at one time. One of them has a date plaque, although perhaps not original!

A few locks before Winkwell we caught up with another boat and shared the locks until we passed through the swing bridge. We were still looking for somewhere to repair the rear door. Christine rang earlier but could not get a reply but tried again as we hovered alongside. Yes they could take a look at it and we pulled into the very tight space between all the other moored boats.

Two men came to take a look but they needed to clear it with the boss and also they were just stopping for their lunch break. This meant that we too had lunch whilst we waited.

Before long the two men returned with the OK and a price (£30 for half an hour's work) which we readily accepted. After collecting the necessary equipment one of them welded the hinge back on the boat and all that remained was for Christine to go and pay!

For most of the afternoon Alice and Jess took to the towpath and helped with the locks. As both top gates have a tendency to drift open if not held in place, their help was especially useful.

As we passed through Fishery Lock the sun was already quite low in the sky and we started to think about finding a night's mooring. We had wanted to get as far as the elsan point (there is nothing in Berkhamsted surprisingly) but we were unsure of a mooring close to the facility in the centre of Hemel. Instead we opted to pull in above Boxmoor Lock despite the improbability of a tv signal!

4.9 miles - 11 locks

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Another day in Berkhamsted

We woke to a complete change in the weather. Yesterday, it felt really warm and balmy in the sunshine. Today was dark and damp.

We spent the morning generally taking our ease. Christine had booked lunch at Carluccio's - and that certainly filled in a good slot on this miserable feeling day. There was a good children's menu and a corner table with a booklet of children's activities was very welcome. Christine was slightly disappointed with her Chicken risotto - the quantity of chicken included was a bit limited. However, the Tiramisu afterwards was 'very acceptable'!

Before lunch, they had noticed that it was market day in Berkhamsted, with stalls all along the main street. So after lunch they went to explore those and some of the shops. Gran was expected to be the indulgent Granny!

Back at the boat, more passing the time with iPad games and so on.

Christine suddenly noticed that the boat had lost its mooring when one of the mooring pins came out. With some effort in the definitely unpleasant rain, she managed to pull it back in. Why are there no hunky men - or any men around when you need them?!

Late afternoon, Jess asked what was for tea. Was she really hungry again? We decided to go out and look at possibilities. Christine remembered she had forgotten to get a Guardian earlier and they had to walk along the main street again to WHSmith's to get one. On then into Tesco Express and then Waitrose on the way back to stock up with what Jess considered sufficient - red pepper and cucumber sticks, pepperoni, pork pie, crisps, yogurts, chocolate cookies!

Then before bedtime and while waiting for Mike to return, they looked up more information about Berkhamsted Castle, finding some videos on the internet!

Mike again had a day with its interesting points! He had thought that the problem with the lights would not be a difficulty as he only had to drive down to Truro and back in daylight. Well, the sun came up as expected but so also did the murky mists. However, not too many vehicles seemed as distracted by his headlights as in the proper darkness.

Close to where he was going for the meeting Mike enquired at a car repair shop if they could look at it which - hooray - they did. After finishing the meeting on time Mike returned to the car to be told that both bulbs had blown! At the same time? Another person at the meeting had also said that they knew he had a lights problem as they had followed him as he pulled into the garage. Front lights? No, one of the rear lights also! It turned out that this was a quick fix as, for some reason the bulb was OK but had worked loose.

The journey back was much less eventful. He could drive back home much more relaxed and had time to change and collect all that he need for the journey including the rolls for lunch. He then set off to catch a bus to the station, sadly leaving the rolls behind but he had plenty of time to have a hot panini at the small but busy cafe in the former station signal box.

Just after eight in the evening he was walking the short distance from the station in Berkhamsted to the boat where he met up with the girls once again. Jess's reading had advanced tremendously since the summer and she gleefully told Grandad that she can now 'read in her head - it is so much faster'.

0 miles - 0 locks

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Girls arrive - Mike departs

Christine writing the blog again.

Mike has left once more this afternoon to go back to Cornwall for tomorrow. This morning he wrote yesterday's blog, while Christine did some cleaning up since Alice and Jess were due this afternoon to stay until Friday, this being half-term holiday.

After shopping at nearby Waitrose, we moved - all of 50 yds further along the towpath, the boat in front having departed. Why? We had been moored under an ash tree that was fast shedding its leaves. Hopefully not so many now to cover the boat.

Then came lunch. Mike checked he had everything he needed and we waited for Joanna to arrive with the girls - Mike whiled away the time with a visit to the Candyboat moored nearby.
After a quick mug of tea, Mike and Joanna left - she was giving him a lift to Slough station to help him on his way.

The girls soon opted to go over to the playground the other side of the canal. Christine locked up and then followed them. It was very popular, but eventually the girls were persuaded away to visit the adjacent icecream van.

Christine suggested they went to find the site of Berkhamsted Castle. It was about 5 minutes away, the other side of the railway line beyond the station. It proved most impressive - an enormous area, just some of the ruined flint set walls but from the earthworks, double moat, the motte mound towering up, it was reasonably easy to get an idea of what it was like in its heyday at the time of the Black Prince.

First they walked round the wall dividing the two moats - were they ever going to get back to where they started? Then there was just time before it began to get dark to walk into the bailey then climb the 64 steps up to the top of mound. Very impressive.

They arrived back at the boat with just enough light for Alice and Jess to climb up onto the boat roof to brush off those leaves, as referred to before!

Then iPads are a great diversion while the evening meal is cooking!

Mike's Journey was a bit hairy! Joanna made it in good time to just 10 minutes away from the station where they encountered a long delay at temporary roadworks which seemed more intent on letting traffic out of Slough rather than back in again!

Eventually they made it with a few minutes to spare and, after extracting his tickets from the machine (entering a long random key seems to take for ever!) and dashing over to the right platform, the train was announced as running a few minutes late.

At Reading it was a tight connection as a result but eventually Mike was able to sit back and relax (except that he discovered he had left his tablet behind on the boat. He was more relieved when he heard from Christine that he had indeed left it behind and not had it removed from his rucksack!
Avid readers of this blog will know that when Mike left the little red  car at Bodmin Parkway last week, he did so after a scare with the car electrics was had be re-assured when it re-started after being parked. So, tonight, in the dark and settling think mist, he returned to the car wondering what he might discover. With relief it started straight away.

As he drove down the ramp from the station he realised that the headlights were not very bright! He quickly established that, although the main beam lights were working, no dipped headlights! There was also a diversion from the station around the narrow back lanes to Bodmin to allow night time road works. Rather a lot of cars flashed at him but there was little he could do. He certainly did not want to break down on a dark narrow country road. Eventually he made it home, rather relived to discover that it had not burnt down or flooded in the meantime!

0 miles - 0 locks

Monday, 27 October 2014


Today's Canal - Grand Union, Wendover Arm and Main Line

It was a bright, sunny and cloudless day as we awoke - and it remained that way for all of the time as we cruised down to Berkhamsted. (Sometimes your shadow will just not go away!)

Although we could have gone on a lot longer, our target was set for logistical reasons. Firstly, Mike has to return home for Wednesday for a diocesan meeting which he chairs but secondly because Alice and Jess are coming to join us for a few few days from tomorrow. After dropping them off with us, Joanna will kindly take Mike to Slough where he can more easily catch a train back to Bodmin Parkway.

Another view of the flour mill
The first part of today was too re-trace the Wendover Arm back to the junction with the Main Line. Although it is only a mile and a half it takes a while as progress is slow. The canal looks good above the waterline but is obviously very shallow throughout. This is linked with the summit pound level which we also found somewhat down.

Yesterday, Christine - who was steering at the time - commented that she thought that this water inflow started as she passed by. Mike had the same experience today - it started just before we passed it, and the ripples on an otherwise still water confirmed that it had not been flowing for more than a few moments.

Back at the junction we re-joined the main line above Marsworth Top Lock. There were a few mooring spaces free but this is a popular stopover for those not looking to move to far.

After a short distance we passed the maintenance yard where materials were being unloaded from a truck and a boat being readied to carry others to whichever work site along the canal needs them.

We have been puzzled before by this well-constructed wharf between Tring Station bridge and Cowroast. The answer comes from which says, "Now the premises of Solgar, an American Vitamin and Herb distributor, the complex was one of a number of ‘buffer depots’ built for the Ministry of Food at strategic points throughout the country — usually beside a railway or canal — to store emergency stocks of food for distribution during WWII, a role that continued into the 1950s. Canal boats worked to the depot carrying such commodities as imported flour and maize."

Overnight the temporary fix to the rear door failed in the wind so Christine rang through to Cowroast to see if they were able to weld it. The response was encouraging so we pressed on, along the summit pound although the speed was not always very good since the multitude of leaves quickly blocked the prop.

It was not rather breezy which made turning into Cowroast Marina and turning to come alongside the workshop less than straightforward. However, the wind can often be turned to advantage if the manoeuvre is planned in advance . . .

We took on a little diesel but as it is quite expensive here we only topped up enough for the rest of this trip. Sadly, the very helpful mechanic whom we have used before was, in the event, unable to do the weld, for various complex reasons! We will just have to accept the wind whistling down the back well deck for a bit longer! Strangely, it is much harder to come out of this marina than to come in.

By now there was a queue of four boats, two in the top lock and two waiting. (They were all from the Taverner's Boat Club out on their 'Autumn Cruise')

So we pulled in to the water point (which is actually next to the lock and closer than the lock landing!) to use the time fruitfully! The bridge at the tail of the lock is being repaired this week and the road inevitably closed. Christine chatted to one of the CaRT crew when we eventually came into the lock. Amusingly he reported that the heritage department had been pressing for them to keep the vine that grows over the bridge parapet. He was unsure about how they expected the team to repair and paint bit whilst keeping the vine (which itself may well be harming the structure!)

For most of the following six locks we were behind the club cruise although at one the last shared with us (something to do with what their leader had instructed!) but they re-paired again at the next lock. We passed a couple of single handers coming up in the other direction. Those who stay longer term at Berkhamsted have to go up to Cowroast for their nearest service station.

The sunny day meant that sitting waiting for a lock to fill was always a pleasant time and we were in no great hurry! (Except that we wanted to reach Berkhamsted as early as possible to secure an vacant spot, as we know that it can sometimes fill up but the early afternoon)

As we arrived the bank looked full and we pulled in to the closest to the access from the nearby car park and supermarket. Christine checked further along but this seemed the best. We were a bit surprised to notice that boats were using the opposite bank as, in the past, we had recalled this being signed as No Mooring.

We had had lunch 'on the go' so, after a short break we went for a walk along the high street, collecting a paper from Waitrose on the way. Christine was also checking out the eating places for somewhere to entertain the two girls during Mike's absence.

The Dower House
Although the main street has plenty of interesting older buildings, the side roads are mainly terraced. However, looking in the estate agent windows we quickly discovered that there is nothing modest about house prices in this area!

The large parish church, St Peter's, is on the high street. Just outside is an interesting tree and a couple of unusual graves.

We spent some time looking around the church where an organist was practising.

The church is especially linked with the poet and hymn writer William Cowper who was born here in 1731. We did not do very well with photos inside the church. A Millennium window commemorates the Cowper link. It is formed from etched clear glass to contrast with the Victorian style of dark stained glass which intentionally isolates the churchgoer inside the building from the world outside. Through this window the outside can clearly be seen and also the design can be read from the outside as well as inside.

We picked up a leaflet which listed a programme of free organ recitals and it so happened that one was tonight at 8 pm. We returned to the boat and had our meal in good time so that we could return for this event.

There were about 40 people in the audience. The very accomplished organist, Richard Carr, was excellent and his programme, which last about 40 minutes, was very varied including a delightful arrangement of Walton's popular Song from his Facade Suite. We were very pleased that we had found out about this recital.

9.2 miles - 7 locks