Sunday, 2 November 2014

Packet Boat

Today's Canal - Grand Union Main Line (and Slough Arm)

The day started with quite heavy rain but, in contrast with the forecast which promised that it would continue until lunch time, it dried up around 10 and was again warm and sometimes a little sun broke through - but not too strenuously!

We had moored overnight above Widewater Lock as we had identified this as the best place from which to find a church - at Denham Green, a thirties/fifties suburb which grew up to take advantage of the nearby rail station with services into London. Even so, it was over a mile away but we had also discovered that there is a bus service that would take us most of the way, even though it was only one stop!

The stop to go from was just at the bridge over the canal and, perhaps even a minute or so early, the bus duly arrived and our bus passes again proved to be of great value! Having also 'walked' the rest of the route on street View it was not difficult and only took about five minutes to find the small church. Built in the middle of the 20C as a multi-purpose hall, it is a daughter church to the main parish in Denham.

There were only 15 of us there but we received a really warm welcome. A Service of the Word, it was led by a lay person but a retired priest preached. It was a congregation that, although generally elderly (made us look quite young!) clearly enjoyed a thought provoking talk. After the service we stayed for coffee and again were made to feel really welcome. As we were about to leave, one of the ladies offered to give us a lift - and also a guided tour of Denham Village thrown in as well. All in all, it felt a much more genuine Christian community than some places we have visited.

Back at the boat we changed fairly promptly so that we could set off through the remaining four locks and five miles to Packet Boat marina where we are leaving the boat for the winter, as we have done in the previous three winters. It is convenient for London and Windsor.

Just below the first lock, the Horse and Barge pub looks forlorn. Its owners are still looking for new lessees but it is a long way from returning to an active life. At least its name will live on as the designation for the bus stop we used earlier!

Almost every proposed crossing of a canal by the HS2 route seems to be marked by an opposition sign. Just a short distance away is the bridge that carries an existing railway and which everyone now seems to take for granted. After all, it was the stretching of the central London Underground right out into the countryside that stimulated the growth of places like Denham that were otherwise quite isolated from the capital.

Once again, at Denham Deep Lock, we were reminded that however often we pass along a canal there is always something new or changed to see. In this case, just metres above the lock Fray's River (a part of the River Colne) passes under the canal on a short aqueduct.

This otherwise uninteresting photo is included because of the beautiful patterns of the reflections from the water.

Another detail not spotted before: the old wartime defensive pill box built into the end of a bridge just below Uxbridge. One wonders just what detailed planning suggested that such structures would actually be useful in the defence of the realm. Still, they did at least give the appearance that the government of the day was doing something to protect its citizens!

At three o'clock we turned onto the Slough arm at Cowley Peachy junction, but only for about 50 metres! Christine jumped off at the entrance to walk around and identify our mooring and point it out to Mike as he reversed the boat onto the pontoon as the end of this year's cruising.

We quickly set about boat cleaning - Mike was especially designated to clean the newly painted roof - so that it once again looks as if it is newly painted! We made good progress and packed most things into the car ready for tomorrow's journey back home.

5.2 miles - 4 locks

Saturday, 1 November 2014


Today's Canal - Grand Union Main Line

We were a little disappointed to awake and discover that it was raining. However, before we managed to set off it turned dry and very quickly bright blue skies appeared and stayed with us all day. again, it was amazingly mild. Later in the day we passed places where we remembered last year having trees brought down in late October gales!

The day was unremarkable until we reach Batchworth Lock - just a succession of locks spaced out just under a mile apart. It was, however, very pleasant cruising and the autumn colours remain part of the attraction, very varied with some species still retaining green leaves but with the most rapidly turning colour and falling into the water or making the towpath that bit more soggy!

The Grove is now an expensive country house hotel but the golf course seemed to be well used even this early in the day.

Just around the corner is the Grove Mill. Now converted into apartments it was clearly once a very impressive working mill. Some elements of the history can be found in the conservation area description (

Immediately after the next bridge, the converted cottage was originally built for a canal worker whose job was to keep the water courses clear.

Iron Bridge Lock (the bridge is not longer iron!) is in the middle of then popular Cassiobury Park and, coming through at this time of each year, there are many different autumnal views.

Below Cassio Bridge Lock is the high level railway bridge which is the last part of the Metropolitan Line spur to Watford. The last mile of this line is not well used but work is expected to start very soon on the Croxley Rail Link that will take the Metropolitan Line to Watford Junction. This will not only assist commuters but also give many people in this part of London access to main line services without having to go into the centre. It is planned to be complete in 2017.

Croxley was once a major industrial site, developed around 1830 by John Dickinson who moved much of his production down to here from Apsley. (see for an aerial view) The brand name Croxley was once synonymous with high quality writing paper and envelopes but as far as we can see the name lives on only through imports from South Africa. No sign of Croxley Mill can be seen from the canal and has been replaced by a large housing estate, like so many redundant industrial sites.

The weather was now at its best for today with almost no cloud at all.

We reached Batchworth on schedule - with water and elsan just below the lock. To the west of the main lock is another which connects with the River Chess. as the lock is permanently chained up, we have never had a chance to see how far it is navigable but the lock seems in good condition.

Whilst Mike completed the servicing - the rubbish bins are a good 150m around the corner, no doubt to make it easier for the collection truck - Christine walked to Tesco. Mike then took the boat the short distance to Frogmoor Wharf which is now as good mooring for the supermarket. A new art panel has been added to the otherwise blank wall.

Stocker's Lock is very much in a rural setting, even though the outer reaches of Greater London are never far away.

Immediately below the lock is the large Stocker's House, originally for the collector of coal duties when the toll point was moved here from its initial location at Lady Capel's Wharf. The history of coal dues was a complex story as different financial interests sought to defned their monopolies. What changes?

Between Coppermill Lock and the next bridge is a strong cross current from one of the rivers that feed the canal. Clearly a popular site for canoeists! Although the flow could be felt, it was not as strong today as we have sometimes found it.

At Black Jack's Lock a three-generation family were taking a keen interest in the operation and the two young girls were delighted to be given the opportunity to take part!

We were now having to think about possible church options for tomorrow morning - having failed on the past three Sundays! We did not have enough time before sunset to reach Packet Boat today so, although it was only just before 3 o'clock, we pulled onto a good mooring just above Widewater Lock. The church is about a mile away but along a good road and there is the possibility of a bus for some of it!

8.5 miles - 11 locks