Saturday, 24 June 2017

Paddington laid bare

Bulls Bridge to Paddington
June 2017

Not the most dignified start to the day.

Within 10 minutes of pulling away from Bulls Bridge I noticed a sharp pricking sensation from my nether regions, and was dismayed to discover that a hoard or ants had invaded the back of the boat during the night. I had, in a very literal sense, got ants in my pants. Helen was below having a shower so I resorted to rummaging inside my trousers to try and remove the offending insect. Fortunately no one was around to witness my antics, much less report them to the relevant authorities!

West Kilburn

With the embryonic ant colony dealt with it was down to the serious task of navigating the boats the four miles to High Line Yachting and their supply of diesel. Initially all went well. The water was clear and clean and it was happy days, but then things took a turn for the worse as the channel clogged up with thick weed which floated mid canal like an aquatic stinger.

Weedy around the North Circular

We pressed on and breathed a sigh of relief when we arrived at the boat yard with less than a quarter of a tank of diesel remaining. This lack of fuel was also causing the stern to lift two or three inches and impairing our towing configuration. The price was about 74p per litre which is more or less on a par with the fuel boats and about £110 was pumped in, enough to keep us moving for another month.

Quiet cruising

This trip into London along the Paddington Arm is all new water for us and given the horror stories about mooring congestion, I was a little apprehensive about what we would find. The key question for me is "can boating into London be an enjoyable experience?". I was a little taken aback at Bulls Bridge were a couple were taking over a wide beam, clearly for the  first time with surveyor marks here and there all over the hull. If this happens when I chance by, what sort of mayhem are we sailing into?

Redevelopment at Ealing Road, with towpath improvements

Whilst there are a good number of moored boats here and there, its fair to say that in all areas, even in popular areas like Kensal Green, spaces did exist should I want to stop. In the more outlying areas it was mostly open canal with just a smattering of wildlife for company. The first six or seven miles are comparable with the Worcester Birmingham as it touches urban areas from time to time, but mostly stays remote in parkland and next to a golf course. When it does change it becomes more like the approach to Wolverhampton with weed everywhere, but also with the ever present line of boats in all shapes and sizes.

Gardens that float

I would have to say that the population of the Paddington Arm does have a couple of advantages. 1. The presence of other boats means that there is never any of that threatening isolation which can exist in some parts of the BCN and 2. the presence of boats means that there is safety in numbers and there are now a whole host of mooring options where you wouldn't have previously even considered stopping.

 Graffiti and art

As for the boaters, they all seemed a cheery enough bunch. They waved and clearly liked the butty, although I suspect a lot were more than a little bemused. From my discussions so far and reading the posts on London Boaters Facebook page I can see that many have little boating experience and even things like lock chambers have been referred to descriptively as "tanks". So the observation is to be friendly and keep the language simple and not too "boaty". 

I was surprised at the lack of boat movements. I had expected Saturday to be a mele of boats chugging to and fro, making sure they didn't overstay the 14 day maximum. Perhaps they all move on Sundays, but given the number of birds nesting in the tyre fenders I rather suspect a lot hardly move at all.  

We used the facilities at Little Venice and then proceeded up the Paddington Arm to the terminus in the hope of finding a mooring spot, and maybe seeing Dan and Keri-Leigh Poxton and their two boats. We found them right at the end and, as luck would have it, there was a space behind them which was just big enough for our two boats - to the inch.

After all that travelling we have decided to have a pause and spend Sunday on this mooring, moving off on the Regents Canal on Monday when the traffic should be at its quietest.

Friday, 23 June 2017

A load of Bull

Brentford to Bulls Bridge
June 2017

Perhaps we stopped a bit soon last night. We stopped just before the third lock up from the Thames and the city noise was pretty intrusive, especially with the hatches open to relieve the stuffyness. The end result was a rather disturbed nights sleep and as we progressed up the flight we realised there were plenty of better options further on.

Grand Junction Canal bridge, made in Tipton

The River Brent section is quite attractive but given the recent hot weather the weed growth is really bad, huge floating islands of tenacious stuff which grabs the prop and was only cleared with lots of reverse and several trips down the weed hatch. There was wildlife in abundance with birds everywhere.


Our encounter with the big Grand Union Locks was a bit of a shock after all those easy days on the Thames. The deep Hanwell flight are notoriously hard, relatively little used and prone to very strong water flows. Several times the boat was dragged from one side of the lock to the other and on other occasions the by wash was so strong the boat was pinned to the offside bank and stubbornly refused to go into the lock.

We were encouraged by a sign on the lock telling us to call or text the volunteer lock keepers to get help, so we did. However we got no reply so we plodded up on our own only to discover the on duty at the top lock! We mentioned the text and were told we should have called because they don't check for texts! So note to self, call them next time.

Asylum Lock

Along the way we passed the rather forbidding walls of the Mental Health Centre known to boaters as Asylum Lock. The place was pretty much self sufficient and had its own canal arm to take in coal and ship out surplus produce. It was at this lock we met a group of ladies taking a walk at lunchtime. They were very taken with the butty and product was duly sold.

Hanwell Top Lock

We finished the day five miles and ten locks up the canal at Bulls Bridge, taking advantage of the adjacent Tesco store with their 24hr mooring. The moorings are just beyond the old Grand Union lay by where iconic images exist of steerers and their families awaiting orders. These days the wide section is full of houseboats and all trace of the the anticipation of voyages to come is gone. 

Bulls Bridge Lay By

The location has a feeling of deja-vue about it, with the constant drone of road noise and industrial activity. Welcome to the big smoke.

As for us, our next leg is into the heart of London and hopefully a mooring tomorrow night in Paddington Basin, picking up some much needed diesel along the way.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

To Brentford

Hampton Court to Brentford
June 2017

Of all days which would you pick to visit Hampton Court Palace? The hottest day since 1976 when the thermometer hit 34C?. Yup, that's the day we picked for our visit!

These last few days have been stifling and I was really not happy about dropping down to the Hampton Court moorings, which mean both the motor and butty would sit for the whole day in full sun. Instead I decided to look for a shady spot before the lock and came up trumps tight opposite the weir. The water was deep and there were some trees which would offer shade all day. There were no notices to say we couldn't moor there so I decided to go for it and apologise if necessary. There were some convenient trees so we roped in on three places and headed off to the Palace in blistering heat.

The old Tudor Palace really was the place to be on such a hot day. True it wasn't exactly cold' but it was very good at keeping the heat out and allowed us to explore Henry 8th's palace in reasonable comfort. We also visited the Maze which proved surprisingly easy.

By 3.00pm we had had enough and returned to the boat and the shade of the stern deck. To freshen up we had another swim and concluded that the easiest way out is to climb up the butty's elum. The rest of the evening was spent trying to stay stay cool accompanied by the distant refrain on a Bryan Ferry concert taking place in the Palace grounds. The only sad aspect was the arrival of an air ambulance and the emergency services who ended up pulling the body of a young lad out of the river, a lad who had apparently got into difficulties trying to swim across.

After a suffocatingly hot night Adam and Adrian (Briar Rose)  popped in for a drink and a catch up, which was a lovely bonus.

But then it was on to the main event of the day - the tidal crossing from Teddington to Brentford. We cast off at 11.00am and reached Teddington at 1.15pm, joining the line of boats waiting to be lowered to the tidal Thames, just before high water. High water was 2.10pm and we are out and at it by 2.00pm. 

Just before we entered the lock we saw a flash of gold and realised that Gloriana, the Queens royal barge was on its was upstream to Staines. The vessel was made for the Golden Jubilee celebrations and still looks absolutely amazing.

They let us out knowing that a narrowboat can safely make a passage to Brentrord before the water level drops too far to get them over the cill of Thames Lock. The problem for us is our speed, or lack of it. Most narrowboats can make six or seven mph over still water but I know that with a butty on the side the best we can do is about 3.5 mph. So, the question was : could we make it to Brentford in time?

We pushed the revs up from the usual 1300 rpm to 1600 which increased our speed a bit, but the other four narrowboats soon left us behind and we were on our own as the tide turned and swept us downstream at an alarming pace. Landmarks at Richmond flashed past as we hurtled under the various bridges and then over the Richmond weir which retains some water in the upper section. Beyond this we really were on our own, powering away through all sorts of floating detritus, and all the time with the nagging worry that if we miss the turn into Brentford we probably don't have the speed to punch the current and claw our way back upstream.

We kept a close eye on the map and edged over to hug the northern bank ready to turn in as soon as the channel to the locks comes into view. The key here is to turn in upstream of the scuplture on the point. We swung the boats out of the ebb current with a huge sense of relief and slid into the welcoming CRT lock which had been set by volunteer staff. By this time the water level had dropped four or five feet and the passage had taken us exactly 1.5 hours. Brentford lock may not win any stakes in a beauty pageant, but few locks have been as welcomed!

The CRT staff were charmed by the concept of hr butty and we had sold three jars before we even exited the lock!

Almost at once the change in moorings were apparent. Gone was the empty channel of seven years ago, and in its place it was nose to tail boats. Fortunately we found a 45 foot gap before the A4 and edged in with the butty still on our side. We will sort out the towing straps to run in line astern tomorrow morning as we make for Bulls Bridge.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Hampton Court

Pyrford to Hampton Court
June 2017

Having covered so much ground yesterday we decided to repeat the exercise and set our alarms for 6.00am. However, there is sometimes a gap between intent and action. 

Misty morning on the Wey

I intended to get up and did so, but Helen had a bad night and didn't! She looked so bleary eyed at six I suggested she went back to sleep and I would take the boats down to the services at Pyrford Lock. As it turned out I turned the lock whilst the water was filling and then dropped down the shallow lock on my own, and just carried on. I think she eventually woke as I passed he junction for the Basingstoke Canal a couple of miles further on.

Rope rollers at Walsham Flood Lock

The early morning was delightful, with a heavy mist hanging over the meadows and everything dripping with dew. Much to my surprise I discovered Melaleuca moored stern out about 400 yards downstream from where we had stopped. There was no sign of life so I puttered past and into the mists swirling around Walsham Flood gates.

I am not sure if its on account of the cooler temperatures making cruising more pleasurable, or the benefit of going with the flow, but we seemed to make rapid progress down the navigation passing New Haw and Coxes Locks in quick succession and by 10.00am we found ourselves leaving Town Lock with its sharp bend and approaching Thames Lock with its resident lock keeper.

 Coxes Mill

Town Lock, Weybridge

We brought the butty back to into the river breasted formation and were helped down through both locks and there we were, back on the glistening Thames at Shepperton.

Well, that was a bit of a surprise. We had crawled up the Wey navigations over three days and came back down it in just over one. But this isnt a navigation to be hurried, Its a delightful mix of canal and river and represents the first modern era navigation. It is quirky, with irregular locks which can catch you by surprise and many split channels where its reassuring to see a letter box bridge with the word Navigation telling you which way to go. What is most amazing is its isolation. Its a 20 mile waterway which runs through a densely populated area but apart from Guildford there is nothing to be seen except pasture water meadows and occasional glimpses of church towers in the distance.

Dodgy mooring or what?

Of course, there is unfinished business up here. Sure, we made it to Godalming, but we never ventured up the 30 mile Basingstoke Canal. A good reason to return, maybe in 2019.

Back on the Thames the sun burned away both the mist and the high cloud and by noon it was pushing 30C. We ran downstream to the Molesey Reservoirs, a couple of miles upstream from Hampton Court, and found a nice shady spot under the bank and hid for the rest of the day.

By 4.00pm we had both dozed and decided to take a dip in the Thames. I will let the pictures tell the story....

Ladies First:

And then himself:

Well, I did grow up in the Benny Hill era!