Sunday, 7 July 2019


Tring Tring!
July 2019

No, this isn't about CRT's "two tings" campaign.

Having ventured up the Wendover Arm we decided to pay the town of Tring a visit. Its about a mile and a half from Little Tring, so allow 25 mins to reach the town centre. If you go on a Friday there is a little market which operates till early afternoon, and includes a good fruit and veg stall along with specialist cheese, bread and fish. 

Rothschild Alms Houses
Not that it was the market which attracted us. Our destination was the Natural History Museum which is a bone fide offshoot of the London one, specialising in birds and insects. In many ways the museum is as interesting as its contents having been bequeathed to the nation by Walter Rothschild,  a member of the Rothschild banking dynasty. 

Tring High Street
Parish Church Tring

He was the son of Nathaniel Rothschild, the founder of the bank, and he, along with his brother were expected to join the family business. The problem was that Walters interests lay in his collection of animals (alive and stuffed) and whereas he should have been doing "banking" stuff he spent most if his time (and a great deal of the bank's money) on the expansion of his collection. 

Natural Science Museum in Tring

This was no fleeting interest as a young Walter spent most of his time adding to his growing  collection and, for his 21st birthday, his parents gave him a museum to house it all, built in the grounds of the family home in Tring. The museum rapidly became a centre of excellence in animal research and when his lack of enthusiasm for banking became too much, he was retired with a generous allowance which let his indulge his real passion.

He accumulated a huge collection but later in life had to sell large elements to other museums to balance the books. When he died at the age if 69 in 1937, he gave the property along with its contents to the Nation on the proviso that it becomes part if the National History Museum, a process which called for its own specific act of parliament.

For Helen this was a walk down memory lane and it was a regular destination when her family lived in Hemel Hempstead.

The Museum retains most of its original display cabinets which she remembered, and is something of a time capsule in itself. The main thing which struck me was the amazing diversity within each species on display. You think you recognise an antelope, and then discover there are a dozen sub species..... and its the same with so many species. I think its the first time I have been to the Natural History Museum.

We then paid the market a visit and sticked up on fruit and veg from a stall holder who was very keen to strike a deal to move the last of his stock.

We were tempted by the outdoor performance of As You Like It, which was being performed by the local performing arts school which now occupies the old Rothschild mansion, but were put off by the prospect of another walk there and back.

As we wandered back in the heat of the afternoon we discovered a newly built footpath we had missed on the way out and strewn along its margins was a huge range of poppies.

Whilst Tring isn't quite on the canal, its well worth a visit if toy get an opportunity.

In may

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Tringford Puming Station

Tringford Pumping Station - Wendover Arm
July 2019

It's funny how sometimes things just come together. 

Tringford Engine House as it was

We decided to spend a couple of nights on the Wendover Arm and in our search for a bit of shade, ended up mooring just between the stop lock and the pumping station. As we sat here Helen looked at the water streaming out and observed that "Tringford Pumping Station is a "thing", isn't it"?. Now I have to explain that this is one of her few lapses into contemporary speak (she prefers to get down with Shakespearean yoof lingo) and a "thing" in this context is something of significance.

The end result flows into the canal

I immediately pricked up my ears and observed that she must have been reading my "Canals and Canal Architecture" booklet by John Vince printed in 1973, which has been laying around the boat for the last couple of weeks as part of another project. This ancient booklet has a section on pumping stations and the example used is all about Tringford. No, she responds in a "you must be a bit soft in the head" tone - it just pops up every time I look at the on line map.

The beam engine at work in Tringford

Well, the fact is that the pumping station at Little Tring was, and remains a "thing". Water is the lifeblood of canals and here on one of the two summit pounds of the Grand Junction Canal (as was) it was in particularly short supply. The main purpose of the Wedover Arm was to tap into a significant spring in Wendover, over six miles away from the summit pound. Access to the vital water from Wendover was important, but on its own it was not enough to maintain a constant supply of water to the canal. So a series of reservoirs were built at Marsworth, from which water could be pumped up to the summit pound when necessary.

Removing the beam in 1927

And thats where the Tringford Pumping Station came in. Right from the outset a big Boulton and Watt  steam was engine housed in a huge engine house, and the mighty beam engine worked tirelessly (and largely unrecognised) for over 100 years till it was replaced by electric pumps as part of the Grand Union improvements.

The shaft at the core of the complex

The booklet I was reading featured three photos of the engine house during and after its 1927 reconstruction. The old beam was extracted through the gable wall and the three story sash windowed engine hall was reduced to half its former height. The adjacent boiler house was also remodelled and its fascinating to take a close look at the brickwork which still bears evidence of the old bricked up windows. Time has bellowed the changes but the old black and white images serve to highlight them.

After the changes

This engine house was a huge concern. Without it the Grand Junction would have dried up in summer and a team of staff would have worked here, feeding the boiler with coal and carefully tending the engine to ensure it never missed a beat. These days it is all automated and currently undergoing some maintenance, which will ensure it is spick and span for its open day later in July. 

Tringford pumping station from over the canal

Tringford pumping station from the reservoir side

The western gable - the beam came out at the apex.

The Grade 2 listed site is absolutely not open to the public, and can only be accessed during a formal open days, but the internet is a wonderful thing and I managed to amass a good range of photos which show it as it was and how it is now.

The front door, with pillars which used to support the gear assembly and the balls on top are from the speed governor.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

The winding Wendover

Hemel to Tring
July 2019

I have to admit that I am less than excited by the Grand Union as it climbs from Hemel Hempstead to the Tring summit. The locks come thick and fast, but are rarely close enough to walk from one to the other. They just keep coming and on a hot day the dozen from Boxmoor to Berko were more than enough.

Heron on the Tring Summit

We were a bit slow setting off from Hemel and were a bit surprised to hear from a passing walker that the next lock was broken and that boats were all backed up. There were no notifications from CRT, but it was true we had not seen any coming down, so we phoned them and were told that there were no reported issues. We set off and the warnings turned out to be a load of codswallop. All was fine, although many of the bottom gates had huge gaps and were tricky to fill. I suspect that this is another issue associated with lock mistreatment we have seen so much of recently.

Most of the locks seem to have leaky walls, and many bear notices asking that they be left empty, which seems a huge waste of water.

For some reason there seems to have been a sudden proliferation of moored boats in the area and moorings in Berkhampstead they were in short supply. We managed to bag a spot near the Waitrose drop off point, which meant we were convenient for a few emergency supplies, at premium prices. Its a good enough spot to moor but Berko is rather blighted by the West Coast Mainline which runs close bye and the high speed trains slap past every few minutes, day and night.

Making progress

The last leg up to Cowroast was more of the same - locks every half mile with instructions to leave them all empty. The last two pounds were easily the worst, this the pound between the Dudswell locks being so shallow we had trouble even getting over the cill, with the water over 2 feet down. As it was we had to run water to free ourselves from the mud, and this was having an impact on the next pound up, with the moored boats all starting to lean over. We made it to Cowroast and were surprised to fee the summit at weir level, so I ran some water down for 10mins to east the shortage.

The butty always attracts the photographers

The summit pound passed in blissful shade, shielding us from the relentless glare of the sun shining from a cloudless sky. 

Onto the Wendover Arm

Our objective for the day was to travel to the end of the Wendover Arm, a short stub we have never travelled before, and the first and only new water this year. It is a delightful little backwater, but not one to tackle in a deep boat if the water levels are down. We followed its winding course for the full 1.5 miles its in water and could have moored on the towpath side near the winding hole.  But as it was very hot and we really needed shad, we found a likely spot next to the pumping station.

 Contrasts on the Wendover Arm

Like the Aylesbury Canal at the bottom of the hill, the Wendover is a lovely little waterway. Obscure and well off the beaten path with some cracking rural moorings at the end. The navigation notes suggest that wide beams are best avoiding what is an incredibly narrow channel, and I very much doubt the a wide beam could pass a narrow, let alone another wide.

The end of the road

Having found a nice spot we plan to stay here for a couple of nights and spend a day exploring nearby Tring.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Up the hill to Hemel

Brentford to Hemel Hempstead
July 2019

According to my Waterways Routes map app, we have travelled 28 miles and been through 37 locks since I last posted a blog on Brentford nearly a week ago. Thats pretty slow progress by our standards, but then we are in no great hurry as our next scheduled destination is Cosgrove Festival on the 20th and 21st July.

Having abandoned the plans for the Kennet and Avon (again) we decided to have a leisurely trip this summer. So, assuming we move at all, we don't start much before 10.30 am and look to moor up somewhere between 4.00 and 5.00pm. 

We really hit the slow lane crawling by staying put in Brentford for a couple of nights, taking in the heady sights of London with the London Canal Museum in Battlebridge Basin being a key destination. The museum is a nice little site occupying an old ice warehouse but as it's geared for the casual visitor it covers much the same ground as the other Canal Museums, save a natural focus on the London waterway scene.

We mooched around the city visiting the National Portrait Gallery, using some vouchers at TGI Fridays and clocking Garfunkels in Leicester Square, scene of our very first date all those years ago. The day was rounded off meeting an old friend who was visiting London on business.

Brentford basin proved to be a remarkably quiet location and one where there were quite a few mooring options, which is very different to our experience two years ago when it was rammed right up to Clitheroe's Lock. I cant quite work out why, but the number of moored boats seems to be way down all the way up the GU - not that I am complaining.

We have been making slow but steady progress overnighting at Bulls Bridge, and then the short hop to Denham Deep Lock. By this time it was Friday and the forecasts were predicting a sudden jump in temperature to 32C for just the Saturday. We therefore found a big tree and moored under it, spending the day sitting in the shade, both busy writing articles for our respective waterways magazines. I found it more than a little amusing that Helen was writing the Christmas page on the hottest day of the year!

The heat passed and we moved on to Cassiobury Park and then to Hemel Hempstead where we spent one night on the rather grotty 24 hr moorings next to Sainsburys, and then moved on to the much more pleasant moorings above Boxmoor Lock. 

I don't know if its just me but there suddenly seem to be a slew of boaters who have little or no regard for either the canal infrastructure or their fellow boaters. As we sit here moored above the lock we repeatedly hear paddles being slammed down, gates left open, all top paddles left up and boats blasting along at full tilt seemingly determined to see how many mooring pegs they can wrench free.  I know this makes me seen like a grumpy old git, but I don't think I have seen such consistent disregard for others before.

Whilst we were here we paid a visit to the Sunny Side Rural Trust nursery, which is beside the canal and just below the lock. It's a local initiative providing opportunities for the Learning Disabled and they offer a great range of flowers which we used to bolster the slightly straggly display on the butty. They also have a great little cafe and farm shop. Well worth a visit.

We also paid the local Multiplex a visit to see Yesterday, a film we have been eagerly anticipating. This was anything but a biopic, and instead was a love story based around a fantasy world where the Beatles were erased, along with Coke, Cigarettes and Harry Potter. The last three were no great loss but as our hero was a struggling musician his seemingly unique recollection of the Beatles was played out in a very absorbing film. Funny, sad and a real celebration of the Beatles legacy. It could have been a car crash of a film but I loved it.

Thursday, 27 June 2019


June 2019

The Teddington to Brentford trip is tidal and therefore one to be taken with some added precautions, but having passed this way several times before with and without the butty on the side, its not one which holds any real terrors.

You don't often see me with a life jacket

For a start the first half as far as Richmond is only semi tidal. The section above Richmond goes up and down with the tide, but it never fully drains because a movable weir is dropped into place and holds back a minimum level of water. When this happens the Richmond Lock becomes available, but if you wait till then you will miss your window of opportunity to bet in at Brentford or Limehouse. Has any reader actually used this lock?

We were let out about 20 minutes before high water, so for the first mile of the trip we punched a small flood tide and then speeded up as we reached slack water at the top of the tide. It was at this point we passed a handful of boats heading upstream, including the always spectacular Gloriana, the Queens Barge. Then the tide tuned and we were given a boost, lifting our speed to over 4.00mph and we slid past Eel Pie Island and the edge of Kew Gardens.

Gloriana on the tideway

The only moment of nervousness comes when switching sides of the river to get into the mouth of the River Brent which doubles as the Grand Union Canal for a few miles. By the time you get here the ebb tide is in full swing and zipping past the mouth of the river and being so slow we really don't want to get swept downstream. The target is the gap between the entrance to Brentford Dock (Marina) and the wavy sculpture on the downstream point. We tend to come in hugging the Brentford Dock side, pushing the bows into the still water of the Brent and letting the current swing the stern round. Others will warn you against this practice on account of the shallows which lie beneath the upstream point. They prefer to drop downstream and come back on the far side in the deepest water.

Safety at Thames Lock

If you have left Teddington at high water I really cant see how you will run out of water on the upstream side. If you look at low tide there is a bit of a shallow silt bank, but if you got anywhere near touching it there would be inadequate water to get you into Thames Lock. Anyway, we made our turn and its always a moment of relief when we see "Welcome to Thames Lock" up ahead. 

Brentford Gauging Locks

The two locks into Brentford Basin are manned for a couple of hours either side of high water and the lock keepers at both ends will not let you out till it's safe, and they are watching for your arrival at the far end. We had a small reception party comprising boat crews I met a few years ago on a BCN Explorer Cruise and who were hading upstream the next morning.

Listed Toll House

Last time we were here the Brentford 14 day visitor moorings were rammed but this time the ones up near the covered docks were empty, moorings which have water at each site and, if you have a token, electrical hook up. 

Brentford Basin

Brentford, like other tidal termini, has a slightly unusual atmosphere. Sure its all built up here and has all the hustle and bustle of a cosmopolitain city away from the water, but down on the moorings is is surprisingly tranquil and puts me in mind of Kidby. The similarity even extends to a nearby metal railway bridge which trains clank over every now and then.

Covered wharf at the end of the visitor moorings

With time of our hands we decided to play tourist and catch the train to London with the aim of visiting the London Canal Museum at Battlebridge Basin. On our way we passed the Brentford Locks Toll House which is a small museum open on Friday mornings, and also when the lock keepers are on duty. As it happened a boat was just arriving so we spent 15 mins having a look round the display.