Tuesday 31 August 2010

Kings Langley to Berkhampstead - a day of delays

Kings Langley to Berkhampstead
7th August 2010

9 Miles - 18 locks - 6 hours

The mooring at Kings Langley just below bridge 158 is excellent, sheltered from the busy A41 which runs through the  town, and the railway  which runs behind the flats built on the old Ovaltine factory site.

After our efforts yesterday we didn't stir till 9.30 am and then did a mid season oil change so we didn't get moving till 10.30.

As we moved up to Kings Langley Lock the boater moored behind us wandered over to chew the cud, as boaters have a habit of doing. I commented on the balloons flying above his boat and asked who was celebrating what. He sheepishly confessed that it was his birthday the night before but that he had celebrated alone with a few bottles of wine. It was more than a little bit sad.

Welcome to Berkhampstead

Progress was agonisingly slow due to a mixture of additional boat traffic and very slow filling locks which didn't have gate paddles. We finally drew into Hemel Hempstead, scene of Belle's miss spent youth and moored up to take a closer look at the lock, the cricket club and St Mary's Church - but more of that tomorrow.

Slow progress continued and hopes of a pump out and re fuel were dashed when Middlesex and Herts Boat Services, the only boatyard in the area, was as deserted as the Marie Celeste. Everything was unlocked and ready to go, but no one was in sight.

Things went from bad to worse at Lock 60 - Wirkwell Lock with a jammed top gate. Try as we might, we couldn't get it closed. Eventually, after much pushing and pulling, we  got it nearly closed - closed enough to empty the chamber and reveal the end of a car bumper. Knowing what it was we snagged the other end with a boat hook and pulled it clear and the gate swung open.

Rising Sun

The canal is quite shallow about there and much dredging work was in evident near Bam End Locks,  but the pounds were 2ft down leaving us to drag the bottom for ages.

We finally entered Berkhampstead at 7.30 pm, picking up two much needed pints at the Rising Sun, a popular freehouse which overlook lock 55. Berkhampstead has taken the canal to its heart, with colourful signs welcoming  visitors. Surprisingly there appears to be an alcohol and youth issue in the town, with both drunks and Police in full visibility. The parkside moorings were shunned by the boaters and so in stead we found safety in numbers and moored beside Waitrose.

Monday 30 August 2010

Brentford to Norwood Top Lock

Brentford to Norwood Top Lock
Grand Union
5th August 2010

13 miles - 13 locks - 5 hours (includes Thames from Hampton Court)

After a morning run down the tideway and an afternoon at Kew Gardens we decided to press on up the the locks, starting our escape from London.

Asylum Lock

These locks are stiff and slow, taking an age to work through and subjected to relatively little use with the only craft passing this way heading for the Thames. We passed three or four boats descending ready for tomorrow's tide up to Teddington.

Perhaps the strange thing about these lugubrious inner city waterways is the state of the water itself. Its as clear as gin revealing every bit of debris on the canal bed. This degree of clarity is a novelty but also a bit disconcerting when one is knowingly cruising over all manner of rubbish.

Warehouses at Brentford with visitor moorings beneath

All the way up "the thick" we were accompanied by drumming. At first I thought it was something wrong with the boat but as the rhythm changed and grew louder it became apparent that it was coming from the old Asylum, or Ealing Hospital as it is now called. Jeff, being a curious  boy, clambered up onto the boat roof and witnesses people walking in circles drumming and chanting - all very surreal on a sunny summers afternoon in inner city London.

Norwood top lock

By 6.00pm we had reached Norwood Top Lock and the start of the long pound which includes much of the Paddington Arm. We refilled with water and then just couldn't be bothered to move on. Instead we hauled Wand'ring Bark forward from the tap on the off chance that someone else might arrive (they didn't) and stopped for the night. The adjacent bus stop created a bit of noise but overall it was a very comfortable place to stay.

Propshaft checked and it seems tight and sound. So far so good.

Sunday 29 August 2010

Kew here

Kew Gardens
5th August 2010

Kew Gardens were something of a consolation prize, having been denied a look at Hampton Court on account of the tide times.

Brentford Basin
We moored up at Brentford leaving Jeff to read, watch DVD's and whatever teenage boys do with their time. I had promised a short walk which stretched to over 2 miles, and that was before we started round Kew. For once the sun shone from a blue sky and summer had returned.

Chimney at Kew Steam Museum
This was out first return to Kew since 1987, when the entrance price was a miserly 1p each. Entry cost us £25 (ish) for the pair of us - that's inflation big time. An August visit at the end of a long drought probably isn't the best time to visit with little colour to be found outside. The greenhouses by contrast were full of interest and we were particularly keen to try the gardens latest 'big attraction' - the treetop walk. This was a bit of a strange experience accesses via 109 steps but denies to the disabled because the lift has been broken for yonks. The walkway sits atop a series of 90ft posts which sway with the rhythm of foot traffic - sometimes to an alarming degree.

Treetop walkway at Kew Gardens
In Kew the flowers are the stars, plus some interesting structures and sculptures so I will let the photos do the talking.


Belle and The Captain

Ferns and lillies


Saturday 28 August 2010

The Tideway

Hampton Court to Brentford
5th August 2010

This was the section I had been both anticipating and dreading. Under normal circumstances I would have entered the tidal reach without a second thought, but suddenly by confidence in Wand'ring Bark had been shaken. Just supposing the Centreflex Coupling fails half way down - what then? Common sense says it will be fine but still there is that niggle of doubt in my mind.

Richmond on Thames

Hey ho, no turning back now so we cast off from Hampton Court Visitor Moorings at 8.45am and made our way down to Teddington, passing Kingston upon Thames under a vivid blue sky. Every panorama seemed to justify a photo as we made our slow 180 degree turn round the boundary of Hampton Court Park.

Richmond bridge

The flotilla of minders

I was very relieved to find three other narrowboats making for Brentford, so we explained our problem and asked them to keep and eye on us, and help out if our power failed. They took their shepherding responsibilities to heart, boxing us in and never letting more than a boat length of water emerge between us.

Teddington Lock

Crossing onto tidal waters always feels like a major step, be it in London or the remote reaches of the Trent. If passing from the canals to the river felt like a move to a foreign land, this was like a change of continent. We were soon out of Teddington and bearing down on Richmond Lock. As the tide was less than a foot off top the weir was raised and we raced by, only realising it wasn't a bridge when we saw the barrier folded up above us.

Richmond lock and weir

The ebb tide grew stronger and within 30 minutes we were being pulled along on a strong current and 2ft of mud was showing at the margins - the cruising speed boosted by 3 mph to about 8mph.

The tidal reach is barely five miles long and with the current assisting us we were at Brentford Locks in about 45 minutes. All four narrowboats turned and increased power to drive ourselves out of the ebb, performing quite a balletic movement and remaining in close proximity to each other.  Suddenly the tidal pull was gone and we were in the approaches to Brentford Locks, and back in BW waters.

Back in BW waters

The lock keeper was aware of our impending arrival and soon had the lock open for us, lifting us onto the diminutive River Brent. Then it was on to the next self operated lock and into Brentford Basin, complete with a regional BW office and full services. If we come this way again we may well use the extensive 14 day moorings as a base for exloring this end of London.

BW welcome

Jeff is no botanist and decided to stay with the boat whilst Belle and I went off to take a look at Kew, which we last visited in 12th April 1987 - my birthday a year before we got married.

Locks into Brentford Basin

Friday 27 August 2010

Captian Ahabs live update

Another quick update
27th August 2010

I have grabbed Belle's laptop for a few minutes and thought I would post a real time update.

I feel like Ziggy Stardust "Here I am, sitting in my tin can" but far from being far above the world we are stuck in Gloucester Docks with an in flood Severn pounding away at the lock gates. We are told that the river is in Amber right up to Stourport and it may drop tomorrow, but more likely the day after. Finer weather has returned so hopefully things will improve before long.

This is a major pain with me being due back at work on Wednesday. Cathryn - sorry! Not as good as excuse as volcanic ash but just as effective.

Just our luck in a dry summer and the Leeds Liverpool closed due to water shortages.

Having said that, Gloucester is an interesting place so we will make the most of our extended stay.

Tide and time wait for no man

Hampton Court
4th August 2010

I had promised Belle a morning looking at Hampton Court. If fact I distinctly remember making it a highlight of the trip, but in the end I let her down.

The thing is that I had overlooked the whole tidal thing below Teddington Lock and very nearly ended up being stuck at Hampton Court for a whole day. Mind you, there are much worse places to be stuck but its not what you want when you are on a tight timetable.

Hampton Court Palace

It all started to dawn on me when a veritable flotilla of craft came tearing up the river at sunset, their navigation lights blazing into the night. I sat there wondering why the sudden enthusiasm to move and then it dawned on me - they had come in on the flood tide which peaked at about eight thirty. That means that to leave on the top of the ebb we need to be at Teddington at about 9.00am tomorrow. I tossed and turned all night, dreaming of disintegrating Centreflex couplings and the relative effectiveness of Darnforth anchors on the tideway, eventually calling the lock keeper at 7.00am who cheerily confirmed by guess and advised us to arrive at 9.45am.

Onemental gates

Whilst we didn't get to see Hampton Court gardens, we did stroll round the front the evening before, capturing some good photos as we went. Whilst the loss of Hampton Court was a blow it was softened by the realisation that we could moor up at Brentford and go and visit Kew Gardens instead. But that's another story and another days blog post.

Thursday 26 August 2010

Windsor to Hampton Court

Windsor to Hampton Court
4th August 2010

20 miles - 9 locks - 7 hours

The mechanical issues delayed our departure with the RCR engineer arriving to assess the damage. His view concurred with my own - the fracture was very old and only the thread had been holding the stud in for months, if not years.


That said, to play it absolutely safe it should be rectified now - would he like me to call an engineer to perform the task? Now this is a tricky question. My instincts are telling me that it's been running on three bolts for years and is highly unlikely to fail in the near future but the worryguts inside is concerned lest it snaps on the tideway. What to do?

Shepperton Lock

It was made absolutely clear that the decision was mine, but that my point of view was reasonable and if he thought it reckless he would say so on the report - and he wasn't. In the end I he tightened the remaining nuts and nothing was moving or flexing so I decided to carry on. If it holds for the next 8 hours it will probably hold for the hour or so on the tideway, and if it holds that long we may as well give it a shot at making the return journey and sort it out back in the Midlands. I dont know if this is the right decision - but I the blog stops moving you will know that my gamble went spectacularly wrong!

Grey clouds rolled over us today, hurling water down as we passed Windsor Castle and obscuring our view of the Queen waving down at us from the state rooms. Obviously, we were welcome to stop for lunch but we really didn't have time.

As we passed through Boveney lock I spied Gazelle going up river, an identical boat to the Lindy Helen we hired back in the late 1960's. The sight of this venerable old lady of the waterways had me racing back up the towpath to grab some photos, but this chance encounter justifies a fuller post of its own which I will address in the near future.

Houseboats at Hampton Court
We had planned a visit to Windsor but the combination of a two hour delay and torrential rain put paid to that idea so we slipped quietly through. The rain was so heavy we could see very little, the water penetrated the brolly and almost as much hit me from being splashed up as hit coming down.

We descended accompanied by two big plastic cruisers, huge great bulbous whales wallowing their way downstream in clouds of diesel smoke - lovely. As each lock they roared away, only to be forced to wait at the next whilst slowcoach WB chugged up at the rear.

Cpt , Stephen and Joy

After Windsor one passes under the M25 and immediately the standard of waterside properties deteriorate. Places like Walton On Thames with its modest riverfront houses mixed with weary and run down boating clubs, a far cry from the swanky pads upstream. But this world weariness reverts back again below East Molesley. The approaches to Molesley and Hampton Court Locks are suddenly all posh again, the river and islands lines with amazing houseboats of all shapes and sizes.

Strike - the lucky dog

Just above Hampton Court Lock a fisherman yelled at us to watch out for a dog, but I couldnt see any creature at risk of being run under. Then we realised that he was referring to a small dog which had fallen in and was being sucked towards one of the huge intake sluices leading to the adjacent waterworks. Its owner was dashing to and fro on a landing stage eight feet above, and thinking of jumping in after him.

We arrived in the nick of time - reversing close to the dog as it hung trembling from some flotsam around the intake - just out of the wost of the current. He wouldn't come to us but a boat hook through his dog collar provided an unstoppable force which had him to the stern in seconds. Then a quick hoik and he was up on the stern receiving hugs for delight from his owner, which he re payed with a spray of shaken river water. My good deed for the day.

Belle, Joyful and Jeff

Hampton Court Lock was the last of the day and we moored at the free 24 hour visitor moorings at the palace. We met up with Joy and Stephen and their daughter, old friends form Belle's student days who arrived armed with a much appreciated take away curry. The evening  sped away as we caught up, Jeff entertaining the swans and their daughter watching a DVD.

Wednesday 25 August 2010

Bonus blog from Gloucester

Captain Ahab went to Gloucester in a shower of rain.
25th August 2010

Hi all, a short updating post using Belle's laptop and dongle - hence no photos.

Whilst my run of Thames Ring posts continues, we are actually back on the water and were hoping to do the Avon Ring, but the weather had other ideas. The Severn is in a docile(ish) mood but on reaching the confluence with the Avon at Tewkesbury all was clearly not well. The Avon is spewing out a muddy chocolate coloured goo into the Severn and the water levels at Pershore on in the red.

Plan B has been invoked (how many times we have have to fall back on a plan B?)  and we have sailed on to Gloucester where once again we are sheltering from the rain. The stop offers a chance to see the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal plus the National Waterways Museum, so that is a bonus. As for the Avon, it will have to wait for another year. Another Gem still waiting to be explored.

Currently debating the return route: Birmingham Worcester or back to Stourport and up the Staffs and Worcester. We think we fancy Tardebigge and a trip through Birmingham - the weather for the Bank Holiday is looking much better.

Mapledurham to Windsor

Mapledurham to Windsor
3rd August 2010

31 miles - 12 locks - 11 hours

A mammoth day today, going hell for leather to try and get on schedule again and so meet friends in London. Its not a record distance - that is held by the Tidal Trent, but 31 miles is far enough.

Canoeists at Mappledurham and the Dongle queen

We ended up last night about two hours behind the plan, having slipped from a steady 1.5 hours ahead. I know you shouldn't keep tight timetables on the water but for a trip of this type with so many connections and links, timekeeping is essential. In the end we stopped just above Bovney lock, exactly where Nick (Canalplan) told us to.

Bisham Church

Reading Offices

Swan at Reading

After Mapledurham we passed Reading, sight of the famous festival and scene of much action. There were tractors everywhere with contractors erecting miles of perimeter fencing. In the distance the  stage was being put up, a huge partial sphere looking like an overgrown pram hood. Reading also means Tescos, so we moored up and I chanced upon nb James Arthur, a much travelled narrowboat from the nearby Wolverhampton Cruising Club. We bumped into her at the far end of our trip to Stratford last year.


Henley Waterfront

Temple Island Henley

The quality of riverside housing goes from strength to strength, with each successive mansion seeking to outdo the one before. Lord knows how many millions of  pounds of real estate we have passed, so much you get blase about it and casually ignore the humble £1m abodes that would have you salivating at home. We got the impression that the recession does not really touch the inhabitants of the Thames Valley.


We also passed Hallsmeade Ait, scene of Jeff's attempt at running away six years ago. He didn't realise we were in an island and after 30 mins of battling with the undergrowth a scratched and grubby boy found himself back where he started! Shiplake Lock offered pumpout facilities. For £8.00 you get as about 5 minutes of pump and flush, an opportunity to get the tank really clean. How come the BW sites are not as clear, cheap or reliable?

Shiplake Lock

Shiplake Lock is also home to that terribly English scene of a fixed camp. Families were enjoying the river and the sun, cooking in their own shed which is attached to a lined sleeping tent complete with proper beds and chairs. Camping in real style. The lock is great too - a riot of colour topped off with a boat hull filled with flowers and sweet peas growing over netting to make a sail.

Flowers at Shiplake

This is also the area for gin palaces, those huge white multi story plastic boats which parade up and down the river. They are a far cry to the bump and bang brigade of the canals. Not a scratch is allowed to linger and we are certainly looked down on as a vastly inferior species, barely worth talking to.

Marlow is another gem, but home to suicidal scullers. One pair made a sharp turn across our bows without looking and were not cut in half only due to my quick reactions of getting the boat in reverse. Somehow I was left with the distinct impression that it was my fault! The splendid Thames towns continued - Bourne End, Cookham and Maidenhead, jewels joined by silvery thread.

When we finally stopped I was doing my checks of the engine and spied a washer in the bilge, I think it had been there a few days. I hauled it out only to find a nut attached to a fractured stud beneath the gearbox. A stray washer yes, nut studs are another matter altogether.

I can't fix it!!!!!!

A quick inspection revealed a nut missing from the shock absorbing bit of the transmission, which joins the gearbox to the propshaft. Oh dear, that looks serious. Time to call in RCR. Having looked closely at the fracture it appears black and dull - therefore not fresh. Only the tiniest bit of thread is bright so it has probably been hanging in there doing nothing for years, but with the tideway approaching I would value a professional opinion.