Thursday 29 June 2017


Ponders End to Ware
June 2017

We have been moving steadily north for the last two days, probably 16 or 18 miles, but it was against the flow and wit the boats breasted up that meant fairly slow progress.

Waltham Abbey

The navigation tracks the huge reservoirs for mile after mile and when they give out we are surrounded by flooded worked out gravel pits which form the core the the Lea Valley park. All this water makes the navigation surprisingly remote, touching civilisation infrequently.

Because we are slow we were overtaken by other boats from time to time, mostly at locks. This interaction usually resulted in a preserve purchase and by the end we were meeting them again on almost an hourly basis and getting updated on the time the jam had lasted. Few jars seem to last more than two days, which is encouraging!

An unusual tractor

We paused at Waltham Abbey with its erratic buildings and attractive high street. The aim here was to restock from Tesco but we were struck my the presence of about a dozen hairdressers / barbers in about half a mile. Surely this is oversupply. Sadly we didnt have tome to visit the gunpowder mill, which was a significant cargo on the waterway.

Waltham Abbey High Street

We ended the day near Aqueduct Lock, level with Cheshunt. A remote spot with just the occasional drone of trains as they progressed along their tracks about half a mile away.

One big gripe I have about this waterway is its lack of facilities. We have travelled three days without a sanitary station and had been banking on one at Waltham Abbey. Sadly it is no more and we had to resort to the emergency tank. Its therefore not surprising that some boated resort to less hygienic solutions. The same goes for rubbish and in the absence of proper bins we found piles, crawling with flies like the one at Feilds Weir Lock Services. The place was disgusting and a veritable health hazard.

The confluence of the Lea and the Stort marks a change in the Navigation which ceases to be straight and instead starts to follow the river, winding here and there in a much more attractive manner. 

Attractive river section

The locks remain big and heavy, 15 feet with by over 80ft long and represent a physical challenge which is one of its less endearing aspects.

If ever a couple were destined to be canal boat enthusiasts!

We finally made it to Ware after three modest days of upstream progress. My guess is that the downstream trip to Limehouse will take less then two.

Tuesday 27 June 2017

Lee Navigation

Lee Navigation
June 2017

We spent last night on the diminutive Hertford Union Canal, a one mile short cut which leads from the Regents Canal at Old Ford, around Victoria Park, down three locks and onto the Lee Navigation immediately opposite the Olympic Stadium.


The mooring proved to be quiet in the extreme, the peace only disturbed by a flock of wild Parakeets, which feasted on the bird feeders suspended from the balcony of a flat opposite. The origins of these exotic alien settlers, who appear to have acquired full UK citizenship, are unclear but two particularly attractive urban myths persist: 

1. They were released from Pinewood Studios in the 1950 during the making of Africa Queen or
2. Jimmy Hendrix released them at an Adam and Eve gig in Carnaby Street in the 60's

Either way, Greater London is home to about 30,000 of these dazzling green birds whose early morning squawking is not a blessing to everyone.

Olympic Stadium

With a less than great weather forecast we were up and away by 9.30am, dropping through the three heavy locks and onto the Lee. It appears that the navigation has a weed problem and the issues we encountered on the Paddington Arm were back with a vengeance. Great areas of water upstream from Hackney Wick were covered with weed, which resulted on many blasts of reverse gear and when the ball round the shaft got too big several weed hatch visits were needed.

Whilst there are a lot of boats moored in Hackney Wick or next to Hackney Marsh, there were lots of spaces should you want or need to stop in the area. That said, word on the street is that the area is not as safe and other options are preferred, if possible.

Its around here that the navigation runs along the River Lee itself, a broad but shallow waterway which even in dry periods like now flows quite swiftly and slows our progress when breasted up. At least the flowing water creates clearer water. CRT have a couple of weed cutters and skimmers moored in the Tottenham Hale area, but they were not in use and did not appear to have been operational recently.

When I moored up I was puzzled that the two boats didn't bump together. Closer examination revealed an immense mass of weed between the two hulls, reaching over 12in over the waterline.

Up to Tottenham the huge locks are duplicated and some were manned, but upstream they reduced to single locks, with massive heavy gates. The waterway must once have been a hive of industry, one which will have died along with London's Docklands. Today its just ghosts of the past, rotting wharf areas and here and there clusters of houseboats. All the industry has gone and for the most part the eastern side of the canal is a long succession of embankments which hold back reservoirs, storing a significant proportion of London's drinking water. 

We pressed on through intermittent showers till we reached Alfie's (Pickett) Lock. By now the forecast rain had started in earnest so we moored up in an amazingly quiet spot, reservoirs to one side and a golf course on the other. In fact, as I type, all I can hear is birdsong and sheep bleating!

We used our enforced stop profitably by making the three batches of Lemon and Lavender Marmalade prepared yesterday and prepared a further two batched for making tomorrow.

Monday 26 June 2017

Its Ackney, innit

Paddington to Hackney
June 2017

Time to go east again, this time turning onto the Regents Canal and then onto the Hertford Union, which offers a short cut to the River Lee.

Camden, Regents Canal

I have to say that today was a day of huge contrasts, and at all times the towpath has been buzzing with activity. No sooner had we left Little Venice than we were into the Maida Hill Tunnel which in turn launches you into the edge of Regents Park. 

Approach to Maida Hill Tunnel

The start of the park is lined with huge houses, either home to the super rich or, more likely, Embassies. Then the canal runs in something of a shallow tree lined cutting, cutting off any views across the park. The bit you can see is the Zoologial Gardens and the aviary which straddle the canal. This is a well tended length of canal, completely free of moored boats.

Blow up Bridge, Regents Canal

Posh houses on the edge of Regents Park

Then it was sharp left at Cumberland Basin with its multi story floating Chinese restaurant and you are at the top of the three Camden Locks. Perversely THE Camden Lock sen in all the photos is actually adjacent to Hampstead Road Lock, and progress is helped with a lock keeper and overseen by a multitude who line the bridges to watch boats pass up and down.

Cumberland Basin

Then its a bit more remote till you reach St Pancras, with its basin full of boats overlooked by a park built inside the frame of an old gas holder and two other similar structures containing cylinders of flats. Innovative and bold. Then you are into Battlebridge Basin with an eclectic bunch of boats, including a floating bookshop and on into the 960 yard Islington Tunnel which takes you pretty much beneath Pentonville Jail. The tunnel has no ventilation shafts and most unusually it was hotter and muggier inside than out.

St Pancras

Then it was relentlessly down and east as we pushed further and further into the East End. We were warned that mooring becomes more dense on the Regents Canal, and so it was. It was boats nose to stern wherever mooring was permitted, and often two abreast. There were spaces here and there but they were the exception. Given the number of boats it was no surprise that water points and elsan facilities were common, appearing every two of three miles. 

Pirate Castle, glimpsed to many times as I pulled into Euston

All these boats offer interest and as we travel pretty slowly with the butty they didn't slow us up to an appreciable extent. I did have a bit of a surprise when I came round a corner and there was Jim's old boatmoored on the offside. It could do with a bit of TLC but it was unmistakably Starcross. This brings me to another observation - its a bit like the united nations of boats down here, bearing locations from all over the country and few owners appear to have any desire to repaint them, so they just fade and grow tatty as the owners used them as floating caravans. Some will, no doubt, be experienced boaters but the ones we met along the way had little understanding about how the mechanics of their boats work, the history of the canals or in some cases how locks are best operated. I guess this isn't entirely unexpected, but you do need to make some allowances and not assume too much.

Starcross revisited

Victoria park came and an unexpected bonus as we approached Hackney, a large and popular public open space with the canal forming a two mile boundary to the west and south. Naturally, the moorings by the park are popular and I decided to see if I could find something along the Hertford Union Canal, before the three locks which drop it down to the River Lee. I did spot one half chance where I could have moored Wand'ring Bark, if I moved one boat 15 feet, but I was too late to make the manouver. With the first lock coming up fast I was getting a  bit nervous and then, to my immense relief, a 60ft gap appeared maybe 400 yards before the lock gates. Not quite big enough for both boats but that's one benefit of being articulated - we can unhitch the butty and moor it alongside.

And so we have stopped, quality residential flats to one side and a park with shady trees on the other. In fact, I think its the quietest mooring we have encountered since we were up on the River Wey a week ago. As for the water quality, its gin clear and has been that way most of the day. Certainly all that choking weed on the Paddington Arm is long behind us.

So tomorrow moring we set out up the River Lee, but before that there is the small matter of three batches of Lemon and Lavender Marmalade to be made.

Sunday 25 June 2017

Paddington Basin

Paddington Basin
June 2017

We have been on the move pretty much continuously since we left Thrupp three weeks ago and, having found a seven day mooring in Paddington Basin, we decided to stay put for the day. The next leg is along Regents Canal with its locks, which will undoubtedly be busy during the weekend so a Monday transit will probably be easier.

Paddington Basin is a place transformed with flats and office buildings towering 15 stories around the far end. The canal basin has been incorporated into the heart of the redevelopment and at the very end a funky floating pocket park has been built which incorporates trees, planters, astroturf, benches and shaded areas. During our visit lots of people were using it, with children playing and parents chilling out. I was a bit sceptical about the idea but it has been done well and seems very popular.

There are a couple of rather interesting bridges around the basin, one a fan bridge and the other one which rolls up into a hexagon. The movable bridges are operated at published times three time a week and are becoming something of a tourist attraction.

An added attraction is the fleet of electrically propelled day boats which are operated from a jetty opposite our mooring. These little craft have found a market and are constantly flitting around Little Venice. The basin is also home to a paddle board centre, catering for beginners and experts alike. This morning found us doing our weekly wash with nervous novices kneeling precariously on their boards for the first time.

Whilst footfall on this side of the basin is low, we put out our stock boards and flew some bunting, which brought in a steady trickle of customers. We also took the opportunity to prepare three batches of Lemon and Lavender Marmalade which will be made up tomorrow.

The day was enhanced by Reverie being moored up in front of us and as its two years since we last saw each other we generally caught up and put the world to rights.

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 Hetherington and Keri-Leigh Poxon and their two boats, Lyra & Harrier.  Between them they run Reverie Canal Trading Co selling candles and amazing bespoke metal artwork. 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.