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.

Tuesday 25 June 2019


June 2019

We spent a quiet night nestled into a secluded little hollow at Bourne End, an improvised mooring we have used in the past. It's a lovely spot out of the current but is slightly marred by a collapsed underwater wall which pushes you away from the bank. If you get it just right you can get the stern in near enough to hop on and off but you have to accept the the bows will be well out.

Riverside wedding

We were slightly concerned that a music system was being tested i the garden of a house opposite, but it turned out that it was part of a wedding event taking place the next day. It certainly looked a splendid location with the Thames as a backdrop. The next sections of the Thames are some of the most beautiful, particularly Cliveden Deep, but there was little tranquility this time. Hoards of boats were racing from lock to lock and inexperienced crews seemed intent on overtaking us on the bank side, as though we were in cars.

Saturday was an unusual day with wall to wall sunshine, so strong it had me reaching for the sun cream. Truth be told I don't like so much sun and generally prefer the protection of some shade.

As the day progressed the volume of boats on the water grew and grew. By the time we reached Windsor it was mayhem with boats large and small milling about everywhere. Things reached epic proportions at Boveney Lock where a steady stream of inexperienced Eaton rowers were pulling out from the portage slipway. It was here we had our first collision in ages. We were following a cruiser into the lock landing jetty and at the same time avoiding a rower when another narrowboat decided to make a dash for the bollards and cut us out of the queue. I asked for the water but he wouldn't slow so I simply made use of the weight of the butty and slewed into his bows, forcing him back. It dosn't do to play chicken with 25 tons. Among the mele of boats we did see a friendly face in the shape of John Hammond and the much travelled Muskrat. The boat has been repainted but its good to see that he is still sporting his unique garden at the rear!

Anyway, Windsor moorings were rammed, as you would imagine. Rather than look and fail to find a mooring on the meadow opposite the castle, we saw a gap on the north bank just after the rail bridge. As we approached we were warned of an underwater obstacle which was another fallen wall. As with the last night we managed to get the stern against the bank and left the bows out, and overnight we managed to get hooked on the ledge causing a slight but noticeable lean.

Windsor is famed for its over enthusiastic mooring warden. During past visits he had managed to come over in his boat and demand payment even before we were moored up, all delivered in a very belligerent manner. As I moored up I was assisted by the boat upstream of us and I wryly observed that I has set my stopwatch to see how long the ranger would take to get us.  Nothing happened till 7.00pm and the long awaited tap happened on the stern. It turned out that the mooring warden had changed and our neighbour was his replacement! 

The new wardens are delightful, a husband and wife pair who winter in India and summer in the UK, and they take a friendly and pragmatic approach. Its is a good news story in term of customer service but offers little in the way of tales to tell during lockside conversations.

Sunday was the relatively short hop down to Staines. First it was past Windsor Castle and then past Home Park and the Crown Estate land. The Heathrow flight path crosses the river at this point and the noise becomes deafening. Then it's on through Runneymede and the number of plastic boats lessens, and those we do see become less flamboyant. This trend can also be seen in the riverside houses which were beyond opulent upstream but now they become much more "normal". Truth be told, I find a lot of those insanely grand houses all a bit much. It's hard to imaging them being a home.

With Staines comes the M25 and inside the motorway we know we really are closing in on London - now about 25 miles away. 

We stopped in Staines on a free mooring site, mainly to let Helen get to a Hobby craft. We did think about going to the Vue Cinema as its very close to the river, but there was nothing on we wanted to see. Instead we settled on a Gourmet Burger followed by a speciality ice cream parlour.

Monday 24 June 2019

On to Teddington

Staines to Teddington
June 2019

We kind of over achieved today. The plan was to move downstream from Staines and get to somewhere just past Shepperton, which would let us make use of the much needed facilities. But then we arrived at about 2.00pm and our thoughts started to turn to the tidal passage, and when we wanted to cross to CRT waters at Brentford.

A clutch of lovely wooden boats

This decision was partly dictated by the tide times and partly by the weather forecast. 

I have been watching the Wash crossing by a St Pancras group and had mentally clocked a noon high tide, so was a bit surprised when the Teddington lock keeper advised me tomorrows departure would be at 8.15am.

So we had a choice to make - press on and catch the tide or hang around up river and then move down to Teddington when the rain has passed tomorrow. As it was a lovey day today and the weather is set to become roasting at the end of the week we have decided to get the rise to Tring done in the relative cool.

I have to admit that I like the Thames downstream of Windsor. Suddenly, all those huge gin palaces melt away, as to the huge mansions, and we find ourselves in the land of the much more normal. All along the banks the river is lined with an eclectic assortment of huts and small houses, often hand built and oh so quirky. And it's not just the houses. Suddenly all sorts of interesting boats appear, from huge dutch barges, through the weird and wonderful houseboats to the achingly lovely wooden boats from the 1950's which seem to be making a strong comeback.

A bit of the Black Country

And it wasn't just the wooden boats which grabbed my attention. Coming up the river there was the distinctive irregular splutter of a semi diesel, set in a lovely Stuart and Lloyd Tug. You just cant get away from the Black Country.

Is this a hydrofoil? - it looks soooo cool and then move really fast.

We also witnessed a strange natural phenomenon. As we approached Hampton Court the sun burst out and almost immediately what appeared to be wispy columns of spoke erupted from a stand of trees. As we watched we could see the columns weave and sway and the telephoto lens revealed then to be swarms of insects which I have since been told were mating.

Swarming flies at Hampton Court

We finally made it to Teddington Locks at 6.00pm and realised that progress was slower today because virtually all the flow of the river has been diverted to the local reservoirs. As a result the flow is almost zero and our progress was back down to little over our more normal 2.3mph. 

Now thats a rooftop garden!

We are going to have to set our alarms for the morning to make sure we are ready for our tideway hop. I have made this trip twice before and once with the butty, so I am reasonably relaxed about it but you never know with moving water. However, with a max speed on flat water of 3.00mph we know we will be the last boat into Brentford.

Friday 21 June 2019

Henley on Thames

Henley on Thames
June 2019

The Thames really is the king of rivers, majestically winding its way through the historical heart of England. 

Henley sunset
And there are few places on the river which are more atmospheric and "Thames" than Henley, with its rowing clubs and massive annual regatta. 


We arrived on the eve of the women's regatta and there were groups of blazer toting ladies wherever we looked. We moored at the upstream end of the meadow, a pleasant spot within earshot the weir, and whose rushing waters set off a constant series of waves which gently rocked the boat all night. The moorings are a hefty £10 a night, but we wanted to stop in Henley and that is the price you have to pay. By the rules you should buy a £10 ticket from one of the car park machines, but of the three, two were not working and the furthest one only accepted coins. We therefore left paying till the morning then the park warden came round.

Henley regata course

After weeks of grey skies and rain the weather seems to have broken and the strange yellow orb in the sky is working wonders on the wet washing hanging on lines in the butty.

Ladies regatta Henley
By the time we got started the women's rowing event was well underway, but I was interested to note that they don't use the grandstands erected for the mens event nearer the town, a gathering which will take place in a couple of weeks. 

Temple island Henley

As this is a leisurely trip we are covering about eight miles a day, and would have liked to stop below the lock at Marlow. However the moorings were full at 4.00pm so we continued on only to see two of the moored boats coming past us a bit further down the river. We carried on and moored in a secluded spot just below the railway bridge at Bourne End, a place we have used in the past.

The course to the start

With the sun out out the casual preserve sales have picked up with a lock keeper eagerly buying a selection and later, after tying up, a historic river boat pulled up to buy - I love these spontaneous sales meetings.


Wednesday 19 June 2019

Spit and Polish

A spot of polishing
June 2019

I am not a great fan of the practice of polishing brasses. I concede that they look lovely when they are all bright and shiny, but in my book the effort outweighs the result.

A  spot of mushroom polishing on the move
However, it is important to keep the butty looking its very best for festivals, and almost exactly two years ago another boater came up to me at the Ware festival and commented than my solitary mushroom vent was letting me down.

I had to agree that the tarnished blob on the roof of the butty was not great, but countered that I had tried to buff it up on several occasions but the best I achieved was a slightly less dull surface, and had therefore concluded that I had a naff bit of brass. Not so, he proclaimed - but what you need is a metal polisher. Yeh, great - like I have such a thing on my boat.....  Well, he reflected, I happen to have one aboard mine - would you like me to have a go at it?

Shiny knob
Of course, my answer was yes so I set to with a screwdriver and removed the whole assembly from the roof. Brett disappeared and 20 mins later he was back with this amazingly polished orb glinting in the summer sun, its body still warm from the process. I was delighted and quickly reattached the vent. Since then my focus on brass polishing has ebbed and flowed but I always make an effort for show days, maintaining that the cleaning process unleashes the magic genie of commerce. 

The unlovely portholes
But as you fix one problem you tend to create another, and no sooner was I the proud bearer of a glorious shiny knob (bear with me - I am a chid of the Benny Hill generation), my portholes started to attract disparaging comments like "nice knob, shame about the portholes". Periodically I had a go at the portholes, trying Brasso, specialist polishing creams, even tomato ketchup, but nothing lifted them above the dull gleam that used to be the lot of the mushroom vent. What I needed was, of course, a metal polishing machine!

Fast forward two years and we are once again heading down the Thames aware that Karen and Bret are heading upstream in dutch barge Edith, carrying with them the elusive machinery capable of revitalising my tarnished rims. We compared notes and timed our travels so we would meet at Beale Park where we could enjoy a BBQ beside the river on a balmy summer evening. We did indeed meet but the weather took a turn for the worse and we enjoyed our long awaited barbie in true British style - under a gazebo with the rain hammering down!

Polishing in the rain
In between the showers I removed the portholes from the sides of the butty, taking extreme care not to lose the screws or the rim as I worked upside down on the river side of the boat. As a precaution I gaffer taped a bin liner to the gunwhale to catch any errant metalwork. Oddly, one pane of glass stuck firmly to the side of the boat but on the river side the glass was firmly attached to the rim.

It took more than a downpour to stop either our meal or the brass polishing and as the rain cascaded perilously close to the electric motor, Brett buffed and polished away, restoring the portholes to a level of magnificence that they probably havn't enjoyed for over 30 years. 

Happy shiny portholes!
Then is was time to put them back on the butty. The side next to the motor boat was pretty simple with the porthole slotting in easily and the brass screws bedding down neatly onto a bed of silicone adhesive. The river side was, predictably another matter altogether. I took a long look at the rim and decided which side was down, tied a bit of string to the bottom screw hole as a back up in case I dropped it, applied the adhesive sealant, and inserted the top screw. Great. The second one at the back went in ok as well, followed by the one at the front which was a tad off centre but went in with a bit of persuasion. Then it came to the last one at the bottom - the one which is really hard to reach. I poked and prodded but the hole in the side of the butty was nowhere to be found. Clearly I had applied the porthole the wrong way up and the holes were not evenly spaced.

Now I could have removed the whole thing and found the right orientation by trial and error but the sealant is horrible stuff to get off and every time I hold a screw over the water there is a greater chance of losing it. I therefore figured that as the sealant is mega adhesive and ultra waterproof, the porthole will be fine with three well seated screws and the fourth can be drilled and tapped in the winter when I am at home with the proper tools.

I think that you will agree that I am now the proud owners of some lovely portholes all topped off with a knob any chap would be proud of. 

The innuendo and smut could continue all day but I think is best to leave it there.

Sunday 16 June 2019


Wallingford on Thames
June 2019

We indulged in a couple of pints of Ghost Ship at the Nags Head in Abingdon, a pub conveniently located next to the river bridge which also served good quality food.

Our Thames schedule isn't exactly stretching as we have two weeks to cover the hundred or so miles down to Brentford, and our next rendezvous is with Dutch Barge Edith at Beal Park on Tuesday. We there have effectively two days of travel and time for a one day lay over which in this trip will be spent at Wallingford.

This is the fourth time I have navigated the Thames and it has always been a downstream run. With a butty strapped to the side our speed is much reduced and I am always curious to know how much current assist we are getting. Our typical canal speed in 2.3mph but on the deep dater lock cuts where the water is still we seem to manage about 2.8mph, compared to the 3.8 we achieve on the open river. On that basis the average current is about 1.0mph, rising in the narrows / shallows beneath the locks. I really don't fancy an upstream journey which would take twice as long and use three times as much diesel.

The journey down river was made a bit challenging by the very high winds which howled over the flat water meadows, creating a distinct chop as it crossed the strong downward current. Speaking of current, I was nearly caught out at Clifton Hampden Bridge where the current flows at an angle to the arches rather than straight through. I got myself all lined up only to find myself very close to the left hand pier and in need of an unexpected burst of throttle to get us in without a bump.

Relics of the Wilts and Berks Canal
On the subject of bumps, one of my sternest steering challenges cropped up below Days Lock. Just below the lock there is a landing jetty which provides access to a little used elsan point. The issue is that the fast flowing stream flows both under and past the jetty and a rate of knots and this is a problem when approaching from upstream. It is really hard to both stop and come alongside without a jarring crash. This is doubly complicated when a butty is strapped to the side and two years ago I made a very heavy landing. This time I made a better fist of it and came to a fairly dignified stop, but encountered hassles getting away later on. The flow presses you onto the jetty and the trees jut out 8 feet at the end of the walkway, so its a case of getting the bows out and then a  big blast of acceleration to try and get free into the stream before the butty is all tangled into the undergrowth.

Benson lock is the next obstacle, with a strong side on weir stream trying to push you into the trees on the other side of a very narrow navigation channel. Fortunately, nothing was approaching upstream and we could use the full width of the river to ferry glide across.

It was about here that we saw the most enormous yellow duck approaching, which turned out to be some sort of fund raiser for the RNLI.

Wallingford moorings were pretty full but, as in Abingdon, there was one 50ft gap on the town side of the river. The challenge here was the presence of a shiny (expensive) plastic boat at the downstream end and there is no way I want to bump into that. We travel with the butty on the starboard side of the motor and its not really practical to moor with the butty on the bank side so we needed to turn around. With so many boats present we opted to go below the bridge to wind and its always a bit hairy to be dead in the water going broadside on in a fast stream. But we made it only to have to punch a fierce flow  back up under the main arch. 

We made it back to the mooring, helped in by the narrowboat moored immediately upstream - a very welcome extra pair of hands.

History Walk videos - Droitwich Spa

History Walk - Droitwich
June 2019

With the Canal Hunter videos completed for the season I have been having some withdrawal symptoms. I have therefore decided to make a few history walk videos as I find suitable material during our travels.

The first walk is around Droitwich focussing on the impact of the Salt trade on this small community. I actually filmed it back in May just before the St Richards Festival, but I hit some technical snags getting it uploaded.

A work around was found when I was last at home so here is a link to it:

History Walk in Droitwich

Hopefully a few more history walks will follow over the summer.

Saturday 15 June 2019

All aboard for Abingdon

Thrupp to Abingdon
June 2019

What a wet week!

We have spent nearly a week moored at Thrupp, starting with a weekend with our friends Fi and Andy. We decided to do the Oxford "mini ring" and went out onto the Thames at Dukes Cut in what turned out to be incredibly windy conditions. Had I known that the wind would be so strong I would have stuck to the canals which do offer a bit more shelter.

Back onto the Thames

On the plus side, we were waved through Godstow Lock with instructions to pay our license fee at Osney Lock, but as we were turning in at the Sheepwash Channel it meant we had out short excursion on the river without paying a toll. We moored opposite the old Jericho boatyard and by misfortune it turned out to be hosting a street party night, with loud live music playing till 11.00pm. So with music ending late and the railway marshalling yard starting early we didn't have the best nights sleep.

Riverside really does mean riverside in Oxford

We then returned to Thrupp and then back to Birmingham for a planned visit home. It turned out that we couldn't have timed our trip better. It rained all the way home, rained all day every day we were there, and rained all the way back to Oxford. All the rain has scuppered lots of river based plans in other parts of the country, but thankfully the Thames Catchment has been largely spared. 

Our time at home was devoted to jam making, this time Strawberry and Elderflower, Strawberry and Raspberry with Raspberry Gin and Goosberry. There was supposed to be  a lot more Elderflower jams, but you can only pick the flowers in the dry - and we didn't see any if that!

Cormorant airing itself on Dukes Cut.

After returning the van to the very convenient Enterprise site on the London Oxford Airfield site, we waited out the last of the bad rain, used all the Thrupp services, and then set off back down the canal heading for Dukes Cut.

I guess it was the break in the drizzly wet weather, but suddenly everyone really NEEDED jam... so our departure became something of a process with the sam store going down and the cash box filling up.

On our return to the Thames we found the water levels ok, but the flow rates well up. It's a good job out journey is downstream. We were toying with the idea of paying an upstream visit to Lechlade, but given our slow speed all those winding bends we decided to leave it for another time. In the end we simply went down two locks, paid our EA dues for two weeks and stopped just above Osney Bridge, next to the allotments on the island. On the subject of fees, last time we were here there was much confusion about how to approach the butty. At that time it was classed as an unpowered craft and attracted a fixed fee of about £25. This time its a houseboat and cost about £40 - which is 50 % of a motor boat of the same dimensions and is consistent with CRT policy and is therefore fine.

Loads of these today

Our plan is to drop down the Thames in 10 mile stages so today's (Saturday) objective was Abingdon. Being the weekend there were a lot of rowing boats out and about but very few powered craft. One boat I noticed tied up beneath Oxford contained a bee hive. We are often asked if we supply honey and our stock answer is that the bees wont follow the boat - but maybe this off the cuff answer is wrong?

Bee hive boat

Further down the river at Nuneham Railway Bridge I was idly watching the trains cross when there was a rumble and a blast and, would you believe it, the Flying Scotsman came past, steam billowing, pistons pounding and whistle screeching. Of course, I didn't have my camera to hand to capture the fleeting sight of green crossing the river!

Heads of the River, Oxford

I was not entirely surprised to see Sue and Vic on No Problem XL moored above the lock as I had been following their progress up river for the last few days. I had, hiowever expected to see them somewhere on the meadow below the lock.

With poor weather forecast (again) we decided to stop in Abingdon  and were warned to avoid the "camouflage boat" beneath the lock on account of the generator they seem to run night and day. In the end we moored just downstream of the bridge, doing a slightly ungainly 360 degree pirouette to ease ourselves into a 50ft mooring space - the only one available in the park.

We like Abingdon - the pace we first learned to play six handed rummy.

Friday 7 June 2019

Banbury to Thrupp

Banbury to Thrupp
June 2019

We finished our stay in Banbury with a trip to the town's Odeon Cinema, which offers two screen entertainment. I have heard that the new development at Spiceball Park will include a multiplex, so I guess that will be the death knell for the old style cinema near the Cross.

Anyway, we went to see Rocketman, a biopic of Elton John, who's music featured quite prominently in my youth. In terms of production and insight it stands above Bohemian Rhapsody, and his ability to write music is nothing short of staggering. That said, I marginally preferred Bohemian Rhapsody, but that is because Queen really did represent the soundtrack to me teenage years.

Our departure from Banbury was a staggered affair, with trips to the bank and the mobile phone shop plus a visit to Tooleys to pick up some flyers, all fitted in before we set off. No sooner had we left Banbury Lock than the heavens opened and soaked me as I moved on to the moorings near Morrisons.

This was never going to be a long day with just seven miles to cover on our way to Aynho, zig zagging back and forth under the M40. Its on this stretch that you pick up the rail track which carries a massive volume of container traffic and these rumbling convoys are never really out of earshot all the way to Oxford. In the end so we moored just above Aynho Wharf where the freight and passenger trains cross on box girder bridge, but luckily the noise was tolerable. 

The reason we needed to moor above Aynho was because we needed to refill with diesel. We last filled at Hawne in Halesowen about two cruising weeks ago, and the tank will have been down to two thirds full (I don't often bother to check with the dipstick because you get a feel for consumption rates). That may sound like a lot left in the tank, but we have a long trip down the Thames ahead of us and you never want to pay Thames prices for fuel if you don't have to. As it was the price per litre was 95p - about 30p more than Hawne. The price rises as you go south.

For some reason we have made fewer towpath sales as we travel this year, but as we worked through Somerton Deep Lock a Dutch party decided to buy some preserves to take home. Of course, boats were approaching from both directions so the transaction had to be swift and concluded before the butty sank too far in the chamber!

We had been slowing our progress because we had agreed to meet Bones for the evening at Lower Hayford. Rather stupidly I had forgotten to find out exactly where her boat was and decided to cruise on and stop after I found it. Bad Mistake. No sooner had I passed the vacant visitor moorings (in a downpour) than I passed her boat after which there were no viable mooring spots. I tried one rather close to a bridge, but after the first boat to pass bumped us I moved on and ended up half a mile away. Getting back involved a long and squelchy walk.

Another easy day of about seven miles covering attractive ground with the Cherwell running close to the canal. After the rush to the Wormleighton summit all these half days feel like a holiday.
Our destination is Thrupp, a sleepy village just north of Oxford with two pubs and a tea room. It's a popular spot for boaters with its own rather complex set of mooring restrictions. These moorings are monitored daily by a warden from Thrupp Cruising Club, so it's important to get the right spot. As it turned out, both Maffii and Ken were about as we approached the lift bridge and opened it for us, laughing at my failure to correctly anticipate the amount of butty assistance I would get as I turned the 90 degree angle. 
The aim was to moor on the 7 day section and much to our delight there were a couple of full length spots available, mid way between the bridge and The Boat pub.
The evening was spent nursing a pint or two in the Boat and catching up on boating gossip from far and wide.

A non moving day and we decided to take the S4 bus into Oxford, fitting in a visit to the Ashmolean and the department stores. Helen was successful in Debenhams but frustratingly they had none of the trousers I liked in my size. We spent a few pleasant hours pottering around and visited the Green Cafe, perusing their impressive poster wall. I was particularly amused by the way the Old Time Revival Tent rally organised by Oxford Baptist Church rubbed shoulders with an advert for a Cannabis Cake making course!
The day finished with yours truly doing a spot of paint repair work on Wand'ring Bark. The problem seems to be that paint just does not want to stick to the welds attaching the cabin to the gunwhale. The original paint sticks ok, but the "new" paint comes off after about four years and then water starts to creep under the non stick surface and lift it up. So my task was to address the towpath side, sanding off the flaky bits and applying both undercoat and top coat with a small flat artists brush. The sight of me paining a huge boat with a tiny brush raised more than a few eyebrows (and comments) from dog walkers passing by.
Looking more closely at he paint I can see that the cabin will need attention before next season, particularly the roof where the paint is starting to flake. I will put that in the diary for early April.

Thursday 6 June 2019

The Canal of the Pharaohs

The Canal of the Pharaohs
June 2019

I visited the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford today, mainly to take a look at a very ancient ceremonial mace head, which depicts a ruler known as King Scorpion (on account of a scorpion near his head) formally opening what appears to be an irrigation canal.

King Scorpion opens a canal in ancient Egypt

The reason for my sudden interest in ancient Egypt is some research I have been undertaking looking into the various ages or phases of canal building, and it soon became apparent that canal building goes back to the dawn of civilisation. There is a fine line between irrigation canals and those which are navigable, but the ancient records of the Pharahos indicates that they were avid navigable canal builders. 

Map of the Nile / Gulf of Suez area

First they constructed canals round the cataracts on the Nile, sections which are shallow and fast flowing. These will have been short lived water shoots but we soon find records of huge irrigation projects, taking excess water off the Nile when in flood to store in vast artificial lakes and feed huge networks of irrigation channels in the Nile Delta. The administration of this complex system of water management involved an army of administrators who occupied a massive complex known as the Labarynth. These canals were so numerous and interconnected that they became the sole means of transport in the region.

Satellite image which highlights the east west route of Wadi Tumilat

But these are not the canals which really grabbed my attention. The ones which I have found so interesting are the routes which were built through the Wadi Tumilat and in so doing connected the Nile near what is now Cairo to the Red Sea, and from there to their trading partners in India. There is a Killers song "Spaceman" which refers to the Nile flowing from east to west, but it's certainly true that at least a portion of the Nile used to flow west to east. 

The records suggest that 4000 years ago Pharaoh Senwasret II at least started to build this canal which followed the route of an ancient dried up distributory of the Nile east to the Bitter Lakes, which were at that time tidally connected to the Red Sea. Its believed he gave the project up not because he couldn't do it, but because his advisors believed that the Red Sea was higher than the Nile and that if dug it the salt water would flood into the breadbasket of the Egyptian civilisation and poison their fertile lands.

One of the stones commemorating the opening of the Darius canal

This view persisted till Persian King Darius (who probably wasn't so worried about the fertility of Egypt) dug the canal in 454 BC. This accomplishment is evidenced by a number of "proclamation stones" found along its route which, in four languages, declared the glory of his achievement. This was a seasonal canal which was flooded with surplus Nile water when the water level was high enough, and it only remained in water till the river levels dropped.

The problem with canal building in the area is that sand gets blown into the channel and in time it was lost. The waterway was re-dug by Ptolomy II in 285 BC and it is recorded that the passage to the Red Sea took 4 days, which is about right for a waterway 60 miles long. The next version was built by Roman Emperor Trajan in about AD100, but by the time he constructed the canal the Greeks had developed flood gates which he built across the mouth of the Canal, and possibly higher up, raising its level, slowing the outflow and extending the navigation season.

These ancient links between the Nile and the Red Sea all succumbed to the advances of the sand and so the connection lapsed, this time for nearly 2000 years. 

In 1869 the Suez Canal was cut linking the Mediterranean with the Red Sea, this time as a ship canal on a route due south from Port Said to the Bitter Lakes where it joins the line of the ancient canals and it was during its construction that fragment of the old waterways were unearthed.

Brindley may have kick started the British Canals in the late 1700's, but I think it's fair to say he stood on the shoulders of some heavyweight engineers going back literally thousands of years.