Saturday, May 31, 2014

Half way

It was over-ambitious of us to have expected to get to Brentford and back in the time we'd allowed. Our progress has been hampered by rain and holdups at locks, and we never go at anything much above a very leisurely pace anyway. It would have been a different matter if we'd not been working to a deadline, but we have to meet the kids at Bulbourne on Sunday, of course, which we're looking forward to a lot. We'll do the full trip next year, taking in Bishops Stortford and Hertford, too.

We travelled solo on Tuesday. Our first lock, King's Langley Lock is numbered 69a, between 69 and 70, and numbered, rather like a newish bridge, as if it had been built later than the ones either side of it - impossible, of course. Odd!

We passed along the edge of Abbot's Langley and through the beautiful Hunton Bridge stretch and into Grove Park, with the lovely Grove Mill at the canal side, the canal wide and river-like. Is it in fact the River Gade at this point? we wonder. Again we saw lots of widebeam boats and Dutch barges, but very few craft were moving.

Cassiobury Lock 76 was something of an issue. One of the bottom gate paddle-raising mechanisms was broken. It had lost the catch which holds the paddle up after it's been raised. Normally, that wouldn't be a problem. You would simply leave that paddle down, and rely on the other one to empty the chamber. It would take longer to empty that way, though, so you might want to hold the faulty one up with your windlass. But the problem here was that the top gates were leaking badly; so badly, in fact, that the water level in the chamber wouldn't fall with just the one paddle up. OK, so I wind up the other one, too, and hold it up with my windlass. That sounds easy, but there comes a point where I need to lower the paddle so that I can get to the end of the gate beam, to open the gate. And as soon as the paddle's down, the water's leaving the chamber slower that it's pouring in at the top, and the gates can't be opened! It would have been an easy matter if there were two of us locking, but doing it myself was... interesting!

Finally, we moved on down alongside Cassiobury Park, and moored after bridge 168. We're about half-way into our cruise here. There's a Spar nearby, which we needed. No boats passed us. Is the canal unusually quiet?

The rain overnight was torrential, nationwide apparently. The sound of it on our roof was exaggerated by big drops falling incessantly from the leaves of the overhanging trees. We slept badly, and then overslept in the morning, and the rain had pretty much stopped by the time we woke up.

Starting off towards our turning point, we found a pair of boats already in the lock we needed to descend, so we pulled over to the watering point, and set about filling our tank.

We were met by a man walking his son's dog. It turned out that the man was an original member of the 1960s and 70s pop group The Foundations. I would have asked his name, but his monologue was uninterruptable as he told us pretty much his whole life story - birth and upbringing, schooling, time with the group, marriage and divorce, financial status, sex life - the lot! He could have talked for England. What surprised us, though, is that he was born and raised in Boreham Wood, as Grace and I were. He is four years older than me, so he was at Furzehill JMI school at the same time as us, and was at Holmshill Secondary School with Grace's sisters, Dorothy and Christine. He'd lived within a few hundred yards of both of us. What a strange coincidence!

The dog started to get very agitated shortly after our tank had finished filling, so the story-telling had to come to and end. We said goodbye to the guy, and moved Kantara into the lock, Cassio Bridge Lock 78, immediately after which was the winding hole in which turned the boat and drove her back into the waiting lock. We ascended that and started on our way back north, arriving back at our overnight mooring just above bridge 157. The paddle mechanism at lock 76 had been fixed.

And we were dry, the worst precipitation we'd had being a slight drizzle.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Bank Holiday Monday...

...and, as tradition would have it, wet! Again, we think about those poor folk at the Boat Show, organisers, stall-holders, boat builders, boat owners and visitors alike. What a let down.

It was raining when we got up, and it was raining when we were ready to move on. It wasn't too hard, though, and waxed hats and kagoules proved perfectly adequate. So we moved on.

At Lock 61, we caught up with a working boat carry diesel, wood and other solid fuels for sale on the cut. The man and woman team spend the entire year travelling the 74 miles between Nash Mill and Hillmorton Locks, back and forth, selling their wares. They stopped off for a number of customers on the way down with us. I was amazed that, of the small cabin part of the boat, the engine took up more than half, leaving the rest for the couple and their dog to live in. This is where they cook, eat, wash, sleep and house their toilet. Little wonder the man was rather dour! My photo is not of that particular boat, but chosen to illustrate the size of the cabin I'm talking about. Less than half of what you see!

We descended nine locks with them before they stopped to serve a number of customers, and to get some shopping, and we went down another two before mooring above Kings Langley Lock 69a.

At our last lock for the day, I met a man who'd only just taken ownership of a 50' boat, never having been boating before. He was alone. He admitted to knowing nothing about locks, and I had to give him a quick lesson covering all of the basics, after seeing him start to fill the lock by opening the top gate paddles first, causing his boat to buck about violently in the chamber. I think life's going to be hard for him for the next few weeks.

We may have a problem with our alternator. It seemed to be charging intermittently at too high a voltage. We'll have to keep our eyes on it.

Sunday, May 25, 2014


We woke to a fine, sunny morning, but a little concerned by the amount the boat seemed to be moving with every shift of the water. I looked out, to see the front mooring rope hanging from the bow, and dangling in the water. The front of the boat was a couple of feet further from the bank than it should have been. The stern was holding fast, however. I pulled the rope up out of the water, with one of the mooring pins still attached. I'd used two pins for additional security in the soft ground (ironically!), but the second one wasn't actually attached to the rope.

I fished around in the water for some minutes with my magnet on a rope, and found... somebody else's lost pin! Then I found ours. I moored the front again, and went to the back of the boat to clean up the newly-acquired pin, just in time to catch the stern mooring rope and pins as they, too, got hauled out of the ground by Kantara as she rode the waves caused by another speeder. In fairness, the ground here was very wet and soft, and this wouldn't have happened in firmer ground. We moved on.

I walked the next three miles of towing path. There are a lot of locks on this stretch, and it's not worth getting back on the boat after each one. Much better to walk quickly on ahead and prepare the lock before the boat arrives.

At one lock early on, I met a young Welshman with his girlfriend. He was particularly fascinated by the lock. He knew nothing about how they work, and was full of questions. I'd never met anyone who was quite so amazed by the mechanics of locks, and of boats, so totally amazed by it all. He'd heard of the Falkirk Wheel, and I was able to explain that to him. He had lots of questions about boats, and about the canals themselves. Did they pass through any areas which are more peaceful than Berkhamsted? By the time we'd finished at the lock, he was dead set on having a canal holiday. I think he'll enjoy it!

Locking was slow. We were solo all of the time. Many of the locks were required to be left empty by users, so I had to fill them before Kantara could go down. Some of them were extremely slow to fill, too. Come 2:30, we'd done seven locks, and were much in need of lunch. At the first place we tried to moor, the ground was again too wet and soft, and the pins wouldn't hold. In another two spots, the water against the bank was too shallow to allow Kantara to get close enough. When we eventually found the right spot at Winkwell, above lock 60, we decided to stay there for the night. Lunch was well overdue, and we fancied a rest!

Sitting here at Winkwell, we're been passed by dozens of groups of young girls, followed by similar groups of boys an hour or so later. Some of them have adults with them. The boys all wear yarmulkes. The entire population of a Jewish school, one would imagine, and probably on a sponsored walk. They all seem to be enjoying it, and the weather's certainly being kind to them.

A strange thing we've encountered over the past few days is this notice I mentioned, at many of the locks, asking users to empty the lock behind them and leave a bottom paddle raised. We imagine this to be because of leaky top gates, but we don't understand why it would be such a bad thing simply to allow the water to overflow the bottom gates. That would waste far less water than is wasted by having to empty the chamber after each filling. Odd!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Let it rain!

The rain started, and the rain stopped. It started again. The sun came out, warily. And the rain stopped. So we set off at 11:30, daring the threatening blue-grey clouds to pour any more upon us. And they didn't dare. They continued to threaten, but we ignored them.

We descended Cowroast Lock, and approached Dudswell Lock just as the crew of a solo boat were closing the gates behind them. A couple of blasts of our horn stopped them, and Kantara slipped in alongside them. The two women on the boat were taking it to Brentford. One of them had only recently bought it, and they's just collected it from Cowroast Marina. It was their maiden voyage. Once at Brentford, they would join the Thames and carry on to Kingston-upon-Thames, where the owner would be living on the boat.

As we went down the locks with them, the sun came out.

The name "Cowroast", incidentally, has a lot to do with cows, but nothing at all to do with roasting them. The village used to have a number of large animal pens, and these were used by cattle drovers on their way to markets in and around London, to keep their cattle in overnight. Originally, the name was "Cow Rest". It's still a pretty odd name for a village though!

We parted company with the two ladies after lock 32, Gas 2 (and that's an odd name, too!), and as they continued on their journey, we pulled over and moored at a lovely spot in a small park in Berkhamsted. It started to rain heavily again shortly afterwards.

When that stopped, we walked to the nearby shops for food and some books to read. Grace spends more time reading than I do, and she gets through novels at quite a pace. At the marina, we have the benefit of a large lending library. On the cut, once our small bookshelves have been exhausted, we have to rely on charity shops.

Back at Kantara, no sooner had we finished unpacking our shopping, than it rained. We'd managed to stay dry all day long!

And it rained...

The water level rose after the heavy rain, and the boat was listing towards the bank a little when we went to bed, and a fair bit more when we awoke on Friday morning. The mooring ropes had got too tight as the boat rose, and it was being tipped by them. Never mind. Our clothes were dry, the boat was warm, so we set off again under dull skies. It wasn't raining yet, but it was noticeably cooler than the day before.

Steam driven!

A veritable garden-boat

Promoting knitting

We ascended Seabrook Locks, then Marsworth Locks 37 and 38. 

I'd been warned by three boaters that the swing bridge 125 at Great Seabrook needed two people to operate it, because it jammed on the brickwork when it was open across the canal. One guy had had to get his wife to jump up and down on the far end of it as he tried to push it open! Fortunately for us, however, it didn't present us with a problem.

As we came up into Marsworth, it started to rain again, and it got progressively heavier. We were fortunate to have the assistance of a couple of volunteer lockies as we rose the last seven locks. They had waterproofs, i didn't. My cagoule was inside the boat, and I was outside and in my shirtsleeves, and, by the time Kantara and I got close enough for me to get the jacket, I was far too wet to benefit from it.

We had to stop at Bulbourne just above the top lock to fill up with water, then we moved on a mere couple of hundred yards to moor for the night. The rain continued as we warmed ourselves with hot chocolate and banana cake.

Later on, I wandered back up the towing path to take a look at The Grand Junction Arms, and booked a table for five for Sunday week, when we'll be back here, and meeting up with Jess, Steve and Naomi for a few hours.

It rained much of the night, and it was pouring when we woke up. We thought about the poor folk at the Crick Boat Show this weekend. It's 11:15am as I write, and it's not been raining for about half an hour. Grace is doing some washing. When she's finished, I think we'll move on to Berkhamsted.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A change in the weather

We didn't travel far on Wednesday. A long stop at the canalside Tesco in Leighton Buzzard was a must, after which we paired up with an interesting character in his boat as we continued to climb the numerous locks. This guy had painted all of the flowers on his boat - I didn't see any castles, and not all of the flowers were roses, so he was rather individual - and said that he could have taught Grace to do the same in twenty minutes; she'd wasted her money on the course she'd just done!
Flowers on our roof...
...and on the canal.
We smiled as we passed The Globe Inn, which we'd last visited on the last weekend of December 1999. It was our 25th wedding anniversary, and we hired a boat for a long weekend. We had the canal to ourselves!

As we left Leighton Buzzard, we were more than a little surprised to see a pair of Mandarin Ducks with a chick at the canalside. I thought these were rare, and we've certainly never before seen them outside of lakes at stately homes.

When we reached the point when we thought we might moor for the night, the banks were totally unsuitable, and I walked the towing path, catching up with Grace as she moved away from the last lock, eventually overtaking her and walking ahead, looking for a good spot. The search seemed to go on for ages, putting me in mind of our experience last year as we approached Oxford. Eventually we found the right spot near Bridge 118. The old guy must have chosen to moor along the overgrown banks we rejected. It was a beautiful evening.

Before we even got up on Thursday morning, the guy with the flowery boat drove past us, but we didn't move on for some time. When we did, we started to see the hillier landscape of this part of the country, with the Cotswolds running along the skyline. A huge white lion carved into the hillside indicated the site of Whipsnade Zoo. 

As we entered Slapton Lock, along came NB Great Britain, and we shared the next five locks with them. They were well travelled, including Scotland, Ireland and France in the canal adventures. Oddly, though, in England, they'd not yet been north of Cosgrove.

The weather had been deteriorating for some time. Then it really rained! By the time we'd completed Ivinghoe Locks, we were all very wet, so both boats moored, we dried off and had lunch. The rain didn't ease off for well over an hour. It was torrential, very loud on he roof, with major thunder and lightning such as we'd not experienced for over a year. NB Great Britain moved on later, but we stayed put, not trusting that the lull they were taking advantage of would last. Actually, it did, with only brief showers into the evening.

It rained a lot during the night, too.

Moving on from Stoke Bruerne

We left our mooring at 8:30 on Monday morning, a good couple of hours earlier than we would normally start to move out, but in time to avoid pushing our luck with the 48 hour limit. We descended the locks solo in warm, breezy weather and continued towards Milton Keynes. After Thrupp Wharf, we were in new territory, never having come this far south before - well, not for 20 years anyway.

We stopped at Cosgrove village to buy bread and have lunch. Moving on, we missed the left turn at Cosgrove Lock, and found ourselves navigating the Old Stratford Canal, the remains of which is only a few hundred yards long. Reversing out with red faces, we turned into the Lock, to be joined by another boat going the same way. As we came out of the lock we were greeted by the crew of NB Etoile du Nord, who had been moored opposite us at Yelvertoft for some time.

The Grand Union from here on is wide, almost river-like. Not always deep, but very picturesque much of the time. We came into the outskirts of Milton Keynes, but couldn't find suitable moorings until we came to a lovely, isolated spot by bridge 75, to the north-west edge of the town, where we spent the night.

It was a very warm night, but we were awoken abruptly at 6:15 by the sound of a heavy downpour. I hurried out to put the cratch cover up - we don't really see the foredeck as an all-weather space-, but the rain only lasted five minutes. The rest of the morning was dull and overcast, but it had started to clear by the time we set off, and we moved on under blue sky with fluffy, white clouds, and the sun burning down through the gaps.

Traffic on the canal was still light. We're not used to seeing so many wide-beam craft as we were seeing now, and are totally puzzled as to how some of them, with high canopies over the stern, and even tall masts, could have got where they are. Most of the bridges are far too low.

We moored just below Stoke Hammond Lock 23.

Quiet, and beautiful, just how we like it!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

We just love Stoke Bruerne

I never tire of Stoke Bruerne, and it's a real pleasure to be spending the weekend here.

The weather is the best so far this year, the wharf is alive with boaters and other visitors, there's good food and drink to be had at the Boat Inn, and of course there's the Canal Art course. And Grace is making good progress.

And by the end of the day, this is what she'd done. "Not bad" was her verdict!

The finished article!

The wharf and canal here are always good for the photographer.

Tomorrow, before we outstay our welcome at the 48 hour mooring, we'll be off down the locks to continue our cruise.