No Mooring

Egyptian Geese on the River Thames. I wasn’t familiar with them at all. It’s interesting how the local wildlife changes as we progress

Sorry, it’s been a while, so here’s a rundown of our exploits over the past few weeks – not what I thought I was going to write about at all. We liked Uxbridge, and it didn’t seem to be remotely in the grip of byelection fever while we were there. Martyn and I snuck off for lunch and then unexpectedly to a Muse concert at Milton Keynes, courtesy of my old schoolfriend Alison and her husband Peter. It was our third time seeing Muse, and they were every bit as excellent as I remember.

Nothing to do with boating at all, just enjoying a splendid evening at the National Bowl in Milton Keynes with 60,000 0ther people

After Uxbridge, the Grand Union got a bit grim. I didn’t think much of Hayes and Southall and there was a stretch where I’ve never seen so much rubbish, and we even spotted rats on the bank. It’s not all roses and castles. We spent a couple of pleasant days at the top of the Hanwell flight but descending the locks there was a bit of a trial. First there was no water, then there was too much. Until the CRT properly came to our rescue Penny and I were running up and down trying to let water out at the bottom to mitigate the threat of the overflowing higher pounds. Consequently it took about three times longer than it should have done.

Three Bridges at Hanwell. designed by I K Brunell of course. It’s road above canal above railway

Finally we reached the end of the Grand Union Canal at Brentford and our date with the mighty River Thames – the tidal section between Brentford and Teddington. I was apprehensive; would we be swept away, overturned, or mown down by an Uber boat or a large sea-going vessel? Thankfully none of that happened. We sped along on the tide at a giddy speed for any self-respecting narrowboat, and reaching Teddington was a bit of a anticlimax.

Cruising past Richmond-upon-Thames. Last time we were there we were on our honeymoon!

After Teddington we started to have the sort of problem that was going to become all too common over the next couple of weeks. “No mooring, no landing” the signs say, sometimes there’s a bit of variation “Keep off” or “Private mooring”. You start to feel a bit desperate sometimes for the feel of solid earth under your feet. It isn’t exactly welcoming. There are visitor moorings. You can only stay on most of them for 24 hours before payment is due, so there’s little temptation to linger either. You see boats moored squeezed in and moored up to tiny sections of the bank where the vegetation is just about pnetrable, but those spots with prevailing high banks are generally more suited to the river cruisers than to the likes of us. We might be king on the canals, but on the Thames we’re distinctly second class.

Kingston Railway Bridge, with Kingston Bridge in the background. My old head office is the sandy-coloured building on the right.

We did pay to stay in a few places. We lurked right outside the gates of Hampton Court Palace for the full five days we were allowed. I got to catch up with some old work colleages, and some of them came to see us on the boat. We even risked a short evening cruise, ever fearful that even at 8pm some opportunist would steal our mooring while we were out gallivanting.

Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare. I’ve driven past it many times, but have never seen it from this angle

Windsor was a bit of a disappointment. We arrived on Monday, on the day that POTUS came to visit the King. Can’t say I noticed, although we think we saw the Presidential helicopter leaving. Martyn and I ventured up into the town, which seemed to have a bit of a problem with the drains and an excess of homeless people. It was decidedly inconvenient that Windsor Castle was closed until Thursday and we decided not to stay and wait.

A beautiful evening at Runnymede, interrupted by planes constantly taking off from Heathrow Airport

Marlow was a delight with a lovely park where we enjoyed watching a bit of evening cricket and some very nice window shopping. We had a good mooring and went on a very mini pub crawl. Sadly Henley-on-Thames was only a brief stop for shopping. We jammed into a very tight mooring – twice because I had to move to let another boat out. Three years ago I never would even have attempted it. A historic boat festival was in full swing and once again mooring was at a premium. We should have stayed put because then we had quite a long slog to Reading before we were able to find anywhere to stop for the night. An overnight at Sonning, rubbing shoulders with the Clooneys, wasn’t going to be for us.

Amphicars having fun in the rain at Marlow

I hadn’t meant to describe our sojourn on the Thames so briefly. I like to think that we’ll be back to explore it at a bit more leisure in the future. It is so very different to the canals we are used to; so wide and grand. We kept the binoculars on the stern with us at all times, there’s so much to see they came in very useful, if only to read the “No Moooring” signs.

Windsor Castle of course. We had planned to moor on the playing fields of Eton College on the left, but it was too shallow. I must have winded the boat 5 times looking for a suitable mooring spot

So now we find ourselves on the Kennet and Avon at last. I like it a lot. So far it reminds me of the Leeds and Liverpool. They are both broad canals with a reputation for being difficult, they both flow through some beautiful countryside, they are both lined with pillboxes from WWII and they both terminate in a major port, Bristol and Liverpool respectively.

Gliding between the shops and cafes in Reading

We’ve seen some interesting things, the turf-sided locks for instance. We even survived the fearsome lock entrance at Woolhampton relatively unscathed.

Waiting for Monkey Marsh Lock to fill

For one night only we found one of the nicest moorings we’ve had in a while at Tyle Mill. I think it rates up there with my favourites at Gargrave on the L&L and Barnton Cut on the River Weaver. I’d like to spend a few peaceful days there in the future, enjoying the company of the resident cows. I wouldn’t mind next time though if we didn’t see the cover in which we wrap our pram hood while cruising disappearing down the River Kennet never to be seen again! That’s going to be expensive.

Martyn guarding the protecting the washing from the cows. For some reason he thought a red sweatshirt was a good idea …

Finishing off the Shroppie

Herons just look wrong in trees

How quickly a week flies by. We are on new waters and they will be the subject of another post. Here’s a recap of the old ones; the southern end of the Shropshire Union Canal. On leaving Market Drayton we continued south through the dreaded Tyrley Locks. These are rather infamous for their strong bywashes. Last year, after a long summer of drought I didn’t see what the fuss was about, now I understand! It took Martyn two attempts to get into the bottom lock, such was the force of the water gushing out. It’s so strong it’s worn a cave into the sandstone opposite over the years. Thankfully it was smooth sailing after that, and Tyrley is a very pretty little flight. You start at the bottom in a wooded cutting and emerge at the top by a quite lovely lock keepers cottage. It helped that the sun was shining.

Surveying the size of the problem to come at Tyrley Bottom Lock

I’m sorry to our friend Ian that we didn’t stop at Goldstone Wharf and visit the community shop at Cheswardine. It’s just that every time we pass through Ian seems to be out of the country! Next time it will be my pleasure to pop in.

Deep down in Woodseaves Cutting, hoping we don’t meet a boat coming the other way.

Woodseaves Cutting is as equally famous as Tyrley Locks and very, very deep. Last year we hit something under the water there that that threw the boat sideways and damaged our cratch cover; it was probably a fallen rock. This year we got through with no drama and moored up for the night at Norbury Junction. We ran into Heidi from the Pirate Boat there, and it was nice to have a chat and a catch-up. She was there as a trading boat for the Norbury Canal Festival this bank holiday weekend, but we didn’t stay. We filled up with diesel too. These days 93p a litre seems very reasonable indeed.

Passing the old Cadbury Wharf with the Knighton Foods factory in the background. They make “specialty powders” there, reputedly Bird’s Custard Powder and Angel Delight. Of course I haven’t had Angel Delight for years, and just had to go and buy some!

It took us another two days to get off the Shroppie, mostly because the weather came in wet and we decided to take most of a day off. I use an excellent app called CanalPlanAC to map our journey, calculate distances and check out moorings. We halted at a nondescript place called Pendleford Visitor moorings. CanalPlan described the mooring there as “tolerable, it’s just about possible if really necessary”. I beg to disagree. Yes, the Shroppie Shelf was there, but we can cope with it with our trusty wheels down. The huge plus point in its favour was that I could see a nearby mobile phone mast, so on a rainy afternoon and evening we had plenty of internet to keep us amused. Yes, we do play games and read, and the boat takes constant maintenance, but in all honesty, most of the time on wet evenings we resort to a cosy fire and Netflix etc like everyone else.

Bridge 39 has an old telegraph pole running right through the middle arch

The southern end of the Shroppie isn’t my favourite. It has lots of straight stretches through open farmland and I find it rather brooding too. Talking of brooding, we pass through the village of Brewood, pronounced: “Brood”. We didn’t stop this time, but I noticed something there that seemed like a terribly good idea. One of the pubs advertised a laundry service. We have a washing machine onboard, but a lot of boats don’t. I’m sure a good few canalside pubs could have a nice little sideline doing boaters’ washing!

A bright and cheerful private mooring in Gnosall. We think we will stop there next time, it has two nice-looking pubs!

The Slow Train

Martyn closing the lock gates behind me on the Adderley Flight

At the tiller chugging along at a stately 3mph, I frequently get earworms. Very often something I see or hear will prompt it. One of my favourites is The Slow Train by Flanders and Swann. I must have been a toddler when I came across this marvellous pair and their comic songs, and the one I remember then was the Hippopotamus Song, mostly because it featured on a little 45rpm compilation record of suitable songs for children (“Mud, mud, glorious mud, there’s nothing quite like it for cooling the blood …”).

It’s that time of the year, lots of spring lambs, in this case sheltering from the drizzle at Hack Green

I get really nostalgic about The Slow Train. Railways tend to follow canals, and as well as the names in the song that are familiar from home – Blandford Forum and Midsomer Norton – we pass some on the canals. This week it was Mow Cop (although not I think the famous one) and Audlem. I remember Scholar Green too, and at some point we’ll collect Selby and Goole. When you pass under so many disused railway bridges and see track routes on the map it does make you wistful for those old forgotten transport routes (even though I don’t remember the railway network pre-Dr Beeching) and marvel at how long the canals themselves have lasted.

See the sign? It’s hardly secret, is it?

But before we got to lovely Audlem we made a scheduled stop at Hack Green. It was one of the reasons we decided to head down the Shroppie instead of taking the direct route south down the Trent and Mersey. We planned to visit the Secret Nuclear Bunker last year but our plans were thwarted. This time we made it.

Says it all really

The bunker is run by a Charitable trust and is a museum of civil defence and the Cold War. Very sobering it is too. I’d always imagined that type of facility to be somewhere the great and the good would take refuge in case of nuclear war but came away with the strong sense they would have to do their best along with us plebs. The bunker was going to be all about communications and keeping the government going if there would be anything left to govern. The outlook for the rest of us was very bleak indeed. See Flanders and Swann again – 20 tons of TNT.

You always know where you are on the Shroppie

Next was lovely Audlem, one of our favourite canal villages. It’s nice to see the Shroppie Fly pub open again and apparently according to one of the locals I spoke to, doing well. We trotted to Oxtail and Trotter, the butcher in Cheshire Street, and I even managed to pick up a Mike Jupp jigsaw to add to our collection from the very popular charity shop. There’s a mill shop on the banks of the canal selling craft supplies and general canalia, although it’s up for sale because the owners want to retire. I hope they find a buyer soon, and someone who will take it on as a going concern; there’s always something to buy there. Audlem is a pleasant place to linger, although this time we didn’t. Never mind the water hose decided to shoot out of the tank while we were using the services there and drench the well deck. I won’t hold it against the place.

Look closely. He’s sitting down on the job while I’m doing all the work on the Audlem Flight!

There are 15 locks on the Audlem flight and some of the bywashes were rather spirited on Saturday. Martyn was at the helm and they certainly tested his skills. We enjoyed a reward of cake and ice cream from Kinsell Farm at the top, and the lady who runs the little canalside stall there to tempt people even kindly shut the last gate for us.

Beau Romer and nb Helen meeting in a pound

Yesterday we cruised down the Adderley locks into Market Drayton, and went to the Red Lion for Sunday Lunch, a real treat. Apparently, Market Drayton is the home of gingerbread due to its links with the spice trade routes through Clive of India, who was a resident of the town. Perhaps we should try some, although after lunch I don’t think I’ve got anywhere to put it!

Sunday lunch in the Joules Brewery’s taproom, The Red Lion. Do you eat it or climb it?

I’m not going to bleat on about repairs and suchlike this time. Things seem to be looking up. I’ll just end with a quick progress report. So far this year we’ve covered 102 miles and 2.5 furlongs, travelled through 3 tunnels, and come through 46 locks.

Betton Cutting is supposed to be haunted by a shrieking spirit. No shrieking was heard.