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 …

When You Can’t See the Wood for the Trees …

Locking with LarkRise

The convoy of three has continued on its merry way. We haven’t had the best of luck so far this week. Martyn sacrificed a screwdriver to the canal gods, and I knocked my water bottle into the water halfway up the Marsworth Flight. It was a hot day and the bottle was full of blackcurrant and blueberry squash; what a waste. Martyn was not happy when the water hose exploded and flooded our well deck either. At least the water was cold.

Looking back to Marsworth Reservoir

I’m loving all the uniformly-painted black and white former lockkeepers’ cottages on this section of the Grand Union Canal. It makes you realise what a superhighway this canal was in its day. It joins London to Birmingham and, by and large, it takes the straightest, fastest route. There’s no meandering around hills and valleys, just lock brutally and inexorably following lock. Back in the day this canal certainly had the manpower to cope with it, and the cottages are a testament to this fact.

Another lovely cottage

We passed a film set on the banks of the canal. At first we thought the weird scaffolding was part of the work for HS2. The emerald green colour should have given it away, that and the munchkin village, complete with wicker witch. It was the set of Wicked, and it’s massive.

That’s a lot of building, but no sign of Jeff Goldblum or Ariana Grande

On reaching the top of the locks we stopped close to the Grand Junction Arms and had a delicious lunch. While we were there the heavens opened, and the ensuing thunderstorm was biblical in its ferocity. It was such a trial that we were stranded in the pub garden for an hour, mercifully under a huge canopy, watching the parasols being bent over by the force of the storm and avoiding the streams and rivulets at our feet. In our haste to get to the pub we hadn’t stopped to put up the pram hood up on the stern of the boat. It took the rest of the afternoon to get everything dried out.

We need the rain, but not that much that fast

The next day we were warned about a tree across the canal in the Tring Cutting. Of course, it had to be our boat that brought it down, right on top of the cratch cover. Penny and Andrew had already got through unscathed, Karen and Drew were behind us. I managed to stop the boat before the tree limb did any real damage, but it still took Martyn and Drew about an hour to saw it up and get us free. Amazingly there was hardly any damage. The canvas needs a good clean, and one rivet needs replacing, that’s all. And there’s nothing for the Canal and River Trust to do now. Us boaters are resourceful.

When Martyn retired he was gifted a reciprocating saw. It came into its own for a spot of lumberjacking

Since then we’ve taken root in Berkhamsted. It’s a lovely town, full of interesting shops, with a beautiful old church, a Waitrose and a M&S Food Hall. It’s the first place we’ve stayed I honestly don’t think I could afford to live in, certainly not buy a house, but we’re getting closer and closer to London.

Lock 53, Berkhamsted

It’s been hot and sunny every day and we are moored under a tree. Somehow I’ve managed to enjoy coffee and walnut cake every day for the past three; in a cafe, courtesy of Karen, and a delicious one that Penny cooked today. We’ve done some light boat maintenance. We went out to eat in the Thai Cottage last night and had the most excellent dinner; it’s a restaurant I heartily recommend. Tomorrow we’re moving on.

Every cloud has a silver lining. If the tree hadn’t fallen on our boat we wouldn’t have seen this family of Mandarin ducks

Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves

Celebrating the railway heritage of Wolverton, just north of Milton Keynes

We are somewhere between Leighton Buzzard and Tring, so I’m lost. I only know we’re closing in on London.

This widebeam was right across the canal when we found it. We couldn’t pass until we’d repinned it. Probably a speeding boat pulled it loose.

Martyn and I went back to Wareham for a few days, we had some business to take care of, dentist, doctor and haircut. We also got to see friends and celebrate a wedding, which was lovely. I hope Dave and Sue have a happy married life together. Congratulations Mr and Mrs Wheatley.

Seren Glas on the Iron Truck Aqueduct in Cosgrove, with no barrier on the starboard side, is the first of its kind.

We left the boat in Cosgrove. Penny and Andrew looked after it for us, for which we were grateful. Cosgrove promised so much and delivered so little. On the map it is a delightful place, with a caravan park and lakes. In reality the caravan park is strictly private, and they own all the nice bits. The horse tunnel, squat and oval, which runs under the canal, was fun though. Karen and Drew on Lark Rise caught up with us there and we’ve been travelling with them and Andrew and Penny ever since. That’s been extremely pleasant. We’ve explored pubs together and on Saturday night we had the first towpath barbecue of the year. We are all heading towards London and although our timetables are different I hope we’ll continue to cross paths on the way down.

The Ornamental Bridge at Cosgrove is definitely the most ornate we’ve seen on the Grand Union,

We cruised through Milton Keynes, which was pleasant and warrants further exploration at a more leisurely pace. It’s all parks, gardens and nice-looking houses from our perspective on the canal, not a concrete cow in sight. Leighton Buzzard seemed very noisy; we thought there was some sort of protest going on. It was only after we passed through I discovered it was the day of the Leighton Buzzard and Dunstable Truck Convoy. The mind boggles.

A hot day and a cold beer in The Globe Inn in Leighton Buzzard. That’s Karen and Drew in animated conversation.

Martyn and I went for a trek across a field to look at a railway bridge. It’s quite a notorious one. It used to be called Bridego Bridge, now it’s known as Train Robbers Bridge. It’s the site of the 1963 Great Train Robbery perpetrated by Ronnie Biggs, Buster Edwards et al. I had to go and look at it. Before I married Martyn my surname was Wisbey, and Tommy Wisbey, who was one of the train robbers, was related to my ex. Later that evening the Flying Scotsman crossed it but none of us got to take a photo. Opportunity missed there.

The infamous Train Robbers Bridge. I don’t think we’ll be catching that train.

Deja Vu

Rowan quickly found out the purpose of the duck hatch

No sooner were we on the boat on our own again, then we left it. Dan, Lianna and Rowan took over for a week. We spent it in Dorset, and they cruised the boat back to Brinklow. Oh well, we got to enjoy Pumpkins Deli for a second time!

The Newbold Tunnel revisited

So, back in possession, we repeated the journey we’d already taken on the Oxford Canal, down through Rugby, Hilmorton Locks and Willoughby to Braunston. This time, on a busy day on the canal (where we seemed to cause all sorts of chaos trying to moor at the chandlers), we turned right at Braunston Junction, towards Warwick. Everyone who had been there had recommended The Folly at Napton and the Napton Cidery, so we detoured there, but everything was closed when we cruised into Napton. Oh dear. Don’t visit on Monday.

Calcutt Locks, looking warm

The next day we turned back onto the Grand Union Canal, familiar territory from a holiday we had a good few years ago. At least this time we managed not to throw a windlass into the first of the Calcutt Locks. By now we were into the summer of 2022 Heatwave 2.0. and the 11 locks of the Stockton Flight were roasting and exhausting. At one point I was just laying on a balance beam in a rare shady patch praying either for more shade and less heat, or for it to all be over. Thank goodness for the Blue Lias Inn at the bottom with cold beer and good food!

Three boats in a lock? Thats different.

Now anyone who knows us knows we aren’t morning people. That changed in the heat, with the order of the day being to set off well before 8 am and to moor up before lunchtime. On we went, hunting for moorings in the shade and spending long drowsy afternoons doing not much of anything in particular. Via Long Itchington and Radford Semele we found ourselves in Leamington Spa and had a bit of trauma there. Martyn’s wallet was stolen from the boat, right in front of him. There wasn’t a lot of cash in it and only two bank cards, but the hassle factor has been a nuisance. We’ve had to replace his driving licence, bus pass, National Trust and Chelsea membership cards amongst others. We were surprised how seriously the police took the crime, even to the extent of dusting Beau Romer for fingerprints. They found some too. We shall see what transpires.

The perfect antidote to a hot day’s boating

Since Leamington Spa, the weather has cooled down and we haven’t had any further dramas. We went up the mighty Stairway to Heaven, the Hatton Flight, with a lovely family on a hire boat and then up the Knowle Locks to Catherine-de-Barnes, where we stayed for a couple of days while I went to the Festival of Quilts at the NEC with friends, and Martyn went to play on the Severn Valley Railway.

Friendly lock keepers at Knowle rendered me surplus to requirements

Having gone nearly all the way into Birmingham we have now turned around and are aiming to enter the city by a different route.

Street art on the Grand Union

Legal Aliens

Four happy boaters

Back on the boat and in a marina it was rather frustrating that a Sainsbury’s delivery driver couldn’t find us. With all the activity around Lichfield due to building HS2 I’m not surprised. We haven’t seen any track being laid yet, just enormous construction depots and road works. Thankfully – and eventually – a taxi driver could find his way from Lichfield station with our guests for a week, Bailey and Anna, all the way from Washington DC and Jackson City Tennessee respectively. I’m amazed that a solid week of rain last October apparently hasn’t put Bailey off the English canals, and that she not only came back, but brought her sister with her.

Bailey and Yours Truly, lock keeping

it did make us laugh in the middle of this exceptionally hot and dry summer, that the girls, along with the Sainsbury’s delivery (eventually!) arrived in the middle of a rainstorm. The lack of rain is starting to cause us some problems. So far the Leeds and Liverpool, Macclesfield and Peak Forest canals are closed, the Trent and Mersey just as well may be, and there are restrictions on many others. I’m sure we will get back to our home mooring in Rufford at some stage this winter, but it wouldn’t be looking good if we turned north now.

Patiently waiting on the Atherstone Flight

Water levels are so low that somewhere on the Coventry Canal we came across a party of scouts who had got their boat thoroughly stuck. Martyn and I weren’t on the boat at the time, the girls were doing a great job in charge. The scouts didn’t have a boat pole (that they could find!) so Bailey and Anna attached a line and gave them a tug to get them going. Of course we grounded ourselves in the process, but we know how to get free!

Beau Romer to the rescue

We’d planned to journey with Bailey and Anna from Lichfield to Rugby, and had a lot of fun on the way. They bought cheese and sweets from a couple of tradingboats, we found a fabulous deli in Brinklow and we enjoyed several pub visits.

It’s a tight turn at Hawkesbury Junction

There was a lot of wildlife in evidence, mainly rats. We were in one of the Atherstone locks when one decided to use the stern of the boat as a bridge from one side of the lock to the other. The next day as well as a dead one in the canal there was a live one swimming alongside the boat. I also spotted a cheeky squirrel using a telegraph wire as a tightrope. The wildlife highlight of the week was a water vole on the towpath practically running over Bailey’s foot!

Concentrating in Braunston Tunnel

Because none of us can help overachieving, we went far beyond Rugby and ended up at Long Buckby on the Grand Union Canal, where the girls had to leave to fly home. That gave us a couple of days to cruise down as far as Stowe Hill, the first place where many years ago I ever got involved in winding a narrowboat. And a right mess up that was! I think we do a bit better these days.

Another day, another pub lunch. The Tame Otter at Hopwas