Thursday, 31 July 2014

‘Another scorcher’ x 2 and we get to Soulbury

Saturday 26th July

It was hot right from the word go today.  I jogged up to Aylesbury’s Quarrendon Park to take part in their weekly 5k parkrun – even at 9 am people were hugging the shade when they could.  I got a lift back to the basin from a delightful lady whose uncle owned the ‘Welcome boat’ when the Canal Society used the basin as their base before their marina was constructed.  Luckily Chuffed was still in a shady spot, so we were able to start with a cool boat for Meg even though we were out in the sun.  Looking back at the basin as we left – it’s a pretty quiet place to moor, and convenient for the shops, though it doesn’t have electric hook-ups like the marina.

3 leaving aylesbury basin

Aylesbury has a pretty good market, but when we went yesterday afternoon the fruit and veg had been sitting in the heat all day and the strawberries, for example, were going mouldy when we checked them out.

At Red House lock, where the gates are very heavy,  a group of delightful young men broke off from their lunch to help me with the gates – they had never worked a lock before and were astonished at how heavy the gates were.  Here they are later as they passed us when we made our lunch stop.

8 helpful lads

On our way back to the lovely Wilstone mooring we passed under a couple of horses drowsing in dappled shade.

4 horses on bridge

This was the nearest to the ‘African Queen’ scenario we had been warned about – just one bridge with too much growth and a reedy section beyond.6 one difficult bridge

There was a lot of water coming down as we neared Wilstone – the level in the lock was about 6” above the bottom gates.  Impressive, but didn’t cause us any problems.

7 lots of water

It was far too hot to sit in the boat, even under the shade of the trees, so we sat out on the towpath with the paper before walking up to the pub for an excellent meal out in their garden.

5 miles, 8 locks

Sunday 27th July

The forecast said it would be cooler today but it was wrong!  After walking the dog and doing some washing we were off around 10.  The Aylesbury locks are mostly pretty easy and the bottom gates well balanced so I can open the opposite side one with a gentle shove; the photos make it look really hard but it was a doddle.

1 opening offside gate 1  2 opening offside gate 2

We only met two boats on the move our entire time on the Aylesbury Arm.  We were soon out onto the Grand Union again and stopped at the services just above the junction for water/cassettes.  The water pressure was good, meaning that the hose on the sluice is very lively and whips about if you accidentally let go – I got drenched, but at least it was cool!  While we came up the staircase and took on water we could hear the bells of Marsworth Church – they were ringing a quarter-peal (about 40 minutes long) which was a pleasure to listen to.

After finding a shady spot for lunch, we cracked on to get away from the railway and try and find a shady spot out in the country.  Having been warned that the pound between the Ivinghoe locks sometimes drops overnight we went on towards Horton lock and pulled up in a pretty and quiet spot opposite the Whipsnade Lion.

3 whipsnade lionThe only noise was some strange bird calls from the farm at the lock – they turned out to be from a speaker hung on a barn as some sort of bird scarer but there still seemed to be plenty of birds around!  We were several hundred yards away though, picking blackberries, and it wasn’t a problem.  What was a problem though was the water level dropping as the evening went on – we managed to push the bow off but the stern was resting firmly on the bottom, so we slackened the ropes a bit and went to bed hoping not to fall out!

8 narrow locks, 7 broad locks, 1 swing bridge, 5 miles.

Monday 28th July

The pound didn’t drop any further overnight luckily.  At 8 a widebeam went up – Still Rockin’ – and presumably let a lockful down as the level came up a bit. We got on with some jobs for a couple of hours hoping someone would go up, or come down – either would do – but no-one did, so eventually I went back up to Ivinghoe locks and let a lockful down.  With both of us shoving/using the pole and the help of the engine we got the back off and finally at 10.30 we were on our way. 

The Grove Lock pub has lovely hanging basket brackets!

 1 hanging basket brackets at Grove Lock

After lunch we stopped at the Tesco moorings in Leighton Buzzard.  There was a heavy shower before we left the boat, the first rain for ages.  After we got the shopping back to the boat Dave popped over to Homebase (in default of a B&Q) and I went over to the recycling bins.  They must drink an awful lot of wine in Leighton Buzzard!  There were 7 or 8 glass bins and two for everything else! which were overflowing so the plastic milk bottles and newspapers came back to the boat.

As we approached the Wyvern Shipping Co’s base our hearts sank – changeover day at 3.30.  We found out later that every day is changeover day at Wyvern!  But we weren't held up and shared the lock with a lovely family on their first boating holiday.  As we neared Soulbury a boat coming the other way warned of a queue of 8 at the locks, so we pulled in before the bend for the night.  We walked down for a beer a bit later – most of the queue had cleared, but more boats were approaching and the good-humoured volunteer was looking tired!  The menu at the Three Locks looked expensive and not very interesting so we ate on board.

7 and a half miles, 5 locks

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

First boat down the repaired staircase

The internet connections have been slow or non-existent for a couple of days, so three days in one here …

Wednesday 23rd July

We were up unusually early so despite a leisurely start we were still away by 9.  Dudswell is a really pretty spot, cool and shady, just a shame about the trains so very frequent on the other bank.  Last night a particularly noisy one went by and I thought it had set up a vibration somewhere on the boat, as there was a loud fast ticking sound.  Nothing to be seen till I finally spotted this little cricket, stridulating away on the edge of the side hatch right in my ear.

7 cricket on side hatch

The two Dudswell locks have to be left empty, so were in our favour.  At Cowroast I got rid of some rubbish and recycling as the lock filled and Dave went up onto the footbridge to check out the position of the diesel pump in the marina.  Somehow Meg managed to get through the side and in she went with an almighty splash!  This is the bridge, taken as we came out of the marina, having filled up.

1 cowroast footbridge

She was completely unfazed by her dunking – we were just thankful that she didn’t hit the concrete edge or it could have been quite another story.

We stopped for lunch on the summit near Tring station.  We had hoped to walk to Aldbury for lunch but the road was very busy, the sun hot and the pavement overgrown so we came back to the boat instead.  The canal is now beginning to look more like the area of the Grand Union we know already, further north.

2 bridge 136 tring summit

On to Bulbourne Junction, where the old BW buildings now house a decorative ironwork manufacturer.  You can get some very individual pieces made for your garden -

3 metalwork at bulbourne

4 Holland at Bulbourne BW workshops

Holland is moored here.

We turned down the Wendover arm.  It was a bit of a treat to have no lock work and I took the helm while Dave took some photos of the terns fishing behind the boat.  They (or perhaps it was just one) were clearly finding fish that our passage had disturbed.

8 tern  10 tern

11 tern

They are such beautiful, graceful birds - it is a pity their voice is so harsh.

I successfully navigated the tight turns at the flour mill, where the workers were having a tea break beside the pallets of ‘Fine Lady’ flour ready for despatch.

6 flour at tring mills

Here is the proof that I actually do steer sometimes!

18 through old stop lock

Unfortunately Dave took the photo from the towpath after having to push me off when I got stuck, having failed to notice the edge of the derelict stop lock!

The moorings at the end of the arm were in full sun, so as it was still very hot we turned and came back down to the only other spot just past the flour mill, where it was a bit shallow but cool and shady.  It was only 3.30 so we set to and cleaned the boat inside and out.  It’s beautifully quiet here – no racketing trains, just the soothing whisper of aspens in the gentle breeze – and every 10 minutes a whoosh of water from a nearby outflow of some kind!

We have been monitoring the fridge this hot weather as it seems to be drawing too much from the batteries, and we end up having to turn it off in the early evening, leading to some sour milk a few days ago.  Dave pulled the fridge out the other day and drilled out a couple of 2” holes in the floor to draw cool air up from the bilge – the drill battery ran out before he could do the third, but it seems to be working much more efficiently than it did before.

After we’d eaten we strolled back up the arm for a pint at the Grand Junction pub in Bulbourne, getting a better picture of the workshops from the bridge.

7 old BW workshops at bulbourne

6 miles 3 locks – what an easy day!

Thursday 24th July

Today started cool and almost drizzly, but soon turned very hot again.  We tried to turn left for the locks at Bulbourne Junction but there were several boats moored at the dock opposite, and we decided to retrace our steps to the winding hole on the south side of the visitor moorings.  A wise choice – NB Daisy Chain was approaching as we completed the turn and we shared the first 6 locks, before they pulled in at the lovely moorings alongside the reservoir.  The two crew had a brilliant system where we took it in turns to lock ahead, and we were down very quickly.  Here is Daisy Chain following Chuffed between locks.

1 daisy chain follows chuffed out of a lock

Someone must have collided with this at some speed – there was a bend between this and the next lock and they clearly got it wrong!

2 someone gave this an almighty clout

Here is the double-arched bridge at the bottom of the flight, taken quickly before the approaching boat blocked the view.

3 doublr bridge marsworth locks

We knew from the stoppage emails that passage through the Aylesbury Arm staircase lock was restricted because of a broken lock beam (NB Valerie's blog has a photo ).  We pulled in to a space on the end of the permanent mooring and went to investigate as it was only 11.30.  There were 2 workboats in the lock and below, and they were in the process of fitting the new balance beam.  Here the broken one has been removed.  In the background is what looks like the start of an industrial unit – but it appears to be for houses.  There is one closer to completion overlooking the main line – it is now clad in stone rather than the usual brick and will probably look good when all the scaffolding and netting comes down.

4 no lock beam

They were clearly going to be some time! “Maybe this afternoon but could be tomorrow”. 

5 work in progress as we go back for a cuppa

We went back for a cuppa and a boaters’ meeting and decided to go to the pub in Wilstone and leave them to it!  By the time we had finished our tea the new beam was in place and they were beginning to fit the paddle gear in place.

6 new beam fitted as we go to the pub

After some banter with the foreman we had a lovely walk down to Wilstone, taking the footpath across the field and past the allotments.  We popped into the delightful and friendly community shop for a couple of things, then went on to the excellent Half Moon, where we enjoyed a relaxing pint and some lunch in the garden, watching the gliders being towed up from Dunstable Downs.

7 excellent half moon at wilstone

As we returned to Chuffed, the men had finished the paddle gear and were fitting the step on the beam.  Half an hour later, one of them brought one of the workboats up and we moved out so he could take our mooring, and down we went.  All the non-slip was in place on the step and beam – an excellent job, by the looks of it!  The bottom lock was filling as I took this photo.

10 first through after the repair is completed

It was a joy to be in narrow locks again.  The Aylesbury Arm is quiet and peaceful, with few boats.  There was a lot of water coming down, though it didn’t impede our progress. 

11 lots of water in the pounds

Some of the paddle gear was a bit rocky but everything else, towpath included, was in good condition.  We moored on the rings by the footpath at Wilstone, where we had a gloriously quiet night in a beautiful setting – with a heron imitating a cormorant!  Perhaps it was a bit too enthusiastic going after a fish and got wetter than it intended.

12 heron as cormorant

2 and a half miles, 7 broad locks, 8 narrow

Friday 25th July

Phew what a scorcher!  I lost count of the number of pints of squash we got through today.  Although it was grey and almost drizzling as I walked up to the village shop, the sun was soon out.  This is an excellent spot to moor.

1 mooring at wilstone

Of all the 16 locks on the Aylesbury Arm, only 2 have the balance beam on the towpath side – this one is lock 9, Gudgeon Stream.

2 one of two balance beams on correct side

We had been warned that we would feel we were on the African Queen once on the Arm, but found this to be a very out of date view.  The towpath was in generally good condition throughout – this was as bad as it got, though in wet weather I imagine it would be rather different.

3 towpath in good condition

Bates Motel Boatyard (I wonder how often that joke has been made) specialises in repair of wooden boats and there were several moored or out of the water4 under repair at bates boatyardThere is very little mooring between Wilstone and Aylesbury basin -  we could have pulled in at lunchtime but were plagued by biting flies so carried on to the basin.  We turned and moored on the shady side which turned out to be over 100yds of service moorings, with at least 2 water points.  As there were only 2 boats on the pontoons, and 2 unattended boats on the long service moorings, we stayed put to have a late lunch in the shade.  And as no-one else appeared, we stayed there and went up into town for a mooch around and to buy a change of bedding which we had forgotten to bring with us!  Here is Disraeli, who used to be the local MP.  He probably looked quite good there before the HSBC logo went up!

6 disraeli in aylesbury

Daughter Jen was coming over later to help celebrate Dave’s Big Birthday (not saying which but it doesn’t contain a zero) and as it was so hot we decided to eat on board rather than sit in a roasting restaurant or squeeze into a crowded pub garden.  While I popped over to Waitrose to get some goodies, Dave moved the boat over to the ‘proper’ mooring side as the sun had come round and now there was some shade over there.  Jen duly arrived and we had an excellent evening before we escorted her back to her car and gave Meg her night-time walk.

5 miles 8 narrow locks

Thursday, 24 July 2014


Tuesday 22nd July

I can’t remember another time when we’ve opened the side hatch before breakfast!  It was shady enough for Dave to wash one side of Chuffed before we left – last time he used Carnauba Wax polish and is really pleased with the result. I did a bit of washing and we were away by 10.  More than half the locks were in our favour or had someone on their way down, so although it was hot the work was fairly easy.  Sewer Lock is pretty smelly – pretty, and very smelly!  It’s still only mid-morning but you grab the shade when you can.

1 have to stand in the shade at sewer lock

We didn’t have the opportunity to share till our last lock before lunch.  There is a good weather-vane at Top Side lock -

3 weathervane at top side lock

We paused at the water point by the garage above bridge 143 – in the shade, thank goodness – for water and some milk.  Soon we were into the outskirts of Berkhamstead.  The Rising Sun pub by the eponymous lock is very pretty and if we were stopping we would go in like a shot!  It has one of those signs we have seen before – “FREE BEER INSIDE”!

4 floriferous rising sun at Berkhamstead

Unfortunately the small print says Free (House), Good (beer) and I can’t remember what was inside….

The next lock also has a pretty pub, and a large welcoming sign to the Port of Berkhamstead.

5 port of berkhamstead

We waited here for a boat that had appeared at the previous lock to catch us up.  They were on a mission  to deliver their boat, which has been sold (boo) but will be collecting their new one (hurray!) soon after.  Makes us wonder……

We moored at the park opposite Berko station for lunch.  A good shady spot and somewhere for Meg to run around but very noisy from the trains.  After lunch we pulled in (in the shade luckily) for Dave to go up to Jewsons to see if they had the spanner he needs to mend the galley taps – no, neither did the plumbers’ supplies next door – and carried on past Northchurch lock and grabbed the first patch of cool shade we would find.  At Northchurch lock we met a Dutch couple on bikes who were taking a roundabout route to Malmesbury for the Womad festival later this week – hot work! then an Aussie couple, also on bikes who closed up for us.  Although the Grand Union locks are heavy and hard work, they do have one redeeming feature, and that is the chunky bits to brace your feet on to open the gates!  You can just see the bruise/graze on my right knee which has thankfully responded to treatment after yesterday's unexpected close encounter with the concrete!  The tan’s coming on well too.

6 good chunky bracing bits

As we tied up for the evening, the guy from Fingall, with whom we shared several locks yesterday, came over for a chat before he set off again in the cool of the evening.  Dave prepped and painted the port side gunwale as the runners and dog-walkers went past.  This is an excellent mooring, very quiet if you ignore the East Coast main line!

12 locks, 4 and a half miles

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Hard work in the sun

Monday 21st July

We left our excellent mooring at Cassiobury Park around 9 in blissful coolness.  The first of the Cassiobury Park locks has to be left empty, so that was ready for us.  I left Dave to finish and close up and went to turn the lock above, which had both top gates wide open.  On my way I passed a very dour walker with a windlass and an i-pad or similar who turned out to be CRT.  Both locks have one paddle chained up and he appeared to be making notes on their condition.  He was nothing like any BW/CRT employee or volunteer we have ever met – not only had he left the top gates open after he checked the top lock – he must have seen we were coming up – but he let Dave open the top gate, drive out, moor up, come back to close it and then walk right up to him at the bottom gates to open a paddle without even looking up!  He had a windlass so must have had his training, but trying to be charitable we thought it was perhaps his first day on his own and he was a bit shy?  He didn’t even look up till Dave said good morning!  Anyway, here is Dave leaving the bottom lock.

1 leaving bottom cassiobury park lock

We joined the very pretty stretch where the canal follows the course of the River Gade.

2 the lovely river gade section   6 and another

and passed under The Grove Bridge, which had to be made decorative to satisfy the Earl of Essex whose land the canal crossed.

3 the grove bridge from the south    4 and from the north

From the south ……………….and the north.

Below lock 71 we passed men working on the upgrading of the towpath between Watford and Hemel Hempstead.

7 towpath works below north grove lock 71

At the lock itself is a pretty cottage whose ground floor rear wall is part of the construction of the towpath edge.  The owner was weeding the flower bed adjoining the lockside and we got chatting, as you do.  She is really upset about the upgrading of the towpath, as her gate opens onto the ramp leading down from the lock and she already has to take care not to get knocked over by cyclists – the visibility is poor, as I could easily see.  She is also worried about the effect diggers might have outside her cottage, as there has already been subsidence on the other side of the lock.  CRT has told her that they want to ‘encourage people to cycle to work in Watford rather than using their cars’ but as articles in the magazines have pointed out, they don’t seem very interested in the views of boaters, residents or walkers.  In the photo below you can see where the path has to bear right as it goes down past the far end of the cottage – it is very easy to see her point and I wonder whether anyone from CRT has ever been out there.

8 lock cottage lock 71

Near Home Park lock is a leisure park of some kind, unless there really are dinosaurs in Hertfordshire! (if that’s where we are).

9 near home park lock kings langley

We soon caught up with a single-hander on board Fingall, which he bought 4 months ago, and shared several locks with him until we stopped for lunch at Apsley Marina.  At one lock we saw an unusual combination – it turned out to be 3 boats as well as the car!

10 unusual combination in hemel hempstead

When we stopped, I also had to bathe a grazed knee and hand - a bollard at the last lock had leapt out at me and I smacked down onto the concrete. Ouch!  I am crossing my fingers after application of Arnica ointment to my knees and forehead that I won’t have too many bruises. At least I didn’t knock myself out – thick head obviously.  At Apsley there are bollards outside the marina for the use of residents, who have to open a bridge across the towpath to get in, but there were no notices to stop us mooring.  There is an Elsan point and rubbish disposal, both of which we made use of, and recycling bins which were unfortunately full.

At the first lock this afternoon another single-hander was waiting to buddy-up with someone, and we shared with him as far as Winkwell, where we grabbed the last space on the 48-hour moorings above the swing bridge.  It was cool and shady after a long hot day.  We have done a lot more than we had anticipated the last few days, partly due to buddying up for locks but also to get past built-up areas to find quiet and shady moorings.  We went to the Three Horseshoes to eat and had a great view from our table canalside; it’s a long time since we’ve sat out late without jumpers.

11 view from our table at 3 horseshoes winkwell

A cool beer went down very well but the menu was expensive and not very exciting, though it was tasty enough.

17 locks 7 and a half miles