Saturday 31 August 2019

A Close Shave

As I was cleaning the side of the boat this morning Brandywine came past. We'd travelled a couple of hours further than them yesterday so I was surprised to see them so early. It transpired that they had not had much sleep as the pound they had moored in was losing water, causing their boat to tilt in the night. They said they'd wait for us in the next lock if we wanted, so I put away the bucket and cloth and set off.

I think this pair of boats do something with glass. I liked the reflections in the still water.

There was a close shave at one of the locks: WB Close Shave. This is one of the Waterways Experiences boats whose base was just above the lock.

As alluded to above, our locking companion today, as yesterday, was Brandywine. Most of the time, that is. That's not us in Lady Capel's Lock - somehow another boat got in that one.

Our last lock of the day was Boxmoor Lock. A cricket match was in progress next to the lock; after we'd tied up (at around 1630) we could hear its gentle sounds - the crack of bat on ball, applause from fielders and the occasional cries of "'Owzat!" - for a long time afterwards.

After tea on board we went for a walk on the moor. We saw a kingfisher on the River Bulbourne which crosses the moor. It seemed strange to see one not from the boat.

Friday 30 August 2019

These gates cannot be long for this world

At last! A morning when we didn't need to make an early start. Nevertheless we were under way by 1015, after I had walked over the bridge to Uxbridge Boat Centre to return some brass screws which I didn't use.

Before we were ready to go Brandywine came past; we caught up with them at Denham Deep Lock. This is Ivor Caplan (IWA chairman) looking back at me from Brandywine as the boat slowly rises in the lock.

With this amount of leakage it's no surprise it takes an age to fill.

When it was our turn to exit the lock a widebeam tried to come in to a lock landing which was almost all taken up by another widebeam which wasn't going anywhere.

More fun and games as we crept round to the right.

The boat's name says it all!*

We stopped briefly at the canalside Tesco at Batchworth as I was running out of bananas (!) and tied up just after 1600 at Cassiobury Park. Before tea we walked to Watford Underground Station (because it was there) and returned through the park and along the towpath.

Watford Underground Station
Watford is one terminus of the Metropolitan Line; this morning we were at another terminus, Uxbridge. Speaking of which, in the pub last night there were many old photos of the early railways; there was also an old topological map of the Metropolitan Railway (predating Beck by decades).

*Absumus = We are here

Thursday 29 August 2019

Vandalism or art?

Quite early on in today's boating we came across yet another example of a boat blocking the canal. This must be at least the fourth case of a partially untied boat we have encountered in London in the last few weeks. Here a widebeam was across the cut.

A passer-by had already tried to sort it out and had ascertained that there was nobody on board. I was going to come alongside and gently nudge it back to the bank but he asked to borrow our cabin shaft. He competently and quickly got it back in place; by the time I'd reversed Jubilee to the bank he'd almost finished tying it up. With our shaft back we carried on, stopping at Bull's Bridge for water and lunch on board.

London is full of buildings either being demolished ...

… or being built.

The demolition was just west of Bull's Bridge Junction (anyone know what the building was?) and the construction was in the Old Oak Common area.

Not far from the demolition works we came across some workmen packing up tools under a bridge. They had been fixing a clear plastic screen over some graffiti.

Is it a Banksy, I asked? Supposedly, was the reply.

Can you see what the letters of "Peace" are made from? Clever, but I don't get the other elements of the artwork (if that's what we are supposed to call the vandalism of a canal structure).

We tied up opposite Uxbridge Boat Centre after filling up with diesel. (The previous fill-up was also here; our exploits to London and on the Lee and Stort and back had used 85 litres so there were only 15 litres left in the tank.) We investigated The General Eliott pub for food and decided to try it. The verdict? Good. The chips were excellent, about the best I have had anywhere, and the chicken and leek pie had proper pastry and was a good size. Jan said her lamb shank was also good. Both meals came with a decent amount of veg. We even had puddings. Prices were very reasonable. The pie was £7.95; the lamb shank was £10.95. Puds were mostly £3.50 each. (My beer was good too, but I can't remember what it was.)

More Olympic Park waterways travelled

We had a long day yesterday - that's why I'm writing this the day after, rather than in the evening of the day itself (if you see what I mean). Long, but certainly interesting, and including waters new to us.

My alarm went off at 0600. I wanted to be sure that we were ready to go as soon as Tottenham Lock was mended. The first CRT team which looked at the problem said that if people were sent from Enfield then they could be here early, which they were. They pressed a couple of buttons and - look! - both top gates started to close. The problem had been a hydraulic pump overheating. No doubt they reset the system and all came back to life.

WB Pericles said that we could go first as we had the time constraint of a booked passage through Carpenter's Road Lock later that morning. At 0800 We were successfully worked through Tottenham Lock by CRT, then we made a dash for the Olympic Park. At Old Ford Lock we saw Joe, the helpful and friendly CRT person who was going to see us through Carpenter's Road Lock. In the end we must have been about 45 minutes later than our booked time of 0900 there.

This is the lock, approached under a highly reflective footbridge.

Carpenter's Road Lock is the only one in the country with a radial gate at each end. Having passed under the first gate ...

… the gate closed behind us; then the next gate was opened slightly to equalise the level with the river beyond. As this is all part of flood control, the level here could be higher or lower than the previous pound. In this case it was lower.

With the gate raised sufficiently we left the lock and turned right onto the Waterworks River. This is looking back towards the upper end of the Waterworks River, which I had wanted to explore but Joe said it was too shallow. It also seems to be outside CRT's jurisdiction, although Nicholson marks it as navigable.

Did I mention that we had been joined by David, Penny and Florence? No? They boarded at Carpenter's Road Lock. Do you like this twin peaks photo? That's the Olympic swimming pool.

Just before City Mill Lock we turned left onto Three Mill Wall River, passing a sculpture inspired, so the sign said, on pick-up-sticks.

We continued south for a short distance, then turned left to nose into the Prescott Channel. I had intended to go down to Three Mills Lock and wind above it, but the channel looked a bit too narrow with shallow sloping sides so I reversed out and went back to City Mill Lock.

This, again, is built to be able to cope with varying levels and has two sets of V-gates at each end.

Emerging from City Mill Lock took us on to the Bow Back River ...

… we wanted to make a very sharp right turn onto the City Mill River.

This manoeuvre completed, we came round past the Olympic Stadium, now the home of West Ham United FC (photos in a previous post) and rejoined the River Lee Navigation where we went straight up Old Ford Lock. At the junction with the Hertford Union Canal we turned left to go up (confusingly) Old Ford Locks. Our guests stayed with us until Regent's Park. Approaching Camden I got talking to two Spaniards who were interested in seeing us work through the lock.

We briefly considered seeing if we could find a space in Paddington Basin, but decided to carry on to Harrow Road Bridge 3 where we had moored three weeks ago. We tied up alongside Go with the Flow, another IWA festival attendee.

After another early start (Go with the Flow wanted to set off before 0730) we are now making our way through west London on the Paddington Branch.

Tuesday 27 August 2019

Stuck at a broken Tottenham Lock

Sorry about the pause in posting - I have been rather busy at the festival. Now we are stuck waiting to go down a lock which won't play ball.

I'll try to come back to the IWA festival in my blog at a later date, perhaps when there isn't so much other stuff to write about. Meanwhile … we went down Waltham Town Lock at precisely 0915, the time we'd said we would. A short distance below the lock there is a new set of facilities so we watered up and attended to the Elsan. This took some time as our water tank was low after a week of no top-ups. At the next lock, Rammey Marsh, I found the previous boat through had left their BW key in the control panel (and with the hydraulic pumps running). While we were at the services the CRT boat Jena had passed us going in our direction; the key had a BW badge attached so I deduced that Jena had left it behind. I therefore phoned CRT to tell them. This was painful. First you have to endure the message suggesting using the website for renewing your licence, etc. etc. Then, eventually, you get to speak to a human being, but she is in north Wales and doesn't know anything about Jena or the Lee Navigation. She puts you through to London, but first there's a minute or two of muzak. At last, someone who might be able to help … except, hang on, I'm trying to help them! They say they will phone Jena and call me back. By this time we're through the lock and on our way to Enfield. I get a phone call from CRT, but it is the person who will operate Carpenter's Road Lock tomorrow morning checking that I'm going to be there. At Enfield Lock I get the promised call back from CRT about the key. Only they seem to have only the vaguest idea of what to do. Perhaps I could drop it in to the Enfield office. OK, where is it? Oh, I don't know. I could email you the address … No! Just tell me where it is in relation to the lock I'm trying to operate! At this point a CRT volunteer appears and picks up the key, but I didn't hear a "thank you". Maybe he said it, but quietly. He did, at least, stay to work us through the lock, just below which was the Enfield yard and Jena tied up! I could have saved myself a load of telephone stress and just lobbed the key at the boat as we went past. Oh well.

While we were descending the lock Jan went to the Tesco Express nearby for provisions. I didn't have to wait long before she reappeared with two large bags of shopping.

The next excitement, after stopping for lunch and then picking up my brother and his bike at Alfie's Lock, was to arrive at Tottenham Lock to be greeted by the crew of a widebeam opposite the official lock landing calling out to us that the lock was broken. We tied up alongside them; David and I went to see what the problem was. On the hydraulically powered lock one of the top gates wouldn't move from the fully open position, neither would the associated sluice do anything. CRT had been called an hour and a half previously, so all we could do was wait. I phoned CRT for an update of when someone might attend - they didn't know. They did know about the problem, though. By the time when, at last, a CRT van drove down the access road, there were six boats waiting to go down the lock and one waiting to come up. The time was now 5pm.

Another few minutes passed before two CRT employees walked up to the lock, carrying a long-handled shovel, a rope and a grappling hook. They proceeded to drag the shovel along the bottom by the recalcitrant gate but found nothing which would prevent the gate closing. When we pointed out that the sluice didn't work either the CRT people came to the conclusion we'd reached hours ago. Oh, it must be a hydraulic problem. They opened the box of tricks on the lock island and peered inside.

One of them, Joe, was on the phone to another CRT person talking about the problem for a while, then they pronounced that, because of the weather, the hydraulic fluid was too hot. It might work when it's cooled down a bit.

In the meantime, let's see if we can get you through the manual lock.

This lock clearly hasn't seen much action for a considerable time.

We got the bottom gates closed - I was helping with a windlass (CRT hadn't brought any windlasses) and filled the lock. This was successful - and the weed stayed on the surface of the water. The next operation failed, however. We could not open the gates. These are hydraulic like the gates on the parallel powered lock but operated by winding a windlass. So the team tried their dredging tactic again, but said that it felt like there was a load of bricks down there which were probably stopping the gates opening.

They left us to it, promising a hydraulic engineer in the morning. If he/she comes from Enfield then we could be on our way before too long. We were to feel free to try the gate when the hydraulics had cooled down. We did, and nothing happened. And now it is dark.

One good thing was that Joe was to be the person I was to see at Carpenter's Road Lock. It was he who phoned me this morning. He will know not to bother going if the lock isn't fixed in time.

The morning started with excitement too. A boat behind us on the festival moorings had broken down; I was asked if I could tow the boat - Wandering Whimbrel - to a space on the bank a few boat-lengths in front. I decided breasting up would be the easiest option, so that's what we did.

Now I must go to bed as I have to be up early to try the gate after a night of cooling down (we hope). Unfortunately it's going to be a warm and sticky night. We'll see what happens in the morning.

Saturday 24 August 2019

The sun showed up but the people didn't

Day one of the bank holiday weekend and the IWA Festival of Water at Waltham Abbey is open to the public. It's a shame no-one told the public they could come. Numbers were disappointing, to say the least. Perhaps tomorrow will be better.

Still, here's a view from the footbridge looking towards Waltham Common Lock. Many boats were decorated with bunting.

I divided my time between the Boaters' Christian Fellowship stand …

… and the rope throwing stand. This is the IWA's Mike Moorse, festival director, showing how it's done.

It was a really hot and sunny day, perfect conditions to bring in the crowds you'd think. But where were they? The traders were not happy.

This was the view looking south from the footbridge. The unmistakeable bluetop, Kew, is below the flag left of centre.

Tomorrow is forecast to be even hotter than today, and we're out in the sun most of the time. We'll be up early to take part in a communion service in the entertainments marquee before the festival opens; then there's an open-air songs of praise service in the afternoon.

Friday 23 August 2019

Curry rounds off the evening

Pete and I finished marking out the pitches at the IWA Festival of Water at Waltham Abbey yesterday and had a very welcome cup of tea in the workers' compound when we'd done.

I cycled back to Carthagena Lock to retrieve the car, parking it in a street in the town. I parked next to a Morris 1100 (1300?). I think the previous 1100 I saw was outside the Indian restaurant in Weedon. My first car was an 1100 (costing £25!)

Speaking of Indian restaurants … I organised a group of us to go to the Chilli Pickle in Waltham Abbey in the evening. We all had the banquet menu: this was the best value ever, with naan as well as rice, with coffee thrown in - all for £10.95.

Rocky, Dave, Jan, Marjorie, Dave, Beryl, Lucas, me, Bob

Wednesday 21 August 2019

Medium-sized galley disaster

Important things first: we've booked a table at the local curry house for tomorrow evening. So far there are four of us, but I expect that number will rise …

Today I spent a lot of time on the festival site helping to mark out the pitches for traders' stalls. It was hot work (but I'm certainly not complaining about the weather: warm and sunny - thank you!).

I came back to the boat just as Jan was going to the site to help stuff bags with flyers and programmes. I was left with instructions to take the chicken out of the oven in fifteen minutes. This I did with no problem. Unfortunately … I was trying to pour myself a cup of tea at about the same time. I needed a bit of worktop space and so must have moved something slightly. The next thing I knew, a jugful of hot greasy liquid was pouring all over the floor, running over the worktop and down the front of the fridge, getting my shorts and one shoe in the process. Help! I grabbed the dishcloth and started mopping up. This wasn't much good so I pulled off heaps of paper towel and used that. Eventually I had cleared most of it - chicken stock which Jan had earlier removed from the roasting tray - and then discovered a pool of it in the fridge handle. Hmm. Jan wasn't too pleased to find that most of the stock had gone. Still, it could have been worse: if it had gone the other way it would have soaked into books and papers on the table - and run off onto cushions and seats.

No photo: I was rather busy.

Tuesday 20 August 2019

Arriving at Waltham Abbey

We're back on board after three days at home. There's a useful informal car park by Carthagena Lock, so that's where we left the car while we took the boat to the festival moorings between Waltham Common Lock and Waltham Town Lock.

On the way here we encountered a dozen small powered boats from Broxbourne.

Many in the boats were obviously Jews; at Aqueduct Lock a group of them helped with the gates. I talked to them about lock operation and let the children wind the paddle up - under close supervision. Jan asked if she could take the photo; permission was granted.

After tea we walked in to Waltham Abbey town centre and revisited King Harold's tomb. A lump of rock. (No photo - I didn't have my camera and it was almost dark anyway.)

Tomorrow I expect I'll be helping to put fencing up at the festival site.

Monday 19 August 2019

Strange text at Roydon Lock

On Friday we moved on from Burnt Mill Lock on the Stort to below Carthagena Lock on the Lee. Again, we were fortunate with the weather with the rain holding off until we'd tied up. Roydon Lock is welcoming ...

… and there is a piece of text on the sign which took me a little while to work out.

It reads: "Ore stabit fortis arare placeto restat".


Dobb's Weir Lock is another marked with red and green discs on the bottom gates.

But why?

Thursday 15 August 2019

Meeting an almost boater and getting bashed by kayaks

We were up early today as we were being picked up later to have a meal with Lorraine and Mike in Hunsdon. I pulled the boat forward onto the water point and found it had good pressure. After a few minutes the tank was full and we set off from Bishop's Stortford back down the Stort.

At Sheering Mill Lock (I think it was) we met a man who delighted in telling us that he now had the funds to buy a boat. Richard, accompanied by Harvey, his dog, helped us through the lock by closing a gate or two. He said it was the first lock he had ever touched, but was obviously looking forward to doing many more. I think he said he was going to buy his boat in the midlands and then head for the Lancaster Canal. I hope it all goes well for you, Richard, and may you pick up plenty of useful tips from the blogs and vlogs you look at.

Feakes Lock is one of a number which have red and green discs painted on the bottom gates. Port and starboard? Anyone know what they are for?

The sun shone as we went through a wooded section - very pretty. I saw two kingfishers today, one flying past us going the other way which is most unusual. (No kingfishers in the photo as far as I am aware.)

We tied up just below Burnt Mill Lock, opposite the climbing wall and kayaking centre. There was a group of exuberant children having a training session on kayaks; the things kept hitting the side of the boat. In the end I moved the boat forward to be slightly further away. At precisely the same time their session finished and they all got out of the water.

I walked into Harlow to see what it was like. It was like this.

At least, that's the rather empty bit I saw. I used to drive through Harlow on my way to university before the M25 was built. I remember always looking out for boats on the river as I crossed it. (I also remember road signs with far too much information about small areas of the town.)

This evening we enjoyed the aforementioned meal with Mike and Lorraine; Lorraine is going to help me retrieve our car from Berkhamsted tomorrow which will be really useful.

Wednesday 14 August 2019

What's so good about Waterway Routes?

First, a bit of explanation. What is "Waterway Routes"? Well, it's a map of the canals and rivers of England and Wales. It's available in two formats: a set of individual maps as (printable) pages on a computer file, suitable for laptop or tablet; or a scrollable and zoomable version for phone or tablet which can link with the device's GPS to track your position on the map.

So what's so good about it? Last year we tackled the Anglian rivers and Fenland waterways, a part of the connected network which doesn't make it into the Nicholson guides. We had obtained other guides, including an outdated Imray, but we found Waterway Routes invaluable for telling us where we were at all times, giving us up-to-date and accurate information of the location of facilities and moorings, and even showing which side of a river lock the lock landing and the control box were. Yes, it would have been possible to navigate to Bedford and back without WR but having the mapping system made it much easier.

How can it be up-to-date? Some users of the system report back to Paul Balmer, its creator, any updates required. These can be new or removed bridges or facilities, or other changes to the maps from the version they have. In fact, one of Paul's main selling points is that the maps are so up-to-date.

OK, so it's useful for rivers, especially where other guides are patchy or difficult to interpret. But what about on the canals? I mean, here we have Nicholson's and Pearson. Nicholson marks water points and other facilities, and I have used the maps for years with few difficulties. But where Waterway Routes scores is - again - its accuracy. Sometimes Nicholson is rather vague about the position of some facilities, but WR shows exactly where and which side of the waterway they are to be found. And there are the moorings. WR marks where there is a time restriction, and indicates the quality of the mooring by implying if there is anything to tie up to.

It's also very useful for route planning. Where Nicholson marks its maps with a pin every mile, Paul marks his every half-hour of cruising time. These half-hour points take into account locks and moveable bridges and are based on his actual times when doing the route himself. It is easy to calculate how long it would take to get from A to B; I have found the times remarkably reliable. We are currently at Bishop's Stortford; tomorrow we are aiming to get to Hunsdon Lock. The time marker at Bishop's Stortford is 7.5 hours (the time from the junction with the Lee Navigation); the time marker at Hunsdon Lock is 1.5 hours. So, barring the unexpected - and a lunch stop - it should take around six hours to get there.

I hadn't expected to find the location marker so useful. We use the system on a phone; its internal GPS indicates our current position by crosshairs in a circle. As we go along our historic route is tracked and appears as a thin red line on the map. Sometimes keeping track of exactly where you are using, say, Nicholson is not easy. What was the last bridge I passed? Is the Elsan point coming up or have I missed it? Whereas with WR there is never any doubt.

Any minus points? I think it's a mistake not to mark pubs, especially waterside ones. Paul's argument for not doing so is that they can close down or otherwise change so quickly that it would be difficult to keep on top of all the updates required. He says that, for example, aiming for a pub marked on WR in order to eat there only to find it had closed down would undermine the USP of the system, i.e. its accuracy. In my experience, though, most canalside pubs keep going year on year. Yes, a few have closed, but it's easy to check ahead with Google Maps or an internet search that a specific pub is still in business.

There is no editorial content; there are no paragraphs of information about the environs. Consequently I keep the Nicholson's guide open at the same time as WR for that extra bit of interest.

Here's an example of the route tracker. In Hertford a few days ago we went beyond the official end of navigation; the thin red line shows how far we got. (Apologies for the poor quality photo of the phone screen.)

The thick blue line, ending at the winding hole, is the navigation; our excursion to the south-west is clear. (And that was just the back of the boat!) The white circles, by the way, indicate access points from/to the bank.

Oh, another useful feature of Waterway Routes on a device with GPS is that it can tell you your speed. Has your speed dropped even though your revs are the same? You have something round the prop, you're pushing a raft of weed in front or the water has got very shallow. You can't do much about the last, but it could be worth checking the first two things.

Another thing the maps are good for is showing routes of former canals complete with locks. (Sarah of Chertsey has written eloquently on her exploration of the Chesterfield Canal with Waterways Routes.) Proposed canals such as the Bedford and Milton Keynes Waterway are also shown.

Declaration of interest: I was given a copy of Waterway Routes to review but I have tried to be objective. I have written this with no input from Paul, who will, no doubt, comment if necessary!

Tuesday 13 August 2019

Another end of line reached: Bishop's Stortford

I managed to sleep despite the train horns, but we awoke early. Perhaps the hooting did disturb us. As a consequence we were under way at 0815. In the gaps between the trains alongside and planes overhead, having taken off from Stansted Airport, the river was very tranquil. Moored boats were getting scarcer and the river was getting twistier and more overhung with trees.

We didn't stop until we had reached Sawbridgeworth, which was our intended finish point for the day. We tied up above the lock on a good bit of piling. As it was lunchtime we walked back to the Riverside Café where I had a treat fry-up and Jan had a jacket potato with prawns. Then we walked into the village where we looked round the two charity shops and the church.

The name of this shop, offering an ironing service, made me smile.

The shop itself, as with many buildings in Sawbridgeworth, is clapboarded.

Back at the boat, knowing that rain was forecast all day tomorrow, we decided to crack on to Bishop's Stortford. There was still some uncertainty as to whether Twyford Lock would be open. The latest update on the CRT website said it was open, but notices at the previous lock said it was closed. We continued anyway.

There were no problems at Twyford Lock and we continued up the Stort to the end of navigation. I gently tried to see if we could nose under the bridge, but with the low water level we grounded with a few yards to go.

I couldn't get off to take a photo from the bank; here's the view looking back downstream.

We reversed to the winding hole and tied up at the end of the short line of moored boats, next to Allinson's flour mill. Fortunately this is nothing like as noisy as the flour mill in Wellingborough.

After tea on board we walked into the town for a brief exploration. We will do more in the rain tomorrow - walking, not boating - and have a "day off".