Sunday, 27 June 2010

Last mooring

Having stopped at the first reasonable mooring after Braunston yesterday in the dusk with clouds of barbecue smoke, we woke to find lots of neighbours had already moved on. Just as well, as Annie has developed the technique of reconnoitring for food on the outward leg of her evening walk so that she knows just when to lunge for a tempting sausage on the way back. Another bright sunny day to see us back to the marina, renowned for its ability to generate fluctuating winds just as you are trying to reverse onto a pontoon.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Feeling the cold?

A surprising sight this, on one of the hottest days of the year. Augmenting the blue exhaust smoke so popular with owners of older engines, you'll see that the solid fuel stove on this boat was also kicking up a lot of smoke. Must have been warm inside as our boat was about 30 degrees without the benefit of heating!

Friday, 25 June 2010

Milton Keynes, Cosgrove and Stoke Bruerne

On through the margins of Milton Keynes this morning, where the newer canalside development is impressive but low in local character - this lot looks smart but could be anywhere: London, Birmingham, Leamington, Rugby - they can all show you stuff like this. I wouldn't struggle too much if I had to live somewhere like this, though.

At Cosgrove we stoped for lunch just after the lock, mooring opposite the pub and crossing through the horse tunnel to go under the canal; those old canal builders went to significant trouble to make sure that boaters could take their horse to the pub with them.

Then on to Stoke Bruerne in yet hotter weather - I think every day this week has been the hottest one of the year so far. We thought of taking a tea-time break to look around the canal centre there, then cooling off with a passage through Blisworth Tunnel before we stopped for the night. But the new(ish) Indian restaurant at the top lock got the better of us; we moored up, got a takeaway, opened all the doors and windows again and ate on board so as not to roast Annie the dog.

We've seen lots of funny, not-so-funny and plain bizarre boat names this trip but this one has me bewildered:
This one makes a bit more sense:

Thursday, 24 June 2010

North on the GU through Leighton Buzzard

The wildlife here at Pitstone continues to assert itself – our early morning wake up call today was thanks to huge carp, leaping and thrashing in the shallow waters at the edges of the canal. An early morning fisherman told me that 18-pounders aren't uncommon here. At least they have scared those bloody swans away.

Another scorching day, on through Linslade and another grocery stop (last one for this trip, I hope) at Leighton Buzzard, then through Fenny Stratford to find astonishingly quiet moorings on the edge of Milton Keynes, with cycleways and even a separate bridleway provided parallel to the canal so no risk of high-speed cyclists racing up behind you on the towpath.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Berkhamstead and being menaced

Another early start through the locks at Berkhamstead, shared by a very agreeable pair who worked very efficiently, the single-handed boater being ably assisted for the day by his companion who was cycling ahead to set the locks. So despite the fact that they stopped for a slap-up breakfast in town just after the lock by the castle, they still caught us up a couple of locks later and helped us through Dudswell and on towards Cowroast where we stopped for much-needed diesel (about £1.11/litre for a 60/40 split, if anyone out there is wondering).

We stopped for the evening at Pitstone with vague thoughts of eating at the pub, but ended up staying on board with doors and windows open trying to cool the boat down.

Local wildlife here is quite assertive: I feel particularly lucky to have got this shot because (1) I must have clicked the shutter at exactly the right moment and (2) I still have my nose.

Duck Aid

Lots of ducks and ducklings in the locks this morning for some reason...

All of them were amenable to avoiding getting between the boat and the lock walls while filling, and most were happy to be ushered out of an open gate after the boat. This one however looked waterlogged and about to go under, and unwilling to follow its siblings, so required rescue in a bucket and relocation to some rushes on the canal bank where they had collected. Hope s/he made it.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Greenery again

On through Cassiobury, where Londoners of all species really do make the most of their green spaces. Our early start was helped by a swan who – while pretending to be picking weed from the side of our boat – was actually just pecking away for attention and food. Boaters on low-carb diets like us must be a tremendous disappointment for waterfowl – there is absolutely no bread on board this boat. Sorry, buddy.

It was the warmest day of the year so far today and this heron was sunning himself when we came past...

...and this one stood his ground as we approached for as long as possible, but the spaniel coming up from the opposite direction was just too much so he took off at the last moment.

On through Hemel Hempstead to moor just short of Berkhamstead for the night. I was particularly pleased with myself when a patron of the Three Horseshoes at Winkwell stood up to congratulate me on how brilliantly I had handled the boat through the swing bridge there, but I guess you don't need to sit on the patio there for very long to see some howling examples of poor navigation. Not from me, though!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Northwards again

We waved goodbye to our friends on nb Kingfisher at Cowley Peachey junction (the end of their trip) and carried on north up the GU, through Uxbridge afer which the canal runs through river valleys and country parks and it all starts to get a lot prettier again. We're reminded that we are still close to London, though, because of the light railway crossing overhead at Lot Mead Lock. We carried on to the very lovely Cassiobury Park to moor for the night.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Tidal Thames

As instructed, the crews of all the waiting boats all assembled tidily at 9:15 to pack into Teddington Lock to take advantage of the window of high tide that would let us safely down the Thames. This is a spectacular bit of waterway, with all sorts of huge commercial traffic that even the non-tidal bit of the Thames hadn't prepared us for. The stretch from Teddington to Brentford is only 5 miles and took us just over an hour but passing through Twickenham and Richmond then Kew was a world away from our normal sleepy canals.

It would have been nice to have had more time to tie up and explore (i.e. go shopping) but our itinerary on this trip doesn't really allow for that. Next time, maybe – although mooring on this busy commercial stretch of the river is discouraged, I think. We'll have to take a bit longer than two weeks next time if we want to pack everything in.

I felt mixed relief and disappointment as we took the turn off the Thames into Brentford Lock, the last one manned by a lock-keeper for this trip. We shared the locks with our friends on nbKingfisher, through tremendously built-up bits of London, and then shared with them a lovely family Sunday lunch at the Fox in Hanwell.

The six Hanwell locks are much more picturesque, back into green countryside even if it is just a narrow ribbon through London. At Norwood Top Lock we made some new friends who were fascinated by the boat, the locks, the history... I hope they will remember their trip to the canal.
Our last stop for the day was outside the dreaded (but inevitable, and terribly useful) Tesco at the junction with the Paddington arm, where we blagged the last mooring spot and waited for Kingfisher to come and breast up alongside so that we could have a farewell nightcap together.

Home of British Comedy

Past Windsor Castle and Hampton Court yesterday, to moor up above Teddington Lock - where by complete coincidence we met our boating and drinking buddies Anita and John, and Anita's mum Iris, on NB Kingfisher14, waiting to do the same tidal stretch of the Thames. We shared a lovely meal with them at the Tide End Cottage. I feel a bit poorly this morning.

Into Teddington village this morning for the paper while waiting for the right moment to catch the tide. I don't do football, and I don't really do cake, but the shop next door to the newsagent clearly does both, and this was in the window: I am suitably impressed...

Friday, 18 June 2010

Literary waterways

These are the stretches of the Thames made famous in Wind in the Willows and Three Men in a Boat. But I would contend that Kenneth Grahame would have used a lot more effing and blinding in his dialogue had Ratty and Mole been trying to tie up a 58' flat-bottomed narrow boat against the semi-accessible banks hereabouts instead of a little skiff thingy. Jerome K would have used a bit more ripe language too, I'm sure. I know I did.

So, it took us a while, but we found a spot to stop for lunch up against the grounds of Cliveden – thank you, National Trust. The landscape here is, once again, extraordinarily beautiful in the way that only people with astonishing amounts of money can effect. The real estate around here makes your eyes water.

We spotted this crazy thing going by as we ate lunch, then caught it up in the next lock, by which time I had my camera to hand:

Although it was first in the queue for the lock, the keeper waved on the great big steamer from six places back to go in first so that all of the rest of the waiting boats could be packed in around it safely. "There, you see, size does matter" said the chap in the passenger seat of the car. "That's just boats, Dad," said the driver.

We turfed up at Windsor for teatime and moored up against the riverside park for the night.

Lots of tiny wee cruisers come belting past this evening at high speed with no idea, I am sure, of the wake they cause – several tens of feet behind them, by the time the bow-waves come slapping up against moored boats (particularly, I think, flat-bottomed hogs like ours) . It's all magnified hugely by the width of the river because you get the first set of waves thwacking your boat around, then the reflected waves from the opposite bank, then the decreasing reflected waves for a couple of repeats. We're securely moored on bank-side rings here but the boats fixed with pins on the earth bank opposite seem a lot more vulnerable. They've got a much better view of Windsor Castle, though – ours is obscured by droopy willows for the moment. It's an engaging contrast to spend some time in a little town, bustling with trippers. And lots of shops.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Worst Mooring Ever

We finished our evening in Goring yesterday with a very pleasant pub meal at the John Barleycorn and set off this morning in high spirits through gorgeous Thames countryside at Basildon, then on to Mapledurham and the rather less pretty Reading for another quick waterside victualling.

Mind you, the locks are a doddle - even when the lock-keeper is away, everything is electrically operated and needs just one finger...

Then on through the afternoon to Henley, which is gearing up for its Regatta, and was very very busy – the rowing lanes are already marked off through the straight stretch of the Thames for the races and through-traffic like us is coralled over to one side. There's still far more width-wise space than on the canals, though! I get a bit agoraphobic on waterways like this when I am used to the Grand Union.

At this point, I think that the parking fairy might have been taking a half-day holiday. Visitor moorings in Henley looked tricky, with steep river banks and shallow edges – fine for a little river cruiser but not too accommodating for 58' of flat-bottomed steel. So we went on past Henley, confident in the knowledge that the Nicholsons Guide book showed ample mooring space beyond...

It turned out to be several iterations of shallow shoals with banks inaccessible from neither bow nor stern. After many tries we seriously considered deploying the Thames rule which allows you to drop anchor and stop anywhere for up to 24 hours – provided you don't touch the bank unless landowners are happy for you to put down. But one look at Annie The Dog with her quivering bottom lip and crossed legs made us think of higher things and we moved on to find a spot where we could run the bow aground and scramble off inelegantly.

The upside of all this un-developed river valley-scape is the wildlife – as we moored, a pair of red kite were wheeling and wailing in the thermals above us. Bats too, later on, although by then it was too chilly to be out to watch them for long.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

And onward down the Thames

It's ludicrously beautiful, and very sunny, but was perishing cold this morning. It's lovely seeing all the familiar stretches around Culham and Clifton Hampden again. Picked up supplies in Waitrose at Wallingford – I'm in middle class heaven. Moorings were tight at Wallingford, too, but the parking fairy has always smiled kindly on me and I think her remit stretches to moorings too. Then on through a much warmer afternoon to Goring to moor for an early night.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Thames, here we come

Through a few leisurely locks and into Kidlington this morning, then via the back waters into Oxford. Over the years we have seen this stretch of canal go from bustling industry to disused industry to massively close-packed housing, but it is all settling in very well to its surroundings, well matched to the character of the place and looks well cared-for. The old boatyard at Jericho is still empty and looking very sorry for itself but it's hard to imagine that it will stay undeveloped for long – despite the strong campaign to keep the boat services for the local community.

And so on to the Thames. Oxford shows its most beautiful face to the river and in sunny weather like today the Thames is glorious. Knowing Oxford as well a we do it is still a delight to see its riverside aspect.

We travelled on through our old stamping grounds at Radley (where the school appears to make rowing compulsory, regardless of aptitude) and on to Abingdon, where the moorings were packed, and busier than I have ever seen them. But a neighbouring boat shuffled up to make space for us and all was well. Best of all, it turns out that our favourite old Indian restaurant, the Spice Garden, still does buffet night on a Tuesday – hurrah!

Monday, 14 June 2010

And on down the Oxford...

...through Somerton with a brief stop in Upper Heyford for lunch. The River Cherwell criss-crosses the canal along this stretch and it's all staggeringly pretty. The storm flow signs warn boaters of dire consequences when the river levels are high but it is all very benign and Wind-in-the-Willowsy at the moment. We stopped to buy some lovely fresh eggs at the farm shop just above Pigeon Lock and stopped overnight at delightful secluded moorings just below Shipton Weir lock.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Oxford Summit

Gentle pootle along the summit pound of the Oxford through Fenny Compton and the Claydon Locks to Cropredy; with steely resolve we ate lunch in shifts on the boat without stopping, foregoing Sunday lunch at the very wonderful Brasenose Arms. Ho dear me no, we are London-bound, and we are made of sterner stuff than that! We got to Banbury and the services in plenty of time for a spot of victualling (M&S foodhall is sooo handy) and then carried on to moor for the night just short of Nell Bridge, keeping our distance from the steady roar of the M40 which shadows the cut for a good part of this stretch of canal.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

I heart BW

This is the start of our first proper trip of the year, with two weeks off work to hit the Thames Ring via Brentford for the first time. We've got out of the hire-boating habit of spending long days making the most of every minute on board, packing in the maximum available cruising, and latterly have settled into a bit of a pattern of leisurely days and long lunchbreaks (hic!). So this fortnight will be a bit of a change from our usual routine but well worth the effort.

Sooo... an early start on Saturday, after a quck trip to Daventry for emergency supplies, then off up the locks. The doomsayers all said that once Ventnor Farm and then Calcutt first built their marinas, then extended them, that the three Calcutt locks would be forever gridlocked. But as one of the causes of the hideous congestion, I can honestly say that we have never had too long a wait there. We shared the locks with a very nice Kate Boat and were though in no time.

Beautiful blustery weather through to Napton, and then – ta da! THE HITCH – a broken balance beam at lock 11, meaning a long wait until it could be fixed. “Several hours” said the guys from BW. Oh Dear, we thought, tying up across from the pub to wait. But it was all very civilised and after lunch, and a stoppage of only about 3 hours (and a pint or two of Old Hooky), together with a very tidy short-term repair effected with a couple of lengths of Armco railing bolted to the broken beam, we were all on our way again – with a very speedy passage up the locks because of the steady stream of boaters waiting to come down as well as up. Hurrah for the lovely lock-keepers at Napton.

We carried on to a spot just short of the curly-wurly stretch of the South Oxford at Wormleighton to moor for the night.