Monday, July 16, 2007

Bleakness and Beauty

You just would not believe that this is Hackney, east London! On our way out towards the Lee and Stort Navigations, but still very much in London.

And here is Shireen, complete with 'bump', demonstrating her skills at the helm of 'Zindagi'. She travelled some of the way up the River Lee with us and then took a train back to Paddington.

Unfortunately, she saw the rather bleaker bit of the Lee and missed the beauty to be found further north . . .

. . . and this is one of the better bits! The 'canalised' river reaches almost due north from East London, with the high embankments of endless reservoirs on one side and the ever-present lines of pylons marching alongside. Even the constant presence of the railway and various roads seemed pleasant by comparison!

And then, round about Enfield and Waltham Abbey, it all began to change, slowly at first, until we found ourselves in much more pleasant surroundings, like here at Carthagena Lock near Broxbourne – they even had hanging baskets on the lock footbridge!

Soon after that, we turned onto the River Stort and the scenery changed instantaneously, as you can see yourself here. Quiet, tree-lined, almost secret in some places, passing through nature reserves and small towns.

Unusual lock cottages, some of them with the coat of arms of George Duckett, who made the river navigable in the late 1700s . . .

. . . and some sections awash with colour from the exotic Himalayan Balsam which has spread along the banks.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

London By The 'Tradesman's Entrance'

Having arrived from the Thames at about 7.30 a.m., we mooched slowly up the Grand Union Canal to just below Hanwell locks. Val's nephew Paul lives just a few minutes away and we had arranged to meet him (and Caroline, Billy and Tom) after he finished work in the afternoon. Our daughter Shireen came to join us soon after lunch.

Friday morning – Shireen had to go to work and we started up the 8 locks at Hanwell and Norwood Green, sharing the work with 'Polveithan'. Then a stop on the edge of Southall, where we serviced the diesel-fired hob and got it working well again. Shireen rejoined us after work.

Generally westwards along the Main Line of the Grand Union, before turning north at Bulls Bridge to join the Paddington Arm. This definitely did not feel like London! A very green and semi-rural canal, gradually turning eastwards towards Paddington. Here is an old wharf crane, still visible on the modernised canalside.

And so under the blue bridge into 'Little Venice', where the Regents Canal Joins the Paddington Arm. The Visitor Moorings were full up (probably due to the Tour de France and the Live Earth concert) but we managed to find a space – surprisingly quiet in spite of being practically under Westway and near Paddington station!

We continue to enjoy the way in which we can chug right into the city centre and find a 'free' mooring (included in our annual licence fee) while all around motorists are paying high parking fees and even the Congestion Charge for the privilege of staying in the same area.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Down Deepcut, Dramas at Woodham and the Thames

As we were working our way down the locks in the Deepcut and Brookwood flights, John (the Basingstoke Canal Ranger) was busy on his mobile phone. Then he came and told us that we might not be able to go down the Woodham flight the next day, and in fact might be 'trapped' on the Basingstoke canal for up to 3 weeks!

The reason? One of the lockgates on the Woodham flight was dangerously rotten and might collapse. If it did so while we were in the lock, there could be real danger of damage to the boat and personal injury. On health and safety grounds, they might have to close the canal with us still on it!

The next day, we started down the Goldsworth Locks, waiting for a phone call to tell us what had been decided at a site meeting at the damaged lockgate.

Eventually we had the news. They were going to let us down the locks, but we would have to get out of the boat while going through the lock, and it would be hauled through on ropes. In the event, it was very mundane, no drama, no danger. But we were the last boat down the flight and the canal has been closed since then.

It seems to sum up the negative side of this beautiful canal. The maintenance of locks seems to be on a 'fire-fighting' basis, lurching from crisis to crisis with insufficient finance, making poor use of the Rangers' time and efforts. What a pity – but at least we did see it all – really lovely!

Back down onto the River Wey and down to the Thames at Shepperton again, to be faced with a swirling 'whirlpool' of water where the Wey joins the flow from the weir on the Thames. It looked like our fears might be true and we would have to wait there for the level and current to subside. Meanwhile, 'Zindagi' was surrounded by foam!

After a comfortable (but rather 'wavey') night, we phoned up Sunbury Lock (the next one downstream) and were pleasantly surprised to hear that there were NO warning boards out and we could go on downstream – so down we went, and found moorings just a few hundred yards above Teddington Lock, ready to start at 6.15 the next morning to catch the high spring tide.

So here we all are in the lock early on Thursday. If you look carefully you can see that lifejackets are in evidence – these and an anchor are essentials for the tidal Thames. Six narrowboats and one big Dutch barge – and still plenty of spare space in this enormous lock. Quite unintentionally, we found ourselves at the front of the lock with the Dutch barge, and so were the first out of it and therefore 'leading the convoy' down this tidal reach of the Thames to Brentford Lock.

After the fairly strong flows on the river above Teddington, the water below was like a millpond with very little movement. It was just about high tide, but the ebb was due to start soon!

Very odd, being the front boat of this small flotilla chugging slowly down a quiet and empty Thames at this early hour!

It took about an hour to travel down to Brentford, and soon the still waters began to flow faster as the ebb tide started. As we had not been this way before and were at the front of the convoy, we had some uncertain moments trying to spot the entrance to the Grand Union Canal at Brentford, as it slants back almost invisibly on the left. When we had seen it, we had to cut across the ever-increasing stream and back against the current to enter the channel. Perhaps a little scary, but no real problem!
So, back on the British Waterways (BW) canals after a long time on the Thames and other waterways. We had left BW territory at Oxford on the 18th of May – seven weeks ago!

Wimbledon and Wildlife

Late June, sunshine (and showers!) – if we were back in Devon, Val would be dividing her time between picking strawberries and watching Wimbledon . . .

No strawberries to pick (and sadly we hear that the rain has damaged the Lapford crop really badly), but Wimbledon is still available! Here she is watching Tim Henman before he lost his match.

. . . and you get your first glimpse of the inside of 'Zindagi'. This is the view in from the front doors to the 'living room', complete with sofa, woodburner, TV and video. The bookcase is out of the picture on the right, and the washing is more often just outside the front doors!

Meanwhile, Dave was out looking for the 'other' end of Greywell Tunnel but found some other treasures first, while getting not-quite-lost in the woods. A Fritillary butterfly in the woodland sunshine and a young roebuck in a clearing.