Grand Union Canal. Cowroast to Uxbridge.
At Cowroast we moored Legend almost exactly where it was when we first came to look at it five years ago.
The lock was due to get its top gates re-aligned, so while we were away in Leicestershire counting cars, navigation was suspended for a few days until the stop planks were removed.
When we got back we were pleased to see that Bob & Mandy had moored Matilda Blue just in front of us, so after dinner we popped in to say hello and make some plans for onward travels together. We arranged to buddy up to do the locks down to Hemel Hempstead where Bob & Mandy were going into Apsley marina for a few weeks.
According to CRT’s website, the work on Cowroast lock was due to be completed by 6pm the following day, so we figured that there was a good chance that the stop planks would be out at some time before that. Sure enough, at about 3 when we went down for a nosey, they were running water through to fill the pound below, and they reckoned it would be all open in half an hour or so.
A small queue of eager boaters had appeared on both sides of the lock by the time it finally opened which, along with the gathering of work boats that had been used for the lock repairs, and the tap that both of us needed to get to being right by the lock, resulted in a fair amount of hovering and hanging about at weird angles before Legend and Matilda finally slotted in together.
At Norhtchurch we caught up with a young couple who’d only recently bought their boat and were heading to London. We didn’t really get chance to get acquainted because she’d just dropped her Iphone in the lock and was, to say the least, a little distraught. Bob had a go with a sea-searcher, but the turbulence in a lock and the lack of ferrous metal in an Iphone made it a hopeless endeavour.
At Bushy lock, just as Dave was pushing the front out to go in, a gust caught the back end and pushed that out as well. Dave still had hold of the centre rope, so everything would have been fine if he'd simply used it to pull the boat back in, instead of trying to lasso the back dolly with it. Needless to say, that did not go to whatever rubbish plan he had in his head. Lassoing something generally requires a bit more forethought than just "chuck the rope at it and hope for the best" And so, as he stood on the bank watching it, our Marie Celeste style boat gently drifted to the other side. Luckily there wasn’t a bramble patch of a slavering Rottweiler over there, so he was able to nonchalantly saunter across the lock and retrieve it, whilst trying to ignore the hoots of laughter from the rest of the crew who were almost wetting themselves.
By the time we got to Berkhampstead the weather was on the turn so we were very happy to find somewhere to stop by the park. It wasn’t deep enough for Matilda, so they went through the next bridge and got somewhere a bit further on.
In the morning we carried on down a few more locks to Pix Farm, where Dave had moved the car to, then in the afternoon all four of us walked down to Winkwell boat yard to see about getting diesel. As Matilda is a gas-free boat with diesel central heating, she gets through it at a fair rate, and after running out once, Bob likes to keep it topped up. Checking out the boat yard turned out to be a quite fortuitous as they were closed the next day, so with two hours left, we hot footed it back to the boats. Bob steered while us and Mandy worked the three locks to Winkwell.
Dave moved our car to Hemel first thing the next morning and cycled back while Ann-Marie prepared a casserole for our last meal with Bob & Mandy before we went our separate ways.
We worked Legend down the locks to where Matilda was moored and stopped for a brew before setting off together.
We’d planned to stop a couple of locks up from Apsley marina entrance, which turned out to be the perfect decision as it started raining just after we’d tied up. It didn’t last long though, just long enough for Ann-Marie and Mandy to prepare a scrummy fry up which we ate in our well deck. After lunch we wandered down to the Marina, where we spotted the boat who’s mooring Matilda would be taking. It was a smashing spot on the edge of the basin looking out over the canal. The couple on the boat were lovely and, as well as telling Bob & Mandy all about Hemel and where to eat and shop, informed them that they’d be vacating the slot at about 10 the next day. Perfect.
Later in the day we did a big car shuffle whereby we picked their car up from Cowroast and left ours at Cassiobury park, then we were all treated to one of Ann-Marie’s delicious steak & ale pies.
An early start the next day saw us down the locks and waving goodbye to our lovely friends as they pulled up at the marina entrance by half past nine.
There's some odd boats in Hemel Hempstead.
We weren’t on our own for long though; at King’s Langley lock we were joined by brothers Pete and Malcom on Nb N-Guage.
We shared the locks with them as we continued south, under the M25...
down towards Cassiobury where we stopped just before the bridge to The Grove spa hotel.
As well as lots of posh cars going up and down, we were entertained by the antics of a tree surgeon chopping lumps off one of the big trees on the golf course.
Mum and Dad dropped in for a visit in the evening; they were on the way back from a kit car event at Stoneleigh. The perfect excuse for some more steak pie.
Some nice ropework in Cassiobury Park.
Just down the canal from where we were moored the towpath changed from left to right, then remained on the right for quite a long way, so Dave got on with giving the tumblehomes * their annual rub down with the orbital sander to remove all the battle scars from the last year, followed by a new coat of black gloss the next morning. After going for a walk and with the paint only just touch dry, we had a VERY careful move down two locks to Iron Bridge...
*The word “Tumblehome” is actually a verb. A boat can be described as Tumblehomed when the upper decks are narrower than the widest part, generally just above the waterline. Historically the purpose of this narrowing was to aid stability and to allow small projections from the upper decks to clear the wharves. On narrowboats however, it is used as a noun and refers to the part of the hull between the top rubbing strake and the gunnels. The brunt of most contact, when mooring or locking, is taken by the rubbing strakes, but occasionally the tumblehomes find a sticky-out bit of bank first. Most boats have a few battle scars and we like to start each summer with a clean slate.
Over the next couple of days we stayed put while the new paint hardened off a bit. We used the time to move the car forward and go for walks in the nearby woods, all of which were carpeted with beautiful bluebells.
On the opposite bank was a moorhen nest; the eggs must have hatched just as we arrived and we were able to see mummy moorhen feeding her brand new chicks.
We normally boat with our fenders down on both sides, but in order to give the paint as much time as possible to harden, we made the move to Rickmansworth without them. The reason for having them down is so that when the boat is in a lock and bumps against the side they take some of the impact. The argument against is that as the boat moves into or out of a lock, they can get caught on ladders and gates or, in narrow locks, become jammed between the boat and the wall. We didn’t want them to get smeared all over the new paint so we left them off. After locking down to Rickmansworth naked, we are now firmly in the ‘No Fenders’ camp; yes, bumping into the lockside clonks a bit more, but without those lumpy bits the boat’s passage in and out of locks is a lot smoother and, if they don’t come into contact with slimy lock walls, when you moor up and hook them on, your fenders are nice and clean. On top of that you know you’re always going to finish a journey with as many as you started with.
In Ricky there is a short term shopping mooring right outside Tesco, so after filling up with water...
...we pulled in for a quick shop before moving on through the next bridge to a very nice stretch of unrestricted moorings backing onto the Aquadrome carpark. In the afternoon we had a walk down to Springwell lock. We didn’t take the binoculars with us, which was a mistake, as there were lots of waterfowl about, but it was a lovely walk round the lakes and back up the towpath.
The next day was Friday and the beginning of a Grand Weekend. Sound of the Sirens, the band made up of Dave’s cousin’s daughter and daughter in law – Hannah and Abbie - were playing in Farnham that night and we’d got tickets for us and Anne. We’d told Karen we were going, so she’d got a ticket too. It was all very exciting! We locked Legend up, jumped in the car and drove for all of forty minutes to Karen’s house. While Ann-Marie used and abused Karen’s washing machine Dave did some sewing. (More about that later.) Then, after Karen came home from work, we drove to the station where we met Anne, then drove to Farnham where we pulled into the Shepherd & Flock for a meal. We were just about to order, when Fran and Sean - two of Ann-Marie’s oldest friends – walked through the door. Unbeknown to us Karen had arranged for them to come along too! That fabulous surprise was the icing on a brilliant evening. Hannah and Abbie were tremendous – so professional with such tight vocals and stirring lyrics – it’s no wonder they’re breaking into the big time. (Glastonbury this year for the second time, as well as Carfest and Beautiful Days. Those girls are going places.) We all thoroughly enjoyed it and we got back to the boat with Anne at about midnight, tired and happy.
On Saturday morning, we took the car to the carpark at Springwell lock and re-did the walk round the lakes, this time with Anne and a pair of binoculars – much better, although quite a lot slower.
On Sunday the Grand Weekend continued. Breakfast was followed by a short walk to Uxbridge tube station, where Anne presented us with a pair of lovely shiny Oyster cards before we whizzed off into the city. First stop was for coffee and scones in Borough market (which was mostly shut, but never mind)...
...then an amazing couple of hours looking out over the city from the top of the Shard.
Anne had treated us to a trip up the tallest thing in Britain and it was the perfect day to do it.
We had clear views to the horizon in every direction. After that we had lunch on the South Bank, a wander through Festival Gardens, a walk along Whitehall, through Horseguards,
tea in St James’ Park,
a quick look at Buck Ho.,
and then a gentle stroll up the Mall back to the tube. A very touristy day and the taste of things to come over the next couple of weeks.