Monday 12 September 2016

Lea and Stort Navigation. Bishop's Stortford to Dobb's Weir.

It’s now the beginning of September and we’re back at the bottom of the River Lea. The last couple of months have been rather hectic to say the least.

To start with, we had a lovely holiday on other people’s boats touring around the country visiting all our boaty mates, and a couple of non boaty ones as well.
On the Friday, with Legend safely moored just above Sawbridgworth lock, we set off in the car up the M11 to Nuneaton for a night with Kim Luke and George. We had a lovely afternoon in Atherstone where, on a whim, we went to the local tip shop and found the perfect lock for our back doors, (more about that later) followed by tea and cake in The Larder; a 1940s café that is worth a diversion from the cut if you are up that way.
In the evening Kim demonstrated her under-stairs cocktail bar to great effect.

On Saturday morning, after a ‘crafting’ session with George we set of to Wistow on the GU Leicester line to an excited welcome from Lindsay, Paul and gorgeous Jack who were moored there on Happy Daze, which was sporting a newly painted cratch board and back end.

The afternoon disappeared in a happy haze of bacon butties, doggie walks and laughter and in the evening had a BBQ dinner and sat out on the towpath chatting till it got dark.
The next day, for the first time since we bought Legend, we did some proper boating on a boat that wasn’t ours! With Lindsay at the tiller...
...and Paul and ourselves lock wheeling, Happy Daze was up the five locks to Smeeton Westerby, through Saddington tunnel...

...and moored up in no time at all in a quiet spot with views over the fields.
After we’d walked back to collect the cars we had another chatty towpath evening.
On the Monday Paul was back at work, so while Lindsay ran him in we took Jack for a walk up to the reservoir, or rather, Jack took us. He very much knew where he was going!

Back at Happy Daze, we said goodbye to the lovely Lindsay, then we were back in the car again. Our destination for this leg was Marsden at the east end of the Standedge Tunnel.
Following a three hour journey up the country, and with almost perfect timing, we arrived at the east portal mere minutes after Evolution had emerged from the tunnel.
Martin and Yvonne were just taking off their waterproofs after completing a three mile trip through the highest, longest and deepest navigable tunnel in the country. After hugs all round and the obligatory cup of tea, we jumped aboard Evolution to once again go boating in someone else’s boat! This time we were going down the locks on the Huddersfield Narrow canal.

We moored up by Sparth reservoir, which turned out to be not the best plan in the world, as the pound we were in was leaking quite badly. As darkness fell we had to push Evolution further and further from the bank to keep us level. In the end Dave went up and opened a paddle on the lock above us. That kept us afloat till the morning when we set off down to Slaithwaite (pronounced Slewit, if you’re local). There was a distinct lack of water in some of the pounds and at one point Evolution had to be bow hauled into a lock. Martin commandeered a group of passing walkers to help; they were only too happy to oblige!
That night Evolution was moored at a much more stable angle just below Slaithwaite lock. We phoned Jono and Nichole as they lived nearby and they came over to join us for the evening. they told us about their imminent move to Scotland to open a B&B. The future will be tremendously exciting for them, and we intend to go and stay next year when they open for business.

Next stop on our boaty tour was the Chesterfield canal at Shireoaks where Laura was moored on Large Marge. We had a walk up the locks to the top pound and an ice-cream on the way back down. What a beautiful canal!
It’s going to be awhile before we get up to the Trent and all its connections but we are looking forward to it immensely. Unfortunately Alison was away for a few days, so we’ll just have to come back again. What a hardship!

Back home aboard Legend we set off down the Stort, but we only got as far as the next lock at Sheering Mill where there was a fallen tree across the river.
Along with a Canalability hire boat we moored on the lock landing for the night.
In the morning we dropped down the lock and waited on the bottom landing while two very experienced blokes, a little boat and a chainsaw set to work.
By 10 they had the navigation open again and we were on our way to Parndon Mill.
We got moored up just in time for a batch of scones to go in and out of the oven before Kim, Luke and George came to stay. In the afternoon we all walked up to the lovely Harlow park, which has a big playground and a petting zoo. When Frankie used to live in Hoddesdon she used to bring her nursery kids to the petting zoo, and it was quite touching to think that we might well be laughing at the antics of the same animals that she had.
 Tea time for the Reindeer...
...and the Llamas.

The next day the Dullers were off early to go and support Kat in her London Triathlon while we had a lovely sunny day boating to Hunsdon Meadows.
While Ann-Marie did the washing, Dave started work on the new door lock that we got from the tip shop at Atherstone. For a while now we’ve been looking for a solution to the question of how to make the back doors lockable from outside, so we can use that end of the boat if we’re on a pontoon or breasted up. The simple way would be to put a padlock on them, but we don’t want to do that because a) the hasp and staple would forever be sticky out things that would get caught on every bit of loose clothing at every inappropriate moment, and b) nothing says “this boat is unoccupied” like a big padlock. At the tip shop we found one of these.
The nice thing about this is that unlike an ordinary Yale type of lock, because it has a roller rather than a latch, slamming it shut doesn’t lock you out; you can only lock it by extending the roller into the socket, which you do by turning either the key or the lever on the inside. So it’s a cross between a roller catch and a mortice lock and perfect for what we want. Retail price £38. Atherstone tip shop price £2:50. Even with the purchase of a 29mm hole saw from Toolstation it was still a bargain.

Diane and Richard had invited us to come and stay with them in their caravan at Beeston Regis, near Sheringham. They call it their ‘Hide’and it’s a lovely home from home in a beautiful spot next to the Beeston Bump overlooking the sea. Diane and Richard provide a dog sitting service as an alternative to kennels, and have a succession of regular ‘holiday dogs’ that come to live with them.  We had a fabulous couple of days with them, walking along the north Norfolk coast with Benji, their current ‘holiday dog’.

Legend was moored for a couple more days at Hunsdon Meadows before we pulled the pins again and returned to the River Lea at Field’s Weir...
...where we were able to indulge in the novelty of sharing the lock! (On the Stort, although they look wide, the locks are only 13’. Narrowboats flap around in them like loose teeth, but you can’t actually get two in side by side.)

We pulled in for water just below the lock on the slowest tap on the network. By the time we’d filled the tank, we’d both had a shower, boiled up some blackberries and hung them up to strain for jelly, had a cup of tea and telephoned CRT to report a blocked elsan. After that we pootled on down to our most frequented mooring this year at Dobbs Weir where we tied up and had a very hot afternoon crashed out with all the doors open and the top windows out.

We’d seen some flyers for a Village Hall Market at Roydon on the Saturday, so on the way back for the car we went for a gander. To say it was small would be an insult to small things, but what was there was all good and we came home with some very tasty looking chipolata sausages from a local pig farm.

Although we’d walked back for the car fairly regularly, we hadn’t been for a proper walk for ages, so the next day we drove to Broxbourne Woods where we followed the butterfly signs round the 11 mile circular NNR route.
These are very ancient woodlands; some of the paths are pre-roman and the woods are primarily oaks and hornbeams. The contrast between the stout, solid, angular oaks and the sinuous, almost muscular hornbeams is quite stunning.

This woodland is the furthest north that hornbeams grow so it wasn’t surprising that we didn’t know what they were to start with.
The other thing that we had to google was a coal post. There was one in the middle of the path, looking very much like a city of Westminster bollard.
They used to be a ring of these posts around London and it was here that duty was charged on coal and wine entering the capital. This duty paid for most of the bridges over the Thames. Here’s a link.

The following morning we locked the boat up and set off to Karen’s for the night before Dad took us to Gatwick to catch our flight to Belfast and a week in Antrim with Chloe & Shandy.   

Thursday 28 July 2016

River Lee. River Stort. Hertford to Bishop's Stortford.

After just one night in Hertford we were off downstream again. Despite a small altercation with a totally unreasonable fisherman we had a lovely trip down to Ware. The problem seemed to stem from the fact that at Hertford lock there wasn’t a notice with “DO NOT BE AN IDIOT” in big red letters on it.
It's not the best photo, but you can see his rods on the lock landing, exactly where they were when we arrived. Numpty. 

Just below Ware Lock the vegetation crew had taken down an Ash tree and put a pile of handy sized bits on the side of the towpath. Pulling in was a bit of a fiddle and meant grounding the front end then deploying the gang plank but we managed it ok. Once we’d got as much as we’d got room for Ann-Marie poled the front off and we backed out into the river – just as another boat came round the corner. Of course. The Ash is now happily seasoning ready for winter.
Our arrival in Ware happily coincided with the annual Ware River Festival. The moorings for the festival were above the town bridge, and by the Saturday morning they were four abreast.
We were moored away from the action on the outskirts of town but still close enough to enjoy it all.
There was a parade of decorated boats on Saturday; they all came downstream to where we were moored before winding in every-which-way...
...and then processing back through the town.
The theme was Roald Dahl so there were Jameses and peaches, several Willy Wonkas and more Umpalumpas than you could shake a snozcumber at.

It was brilliant!

Ann-Marie had a few days away again, so Dave continued the wall and ceiling upgrade in the bathroom. As well as sanding and revarnishing, he built a little bathroom cupboard to replace the horrid shelf that everything falls off every time the boat moves.
In the middle of all that, Dave’s phone lost the ability to read its sim card. Considering that its other attributes as a camera, a GPS locator and an internet portal were all covered by other devices, and in far superior ways, this lack of actually being a phone made it succinctly redundant.
With Ann-Marie back home again we carried on downstream...
past the junction with the Stort, through Feild's Weir Lock and back to the new rings at Dobb’s Weir.
With its car park and reasonably secure location it has become our ‘go to’ mooring when we want to leave Legend for any length of time.

We’d decided to treat ourselves to a little holiday. Yes, we know our life is one big holiday, but as our fifteenth wedding anniversary was coming up we thought it was a good cause for a celebration. So, we swapped one waterway network for another and went off to Venice for four days.
We stayed in Mestre and caught the bus into Venice each day. We had one day walking around the entire city, one day on the islands of Murano, Burano and The Lido, one day riding the fabulous rockin’-all-over-the-place water busses, and on the last day we were back on foot in the alleyways, revisiting the canals, bridges, bars, plazzas and campos that we’d fallen in love with on day one.
There will be photos here shortly.

After a delayed red-eye back to Stanstead we returned to our little hardly-rockin’-at -all boat, both completely shattered at about 2am. We gave ourselves a day of doing absolutely nothing to get over it, then winded below the lock before heading back up to Feild's Lock where we finally turned across the top of the huge weir onto the Stort.
Commercial transport stopped on the Stort a long time before the Lee. That might have had something to do with the locks; at 13’6” they are considerably wider than a narrowboat, but not quite wide enough for two.  
It is also has a much more rural feel to it after the Lee.
We stopped for lunch near the station at Roydon...
...then bought a yummy ice-cream at Hunsdon Mill which we ate on the way up to Parndon Mill.

The mooring we’d spied was already taken so we got as close to the bank as we could just after it and tied up with the gangplank out.
In the evening we walked back along the towpath to Dobb's Weir for the car.

The next morning Dave went for a walk up the river and found a very nice length of Armco just beyond the next bridge about 100yards away so, after breakfast we put the gangplank away and shuffled up a bit.
Much better.

In the afternoon we had a run down to Karen’s for post and a prescription, then, very generously, Mum & Dad took us out for a meal to celebrate our anniversary. Karen & Andrew and Wendy came along as well and we had a terrific evening. As the weather forecast was rain free, we’d left the washing out when we set off. When we got back at 1am it was all quite dry but, rather weirdly, one of Ann-Marie’s bras was missing. We can only think of two scenarios; either it got caught on something and fell in the river, where it will lurk till it gets caught around someone’s prop, or it’s been nicked. We don’t know which of these is the most unsavoury.

After two weeks of silent running and almost perpetual research, Dave finally decided upon - and ordered – a new phone. On the same day Ann-Marie sorted out our car insurance and we had our first towpath barbeque of the year.
What a good day!

Since it stopped grinding corn, Parndon Mill has re-invented itself as a suite of studios which, once a year, hold an open weekend when the public are welcome to look around.
We just happened to pick that weekend to be there! How cool. There are potters, artists, jewellers, glass blowers, a blacksmith, an amazing guitar maker  and lots other highly skilled, creative people all happy to discuss their crafts and answer questions. We had a fantastic few hours there talking to them and being educated by them.
The blacksmith owns and has built the entire superstructure of this converted Dutch barge.
It’s not rusty from neglect,  but a trick employed by boat builders of old. Because it’s going to be grit blasted before painting it’s been left unprotected as rust is a lot easier to blast off than the mill scale that coats new steel.

The next day was a scorcher. We had planned to pootle up the river and stop at Harlow Mill, but when we got there the moorings were full, so we carried on to Sheering Mill, near Sawbridgeworth, the next place that looked like it might have car access. This turned out to be correct. Despite having Legend’s back end hanging out in the river...
...the moorings were very pleasant with good solar and a handy carpark.
Sawbridgeworth itself proved to be a lovely little town with a splendid church and a local shop that was doing half price Magnums. What’s not to like?

Diane came to see us the following morning. In readiness for her arrival Ann-Marie made sausage rolls and scones and as it was another blisteringly hot day we, along with a couple of huge carp, sat around doing very little all day apart from eating.
We certainly seemed to have brought the glorious weather back from Italy with us as one hot sunny day followed another. Thankfully, on the Wednesday morning there was a bit of a breeze, so we were able to walk up to Bishop’s Stortford to have a look at the moorings and pick up Dave’s new phone which Amazon, at our request, had delivered to the post office there. Despite spending the hottest part of the day in Wetherspoons downloading apps, it was still roasting on the way back. That evening we had a candlelit dinner in the well deck listening to our music.

During the summer we've got used to travelling with our tallest plants in the well deck... the belief that everything else would be ok, but at Spellbrook lock we came to the lowest bridge on the Southern Waterways and it was a bit of a scrape going through.

The visitor moorings at Bishops Stortford were better than we’d expected.
They weren’t the prettiest in the world and they were right in the middle of the town making them a bit noisy, but there were good rings, easy access and it felt safe enough, so we decided to go and have a week there anyway. (We need to be away from Sawbridgeworth for a while so we can go back and leave Legend there, while we go off in the car for five days to see all our mates, without overstaying.)
There were lots of useful shops in Stortford. Always a danger as we find ourselves drawn to supermarkets in the early evening.

In order to complete a plan that’s been hatching for a while, we got a new hosepipe for drinking water and demoted our old one to plant watering via the auxiliary bilge pump.
That works very well, as we’d hoped it would, and saves numerous trips down the gunnels lugging the watering can.

Fortunately (for us anyway) we managed to arrive at Waitrose just as they were in the middle of a crisis due to a complete refrigeration failure. The staff were frantically clearing the shelves of most of the perishables, but there was just no room in the back for the prepared sandwiches so they were giving them away. Oh dear, how sad.

Since we came back from Venice we’ve both had really nasty summer colds, first Dave, and then just as he was getting better and we thought she’d got away with it, Ann-Marie came down.
Hopefully, by next weekend when we set off in the car on our grand tour, we’ll both be as fit as fleas again.
Here's some pretty pictures of Hertfordshire and Essex.

New Haw Lock to Boveney. River Wey. River Thames.

After pulling the pins at New Haw we dropped down the last four locks on the Wey... Cox's Mill Lock Town Lock The final stretch of the W...