Tuesday 19 March 2024

New Mills to Cassiobury Park. Grand Union Canal.

The day after we got back from Ireland we did a short hop down the cut to King’s Langley, then walked back and leapfrogged the car to Grove Mill. We stayed at King’s Langley for a week, going for runs in the mornings...

The former Ovaltine factory in King's Langley.

...visiting Fred and Ginger’s, our new most favourite coffee shop...

...and cycling the towpath for shopping.

Karma was clearly paying attention on the morning we pulled the pins and set off for Grove Mill. Ann-Marie put the washing machine on just before we left and within five minutes we ran out of water. Now you may not think that sounds like a very Karma-ish thing to happen - and neither did we - till we looked at the bigger picture. The next water point going forward was at Cassio bridge, much further than we intended to go (and rumoured to be horrendously slow) but there was one not that far behind us at Nash Mills. If the water had run out any later, or if, as we usually do, we hadn’t put the machine on till we were underway, we’d have been outside the boat and not noticed the gurgling and spluttering noises, or the boiler switching itself off, and would have arrived at The Grove with unwashed washing, zero water and the prospect of having to go down and back up the next four locks to rectify the situation. As it was, there was a winding hole just ahead of us so we could easily turn round and go back.  We have a rule; Never Pass a Working Tap, and we normally stick to it like Gorilla glue, but on the way down to Nash Mills, Nb Bashfool was waiting for us in the lock by the tap, and we were too polite to refuse the offer to share. This was where we went back to, which, although it added two hours to our journey, was a lot better than the alternative, and we met some nice people while we were there.

Taking on water at Nash Mills lock.

When we counted it up, we’d had eleven days at Apsley, two weeks at Nash Mills and a week at King’s Langley. Yes, we’d had a fortnight in Ireland in that time, and some time in Yorkshire, but we’d done piles of washing when we got back, so it’s no surprise that the water ran out when it did. In our defense, in thirteen years of boating, this was only the second time we’d actually, properly run out of water.

On our way to Grove Mill we slid demurely under the frantic chaos of the M25.

Dave used to drive for Freshlink. 15 years ago that could have been him!

It’s funny how your perspective changes on a boat. In LBL, (Life Before Legend) we hired a boat from Chas Harden in Beeston for a week and, along with Dave’s sister and brother-in-law, went to Llangollen and back. Big moves every day, going much, much further in a week than we’ve ever gone in Legend. When we got back to the hire base and set off in the car, we were all astonished at how fast the traffic seemed to be flying around. These days we swop from boat to car so regularly that we barely notice the difference….. except for motorway bridges. There’s something very calming about gently drifting under a big concrete viaduct with all that mayhem going on above you.

Two of the GU's pretty lock cottages

We pulled in at the first available space at Grove Mill, did a reccé further on, and then moved to a more open spot just round the bend. By then the wind had picked up quite a bit and although being somewhere more open was great for solar and a nice view, it made tying up a bit of a struggle.

Saturday dawned again and we did a second parkrun at Levesden Country Park. The park is on the site of the old ‘Levesden Hospital for Imbeciles and Idiots’ (yes, really) and nearby is the former WW2 factory where they built RAF Mosquitoes. The hangers are now the Warner Bros film studios, where the Harry Potter films were made, and include the Harry Potter Experience Studio Tour. All around the country park are information boards about the history of the place as well as art installations telling its story, with a focus on society’s changing attitude to mental illness, so after park run we had a mindful wander round before heading home for a big fry-up.

The RAF's Mosquito fighter bomber, "The Wooden Wonder"
Dave's dad used to mend them during WW2.

The Screen Kiss in Leavesden Country Park

On the Sunday we had a lovely day celebrating Mother's with Mum, Dad, Karen and River. Being ‘sarf of Watford, innit’ meant that we were less than a hour away from them, so visiting was dead easy, and meant we could stay for tea and still get back in time to warm the boat up before bed.

We were going to move on the next morning, but Ann-Marie pulled a muscle in her back climbing out of bed, for which she was excused lock-gate pushing duty, and it was chucking it down persistently for most of the time anyway, so we stayed put at Grove Mill for a couple of days. Up until that point we’d not really noticed that since Hemel Hempstead the Grand Union had gone from running alongside the River Gade, to actually being the River Gade between the locks. It’s only a little river; most of the time you’d call it a brook, and it normally just acts as a feeder, but after two days of rain at Grove Mill (there’s a clue right there) it became very clear that we were very much in a river. The trouble is that it still looks like a canal, so going downstream it can easily catch you unawares, and you suddenly find yourself running out of room on a bend, or being pushed towards a weir that you hadn’t noticed.

The mill race at Grove Mill being very  river-y

Our next port of call was Cassiobury Park, where we moored up in pretty much the exact same spot as we had done eight years previously...

...and went out for a walk in the spring sunshine up through Whippendell and Harrocks woods. 

The bluebells were sprouting up everywhere, it’s going to be glorious up there in a few weeks.

Cassiobury Park has a familiar history. It used to be considerably larger, with an ostentatious, grand manor house in the middle, hunting grounds, avenues and all the other kit and caboodle of the landed gentry but, along with many other lavish estates of the time, ran out of money, got sold off piecemeal, and finally - after being left empty and deteriorating - the house was demolished in the early 19th century.

The park - although only a shadow of it’s former self - is still rather grandiose, with a lovely Lime tree avenue running down to the canal and river at the bottom of the valley.

A clever information board in Cassio park.
The mill isn't actually there any more, but the transparent picture superimposes it on the bridge.

Moored by the bridge, Legend was perfectly placed for us to walk into the park for parkrun on the Saturday, after which we drove up the M1 to Derby to see our nephew Alan and his partner Vicky in their new house. We were their first visitors since they’d moved in, so it was very exciting. Dave’s sister Judith turned up for her first visit as well making it a lovely family afternoon.

Alan and Vicky put on a fantastic afternoon tea; we were stuffed when we left and they’ll be eating the leftovers all week. It was really good to see them settled, it’s a lovely house and we’re sure they, along with their vast and very impressive Lego collection are going to be happy there.

On the Sunday we volunteered for Junior parkrun. It was their first birthday, so we joined the team for cake and a very nice coffee in the park café afterwards.

March was turning out to be pleasantly mild when it wasn’t raining, so whenever there was a reasonable break in the weather Dave got out and began prepping the boat roof for a repaint. Because we use the roof so much for storage and plants it does take a bit of a hammering and this will be the fourth time we’ve repainted it. It’s a lot of work, but worth it to keep it looking tidy. Passers-by often compliment us how nice it looks especially at this time of year when the daffs and tulips are flowering.

Because so much of boat life depends on the weather we have become acutely aware of the changing seasons and love them all for their own unique qualities. However, Spring, with all its rebirth, cleanness, and its wonderful explosion of greens and yellows really does bring out the best in humanity.

It’s a heart-warming time to be on the water. 

Tuesday 5 March 2024

Hemel Hempstead to Nash Mills. Grand Union Canal.

Shortly after we got back from France, Ann-Marie went off for the final five days of her clinical trial, leaving Dave to his own devices aboard Legend. Before she went, we moved the boat down the next two locks to Apsley visitor moorings, which are in a Quiet Zone.

The restrictions on the board limit the running of engines or generators to an hour at a time which, in the middle of February, would have made life difficult if we hadn’t got a Lithium battery. Happily, the almost non-existent internal resistance of LiFePo4 means it can soak up charge as fast as the solar/genny/alternator can supply it. The majority of boats have water cooled engines which also heat their domestic hot water. Our Lister is air cooled so we have an instant gas hot water boiler and use a generator to charge our batteries, which is far more efficient. We normally run it every other day in the depths of winter, but we found that an hour every morning , along with whatever piddly bit of solar the panels managed to capture, was more than enough to keep our fridge, lights and pumps going, and even allowed Dave to run the washing machine when it looked like a decent drying day. Fast charging was the main attraction of Lithium; the money we save on petrol will go a long way towards covering the initial cost, add to that the benefit of a much, much longer lifespan than lead-acid and we should see a long term financial gain. It’s one of the best things we’ve ever done to the boat.

Dave spent most of the time Ann-Marie was away prepping and painting the tool cupboard door and the control panel in the engine room, matching them with the rest of the wood work in there.

He also walked up to Old Hemel (a complete contrast to the town centre) to have another go at Gadebridge Park parkrun, which we did on Christmas day. It was a lot less muddy and he got a much better time, and although it was still fun, he missed the Santa hats.

On the 1
st of February he had a big day out with his new bus pass, and went to Amersham and High Wycombe. 

He took a Bill Bryson book to read on the bus, had a really good time and came home with some new rubber mats for the back deck.

As we got further into Metroland, decent moorings were becoming rarer. In the morning before Ann-Marie came home, Dave noticed that someone was setting off from a good spot opposite Sainsbury’s, just below Apsley lock, so he hurried back, pulled the pins an moved down to the water point, before dropping down the lock and slipping into the newly vacated gap. We needed to move because we were off gallivanting around the country for the next ten days or so and didn't want to overstay where we were. Of course Legend not being where she’d left it meant that when Ann-Marie got back, she didn’t know where she lived, and Dave had to go and meet her in Sainsbury’s car park. Such is boat life.

About a year previously Bob & Mandy had invited us to share a week in Turkiye with them. Initially we’d looked at flights and decided it was going to be too expensive, however while she was incarcerated in the clinic Ann-Marie had had another look, and found that Easyjet from Bristol was approaching affordable, so we booked. As it turned out the return flight would be after Bob & Mandy came back so we also booked two nights in an AirB&B in Marmaris. We’re now very excited about that.

The towpath changed sides at Apsley lock, so Dave took advantage of the port side being accessible and gave it a good scrub, especially the gunnels which were looking very grubby. The paintwork is looking rather tired; this summer is going involve a lot of rubbing down and the smell of white spirit.

A couple of days later we were in the car and heading for northern parts. Our final destination was Carlisle for Dave’s Auntie Margot’s funeral. Obviously a sad occasion, but we used the trip to see as many people as we could.

David & Kate’s was our first stop for four nights. We were there to celebrate David’s birthday, which was lovely, they’re really good company, and although we were snowbound for a couple of days...

When it's snowing,

Make cocktails.

Golden Dram. Yummy

...we did managed to get out for a walk along the canal, reminiscing about our time up there last year. We had a coffee in the five rise café and the boys took Dylan for a walk round Myrtle Park; the scene of several parkruns when we were up there.

The fairy tree in Myrtle park. Oddly we never noticed it when we were parkrunning!

On the day we left, we spent the morning in Skipton with David & Kate and more fond memories, before saying goodbye and going just a bit further north to Long Preston, near Settle, for a lovely afternoon and evening with John & Maggie in their beautiful serene house, before heading to Carlisle in the morning.

Although the occasion was sad, the mood was one of celebration. Auntie Margot had lived a long and amazing life, and having all her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and even great, great grandchildren all together was never going to be a reason to feel sad.

One of her many talents was making Yorkshire puddings, something she did in profusion at any given opportunity. Any meal, from smoked haddock to cottage pie, got a Yorkshire pud stuck on top. All the family members at the crematorium had Yorkshire puds as buttonholes as a fitting tribute.

Auntie Margot would have been thrilled.

Unfortunately, even though she tried really hard and spent the whole day travelling, Dave’s sister Judith never got to the funeral. She came up from Derby on the train, changed at Leeds and got as far as Appleby - about 20 miles from Carlisle - before her journey was halted due to signal failure. At that point we could have gone and got her, but she declined the offer, putting her faith in a replacement bus service. By the time it became apparent that public transport in any form wasn’t going to work, it was too late, so she sadly had to retrace her steps while it was still possible to get home that day. On the upside, we did all agree that a Wood Cousins Gathering was well over-due and we should get something organized for the summer.

That night we were back at John & Maggie’s, then in the morning drove down to Hesketh Bank to see  Ann-Marie’s cousin Sue. She was doing remarkably well after a hip replacement, and it was really good to see her.

Back on board, we got Legend warmed up and aired while we got dinner ready; chilli pancakes, well it was pancake day…

…followed by Valentine’s Day! Dave surprised Ann-Marie with cinema tickets to go and see Wonka, (Valentine’s Day = Chocolate = Willy Wonka. See?) then we set off in the car again, this time to Mytchett for Ann-Marie’s heart health check/medical MOT, which she passed with no advisories.

We had lunch with Mum and Dad, then  spent the afternoon looking round the bike shops in North Camp with Karen and River, who needs a new 125cc Scooter. It’s been yonks since we browsed a bike shop and everything seemed to be so much bigger. We used to have - in a former lifetime - a 900cc Triumph Thunderbird, but that wasn’t a patch on some of the stuff you can buy now. 1400cc? I don’t think so! Dave got a bit nostalgic and - if he’s honest - a little bit tempted by some stuff, but we really were only fair-weather bikers; all that cold and wet malarky when there’s a perfectly good car just sitting there, with a heater and a nice stereo - well why would you?

Karen did us a lovely roast chicken dinner, then we set off back up the motorways. (Well mostly motorways. Night time closures on the M3 gave us a not very scenic tour of some B roads in the dark.) Cold boat, fire, electric blanket etc. You know the score by now.

A couple of days later we pulled the pins and left Apsley, dropping down the next two locks with Nb Bashfool and moored up at Nash Mills opposite the Waterways Experience hire base.

It was only when had a good look at the hire base that we realised it was also the HQ of the Hemel Hempstead Canoe Club and where we came to do a paddle board taster session with WRG a couple of years ago and where Ann-Marie lost her glasses after falling in. There's a link to the blog entry for that couple of weeks here.

We spent the afternoon packing our bags for another fortnight away, and in the morning had an early start, setting off for Birmingham airport via Buckingham for parkrun. We did our usual skinflint airport parking, on the road near the airport, and got the train into the terminal which, as well as saving £50, is a shorter wait and a quicker transfer than the Airpark bus. It’s only a short hop over the Irish sea to Belfast International; the cabin crew have to literally run up and down the aisle with the snack truck before it’s time to sit down again.

Chloe brought the kids to the airport to pick us up. What a gorgeous reception! When we got to Number Six they gave us a very excited guided tour of their new house and their bedrooms, and it was so amazing to see how much Chloe & Shandy had got done since we were last there. It’s nowhere near finished; there’s still a lot to do before they get it signed off by Building Control, never mind all the skirting, decorating and garden work that needs finishing, but it’s warm, it’s dry and it’s already a fabulous home. When it’s all done it will be truly stunning. Shandy had already tiled the bit of the kitchen under the units, and over the fortnight that we were there, he and Dave got the rest of the kitchen/dinner and the sunroom floors tiled and grouted, giving them a dust free, clean space to escape to. 

What will be the living room is - for the time being - full of materials and tools and will be the last room to get finished. Dave also built some stud walling in the en-suite and the “wee loo” (which, if it wasn’t a bungalow would be the downstairs toilet) to support the toilet bowls and house the cisterns. Both toilet bowls are wall hung with no pedestal, so the supporting structure has to be really solid, perfectly suiting Dave’s penchant for over-engineering.

While all that was going on Ann-Marie and Chloe, in no way conforming to stereo-type, set about cleaning the Bailey Unicorn touring caravan which they needed to sell to pay for the house to be rendered. It sold quite quickly with very little bartering, and was gone by the following weekend. They still need to sell the static caravan that they lived in for a year while they were house building, but that isn’t so urgent.

We helped out with the school runs, Ann-Marie spent lots of time looking after Matilda, playing games, baking and jumping on the trampoline, and we went to gymnastics class and climbing club class as well. So much grandchildren time! We loved it, and although Shandy was off work for most of our time there and Chloe was working from home, having Ann-Marie providing child care while the rest of us could get on was priceless.

On the Saturday in the middle of our stay we did parkrun at Mid Ulster Sports Arena in Cookstown, which was all tarmac and quite hilly. It was small and friendly and there was a distinct lack of mud, so that was nice, but we really prefer the trail paths through the woods, or round a lake kind of thing. However, it was a gorgeous sunny morning to be outside and running.

Home for brunch then we had a fabulous afternoon at Downhill Demense and Benone Beach on the north coast. It’s so good to have beaches within an hour’s drive, we were quite jealous.

Here's the fortnight in pictures

Building the cistern support wall 1.



Tiling the middle of the kitchen.

Followed by the edges.

Starting the sunroom

Second day in the sunroom

And it's finished

Everything grouted.
Caleb demonstrating the pro method of removing the spacers
A day out at Downhill Demense.

And Benone Beach

Nana and Matilda getting sticky with cake mix.

Caleb on the climbing wall.

It seemed like no time at all before our second week was over and we packing to go home. We all went out for a meal the night before we left, and did parkrun in Antrim Castle Gardens in the morning before our flight. The kids came to the airport with us, and there were big emotional hugs when we left them. Smooth flight, undisturbed car, easy drive, fire, blanket, bed. Is there an echo in here?


Brentford to New Haw Lock. GU mainline. River Brent. River Thames. Wey and Godalming Navigations.

We had just over a week at Brentford waiting for the Thames strong stream warnings to come down from red to amber, and we made good use of o...