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. 

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