Friday 10 May 2024

Kensal Green to Brentford. GU Paddington Arm. GU Main Line.

We woke at Kensal Green to a cold, damp morning, but it was Saturday so we were up and out for parkrun. This week we were running alongside the iconic Wormwood Scrubs prison; home at times to - amongst many others - Charles Bronson, Ian Brady, Leslie Grantham, Dennis Nilson and Keith Richards.

We’d been looking forward to this one for a while; “We did parkrun at Wormwood Scrubs” is always a good conversation starter. It wasn’t easy, the whole thing was on grass - quite long, wet grass - with lots of ruts and boggy bits. It included a long incline, and when we weren’t going up hill we were running into a headwind. Once we got going though it was good fun - if a trifle moist - and we met some interesting people in the running club bar afterwards.

The drizzle had stopped by the time we finished so we walked back to Legend via the fascinating Kensal Green Cemetery. 

This is one of seven large Victorian cemeteries that were constructed around what was the outskirts of London at that time, in an effort to halt epidemic outbreaks caused by overcrowding of local church yards. Being located as it is alongside the canal meant that boats could be used to not only bring the dead out of the city for internment, but also for delivery of building materials for the many extravagant tombs and mausoleums. Among the residents, and of particular interest to canal-o-philes, is the Brunel family plot, final resting place of both Isambard Kingdom, and his father Marc Isambard.

Sunday was also a damp start but we braved the drizzle and walked to Queen’s Park for volunteering duties at Junior parkrun, after which we moved the boat on to Alperton. We stopped to get some supplies and have lunch while we waited for a particularly heavy shower to pass, then carried on, turning RIGHT at Bull’s Bridge... moor up at Norwood Green, about half a mile before the top of the Hanwell lock flight, From the junction to Weybridge, on the Thames, is one of the few remaining stretches that we haven't navigated in Legend. In the morning we decided to move on a bit to just above the top lock where there was better solar and Legend wasn’t sitting on the bottom. We walked over to Osterley Park (NT) and had a wander round the stunning bluebell woods and the beautiful formal (and not quite so formal) gardens.

After lunch we walked down the flight and found and even better mooring two locks down, so we did another little half mile shuffle, during which Ann-Marie got a taste of how stiff and heavy the Hanwell locks were, and tied up alongside Glade Lane park just before Three Bridges.

Before the advent of the railways, this was just where Windmill Lane crossed the Grand Junction Canal on - you guessed it - Windmill Bridge. (Y’see, this is why we need focus groups for naming stuff). The railway joined the party in a deep cutting, and now it, and the road, sandwich the canal between them in a mighty three tier construction, the last project taken on by I K Brunel shortly before his death in 1859.

The above photos show how the original - quite elegant - design looked, compared with how the bridges look now, with the addition of the ugly support girders that strengthen the road bridge enabling it to cope with modern traffic. 
The next morning we had a walk round Norwood meadows before setting off down the locks to Brentford.

It was a lovely day but the Hanwell flight was really hard work. The only traffic between Southall and Brentford is either going to, or coming from the Thames, so during the winter months these locks don’t get used much. Debris and rubbish build up above the lock gates and the recent storms haven’t helped. Ann-Marie had to deploy our trusty keb a few times to clear stuff from behind the gates.

At the bottom of the flight the river Brent joins the canal...

That's the River Brent coming in under the bridge.

...and with all the recent heavy rain it had dumped a load of silt at the junction. Another boater came along to warn us about it just as we ran aground in the middle of the cut. With Ann-Marie on a boat pole at the front and the Mighty Lister giving it the beans in various directions at the back, we eventually twisted ourselves free and carried on to get moored up in Brentford, opposite the big shiny GSK building.

Our first booking from Brentford to Teddington was two days later on the Thursday. However the whole bottom end of the non-tidal Thames was on red boards and it had been raining for at least part of every day for a week, so we moved our booking on, first to the Friday, and then when things didn’t improve, to the next available tide that we could make, which was a week later on the Saturday. That meant we were once again unexpectedly hanging about at a tidal lock waiting for a river to sort itself out. Just like Selby on the Yorkshire Ouse, Thrupp on the upper Thames and various places on the Trent, we had a week of twiddling our thumbs and spent a good deal of time either watching the telly, or the endless rain. We did manage to find some things to do while we waited though. We dug through our cupboards and found the external hard drive with all our archived pictures on which we knew must be on the boat somewhere but hadn’t seen for months. Dave did all his monthly boat checks and on the May bank holiday Saturday, after cycling to Osterley for parkrun, we stayed there and had a lovely walk round the grounds in the sunshine.

From there we cycled to West Drayton, where we put the bikes in the car and brought it down to Brentford.

Or rather we didn’t.

Driving through Hounslow, Dave put his foot on the clutch pedal, which went straight to the floor and wouldn’t come up again. We limped off the main A4 Great West Road Red Route into a side road and tried not to panic. It was a bank holiday, Dave had a blood test booked in Mytchet on the Tuesday, and Ann-Marie had a clinical trial screening to go to in Nottingham on the Friday. We really didn’t have time for a broken car. Dave had a quick look under the bonnet, but nothing jumped out at him so we rang recovery. Originally we told them we’d have it recovered to Dad’s, but then a quick internet search turned up a garage in Brentford that was not only open, but could take our car in and would have a look at it on the Monday, and was only a ten minute walk from the boat, so we rang back and got it taken there.

Oh Dear!

Tony at Carrera Worx was a bit of a gamble, but needs must, and our options were few. As it turned out we landed on our feet. After spending the Sunday looking at public transport alternatives to get us around, all of which were going to be an expensive nightmare - plus trying to decide how much our repair budget was, and what we’d do if the car was beyond it - Tony rang early Monday morning to tell us that we needed a new clutch and a slave cylinder and that he could have it done by the end of the day. It wasn’t going to be cheap, but it was just below our cut off point and it was a bank holiday Monday for goodness sake! What a star.

While it was being fixed, we got the bikes out and cycled to Little Venice where the IWA Canal Cavalcade was in full swing. It rained most of the way there and by the time we got to Kensal Green we were rather wet and rather miserable. We stopped at Sainsbury’s to dry off and warm up a bit, and to get a coffee. To our dismay, Costas was closed for a refurb, so we  damply traipsed around the shop and came out with two new umbrellas in the hope that the rest of the day wouldn't get any worse. The rest of the day had other ideas. As Ann-Marie was extracting her bike from the bike rack, she tripped over the stand and went down hard on the paving slabs. Dave was all for chucking the bikes in the canal and getting an Uber home, but Ann-Marie bravely gritted her clich├ęs and we carried on to Little Venice where, thanks to our new brollies, we had a very pleasant if somewhat damp couple of hours walking round the boats and catching up with some of our WRG friends who were running the event.

We did get a bit of a ribbing and felt very guilty for not having Hi Viz on and being part of it all, but other things and other people have taken priority this year. We’re sure we’ll be back to WRG in the future, we love those guys and we miss their company.

Another hour of damp cycling got us back home to dry clothes and a fire. Tony rang about tea time to say the car was ready, so Dave nipped round to collect it and parked it in a nearby side street. Tony showed him the old clutch, which was right down to the rivets. If the slave cylinder hadn’t packed up it wouldn’t have been long before it started slipping. Considering the possible alternatives, apart from the big hole in the bank, breaking down in the middle of London was surprisingly painless.

On Tuesday we gave our new clutch a proper test drive by going down for Dave’s blood test, picking up our post from Karen’s and then taking Mum and Dad out for lunch in Fleet. It’s lovely being less than an hour away from Ann-Marie’s family; we can easily drop in for the day and over the next month we’re only going to get closer.

From Brentford we’ll be going up the tideway to Teddington, then to Weybridge and up the River Wey to the limit of navigation at Godalming. That, for now, is the most southerly point of the connected system; it has been on our radar for many years and we’re very much looking forward to getting there.

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