Tuesday 2nd September. I woke early while the family had a lie in to recover from yesterday’s long day. Over coffee I mulled over the return trip. We had wanted to spend longer at Little Venice, but the tides meant that yesterday, or at a pinch today, was the latest in the week I wanted to do the trip up the Thames because of the uncertainties of mooring at Brentford. Still, we would be pushed to get back to our home mooring, and I still had some time off the following weeks, so I looked to see how close to home we could get to if we went back to Little Venice first. Berkhampstead appeared to be quite easy, so that became the plan.
I went for a stroll to have a look at The Fox and see what we missed last night, and had my morning thoroughly spoilt. As I peered through the pub window I was challenged very aggressively by a man climbing into his car, who I took to work at the pub. When I explained I was just being curious and that we had moored too late to visit his fine establishment he told me how dangerous the dogs round the back were. I stood my ground, asking him what his problem was and he just told me to **** off, then drove off. Mistaken for a thief, I trudged back to the boat, mumbling about it being every Englishman’s right to stare longingly through a pub window. That’ll be London, then.
A 10:30 start up the flight, with water cascading over the gates, we are through the first lock then wait for some descending boats to reach us. There has been a religious festival round here, as the locks are full of coconuts. We meet up with the keeper, who is trying to equalise the levels, and helps with some of the tougher gates. I’ve regained my good spirits by the top of the flight.
We reach Bull’s Bridge by 1pm and turn back down the Paddington Arm to repeat the journey to Little Venice. We make sure we are not steering the same sections and even give Elizabeth a brief spot of tiller training to disguise the fact that its less than three days since we last navigated the same slightly tedious bit of canal. Our other plan is to stop for a pub lunch at The Black Horse at Greenford, a hostelry that Fiona frequented when she lived in West London, and now extended considerably. We moor right outside and and enjoy a light lunch on the terrace. The sun beats down and lunch lasts more than the allotted hour, but we still reach LV by 18:20 and find a mooring closer to Brownings Pool. After a quick drink sitting outside the Canal Cafe, we return to the boat to eat and retire. 15.6 miles and 8 locks in 6 hours 20 mins.
Wednesday 3rd September. On the final leg of the Tuesday’s chug, I thought the alternator belt had started slipping again, so this morning I decided to adjust it, only to find it quite tight. I then decided to put a new one on, and change the water pump belt as this has to come off anyway. On the restart, however it was the water pump belt slipping, and I realised that the pump was leaking water from the bearing. I retightened the belt, but we need to take care until I could get a replacement.
Today we went to the Zoo – by waterbus! A great way to arrive. We spent nearly all day there only just catching the last waterbus “home”. The zoo is becoming rather run down and there are few big animals to see, but it was still good fun. There wasn’t much life in the batteries when we returned, via Cafe Rouge. 0 hours, 0 locks and 0 miles!
Thursday 4th September. A gentle start to the day, turning the boat in Browing’s pool and pulling up at the water and rubbish point, next to the new BBC Club boat Savoy Hill.
A long chat with the guy on board who showed us around as it was still being sorted out prior to next year. Greg Dyke had broken a bottle of beer over the bows at the “launching” yesterday. As Fiona is a member, she could have joined the section and got to use it, but my working patterns would cause problems. A nice boat. We then embark on the long haul back to Bull’s Bridge for the third time, and it’s getting a bit too familiar by now. We take lunch on the move, but stop at the supermarket at Alperton for supplies, then call in at the Uxbridge Boat centre again on the off chance they had a water pump, but no luck. At last, some locks! The weather is still nice as we moor up above Denham Deep lock, but the towpath is littered with dog muck. The tea shop has run out of ice cream (surprise!) so we take the footpath into Denham, despite the Golf Club’s best attempts to confuse us. Denham seems to be a village where your car stands out if it doesn’t have a personal plate, and boasts three pubs and a restaurant. We settle for The Green Man, where it is clear Elizabeth will be welcome. Good beer, although the food we chose had clearly been the product of microwave cooking. 19.6 miles, 3 locks, 7 hours 30 mins
Friday 5th September. Our first stop this morning is Harefield Marina to get the tank pumped out, where despite the inconvenient timing of our arrival is dealt with cheerfully – it’s their slipping day and boats are arriving to be blacked and so on. As we reverse out and try to get into Widewater lock my phone rings – my mother’s birthday yesterday but she was too busy enjoying herself to answer my calls. At the next lock we fall into company with Harnser – Brian from Norfolk from UKRW. We have a pleasant chat over the next few locks and I find out what his boat name means. Lunchtime coincides with reaching Batchworth Lock, and the cheap lunches at The White Bear tempt us in, with some convenient shopping at Tesco’s as well. The locks are getting closer together now and we are ready to stop by Hunton Bridge. We cook snacks on board, and the night is interrupted by rain. 15 locks and 10.9 mile in 7 hours 35 mins
Saturday 6th September. The final day’s cruising, along a familiar route, takes place in good weather. Locking up towards home we pass an almost fully loaded working pair – coal and diesel supplies from Ivor and Mel Batchelor. We stop for lunch again at Winkwell and walk into Bourne End where we are greeted in The White Horse by “We don’t normally see you on Saturday lunchtimes”. The explanation that we are on holiday only causes more confusion! The rest of the afternoon is taken up with a gentle cruise to Berkhampstead. We particularly noted how quite this part of the canal is when the railway is closed for engineering works. We were to regret this remark in the evening, moored at the park in Berkhampstead, as the engineering works were occurring just over the canal, and involved some very loud machinery. 20 locks and 8.2 miles in just over 7 hours.
And here endeth the holiday… because on Sunday morning I returned home for the car, not made easy because of the lack of taxis at the station due to the closed railway. Over the next week I returned to the boat to do some jobs during the day, the we began a series of hops to get back to the marina.
Sunday 14th September. We left a car at Bulborne and took my mother on a belated birthday jaunt. We shared a number of locks with a freshly spruced up trad that was making it’s way to an appointment with a film crew, pulled over for a picnic lunch and arrived at Bulbourne in time to get a decent mooring in sight of the workshops.
Wednesday 17th September. I indulged in a bit of single handing, tackling the locks up to Marsworth, then walking back for the car.
Saturday 20th September. Bit more of an effort this weekend. After dropping a car of at Fenny Stratford, we cruised, again in lovely weather to Grove Lock, where we tried out the new pub opened there. Not a drinkers pub, but very good, if not inexpensive, meals. There was quite a lot of noise from trip boats until quite late.
Sunday 21st September. Another nice day, with some pleasant company to share locks with, we moored opposite The Bridge Inn, despite kids throwing stones across the canal from the pub garden.
Tuesday 23rd September. A stint of single handing is now required, as I have to be in Ireland next Monday for work. I park the car at Fenny Stratford, and make gentle progress north. I stop for a lunch break and to fill up with water outside Milton Keynes Marina, which takes ages. Back underway, the sun is still beating down – this is nearly the end of September! – and after almost 2 hours of single handing I need to stop, so indulge in a pint at the Proud Perch. I’m on my own at Cosgrove Lock, but realise that I should have moored beforehand as the visitor moorings above the lock are 48 hours. I end up in a not ideal spot past the ornamental bridge, but there is another boat here. Then a small disaster strikes; I twist my knee climbing out of the engine bay and aggravate a recurring cartilage injury. I’m stuck on the boat with a leg I can’t walk properly on. It usually rights itself over time – 1 to 12 hours! – but today I’m lucky. After hobbling around the boat putting everything in order for bed, the fault in my knee clears, and I can take a very stroll into Cosgrove for a quick visit to the pub then return for supper and sleep. The following morning I’m up early for a public transport marathon; the bus from Cosgrove to Milton Keynes only runs every 2 hours, so I must not miss it. Then trains to Bletchley and Fenny Stratford to recover the car.
Saturday 27th September. The final leg. Lot’s to do in the morning, but we finally drop a car at the Marina and head for the boat – all is well with it despite the lonely mooring. The canal is very quiet even though it is a weekend. Notice that the prop seems to be fouling quite a bit. We decide to stop at bridge 57 and walk to the White Hart in Grafton Regis. Despite arriving early, we only just find a table for a meal. The pub is very popular, and the food is probably the reason – it’s not part of a chain, and fairly good value.
Sunday 28th September. A short run up to the bottom of Stoke Bruerne locks, to find the towpath closed as part of a scheme to improve the sanitary station. This makes getting to the lockside tricky, and the boat is moored so close to the lock that emptying the water causes Polly Anna to almost break free of the bollards. Once out the first lock I diligently close the top gates, but by the time I’m at the next one they have swung open. I see a boat start to enter below and make my way down to ask them should I wait, but they have another boat behind, Whether they don’t believe me when I explain about the gate, or because they have a very expensive looking Stowe Hill boat, they seem somewhat aloof. As we make our way up the flight some of their many crew walk past to inspect the next lock, but it doesn’t occur to them to offer to set it for us, speeding everyone’s progress. We moor for lunch past the museum and inspect the shop again while Fiona cooks some brunch, then after eating bacon sandwiches return to the shop to buy a print to be framed and put in the bathroom, covering up some screw holes.
We arrive back at the marina with plenty of time in hand, pack the car and head off home. We discover that apart from getting through Towcester, using the A5 and Leighton Buzzard road is a more reliable than risking the Sunday evening queues on the M1. So Polly Anna is finally home, and we plan one more trip before winterisation……
In conclusion, the trip down the GU is an interesting one, although I could have skipped doing the Paddington arm three times! The Tideway trip is great fun, and I would recommend it to anyone with a suitably equipped boat, although for a first attempt we certainly undertook the journey in the right direction. My worries about doing Teddington to Brentford see rather silly now. It may not seem like it from the report, but we are cooking more on the boat, and finding a 6 hour day makes it a holiday. Elizabeth still loves going on the boat and will soon be old enough to be taught to steer properly.