Uxbridge to Little Venice

Monday and Tuesday 26/27th April 2010

Zulu at Bulls Bridge Junction

Whilst the regulars have all desserted Little Venice, Zulu has deliberately made the journey into town, to be around and about during the IWA Cavalcade 2010.

We set off from Uxbridge after treating the dogs to a bus – train – bus journey from Burghfield, near Reading to Uxbridge.  I don’t think they minded too much but I was relieved that all three of us arrived intact just in time for another walk.  Exhausted, we arrived an hour or so after the walk, at Cowley lock where I decided to call it a day, fill up at the handy local shops and introduce the dogs to Cowley Park (well intoduce one of them, as the other has been here many times) and suitably exercised we all had dinner and collapsed into bed.

As a result of our early night we needed an early morning start so when the dogs decided to take me out at 5:30 I didn’t protest, and enjoyed a beautiful walk at this, the best time of the day (at least according to the dogs).

We left Cowley lock at 07:30 and arrived at Little Venice at 12:30 – its about 15 miles, so three miles an hour isn’t a bad average for Zulu.  The weather en route was superb – its hard to remember this is still April – and the thermometer inside Zulu’s cabin clocked 26 C this afternoon.

I was expecting Little Venice to be more chaotic, as the 14 day moorings between Brownings Pool and the footbridge opposite the Waterway Bar, and the 7 day moorings on the Paddington Arm up to the glass footbridge are reserved by the IWA between Monday 26th and Friday 7th.  Most noticeably all the regular moorers have moved back to Kensall Rise moorings, so in fact when we arrived Paddington was relatively desserted, and we found a 14 day mooring without a problem which is more than I could have said if I wanted to stay at Kensall Rise!  There was even one space on the 7 day moorings in Paddington Basin itself, but whilst very secure down there, it isn’t as nice for the dogs.

So here we are.  One of the reasons we are here for Cavalcade is that I am working on a trip boat over the weekend as well as being on duty today (Tuesday afternoon), so after a quick change and an hour of dog walking, I changed boats and went on a busman’s holiday down to Camden and back!

Winkwell to Uxbridge – we finally made it!

Tuesday 6th and Wednesday 7th April

Zulu is home!

On 18th December, the day the Trent and Mersey reopened at Middlewich, we set off from Middlewich on a three week trip to our new moorings at Uxbridge.  Almost 4 months later we have finally arrived thanks to ice and stoppages along the way but it has been a great winter cruise.

So the final leg of the trip was from Winkwell, through Hemel Hempstead where a “charming” boater told me that single handed boaters were the scourge of the canals, then tried to engage me in conversation about how he detested London as it had become a foreign city, staffed by foreigners to serve foreigners.  Fortunately he was heading in the other direction and he cheerfully told me to stay onboard and worked me through the lock – I thought I might as well live up to his expectations so did just that!

Easter Eggs all over the Hemel area.  Are they all gone now?
Easter Eggs all over the Hemel area. Are they all gone now?

All around the canalside in Hemel were plastic A4 sheets tied on with cable ties – remnants of an “Easter Egg” hunt and still flapping from trees, bushes, lock gates, buildings.  Many had obviously been placed there by boat due to their location.  I do hope the organisers are going to make sure that every single one is removed along with the cable ties as right now this looks a dreadful eyesore after only three days.

Once out of Hemel I love this stretch of canal as it drops down lock after lock into the wonderful surroundings towards Cassiobury Park where the dogs had a fantastic run with at least six others.  Cassiobury lock is one of the slowest I know, and one of the busiest for onlookers.  We certainly gave them something to watch as I met up with a boat already in the lock, despairing that they had picked up their rope on the propellor and after an hour still hadn’t managed to free it, or to find anyone who could do it for them.

So always up for a challenge when it comes to getting rubbish of props, I was delighted to be able to get them moving again within 15 minutes.  Plenty of practice I guess!

I travelled with them as far as Rickmansworth, stopping briefly to reminisce at the old moorings where exactly two years ago, on 7th April 2008, I picked up Zulu from her long term home on Batchworth Farm moorings.  I moored opposite Tesco, exactly where I stopped two years ago and took a walk into town for something to eat.

At Wetherspoons Tuesday night is Steak Night, offering exceptional value – just the job after a hard day’s boating and I look forward to Wetherspoons April Beer Festival taking place for the next couple of weeks. 

Back to the boat for the night, and an early start with the dogs next morning led us down the final stretch towards Uxbridge.  For many years Black Jacks Mill has been empty so it is nice to see it all restored as an up-market bed and breakfast.

Continuing to drop down the locks, I got badly caught out at Coppermill lock where a fierce side stream enters the canal opposite the Fishery Inn Coy Carp.  Its not like I didn’t prepare for it and steered right up into the current but I was taken by surprise by the strength of it and poor old Zulu’s engine was no match, so with an almighty bang we hit the concrete coping sideways on, but no damage was done – nothing even fell off the shelves so it probably felt worse than it was, but next time I will crawl along the towpath side if the river is flowing like it is today!

From there it isn’t far to Harefield and the long stretch down to Denham Deep Lock with its charming tea garden and lovely walks through Denham Country Park.  This is our new home territory – a short walk from Uxbridge – and before long we were passing our new moorings and dropping down Uxbridge Lock for a quick service stop at Denham Yacht Station and a night at the Swan and Bottle.

Next morning we finally made it up back up Uxbridge Lock and onto our new mooring.

The trip from Middlewich has been 208 miles and 219 locks.  I think Zulu probably needs a well deserved rest, for now!

Marsworth to Winkwell

Easter Monday 5th April 2010

Marsworth locks are one of my favourite flights in a beautiful setting alongside the reservoirs.  They are quite easy locks too, not too deep and in very good working order, so we made light work of them, meeting the first boats of the day at the top lock where a small queue was forming.

So having reached the summit level we were definitely on the last leg of the trip to Uxbridge but by no means there yet with still another fifty or so locks before finally reaching the end of the journey.  Somehow these locks fly by as they are mostly quite well spaced and in a variety of rural and urban locations which adds a bit of interest, dropping down through Berkhamstead which always has the air of a holiday destination, with a very popular mooring site in the town centre, lined by a park on the offside.

We made a quick stop at the canal side Waitrose where for a small fortune I got myself a reduced price meal for one and a supply of dog food, bonios, biscuits, chews and poo bags.   At least the dogs will be well fed!

It was so tempting to stop at the lockside Rising Sun but we kept going and arrived at the last locks of the day at Winkwell, where Zulu spent the first two months of her new life being repaired on land just after I bought her two years ago.

Another stroke of luck with the electric swing bridge as two boats were just coming up as I was coming down, so I got a free ride through without holding up the (very) impatient traffic here.  I moored on the long straight down to Boxmoor in the shadow of the railway line and took a walk back to the Three Horseshoes at Winkwell bridge for a couple of pints – another great dog friendly pub where we all curled up at the fire and dozed off! 

Today :: 9 miles 23 locks

Simpson to Marsworth

Easter Sunday 4th April 2010 

Busy scene at The Grove Lock
Busy scene at The Grove Lock

Here we are in Marsworth then. Its been a great run today as I set off about 9am and got here about 7pm so the batteries are well topped up, but TV reception isn’t great here and 3G broadband is almost non existent, certainly on O2 and T-Mobile, so I popped out to the pub for a couple of beers instead.  Note the reference to topped up batteries, which is something that seems somewhat uncommon here.

Marsworth is certainly a lovely place and I can see why mooring vacancies here attract a lot of interest, but I do have to make an observation that between the BW Marsworth Yard and the main road bridge, where there are currently maybe 15 boats moored on both Residential and Leisure Long Term moorings, at least half of them are running engines or generators right now between 21:30 and 22:00 – like no other place I have ever moored.  Normally running the engine 1 minute after the normally accepted 8pm deadline attracts mumblings if not bangings on the cabin side so I can only assume there’s some sort of local agreement that nobody will complain because everyone does it. 

Marsworth is such a picturesque location, with a great dog friendly pub, the Anglers Retreat, and a dog friendly coffee shop beside the bottom lock but its certainly not a peaceful place.

Punctures galore at Slapton on the Grand Union
Punctures galore at Slapton on the Grand Union

Anyway today has been very pleasant with a blue sky but slightly windy, and being a bank holiday the towpath was very busy with walkers and cyclists many of whom seemed to have had punctures between Grove Lock and Slapton due to thorns on the towpath!  A mobile tyre repair service could be making a fortune here! 

I passed Nuggler in the Soulbury Three Locks, on their way to the Lancaster Canal, and this is the first time I have seen the refurbished Three Locks pub which seems to be getting some good reviews since being reopened almost exactly a year ago and recently achieved Cask Marque status according to the local CAMRA newsletter.

I have become so used to working on my own that its a bit of a shock to be joined by another boat, but towards the end of the day I was very grateful to see one approaching in the distance, so I waited then enjoyed the assistance of the twelve eager crew on a day boat from Pitstone Wharf, and the last few locks of the day soon disappeared, leaving only Pitstone swing bridge to do before they returned to base.  Single handed this is slightly awkward as without an offside landing stage the boat has to be walked through the bridge hole but with good timing an oncoming boat had left it open for us.  I thanked the hireboaters for their help – all they had to do was to close the bridge behind us but when I looked back in the distance, they had left it open and despite my best “close the bridge” gestures, all I got was a wave back.  Doh!

17 miles and 17 locks – the end is in sight!

Weedon to Milton Keynes

Sunday 29th March 2010

Zulu at Cosgrove Bridge
Zulu at Cosgrove Bridge

What a busy two weeks since I left Zulu at Weedon.  I did return to the boat once, to do some maintenance as I remember being amazed that after 3 days the fire was still smouldering away, but being away last weekend and working yesterday, this was the first chance to make some more progress.

Its never a smooth journey when travelling on a weekend, and I made a terrible mistake of taking a train to Northampton from Euston at 6:30pm.  I should have checked the football before boarding a train to Stoke, full of course of jubillant football supporters foul mouthed drunks after Stoke beat West Ham.  I wonder if these people will all be off to the office tomorrow or whether they are professional yobs.

By the time I was getting off the bus in Weedon it was very late, just time to light the fire, get a takeaway and prepare for an early start on Sunday morning, on the night the clocks go forward.

Sunday was dry and sunny for the most part, but surprisingly cold, and the canal was fairly quiet until Blisworth tunnel where suddenly there were 5 boats all inside at once!  I met three oncoming boats and a fourth was following me, so I was pleased to have the company going down the Stoke Bruerne locks, especially when a whole troop of family members turned up to work the locks.

After that its a lovely long lock free run through Cosgrove and Milton Keynes, which is such a nice place to pass through by boat.  I was heading for Fenny Stratford, but after realising there’s no trains on a Sunday I made a split second decision to stop a mile or so before, just outside the Plough, in the company of a good dozen other boats.

In a bit of a rush to get to the station before the last train home I made a huge mistake of following a main road, whereas in Milton Keynes roads are for cars, and pedestrians need to know their way through a maze of footpaths and tunnels to find the nearest bus stop.  For the first time the iPhone really did save the day, as the mapping application not only found me a way to the bus stop, but told me it was coming and would arrive at the station with 10 minutes to spare.  It was another public transport experience from hell though, as the little 7E mini bus was absolutely full and hurtled round bend after bend tipping push chairs over, squashing people together,  turning the floor into a river of spilt drinks and generally making getting off a total relief.

A mere four hour journey from leaving Zulu I finally got back home, and not without yet another encounter with drunks, who took over the buffet car on the train from Paddington to Reading.  This being after 10pm, these guys were so drunk they could hardly stand, and their attempts to talk or sing simply turned into the foulest of language.  I can’t help thinking there is something terribly wrong with this country when this behaviour has become the norm for a weekend, especially when they thought it amusing to get off at Reading and pee on the train.

So here endeth an eventful journey, a really boring post and a lovely day’s boating. 
Total today: 27 miles and 8 locks.

Braunston to Weedon

Sunday 14th March 2010

Braunston Tunnel Cutting repairs
Braunston Tunnel Cutting repairs

Hi from Weedon.  Buckby locks were definitely open and the trip from Braunston was very nice – a bit breezy at times but the weather has been very spring like today so no complaints there.

The Braunston tunnel cutting repairs are very extensive, with a new concrete wall where the landslip had occurred, and although the canal is now open to traffic since Thursday, the towpath is closed, as are two thirds of the moorings above the top lock, so walking over Braunston tunnel is not straightforward at present.

Braunston tunnel - looking back at the repairs
Braunston tunnel - looking back at the repairs

Buckby locks are in pretty good shape after the winter stoppage (which still finishes tomorrow officially), and the gates are as heavy as ever, but all the paddle gear seemed well serviced.  I was lucky enough to meet coal boat Towcester for an impromptu diesel top up in  mid flight (I keep forgetting that Zulu needs fuel every now and then), and tonight we are in Weedon, where once again I will have to part with Zulu and head back south in the car tomorrow. 

Todays fun mostly took place before the boating – first of all a lovely breakfast at the Gongoozler floating cafe at Braunston, and suitably refreshed, I tackled a job which I had been dreading.  Zulu had a domestic fridge which no longer works but is too big to go through the doors.  The previous owner must have had it lowered in when repairing the cabin sides, and theres no way I was going to get it out by hacking the walls apart.

fridgeSo throwing caution to the wind I went back and literally cut it in half – using tin snips rather than a chainsaw as someone suggested (somewhat tongue in check I think!).  The resulting bits, while keeping the pipework and condenser intact, all fitted nicely into the car and are now in Daventry tip.  I had a slight dizzy moment when I jolted the fridge as I put it into the boot of the car, and removed a lump off my thumb, luckily just a small bit though and a dozen plasters later it is fine now.  It just shows how life can change withing a second, and in the heat of the moment I couldn’t even think where the first aid kit is on Zulu while wrapping myself up in kitchen towel.  It is now more prominent to ensure that it can be reached one handed, should any further call be made upon its contents in the future.

So here I am at Weedon instead of Milton Keynes due to wasting most of yesterday, but its a good enough place to leave the boat, and the delay has certainly enabled me to tick off yet another task from the list of rainy day jobs, so this has been an altogether useful and constructive weekend after all.

8 Miles and 13 Locks

Braunston – Chinese at the Wheatsheaf

Sweet & Sour Chicken with Beef and Green Pepper in Blackbean Sauce with Egg Fried Rice.  £8.00
Sweet & Sour Chicken with Beef and Green Pepper in Blackbean Sauce with Egg Fried Rice. £8.00

Now let me share a much happier experience. I have just had a most fantastic chinese takeaway from the Grace Chinese takeaway (and eat in) which is run independently of, but within, the Wheatsheaf pub.  I had a good pint while waiting too.

There’s no sign outside, and orders are placed at a sort of sideboard in a side room of the pub.  But it was doing a roaring trade and my food was absolutely excellent quality.  I had the meal for one  – how sad, but it came with fortune cookie (the first I ever had with a takeway) with the message “Your wisdom will find a way” . However I am still no wiser as to what this might mean.

They dont have a website, so here’s their phone number and address.  I highly recommend them.
Grace Chinese Takeway
The Wheatsheaf
10 The Green
01788 890503
Open: Daily at 5pm.  Closing at 10:30pm on Sundays, midnight on Saturday and 11pm every other day.

The long way home

Monday 8th March 2010

There’s still no bus service from Braunston on a Sunday so I had to wait until Monday morning before heading home.  It didn’t help a lot when I woke after 7am, as I was intending to get the 07:34 bus to Rugby and then train home.  But at what price?

(Another train fare rant coming on….)

Rugby to Newbury single, via London £73.50!! or not via London (ie through Banbury) £43.50.
BUT split the ticket into two singles,
Rugby to Banbury  : £18.50 peak, £13.60 off peak after 10.00
Banbury to Newbury: £14.90 all day.
Total £33.40 or £28.50 peak or off peak.  A saving of at least £10.10 or £15.00 after 10:00, once again to travel in the same seat on the same train.

Instead I took the 07:42 to Banbury which arrived late at Daventry and missed the connection, turning a 90 minute trip into 150 minutes.  From Daventry the bus was quite fun as it was empty to start with, but weaving in and out of the villages on the way more and more people got on, all of whom seemed to know at least half of the other passengers.  Definitely a local bus in every sense.  The total fare was less than a fiver, and I already had an unused train ticket home from Banbury, so that was an even better saving.  But due to connections, it took almost 6 hours door to door whereas by car its an hour and a bit.

I did enjoy the journey today, but if I was doing this regularly I would expect public transport to be better than this otherwise I would definitely take the car.

Fosse Locks to Braunston

Sunday 7th March 2010

Ropes frozen solid again
Ropes frozen solid again

Another cold start to the day. This time minus 9.5 and enough to freeze the canal yet again.   I certainly broke some miles of ice today!

Not much to say about the journey though, as it all went like clockwork.  I started very early and arrived at Long Itchington about 9am, just in time to see a mass exodus of boats, all heading the other way, until we caught up with two boats going up the Stockton locks ahead of us. 

At Calcutt the canal became so busy I had to think twice about whether this was March or mid Summer but under a deep blue sky and temperature barely into the plusses, Braunston was in sight by 4pm.

A lot of people seem to like it here
A lot of people seem to like it here

I spent the rest of the afternoon fixing things which had gone wrong yesterday.

I think I have a fair excuse for being tired tonight, after clocking up another 13 miles and 20 locks.  But another milestone in the journey, and here at Braunston 4 days before the canal reopens at the tunnel.

Tom O’the Wood to Fosse Locks. Water everywhere!

Saturday 6th March 2010

Zulu started first time this morning.  That is the good news.

The rest of the day has been very watery indeed.  I needed an early start to get through Hatton so 6:30 am it was.  Beautiful chilly morning with a lovely blue sky.

Wateryness Number 1.
By the time I got to Shrewley tunnel it was raining.  Boo!

Wateryness Number 2.
Shrewley tunnel is a bit drippy at the moment!  One went right down my neck – thank goodness for hoodies.

Wateryness Number 3.
The automatic bilge pump just went off twice in 3 minutes.  Are we sinking?  How on earth is that?!   Oh I see.  The stern gland just opened up to the world.  Nothing that a couple of spanners couldn’t sort out, along with a good dose of grease, but hey – it was dry as a bone last night so how did that happen!  At least the rain stopped and it was really nice after breakfast time.

Wateryness Number 4.
After an impromptu stop to tighten the stern gland I then jumped off at Hatton Station to pick up today’s assistant and dogs.  Ooops why is the back of the boat so low in the water?   Crikey it really is, but the engine bilges are dry as a bone….. with dread I lifted the carpet and found the cabin bilge right up to the floorboards.  Cue the wet and dry vac – for 3 hours as we went down Hatton locks I was preoccupied with removing about 150 gallons of water from the bilges and watching with relief as Zulu settled back to normal draught.  We were only down an inch or so, but that could equate to half a ton.

What caused this – yes our old friend the domestic water system had leaked the entire contents of the water tank – 150 gallons – into the bilges (again).  The good news is not sinking, but looking at the old water tank there was a lot of water under it.  I couldn’t understand why it had leaked though.  I have emptied it every time I left the boat all winter, and it was OK last week. Why!

Wateryness No 5.
There’s plenty of water at Hatton – pouring over the gates as we went down.  I wouldn’t normally have mentioned this but it gives me another watery point to log!

Wateryness No 6.
Dog number 2 fell in (for the third time in as many weeks).  At least he got out under his own steam!

Wateryness No 7.
I stopped at Cape Locks to try to fill the water tank again, and this time packed paper towels all over the place to try to find the leak.  It seemed to fill OK but towels under the tank were very wet indeed.  It kind of comfirmed worst fears that the tank really was leaking as opposed to a pipe or join.

Wateryness No 8.
Checked the water pump and it was leaking too.  Damn it.  This could be part of the cause of the leak but it didn’t look too bad.  Out with the PTFE tape and remake the joints and all seems ok again.

Wateryness No 9.
Quick thinking as we passed “Do It All” in Leamington Spa.  Get a garden water bowser as a temporary water tank.  They even had them in green to match Zulus colour scheme.  I spent another 20 quid on various bits which may or may not come in useful when fitting it.

Wateryness No 10.
Dog number 2 took fright at the wet and dry vac and jumped into his water bowl catapulting it all over the lounge carpet.  What’s another couple of pints between friends though?

Wateryness No 11.
While investigating the best way to connect new temporary water bowser to the water system, bypassing the water tank guess what.  I discovered that the water tank filling pipe was no longer attached to the water tank.  Elation!  Last night I had spent an hour filling the bilges while only a small amount of water had gone into the tank by pure luck.  So with a bit more luck I never had a water leak at all and the tank is OK.  All I need is a new jubilee clip to stick the inlet pipe back onto the tank where it belongs and we will be back to normal.

Wateryness Number 12.
Tonight I can’t be bothered to remove all the panels to get access to the water tank filler, so with a tap near our moorings I have filled the new bowser anyway.   At least I will get some use out of it then!

So apart from that its been a great day!  No really – it has!  The only regret is not stopping for a pint at the Cape, at Warwick, but something always keeps me going on without stopping till I am past Leamington Spa too.  Which is what I have done tonight, arriving at Fosse Locks where strangely and most unwelcome, Fosse Bottom Lock had a boat moored on the bottom lock landing and the top too.  Folks – when someone is single handed, which I have been since my Hatton assistant departed in preference for football over lock wheeling, they actually need to use the lock landings and it really doesn’t help when you peer out of the curtains incase I touch your paintwork or otherwise give you cause to complain.

So I think the word of the day, apart from wateryness which I think I have invented, is exhaustedness.  Which I have also just invented.  Fosse locks aren’t a good place to moor, as the main moorings are long term, but theres several spaces so here we are.  We will be gone by the time anyone wakes.

I kind of think Zulu has had her revenge during the last two days.  Everything is back to relative normality tonight.  We are warm and dry, watching tv with lovely charged batteries, and blogging away with an amazingly strong 3G signal in what is a most unexpected location.  At least something is going well today!!

Today? 12.5 miles and 26 locks.  1 tunnel.  12 waterynesses, 150 gallons of hoovering… and the rest is history.