Friday, 22 May 2015

A tale of two rivers

The River Lee was our route out of London, leaving Limehouse Basin, up Limehouse Cut ...

... and towards Bow Locks which offer a tidal route back to the Thames for anyone who finds the cavernous Limehouse Lock a little too tame.

It's fair to say the Lee is not at its best on the outskirts of London so we cruised most of the way out towards Enfield before we stopped.  Pylons line the Lee for a long way at its southern end and add to the impression that this is more of a commercial waterway than the quaint image of canals many people have.

There are plenty of moorings in Cheshunt and we stopped right outside the Olympic white water centre which now seems to be well used.

 We did enquire about having a go (no, not in Pas Meche) but they don't let you go near it unless you know what you're doing! That's probably for the best given the 'big boys' course looks like this:

From Cheshunt we had a short cruise up to Broxbourne. The weather obviously realised that we were on a (rare) river section of the navigation as it poured with rain most of the day.

The next day was much brighter so we pressed on up the Lee, passing the junction with the River Stort.

We climbed Stansted Abbots lock (tip for boaters, go carefully with the enormous gate paddles as the water flows are really strong in this lock) and moored in Ware for the night, which is a lovely little town.

We made it to Hertford on Saturday and after a look round we decided we'd stay another day. We had one of our occasional bursts of massive productivity on the Sunday and began the long and rather smelly process of oiling all the wood inside Pas Meche.

After turning at the limit of navigation in Hertford - I'll spare you another shot of Dave's 'concentrating face' - we headed back downstream to the junction with the River Stort.

The Stort is instantly different to the Lee, being narrower and winding and surrounded by surprisingly green, rural landscape right from the start. The other crucial difference is that the locks are only 13' wide rather than the 'standard' 14'. This means two narrowboats (being around 7' wide each) can't share locks and also means you have to open both gates at every lock rather than sneaking through one.

We meant to fill with diesel at Roydon Marina but hadn't appreciated from our guidebook that the marina is actually below the level of the river and accessed by a lock down to it. We had overshot the lock before we realised what it was. Trust me, it's amazing how quickly things happen at 3mph sometimes!

Nevermind, we headed on through Roydon, under a couple of low bridges (but nothing to worry us Basingstoke Canal veterans)

The second photo above is Roydon Rail bridge which we reckon is the lowest on the navigation so if you fit through this you should be fine the rest of the way (unless it rains a lot).

With the low bridges out of the way our growing duck family braved a ride on the roof .

Apart from Middlewich (the big chap) who we rehomed from a charity shop, and the little grey one at the back, these have been fished out of the canal on our travels.

After Burnt Mill lock (no sign of a mill so I guess the clue is in the name) the river turns twisty with a number of blind bends. This is fine until you get a large ball of fishing line around the prop and lose all power and steering. For once nobody was around to witness our embarrassment as Pas Meche gracefully sailed into the outside bank of a bend (with us braced for impact on the back deck), made a half hearted attempt to climb up out of the river and then thought better of it.

Luckily the Stort is pretty quiet so Dave had plenty of time to dive down the weedhatch and unwind all the fishing line off the prop. You'll have to excuse the acres of underpants in this photo but, as boaters will know, getting down the weedhatch sometimes calls for positions that would make a contortionist wince.

After a night above Harlow Lock we pressed on to the end of the Stort, passing through Sawbridgeworth and under the low Kecksy's bridges (which should be fine if you made it through Roydon).

Bihsops Stortford marks the end of the navigable River Stort and we turned at the winding hole before going to explore what turns out to be a really pretty town.

The next day felt like summer had made a reappearance after some pretty chilly days recently. The top end of the Stort is lovely and we enjoyed the cruise out in the sunshine.

Observant readers who are still paying attention will have spotted the pram on the roof. No, we don't have any new arrivals on board (apart from the ducks that is) but we were joined by Victoria's friend Catherine and her baby James on the way out of Bishops Stortford. Catherine dusted off her narrow boating skills from previous hire holidays and proved that women really can multi-task. Needless to say Dave thought it best not try and copy this tricky manoevre.

We are now gradually making our way back towards London. I mentioned in the previous blog that we had a decision to make over whether to cross London via the canals or whether to take the big scary shortcut along the tidal Thames. Well, we've taken our brave pills and decided to go for the tideway...

If there are no further updates to this blog you'll know that was the wrong decision! On the plus side, if we get swept out to sea at least our boat name will fit in over in France!

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Cruising the capital

What did we say last time about not believing what boaters tell you? Well, if you believe the moaners the Basinstoke Canal is supposedly unnavigable and London is apparently a grid lock of moored boats with no room for visitors. So with some trepidation we rejoined the River Thames in Weybridge, heading for the capital. We somehow ended up doing an uncharacteristially long day and made it to Kingston for our first night back on the Thames.

The next morning was spent readying the anchor and extra ropes and preparing ourselves for tidal waters, as well as the imminent arrival of friends John & Libby. We set off after lunch to get to Teddington lock in time for the tide. Please excuse John's ridiculous sunglasses in this photo, I'd like to say his fashion sense is not normally this bad but you really shouldn't lie on the internet!

We left Teddington lock with two other narrowboats and dodged some strange river traffic as the tide reached its peak around Richmond. One couple in a speed boat even stopped for a snog broadside to the tide right infront of us - there's no time for that when Pas Meche is on tidal waters!

Once again we'd accidentally timed a tidal transit for a spring tide (that's a really big one for those that don't speak tides) and the water through Richmond was over the Thames path in several places.

Around Twickenham the tide turned and we raced along (by narrowboat standards at least) at around 7 or 8 mph. At this break-neck speed the turn to Brentford appeared in no time and we spotted the sculpture on the left bank which marks the far side of the channel which eventually leads up to the Grand Union canal.

As we turned across the tide to enter the River Brent, a small dinghy emerged from the river and came upstream of us. This was fine until we saw the man frantically tugging at the outboard engine as it had broken down. Oh please, not now, we thought. Yes, the dinghy gradually drifted down the tide towards us whilst the woman in the front waved an oar at us. We're not experts in rowing but I think oars are more effective in water than in air. Anyway, we checked they were OK, narrowly avoided a collision and left them rowing upstream until they managed to restart the outboard.

After that mid-tide drama we were glad to get up Thames lock and the Brentford guaging locks to reach the calm and safety of Brentford basin at the very bottom end of the Grand Union canal.

John and Libby were worn out by their initiation into tidal narrow boating but we managed a meal in Brentford before they went home.

Setting off from Brentford, we climbed the Hanwell flight of locks with nb Ultreya who we recognised from the Kennet & Avon.

This is a nice flight of locks but boaters should watch for the vicious bywashes which come out right under the lock moorings!

After the Three Bridges, where a road crosses over the canal at the exact spot where a railway burrows underneath it, we reached Bulls Bridge and the turning towards London on the Paddington Arm.

After a night stop near Willowtree Marina in Southall we made an early start heading for central London. As we crossed the North Circular the wind started to pick up

and things got worse closer to Paddington - the boat heeled over a few times in the wind and we nearly lost the flowers off the roof. This called for some extra bursts of power to fight the gusts and polishing off those sideways boating skills - note Dave's rarely seen 'concentrating face'.

As we approached Little Venice things calmed down, until the steerer of a boat coming the other way failed to spot us due to the amount of junk on her roof and we had to summon all of PM's power (not much) to take evasive action and get over to the "wrong" side of the canal.

With some relief we found a mooring immediately inside the arm to Paddington Basin, and before you reach the 'wind tunnel' that the moorings in the basin often suffer from.

London Life

Paddington basin is a 7 day visitor mooring site so we made use of it to have a few days sightseeing and visiting friends in London. Here are a few highlights and cheesy guest-snaps.

 The Imperial War Museum - excellent, and free.

Dinner with Will.

Narrowboat spotting on the tideway near the London Eye - food for thought for later in our trip!

Coffee with Una.

Gatecrashing a swanky corporate 'do' at 20 Fenchurch Street (aka The Walkie-Talkie) to see the views of London from the top (open to the public after 6pm, free of charge).

The world's strongest man at the Science Museum (you guessed it, it's free to get in).

A visit back at base from Victoria's cousin Chris. Apologies to the rest of the family, who we also saw, for not taking any photos with you.

Wellington Arch (or most of it...) near Hyde Park with Alex.

Escape from London

After five days at Paddington we'd had our fill of city life so made an early start along the Regent's Canal bound for Limehouse.

There were plenty of boats moored but not many on the move, though that was no bad thing with three narrow tunnels to get through. The first was Maida Hill.

We were pleased to get to Camden before the crowds (the main reason for our early start as it can get really busy here on sunny days) and descended the three locks with barely a gongoozler in sight.

We have noticed that some boaters in London don't seem to follow the same etiquette as on the rest of the system. Speeding past moored boats is a hangable offence in some parts of the Midlands canal system so it was good to see one particular hooligan here got his comeuppance.

The scenery changes towards Limhouse basin as Canary Wharf looms into view.

Dropping down into the basin on a narrowboat you suddenly feel very small as Limehouse is home to yachts, motor cruisers and some pretty big ships!

We found a space on the 24 hour moorings on the wall of the basin and moored in time to watch another narrowboat go out on the tideway - the speed they take off with on the incoming tide is pretty amazing to see.

As for us, we've played it a little safer for the time being and have headed out of London on the River Lee today. We will return to Limehouse, where we have a big decision to make about whether to go back along the canals through London or whether to take the big, scary shortcut like the boat above!