Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Little Tring (the joys of shallow canals)

On the previous entry I mentioned that we had moored halfway down the Wendover arm for Sunday night and that it was very shallow.  Well overnight, the pound dropped somewhat and when we awoke on Monday morning, we had settled on the bottom and were at quite an angle – I’m sure I’d have rolled out of bed if Karen wasn’t in the way 😉

I went outside and slackened the lines right off and managed to get the front free and pushed out to the middle of the cut.  The stern wasn’t budging so it would need both of us to sort it out.  We decided to put up with the weird angle inside and had tea and coffee first.  It’s strange how disconcerting it is to be at an angle and how the brain doesn’t adjust; we thought we would be used to it by now.  Even though we know the boat is at an angle we find it difficult to compensate and often stagger around and bump into things.

It took us a while to get the back free and the most effective approach was for both of us to hang off the boat, over the water, on the side opposite where the boat was grounded.  Whilst we were freeing the boat a CRT enforcement officer came past.  We asked if there were boats moored further down and he told us the end was completely free and there were just two moored either side of Little Tring bridge.  As we have always wanted to moor right at the end we set off.

The Heygate flour mill on the Wendover arm
Immediately after setting off we were passing a flour mill.  It’s such an incongruous building as the arm is so rural and then all of a sudden, this building appears.  I say all of a sudden, but it takes ages to go past as the water is so shallow and it’s particularly difficult finding the right channel around the mill.  I lost count of the times we had to reverse and retry a manoeuvre in order to move forwards. We couldn’t believe we got down the arm in our previous boat which, at 70’, was 13’ longer.

The flour mill was originally a windmill built in 1875.  Apparently, it was operated by two men milling half a ton of grain an hour.  Today’s automated mill still only requires two men to operate but they mill more than 12 tons an hour.

Back in the countryside after the flour mill
After a while we were passing Tringford pumping station which used to house two steam engines pumping water from the reservoirs below into the Grand Union canal.  The steam engines have now been replaced by modern electric pumps.  The Wendover arm was originally built in 1793 as a feeder to the reservoirs as there was plenty of fresh running water available at Wendover. 

As it happened, the feeder was converted to a commercial canal and opened to horse drawn freight in 1799 which operated until 1904 when the arm was closed as it leaked more water than it carried to the reservoirs.  A pipeline was installed in 1912 so that the water available at Wendover could still be used to fill the reservoirs at Marsworth.

The Wendover arm meets the Grand Union at its summit, known as the Tring summit, which, at 390’ above sea level, takes the canal over the Chilterns on its way from Birmingham to London.

Remains of the gates from an old stop lock just beyond Tringford pumping station
The stop lock was installed in 1800 to help save water and it was said that the canal company would not guarantee a navigable depth of water for the barges working down to Wendover after going through the lock.

It took a long time for us to reach the end but, as the CRT enforcement guy said, there was no one else moored there so we had the pick of the spots.

Happy to be moored on our own again

Our view from the current end of the navigation
 The Wendover arm trust is very active in restoring the complete arm and has several sections in water but as yet only this first section is connected to the main system.

Plaque at the current end of navigation
After lunch we went for a walk, taking in part of the dry section of the arm and were surprised how deep it looked following the shallowness we had encountered in the watered section earlier in the day.

Tuesday was still dry, but the wind was up a bit and we walked the six miles or so into Wendover along the route of the original canal.  The following picture shows the route of the canal from our navigation book.  The dotted blue line is where there is no water currently and we are moored just at the top end of that dotted line.

The complete Wendover arm
The first section we walked along has been drained and the canal bed and sides are being re-laid by the volunteers in conjunction with the Inland Waterways Association.

Part of the canal bed that has been re-laid

Plaques on a bridge commemorating donors and volunteers

A sluice gate has been replaced in existing brickwork
After the initial dry section, the remaining five miles were still in water, albeit in different states of repair.  Some lengths had been re-laid recently and had a good depth of water in, some lengths were very shallow but cleared of undergrowth and reeds, whilst others were covered in vegetation.

We stopped for a picnic on one of the many benches that commemorate dead volunteers or donors.  This was on a straight stretch by Halton Camp (the RAF base) called, ‘The Narrows’.  It was also at a point where a clear section turned into an overgrown section.

Buddy interested in our lunch
Buddy is very good and won’t beg for or take our food, but we have noticed a change in his behaviour since his bout of gastroenteritis.  You may remember that after he hadn’t eaten for three days, we boiled some chicken and gave it to him.  We did it slowly, a tablespoon at a time, every hour or so over a couple of days.  Since then he knows the smell of cooked chicken and whenever we have any, he becomes very inquisitive and looks at us in a way that seems to say, “Don’t you remember that I like that?”

Fortunately, when the new A41 was built, an allowance was made for the waterway and a culvert was built that is large enough for narrowboats.  There are, however, a couple of bridges that will have to be replaced before the navigation can be reopened.

Bridge at Aston Clinton: one of the bridges that will need replacing with another structure or maybe even a lift bridge
A bit further on a new bridge had been added in the 1880s – we could tell because it had a letter suffix to its number – 8a.  It had been added between bridges 7 and 8.  The custom of adding suffices to new bridges is fairly common across the country and not many canals have had their bridges completely renumbered.  It does get quite unwieldy in cities like London and Manchester where it is not unusual to see bridges numbers like 145aab.

Anyway, bridge 8a which is also known as Rothschild’s bridge was added when the then Lord Rothshild constructed Halton House.  Halton House is now used as the officers’ mess for RAF Halton.

Rothschild’s bridge 8a
Just by the bridge was one of the only two mileposts we found for the Wendover arm and you can just see it to the right of the towpath above.  A mile further we came across the other milepost.

Six miles from the start of the arm back up at Bulbourne

The end in Wendover
The end of the canal in Wendover; the area is still called Wendover Wharf although most of the houses were built long after the canal became disused.  We popped in for a cuppa at Ann’s and then she gave us a lift home.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Tring Wharf (what a lot of gongoozlers)

Over coffee on Friday morning, Karen pointed out that we have never been to Northampton on the boat.  As we need to head in that general direction to be craned out in March, we may well have a little explore over our last week or so in the UK. 

Friday was food shopping day, so Karen and Buddy ran the 6 ½ miles into Aylesbury and I followed later in the car.  I picked them up at the basin which was still quiet; apart from Liz’s boat and her trip boat there was only one other boat on the pontoons.  That was one that was there when we arrived on December 1st so I can only assume he has an arrangement with CRT as the pontoon moorings are limited to 14 days.

We popped into the supermarket on the way back by which time it was lunchtime.  We needed to get water – well, we could have waited another couple of days, but Ann was visiting us on Saturday.  We were planning on having a roast lunch which creates a lot of washing up, therefore we wanted to make sure we had plenty of water.

Getting water from this week’s mooring in Marsworth entails a 1 ½ mile cruise including going down and back up a lock.  The nearest water point is about ¼ mile behind us, so we have to find somewhere to turn first.  There used to be a winding hole the other side of the bridge where we are moored but it has long since silted up.  This means travelling further on to a pair of locks, down the first lock and then turning in the pound between the locks before coming back up again, past where we were moored, past the water point, turn at Marsworth junction, get water and back to our mooring. 

The pound where we winded before heading back into Marsworth
We were soon back into Marsworth and heading past where we have been moored since Monday.  We then reached Marsworth junction where the Aylesbury arm heads west into Aylesbury.  This is a nice wide junction and therefore easy to wind in.  After turning yet again we were soon at the water point.  After filling up it was back to the same place we had left a couple of hours earlier.  Spot the difference…

…before we left for water and…

…after we got back
The difference can’t really be seen but the boat is lower in the water at the front in the second picture as it has a full water tank!  Although we didn’t cruise very far we still saw some kingfishers, although to be honest, we may counted one of them twice.

Karen’s suggestion about taking a trip up to Northampton had been preying on my mind all day and later on I suddenly realised why.  I had a look at the winter stoppages and found the Northampton arm is closed for maintenance from 28th January until 15th March.  As it happens that won’t matter as it gives us plenty of time, after the arm reopens, to get into Northampton and back to Gayton (at the start of the Northampton arm) by 25th March, our craning out date.

So, we will stay in this general area for a few more weeks with a few car/train trips visiting family and friends before we leave.  A week or so into March we will start heading north up through Milton Keynes and, at Gayton junction, turn off to Northampton.  We will also stop off at Bletchley Park, which is just before Milton Keynes, as we still haven’t made a visit there. 

The map below shows the general Marsworth area.  “Home” is where we are currently moored, and the dark blue line is where we cruised up and down today.   The Aylesbury arm heads off to the west from Marsworth junction.  The Wendover arm leaves the Grand Union a bit further down at Bulbourne junction.  Some of the reservoirs that feed this part of the Grand Union can be seen at Tringford (mis-spelled Tringforde) and Wilstone Green.  The services where we got water are by Church Lane bridge just above Marsworth Junction.

The Grand Union, Aylesbury arm and Wendover arm at Marsworth
Saturday was yet another relatively mild day and Ann came over to visit us.  This meant we could be lazy and just stay indoors although we did take Buddy out for a couple of short walks.  On one of the walks we went down the locks where we turned the boat on Friday on our way to get water.  The pound between the locks was about four to five feet lower than on Friday and would have presented a problem if we had wanted to turn.  We would have had to let water through the lock to raise the level in the pound before we could turn without grounding.

The pound a lot lower on Saturday compared with Friday
We decided to move on Sunday and set off for the Wendover arm soon after breakfast.  For the first time in a while it was windy but it was still mild and dry so off we went. Again, we were facing in the wrong direction, so we had to head north and spin the boat in the pound after the first lock.  On the way to the locks we passed two boats on the move in the opposite direction so we knew the lock would be set.  This time it was Karen’s turn to turn:

Karen winding in the wind…

…it was also her turn to use the lock ladders
Although we had topped up with water a couple of days ago, we topped up again as we passed the water point at Marsworth junction.  Well, we had to wait as there was another boat using the services, so we had some coffee and cake whilst we waited.  The couple taking on water have been moored just up from us this week and every time they walked passed us with their daughter they had to stop as she was mesmerized by the butterflies on the side of our boat.

Just before our tank was full, Duncan and his partner and daughter turned up on their boat as they needed water too.  Unfortunately, they were caught by the wind when they were mooring up to wait – there is a gap between a couple of houses where the wind whips through.  They just managed to throw me a line so I could hold them whilst they sorted themselves out.  I say they arrived on their boat, but they had three – two breasted up together and a rowing boat tied to the back.  Duncan is a chippie so stores waste timber on the rowing boat.

We were soon on the way again and heading up the seven locks of the Marsworth flight.  It had started drizzling (but not for long) and we were reminded that it has always rained whenever we have used the flight.  It must be really pretty when it’s dry and clear as the flight overlooks the Marsworth reservoirs.

Approaching the bottom lock at Marsworth
The narrow locks on the Grand Union were replaced with double width locks around 1929 to help improve traffic flow.  On the flights between Braunston and Knowle, most of the single locks remain in some state or other.  Those on the Marsworth flight have been completely filled in and there is not much left to show that they ever existed.  The bridge on the left in the picture above is where the original cut ran and there was a narrow lock the other side of the bridge hole.

Leaving a lock half way up with one of the reservoirs in view (yes, we did close the gate)
After the fourth lock we saw a boat coming down in the lock above us – always a welcome sight as it means we can leave our lock gate open and the same for the guy coming down.

Welcome sight of a boat coming down in the lock above us
Even with the dismal skies and the occasional drizzle, there were plenty of gongoozlers out and about.  It must be a nice place to take the family for a walk as there are the attractions of a lock flight and also the reservoirs to walk around.  Not to mention the pubs and café in Marsworth awaiting their return to the village.

Gongoozlers at the fifth lock
We were soon in the final lock of the day at a place called Bulbourne junction.  This is where the Wendover arm heads off west to Wendover.  Well, it used to run the seven miles to Wendover but only the first 1 ½ miles is navigable at present.  The local canal trust is doing a grand job restoring the whole length and there are many stretches in water further down towards Wendover.

Moving over in the top lock ready to turn right down the Wendover arm
The building on the left in the picture of the top lock above covers a dry dock.  The dry dock was originally the narrow lock that was replaced in the 1920s and was also the dry dock where we once had our previous boat blacked.

Turning onto the Wendover arm
Milepost at the entrance to the arm
The arm is very shallow but also very clear and not many boats use it.  When Karen ran down here the other day there was only one boat on the arm and that was moored at the end.  We were only going half way down to start with, to a point where we knew there was some Armco to moor against.  With the arm being so shallow it makes the going slow but that in turn makes it even more peaceful.

Gangplank required at our Sunday night mooring
All in all, it was a busy boat day as we saw six on the move, well eight if you count Duncan’s two extra boats.  In all, we cruised three miles through nine locks on Sunday.

We will take a walk down to the end of the navigation in a day or two and, if there’s room for us, take the boat down and moor there for a few days.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Marsworth (my new word today is lynchet)

Site of the Marsworth airfield where a Wellington bomber squadron was based

Now we are in 2019 we both know we have to get on and finish all those things we need to get done before we move to France. The ‘Things to do before we go’ and ‘Things to buy before we go’ lists are getting nice and short now which is good.  The trouble is, many of the things left are those in the ‘difficult’ or ‘not much fun to do categories’ – a bit like what used to happen when we worked.

One of these was to program our VHF radio to ATIS mode which is a fancy way of saying make sure it works in mainland Europe.  When modern VHF marine radios transmit, an identifier is automatically included; for boats in UK waters the identifier is an MMSI (Maritime Mobile Service Identifier) number.  We already have an MMSI number to identify our boat and now have had to get an ATIS number which is what the rest of Europe uses.  These numbers mean the receiving stations know who is calling before any voice contact is made.

Anyway, long story short, I programmed in our ATIS (Automatic Transmitter Identification System) number and the result was that we can only use two channels and both of those are channels that are illegal to use.  The VHF radio frequencies have been allocated channel numbers and these are pre-programmed into radios, so operators don’t have to fuss about remember and selecting complicated sequences of numbers.  For example, in inland waters of France, most locks and other stations are contacted on channel 10.  We now only have channels 15 & 17 available so the radio supplier is trying to find out what has happened.

I’ve mentioned before that Karen and two of our daughters are into knitting and similar crafts like sewing and crochet.  Karen was rather pleased with herself on Wednesday as she finished knitting a cushion cover which we both agreed looks really good:

Newly completed cosy knitting cushion cover
Back to radios, on Wednesday I completed the first part of the Marine Shortwave Radio course and passed the first theory test which means I can now attend a further theory and practical exam (pre-requisites for travelling in mainland Europe waterways).  I will be doing this in February back at Willow Wren in Stockton and, as this is near where Chris & Sue live, will take the opportunity to catch up with them and their puppy, Bracken.

We have registered to receive VNF notices by email; these are the equivalent to the UK notices issued by CRT.  They inform recipients of closures and restrictions on the canals and rivers, whether planned maintenance or emergencies such as breaches or fallen trees.

Our first VNF notice was received on Wednesday
The notice above is warning boaters of a new sand bank that has appeared on the Rhine and has not been marked by buoys yet.  No doubt we will receive another when the marker buoys have been put in place.

Over the last couple of days, we have also been outside and had several walks around the area.  On Thursday we walked north across the fields and one of the first sites we came across was the former Marsworth airfield used by a Wellington bomber squadron.  You can see from the picture at the top that it is amazingly flat and level.

A bit further on we passed below a hill that has lynchets along the southern side.  Unfortunately, they are covered by a wood, so they cannot be seen.

Lynchets hidden in the wood
Lynchets were formed in medieval times from constant ploughing across the face of hills and look like terracing.  It wasn’t until I was researching them that I found out that the correct term is lynchet – a new word for me.  Here is a picture I took from a blog called Landscapism.

Lynchets in Dyrham, South Gloucestershire
On Thursday, our morning walk took us around the four reservoirs at Marsworth.  These reservoirs were built as feeders to the Grand Union canal.  They are great places for walkers, fishermen and bird watchers as well as pleasant places to moor by as we have in the past.

One of the reservoirs
Anyway, enough of this blog writing, it's time to get back to those do lists 😅

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Marsworth (a room with a phew)

Karen & Buddy ran back down the Aylesbury arm to Aylesbury on Monday morning to pick up the car and move it to Wilstone.  On their return we set off up the remaining nine locks back up to the Grand Union main line at Marsworth junction.  The weather was still unseasonably mild, and it was good to be cruising without needing gloves and other cold weather accoutrements. 

At the fourth lock from the top there is a lock cottage that we have always had an eye on.  On our first trip down the arm a few years ago we got chatting with the owners (then in their 80s) and one of the things they told us was that when they moved there it had no vehicular access.  Once they retired and knew they were going to stay there, they bought land from the farmer and had a driveway installed. 

During our conversation with them it also transpired that the downstairs rooms flood usually at least once a year.  The conversation had gone in that direction because of the atrociously wet weather we were having at the time and the canal was (unusually for a canal) flooding in places.  When we asked them how they coped with the problem, their reply was, “It’s our own little piece of paradise – we would never move”.  Karen & I agreed that if we ever lived in the cottage, we would rename it Paradise Cottage.

At Black Jack’s lock by Paradise Cottage
With so much loose vegetation in the arm, great piles had built up at each lock.  This is where boaters and CRT workers have pulled the vegetation out of the water to stop it blocking the gate and ground paddles.  Whilst Buddy was waiting for us at each lock, he took to sitting on the piles; I assume they either felt warm or cosy or both.

Buddy’s new lock pose
The final two locks are a staircase and after coming out we turned left to start heading north up the Grand Union.  A new development of canal side houses had been built right next to the boaters’ services where we pulled in for a pump out.

Without going into too much detail you can probably guess that having a pump out is not a pleasant affair.  Karen always seems to have made sure she has work to do inside the boat when the operation is carried out!  Interestingly though, we know of at least two boating couples where the roles are reversed on pump out days.

I bet when the houses were sold, the purchasers weren’t aware of the consequences of living next to the boaters’ facilities.

Mooring up for services
As you can see the service shed looks very smart as it was rebuilt when the houses were built.  In fact, compared with most other boaters’ facilities they look really smart, probably a good reason for the owners not realising what they were going to be living next to.

We carried on to the Red Lion end of Marsworth intending to moor for a few days back out in the country where we would get refuelled by Jules on her fuel boat on Tuesday.  When we got to the Red Lion bridge, we saw two working boats breasted up and moored the other side of the bridge.  As we drew closer, we realised it was Jules so edged up alongside the boats to see if anyone was on board.  All was quiet, so we reversed back through the bridge and moored up between two other boats.

Moored in the middle of Marsworth for Monday night
I sent Jules a message to let her know where we were, and she responded saying they would stop off in the morning. 

Our cruise on Monday saw us only travelling two miles but up nine locks.

Tuesday morning dawned bright and sunny and the sun was soon working wonders on the solar panels – the first time for weeks.

A beautiful Tuesday morning
Jules arrived at 8.30am and we took six bags of Excel, filled up with diesel and replaced an empty gas bottle.  Excel is very popular and has to be ordered in advance.  When we last bought coal from her, when we were coming through Milton Keynes a month or so ago, we bought Firegold as we hadn’t ordered any Excel.  It was the first time we had tried Firegold and we have been very unimpressed with it, although it obviously suits some stoves judging by the number of bags we see on peoples’ roofs.  We find it doesn’t burn very hot and it also creates a lot of ash. 

Jules leaving after our early morning delivery
We decided to stay put for the day and went for a couple of walks either side of lunch.  On one of our walks we passed an old ice breaking boat built in 1860 and lovingly restored as a leisure boat.

The ice breaker, Boseley
Apparently seven of these boats were built but were not much good as ice breakers as they were too short to form wide enough channels on bends for the longer freight boats to follow.  At least three more of the original seven survive and are in museums.  It is thought that one reason they survived even though they weren't fit for purpose was that they were used for maintenance work such as tunnel inspections.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Puttenham (out of town at last)

May steering out of a lock

After a hectic three weeks away, we took it easy on Thursday and Friday, pottering around the boat and going for walks.  Buddy really enjoyed being back home as he could be off the lead again; he had to be on the lead all the time we were in Hartley Wintney as there were so many squirrels and deer in the woods.  On Thursday, Wendover Woods seemed to be a favourite of his as it was hilly meaning he could tear around, tiring himself out rushing up and down the slopes.  I also started studying for my Marine Radio Shortwave Certificate and got our tax returns out of the way. 

I nearly forgot, but Buddy had yet another rabies injection on Thursday and hopefully the follow up blood test (which can’t be done for 30 days) will prove he has enough antibodies this time around.  At least by the time we get the result we will know where we stand with respect to dogs travelling to and from mainland Europe after 29th March.

We met up with Liz and Colin a couple of times and were pleased that they were getting bookings for their trip boat even at this time of the year.  They moor it in the basin and take people up a couple of locks and then back again.

A happy family on the Little Trip boat in one of the locks
We had forgotten how quiet it is in the basin – the only rowdy night tends to be Saturday with weekend revellers making their way back from town to the Travelodge next to where we have been moored. In fact, it is so quiet that we have seen kingfishers and heron even though we are in the centre of town.

Heron perched on the white towpath railings opposite our mooring
There was a frost on Saturday morning, our first for over a month, but it meant it was sunny which was the first time we had seen the sun for nearly three weeks.  We spent most of Saturday at Karen’s mums in Wendover – again relaxing, but this time trying to do a 2,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. One advantage of visiting Ann, other than being provided with a delicious roast lunch of course, is that we get to pick up all our mail.  She says that some days all the mail is for us, especially on the build up to Christmas when we were having items delivered. 

I had ordered some aluminium fender hooks from a fabricator in Northwich and these were in one of the packages that had been delivered.  We need these for when we are in France as the normal plastic hooks won’t do the job they are needed for over there.  Unlike in the UK, we will have to keep the boat in forward gear when ascending many of the locks which holds the boat against the lock wall.  Because of this we will have horizontal zigzag fenders at the rear to protect the boat from the lock wall.  The fenders will put a lot of strain on the fender hooks, hence the aluminium versions.

Our new fender hooks – also useful for our go-cart tyre fenders
Sunday dawned sunny for a while but unfortunately soon clouded over but it wasn’t as cold as had been forecast. 

Quiet moorings on Sunday morning – about to get even quieter when we left
We need to top up with diesel and coal as well as replace one of the gas cylinders so have arranged to meet Jules on her fuel boat up at Marsworth, on the Grand Union main line, when she comes through on Tuesday.  This means going seven miles back up the 16 locks on the Aylesbury arm.  We decided to do it in two trips so set off for Wilstone after breakfast.

Leaving the basin after it had clouded over on Sunday
During the morning, whilst I had been filling up with water, I had been chatting with a lovely Australian family who were touring Europe over their summer holidays.  They were staying in Aylesbury for a couple of nights with a family friend and were fascinated by the canal and the boats on it.  They had two young daughters who joined us for a trip up the first two locks – the older child also had a go at steering.  She was a natural; some people take a while to get to grips with the counter-intuitive method of turning the tiller the opposite way to the direction they want to turn.

May steering out of a lock
The Aussies left us at the edge of Aylesbury and we were soon out in the tranquillity of the countryside leaving all the dogwalkers and other towpath users behind.

Doing what we love – cruising on a winter’s day (although it wasn’t really wintry)
The sixteen bridges on the Aylesbury arm are very narrow and just wide enough for the boat.  With the shallowness of the water it can sometimes be difficult negotiating the bridge holes as it’s easy to be knocked off course where silt has built up.  We were fortunate and completed our journey without any mishaps.

Emerging from one of the narrow bridge holes
On our way down, a month or so ago, we had encountered several low pounds and made really slow progress, but we met no such problems this time.  We moored up after 4 ½ miles, a couple of locks above Jem Bates's wooden boatyard at Puttenham, having ascended seven of the sixteen locks.

Our mooring for Sunday night
I got on with some DIY jobs during the rest of the afternoon.  For once I seem to have completed some jobs without the need to do them a second time.  Karen did point out that there had been a lot of swearing along the way, and that was just getting my tools out of the man cupboard.  She also pointed out that it sometimes takes a day or two before we realise a job needs doing again. 

We will move on again on Monday, so we can be up at Marsworth ready for when Jules comes through on Tuesday.  Our current plans are to stay around Marsworth for a while and then head up the Marsworth flight and go down the Wendover arm for a week or so.  After that we will only have about eight weeks or so before we head off for Gayton (near Northampton) to be craned out for our journey to France.  We have nothing planned for those eight weeks other than going on some good walks, visiting Bletchley Park and not cruising too much.