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 ūüėČ

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  The steam engines have now been replaced by modern electric pumps.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.

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