Easter trip along the GU, Regents canal and the Lee and Stort waterways
Another Easter and another trip to explore waterways that many in our group have not travelled before or not for a long time. This time we planned to cross London to visit the Lee and Stort navigation. Boats started to trail to Willowtree Marina, located at the western end of the Grand Union Canal – Paddington Branch on Thursday 26th March, with the final boats arriving on the following Saturday. Willowtree has a good slipway and is handy to the M4 which is a bonus, but the final approach is past a large Tesco’s and their petrol station into a twisting suburban street. So if making use of this slipway for the first time, make sure you follow the signs or have a look at the approach using Google Street view! Those arriving on Saturday were also presented with a full car park and a street fair being run by the onsite children’s nursery, which made for interesting maneuvering onto the slipway. But trailers and cars were soon put to bed and all were ready for our pleasant evening meal at the onsite restaurant. However, we knew we were in or around London by the prices.
Sunday 29th March
Overnight, summertime had started so whilst we started “early” at 9am to try and beat the forecast wind and rain, it was a struggle for some to get up as it was actually 8am on some clocks/watches!! As we started to process into London, the 5 boats: Bobbles, Sloe, Snapdragon, Arwyn and Tophyl, all took turns helping to clear the canal of debris, by picking up a variety of plastic around our propellers, from plain plastic bags to a fisherman’s shelter! Luckily the many floating coconuts didn’t appear to be a hazard. As time passed, the wind in some locations was becoming crazy as it was whipped into vortices, by being focused by large buildings, resulting in the water to become very choppy, even breaking into spray in places, resulting in the boats moving suddenly and unexpectedly in any direction, except where you wanted to go.
We arrived at Little Venice, with 3 days still to run on the CRT Winter Mooring program so no spaces were visible. We proceeded down into Paddington basin, where we spotted a few moorings but these were difficult to access with the wind again being focused by the buildings. With us all working together and with the assistance, in one case, of an existing moorer allowing one of our boats to moor alongside, we managed to get moored but this was not made any easier with too few and badly spaced mooring rings in this area and security staff from the surrounding buildings enforcing a “ropes only on rings” policy. It turned out the spaces we occupied, were thankfully recently vacated by winter moorers. We all retired to our boats to ready ourselves for our trip across London the next day.
Monday 30th March
Awoke to a brighter and calmer day. And so we took the opportunity to head for the Regents Canal and the Lee and Stort, with a poor weather forecast for gale force winds for Monday evening and all of Tuesday. We had a pleasant trip across London but it was very noticeable that mooring spaces even for us were very few and far between with many, many, liveaboards occupying moorings two or three deep. This of course may be due to these boats being moved as the designated winter moorings were coming to an end.
We took a left into the Hertford Union Canal and at the other end bordering onto the Olympic park, we at last found a space for 3 boats but had to double up the other two. We looked around for somewhere to eat but were unsuccessful. As we walked back, the rain started to fall and the wind started to get up. Overnight, the wind really got up and we doubled up and set some springs on the mooring lines.
Tuesday 31st March
Come the morning we had survived the storm. it was bright but still very windy, which was forecast to last the day, with increasing gusts up to 46 mph. We took the decision that it was too windy for safe boating.
We instead walked across the Olympic Park site to the Stretford Station and took the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) through Docklands to Tower Gateway and walked down for a very pleasant day at the Tower of London. We were impressed by the talk by the “beefeater”, the quality and price of the food at the cafe within the walls of the Tower, as well as the organisation to see the Crown jewels. At the end of the day, the weather started to turn again and as we returned to the boats across the park, it felt like sleet was in the air.
Wednesday 1st April
At 9.30am the wind had dropped so we were off again up the Lee and Stort trying to make up for lost time. We made good time in chilly conditions. We were lucky that we could continue to get all five boats in one lock which speeded things up dramatically. Many of us had never boated or visited the East End of London before and it was interesting to finally see places that we had only heard of before. More mooring spaces were apparent now and these increased the further we got out of London.
On the left side were built up areas, whilst on the other were hidden marshes and reservoirs. The day was passing, we pulled up below Waltham Town Lock, which apparently was the nearest point for one boat to improve on their critical petrol supply situation. We decided to call it a day and the girls went off to explore the town, looking for a suitable place for us all to eat. After finding that the pubs that served food, only did this until around 4pm, they found an privately Italian owned Italian restaurant in the middle of Waltham Abbey town, located down a little alley way. When we returned in the evening, they did us proud!
Thursday 2nd April
Up and off again at 9.30am, we were soon at Dobbs Weir Lane and decided to stop at the moorings next to the Fish & Eels pub for a lunchtime drink in the sunshine. Off again in the afternoon, we took the decision to head up the Stort. Of course, we were aware that the Stort locks are not as wide as the Lee, which was reinforced by a notice in Feilde’s Weir lock. This was inevitably going to slow us down as we split into two lock fulls of three boats and two boats.
Having passed through the first of these narrower locks, we soon stopped again in the sunshine on the canal side, just past the entrance to the Roydon Mill marina, where we had our first BBQ of the trip. Once that had been cleared up, we headed under the low bridges of Roydon looking for an evening mooring location. All along the canal path by the side of Hunsdon Mead, the banks were protected by a double offset row of wooden posts which just protruded above the water level. These may be OK for steel narrowboats but they are not good for our GRP hulls. Eventually we all got in and tied up just below Hunsdon Mill lock. Afterwards, one of the crew walked above the lock, only to find perfect moorings against a metal edge. However as we were all now roped up, we decided to stay where we were.
Another feature of this area we soon discovered, was that we were relatively close to Stansted Airport, that Wikipedia soon told us was the third busiest airport in the UK and which seemed to have the whole UK population of Ryanair planes based there. Right above our heads was the approach to the South West end of the runway, and running beside us was the main railway line with many local and Stansted airport express trains.
Friday 3rd April
Moving off the next day, we passed through some very pretty countryside and past the northern edge of Harlow. The weather was dull and cold, grey and cold and spotting with cold rain, blown along with a cold wind. As you can tell, whilst we were sure there was attractive countryside to be viewed, all we wanted to do was stop and warm up! This we eventually did do, just upstream of Spellbrook lock, which had the attraction of being a few hundred yards away from a Chef and Brewer gastro pub. It also was directly under the final approaches to the Stansted airport runway with planes passing directly overhead, much lower now, with landing lights on and wheels down.
After a nice meal and a few drinks, we all felt better and gradually got used to the planes passing just overhead. Wikipedia said that the restricted flying hours of this airport was from 23.30 and 6.00hrs. and at precisely 23.30 the planes, that had been passing over every three minutes, suddenly stopped.
Saturday 4th April
The weather carried on its cold grey theme. Only now it was so grey, we couldn’t see the planes passing just above our heads, that started at 6.06hrs. We moved off at 9.30hrs and headed for Bishop’s Stortford. After Twyford Lock, we started a slalom course of trying to avoid the large, heavy logs of a tree that CRT’s staff or contractors had carefully cut up and left stacked next to the footpath, that someone then had rolled into the canal just opposite a climbing wall centre. These may not cause steel boats problems but for us it was a major hazard. As we entered the town, the clouds parted and the sun came out. We were lucky that as we reached the head of navigation, a couple of narrowboats were leaving which allowed us to moor up and do some shopping.
Only a couple of hours later we left the town, mooring briefly by London Rd bridge 50, to visit a petrol station about a 1/4 mile down the road. As we headed downstream, we again encountered the floating logs, only this time they had floated down far enough to reach the next lock, where they naturally settled behind the lower lock gates so that the widebeam boat trying to get in couldn’t! We said that if they allowed us to fill the lock again, one of our boats would move the logs out of the way so the gate would open fully. This we did. We then headed for our evening stop at the moorings just above Sawbridgeworth town lock. Members of the crew went hunting pub food again, which is surprisingly, an apparently rare condition in this area of the country. In the end, we did manage to get into the White Lion for food in the middle of this attractive clapper board village.
Sunday 5th April
We left Sawbridgeworth for the Lee. Stopping along the way to see if we could get some 3.9kg Calor propane bottles. Very few places alongside the water sold these and those that did didn’t have any! We thought we had struck gold at Go Outdoors 0.7 mile away from the water over a large footbridge at Harlow, which accepted our Internet reservation for four bottles but on arrival at the store on Easter Sunday morning, we found it was closed! However we consoled ourselves by watering the boats next to the The Moorhen Hungry Horse pub, which enticed us in for two Sunday lunches for £10. After this welcome break, we passed surprisingly quickly down the rest of the Stort and onto the Lee, and headed for Hertford. Stopping for a peaceful night a reasonable distance upstream of the Go Karting and Speedway centre just after the junction!
Monday 6th April
The day dawned cold but very bright, and in the sunshine, WARM! We proceeded up into Hertford, again through locks which allowed us all to lock together. We called in at Stanstead Abbots marina and found they stocked Calor gas and they had five full 3.9kg bottles. Happy boats again! By lunchtime we had arrived in the middle of Hertford after passing though pretty Ware and attractive countryside.
The towpath was busy with many people out to welcome the sunshine. In an hour, we had visited Hertford. Not long enough for this attractive town, but it was all we had!
Back down the Lee to the Fish and Eels Vintage Inn pub where we stopped for the night and thought we would have a nice meal. The only problem being by the time we got in for the meal, they had run out of so many things, it was quicker to give us a short list of what they had left. They had also run out of beer. We made the best of a poor situation but at least the mooring outside the pub was good..
Tuesday 7th April
Woke after a quiet night, except for some electric fans in a local factory and the sun is out again. Heading for Limehouse today. Before we started we hear that one of our party who had fishcakes and mussel sauce was ill through the night. Others in the party said we had heard of something similar at another Vintage inn with the same food choice. Be warned!
A longish day today but we soon realised that with many locks against us we were not going to make Limehouse before the end of the day. So we settled into making as much progress as we could, with a restful sunny BBQ break in the middle of the day.
Moving on in the afternoon, as we finally approached Tottenham, we began to realise that it appeared many winter moorers had now left London for the banks of the Lee and Stort and the mooring opportunities were fast disappearing. In the end, as the sun was getting lower in the sky, we found sufficient space for us all to moor bank side on and had a surprisingly quiet night just out of the town. A good starting off point for Limehouse about an hour and a half away in the morning.
Wednesday 8th April
Another clear if chilly morning and off at 9.30hrs. Soon we passed our mooring location at the Olympic park, and proceeded down into Limehouse cut. So much building all across London, and this area was no exception. We also passed many moorhens making nests using the wood and plastic rubbish. One male looking very pleased with himself having collected a styrofoam burger box and offered it to his mate as a perfect waterproof nesting box.
Then into Limehouse to find to our surprise, room on the visitors moorings for us two by two plus one on the disabled moorings. Ideal for our older crew who just couldn’t get up on the high dock walls. A day of exploring London for many, with trips including the DLR, Emirates Airline to O2, fast catamaran ferry and the tube.
This before we had a meal in The Grapes pub just around the corner, overlooking the river. Lovely meal, shame that they had also run out of real beer! There must be a national beer shortage after the Easter weekend!
Thursday 9th April
Another early start at 9am! This time our target is to get back to near Willowtree Marina. We were soon up the 8 locks to the junction with the Hertford Junction canal and then proceeded past St Pancras towards our final locks at Camden. Only to be held up by commercial trip boat coming down the second lock wanting to turn straight around and go back up again. Thankfully once we had passed through that lock we were greeted by 4 CRT volunteers who helped us through the top lock.
Then it was on past Paddington basin and on collecting plastic on propellers until we reached Yeading. A final group bank sit with drinks and nibbles until it got dark.
Friday 10th April
Two boats to have a welcome lie in here as the other three, in agreed order, went back into Willowtree marina to pull out. An easy process and all had an easy and safe trail to reach their chosen destination, with two re-launching (one in Suffolk and the other in Somerset) and the other back to its dry storage location by 14.30hrs.
The remaining boats were to get ready for a trip down to Brentford, after moving the remaining car and trailer. Then come Saturday evening, pass out onto the rising tide, heading to up to Teddington lock and a Thames trip back to Oxford.
Overall a lovely trip that was chilly and windy at the start but finished with us all having topped up our tans in beautiful Spring sunshine. It was also interspursed by people commenting “Are these Wilderness Beavers” and “never seen so many boats in a lock before”. and in Limehouse CRT office, “Are they Sea — no they are Wilderness, lovely to see you all here!”.
Finally, what is missing in this picture?