A Grand cruise to a little place called London
So it was back three months ago, after all the Christmas decorations were taken down and in the depths and gloom of January, the odd email started to circulate on what about another Easter cruise. Last year you might remember we were up’t north crossing the Pennines from Chorley to Selby via the Leeds and Liverpool canal and others in a variety of weather. Where this year?
As one of the prospective boats had never been on the Grand Union from Stoke Bruerne to Bulls Bridge junction, that’s where we decided to cruise. Arrangements started to be made with CRT to unlock the slipway by lock 19 of the Stoke Bruerne flight. Willowtree Marina were contacted to ensure we could leave a car there and pull out at the end. And friendly locals were contacted to see if we could leave cars and trailers at the start for a couple of weeks.
Wednesday 29th March
Two boats, Tophyl and Sloe, started their journey late afternoon from the South West to break the back of the journey and overnighted, in caravan mode, at the M5 services at Gloucester North. One of the best services, with good food and facilities.
Thursday 30th March
At 9.16am Bobbles announced they had launched after successfully navigated their way past two unannounced overnight road closures and a trailer tyre, that had disintegrated and had to be changed a few miles away from the slipway.
Tophyl and Sloe arrived and launched shortly after 10am and Arwyn around 12.30pm.
Three trailers and one car were parked nearby and two cars and one trailer were soon on there way south, down the M1, M25 and M40 to Willowtree marina where a car and a trailer were left. The other car bringing the now spare driver back to Stoke Bruerne. By 5pm, we were back, parked and an evening cruise had started in the late evening sunshine.
By 7pm were had reached Cosgrove and were moored and were heading into the Barley Mow for a well deserved meal and a quiz night, which we didn’t come last in!! Then it was off to bed.
Friday 31st March
During the previous evening there was a discussion on what next day’s destination might be. There was a general consensus that we all would like to visit Bletchley Park computer museum and code breaking exhibition. As this is fairly expensive, we thought it needed a full day so we thought we’d head down to Fenny Stratford today. The day started with a few showers and was a bit windy but was forecast to brighten up by lunchtime.
After a visit for water etc we dropped down through the only lock of the day. Then a quick committee meeting took place before we headed over the the Great Ouse aqueduct.
We next stopped just before bridge 81A. This was to discuss the crucial question of did anyone want to visit the metropolis that is Milton Keynes central and do some shopping. As the sun was shining, it was clear nobody did! Instead we had a break and some lunch.
Just as we were starting off again, we were passed by and passed lots of IWA Milton Keynes branch volunteers doing a great job cleaning up the canal and the banks and towpath of rubbish.
We had to show them that we had earlier also had a go at capturing some plastic rubbish floating in the canal but ours had a nice smile!
Soon after moving off again, we passed a sign proclaiming that this would be the site of the entrance to the New Bedford and Milton Keynes waterway. Unfortunately no signs of it being started yet but having three years ago starting on of our Autumn cruises in Bedford, we know what a great and busy waterway link this would become if ever built.
We were impressed by much of the open country planning of Milton Keynes and how rural it felt, even though you knew you were not far from civilisation.
Within a couple of hours we had reached today’s destination, at the moorings just above the Fenny Stratford lock. We think a good stepping off point to visit Bletchley Park tomorrow.
Saturday 1st April
No it’s not an April fool! After a bit of checking, we found that it’s about 45 minutes walk from the Red Lion pub by the canal, to Bletchley Park. So as we didn’t fancy or could not manage this, we then investigated the train option and the bus option. As the train cost was about £2.50 each way for 6 minutes travel, as opposed for a closer bus stop and a cost for some of £1.80 each way, or for free for those with a bus pass, we chose the bus.
This worked well and after a 10 minute walk from the bus station we were at the front desk of the Bletchley Park museum. Whilst the cost was £15 concession each, it was well worth the cost. We had a free 1 hour guided tour and a multimedia personal guide. Thank goodness for the hard work and brilliance of those who worked there and shortened the war by an estimated two years and saved many, many lives. And for them keeping quiet about what went on there for many years after the war finished.
If you want further information go here: https://www.bletchleypark.org.uk
Also on site is the first true electronic computer in the world called Colossus, which was used to help crack the German high command ultra encrypted messages. This working reconstruction can be seen along with many other computers from the last 60 years, in the National Museum of Computing, which is outside the Bletchley Park museum but on the same site: http://www.tnmoc.org
After a full day, we returned to the boat again by bus and then all seven of us got together and had an Indian takeaway on Tophyl. That was then end of a very full, but interesting day.
Sunday 2nd April
We woke to weather forecast promises of bright sunshine but it was mostly cloudy and chilly until later in the day.
After going through the VERY deep lock Fenny Stratford lock of 1’1″ we used the nearby watering facilities. It was at this time that Arwyn’s crew reported that they apparently had no charging. Their Honda engine has been modified to significantly improve the poor Honda charging rate with the addition of a car alternator bolted on the top of the flywheel. The rubber drive had apparently sheared. So as the engine was running.
We continued to cruise until we got above Soulbury Three Locks (26-24), where we stopped the engine and took a look at what had gone wrong.
Sure enough the rubber drive, that was Jubilee clipped between the engine flywheel and the alternator had sheared. A frantic search of Arwyn produced a spare 2″ length of rubber car radiator hose, which was duly installed. After a 30 minutes,the engine was jump started and charging was restored.
As we were very handy for the 3 locks pub, we walked back and had a very nice lunch. Following that we cruised on through Leighton Buzzard, spying the white lion of Whipsnade Zoo on the nearby hill. Makes a change from the usual white horse seen elsewhere.
All the way through Leighton Buzzard we kept being buzzed by low flying swans, which went on for about a mile.
The sun finally came out as we rose up through Grove and Church locks but it was nearly 6pm by the time we found a welcome sunny bank to sit out for about 90 minutes until the sun dropped below the horizon and it got chilly very quickly and drove us inside.
Tomorrow we are planning to head up the Aylesbury arm. Another new adventure for at least 2 boats.
Monday 3rd April
We awoke to a stunning but cold morning with ice on the roof and mist over the canal.
After a civilised full English breakfast we were ready for today’s adventures. But there was still time for a look around at the beautiful sunlit countryside, with Leighton Buzzard’s church spire in the distance.
We got out our windlasses, as we would be soon working our way up locks, which are now noticeably increasing in frequency and depth as we approached the Chilterns and the summit level.
Waiting for locks to be prepared was not an unpleasant affair as we warmed ourselves in the Spring sunshine. Ivinghoe and Seabrook locks were soon passed, however as we waited at lock 36, we heard the lovely sound of a working boat’s engine slowly and erratically thumping away as it descended in the lock.
Then EMU No18 appeared, immaculately turned out and she looked as good as she sounded. As we passed the Dunstable Cruising Club we spotted two Wilderness boats, Zanele moored on the water and tucked away on its trailer, Beehive. We wished them well as we passed by.
At the top of Marsworth Locks we took a lunch break, as we would soon be at the junction with the Aylesbury arm.
After a two hour break (snooze for some), we cruised on to Marsworth junction for water etc and then two boats entered the narrow Lock No1, closed the top gate and went ….. nowhere!! The paddles were rechecked and the side paddle closed and reopened. Nothing! No water was draining into staircase lock No2. We surmised that the side paddle actually had no paddle attached at the bottom.
A call to CRT resulted in a quick 30 minute response, and the CRT man agreed with our diagnosis. The paddle was broken and the lock is unserviceable. He asked us to moor outside the lock to stop others going down until a CRT can arrive tomorrow morning to fix it.
So we have settled in to wait for them to fix it, and await with interest to see how they are going to do it. Not a pleasant job going into a wet, dark and narrow culvert at the bottom of a lock!
Tuesday 4th April
So by 9am this morning we had a great CRT response with five CRT employees on site and investigating the problem with the ground paddle, which we discovered and reported on late yesterday afternoon. Two of them went down into the now empty lock and up the culvert, whilst the other three removed the concrete slab at the top.
It was soon apparent that the rod through the paddle had lost a section with nut and washer on the bottom and the rest of the rod had pulled up through the paddle. But it was then discovered that the connecting rod was cracked and had lost part of the connecting ring at the bottom. The paddle was lifted clear only to find it was also badly split. The rod, rack and paddle were all removed to be taken back to the nearby yard for attention by the blacksmith and construction team.
The blockage has now been fully announced by CRT by email and Twitter. We are waiting to hear how long it might take to effect a repair, but looking at what needs to be repaired, it looks like a couple of days work and so we may have to miss our much anticipated visit to Aylesbury. Shame!
Sorry for the delay in updating this yesterday but we had a very poor phone signal in the cutting on the summit pound.
At about 2pm CRT came to lock up the top ground paddles and post notices and they made a comment that they were having difficulty sourcing a large enough piece of wood to replace the paddle which was breaking up. So we took the decision to move on up the last 7 locks to the summit level.
On reaching this we turned sharp right and headed up the one and a half miles of the Wendover arm. It was really pleasent to be moving again and along such a peaceful waterway, but we soon reached and touched the end with the bows of our boats. The notice said there is only 5 miles still to go to the end. We hope the trust makes it soon.
After a short break at the end we headed back, and after the pumping station we made good progress with the flow behind us.
At the junction we turned right and headed along until we spied the Grand Junction Arms pub/restaurant, Bulborne where we booked a table for the evening as one of our members had a birthday yesterday. We moored s few hundred yards from bridge 133.
We also needed some milk so with the aid of Google maps we found a small general stores after walking about a mile and quarter along Bulborne Road, a busy main road, into Tring. On the way back we took a different, but much quieter and more pleasent route, up Marshcroft lane and got back onto the canal towpath at bridge 134.
The meal at the Grand Junction Arms was very nice with an interesting menu.
Wednesday 5th April
Another sunny but chilly morning saw us off and cruising again at around 9.30am.
With the sun coming through the trees at was dappling on the water as we cruised the summit level.
Along the way we passed “little” Annie Rose moored up. This is an Wilderness Otter well known to the Club as it was fitted out by Dave and Liz Smith before they sold her prior to upgraded to the larger Beaver also called Annie Rose.
We proceeded to Cowroast lock where we watered the boats and started our descent towards the Thames.
Bobbles engine started to play up a bit as it appeared not to be getting a ready supply of cooling water. A blockage somewhere. Have we cured it, time will tell!
7 locks later we were on the short term moorings outside Waitrose and it was time to do a bit of serious shopping.
After around 3.5 hours we moved on out of the pleasent town of Berkhamstead to find a mooring before reaching Hemel Hempstead. We eventually stopped between bridges 145-146.
Thursday 6th April
We woke to a stunning morning.
We cruised down through Hemel Hempstead, which according to fellow travellers who have been here some time ago, has changed significantly for the better. All down through here we kept meeting up with members of the CRT gang that turned out to sort out locks 1 & 2 on the Aylesbury arm. One such place was the combine sanitary station by lock 66. Bobbles was still having overheating/cooling problems with their Yamaha engine. The cause was found to be bits of calcium that were being shed internally from the cylinder water jacket, which then proceeded to block waterways, tee-pieces and telltale jets. We took the advantage of a mains pressure water supply here to flush the engine waterways and things looked better for a while.
There were lots of nice looking pubs and available moorings but we decided on a mooring in the sunshine, next to some fishing lakes. .
It was so sunny and warm (met office please note as this wasn’t forecast), the front and back doors on all the boats were soon open, deckchairs and BBQs were deployed and a very pleasent assembled meal was enjoyed. The first alfresco meal of the year.
As we were not far from Kings Langley, some of us went into the Village/Town for an evening stroll.
Friday 7th April
Another sunny morning but cooler with more cloud. Starting again at 9.30am, we cruised down through through 2 locks before passing under the M25 viaduct. Surprisingly quiet, but perhaps it had become a car park again, but thankfully we couldn’t tell from canal level.
Another lock and we stopped at Hinton Bridge for an hour for Tophyl’s crew to visit a nearby churchyard to search for a relative. On their return they found Bobbles engine in bits, as they had removed the thermostat housing and discovered a significant amount of calcium in its housing and packed around the thermostat. All this was removed and the system was flushed again using engine power.
Moving off we were soon passing the impressive Grove Park and golf course on our right. Impressive bridges and a lovely mill conversion were sights to see. At the Cassiobury Park locks, some of our crew members helped a single handed narrowboat through both locks. No problem with doing that, it’s what you do, but it would have been nice to have received a thank you.
It was now moving passed lunchtime so we took the advantage of the beautiful parkland before Iron Bridge lock 77 to pull over to enjoy the bird song and sunshine, whilst Bobbles stripped the engine waterways down again to ensure they were clear of the bothersome calcium deposit.
In the end it was such a lovely spot we decided to stay there for the rest of the day. It was a busy spot with lots of people enjoying the beautiful parkland.
Saturday 8th April
Up and off again at 9.30, with the sun shining and birds singing.
The locks were more spaced out now so it started to preclude the crews walking between them. We topped off our water tanks just before Cassio Bridge lock, as we waited for two boats from Hillingdon Community Trust to come up. These were filled with youngsters who were very keen to help. On leaving the lock there was a third boat waiting to go up. Great to see them get this sort of experience of the canals.
We went from lock to lock and at times it was just too tiring for some of the crew. It appears that some lock arms are very comfortable bed!
Getting topped up with water when we did was worthwhile, as it limited how much time we needed to spend at the combined sanitary station immediately below Batchworth lock, which was tight for space.
We found however that the combined sanitary station (CSS) wasn’t so combined any longer, as the general waste disposal aspect had been moved about 5 minutes walk away behind Travis Perkins, and when we got there, many bins were overflowing.
Also beside the CSS, was a miniature canal complete with lock. A novel idea, however it was missing two important features, those being water and some boats! Perhaps they only have it running on certain open days like the Ricky Waterways Trust Rock Choir festival taking place tomorrow at these locks. (9/4/17 at 2pm).
Only a few hundred meters on from the lock is a very handy Tesco with canalside moorings, which we made good use of.
After a brief stop for lunch we made good progress towards our goal of Copper Mill lock No 84 where it was hoped to be able to have a meal in the evening. The restaurant was fully booked but after finding a sunny but shallow spot in the sun just after Troy Cut, we decided to walk back and see if we could get a place in the bar. We shall see how that turns out later on!
4 hours cruising today almost a record for the trip, but the good news is that Bobbles engine didn’t suffer any water blockages at all today.
It’s now later on. Our meal at a Vintage Inn Coy Carp, I’m sorry to say lived up to our poor expectations of Vintage Inns. After a warm day, first one beer brand then another, then another ran out with no more coming on stream. Then we made our meal selections with one wanting pizza, this was off as they had run out of dough. After about 50 minutes the food arrived. The steak meal was missing and took 10 minutes to arrive after the others and the vegetarian burger did arrive but not with the broad bean humous, which they said was no longer an option, but a tomato BACON relish, which certainly didn’t meet the vegetarian definition!
Sunday 9th April
Well we had an interesting night, as we were repeatedly disturbed by a pair of DUCKs, feeding and tapping along the waterline, again and again throughout the night. I even tried to frighten them off with the flash camera, (it didn’t work), but here is the evidence!!
Frightening aren’t they!!
To break the pattern we had built up, we delayed the start till 10am today.
We quickly discovered that today was the day the of the Grand Union half marathon from Uxbridge to Watford. The runners passed us at the 6 and 5 mile points, with us passing their drink stations at each lock.
The route they were running was just along the wide and safe towpath but we suddenly discovered that there were other hazards along the way! A crocodile on the bank! Oh! No! Who do we warn??
We continued on down through Dunham deep lock and had a break at Uxbridge.
The locks were getting farther apart now and we finally reached the junction with the Slough arm. After a quick look-see to find a suitable site for a BBQ, we settled in for a pleasant afternoon in the sunshine. We soon found that it was a busy footpath with motorbikes, people going to and from, what we believed to be a squat and we finally left as it started to get dark, after an apparent altercation, just around the corner. We moved out on to the main line opposite the liveaboards who moored by the marina. Hopefully tonight we will have a quieter night tonight.
Monday 10th April
We all got up after a quiet night. It was a sunny morning but it felt like the temperature had dropped by at least 10 degrees C. What a change from yesterday, when for a time we were sheltering from the heat of the sun and some were in shorts, tee shirts and sandals.
Today we decided to explore the five mile length of the Slough arm so at 10am off we went. But within a few hundred yards it looked like our plans had been thwarted, when we were stopped by a big red floating pontoon blocking the canal, at an angle from one side to the other.
At first we were not sure if the canal was purposely blocked but on a further investigation it looked like the middle and far end had been unfastened from the posts still stuck in the ground. It was easy to refasten the near end but with a brisk wind, we needed the power of two of our boats to act as push tugs to get the far end over on to the towpath side, where one of our crew and a passing boater on foot, tied it to the posts. Finally it was all secure and we moved on cautiously up the arm.
What we had previously read about the Slough arm in Nicolsons’s guide and other publications, made us believe that this trip was going to be like us exploring some of the underused, undredged, rubbish strewn canals on the outer reaches of the BCN network, which have been visited and experienced by some of us on a number of BCN Challenge weekends.
Whilst we did find the odd bit of detritus, e.g. Plastic bags, 2 plastic barriers, a couple of lumps of wood, the odd tyre and a little bit of weed, it was nothing out of the ordinary and in fact, we reached the terminus basin, next door to an apparently closed down Travis Perkins, with ease.
The whole arm felt well maintained with the all vegetation and overhanging trees removed from the towpath side and the path itself mostly well surfaced, which may be due to an apparently recently installed fibre cable route under it.
Just to say we had done something in Slough, one of us went to post a letter and then we returned to Middlegreen Road bridge No 10, beside a pleasant park, for a spot of lunch, as well as some train and plane spotting.
At around 3pm we had an uneventful cruise back down the canal arm and returned to last night’s moorings, with a view that it would take us only a couple of hours to cruise to Willowtree Marina (our final destination) via Bulls bridge junction tomorrow.
Once that cruise is completed, the drivers will be returning to the start at Stoke Bruerne to collect our cars and trailers, in preparation for pulling out on Thursday, after a planned day in London on Wednesday.
Tuesday 11th April
Well the last day of cruising has come 🙁
Just a couple of hours or approx 6 miles run from the junction with the Slough arm, otherwise known as Crowley Peachey Junction through to Willowtree Marina on the Paddington Arm of the GU, via Bulls Bridge junction.
We visited the waste facilities at Crowley Peachey marina and then there of us were off and cruising at 9am. The reason for the early start was that we wanted to use the car we left at Willowtree to go back to Stoke Bruerne.
During the cruise we saw more of the floating pontoons that we had re-secure yesterday, and these were in use as more fibre optic cable was being installed and canal path walkers used them to get around the cable footpath junction box work sites.
After a quick call into Tesco’s at Bull’s bridge for petrol for Bobbles, we turned up into the Paddington arm and were sadly soon at Willowtree marina, who were happy to moor our boats till Thursday morning when we are planning to pull out. Thank you to them for being so accommodating – again.
After about 30 minutes, the three drivers were off back to the A40/M40/ M25/M1 and at 1pm back at Stoke Bruerne. A BIG BIG thank you goes to Barbara and Tony for looking after the cars and trailers for us. After about 45 minutes, we had secured and tested the trailer lighting boards and checked the tyre pressures and were ready to drive back. We arrived back at 3.30pm and spent the next hour securing the trailers and filling the cars with Diesel at the local cheap Tesco supermarket.
Tomorrow three of the boat crews are heading into London for a day’s sightseeing, finishing with a evening cruise on the Thames aboard a tall ship as it cruises past other tall ships down near Woolwich.
And so we say goodbye, hoping that you’ve enjoyed this blog or report has given our readers some feeling of what it’s been like to spend time on the water cruising from Stoke Bruerne to Willowtree Marina.
TTFN till the next time.