So after making our ‘big’ decision not to go down to Lechlade and then return up the Oxford Canal, but to go south onto the Thames, both of us have found the long days and the continued boating difficult. This is not Heather and Colin’s fault, our two friends who have their own boat who we have joined for their annual break from work – but just the time they have available and the constraints this entails. Our type of boating is all about the journey, not just about getting from A to B, it’s about doing a few hours a day boating and then mooring up and doing what most boaters do well – chilling out!
So, how did this week go …….??
On Tuesday, after the night before where we had moored in a rural position on the Thames just past Chertsey Lock, we got up early. Both Colin on his boat and us on ours, checked over the engines and filled up the grease tubes – travelling long days at higher speeds than that on canals, we seem to be using more grease than usual. When un-roping and pulling out the pins I realised that during the previous night my lump hammer had been stolen. In fact it had been a weird night on reflection, adjacent to our boat there had been a small area to park cars and whilst we had been BBQing further along at Colin and Heathers boat I had seen many vehicles come and go, one always remaining. We had also noticed a couple of police cars patrolling this small stretch – conclusion – drugs! So, not surprisingly we are sure one of these undesirables had pinched our hammer! Soon around 10.00am we were heading off at full pelt towards Teddington Lock. This comprises of two locks, one massive which could easy take the giant boats and ships and a smaller one – it is the gateway to the tidal Thames and you have to call ahead to the lock keeper to find a suitable time slot for when the Thames is at high tide. We did this and the high tide and indeed our allocated slot was 8.20am on the following day – Wednesday. This meant we could take a leisurely cruise and possible take time to moor up for lunch at Hampton Court. We went through a number of locks, one where the lock keeper insisted more than the usual amounts of boats went in – needless to say we were the chosen boat to go in between the boats. Sandra was anxious as we could not tie up. All went well and we in fact got chatting to a few boats which had lots of scouts aboard on their first narrow boat holiday. All impeccably behaved, albeit they may well have been a tad scared of the lock! We made good time ‘whizzing’ past places Sandra and I in normal circumstances would have stopped at, and soon we had gone through our last of the four scheduled locks of the day before Teddington. As we got nearer to Hampton Court, it was clear we would not have a chance of mooring up and indeed this was true, we slowed right down and were able to gracefully pass the palace and take some snaps. As detailed earlier, getting mooring spots is a nightmare, so when I saw two available spots along the grounds of the palaces gardens further on, we moored up. It wasn’t long before ‘Vince’ one of two palace garden rangers arrived. He was smashing, we chatted for ages and being a fellow boater himself, he could understand our disappointment of not being able to moor directly outside Hampton Court, due to all the spots being taken. He then told us that many of them are there all of the time and quite willingly pay the £5 per night fee – cheaper than normal moorings he said. Again, this is typical of people that are attracted to boating for the cheapness of accommodation and not for the pleasure of real boating. This phenomenon is becoming the norm, resulting in all of us not being able to take advantage of good moorings in popular places – this is wrong! Later on Colin and Heather popped around to our boat, they were anxious about tomorrow, we still had an hour’s boating to Teddington – what happens if we over sleep? It soon became apparent that they wanted to move. Vince had told them that for a charge they could moor actually on the lock. So, after finding ideal ‘free’ moorings we both moved off and boated another hour and finally we were soon securely moored along Teddington lock weir moorings. Very noisy, but at least we would be ready for the following day. Not surprisingly a short while later the scout boats arrived and the leaders all came to chat with me – they had not booked a slot to go onto the Thames, or indeed new anything about paying for mooring – they had thought they could just go straight onto the tidal Thames! Later all four of us showered and decided to head off into the town for a few beers, which we did, finishing off at a great little Indian Restaurant for a good curry – vindaloo for me!
On Wednesday after not a brilliant night’s sleep, we arose and within minutes the lock keeper had asked us to enter the lock chamber, the scout boats missed this and soon both of our boats were travelling on the tidal Thames. We were all a little anxious about this, we had heard all of the usual ‘fright’ stories, but in fact we had a great time. We could tell we were going faster than normal due to the currents – but it was fun and exhilarating, even though it was raining at times. It was amazing to be going along such a wide stretch of water with people waving as we passed. It only seemed minutes when the sharp 90 degree turn into Brentford was upon us, yet again we had been told this was a real problem to turn, this was not the case, and we simply steered off the Thames. We were back onto the canal network – the Grand Union. It was a shock to be boating through sheer filth, so much debris in the waters and it wasn’t long before I had to pull up and clear the prop – a shirt, black bag and rope this time. We agreed to boat with Colin and Heather for a while, but the previous night had been the last we would enjoy together, they now had 15 hours per day ahead of them to ensure their boat was back at their marina moorings by the end of the week – rather them than us. We felt quite relieved; we could now go back to proper boating! Shortly after we started our journey, unfortunately we got behind a total prat who insisted on travelling at tick over all of the time – a whole 8 miles of it. Needless to say, Colin and Heather over took us and soon they had done the same with the idiot in front. We were back on our own. We carried along until we got to Cowley in Uxbridge where we found a mooring with ease – what a difference from the past week or so! We had arranged to see Tom, the son of our dearest friends, who is an assistant film producer working in London and living close by. It was great to catch up with him and we all nipped to the pub supposed to have been used by Orson Wells! When Tom left we headed for bed, knowing we could sleep in if we wanted – we were free again!
Thursday we awoke around 9.00am, I tinkered in the engine bay, checked the weed hatch again – all clear and also topped the engine up with some oil. Sandra checked the route back up to the midlands and shouted out in surprise – bloody hell 100’s of double locks to do, I told her to stop exaggerating, but on closer inspection, she was right there were a lot of locks a head of us. Sandra hates driving the boat through double locks, so I could understand her angst; she would be doing most of the locking! It also made us both feel for Colin and Heather, who had no option but to get on with it. We headed off around 10.30 and were lucky to be accompanied by a fellow boater for the first five locks. We completed nine locks and moored up at Croxley Green, both of us agreeing we were doing too much and still rushing. Sandra had also hurt her back as the locks were so heavy to manage. We decided to have a cosy night on board, a glass of wine and a chilli. We were in bed at nine!
On Friday I checked the weed hatch as I had noticed the boat was struggling a little – another load of rubbish around the prop! I also filled the grease tube up again; however, I had already noticed I was only turning it once or twice daily now we were not going so fast. Today was a cooler day than we had been enjoying, so we both decided to chill out, Sandra wanted to do some sewing and I wanted to catch up on emails and other paperwork. We finally started boating around 2.00pm finished up at Abbots Langley at around 6.00pm. I noticed in the engine a dribble of diesel from the tank tube. I tightened up the clip and reminded myself to check this daily for the next few days. We decided to have another night on board. After spending the last nine days with Colin and Heather, we were enjoying the novelty of being on our own again – we even watched TV and a DVD – the first time in absolutely ages – other than bloody Emmerdale on the Ipad most nights!
Saturday was a cloudy day, but warmer than the previous day. We decided to stay put until lunchtime so Sandra could catch up with her washing and ironing. I opted not to turn the engine on and use the ‘Powerpack’ – but to use our genie a 2.6kw Kipor. We hadn’t used this since like an idiot I had swung this off the boat and pulled my back, so I lifted it with great care. Once fired up it was supplying us all of our necessary electric and of course charging the boat batteries and bow thrusters batteries also. We left just after lunch with full batteries and three locks and a couple of hours later we had found lovely moorings at Hemel Hempstead. We went for a walk and also called in at Sainsbury’s for some essential supplies. We buy in bulk when moored at a marina and have use of our car and store most of our food on board. We also have a freezer on board as well as a full size fridge, so we never find the need to pay extortionate ‘local’ prices, other than for essentials, so using Sainsburys and Waitrose is not an issue. When we returned back to the boat we were astonished to find a bright shiny new boat had moved our boat and re-roped her in an inappropriate way which meant we were now rocking around on board. We couldn’t alter this as there was insufficient space to do anything else. Checking the new shiny boat – needless to say they had moved into our perfect position and their ropes were right!! Another plonker! We fancied a wine, so around 6.00pm we sat on the back in wonderful sunshine and chilled, we got chatting to people passing by and both of us realised we were back to our way of boating. Later we had another walk, this time around the marina and passed the ‘Italian’ – we could have been in Italy or France, amazing. We decided to opt for our favourite food – an Indian! Although a little expensive, the staff were really attentive and humorous and we had a good hot curry! When we returned the bright shiny boat had a group of people on board and we ended up having a poor night’s sleep due to the noisy boat neighbours and noise from a house party opposite. Inconsiderate or what- or are we just turning into old grumpy buggers!
On Sunday we headed off around 10.00am and filled up with water, yet again someone had taken up half of the space by mooring next to the water point, but we still managed to squeeze in. Sandra had noticed the macerator toilet was a bit smelly, but checking out the last time we had emptied it (9 days) we realised it was probably down to too many curries. Sandra de- sanitised and de-scaled the toilet and the smell disappeared. We decided that for the next few months we would have it pumped out every two weeks. We continued our journey and passed through some really hard to open and close locks as well as suffering from some real shallow water. Both of us really surprised at how few boats were passing us – in fact, three in a whole day and no-one coming from behind us. We found most of the boats just moored up along the way on the tow path. One of our Facebook friends had contacted us telling us to give her a wave when we passed, she had recently fell off a lock and broken both legs, another reason to keep health and safety at the forefront of activities. We passed and were please to see her with a big smile. We had been told Berkhamsted was worth visiting, when we got there we were so pleased, beautiful. So at the earliest mooring spot opportunity we moored up – just after bridge 53 a spits distance from the town centre. We decided to have a quiet night and a glass or two of wine. It had been ages since we had used our smoker – COBB, so I got this going and enjoyed a ‘chicken parmo’ a dish we learnt to love when we lived in Saltburn by the Sea in Cleveland – their local specialism, basically chicken in savoury white sauce coated in breadcrumbs – delicious. Living with a qualified chef does have its advantages.
Monday we had arranged to meet Tim and Rachael who run a Facebook forum about food and drink for boaters, but after having a walk into Berkhamsted we realised we needed more time at this town. So we decided to have a chill out day, Sandra caught up with some sewing; I did some paperwork, writing and reading. We went for a walk and realised that although this place was very ‘posh’ (no Pound shops here!) and expensive, we spent £16 on two coffees and cakes, that there was a Whetherspoons pub! This chain of pubs has become our favourite chain, value for money drinks and food. Back on the boat with further investigation Sandra had found that Monday’s is Mexican night there. We had got to love Mexican food some 25 years ago after visiting America a number of times – since then it has always been one of our favourite foods. So we decided to head off to the pub, pleased also to be meeting Tim and Rachael (who also live on a boat in Tring). They had contacted us to tell us they would drive to us by car for the evening so the four of us could enjoy an enjoyable night together – result all round!
So this ends another great week, hard but thoroughly enjoyable with more to follow as we make our way back to the midlands and our home base.