Thursday, 14 June 2018

Milton Keynes

(With both boats - posted by Alan
(Retrospective Post for Friday 1st June)

Latest boat found drifting in the middle of the canal
Some canal boaters like long lock-free pounds, where you can travel maybe 10, 20 or even more miles without working through any locks. Other canal boaters like working through locks, and prefer stretches of canal where they come fairly regularly.  Generally I fall into the second of these groupings - I like taking the boats through locks - though I will admit that with the passing of years, and me not getting any younger, trying to knock off thirty or more fairly heavy locks in a days boating no longer holds the appeal it did when I was in my teens or twenties!

One of CRT's this time - at least there was some (just) usable rope!
Even now I like to take things a bit easier, though, I am not a huge fan of travelling relatively local stretches of canal that I know well, but which have no locks and which I need to cover on a regular basis to access destinations further afield.  The stretch of the Grand Union that takes a fairly circuitous route around Milton Keynes is such a stretch.  (OK, strictly the canal didn't exactly choose to be routed around Milton Keynes because it was there getting on for 200 years before most of Milton Keynes was - it just happens that Milton Keynes has been built so it now looks like the GU passes around much of it!)

Quiet passage through "Three Locks"
There is nothing really wrong with this stretch of canal as a cruising route, in fact much of it is quite pleasant, and some of what it passes through is very nice indeed.  But once you have left Leighton Buzzard and the locks at Stoke Hammond behind, it is all one lock-less stretch, other than the very shallow lock at Fenny Stratford.  Even as you pass out of Milton Keynes through Wolverton, there is still only one fairly shallow lock as Cosgrove, before several more miles to Stoke Bruerne, the first point at which you get to start working again.

We find that for overnight stops in Milton Keynes it is well worth getting to know the "best" bits near some of the old villages it swept in as it grew.  Favourite overnight moorings with us include Stantonbury - still very rural, with a walk out to a derelict church, although new housing is now changing this area.

However even better is Great Linford, particularly if you can get on one of the very few "Parks" 48 hour moorings on the non tow-path side.  This time we couldn't, and consequently struggled to find anywhere deep enough on the tow-path side to tie up our deep draughted ex working boats. without having to get the dogs to walk a plank to get on and off.  However once we were finally moored, we were still able to walk a circuit across two different bridges, so the dogs got to enjoy the rather nice park anyway, (even if Odin was a bit miffed at not being allowed to swim in a pond that looked like more mud than water!)

Leighton Buzzard to Great Linford
Miles per boat: 14.3, Miles both boats: 28.6, Locks: 6
Total Trip Miles: 214.5, Locks: 130

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Need to get to the pub!

(With both boats - posted by Alan
(Retrospective Post for Thursday 31st May)

Heading away from our overnight mooring at Cowroast.
With all the disruption and delay to our return journey from Rickmansworth, (the result of Michael's latest operation), I had completely overlooked the fact that I had arranged to go on my regular monthly pub night with former work colleagues,

setting off dowm the Marsworth flight, breasted up.
When the emails started arriving to confirm the meet up was on, I realised I had a problem........

Unless.......  If we could arrange to meet somewhere I could get to from the boat, I could still attend.  We regularly meet up in Leighton Buzzard, and that looked a possible target for me, so that's what we agreed to do.

the large sweeping curves at Marsworth are great fun.
In theory getting to Leighton by boat and in good time should have been easy, but in reality it was again harder work that I had hoped.  I'm now coming to the realisation that it is mostly the locks that take longer with two boats, significantly more so than the travel between them.  At each lock we have to open and close every single gate at least once, and this involves quite a bit of walking right around both sides of the lock, and across a set of gates.  With only one boat you can usually avoid much of this.

Carrying on down Marsworth
Also factor in that where we pass through lock flights, or even just locks in closely spaced pairs, we generally breast the boats together - that is tie one alongside the other, and use only one for power, ragging the other one along as if unpowered.  This should be quite efficient - it frees up a second person to do the lock work, as only one steerer is required, but if you encounter gates that will not push far enough back into their recesses to allow both boats out together, you can get both boats jammed tightly between two gates, and it can take considerable time to extricate yourself from it.  Generally it means singling the boats out again, meaning an unplanned change in how we are working, as a second steerer is now needed, leaving only one person to to all the lock work.

Seabrook locks   
So Leighton Buzzard was reached a fair bit later than plan, but I still got to enjoy my evening out.

Reading back through this, I see I have failed to mention the totally unexpected deluge that started to fall on us shortly after we left Grove lock.  I don't think I have ever got as wet and cold quite as quickly ever before when boating.  For the remainder of the trip the boat was festooned with wet clothes, shoes and boots, non of which had dried out several days later!

Seabrook locks are also done breasted together.

Last of the Seabrook locks.

David with Sickle between Church and Grove locks.

Cowroast to Leighton Buzzard
Miles per boat: 12.0, Miles both boats: 23.9, Locks: 18
Total Trip Miles: 185.9, Locks: 124

Monday, 11 June 2018

Some rather good photos.

(With both boats - posted by Alan
(Retrospective Post for Monday 14th May)

When we were boating down the Stoke Bruerne flight a few weeks ago, I was aware we were being regularly photographed. 

So I had a word with the photographer, to see if he publishes his pictures on the Internet.  He is called Geoff Murphy, he does publish his photos, and they are really rather good.

Once I had seen them, I asked Geoff if I could put some on the blog, but initially missed his reply dues to the intricacies of Flickr.  However I can now see he said this was OK, so I'm posting a selection here.

As I need them in quite low resolution on the blog, if you are interested in seeing Geoff's whole album at a higher quality, you can view it here.

As usual clicking an image in the blog should show it larger.

(All photos copyright Geoff Murphy, but used with permission)

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Moving again - Another short hop

(With both boats - posted by Alan

A slightly obstructed approach into our first lock of the onward journey.
Having the boats in Berkhamsted at least gave us the opportunity to spend time on them in easy reach of our home.  Thus we could both support Michael as required, but also do a few tasks on the boats, as well as simply keeping an eye on them.  Some nights we managed to be aboard, others we were at home.

One disadvantage of the part of Berkhamsted we initially moored in is the masses of bird poo that descend on the boat from the trees that overhang the moorings.  This seems to be from birds that turn out a particularly unpleasant variety, and which quickly becomes remarkably difficult to remove from paintwork.  No sooner do you get most of one lot off than another arrives.  Eventually after a few days an adequate space opened up a short way further forwards, and we were able to shuffle the boats far enough to make the problem far less bad.

Second lock - the "Upper Gas" lock.
I'll not go into too much detail about attempts to clear part of the main cabin roof where paint has been peeling off, and to get it into primer.  Suffice it to say that on a day where rain was only forecast as a vague possibility, shortly after I had finished painting the heavens opened on to paint that was still completely wet.  Minutes later torrents were running ovr it, and the wet paint was under at least a centime of running water.

After about five days in Berkhamsted we judged that Michael could survive without us for a few days, and because of other planned commitments we really did need to get the boats back to their home moorings.  So we loaded up again with all that we needed to move two boats together, (and that included David!), and set off on the first available evening for another short hop up to Cow Roast.

Berkhamsted to Cowroast
Miles per boat: 2.9, Miles both boats: 5.9, Locks:7
Total Trip Miles: 162.0, Locks: 106

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Another small hop

(With both boats - posted by Alan)

Sickle passes her twin Tycho, which is currently based in Berkhamsted.
These will be only brief postings with a few photos, as we are now some time after when the boat moves were actually able to take place.

Following working around our son Michael's ankle operation the boats were left at Winkwell for a bit under a couple of days, but as soon as we reasoned we could get away from home for a few hours, it clearly made more sense to move them up to Berkhamsted.

This is one of those stretches of canal where the locks come thick and fast, so although we only travelled less than 3 miles, the brief trip still involved 8 locks.

Fortunately the water situation South of Berkhamsted is massively better than when we attempted the same journey a year previously.  Back then several of the pounds were down by twenty inches or more, making moving deep draughted boats a major struggle.  This year levels were normal, and we were pleased not to bounce over anything!

Winkwell to Berkhamsted
Miles per boat: 2.7, Miles both boats: 5.4, Locks: 8
Total Trip Miles: 156.1, Locks: 99

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

I wish that I knew then what I know now.

(With both boats - posted by Alan)

Kings Langley
Today was a day that was never going to go to any agreed plan, however hard we tried.  As I explained yesterday our son Michael was booked into hospital today for another ankle operation, and reliant on us both as transport, and to meet the requirement that he has someone with him at all times for 24 hours after the "general".

Last surviving part of Dickinson's Apsley Mills
To this end we stopped early yesterday, and Cath took a train home, with me, David and the dogs staying on the boats.  Today Cath had to have Michael in hospital by 07:30, after which she drove to Boxmoor, (Hemel Hempstead), intending to cycle down and join us.  We reasoned we could get her back to Boxmoor before Michael would be released.

Massive cill leak at Boxmoor lock - no paddles are drawn in this picture!
However instead of Cath arriving I got a phone call to say there were problems with the bike, and I would have to cycle out to her on our boat bike with what was necessary to solve them.  However as I hastily tried to compose myself, and set off, she rang me to say she had instead gone in to B&Q to buy what was needed to solve the problems - insulating tape and bungee straps, but I'll leave you to guess what two problems she needed to solve!  So eventually she arrived with us not a lot later than originally anticipated, and we grabbed a quick breakfast before setting off.

We rather expected to make quite slow progress, and indeed so it proved - quite a lot of boats are now travelling the same direction as us, quite a few of which we recognise from the festival.  With two boats, and being somewhat over-tired, we are not that fast anyway, but can generally roughly match the pace of those ahead and behind.  We had arranged for Cath to leave the car at Boxmoor, thinking Michael might need picking up by about the time we got up to that point.  However a call to the ward suggested that even though he was out of surgery and awake, he would be "several more hours", which left us in a quandary about what to attempt next.

Bridge operators view at Winkwell swing bridge.
In fact we decided that Cath would move the car further up the canal, and that David and I would try and proceed with two boats on our own, expecting Cath to meet us by walking back South, to bring us back up to three crew.  It sounded a simple plan, but travelling breasted I could have done without the wide-beam coming the other way that decided to make his way to the tow-path as I was about to pass him.  Fortunately the resulting grounding of Flamingo wasn't serious, and I was able to get the pair moving again - just as well, as the only other "people" on the boats at this point were two dogs. 
Once through the Winkwell rail bridge, we encountered another loose wide-beam floating tied only by one end.  Once I had worked out how to get a sledge hammer to David he re-moored yet another boat.

Once tied up at Winkwell, we expected Michael would be ready for collection - not so, however, despite being a morning rather than afternoon operation.  We could in fact have got the boats to Berkhamsted, which would have suited us much better, but we lacked any information that allowed us to have done this, so had to err on the side of caution.

It was getting on for 7:00 pm before Cath set off to collect Michael, who was finally being released, complete with crutches. She has now ferried him home, where he is not allowed to be on his own.

Thinking back to this morning, (and as I have titled this post), I wish that I knew then what I know now!

Home Park (Kings Langley) to Winkwell
Miles per boat: 4.7, Miles both boats: 9.3, Locks: 10
Total Trip Miles: 150.7, Locks: 91

Monday, 21 May 2018

Starting the return trip - with complications!

(With both boats - posted by Alan)

Phil on Hyperion is already away from Ricky and serving customers.
We have had a great weekend at Rickmansworth.  We couldn't leave yesterday evening, as David was still involved in other things in London, and got back to the boat far too late (and tired) for anything to happen last night.

Cassio Bridge Lock
A complication has arisen about our return trip, not originally envisaged when we booked in to "Ricky".  It relates to the continuing issues that our son Michael has with his ankles.  The last operation was one on the ankle he didn't smash up spectacularly last August, but once that had occurred they would not operate until he was well through the very long recovery from the broken ankle.  However the broken ankle, has also continued to cause issues, and he has been awaiting further surgery on that.  With our usual luck on timings, that operation was recently advised to him as taking place tomorrow, Tuesday.  Once again he will need someone at home to take him to the operation, or more particularly to bring him home, and to support him until he can manage on his own.

Iron Bridge - possibly the most photographed lock on the Southern GU.
We debated calling off yet another planned trip, but decided that with some ingenuity we could probably still go to "Ricky", but would have to stagger and delay much of our journey back to give Michael the support he needs.

Very low pound between Cassiobury locks.
So today we decided progress away from Rickmansworth would be slow, as many boats moved North, and that we were unlikely to get beyond Kings Langley before someone would need to leave the boats and catch a train home.  This was a good guess - progress has been slow, and despite no hiccups by us, Kings Langley is still as far as we have managed to reach.

What has now been called "North Grove" lock foe some years - a modern name
As I write this, Cath has already headed for home, where hopefully she now is.  Having taken Michael to his operation first thing tomorrow, she hopes to be able to join us for two or three hours moving the boats a bit further, before heading off again to take him home.  As we have no idea how much support he will need, and for how long, after that the plan can only be flexible.  The only certainty is that it will take a lot longer to get from Rickmansworth to our home mooring than it did to get there.

Batchworth (Rickmansworth) to Home Park (Kings Langley)
Miles per boat: 6.5, Miles both boats: 12.9, Locks: 12
Total Trip Miles: 141.4, Locks: 81