Monthly Archives: May 2015

It’s Aldershot, Jim…

… but not as we know it. When the first mate was a but a lowly computer programmer in short trousers there was an old joke “I thought a dump was a diagnostic core print until I saw Aldershot.” But winding through Aldershot Barracks on the canal, you’d never know: just peace and quiet surrounded by trees and water (and in our case, sunshine).

Aldershot BarracksAldershot Barracks

If you really look hard enough you might catch an occasional distant glimpse of a building or some barbed wire, but that’s it.

Farnborough Airfield

The barbed wire is bit more obvious at the pleasant moorings by Eelmoor Bridge, right at the end of Farnborough Airport’s runway. From the bank there’s a superb view across the airfield and beyond, and not enough jet traffic to disturb dinner or breakfast. Must be a popular spot during the Farnborough Airshow!

Anywhere But…

As the canal wanders directionally aimless around the contours via Ash, Aldershot, Farnborough, Fleet, Dogmersfield and so on, one can’t help remember the (probably apocryphal) story of the hitch-hiker on the old Winchester by-pass holding a sign that said “Anywhere but Basingstoke”.  And with (a)  the Greywell tunnel blocked (b) both ends of the tunnel now two of the most important bat SSSIs in Europe and (c) the M3, no amount of restoration will enable the Basingstoke Canal to reach Basingstoke.

The canal does manage to cross the Blackwater Valley Road, though. It’s quite odd cruising over a major dual-carriageway on an aqueduct that one has driven under far too often over the years.

Blackwater Valley Road AqueductBlackwater Valley Road Aqueduct

Blackwater Valley Road Aqueduct

Immediately after is a huge fishing area that we’d never come across before, and someone in Aldershot made a nice posh bridge once upon a time. It’s certainly an odd area!

 Fishing LakeWharf Bridge

Fame at Last

A short trip from Frimley due south, through Bob Potter country (he of Lakeside Club, World Darts Championship, Potters Steak Bar and numerous other ventures) before a swing bridge announced arrival the HQ of the Basingstoke Canal people at Mytchett Canal Centre, which provided an opportunity to fill Song & Dance up with water, and the crew up with lunch. The Captain decided to go tree-climbing.

The Captain returns from explorationTaking on water at the Canal Centre

A lady with a BCS sweatshirt rushed out with a camera, saying to her colleagues “Look, it’s Song & Dance” and to us “Can I get a photo of Biggles? We’ve been following your progress on the Blog”. Sir deigned to pose for at least three seconds before wandering off. Fame indeed.

Betty, the camera wielding lady turned out be the friend / ex-colleague of one of Fran’s Jackstraws Morris dancers, and persuaded us that we really ought to attend the boat rally and all the other festivities at the weekend, and insisted we contact the lady managing the mooring spaces over the weekend…

Tame Goose

Cygnets galoreFamily gathering

Deep Cut Indeed

Another bright sunshiny morning saw an early departure for an 09:00 reporting time, to climb the three Brookwood Locks, closely followed by the 14 Deepcut Locks. We somehow managed to be the first off, but David & Jane’s Rowan was just behind and joined us for the climb.

Bright morning in BrookwoodBright morning in Brookwood

Brookwood Bottom Lock

With double width locks, virtually no useable lock landings/laybys and only two crew each, it was going to be a steady slog, but we soon settled in to a steady rhythm, and the female crew were so happy lock-wheeling and nattering that they never wanted the male crews to take turn about, like we both normally did. The locks were already set for us, and not overly fierce, so the day passed in interesting company (Rowan’s skipper was someone in the city, then the lockkeeper at Thames Lock on the Wey Navigation), with the sun shining, the gentle thump thump thump of Rowan’s Russell Newbery engine and the tree-lined seclusion from the world outside inducing an almost trance like meditative state. Even occasional problems like jamming the boats on narrower than usual lock walls or gates that wouldn’t quite open all the way didn’t spoil the relaxed mood.

Emerging at the top and parting company with Rowan, we found pleasant moorings by Frimley Lodge Park, only a few yards from The King’s Head which provided Guinness for the thirst, and a menu that provided precious little incentive to cook on the boat.

The crew slept well after such a day. The Captain slept all day (and spent the night worrying the local Canada geese and goslings, we suspect).

Brookwood Beckons: Rally? What Rally?

Leaving the delights of the Bridge Barn Beefeater behind, another OMG early start saw Song & Dance reporting for a passage up through St. John’s / Goldsworth Locks. We’d planned on doing these and the Brookwood Locks in one go, but were reliably informed that there were no moorings beyond Brookwood until the top of the Deepcut flight (the locals regard these two flights as one: why doesn’t the documentation say so!).

We had company again; convenient moorings right by the launderette in St. Johns enabled some canal water to be washed out of the dunked clothes, and a start made on drying. Then onward through Brookwood Lye, where we found lovely moorings in a country park that we had no knowledge of, despite living in the area for umpteen years – round the back of the old Brookwood Hospital, and hidden from the Knaphill Sainsbury megastore and related housing developments.

We were aware some boats were following us the hill, and several towpath users had remarked that they hadn’t seen so many boats on the Basingstoke for years which puzzled us until a chap polishing his boat said “Hello, are you going to the Rally”? Subsequent enquiries established that not only was our eventual destination Odiham having a major bunfight “celebrating” King John’s supposed departure from the castle 800 years ago to head for Runnymede and an early attempt at Habeus Corpus, but that the Canal Supporters were holding a boat rally roughly when we expected to reach Odiham, and that mooring space would be – errr – limited! We said we’d keep in touch and hurry up or delay, as required…

 Rowan testing the bushesRowan mooring up

Arriving first at the delightful Brookwood moorings we’d been told about, we took poll position, but no-one else seemed to bothered about tying up to trees or bushes. I can see Song & Dance staying awhile here on the return journey.

Brookwood Evening

Passage to Woking: Duck Weed and Duckings

The die was cast –Song & Dance was heading up the Basingstoke Canal: to preserve their water (in short supply) boat movements are limited, and transit through the lock flights has to be pre-arranged, and is allowed on specific days only. An 09:30 appointment at Woodham Lock meant an earlier than normal start for the Captain (and concern that he might not return in time from his nocturnal perambulations). But no disasters… casting off at 09:00 from New Haw gave the crew plenty of time to meet up with the lockkeeper.

Back under the M25M.S.C. Frodsham

The Basingstoke Canal junction with the Wey Navigation is pretty much under the M25 near West Byfleet. Not a very salubrious start, enriched by a rather nice if somewhat unusual boat called Frodsham. If you’ve ever been to Frodsham, you probably wouldn’t want to name your boat after it.

Back under the M25Where's Banksie when you need him?

As befits such a part of Surrey, the graffiti was of a better standard than usual, if still incomprehensible to mere mortals and Russian Blue cats.

Wey Navigation / Basingstoke Canal JunctionWoodend Lock #1 and Duck Weed

Turning into the Basingstoke canal cut, the concrete and traffic was soon hidden by trees and woods lining the canal, and Woodham Bottom Lock was reached, through a thick carpet of duck weed.

Woodend Lock #1Woking Central

We needn’t have rushed: there was another boat due but was running slightly late. Still, it meant we had company and an additional pair of hands through the wide locks. And having completed the paperwork and unlocked the padlocks, Matt, the lockkeeper, kindly went on ahead and set up the remaining locks for us so we could just sail in. A gentle introduction to working again after all the automated Thames!

Although secluded, and potentially anywhere, at one of the Woodham locks we bumped into an acquaintance walking her new puppy. Must be close to home.

Arriving in Woking under leaden skies, there was a work boat moored right in the middle of the limited mooring, rather restricting the options for a longish narrowboat (it had been there for some months). The first mate failed to notice the coping stones were nicely rounded and smooth, missed his footing, and found himself with one foot on shore, two hands on the boat, and a rapidly widening four foot gap between the two. Ah well… the clothes were in need of a wash.

Shower and change of clothes, a quick visit to the delights of Woking for provisions, and we were joined by an old friend for a short cruise to The Bridge Barn and dinner. The next morning Fran spotted an old colleague walking her children to school down the towpath. Definitely close to home!

Farewell to the Thames, Hello to the Cygnets

Can’t help thinking It’s not the Leaving of Laleham  might have made a better song title, but there you go. Swiftly under Chertsey Bridge and thankfully everything looks rather dryer than it did in the winter of 2013/14! Seems strange to be narrowboating in Surrey.

Chertsey Bridge

After watching all the ducks and goslings growing mad, just below Chertsey Bridge we spotted our first cygnets of the season.

Leaving Shepperton Lock with a wave to Piper Dutch Barge Calliope waiting to enter, carving our way through the myriad canoeists and we’ve left the Thames’ wide open vistas for the rather more closed-in Wey Navigation at Thames Lock.

Thames Lock is really almost a staircase lock in disguise: below the real lock there’s a sizeable curved pound and another gate, so that when necessary – as it was for us even though we don’t draw much at all – they can raise the water level just a foot or so, to clear the bottom cill of the main chamber.

Thames Lock lower poundThames Lock

Some fancy apartments here too: it’s within spitting distance of Weybridge high street, so Biggles decided not to waste time visiting the local estate agent.

Thames LockThames Lock Apartments

Some fancy apartments just down the cut at Coxes Lock too. Nice that the old mill was preserved, though.

Coxes LockCoxes Lock and Mill

Passing Pelican Wharf there were several boats with names that should be punished, such as This Wey Up : we’ll spare you the others.

We eventually moored up just above New Haw Lock, where the Captain’s BFF Emma Jane (she of the hat in our winter wanderings) joined us for a meal at the adjacent White Hart pub.

61 Swan Salute for an old hero.

Anyone who’d bought tickets for the Royal Windsor Horse Show for the Thursday must have been well peed off. Wednesday had been a beautiful day, but Thursday was just awful, with heavy rain all day. Fortunately this had been expected by the Captain, and a car fetched from home the previous evening enabled the first mate to go off and play Badminton with her group, a number of errands to be run, and a much needed bend and stretch at one of Swami Ji’s yoga classes.

Friday dawned rather better, and passing under the M25 and A30 at Wraysbury, it’s obvious that the river is getting wider, the boats bigger, and the houses odder.

Under the M25 and A30Lunar Module?

Someone was celebrating their 60th Birthday in style, and at Penton Hook it was a delight to see a beautiful restoration of one of the original Dunkirk Little Ships, proudly wearing its Dunkirk 1940 plaque. It was “fresh out the box” and looked just lovely. 50 years ago Fran & I shared a pretend Aunt and Uncle who owned one. There were loads then… there can’t be many left now. Not sure if they were joining the imminent Return to Dunkirk, but it would be nice to think so,

Party BoatDunkirk Small Ship

Lunching at the new town of Staines-on-Thames (which looked astonishingly like the Staines of old) , further down the river we came across a short section where we counted over 60 swans swimming around before giving up. Round the bend, in what looked like a similar bit of water, not a swan in sight, but wall-to-wall Common Terns skimming the water. A bit further, and the only birds in sight were dozens of Black-Headed Gulls. Strange how they divvy up the river between them.

To end the day, decent moorings at Laleham enabled a visit from an old morris dancing groupie friend… 60 years ago he’d worked at the boat yard across the water. Hadn’t moved far!

Carts and Cartas

Leaving Baths Island (or “Windsor Castle Moorings”, as the council has it) on a sunny morning, the trip boats were out in force, providing splendid views of the trendy new apartments on the Eton side of the river.

Passing Port to PortEton waterside

It was clear that Her Maj was at home (the flag’s a giveaway), and appeared to have the builders in. The former was no surprise, as it was the first day of the Royal Windsor Horse Show, held in her back garden.

Windsor CastleWindsor Bridge

The first day had free entry for local tax-payers, but they clearly weren’t expecting anyone to arrive by boat, as for miles there were “No Mooring With Extreme Prejudice” signs. Never occurred to us that mooring up for a cuppa was a Serious and Organised Crime… We’re still trying to get our heads round the accusation that Biggles’ cruising schedule might be “organised”. Still, plenty of horses and carts were trotting away in the sunshine.

Go Away...Royal Windsor Horse Show

Home Park, Windsor CastleHome Park, Windsor Castle

Arriving at Old Windsor Lock, an odd couple were exiting, breasted up: “That’s the way to do it!”

And the lock is a strange affair: almost like an outdoor theatre with tiered seating.

That's the way to do it!Old Windsor Lock

Leaving Old Windsor Lock and the Bells of Ouseley pub, a quick run down through the Runnymede Meadows and past The Ankerwycke Yew ensued before mooring up by Bell Wier Lock and the Runnymede Hotel. Rumour has it there’ll be an awful lot of boats arriving here soon…

Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead

Leaving Cookham on a busy sunny Sunday, we managed to time the lunch stop so that we could naughtily moor up in the lock layby at Boulter’s Lock near Maidenhead without incurring the wrath of the lock keeper, because he was at lunch too.

There’s a convenient free (to local residents) car park at the lock, and Biggles’ best friends Vicki and Moore drove out, dropped a car there and joined him on a cruise around Maidenhead and down via Bray and the race-course to Windsor, where cat friendly moorings at Baths Island were a mere 5 minutes walk from the town centre and our friends’ home.

It’s quite strange cruising through areas that one regularly frequents on land. And the First Mate can feel another stiff letter to RBWM coming on… if our residents’ Advantage  Card can give us discounts at local car parks and restaurants, why can’t it give us a discount on mooring Song & Dance for a few days?

Wonder who's steering...

There’s a mooring here somewhere… chief cook multi-tasks by steering and reading the guide book map.

Bath Island Moorings, WindsorBath Island Moorings, WIndsor

A very pleasant spot, on sunny weekends Baths Island is wall-to-wall with picnicking Sikhs from Slough (it used to be wall-to-wall BBQs, but the council put a stop to that). Weekdays it’s a quiet but very convenient little back-water. Only five minutes walk to catch a bus back home, too, to sort out some stuff.

Biggles' new scratching post

Meantime Biggles is delighted with his new scratching post.