Monthly Archives: June 2015

Uxbridge, Denham and Afternoon Tea

A phone call to Uxbridge Boat Centre to find out whether our part had arrived elicited the response “well that explains that little mystery then”. The wholesalers had managed to post the cap off from the wilds of Norfolk and Good, but had failed in their promise to let Uxbridge Boat Centre know what was going on.

West Drayton

A strange bridge caught our eye passing through West Drayton.

The Boat Centre were very helpful: an old style boat yard still occupying premises once used by Fellows Morton and Clayton, the historic carrying company. The chandlery was an Aladdin’s cave, and their diesel cheap. Who could ask for more.

Somewhat confused to find Denham Marina right below Uxbridge Lock rather than Denham Lock, we wondered if the sweltering weather was getting to us. Just up the water from Uxbridge, on the rural-ish outskirts of Denham, an old and elderly family friend of SWMBO lives in a house with a garden that runs down to the canal. As it happened, she was at home and we were able to park in the willow tree at the end of her garden long enough for a very welcome afternoon cup of tea, before carrying on and eventually mooring somewhere in a water park not a million miles from Harefield Hospital.

Strip Clubs, Floating Classrooms and Music Archives

We were rudely woken up on our moorings near Woolpack Bridge at Hayes by the arrival of a very large and rather odd widebeam barge with two outboard motors (!) clouting our rear end attempting to moor next to us. We’d had a surprisingly quiet night up till then: although only about two miles as the crow flies from Heathrow, we weren’t on the flight path, and well inside any downwind traffic. Didn’t hear a peep from any aircraft, nor the even nearer M4 and Paddington main line. Quite remarkable.

And just “halfway from Heathrow to Uxbridge” the only two establishments close to the bridge access were a Sky Sports Pub/Strip Club with an additional Lap Dancing establishment in the car park, and the strangely deserted brick warehouse, so foot and bike traffic on the towpath was minimal. The Woolpack is apparently one of the most famous strip clubs/pubs outside of Shoreditch, and apparently busiest at lunchtime. Go figure. Anyway, once we’d told the Captain that any pussy at the Woolpack probably wouldn’t be to his taste, he spent the time exploring the overgrown paths into the adjacent country park.

Emerging into the morning light, the driver (I use the word loosely) came up to explain that it was his large car tyre fender that had clouted us, not his boat. He then asked if we were staying the night, as his odd looking boat was a floating classroom, he had a second pick-up the next morning from the same spot, and preferred to leave his boat overnight near others who might keep an eye out for anyone who might try and break in to raid the bar. He then asked if we knew what the large brick outhouse was: he’d attempted to wind the boat there once, went aground, and attracted a large number of security chaps who thought he might be attempting to moor up on that side of the canal.

Woolpack Bridge mooring

And then his party arrived: a crocodile of about thirty kids, holding hands in pairs just like we used to do, all smartly dressed in school uniform, and not one over 5 years old. Given today’s sensitivities, no close up photos were taken, although we all thought they looked sweet and very multicultural. If you look closely you can see them in the distance.

And as we cast off for the delights of West Drayton and Uxbridge, a thought struck us. Why would a floating classroom for primary school kids have a bar?

And as for the brick outhouse: we’d already had a clue from signs down the canal a bit, pointing to “The Old Vinyl Factory”… we were in EMI territory. The old vinyl factory may now be a smart apartment block, but the new building (which Google Street Map shows as just having a entrance sign that reads “EMI”) would seem to be a repository for rare musical stuff – the EMI Music Archive, no less.

Decision Day… Maybe

The plan was to head up past Bull’s Bridge junction (where the canal branches off to Paddington, London and the Regent’s Canal) and visit Uxbridge Boat Centre to collect our pump out cap so lovingly dispatched there from Timbuktu or wherever. And then, come back to the junction and head into London.

But the Captain had obviously been listening to other boaters, who said that moorings were a real problem (let alone cat friendly ones), due to “continuous cruisers moorers” looking for inexpensive digs taking up all the space. (Some 20 boats a month are moving into London at the moment, with none coming out… mooring three and four abreast, something will have to give). The Lee & Stort navigations were nice “once you got north of Hackney Marshes” (quite a way),  word was that Limehouse Basin was running out of water, and anyway the transit from Limehouse up the Thames through the City and Westminster was clearly more challenging that we’d originally thought…

Taken with the utter conviction of the weather forecasters that it was going to be hot hot hot, meant that after a short committee meeting the chairpuss decided that plans to do the London Loop would be postponed until a more suitable time. Any specific trips to London attractions (are there any?) could be done by train during the non-boating season. Ah well, we’d rather fancied visiting C#H by boat, but never mind.

Setting off in the already warm sunshine, we’d just emptied Hanwell Bottom Lock, got Song & Dance in and shut the gates when another boat arrived. Opening back up to let him in, we found it was the boat that had led our little convoy down the Thames. Slightly puzzled by the notice at the bottom, which said “Want some help with the Hanwell Locks? Call one of our Tuesday Volunteers…” we wondered what we were supposed to do on any other day of the week.

Anyway, sharing big locks with another crew is always easier, there appeared to be plenty of water, as the pound above was overflowing, and – miraculously – a couple of volunteers appeared to help. We didn’t tell them they’d got the day wrong…

 What water shortage?

Eight locks later, past lunchtime, with it getting seriously hot, we proceeded out of the last one followed by our companions spurred on by the news that Bulls Bridge junction was only 20 minutes away, and there was a huge Tesco superstore with its own moorings so we could stock up on cold beer etc. etc.

The canal had other ideas. Considering the area, the water was surprisingly clear. It was also full of chopped reeds (whether from a bank cutting exercise that naughtily threw the stuff in the canal, or chopped by propellers off the liberal amount growing underwater we don’t know) and rubbish. Going slower and slower, and losing steerage, we just managed to make it to the bank, and indulged in that favourite pastime called “going down the weed hatch”. It’s even more fun when (a) the engine is hot and (b) it’s a stinking hot day.

Last time we had a major blockage it was caused by an M&S ladies’ twin set near somewhere posh. This time, half an hour’s cursing and swearing extracted large quantities of reeds, some very fine pond weed, several massacred plastic bags, and a sari.

Tesco Dry Dock, Bull's BridgeBull's Bridge looking up Paddington Arm

Arriving rather later at Bull’s Bridge, Tesco was suitably raided, and with a look at the restored dry dock under the car park, and a long look up the Paddington Arm, we set off towards Uxbridge looking for the first suitable mooring.

DSCF2431

Wandering through Hayes, several bridges had access to shops and services, and were hence busy with boats and towpath drinkers, before we came to Hollybush Bridge, where there were pleasant mooring on one side next to an overgrown country park, and a large, quiet, windowless brick warehouse type of place on the other. The moment we stopped to check it out, Biggles jumped on shore to check it out and disappeared into the woods. That’ll do us, then…

One Good Tern Deserves Another

One gets used to seeing Black Headed Gulls pretty well everywhere on the canal system (or anywhere else for that matter). But one  of the things that quite surprised us (even more so this year) is how often one sees Common Terns inland these days too. On the canals as well as the River Thames. They really are quite spectacular wheeling and diving, and flashing past the boat.

But from the moment we left Teddington Locks on the tidal river, we didn’t see either. Loads of the bigger Black Backed Gulls, though, and a few Herring Gulls.

Maybe it was the wet weather, but it looked like it’s not just the locks and the boats that get bigger as you head down river…

Going Tidal

Venturing onto the tidal Thames below Teddington Lock is not to be taken lightly in a totally unseaworthy narrowboat, even just down the short-ish section to Brentford, where one can re-enter the canal system. It’s almost a 180° turn going down the river and into the cut that reaches Thames Lock and the Grand Union Canal. Get the timing wrong, and the tide can cause the river to be flowing downstream at 15 knots, when the most your narrowboat will do is about 8 knots flat out (a recipe for ending up somewhere entirely different to where you wanted to go, probably pointing in the wrong direction).

So the deal is that you depart Teddington Lock about half an hour before high tide,  and turn into Brentford just over an hour later, before things get too hairy. “High tide’s at 12:45 on Sunday: be at the lock at 12:15” said the lockkeeper. The other advantage of this timing is that they raise the weir gates at Richmond so you can sail straight through, rather than work through Richmond Lock.

Unusually, we were somewhat late departing Hampton Court moorings (quelle surprise), even though an Egyptian Goose family came to wave farewell, and check out our snazzy new lifejackets.

Egyptian Goose & goslings

Then as we puttered down towards Kingston, the engine went into auto-rough. (This is a phenomenon well known to those with risk assessment gene deficiency syndrome who fly single-engine aircraft over large bodies of water: the engine detects the moment one leaves the possibility of a dry landing and sounds as though it’s about to self destruct). Mooring up hurriedly to disappear down the weed hatch only to find nothing didn’t help our arrival time… it was looking less and less likely we were going to make our tidal slot.

And then it started raining (as forecast). So what with putting on wet weather gear, clock watching, pushing the throttle up a bit and so on, the otherwise interesting trip down through our old haunts of Thames Ditton, Kingston and Teddington passed in a bit of blur, without slowing down to take photos, although we did manage to snap this old Dutch Tjalke. And as the river got wider so did the the boats!

Dutch Tjalke

12:15 came and went and we were still a nearly mile short of Teddington Lock. As we approached, there was a large passenger steamer on our tail, and – (there are two parallel locks at Teddington – we were waved into one already occupied by two other narrowboats camping at the bit, and the steamer waved into the other. Again, no time for pictures. Letting down onto the tidal Thames, it was exactly 12:45 high tide when we left the lock… we got the impression from the lockkeeper that had we arrived any later, we’d have been waiting for 24 hours. “Follow the others… you’ll be OK” he said.

So we got ourselves a convoy, and the next hour and a quarter passed quickly enough while the tide started to fall, as did the scenery(!) and with little drama.

Passing Richmond, you realise just what a superb position the old Star and Garter home (now being converted into luxury apartments) occupies. Just so long as you don’t mind aircraft on finals to LHR going right overhead at 1500ft every 90 seconds or so).

We've got ourselves a convoy

The last stretch before Brentford has Syon Park on the left, and Kew Gardens on the right, but you don’t really see either (apart from the mature trees lining the bank). And we were happy to be in convoy with someone who knew where they were going. The turn into Thames Lock is unmarked and not at all obvious and it would be easy to sail right on past. Even with almost “correct timing” tide-wise, and following the boat in front, we were astonished at how far downstream we travelled involuntarily during the turn, and how much power we needed to crawl upstream into the lock cut. Definitely not an exercise to be taken lightly!

Locking up into Brentford, the sun came out again, and the visitor moorings were all full (there’s a quaint old bit of Brentford as well as all the skyscrapers lining the M4 elevated section), so we pottered on into another business park for a well-deserved late lunch. Biggles decided to explore the office blocks before deciding to go somewhere else for the night.

Late lunch in BrentfordLate lunch in Brentford

Late lunch in Brentford

A short potter further along the Grand Union ensued, to moor just before Hanwell Bottom Lock, right near a pub that didn’t serve their much recommended food on a Sunday evening. The irritating Sunday Lunch syndrome strikes again.

Hampton Court Palace

By all accounts, we were definitely lucky to find a space on the popular Hampton Court Palace moorings late afternoon on a sunny Saturday, even if the local trip boats made it seem more like New Orleans. Pretty sure the paddle wheels are not used for propulsion though. If you look carefully (click on the pic) you can see us moored towards the back, right near the shiny golden gates. Shame they’re rather hidden by the grey-painted security railings. You can also see in the distance some of the preparations for next week’s flower show – the entrance (or at least the “wheel-chair collection point”) is down there.

Hampton Court mooringsHampton, Mississippi

Hampton Court Palace

It being late afternoon, hot, mobbed with tourists etc. etc. we opted to make a proper visit later in the year, but did take shufti around the Rose Garden area.

A rose by any other name...Hampton Court Rose Garden

My love is like a red red rose...

Fran decided once again that what she really really wanted for her birthday was a south-facing brick wall, while one of these pictures couldn’t but remind me of an old Robbie Burns song.

A stroll across the bridge for provisions (a garage selling M&S Cheescake, no less) and a dose of café culture in Molesey’s main street (one of the last outposts of the ruling colonial elite , it would seem from the jolly posh British accents), and back via the palace entrance to check on the Captain…

Hampton Court Bridge

… who was quite happy sunning himself on the quayside, while all the tourists walking along the path above stopped to tell him how wonderful he was.

Gold Gate DoorwayChilling Out

The best laid plans…

With hot weather, and too much to eat and drink, it was looking like a possibly restless night, and so it proved. Having given up meditating on the undergrowth, we were woken by that unmistakeable sound of the Captain leaping aboard and giving forth with a full, open throated victory “yowl”, only somewhat moderated by the small furry rodentoid mute firmly and inextricably grasped in his molars.

Promised for Friday lunchtime, by early afternoon we’d established that due to the wonders of the wholesaler’s computer system, our part had not only failed to arrived at Shepperton Marina, but they were now out of stock and no more would be available to until at least mid-July. And I thought aircraft parts could be problematical. So much for hanging around waiting!

A somewhat testy phone call with the wholesaler elicited the information that one last pump-out cap could be located at their sub-office somewhere in Outer Mongolia, or perhaps the Norfolk Broads – I forget which. Anyway, they promised to get it delivered to Uxbridge Boat Centre for Tuesday, whom we expected to pass somewhere around then. They also promised to call Uxbridge and tell them we’d be calling in to collect it.

By now, it was getting too late to set off and expect to find moorings on a sunny Friday evening, so another chill-out session ensued at our Shepperton moorings before eventually heading off down stream on the Saturday morning.

Walton BridgeWalton Bridge

The new Walton bridge is rather fine. Wonder why they named it after the first mate.

Sad Eyed?Goodnight Irene

Just near there, we wondered if the rather grey Lady of the Lowlands was as Sad-Eyed as she looked. And the naval gun standing guard over Goodnight Irene may be the Environment Agency’s latest attempt to catch licence dodgers, or perhaps is just there to deter anyone from singing anything other than Leadbelly’s version when they pass.

Wonder what the tartan looks likeDivebombing Parakeet

We also wondered what tartan might be appropriate for this cruiser, moored near The Anglers, which really does have a dive-bombing parakeet as its pub sign, just in case anyone disbelieved us.

And so, heading further downstream, we eventually moored up right under the gold plated gates at Hampton Court Palace: we were lucky to get in there, it would appear.