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.
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!
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).
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.
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.