Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Ducking`into Aylesbury

The new Circus Field Marina, Aylesbury. Our home for the last few days
One of the many delights of cruising the canal system, are the occasional arms you happen upon. These were built to link remote towns and villages to the main system and many are idyllic and unspoilt, though often they have to rely on local societies for their maintenance and care and you often take your chances with water levels.
We had passed the Aylesbury arm at Marsworth on the Grand Union a number of times and often said to each other we’d like to explore this seven-mile stretch that runs into the old market town. A damaged lock and a bank collapse has meant the arm has rarely been open for the last two years, but here we are, in a brand new marina, about a mile from the town centre, enjoying excellent conditions, as we stop for a week, guests of the Aylesbury Canal Society in their new facility at Circus Fields, across the road from the Askeys wafer factory.
But let’s backtrack a bit, for our last blog saw us chugging back from Rickmansworth, through Cassiobury in Watford as we returned to Apsley again.
Don't see that many dinosaurs in Hertfordshire. This one is near King's Langley
We got there Friday afternoon and Saturday was a wet old day. I had been tipped off that there was a dog show `Paws In The Park`, in Hemel Hempstead, so we walked up the towpath in the rain to check it out. I have organised a number of events such as this when I was working so was keen to see how this one worked. The rain stopped and the event was very entertaining.
This Bassett Hound couldn't be bothered to take part
Last Sunday we had on board a gang of old John Lewis pals, all who work in the leisure benefits side of the business, along with their other halves. We did a similar thing two years ago, when we were in the area, but we only cruised a mile or so that time. I was keen for us to get from Apsley  to Berkhamsted. It’s not that far, around six and a half miles, but there are about 17 locks along the way, and the weather when we set out was far from ideal, with a constant drizzle. They all had a go at lock duty, though because they don’t see each other much, they were more interested in soaking up the views and catching up with the gossip. The weather picked up as the day progressed and we moored up beside the Crystal Palace pub, around 3pm. From what they are telling me, I retired at the right time. Things seem very different in John Lewis and Waitrose these days. It was good to see them all and we are planning another reunion in the autumn – this time on dry land.

Sally, Tracy and Jim

Tracy hands out the mini Cornish Pasties
The John Lewis crew in Berkhamsted
Then, out of the blue, we had another old JL colleague pop in on Monday morning to see us. Sue was last on board when we cruised into Liverpool last May. She was in the area with her grandson who she often brings to the waterfront at Berkhamsted and came looking for us.  We had a little cruise with them and they stopped for lunch. The young lad, who they call Jem, later told his sister, he had been on a boat, that had a house in it!
Then, on Tuesday, Penny and Bob, two of our oldest friends, came on board for three days. They have been on TCW a number of times, so know what the drill. Within a few minutes of their arrival the swans came calling. They tap on the side of the boat. It sounds like they are trying to get your attention but they are just pecking on the algae that attaches itself to the boats hull.
Penny welcomes a family of swans
We cruised with Penny and Bob from Berkhamsted, overnighting at Cow Roast and then after turning on to the Aylesbury arm, we stopped the following night in Wilstone, before arriving here at the new Circus Fields Marina on Thursday afternoon. It’s good to have electric hook up again and have all the facilities, such as good showers, loos and a launderette on site. It’s been a long while since I was last in Aylesbury. The town centre is a bit of a building site, with huge amounts of money being spent at the canal terminus, where there is a very stylish new regional theatre, a new Waitrose and Travelodge.
Penny and Pat on lock duty

Penny and Bob work the narrow locks on the Aylesbury arm
It’s also much bigger than I remember it. It’s got a spiritualist church, that Pat visited on Sunday evening and a uke club that meets in a pub called the Hop Pole on Wednesday nights, which I am looking forward to getting to tomorrow night.
Back in the old return. Beats painting steelwork on boats.
One of the reasons we are stopping here for a week is that it is only about 40-minute car journey to Welwyn Garden City. Our tenants will be moving out between now and the end of August. We then  move back in, decorate, and then put it up for sale. While most of the windows are plastic, there are a couple that needed re-painting, as does the paintwork around the conservatory at the back of the house. So Sunday and today (Tuesday), we rose bright-eyed and bushy tailed, and set off down the A41, via B&Q. We’ve made good progress but the garden is also in a bit of a mess and we are going down Wednesday and Thursday afternoon (after Pat’s had a hair-do) to finish off, when we hope to see another of my oldest pal’s Roy, who is poorly in hospital in North Finchley.
Back on the main line of the Grand Union next week, heading back towards Milton Keynes and Braunston. Toodaloo Chums.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Is this the way to London?

Pat attends to our front garden!
There is no doubt that nearly everybody you meet on the canals who is cruising in their own boat are our age, or older. Apart, of course, from the families and younger couples on holiday in hire boats. Well, I thought that was the case, until this week. We have encountered several small, sad-looking boats on their way into London, normally with twenty-somethings on board, and all of them are very excited at the prospect of mooring there for nothing.

This is the point where most boaters I know, suck their cheeks in and shake their heads. But what do you say to these youngsters. Forget it. It’s three abreast and you will have to move on every week, and walk half a mile for water or to empty your loo. They look so keen and excited. I asked one if they had been to look at potential moorings and was told that “there are loads of free moorings, right through London”. Well, good luck with that.  Try mooring outside one of the blocks of flats that cost £1.3m each and see how free it is and the welcome you receive. I do feel sorry for these young people, and just hope they are not too disappointed.

So, as you will see, we have been skirting around the edges of London, basically to kill a week. I’ve seen red buses, and a tube train crossed the canal today at Croxley Green, so we were not far from Greater London, though I am not sure where that starts. We got as far south as Rickmansworth, and that is very definitely Hertfordshire. 
Michael and Mary Jarrett joined us on Monday afternoon at our mooring at Apsley
Our travels this week were just to waste a few days. But before we left Apsley on Tuesday we welcomed more visitors aboard The Cat’s Whiskers. My daughter’s best friends, husband’s parents visited us. That sounds quite contrived but we met Michael and Mary in Wellington, last year, when they were visiting their son and daughter-in-law who are good friends with our daughter’s family. They also come from Hertfordshire, read this blog religiously, (thanks folks) and it was great to see them again and show them round TCW.

We left Apsley on Tuesday morning along with my sister Carol, her husband Rob and their pals John & Sheila. It was a bit of reprise from two years ago, when we cruised with them all from Hertford to Broxbourne. This time it wasn’t quite as hot. It was Carol and Rob’s wedding anniversary the day before and we celebrated with a very nice bottle of champagne. John and Rob went on to lock duty and Carol and Sheila supervised from the cratch cover.
Sister Carol and Rob on right, with pals John and Sheila, before we set off on our mini-cruise to King's Langley

Rob and John on lock duty at Nash Mills
Rob opens a celebratory bottle of champagne and hopes nobody is walking past the boat.
We dropped them off at King’s Langley and moored overnight in Cassiobury Park. On the run-in we teamed up with an old working boat called `The Bargee`. It transpired that the boat had been the star of a feature film made in 1964, starring Harry H Corbett (of Steptoe fame) and Eric Sykes. I vaguely remember the film, which was made on the Grand Union in Hertfordshire. There are clips on YouTube if you are interested in seeing what the canal was like then. The new owner was taking it into London (yet another one), though he wasn’t too sure what he was going to do with it.
`The Bargee`

`The Bargee` leaves one of the locks that go through the Cassiobury estate in Watford

An advert for the film

From Cassiobury Park in Watford it’s about a three-hour cruise into Rickmansworth, though it’s commonly called Batchworth by boaters, as that is what the lock and mooring are called. We had passed and been passed on several occasions by a boat called `Waka Huia`. I didn’t need to see the flags on the roof to know this was definitely a `Kiwi` boat, and we were able to cruise with them into Rickmansworth. Marilyn and David, live about 20 miles north of Wellington on the Kapiti coast, so we have now have even more Kiwi boating pals to visit when we go back next year. `Waka Huia` means `Treasure Box` by the way in Maori.
Marilyn shows us her Maori `Treasure Box` aboard Waka Huia
The lock in the centre of Cassiobury Park is a popular gongoozler spot and today we ran into a nursery school group who came to see us go up the lock. Pat enlisted their help in opening and closing a gate. They thought it was great fun.
Pre-school children help us out in Cassiobury
I am not sure who owned Cassiobury Park when the canal was built, although I think it’s the Earl of Essex, but in common with other land-owning gentry, the bridges that cross the canal through the park are a cut above your average, and were obviously a concession to having the canal cross their land. The Grove Bridge is an exceptional example, crossing into the famous golf course of the same name
The famous Grove bridge
The weather has been pretty kind to us over the last week. Sure sign we are in the south. It looks to break this weekend, which is a bit of a nuisance as we have six of my old Leisure pals from John Lewis coming on board for the day on Sunday, when, hopefully, we will cruise from Apsley, back into Berkhamsted.

Toodaloo chums

Saturday, 6 June 2015

`South Of The Border, Down Hertfordshire Way`

A sunny morning in Berkhamsted
One of the things I most like about boating is how sociable everybody is. Not only boaters you meet at locks or when passing by each other on the cut. Not only walkers who raise a hand in greeting or stop and chat when you are moored, or even cyclists, who, in the main, are polite and respectful, or the anglers, who begrudgingly curl their lip as you glide by. By and large everybody you meet in and along the waterways are polite and friendly. Until, that is, you get south of Milton Keynes.

What a difference there has been in the last week. Not particularly from the boating fraternity I should add, but those sharing the towpath, either seem to ignore you, or look at you as if you were some sort of `perv` if you offer them any sort of greeting. And as we head south that seems more and more the case. Looking back now, I remember commenting on the same thing some two years ago, when we cruised through London, and not much has changed. From Bedfordshire we are are now deep in the heart of Hertfordshire, our home county. . I expected better from my kinfolk. And that ends `Roger’s Rant` for this blog.
The Soulbury flight of  locks, near Leighton Buzzard. The Three Locks pub on the left, sell `Concrete Cow` beer,
a nod towards the stationary ruminants in Milton Keynes. Very good it is to.

Since the last blog, we have had typical British summer weather. Gale force winds, driving rain, and the odd sunny day. Like most boaters we don’t mind the rain too much, but cruising in high winds is irresponsible and frankly dangerous. And it’s June for heaven sakes. We shouldn’t be lighting fires at this time of year. On Thursday, however, it got over 20 degrees and I think that’s the first time that has happened this year – to us, anyway, and on Friday, despite the weather warning that we could experience severe thunderstorms, we had a gloriously sunny day.  The canal looked fabulous, the birds sang in tune, and even the murky brown water looked attractive with the sun glinting off it.
We spent last weekend in Leighton Buzzard. It’s always a good place to stop, with supermarkets (Waitrose & Tesco) close by, plus a launderette, an Aldi and a Wetherspoons. Our French pal Hubert, was set to visit but had to cancel at the last moment, but we’ll catch up with him on the way back.
Pat sets off to the launderette at Leighton Buzzard. You can see how busy it was.

Seen in the Leighton Buzazard High Street. Spot the spelling mistake.
We have never had too many issues mooring at Leighton Buzzard but it was quite congested this time and the weather throughout the weekend was showery and pretty miserable, with the odd bit of sunshine occasionally bursting through. It pays to keep a careful eye on the local weather forecast and we knew that high winds were on the way, so some decisions needed to be made. We were picking up our pal Val in Berkhamsted on Wednesday morning, and there are 24 locks to negotiate from Leighton Buzzard to Berko, over a distance of some 15 miles. So on Monday we made a dash for it and covered as much ground (or water) as possible. We were going to overnight at Marsworth, our normal stop, but we decided to push on to Cow Roast.
The Cat's Whiskers and Little Blue lock down towards Berkhamsted
The weather warnings predicted strong gale-force winds from mid-afternoon on Monday. On arriving at Cow Roast at 4pm we cleared the roof of mops, brooms and pot plants, and bashed into the ground double pins. It blew a hooly all night and on surfacing, the Cat’s Whiskers looked like it had been in a war zone. The whole roof was a mass of twigs and leaves, but surprisingly the storm hadn’t kept us awake and we utilised the hose at the water point by the lock and rinsed most of it off.
We had cruised most of the previous day with a boat called `Little Blue`. Anthony was a single-handler, who had his mate on board for the first day. Despite a further weather warning on Tuesday, which did not materialise, we cruised into Berkhamsted without incident.
Berkhamsted is a posh place all right, judging by the amount of flash Jags, BMW’s, Audi’s etc, parked in the Waitrose car park. It’s lovely with it though and I never tire of going through there. The medieval Castle is certainly worth a visit, and the mound where the `motte` is, offers a great view.
Val and Pat at our very pleasant, and sunny mooring in the middle of Berkhamsted.
(Looks like I could have done with tightening our fenders)
Atop of the remains of the medieval Berkamsted Castle
Val’s a Brit, but lives in Nelson, in New Zealand, and we always visit her when we go over to the South Island, so it was great to be able to offer her some hospitality for a change. We set off for Hemel Hempstead on Thursday morning. A warm, sunny day was forecast, and this time they got it pretty well right. It was a glorious day to be cruising on a narrowboat. I honestly think that the stretch between Berkhamsted and Apsley is one of my favourite stretches on the whole network. We overnighted at Boxmoor and on Friday morning dropped down the last three locks to weekend at Apsley, the other side of Hemel Hempstead. That’s where are now and over the next three days the diary is pretty much full with visitors, so I set too giving the roof a bit of a scrub. We must have been mad having a cream roof. As soon as the ropes get wet they leave horrible black lines down the boat. But as long as I have got my DAB radio at hand it soon gets done.
Roger at work on the roof at our current mooring at Apsley. You wouldn't think there is a huge retail park behind the trees on the right. `The Paper Mill` pub is next to the building in the middle of the picture.
There are a lot of good mooring opportunites at Apsley, and we are on my favourite, an equal distance between a large Sainsburys, that's hidden behind trees opposite us, and `The Paper Mill` pub, 100 metres down the tow path, though you need very deep pockets to drink there regularly. These southern prices are proving to be a bit of a culture shock to us.
On Friday evening my bestest pal, and honourable brother John and his lovely lady Lorraine visited. John looks after all our post, and it was great to see them both. They haven't been on TCW since we cruised through London two years ago.
John & Lorraine indulge in some nibbles on board TCW. Looks like Lorraine's ready for a snooze!
So now its Saturday morning, and it looks like another sunny day. The solar panels are chucking in loads of amps into the battery bank, so, hopefully, we will not have to run the engine today.
Tonight we have Claire and Phil on board. I used to work with Claire at John Lewis. Monday we have more guests, via our New Zealand connections and it looks like my sister Carol, Rob her husband, and their friends John & Sheila, are coming on board as we cruise on towards Watford and Cassiobury Park on Tuesday.