Saturday 21 July

James needed to move his car before 8.30am.  We’d found somewhere on JustPark within walking distance of the station, where James could leave his car while they head north with the boat.  The price was amazingly cheap at £13.70 per week.

Once the car was sorted we headed out to the market, held on the high street on Saturdays.   James was hoping that he might find something for breakfast.  How did he know?

We spent a relaxing day exploring different parts of the town and in the late afternoon we checked out more of the pubs before heading back to the boat.  James and Ali had brought groceries with them and they prepared a wonderful chilli for tea.

Tomorrow we’re heading off by train to Milton Keynes Central to catch the 15.13 train to Crewe.   For much of the way the train line  runs beside the  canal and  we’ll wave at  NB Oleanna as we pass  them.

We’ve had quite a few people express an interest in the boat and we’ll wait to see what happens now.

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Friday 20 July

After breakfast I started to make preparations for the arrival of James and Ali who would be joining us on board this evening after work.

As they’re going to be staying on board once we head back to Chester on Sunday we decided to give them our bed and we’d  sleep on the air beds.   The bed was stripped and the boat was cleaned.  Storm did the outside while I did the inside.  Storm also attended to one or two outstanding maintenance jobs.

Once all was shipshape I remade the bed and started packing all that we would need to take home with us, keeping it to a minimum as we’ll be travelling back to Chester by train to pick up the car before heading back home for a while.

After lunch we went for a walk along the canal to see if there was anywhere near the station and the road to moor.    As there was a space we went back to the boat and moved it up through the two locks and moored up in front of some flats that would shield us from the worst of the train noise.  Virgin trains heading for Euston tend not to stop at Berkhamstead and instead hurtle through at a scary speed.

Once moored I left Storm to rest his eyes and I went off to have a look round the shops.  As I’ve said before, Berkhamstead is a beautiful town and I thought I’d have a look round the charity shops to see if the standard of offering mirrored the town.  One of them on the high street had some quality items. My trip was successful, even more so when they deducted 50% off the ticket price.  I do like a bargain!

We were expecting James and Ali to arrive about 9pm after their drive down from Yorkshire.   They rang us at 9.20 to say they were eight minutes away so we headed off to the station to meet them and direct them to a space we’d found for them to park.

After unloading their car, and as they’d already eaten, we headed out for a nightcap.

Thursday 19 July

Today we left Hemel Hempstead and moved on to Berkhamstead to look for a suitable mooring to meet up with James and Ali on Friday.  This was a mere nine locks and 3 miles away.  Storm worked the locks today while I steered and this gave him a chance to walk Max between locks which were spaced at regular intervals.

Max came back onto the boat while Storm operated Winkwell Swing Bridge – a road bridge.   Our BW key operates the bridge control panel giving us the power to operate traffic barriers and unlock the bridge so that it swings clear of the waterway.   We’ve had no problem with this bridge but we understand that the same day we passed through it on our way to London it developed a fault and I’d like to say it was nothing to do with us and it seemed to be OK today too.

We moored up below Rising Sun Lock.  The water in the pound was low so we left our ropes slack so that the boat stood more chance of staying afloat if the water levels changed.  As boats travelled up through the lock ahead of us, the water would rise.   We stayed on board for a while to make sure that the water levels didn’t worsen before we left the boat to walk ahead to see what access to the canal was like. There are plenty of 14 day moorings in Berkhamstead, unfortunately most of these were occupied.  We decided to stay put for today and review moorings in the morning.

The Rising Sun pub came recommended to us and as it was a hot afternoon we decided to sample the beer there.   We shall add this to our recommended list of canal side pubs as it had a good selection of real ales and it hadn’t been given the Farrow & Ball paint makeover and was quite quaint!  In fact it was so nice, we returned later in the evening.

Wednesday 18 July

Hemel Hempstead lies to the East of the canal and is largely hidden from view by trees that line the edge of the canal.  We’ve passed it by twice before and not stopped so today we decided to explore.

Before we moved the boat nearer, Storm walked into Kings Stanley for some milk while I  made the boat ready for departure and when Storm came back we set off.  Today it was my turn to work the locks.

Red Lion Lock was set in our favour and just as I was about to close the gates after we’d come up in the lock, a guy on the fuel boat ahead whistled to indicate that he’d like me to leave the gates open. He wanted to reverse back into the lock to take on a delivery of gas bottles.

At the next lock there was a boat coming down so that reduced the work I had to do as they left the gates open for us to enter.   There is a tap at this lock and while Blackbird rose, we filled the water tank.

The guy who lives in the lock-side cottage engaged me in conversation.  He was telling me that the tap wasn’t very good and that it was hard to turn off.  He went on to say that his cottage shared the same water source and when the CRT had recently undertaken repairs to the tap, they’d caused him more problems as they’d managed to break the drain and so now when the tap was left running the basement of his house got damp.  As he shares the same water supply, British Waterways used to bill him for the water he used.  However since CRT have taken over from British Waterways and have moved their offices from Watford to Milton Keynes, the invoices have stopped.  When he challenged this, they threatened to cut him off rather than send him a bill as they knew nothing about the arrangement.  There was no information on their computers.  This guy  explained that he used to deal with Ethel, a font of all knowledge, who knew all there was to know.  Sadly Ethel no longer works for the CRT and her paper records have not been transferred.

Anyway, before the guy could complain further, I managed to turn the tap off OK and we moved off and moored just above the lock to go to Dunnings (Homebase as it once was) to buy some enamel paint and some black varnish.

Once back on board, we paired up with a passing boat and shared the next three locks with a couple and their grandson who were on their way back to their mooring near Foxton Locks. They’d travelled down the Oxford Canal where the locks are narrow, along the Thames where lock are done for you, and the lady was very glad her teenage grandson was on board to help with the wide locks of the Grand Union.  I hope he’s still as keen by the time they reach Foxton!

Herm, what’s this about?  …

We pulled in at Two Waters where the River Gade joins the canal and walked into Hemel Hempstead in the Borough of Dacorum.  This is a town of two halves; the old and the new.

Jeffrey Jellicoe’s vision for the new town, built after the war, was that of a city in a park, whereas we’ve ended up with a stream through a shopping centre, reminiscent of Reading or Bambury.

We followed the signs to the Old Town.  The old town and its neighbouring park were more attractive.  There is no cohesion between the two parts; the new being the poorer relation that the old was obviously reluctant to associate with.  The old makes much more effort to make itself attractive and we spent a lot longer here.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hemel_Hempstead

Tuesday 17 July

Despite being awake early we didn’t rush to set off today, as we were intending to only do a few miles and not many locks, and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast.

Trying to keep the inside of the boat clean is a never ending battle, especially with Max who comes back covered in seeds, burrs and sweetheart, but also in this heat the windows and hatches are open to let air in so if someone cycles past on the dry towpath they create dust clouds which settle everywhere.

Eventually we untied and I steered while Storm worked the locks.  We can’t believe how quiet the waterways are at the moment.  Today we came across the first hire boat we’ve seen in two weeks.  It may be a mix of the hot weather, the football, and the fact that schools haven’t broken up yet but we’re seeing very few boats on the move.   (When we’d passed the Wyvern Shipping Company at Leighton Buzzard, on our way into London two weeks ago, we counted over twenty hire boats sitting idle on their moorings – a rare sight.)

Max is in his element helping with the locks.  He anticipates us stopping and is ready at the front of the boat to leap for the shore as soon as he judges it is safe to leap.  He then follows us across the lock, back and forth, making sure he’s on the same side as us, jumping on the lock gate to sit and wait for the water level to be right, and once we’ve finished at the lock, he knows to get back on the boat ready to travel to the next one.   Otherwise he looks to us for instruction in case there might be a chance of a walk between locks for him in which case he runs along with the walker,  sometimes dashing back between the boat and the walker to make sure where we both are.

We pulled in for lunch just below Lady Capel’s Lock and after a two hour stop we carried on to Kings Langley where after 5 miles and 11 locks we stopped for the evening.  This afternoon’s weather was quite cool and a nice change from the searing heat we’ve been having.

Before we ate, we went for a stroll around Kings Langley.  Here we came across our first experience of ‘Yarn Bombing’.  Every road side bollard and length of railing was festooned with knitwear/crochet and the bus shelter was decorated with bunting, a seat cover and hanging baskets.   Apparently the villagers renew these decorations every two months and, from what we can see, they’re busy and having lots of fun.

Monday 16 July

A three mile walk round Springwell Lake, while it was cool before breakfast, was enjoyed by the three of us.

With the quilt to wash again after yesterday’s incident we needed to motor just far enough to do the wash and add some charge back into our batteries.

We set off for Rickmansworth, just two miles ahead, at a slow pace.  Speed doesn’t affect the rate that our batteries charge.

Springwell and Stocker’s locks were set in our favour.

We pulled in at the Tesco moorings for some fresh milk and dog food and Storm stayed with the boat, keeping the engine running.

Next we headed to the facilities block at the bottom of Batchworth Lock to refill with water.  The water pressure was excellent so this didn’t take long.  The washing machine, by now, had completed its cycle so we turned off the inverter and any motoring now would recharge the batteries.

We were asked to reverse away from the lock to allow an unpowered working boat space to manoeuvre.  There was one space left on the visitor moorings but only for a 45ft boat so once the work boat had moved we went ahead into the lock to seek a mooring above the lock.

Half a mile of permit holder only moorings followed before we could moor up on pins, rather than rings or Armco.

As Max had had his walk already we left him in the relative cool of the boat.  I had some birthday cards to post so headed for the post office and we had a mooch past the shops on the shaded side of the main street.    Rickmansworth was quieter than I remembered and Travis Perkins has now moved to Watford.   Our boat plank was bought at this branch as it was near enough to carry back to the boat in 2010.  Watford, at over 4.5 miles away, would have been too far!

With the cards posted, we headed back to the boat and decided to have a quiet afternoon.  We have 26 locks and ten miles ahead before we meet up with James and Ali on Friday evening.

After lunch we both fell asleep in our comfy reclining chairs and were roused by our cupboard doors banging.  A wide beam was ‘motoring’ past at nowhere near tick over speed.

Our front mooring pin came out and one of our fenders had snapped the rope, such had been the force of his passing at speed.  After securing the boat again we had no further problems with other passing boats.

I have, however, been breakfast, lunch and supper to an evasive mosquito.  Judging by the extent of bites, he’s lurking in the bedroom somewhere.   I’ve heard him buzzing with glee once when he taunted me but I’ve not seen or heard him since.  Woe betide him when I find him.   I’m now covered head to toe in Jungle Formula so hopefully if he comes for seconds, he’ll have a nasty taste in his mouth.  My Afterbite pen is doing a good job at controlling the itching.  Storm too has been attacked for a change so he must be a bloodthirsty beast.

Sunday 15 July

Still no clouds.  After such a wet winter I’m not really complaining but it’s so hot and the ground is so scorched we could be mistaken for thinking we were in the south of France. It’s going to come as a shock when we wake up and the sun isn’t shining!   Anyway the suncream was applied to all exposed skin before we set off.  Max and Storm headed off on foot for Bulls Bridge from where I picked them back up again.

There is a tap beside Bridge 20, which isn’t shown in our Nicholsons, and it doesn’t appear to be a standard CRT one either as our  screw on hose wouldn’t fit – most unusual!

In the relentless heat we carried on; with few trees there was little shade.   Storm, as he wasn’t steering, sought shade inside and encouraged Max to keep him company.

Above Cowley Lock we pulled in to fill with water.  Two CRT volunteers engaged us in chat about the boat and the canals but they put no pressure on us to sign up to donating a regular monthly amount to the Trust.   I think with the licence and mooring fees we pay already, we contribute enough and the cyclists, fishermen and walkers should be encouraged to support it instead.

We couldn’t find a lock buddy today and eventually after six locks and 12 miles we pulled in just before Stockers Lock where there was some shade to see what was happening with the tennis and the football.

The rotary airer demonstrated its fragility today when it dumped my almost dry double quilt in the canal when the line came undone at the connector.    Thankfully I saw the quilt drop and dashed outside just to see it being pulled below the surface.   My shriek alerted Storm and he reached for our new boat pole and managed to locate it and bring it back to the surface where I used our  hook to get a firmer hold.  I knew there’d been a good reason for buying a new pole last month, and Storm’s coming round to that way of thinking too!   The quilt will go back in the wash tomorrow as we need a clean set of bedding for next week’s crew!

After we’d eaten and when the heat of the day had died down, we went for a stroll to explore.  Springwell Lake, one of a series of lakes created by the extraction of sand and gravel in the Colne valley was just beside us.

 

The  monkey that hangs on high from the girders of a disused canal-side building is still clinging on – he was there in 2010 when we first came this way.

Licenced moorings on the towpath side should be discouraged we feel, as boaters and their belongings spill out everywhere making it unpleasant to walk past when the towpath becomes their living space.