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.


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