Saturday 14 July

We enjoyed our quiet stay on the Hertford Canal where we could moor on rings without breasting up and with space for other boats both in front and behind us.    We needed to move though and our first stop was at the facilities block at the junction with the Regents Canal.

While filling up with water a young lady came up to ask about the boat and after asking lots of pertinent questions we gave her a tour of the inside and she went off with our contact details.  She seemed genuinely interested.  She already has a boat and is looking for something larger so she knows what she wants.

We continued on towards Camden.  I was steering today.  The only lock manned by volunteers was St Pancreas.  There was also a working party there busy painting everything in sight and as they all wore the CRT blue shirt, it was hard to determine who was responsible for lock working.  Storm couldn’t cross the lock at all as all the woodwork was wet.

Getting us through the lock was not a simple task and there was quite a lot of confusion about who was doing what.   Storm stayed calm but was glad to get back on board when we were finally able to leave the chaos behind.  We continued on towards Camden.   Here the bottom two locks are surrounded by building works on the tow path side and the scaffolding has spread onto the towpath making dropping off crew quite difficult and it isn’t possible to operate the locks without picking up crew in between as they’ve closed the tow path to pedestrians.

At Camden top lock the gongoozlers were out in force and we showed them how it should be done!

Above the lock we pulled in so I could nip to Morrisons for a few items and our Saturday paper, and leave Storm with the boat.  The SAS couldn’t have shopped any faster and I was soon back on board so we could carry on.   With no more locks ahead it was a long slow pootle down the Paddington Arm towards Bulls Bridge.   We pulled in after completing about 17 miles and 8 locks at Bridge 18, at the same mooring we stayed at on our way into London,and had our third BBQ of this trip.


Friday 13 July

We decided this morning to visit the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy on Piccadilly.  We’d watched some of the selection process on the telly with Grayson Perry before we came away and we wanted to see the art that actually made it.

From our mooring beside Victoria Park on the Hertford Canal we walked to Bethnal Green to catch the tube to Holborn and then to Piccadilly.

With over 1300 artworks on display there was plenty to see and we spent about three hours admiring the weird and the wonderful.  One of the most dramatic, and certainly the largest, was a piece called “Royal Valkyrie” by Joana Vasconcelos.  It was suspended from the ceiling and was a mix of handmade woollen crochet and felt appliqué.  You’d have had difficulty crafting something like that on a narrowboat!

It was fascinating to see what had sold and the prices people were willing to pay.  The most expensive generally had been produced by RA members.

We didn’t buy any originals but we bought three prints, in the gift shop on the way out, to hang in our hallway at home.

With Trump in town the afternoon sky was buzzing with helicopters and we saw more police on the ground than normal.  We spotted a few protestors with placards but we missed the tens of thousands who’d apparently gathered earlier to protest.

We walked along Regents Street for a while just window shopping and stopped for some chilled medication in Hyde Park before catching the underground back to Bethnal Green from Marble Arch while it was still off-peak rates.

Back on the boat we had a good TV signal so we spent the evening watching Nadal try to win his semifinal.

[I’m suddenly able to install photos again – not sure what I’ve done but I’ll try later to update past blogs with missing photos!].

Thursday 12 July

We’d invited our friends, Pete and Sue, to join us on our tour of the Olympic Park as they were keen to have one last trip on Blackbird before we sell her.   They arrived promptly at 8.45am.

We had a coffee before we headed out onto the River Lee.  The lock ahead of us was manned as it needed a special key of power.   A guy standing at the lock-side asked us if he’d seen our boat for sale on the ApolloDuck website.  We said he had.  He was moored just below the lock, and after he’d asked quite a lot of questions, we said we would pull in on our way back from the village so he could have a closer look.

While he’d been asking questions of the skipper at the back of the boat, I’d started talking to the lock-keeper from the front of the boat and he asked me where we were heading.  I said we’d booked to go through the Olympic Park.  He looked rather puzzled and he asked me to clarify exactly where I was going.  I mentioned that we’d booked to go through Carpenter’s Lock at 9.30am, go round the park, and come out at the other end.  He made a phone call.  After a few minutes he came back to talk to me.

He explained to me that he was responsible for operating the lock at the park and nobody had let him know that we’d booked.    He promised he would follow us round to the park on his bike.  His bike ride took a lot longer than it took us to get to the lock and with no-where to moor, other than a a chain to hang on to on one of the concrete walls, we just hovered mid-stream waiting for him to arrive.

It was a good job we’d had that chat, otherwise we’d have made this monumental effort to get to London in time to cruise the park, only to find the lock unmanned.  I was quite disappointed that despite the CRT emailing us only the day before to say they were looking forward to seeing us in the Olympic Park, they hadn’t actually made any arrangements to ensure this happened!

We discovered that the lock is the only one of its kind in the country and acts both as a weir against strong tidal surges caused when the tidal Thames meets the tidal Lee & Stort, helping to protect the area from flooding and in lock mode operates a little like a guillotine gate in that it raises up out of the water and boats pass underneath.   The only down side from the boater’s point of view is that the gates drip water and pondweed on you as you pass underneath.  Thankfully we had brollies at the ready.

Our trip through the park didn’t take long at all.   The concrete bank sides are quite high and from the water level, there isn’t a lot to see other than the West Ham Stadium, the Aquatics Centre  and the Arcelormittal Orbit.   As boaters, you are not allowed to stop while in the park so it was literally in one end and out of the other.  When the lock-keeper let us out of the park, he asked me what I thought of the experience.

Having had time since to better evaluate the experience  I would say that on the plus side we’ve taken our own boat into an area, that prior to the 2012 olympics was unnavigable.  However,  it is a pity that there is no opportunity to moor, to better explore the park after they’ve spent so much money making it navigable and it’s a shame that more thought wasn’t given to how the waterway was to be used in the future.   Apparently consideration had been given to putting in an extra couple of locks to raise the water level but this idea had not been carried through.  I won’t be suggesting to other boaters that it is a must-see experience!

Before we headed back to the Hertford Canal we kept our promise to the guy interested in our boat and while Storm showed him round, we chatted to the lock-keeper.  He was asking us where we’d come from and in passing he happened to mention that he’d undergone helmsman training in Market Drayton.  I laughed and said, “Terry?”.  “Yes’” he said.  “Me too” I replied.  It’s a small world.

Eventually we headed back to the Hertford Canal and we moored up beside Victoria Park where there was plenty of space to moor.  This afternoon we had a walk through Victoria Park, stopping for some chilled medication before heading out this evening to The Distillery for a bite to eat, via The Young Prince in Tower Hamlets for a drink in its lovely quaint beer garden.

All in all, a very enjoyable day with Pete and Sue. We said our ‘goodbyes’ and headed our separate ways.

Wednesday 11 July

Our voyage is one of constant discovery and this morning we found a Morrisons supermarket just feet away from us at Camden.  It gets no mention in our Canal Guide.  We stocked up with fresh fruit and veg before setting off by boat for the Olympic Village (11 locks and 6 miles away).

The CRT were carrying out  essential repairs to a lock ahead of us and this was scheduled to be completed by 9pm this evening so today’s journey was dependent on their progress.

We left Camden before the market opened to avoid the hoards of ‘gonzoolers’ who’d have watched our progress otherwise.

We discovered we were following the Puppet Theatre boat, normally moored at Little Venice, down the locks and due to their size and depth of draft, their progress was incredibly slow and they had to keep stopping to clear their propellor which because of its depth in the water was attracting a lot more debris than ours.  They were heading for Limehouse where they planned to meet up with a tug who would take them them upstream tomorrow on the Thames’ morning tide.

Thankfully after the first three locks they pulled over to let us overtake before we reached St Pancreas Lock.    CRT volunteers were manning both this lock and City Road lock and they provided us with mixed messages about the stoppage ahead; one saying the stoppage had been cancelled and the other saying it was in place until 9pm.  The only way to resolve the uncertainty was to press ahead and see for ourselves.

Since we last travelled this way in 2010, the area around Kings Cross has undergone a major regeneration and is now a very smart, cosmopolitan looking area where flat rents are eye-wateringly expensive.

We continued on through Islington Tunnel (960 yards.  Here it is necessary to check down the length of the tunnel before entering to make sure there are no craft heading towards you, as its one-way working only.

There are lots of 7 day mooring spots in London but these have all been taken by live-aboards who have set up a permanent home here as boat ownership is an affordable  alternative for many and boats are breasted up two deep.

At Lock 6 we pulled in and Max and I set off on foot to walk to the affected lock to judge for ourselves whether the lock closure was likely to be completed today.  A temporary dam had been constructed across the mouth of the lock to hold the waters of the Regents Canal back and the new lock gates had been fitted already. The men were just making final adjustments to the snug fit of the lock gates but no-one was willing to say at what time the lock would reopen.  I made a mental note of the number of boats already in the queue below the lock waiting for it to re-open and then Max and I returned to the boat with the plan of staying put until one of the boats waiting below  reached us, at which point we could head down.

At 5.30pm the first queuing boat came past us and we were on our way again.  Five locks and two miles still to travel today.

Opening the new lock gates was not easy as they were a really snug fit but after a deep breath and an extra shove, I managed to open them a chink and then slowly open the one gate nearest to the tow path sufficiently wide for us to pass through.

The rest of our journey was uneventful, apart from the football score that Storm was following on the radio.

At Old Ford Lock we turned onto the Hertford Canal.   This shortcut to the River Lee was very quiet and surprisingly there were plenty of empty moorings above the locks.  We carried on in the hope that there would be plenty of moorings beyond the locks too.

We moored up just below the bottom lock on the Hertford Canal just as the football went into extra time.  Not long afterwards lots of dejected footie fans walked or cycled quietly past the boat on their way home from the nearby bars.  England’s coming home.

It was dark when we finally sat down to our evening meal and this was interrupted by  a slight bump from another boat, followed by footsteps on our roof.  We were just wondering what was going on when a girl’s voice called out ‘Hello’ and she asked if it was OK for her to breast up beside us.  We agreed and helped her tie up.  After that we had an undisturbed night.

Tuesday 10th July

Our mooring at Camden was quiet overnight but we were still awake early.   We treated ourselves to a cooked breakfast.

Radio 4 announced that the RAF Centenary Flypast was taking place at 1pm today when 100 planes would fly over Buckingham Palace.   Rather than join the throng along the Mall we decided to look for somewhere high up with views over London.

Thanks to Dodie Smith I recalled that Hamstead Heath provides a good vantage point  so we set off on foot with Max.

We explored Hamstead Heath village as we walked up towards the Heath and as the morning wore on we started to look for a suitable vantage point.   We headed towards Parliament Hill. When we first arrived there were empty park benches to sit on, and by the time the flypast starting arriving in from the East there was quite a crowd.

It was nice to witness such an important event first hand and to explore the Heath – an area of London we’ve never visited before.

This afternoon I’ve visited Camden Market for a spot of retail therapy.

We’d intended moving the boat but as we’ve got a mooring we’re staying put for another night.


Monday 9 July

Max had his usual morning walk before it got two hot.  While they were walking Storm was accosted on the towpath by a CRT volunteer conducting a pedestrian survey.  At 8am in the morning, a 15 page survey is unlikely to achieve the achieve the desired outcomes as most pedestrians will be on their way to work and won’t want to delay their journey.

It wasn’t designed either for boat owners walking their dogs because when asked ‘how long has it taken you to get here’ the answer ‘3 weeks’ wouldn’t fit on the form as it was expecting an answer in ‘minutes to two decimal places’!!

Our progress into London was slow due to spread of moored boats and the bloom of weed that this hot weather isn’t doing anything to reduce.

We turned into the Paddington Arm before lunch to see, if by any chance, there was room for us.  Sadly not.

We’d tried before we set off to book a mooring at ‘Rembrandt Gardens’ but the CRT website showed that it was fully booked for the month of July.  There are two bookable moorings here and while there were two boats moored this morning, there were still rings available.  I rang the CRT to enquire whether we would be able to moor there but I got the stock reply that ‘it’s fully booked for the entire month of July’.   I said that there were still rings available or we could breast up, but he just repeated that the moorings were full.

Rather than pursue this further  we moved on down the Regents Canal to Camden and moored up beside the market.   We moored here in 2010 and apart from the towpath having heavy footfall and it being noisy during the day, it quietened down at night and we didn’t have any problems so we’re hoping that our stay here today is OK too.

Sunday 8 July

A duck caused us a disturbed night’s sleep with its constant quacking and only went quiet when it was our turn to get up.

We still had 15 locks to do today but the bike stayed on board as we decided to take it slightly slower.

I set off with the boat while Storm and Max walked ahead to set the first five locks and they continued walking until  the tap at the top of Casio Bridge Lock.

As we filled up with water we put our “For Sale” signs on the boat.  These have  attracted quite a bit of attention already and have  been photographed so that our contact details can be passed on to potential interested parties!  Here’s hoping we get some serious enquiries.

At Cassiobury Park we heard our first cockatiels – their squawking reminding us of our trip to Barcelona last year, as they occupy the parks there too.

We had three different lock buddies today; two of whom have suggested that we’ll have no trouble selling the boat and advised us not to polish it if we wish to sell it in London.  In this heat there’s no fear of that!   The first was a couple just heading down 3 locks to use the facilities in Rickmansworth.  We were heading there too with our waste.  The rubbish skip took some finding as it was at the end of the little arm beside the main canal.

After Rickmansworth we met up with a young girl who’d only bought her boat three weeks ago and was moving it to the Lee & Stort where she planned to live aboard.  Her lone working was impressive after just three weeks.  Today she was trying bow hauling which she found easier than constantly mooring up to open/close paddles/lockgates.

The Grand Union runs through the Colne Valley once you leave Rickmansworth and for four miles to the west of the canal are lakes that are barely visible from the canal.  The hedge could do with some windows cutting in it so that you can appreciate the beauty of the lakes beyond.

We shared Cowley Lock with a couple who were ‘relaxed’ and a little confused.  They were heading for Tesco at Bulls Bridge but they needed to stop first at ‘The Woolpack’.  I hope they remembered that Tesco closes somewhat earlier on a Sunday!

We turned onto the Paddington Arm and moored up amongst other boats after three miles at Willow Tree Open Space.

Cold showers and cold beers were enjoyed.

(Distance today: 19.25 miles and 15 locks).