Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Off to the IWA at Watford

After a lovely long weekend with my aunt and uncle it was time to set to work and get some serious maintenance done on the boat. Since we had the luxury of being in the marina with access to an electrical hook-up we made the most of it. Ian ventured into his ‘glory hole’ (the ‘man’ space beneath the front deck where stores his power tools - and a mistress for all I know) and brought out his work bench and a host of tools that we may need. While he fixed and repaired, I sanded and varnished. While he painted, I made curtains.

It was a very industrious few days and well worth the investment in time.  


In the evenings, we were able to relax and socialise with friends; Oh and cheer on the players at the Wimbledon tennis. We are all so proud of Andy Murray. After 77 years, on the 7th day of the 7th month we finally have a British winner for a game that was first devised in Britain! Well Done Andy!

With our fuel and water tanks replenished (as well as our wine stock), we left the marina on Monday 8th July and headed back down the Kennet and Avon canal towards the River Thames. The long term forecast is for a hot sunny summer so we were in great spirits. Monday night was spent in the cool, shady mooring point near Theale swing-bridge, a favourite spot of ours.


It is also a convenient overnight mooring in striking distance of Reading and the River Thames.

Every alternate Wednesday is grandparents day for us in Caversham, Reading where we look after Granddaughter Hollie, so our destination for Tuesday was the park in Caversham.

We were waiting for the lower gates of Caversham lock to be opened when we first noticed an unusual amount of police presence; some on bicycles and some on foot. The lockkeeper was in a fluster too. She had two volunteers helping her but still she didn't seem to be coping.

While waiting for the lock to fill, I asked one of the volunteers what the fuss was all about and he said that a young girl had gone missing in the adjacent park. The police were all out searching for her. By this time the lock was full and the gates opened. I untied the front mooring rope and pushed the boat into the centre of the lock in preparation for leaving but the lock gates closed again. Surprised, I was about to ask what the hold-up was when one of the police officers asked if a team could come aboard. They thought it would give them better coverage if they could search from the river perspective. As quick as you might wink, Ian asked if we could have a blue light for the roof!!!

The good news is, the girl was spotted by the vigilant team aboard 'Winedown' and our search and rescue assistance come to an end. I was sorry that I wasn't quick enough with the camera as that would have been a priceless photo to have.

Thursday 11th was a long day. We wanted to get to a point on the river where there was good access to the railway station. Our good friend Sally had been tragically killed in a car accident and we wanted to pay our respects at her funeral in Devizes so we needed access to a train to get there. Maidenhead looked like a good point and we moored below Boulters Lock.

Although the mooring below Boulters lock isn’t the most salubrious, it is convenient and although there are signs posted indicating that there is a mooring charge, nobody came to collect it – a refreshing change for the River Thames. When we reached Boulters lock , there was still time for a lovely ice-cream and since temperatures were in the upper 20’s we indulged.

Continuing on our way down the river on Saturday, we needed to replenish our water supplies. Boveney Lock near Runnymede was the closest facilities point and it was only a few hours cruising time so that was where we headed. It is reported that Boveney Lock is one of the busiest and most attractive locks on the river Thames.

We had to go through the lock on our downstream journey in order to get to the water point which was tucked away near the weir. To our surprise, we found picturesque mooring and discovered that we could stay overnight if we paid the mooring fee. It was so pretty that we decided to stay and after taking on water we moored close to the weir


We spent a pleasant afternoon, overlooking the Windsor Racecourse. I even managed to read my book for a while.

It was here that Ian found pleasure in simply watching boats coming and going through the lock. So many different craft in all states of repair and people of so many different characters

Rob, the lockkeeper on duty, was friendly, helpful and quite chatty so Ian spent a lazy afternoon just people/boat watching while I set the washing machine to work. Since we were close to a water point, I made the most of it. By the time the sun had set on another relaxing day, my laundry was up to date once more. What a tough life we lead!

We felt that we could easily stay at Boveney Lock for a few days but then we wouldn't reach the Inland Waterways meeting at Watford in time for the festival so once we had replenished our water supplies once again we moved off on Sunday morning. We had arranged a rendezvous with Mark Emery and family on their boat 'Liberty' at 'Bulls Bridge' on the Grand Union Canal for Tuesday so, although we had to keep moving, we still had plenty of time to enjoy our surroundings.

Our next stop was near Shepperton. Arriving at a suitable (free) mooring point in the early afternoon we watch the hustle and bustle of pleasure craft starting to hurry back to their marinas and moorings at the end of the weekend. As dusk approached, the river became quiet; not many boats venture out after dark.

But I find the tranquil mornings one of the most beautiful times in the day.

Shepperton to the moorings outside Hampton Court Palace was the plan for Monday and once again this was an easy few hours. On reaching Sunbury lock we found crowds gathering and a passer-by told me that the 'Swan Upping' flotilla was coming through.

Swan Upping is an annual ceremonial and practical activity in Britain in which Mute Swans on the river Thames are rounded up caught, marked and released.

Traditionally, the Queen retains the right of ownership of all unmarked Mute Swans in open water but this ownership is now only exercised on certain stretches of the River Thames and surrounding tributaries, so Swan Upping is a means of establishing a swan census and serves to check the health of swans.

Under a Royal Charter of the 15th century, the Vintners' Company and the Dyers Company, two livery companies of the city of London are entitled to share in the Sovereign's ownership and they conduct the census through a process of ringing the swans feet.

The Swan Upping ceremony takes place in the third week in July and the Swan Uppers row up the river in skiffs.
We found ourselves in prime position to see the flotilla as we left the lock at Sunbury as they were waiting to come into the lock.

Excitement over, we continued on our way, arriving at Hampton Court Palace at lunch time. This was not a good idea since many people stop there for lunch. However, we were lucky enough to squeeze into the last available mooring and later in the evening, the sunset made a spectacular picture for our last night on the Thames.

Hampton Court Palace, largely associated with King Henry VIII had humble beginnings. The manor of Hampton was acquired by the Knights Hospitallers of St John Jerusalem in   c1236 and used as a grange - a centre for their agricultural estates. By the 14th century these estates sat conveniently between royal palaces at Sheen and Byfleet and the grange became a staging post for royal visitors. New building works at Hampton Court reflected its new use. When the palace at Byfleet was dismantled in the early 1400s the importance of Hampton Court also declined. It then became a tenanted property and one of the first tenants of note was a courtier who later became Lord Chamberlain to King Henry VIII. In 1514 Cardinal Wolsey obtained a 99 year lease and built a vast palace complex, transforming a grand house into a magnificent Bishops palace that saw many royal visitors. Throughout the 1520s Hampton Court also hosted important European delegations designed to improve England's position in Europe. By the late 1520s Wolsey's favour declined when he failed to obtain a divorce for Henry VIII from his first wife Queen Katherine of Aragon. In 1528 Wolsey lost Hampton Court Palace (and his York palace) to the king. In just ten years, Henry spent more than £62 000 (equivalent to £18 million today) rebuilding and extending the palace.

In contrast to the lavish surroundings of Hampton Court Palace and its once notoriously lavish banquets, we enjoyed a fish and chips supper while savouring the tranquillity of the river.

As one door closes, another opens. In our case, as we leave one river or canal, we look forward to another. Leaving the mooring at Hampton Court just before 7:00 on Tuesday morning we had 4 miles to travel downstream to Teddington, the gateway to the tidal Thames. Hoping to catch the tide just right, we went through the lock at Teddington at 08:00 but the tide was still rising and we were punching our way through before the slack water period. However before we reached Thames Lock at Brentford a little over an hour later, the tide had turned. A short distance behind Thames lock is Brentford Gauging locks which links the Grand Union canal with the River Thames and it was here that we first met Mike and Jeanette on narrowboat 'Paper Moon' It was only 10:00 in the morning but it was already very hot and humid.

Working the first 11 locks together we started to get to know Mike and Jeanette as we chatted while waiting for locks to fill or empty. After leaving Norwood Top Lock we waved a cheery goodbye but they too were heading for the IWA meeting so we were sure to meet them again.

A note to boaters... Norwood Top Lock no longer has a sanitary station as the Nicholson Guide indicates.

We had 2 miles to go before we were scheduled to meet Mark on his boat 'Liberty' at Bulls Bridge; the junction between the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union and the Grand Union Canal but unfortunately, Mark had been delayed in Paddington basin due to engine trouble, but he would catch up with us later.

Bulls Bridge used to be the heart of the Grand Union Canal network and it was here that scores of paired narrowboats waited to be given their orders. Now, considerably redeveloped, there is little history left to see but it is still a very busy junction.

We met 'Paper Moon' again at Bulls Bridge when we were looking for mooring outside the bustling supermarket but by the time we had taken on water and done some shopping, Mike and Jeanette had already left. By this time we felt as if we had done enough for the day but we wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of Bulls Bridge so we untied our mooring ropes and continued on our way. Three miles later we found mooring alongside the park at Cowley, immediately before Cowley Lock and were delighted to see  'Paper Moon' securely tied up too. After a refreshingly cold shower and a change of clothes, we felt human again and while Ian and Mike went off to the pub, Jeanette and I sipped a cold glass of wine each on the boat. Much later we gathered in the park for our after dinner drinks where we were joined by Dave who had moored his boat 'MoonFleet' directly behind us.

Before we were up and about, 'MoonFleet' had set off to be ahead of the boats converging on the IWA meeting at Watford. Since we were close to a water point, I took the opportunity to do some domestic chores (washing and mending) before we set off again alongside Mike and Jeanette on 'Paper Moon'.

From Cowley lock the two boats meandered northwards across Harefield Moor and on through the Colne valley, a fascinating contrast of woods, mill, lakes and sewage works. On past Black Jack's Lock, we decided to stop before Copper Mill Lock. It had become so hot and there was little breeze to cool things down. Jeanette had hurt her back while working the Black Jack's Lock, but we had done enough for the day anyway. Just before mooring up, we saw narrowboat 'Emily' with push tug 'Bronte' owned by Brian Greaves who is a working blacksmith. Apart from housing the engine, 'Bronte' also accommodates a full working forge so Ian asked Brian to fix our mooring pins that had lost their rings.

Mike and Jeanette joined us on the towpath later that evening for sun-downer drinks. This boating is awfully sociable you know!

From Copper Mill lock, it was a short way to the supermarket at Rickmansworth where we did out shopping for the festival weekend. Daughter Tanya and her husband David with son Daniel were to join us so I had to take on provisions. After taking time for a leisurely lunch, 'Paper Moon' and 'Winedown' set off once again for the final push to Cassiobury Park and the location of the Inland Waterways festival at Watford. It wasn't long before Mark arrived with his boat 'Liberty'. Once we had all moved onto our designated mooring for the weekend, we cleared a patch of ground alongside the towpath to enjoy our weekend.

In memory of Sally, Mark's wife, (who died tragically in a car accident),we agreed to decorate out boats with Sally's 'trade mark' bunting - Knickers! A few years ago, out of sheer devilment - as was Sally's nature - Sally broke with tradition and dyed several pairs of knickers in various colours and hung them on their boat in place of the regular flag-like bunting. The year of the Queen's diamond Jubilee was also the year of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust's golden anniversary so Sally chose a yellow dye and dyed several pairs knickers in varying sizes. Sally was often heard to ask 'Does my boat look big in these?'

Charlotte and Sam, Sally & Mark's younger children wanted Sally to be remembered so they wrote a sign on cardboard that read;
'Does my Boat look big in these knickers?
In memory of Sally-Ann Emery (our Mum)!!!
18/07/1966 - 24/06/2013'

While narrowboat 'Liberty' didn't win any prizes for the best dressed boat, it certainly would have won the prize for the most photographed boat had there been such a prize.

I found this year's IWA festival to be rather disappointing. There were far fewer stands than in previous years. We had wanted to get new mooring rope, pipe fenders and navigation lights, to name but a few items. In previous years there had been several chandleries displaying their wares but this year there they were conspicuous by their absence. It had taken us 10 days to get to the festival location (and I am sure there were boats that came from further afield) and had it not been for the social element, we might have considered it a complete waste of time. It must have been very disappointing for the vendors too because there appeared to be a very poor turnout of festival attendees. Nevertheless, boaters still rose to the occasion and there were some spectacular illuminated boat decorations. People had obviously taken a lot of time and trouble over the event; and we met up with old friends and made new friends and that is priceless.

In narrowboating terms, it is not so much about the destination but the journey and there we were certainly not disappointed.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Kennet and Avon Canal East Ender Festival

After our lovely time on the river Wey we made our way up river on the Thames towards Reading – our destination, the Fobney Loop which runs past the Reading Abbey ruins; the occasion, the Kennet and Avon East Ender Festival. This year, the Reading Water Fest and the Newbury Waterways Festival were scheduled back to back on following weekends in the middle of June. The canal East End refers to the stretch of canal from Newbury to Reading which covers approximately 19 miles and 22 locks.

The Kennet and Avon Canal Trust (KACT) had, on Sunday 2nd June 2013, been awarded the prestigious Queens’ Award for Voluntary Service. This is the highest recognition for volunteer groups in the UK. This accolade was received for the leadership of the restoration of the Kennet and Avon canal and its buildings over the last 50 years and for creating a landscape and amenity valued by the whole community.

Boats started to arrive in Reading on Wednesday 12th June and we moved onto our designated mooring spot on Thursday. With much to celebrate, we looked forward to the company of Sally and Mark Emery, who we had not seen for some time. We met them at the station in Reading and only stopped talking when it was time to retire for the night.

Mark, Sally and Cherryl on Winedown

Later on Sunday afternoon, Ian and I walked with Sally and Mark to the railway station in Reading where they were to catch their train back to Pewsey. As we waved goodbye to them, with Sally’s infectious laughter ringing in our ears, none of us had the slightest idea that it would be the last time that we would ever see Sally again.

Early on Monday, while helping another boat skipper who had managed to get his boat stuck in the middle of the river, Adrian, John and two CRT (Canal & River Trust) members wandered down the path. They were to take the working boat, Avon Vale, back to its home mooring, so we decided to travel with them. As they passed by, we slipped our mooring lines and slid in behind them, trailing them through the Oracle Shopping Centre.

We had nearly five days to navigate the 19 miles and 22 locks so we were in no hurry. Grandparent’s day with Hollie was on Wednesday and we know that to catch the train from Theale to Reading takes only 15 minutes or so after a 10 minute walk so Theale swing bridge was our destination for the evening. When we arrived there was still space on the good 24hr online mooring so we tied up onto the mooring rings and settled in for the evening. That chill wind was still keeping temperatures pretty low so we didn’t stay out on the deck for too long.

Thursday saw us moving off again. Our intention was to go into the marina at Frouds Bridge to replenish water and diesel and to dispose of sanitary and rubbish, we would then go on to Woolhampton for the night. But to misquote Robert Burns “The best-laid plans of mice and men go oft awry” and they did. We forgot how easy it is to be led astray by Mick and Sue at the marina. But I get ahead of myself.

The morning was pretty uneventful until we got to Aldermaston Wharf. The road bridge was being repaired again and we were advised that we may have to wait. As it turned out, we didn’t. On approaching the bridge, the workmen kindly opened it for us and we happily sailed on through. What happened next was just shear thoughtlessness.

Aldermaston Lock is right next to the road bridge and CRT workmen were milling around the lock. As we came through the bridge, the lock was empty and the gates were open, but as we approached, the lock gates were swung shut. I was forced to change course and head for the bank but the wind was blowing me in the opposite direction. I scrambled to get the boat tied up. Ian, in the meantime went to find out what had happened. The workmen had seen us – they had waved at us when Ian whistled for their attention, so why had they shut the gate ‘in our face’? Their answer… because they can!

No wonder CRT has a bad name! Courtesy cost nothing but it was still too much for them to pay. I was still irritated when we arrived in the marina an hour later.
We didn’t leave the marina till next morning. After replenishing fuel and water and disposing of disposables, we spent a lovely afternoon in the garden chatting to Mick and Sue. Don’t even ask how much we had to drink...all I can say is that chatting is thirsty work!
Friday morning and we were behind schedule! We had allowed 5 days to navigate 19 miles and 22 locks and it was the morning of day 5 and we still had 8 miles and 9 locks to go. The day was trying to warm up but there was still that nasty chilly wind around. Still, it wasn’t raining. For that we were thankful. We made good time and arrived in Newbury by mid- afternoon. Many of the boats had arrived so we were warmly greeted by old friends, many of whom we hadn’t seen for over a year. The day was rounded off with a Fish and Chips supper in the K&A Trust house at the Wharf. Over a glass of wine, both Ian and I signed up for voluntary duty.
Saturday morning and the weather turned foul. It was supposed to be a day for decorating boats, polishing brass-work and generally catching up on gossip. Instead it was a day when everyone battened down the hatches and kept dry. Rain and wind conspired against us.  Alex and Gene arrived early enough for us to have breakfast at the coffee shop and we were in no hurry to leave to brave the elements. However, I had duty on the information stand so we reluctantly returned to the boats. Alex and Gene kept me company and I soon had Alex handing out leaflets to people passing by. 
The weather deteriorated and people were becoming scares. By the end of my duty, I was thankful to get to the boat and brew a nice cuppa. Ian’s duty was to help erect the marquee and by the time he was called for the wind speed had increased so it was quite comical to watch him and others in their endeavours. If I was able to draw a comic cartoon it would have been of 10 people hanging onto a half erected marquee which was intent on being blown down the park lawns into the boating lake.

The weather improved a little on Sunday. The park was buzzing with stalls but there was not the usual crowd of people. The ice-cream stalls were certainly not going to make much of a profit on this day. The Mayor arrived with the Town Crier to open the festival and judge the best dressed boats. It was so different from last year when we boated on the boat pond or sat on the grass in the park and ate ice-creams.

The day ended with the usual duck race. A cascade of yellow ducks was poured from the bridge and we all yelled for our duck to win. I don’t know who first thought of this ridiculous (but wonderful) idea to raise funds but it is a lot of fun and ticket sales are hot. All aboard Winedown had front row seats as we watched the yellow stream float past us and on to the finishing line.

A few of the boats left the mooring soon after the duck race but most left on Monday morning. Again, we were in no particular hurry so we stayed moored at the Wharf till Tuesday morning. Shortly before setting off, Ian had a call from Mark Emery. Sally had tragically died in a car accident the night before. She had been to collect daughter Charlotte from a Judo meeting and was returning home when the accident happened. I was utterly shocked. It is a stern reminder of just how fragile life is. I still find it hard to believe. I don’t know how we got back to the marina because the day passed in a blur of automated activity. I was stunned! Wherever you are now Sally, we will never forget you.