Saturday, 3 August 2013

Two Boats, Two Skippers, no crew

Mark and the children (Sam and Charlotte with friend Jade) returned to their boat on the afternoon of Sunday 28th July. By this time, Ian and I had sorted out some of our own domestic commitments and we were all ready to move off. Sunday evening was spent in preparing the boats (taking on water etc) ahead of Monday’s start. Ian and I initially thought that Mark would have an opportunity to kick back and relax a bit after his recent ordeal, but the children had other needs.

Leaving the children asleep on Monday morning, Mark moved his car from its parking spot to Hunton Bridge, 2 ½ miles away and jogged back. I had a cup of coffee waiting for his return. Still with no sign of any children, the two boats then set off from Watford shortly after ten and went through the first lock of the day – Iron Bridge Lock (77). This was enough to get the young people to stir and it wasn’t long before, first Sam then Charlotte, put in an appearance. By the time we reached the Cassiobury Park Locks (75 and 76) all three youngsters were crewing for us. Initially, Jade (who had not been boating before) sat in the cratch are of NB ‘Liberty’, content to watch but her enthusiasm got the better of her shy nature and she was soon opening lock gates and hauling on mooring ropes as if she had been doing it for years.

After the Hunton Bridge locks, Mark and the children left Ian and me to continue on with the two boats. Ian skippered nb’Liberty’ while I handled our own ‘Winedown’ the boat I am familiar with. It was hard work but well worth the experience.

Unlike the locks on the Kennet and Avon canal, the locks on the Grand Union have a set of stairs either side of the lower lock gate. This made it easier to work the locks single handed. I found that if I slowed the boat as much as I dare – while still retaining steering control, and lined the boat up with the side of the lock, I could put the boat into neutral as soon as the bow cleared the stairway and, gathering up the centre line and windlass, I could leap off the boat and run up the stairs as it slid into the lock. At the top, I would then wind the centre line around the nearest bollard to bring the boat to a stop. Bobs your uncle! With the boat securely tied up and me on the lock side, I was able to work my side of the lock while Ian worked his side.

By the time we reached Frogmore End in Hemel Hempstead, I had had enough for the day. We moored above lock 65. Once both boats were secure it was time for a well-earned glass of wine. Not long after mooring, Dave and Angie, on NB ‘Lady Ester’ moored just in front of us and it wasn’t long before we all got chatting over a sociable beer/glass of wine.
The weather forecast for Tuesday was rain, rain and more rain so we didn’t even bother to leaving our mooring spot except to do some shopping at the conveniently-placed supermarket between lock 66 and 65.

Well rested, we set off again, taking both boats on towards Bourne End locks (58 to 56) in Berkhamsted. Ian didn’t want to moor in the middle of the town in case we couldn’t find a secure mooring so we stopped just outside the town. As it happened, we could have gone on to the town centre.

We had seen a working boat for the M & P Canal Carrying Company, selling coal and diesel and since our diesel was getting low, we decided to stop him the next time we saw him. Just as we were preparing the boats to set off, along came Phil on Narrowboat ‘Hyperion’. Ian hailed him and he filled up our diesel tank. Combining old world and new, we were able to pay for the fuel by bank transfer over the internet!

With diesel tank now full, we set off. Our intention was to go through Berkhamsted, and work the 10 locks and 3 ½ miles to Cowroast. The sun was high in the sky and it was warm. The first lock we came to was the Rising Sun lock with a pub right alongside the canal, the next lock Ravens Lane Lock has a pub similarly situated.

Then I noticed the quaint houses adorned with hanging baskets and thought that it might be nice to stop and explore a little. Just as the thought flittered across my mind, Ian whistled from behind my on NB ‘Liberty’. It appeared that he had the same idea. By this time, I had gone under the road bridge and was nearing the park. Ian brought NB‘Liberty’ alongside and we had a shouted conversation, both agreeing to moor in the park. I am so glad we did, because this is what our boating experience was supposed to be all about; to stop off where and when you fancy.
Later that evening we walked along the towpath and found the Dave and Angie on NB ‘Lady Ester’ were moored above lock 53, only 200 yards in front of our position so we spent another convivial evening together sitting alongside the towpath.

We spent the next few days moored in Berkhamsted and although we were not able to sample the delights of all the pubs, we were able to explore the ruins of the 11th century castle.
The castle is one of the oldest motte and bailey castles in England and its story begins with Duke William of Normandy. It was at Berkhamsted that the Archbishop Ealdred, the Bishops of Worcester and Hereford, Earls Eadwin and Morcar and the chief men of London swore allegiance to William after he defeated Harold at the battle of Hastings in October 1066. Because of its strategic importance, William granted the Manor and Honour of Berkhamsted to his half-brother Robert, Count of Mortain who started work on the castle.

With lovely weather and a lovely mooring, we decided to stay on for a few more days. We certainly couldn't ignore the invitation of the pubs either!