Monday, May 23, 2016

A quiet weekend before we move on again.

On Friday we had a short day, leaving Berkhamsted at around half-ten, tying up again by half-twelve. Sue and Vic were heading south for a grand-daughter’s eighteenth, and where we stopped was handy for a bus into Hemel Hempstead and the railway station.

It was only a 5 minute trip to the first lock, Ravens Lane.
On the offside, above the lock, was the centre of canal activity for the town. Boatbuilders, wharves and a coalyard were located here.


Looking back at Castle Street Bridge, with the Berkhamsted Totem Pole on the left.IMG_9953
The totem is a genuine Canadian tribal artifact, commissioned by the owner of the timber yard that used to stand here, and carved by Chief Henry Hunt, of the Kwakiutl tribe of British Columbia.

Apart from being the (almost) birthplace of Francis Egerton, the “Canal Duke”, the town has another, earlier, claim to fame. Or infamy, in this case. It was here in 1066, that what was left of the Anglo-Saxon leadership surrendered the throne of England to the invading Normans. King Harold was killed at Hastings on the 14th October, and by the end of the month organised resistance ceased with the surrender. The new King’s half-brother, Robert of Montain, had the motte and bailey castle constructed.
On a lighter note the town had the first sheep-dip factory in the country!

Cruising through the town is actually very pleasant, the canal tree-lined and clean.

Approaching Rising Sun Lock

Below the lock the infant River Bulbourne joins from the south.IMG_9963

Bollards set in the bank of the stream suggest that it was navigable, at least for a little way. There was a smithy along here somewhere, and Cooper’s Lower Works was served by the canal, delivering coal, sulphur and arsenic, and taking away the finished sheep-dip mixture. I pity the sheep!

We topped up with water between Bridges 142a and 143, then pressed on, down Top Side Lock, under Bullbeggers Bridge (fantastic name, I wonder what the origin is?) and moored up.

Top Side Lock sports this notice on a balance beam…
…several of the locks are in a similar condition and are required to be left empty, including Bottom Side Lock, the next on down. Before tying up for the weekend we should have thought through the implications…
Boats coming up, having drawn a lock-full of water from the pound, then emptied the lock as per instructions. A boat heading in the other direction would expect to find a full lock, but no, it had been emptied by the opposing boat. So they, in their turn, had to draw another lock-full of water out of the pound. There were a lot of boats about on Saturday, and someone must have cocked up because we spent a fair proportion of the day leaning at a crazy angle having been deposited on the bottom. It wasn’t until later that the pound started to make up again.
The problem was towards to back of the boat, the deepest bit, of course. So I devised a Heath-Robinson arrangement involving two ropes and a mop handle to keep the stern out from the bank.
It worked, to a degree.
Needs development, methinks.

This chap spent most of the day quietly chuckling to himself at our predicament and my attempts to resolve it.

After a dull and occasionally damp weekend this morning was bright and sunny as we set off.

Bottom Side Lock

In contrast to the pound we’d moored in, these below were brimming with water.IMG_9971
Understandable, I guess.

We’d got off a little earlier than normal, we’d an appointment with Mr Tesco at Winkwell Swing Bridge. Of the four locks to Winkwell two were empty (as per instructions) and two were full and in our favour. So it wasn’t a difficult trip.

Groceries and wine and beer (lots of wine and beer, it seems!) loaded, we set off again. Vic walked ahead to open the mechanised bridge.IMG_9974

An unusually shapely aft swim on a boat at the yard below the bridgeIMG_9975
Not only finely curved, I imagine it’s effective at feeding smooth water to the large propeller.

There were a pair of historic boats waiting to come up Winkwell Bottom Lock, so we were mob-handed as we dropped down.

Corona and Raymond waiting to go up as we pull out.


They’d been to the Rickmansworth Canal festival over the weekend, and were on their way to the crick Boat Show next weekend. All go, init!

Vic had a little trouble boarding…
By the time he’d got down the ladder NP had drifted into the middle of the lock so up he went again!

Another couple of locks saw us arrive at the top of Boxmoor, where we pulled in for the afternoon.
A bit arboreal so we're shaded from the afternoon sun, but there are accessible meadows beyond the trees, fine for the dogs.

After a glorious, sunny day we were treated to the mother of all hailstorms this evening. IMG_9990

Glad we weren’t travelling in that!

Locks 7, miles 3

Friday, May 20, 2016

Berkhamsted, a Norman castle and the Canal Duke.

We dropped down five locks into Berkhamsted on Wednesday – in the rain. We wouldn’t normally have travelled in such conditions, but Sue and Vic needed to be close to the railway station for another visit to their boatbuilder in Liverpool. It actually wasn’t too bad. Mags was under instruction to stay dry inside, but with the two boats in the locks it wasn’t a problem.

Approaching Northcurch Lock, Sue’s walked down to set the lock for usIMG_9915
We soon got into a routine. I’d take Seyella in then get off to lift a bottom paddle. Vic would do the other. Meanwhile Sue had taken a rope around a stud on our stern to stop Seyella moving around too much. With the lock empty Sue then motored out, towing Seyella out with the rope, then stopping just clear of the gates for the men to re-board their respective boats.

Sue towing Seyella out of Gas 1 Lock.

In this case we’d gone a step further, lashing the fore-ends as well for the short pound to Gas 2 Lock.


I think we upset this chap…

The moorings were busy above Berkhamsted Lock, so we dropped down and pulled in alongside The Moor, an area of open parkland opposite the station.

The town is also busy with waterfowl youngsters. Toddling around the park were two families of Canada geese…


…and opposite us a newly hatched foursome of moorhens were sticking to mum like glue!IMG_9947

Well, three of them were…
Ugly little critters, aren’t they!

In the afternoon Meg and I went for a look around Berhamsted Castle, although there’s not much left.
Built soon after the Norman invasion, around 1070, it started out as a basic pattern Motte and Bailey, a conical mound topped by a wooden keep (the motte), overlooking a level compound (the bailey) with the whole lot surrounded by a defensive earthwork and maybe a moat.

Looking across the bailey to the motte

The motte, now missing the keep.

The town was granted to Thomas Beckett in the 12th century, and it was during this period that the stone curtain wall and outer defensive rings of embankment and ditch were built.

The curtain wall is still intact in several places, making the shape of the castle easily discernable. But the dressed stone facings have been removed for other buildings.

The outer ditch has been destroyed to the south, by the building of Station Road and the railway, but the embankment remains.

Walking the outer defenses

There’s a lodge against the remains of the south-east wall, a later addition built in 1865.IMG_9937

The castle was abandoned in the 16th century and most of the decent building materials plundered. This was common practice going back to the Dark Ages. There are many farmhouses in Northumberland and (what was) Westmorland that owe their solid construction to stone “borrowed” from Hadrian’s Wall. And Newark Castle’s walls have been recycled into many of the town’s buildings.

Moving on into the 18th century, and we come to the start of the canal age. The 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, Francis Egerton, was born in 1736 and raised on the family estate at Ashridge. About 4 miles north of Berkhamsted, the estate, now a National Trust property, sits in the Chilterns near Ringshall.
Inheriting the title at the age of 12 on the death of his brother, the 3rd Duke was sickly and considered a bit dim. But he must have had a good business head on his shoulders. Impressed by the continental canals during his “Grand Tour” he realised that the same techniques could be used to improve transport of coal from the collieries on his Worsley estate to customers in Manchester. He employed a hithertoo little-know and self-taught engineer, James Brindley, to survey and build a canal.
The Bridgewater Canal was opened in 1761 and was an immediate success. His name, and that of Mr Brindley, are irrevocably linked to the birth of the English canal system.

The Duke, who died in 1805, would have been delighted to see the Grand Junction Canal reach his home town in 1798 and Berkhamsted becom a major port on the inland waterways.

Sue and Vic arrived back yesterday evening, with plenty of news about how well the build of No Problem XL is going.

In the afternoon Kevin and Ann, owners of NB Rock’n’Roll, turned up, having moored above Berkhamsted Lock. We had a chat, then invited them to join us, with Sue and Vic, in the evening.
It was a good session judging by the number of bottles I’ve got for the recycling…


K&A have a delightful Staffie pup, by the name of Jaz. She’s a bit fussy at the moment, and kept getting warned off by the other three dogs sprawled about the saloon floor if she got too playful. But they all got on quite well.
Jaz is trying to get on Mags’ knee…

Locks 5, miles 1¾

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Up and over…

Today we ascended the last of the Marsworth Locks, up onto the Tring Summit Level. We were away around ten, and passed Marsworth Junction on the right before the first of today’s locks.
A controversial new housing development now occupies the site of the BW piling workshops.

Marsworth Wharf.


At the junction the narrow gauge Aylesbury Arm heads off to the west.IMG_9885
Unusually for a canal arm, this one still manages to make it to it’s original destination!
Dropping down through eight locks over six miles, the arm ends smack in the middle of the town at a basin. We’ve not been that way, but it’s supposed to be a very pleasant stretch, quiet and remote.

The first lock was against us, and this set the rule for the day. All had to be emptied before we could use them, so I walked ahead to get them set while Vic closed up after the girls.

These final seven locks twist and turn as they climb the 42’3” to the summit.

Fine cottage below Lock 43

And another near Lock 44

Lock 45 is the top one, and has a dry dock alongside.
We met our first boat here!

The Wendover Arm joins here at the summit.
Primarily built as a water feeder to bring water into the Grand Junction Canal from the north of the Chilterns, it was soon adapted to take boat traffic. Most of the trade was in local produce, with coal and lumber coming back. But it was always problematical, notorious for leaks.
After several unsuccessful attempts to effect a solution the arm was actually taking water from the main line, rather than feeding it! The decision was made to build a stop lock to prevent further loss, then finally the bed below the stop lock was de-watered for 1½ miles and the remainder lowered. This is the situation today, although there’s a short restored section beyond the stop lock, with very pleasant moorings. But work on restoring the whole waterway is in progress…

Bulbourne Workshop is also to be redeveloped, I just hope they’ve learned the lessons of poor consultation from the project at Marsworth.

Bulbourne Yard

I guess the blacksmith, in the nearer builder above, will have to find new premises…IMG_9899
Rivet, Rivet. No, I think it’s welded…

South of the workshops the canal enters a long, fairly straight cutting.

Tring Cutting
The cutting is only about 20 feet deep at the most, but not digging it would have meant another 3 locks at either end. Water supply would also have been a problem. The higher summit would have been too high to be fed from the Wendover Arm. A case of “needs must”.

The cutting ends near the village of Tring, then the first downhill lock is encountered at the macabrely named Cow Roast.

Cowroast Lock
A major droving route passed through here in the late Iron Age, and it’s believed the the name Cow Roast, given to the hamlet nearby, is a corruption of “Cow Rest”.

A little further on we dropped down the two Dudswell Locks before mooring up. Well, almost. Our front end is in, but the stern is three feet out. It’s a bit shallow. NP managed to find a deeper bit…

Dudswell Bottom Lock

Hey KevinToo, this one’s for you…
Only a couple of bits, though… Just a token gesture really.

Hi Allan, Yep, all the way across the Atlantic. That’s the furthest the old Flamingo has ever been, eh!

Locks 10, miles 4½

Monday, May 16, 2016

Toddling on…

Another mainly bright, sunny day today as we carried on up the locks to the Tring summit. The locks are frequent now as the slope up onto the Chilterns steepens. Our first was just 10 minutes away, Horton Lock.
I mentioned a couple of days ago the 1835 additional locks, installed to improve traffic flows in the face of railway competition. I thought it was an illusion, created by the filled in bottom of the arch, but the entry to the later chambers, here on the right, looks smaller to me.
A bit more research last night revealed the fact that a lot of the duplicates were actually narrow gauge, only wide enough for one narrowboat. Hence the smaller arch. As a cost and water saving measure I’m sure they were effective, but not effective enough to prevent loss of trade to the railways.

IMG_9843A lot of the locks had pump houses alongside, housing steam-driven pumps to raise the water back up the hill. There’s a small building here, at Horton Lock, in the same style but smaller and standing well back from the canal.
Too small to house an engine, and no chimney anyway.

The lock-keepers cottage is beautifully kept, though no longer occupied by the lockie.IMG_9846

Across the valley, on the flank of the Dunstable Downs, a white lion is cut into the chalk hillside.
Sorry about the pylon! I should have taken the picture last evening with the sun behind me. It stood out far more clearly. I’m sure Sue’s got a better picture, with that fancy camera of hers!Winking smile.
The lion’s presence is explained when you look at the map. Whipsnade Wild Animal Park lies just over the hill.

The locks come steadily; two at Ivinghoe and three at Seabrook.

Bridge to nowhere at Ivinghoe Bottom Lock

The three Seabrook Locks are in a pleasant, wooded setting…IMG_9863

…but the pounds were quite low.

Our first moorhen chicks this season.

Definitely a pump house at the top of the Seabrook Locks.IMG_9866


We had a mile’s relief from the locks above Seabrooks, passing Pitstone Wharf near Bridge 126

Two more locks to do, the bottom pair of the Marsworth Locks. A good sign as we arrive…IMG_9873
Two boats just coming out.

The girls are happy, nearly done for the day.

That’s your lot, Lock 38

We moored a couple of hundred yards on, between bridges 129 and 130, unfortunately under trees. Being out of the sun makes a big difference to the temperature!

Talking about temperature – right alongside the boats this evening!IMG_9881
Tempting, very tempting. But we don’t want to be carting that lot around all summer, do we?

We had a nice surprise this evening - a Facetime call from Canada! IMG_9880
Breakfast time there, as Mags had a good chat to son Neil, his wife Val, and Val’s sister and brother in law Eleanor and Wil. Great to see you all looking so well, folks. Thanks so much for the call. XXX

So, tomorrow another seven locks up onto the 3-mile long Tring Summit. Then there’s the long descent to the Thames, 57 locks over 35½ miles.

Locks 8, miles 4