My initial cruises were, of course just local, until I had become more used to the idiosyncrasies of my new acquisition. My first long voyage was in 2006 around the Thames Ring – north up the Grand Union, then back south on the Oxford and Thames to the mooring at Addlestone. Of course, I thought at the time, that I knew all about boating on the canals, but did I have something to learn? I learnt that the boat had a mind of its own and if I took certain actions the boat would do what I expected, or otherwise! So, we got to know each other I suppose. And now I take it for granted that if I do this, she will do that. During that cruise I met up with a continuous cruiser called Robin on NB “Daydream”. He was also a solo boater and had been born on a narrow boat. His parents did the rubbish run from Limehouse many years ago and obviously lived on board. We travelled together from Winkwell to Leighton and I learned a few tips from him as well. I have seen his boat a few times since then, but he was never on board, so I hope he is still OK.
My second long cruise was also in 2006 on the Kennet and Avon canal, with the intention of getting to Bristol. I had visiting crew on parts of this trip, which I was pleased to have on the Caen Hill flight of 29 locks. One unforgettable incident was when one of my crew fell overboard between the boat and the quayside. Although he was not in deep water, he did not have sufficient body strength to heave himself onto the bank (having done 29 locks previously), but by me holding the tiller steady, he managed to get a foot on the rudder and climb back on. After that incident, I fitted a safety ladder and had a step welded on the base plate. I didn’t want to have the same difficulty if I fell in. I haven’t yet, but I have come close to it! On that trip, I got as far as Keynsham Lock and had to turn back, as the bottom gates were leaking so badly, it was impossible to completely fill the lock and they were chained up the following day by BW. Had I managed to get through, I would almost certainly have been unable to return through them and would have been stranded for about 3 weeks, whilst new gates were fitted in October.
Immediately after this cruise I took off to do the London ring. Up the Grand Union to Bulls Bridge and then the Paddington Arm and Regents Canal to Limehouse Basin, after which it was out onto the tideway of the Thames and back to Teddington. An Amazing experience – cruising past all the landmarks of London. I have done it twice since then with a VHF radio and in both directions. Getting into Limehouse without hitting the pier on a falling tide takes some nerve!
|Entrance to Limehouse|
The following year I ventured onto the Lee and Stort Navigations from the Thames and Limehouse, which was interesting, but quite uneventful, except maybe the entrance to Limehouse Marina from the river on a fast ebbing tide. I returned the same way and was an object of curiosity amongst other boaters, because I was going out on the tideway single handed. I was not happy cruising through the east end of London with filthy water and blades wrapped in rubbish every few miles, with few safe moorings to be had. It’s just the same from Brentford north until well past Uxbrige, but at least once through it, it’s good cruising from there on.
Birmingham Canal Navigations was next on the list for 2007 and I did some locks on the way with Barry and Jenny on “Jenny Wren”, who I had met on the Oxford the year before. They were also continuous cruisers, but where on their way to sell their narrow boat as they had bought a wide beam to live on. At the Calcutt flight, I met up with Ian and Penny on nb “The Antique”, which was fortunate, because we were approaching the ‘Stairway to Heaven’, aka Hatton flight of 21 locks. We went breasted up and ended up in The Waterman’s Arms at the top, where Ian gave me loads of info on moorings and good pubs to visit in the area. I cruised a fair part of the BCN and had a day at the Black Country Living Museum, which was well worth the visit. I quite fancy doing the BCN Challenge one year to see more of our historical legacy.
|The Stairway to Heaven|
The following year, I went upstream to Oxford just for a change and then up the Oxford canal to Napton, with the intention of visiting more of the BCN. The weather was abysmal, so I changed my mind and cruised up the Leicester Section of the GU to Watford locks, ending up at Foxton on a sunny Saturday – wow, was that busy with boats and gongoozlers. After a night moored below the locks, I returned via the GU and Brentford.
2009 was the year of Llangollen via Brentford and the Stratford canal to the Shroppie. The most exciting part of this trip was, of course, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, although I had crossed it many years previously on a hire boat. I picked a school half-term for part of this trip and realised just how popular the Llangollen canal was, with queues for locks and boats stemmed up in funny places. I took the opportunity to pay a visit to the Montgomery canal, which was very preciously cared for with a severe speed limit of 3mph and an excellent pub at the end of the restoration called The Navigation at Maesbury. I returned via Barbridge junction and the Trent and Mersey and the Cheshire locks aka ‘Heartbreak Hill’. I also had my first experience of Harecastle tunnel – one way working and 2,926 yds (1.7 mls) long which normally takes 40 to 45 mins to get through. I did it in 32 mins! The atmosphere was thick with fumes, as there are no ventilation shafts and I was pleased that I was not following another boat, or even seven boats, as the maximum is eight at a time. Not a nice experience, but could have been worse!
|Crossing Pontcyllte at 07.30|
The next year, it was to be the Tardebigge flight on the Worcester and Birmingham, the Severn and then the Stratford canal via the Grand Union again. At Tardebigge I was followed by a boat with a large crew, who set a lot of the locks ahead for me. Being slower, I suppose I should have let them past, but then all the locks would have been set against me. I cruised up the Severn to Stourport, which I found very interesting as a previous inland port. Then it was down to Tewkesbury to the Avon. I had been previously warned about how fast those two rivers could rise if it rained, so I was rather apprehensive of staying too long. The Severn I found to be boring as one could not see any scenery because of the high banks. The Avon, although prettier, was only a little better and I was glad to finally get back on the cut at Stratford.