I joined the boats Nuneaton and Brighton a week later at Addlestone for the return trip to the Midlands for the winter. By pure coincidence, I happened to park close to my mooring just as the pair were passing. I whistled to Barry and he managed to moor the motor at The Pelican with the butty carried across the navigation by the current. My baggage was slung on board and off we went without even the chance of a pint! It looked like just the two of us for most of the trip north, which would not be easy if the locks were set against us and we were singled out on the Grand Union. We were breasted up on the Thames and it was easy going, with a few coal drops to houses and boats before Teddington. John Fevyer was out for the day and assisted with coal heaving, which was very much appreciated. John lives at Twickenham and knows the river very well. He also organises the coal orders and knows where the deliveries need to be made, which saved us a lot of needless searching.
We arrived at Teddington Lock early to lock through onto the tideway and showed the lock keeper out transit ticket dated April 2012, which he queried as to why it had taken seven months to travel from Oxford. When we explained that the boats had been on the K&A for the summer, he gave up and locked us through. Our next delivery was at Eel Pie Island, which I found to be a fascinating experience. Both Barry and I were concerned about the delivery, which was a lot and was obviously going to take a couple of hours at least. At the time, Richmond Half Tide Barrier http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richmond_Lock_and_Footbridge was on draw-down, which meant that it was not operational. It was out of action for annual repairs and river bed inspections, so we were likely to be moored on the mud at low water. Not a pleasant experience to look forward to, as we would be on the tilt and not refloated easily if the mud refused to release its hold on the hull. John, however, assured us that there was a gravel bottom there, so we were somewhat reassured by that and the Teddington lock keeper said that there was plenty of water flowing through the weirs, so it was more than likely that we would remain afloat, which turned out to be true.
|Moored well into the stream.|
|Barry inspects the "Collection"|
The boat on the left is being replated.
I had a walk around that part of the island and was amazed at the variety of different workshops and living areas that existed there. At one point, I came upon a white wall of steel, thinking that it was a shipping container with a steel door in the middle, but on further investigation it appeared to be the centre part of a large boat, complete with funnel still intact. The door was of the watertight variety in what was once a bulkhead.
|Shacks of every description.............|
|as well as unusual houses..........|
The tide was now rising and the water eventually stopped flowing, so we made a decision to leave, winding the boats in the faint current and headed for Brentford, which we reached in an hour. We passed through the Richmond Half Tide Barrier with one of the weirs lowered - something else new to me.
The following morning we continued with deliveries up as far as the gauging locks, but realised that we still had not made a delivery to nb Whimbrol, which we had not seen. Barry walked back down the wharf to locate it and we then reversed the motor for about ½ mile to make the delivery. The boat name was almost worn away and it was inside three other boats. No wonder we had not located it the previous evening in the half light. In the meantime Owen Lamb joined us, which was going to ease progress through the Hanwell flight of locks later.
We stopped in the gauging locks to unload rubbish, water up and have showers, before starting the Hanwell flight. As is usual on this flight, there was masses of floating debris, which got behind the lock gates and stopped us entering the locks breasted up. Owen left us near the top of the flight. By now, I was going down with food poisoning and Barry was left with steering the motor as we moored up at Norwood Top lock for the night. My experiences in a 6ft x 8ft cabin, with a china potty for comfort are best glossed over at this point. The only other comfort was that the stove was alight and I was warm throughout the night. I steered the butty the following day until we reached Cowley Peachey, where we moored the butty and Barry took the motor down the Slough Arm for a delivery at the far end. I had never cruised the Slough Arm and can’t say that I had missed much, though I spent most of the trip just lying on the cross bed. There was weed and plastic bags galore, as well as being very shallow in places and Barry was constantly ‘chucking back’ in reverse to clear the blades. The delivery was made, with a very welcome gift of bottles of beer. I steered some of the way back and we spent the night back at the junction.
There was a severe ‘blade full’ at Uxbridge lock, where we remained until it was removed by a friendly boater moored nearby, with the aid of a pair of wire cutters. There is no weed hatch on Nuneaton, so anything around the propeller has to be extracted from the bank with the boat hook or cabin shaft poked in the right place and all done by feel, as you cannot see what is going on. Wire or plastic around the blades is a nightmare to deal with and often the only answer is to get in the water.
|Towing on cross straps.|
|Cross straps on motor dollies.|
The following day we made it to Stoke Bruerne at midday and met up with David Blagrove, who advised us where to moor on the old wharf that used to serve the limestone quarry. I didn’t know that and I also learned that the red tiled section of path that crosses the towpath near the museum, was the arm that led into the mill basin where the coal was unloaded.
We tidied up the boats and clothed them up to make them more secure and keep out the rain, before having a final meal onboard and then repairing to The Boat Inn for well deserved beers in the company of Jack Woodward, the landlord, who was recounting tales of filming back in 1946 and previous layouts of the boaters bar. A perfect ending to an interesting run.
If you would like to know more about the Narrow Boat Trust, look here. New members are always welcome.