Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Cruising the capital

What did we say last time about not believing what boaters tell you? Well, if you believe the moaners the Basinstoke Canal is supposedly unnavigable and London is apparently a grid lock of moored boats with no room for visitors. So with some trepidation we rejoined the River Thames in Weybridge, heading for the capital. We somehow ended up doing an uncharacteristially long day and made it to Kingston for our first night back on the Thames.

The next morning was spent readying the anchor and extra ropes and preparing ourselves for tidal waters, as well as the imminent arrival of friends John & Libby. We set off after lunch to get to Teddington lock in time for the tide. Please excuse John's ridiculous sunglasses in this photo, I'd like to say his fashion sense is not normally this bad but you really shouldn't lie on the internet!

We left Teddington lock with two other narrowboats and dodged some strange river traffic as the tide reached its peak around Richmond. One couple in a speed boat even stopped for a snog broadside to the tide right infront of us - there's no time for that when Pas Meche is on tidal waters!

Once again we'd accidentally timed a tidal transit for a spring tide (that's a really big one for those that don't speak tides) and the water through Richmond was over the Thames path in several places.

Around Twickenham the tide turned and we raced along (by narrowboat standards at least) at around 7 or 8 mph. At this break-neck speed the turn to Brentford appeared in no time and we spotted the sculpture on the left bank which marks the far side of the channel which eventually leads up to the Grand Union canal.

As we turned across the tide to enter the River Brent, a small dinghy emerged from the river and came upstream of us. This was fine until we saw the man frantically tugging at the outboard engine as it had broken down. Oh please, not now, we thought. Yes, the dinghy gradually drifted down the tide towards us whilst the woman in the front waved an oar at us. We're not experts in rowing but I think oars are more effective in water than in air. Anyway, we checked they were OK, narrowly avoided a collision and left them rowing upstream until they managed to restart the outboard.

After that mid-tide drama we were glad to get up Thames lock and the Brentford guaging locks to reach the calm and safety of Brentford basin at the very bottom end of the Grand Union canal.

John and Libby were worn out by their initiation into tidal narrow boating but we managed a meal in Brentford before they went home.

Setting off from Brentford, we climbed the Hanwell flight of locks with nb Ultreya who we recognised from the Kennet & Avon.

This is a nice flight of locks but boaters should watch for the vicious bywashes which come out right under the lock moorings!

After the Three Bridges, where a road crosses over the canal at the exact spot where a railway burrows underneath it, we reached Bulls Bridge and the turning towards London on the Paddington Arm.

After a night stop near Willowtree Marina in Southall we made an early start heading for central London. As we crossed the North Circular the wind started to pick up

and things got worse closer to Paddington - the boat heeled over a few times in the wind and we nearly lost the flowers off the roof. This called for some extra bursts of power to fight the gusts and polishing off those sideways boating skills - note Dave's rarely seen 'concentrating face'.

As we approached Little Venice things calmed down, until the steerer of a boat coming the other way failed to spot us due to the amount of junk on her roof and we had to summon all of PM's power (not much) to take evasive action and get over to the "wrong" side of the canal.

With some relief we found a mooring immediately inside the arm to Paddington Basin, and before you reach the 'wind tunnel' that the moorings in the basin often suffer from.

London Life

Paddington basin is a 7 day visitor mooring site so we made use of it to have a few days sightseeing and visiting friends in London. Here are a few highlights and cheesy guest-snaps.

 The Imperial War Museum - excellent, and free.

Dinner with Will.

Narrowboat spotting on the tideway near the London Eye - food for thought for later in our trip!

Coffee with Una.

Gatecrashing a swanky corporate 'do' at 20 Fenchurch Street (aka The Walkie-Talkie) to see the views of London from the top (open to the public after 6pm, free of charge).

The world's strongest man at the Science Museum (you guessed it, it's free to get in).

A visit back at base from Victoria's cousin Chris. Apologies to the rest of the family, who we also saw, for not taking any photos with you.

Wellington Arch (or most of it...) near Hyde Park with Alex.

Escape from London

After five days at Paddington we'd had our fill of city life so made an early start along the Regent's Canal bound for Limehouse.

There were plenty of boats moored but not many on the move, though that was no bad thing with three narrow tunnels to get through. The first was Maida Hill.

We were pleased to get to Camden before the crowds (the main reason for our early start as it can get really busy here on sunny days) and descended the three locks with barely a gongoozler in sight.

We have noticed that some boaters in London don't seem to follow the same etiquette as on the rest of the system. Speeding past moored boats is a hangable offence in some parts of the Midlands canal system so it was good to see one particular hooligan here got his comeuppance.

The scenery changes towards Limhouse basin as Canary Wharf looms into view.

Dropping down into the basin on a narrowboat you suddenly feel very small as Limehouse is home to yachts, motor cruisers and some pretty big ships!

We found a space on the 24 hour moorings on the wall of the basin and moored in time to watch another narrowboat go out on the tideway - the speed they take off with on the incoming tide is pretty amazing to see.

As for us, we've played it a little safer for the time being and have headed out of London on the River Lee today. We will return to Limehouse, where we have a big decision to make about whether to go back along the canals through London or whether to take the big, scary shortcut like the boat above!

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