Thursday, 23rd May 2013
Rickmansworth (Batchworth) to Apsley Mills
Barbara’s SatNav unerringly guided her to Tesco in Batchworth where we stocked up with grub for the next two and a half days. Eddie and Glyn then carted it all along the towpath to the boat while Barbara roared off to Chesterfield. It was something like two o’clock when we got going. After a few minutes we were in Batchworth lock and discovered that the local canal society ran a little hot dog and chips stall. This was too much for Eddie so he sent me off to get some grub. Little did he know! He forgot that we were within the M25! £4.50 for a box of chips and a hotdog was a shock to the system!
Never mind, good fortune was to come. The weather was fine-ish but with an ominous spatter of showers and we made good time. Then, and here was a stroke of luck, we fell in with Sharon and Lew on Summertime. They were on their way back to Milton Keynes from the River Lee so they were going our way and – this is the best bit – they had a BIKE and a SYSTEM of biking up the towpath to set up the next lock and, where the locks were close together, even biking back again to take the boat through the lock !!!! Such good fortune attends one only infrequently!!! Then even more luck, “Shall we stick together?” they asked. We said “Yes, why not?” We thought “You just try to get away!”
We tied up for the evening at nowhere in particular in Apsley Mills but we found out that there was a pub not too far away. I vaguely remembered the village/town from yonks ago but it has all been smartened up around there and the factories have gone. The weather was becoming chilly and there was a hint of rain about. The Met. Office had predicted rain during the night and through the next day, so we weren’t surprised. The rain arrived during the night and was it heavy!
Friday, 24th May Apsley to Cowroast
It had eased off a lot by getting-up time so we kidded ourselves, as you do, that the worst was over. If you listened carefully you could have heard the Rain Gods going “Hee, hee!” Bravely we set off. First there were showers. Then there were heavy showers. Then there was heavy rain followed by light rain. Then there was hail. Then ….. and so on and so on. There was wind and strong gusts of wind. There were black clouds and there were very black clouds. There were reports of snow on the Chilterns. Think of Hawke in Quiberon Bay or of Bligh rounding the Horn or Medina Sedonia foundering in Atlantic storms, then you’ve got the idea of Python in Berkhamsted. We did stop for a while, mid-day, at the Crystal Palace Pub and, of course, the rain stopped and the sun came out. We thought of stopping there but our friends wanted to make the top of Cowroast for the night so we set off again. And, yes, the rain began again!
My waterproof coat turned out to be not really waterproof, though it did delay the inevitable, and Eddie was regretting not bringing heavier shoes. The wind gusts made us cold as well as being a thundering nuisance at the locks. “Ha!”, one might think, “The wind is blowing from the off-side, so I’ll hang about in the middle of the cut ‘cos the worst that can happen is that I’ll get blown on to the towpath side and hop off to hold the boat with a rope”. Fat chance! The trees, the lock walls and the picturesque lock cottages altogether set up wind eddies going the other way so the boat moved inevitably into the mud to do an impression of a thirsty hippo. But we got through and tied up for the night below Cowroast Lock, ready for the summit and desperate to try to find some dry clothes. Too wet to walk to the pub!
A digression: In my last piece I was going on about having to leave certain locks empty which I thought might have been because they were in poor condition. Not So! Not according to a local person, anyway. He said that, when a lot of water came down the cut, the water ran over the bottom gates like a waterfall. Well, it would do, wouldn’t it? This might well have been going on for two hundred years or so without any bother but in recent times new houses have been built near the canal. You can see the sales boards – “Stylish Canalside Apartments”. So stylish persons rush to buy them and then complain about the inevitable canalside noises like the water running over the lock gates! It’s like people who buy houses next to the church and then moan about the bells. Plus, it makes a nonsense of “Close all gates and paddles after leaving the lock to Save Water!”
Saturday 25th May Cowroast to The Globe
So, morning has broken etc. and yes, like a new day. No rain! Sunshine! (a bit). We would have been happy and careless but for the Curse of Python having returned. We were making water and we couldn’t find out from where! Enough was getting in to be worrying but not enough to be panicking. (Yet?) Alright then, up the lock to find our friends who had gone up for diesel. They were ready, so off we went along the summit. Tring summit is welcome for being three miles without locks and the Bulbourne Workshops are picturesquely interesting but otherwise it’s a gloomy old cutting! We had really got the lock-operating system going so we positively shot down Marsworth locks. Our luck held so we didn’t catch up with slower boats. At Slapton Summertime stopped, so we said cheery ‘Goodbyes’ wished each other a good trip and separated. The locks were decidedly more spread out, now, so having to operate them ourselves wasn’t too much of a strain and the weather was fine. Being a Bank Holiday Saturday there were a few boats about so we didn’t do too many on our own while finding only a few against us.
We went on to the outskirts of Leighton Buzzard where our vigilance was required for we had been charged by Ms Warsop with ‘The Collection Of The Kettle’. I’m not sure what it was all about but “Ours not to reason why etc.” We had been told to find a moored boat and pick up a kettle from it, such kettle eventually to be taken to Pelsall(!) We had bridge numbers and a boat description for guidance but we were anxious to fulfil our task and fearful of Ms W’s legion of spies! But, no trouble. We spotted the boat from a distance, pulled alongside, found the kettle immediately and treasured it safely – if damply – into the depths of Python.
If you’re going north and you want to stop at Tesco, then take note – stop before the bridge in Leighton Buzzard. It’s a rubbish mooring, but at busy times you haven’t got much of a chance after the bridge. And it’s the usual thing, there’s not only a water point out side Tesco but C&RT have let off most of the spaces for long-term moorings. We had to forgo fresh milk and put up with the long-life stuff again! It being sunny, if not warm, not with that wind, we were not downcast, but we trickled cheerfully along to the Globe. I can’t really tell you where the Globe is. It’s between Soulbury and Leighton. A bit ‘middle of nowhere’.
Eddie and I were saying that one of the fascinations of the canals is that they have their own geography. No-one who isn’t a local or a boater knows where The Globe is, or where to look in the map book to find Fradley, Fazeley, Preston Brook, Marston, or Barbridge etc. And the distances vary, twenty lock-free miles from Foxton to Watford is not the same as twenty miles from Rickmansworth to Leighton!
Anyway, we got filthy scuffling about in the bilges trying, without success, to find a leak. Then we got changed, went to the Globe, sat outside with our pints before settling down for the night.
Sunday 26th May The Globe to Stoke Hammond
Sun this morning, bright and warm. About time! A bit more fiddling to do with leaks then off we went. Now we were amid the Wyvern Hire Boats out of Leighton. Very smart boats! We had left ourselves with only two hours to Stoke Hammond, having made very good time in adverse conditions with Summertime. We watered at the bottom of the Three Locks then got to Stoke Hammond to look out from the lock to find our mooring below. Think, “As did stout Cortez, Upon a peak in Darien!”
All was as we had been told, so we went down through Stoke Hammond Lock to our mooring just below the lock. It took a long while to get in as far as we could because the mooring was very muddy and shallow. Barbara arrived before we were ready for her because of mooring delay and messing about with leaky bits and the like. But we were off in good time. After the ‘orrible weather on Friday, it was bit galling to drone up the motorway in bright sun!