Roses and Castles - Origin

As you can tell from Albert's decoration we are keen on the tradition of narrowboat decoration. As a result, few years ago we purchased a small decorated can bearing the name Forget me Not and, as part of our research into its origin, we met with Tony Lewery who identified it as probably being painted in Nurser's yard around 1911. At the time Tony had just published his excellent book Flowers Afloat, so we became familiar with his hypotheses concerning the origins of "Roses & Castles".

It was therefore with some interest that I came across a blue underglazed transfer plate for sale on ebay which claimed to show a scene from the "Middlesborough Canal" and dated c. 1840. I knew that the details appeared to be suspect, and it was cracked, but nevertheless it was intact and I managed to get it for £5!

The scene of the plate is very interesting because it shows a boating scene and a "castle". Looking up the plate on the web, and correctly reading the auctioneers label on its base, it appears that the plate was produced by Middlesborough Pottery between 1832 and 1840. Further research revealed that the cartouche pattern is actually called Wild Rose and that the "canal scene" is actually of Nuneham Courtney on the River Thames. It is based on an engraving by W. Cooke, after a drawing by S. Owen published in 1811. It appears that Nuneham Park house was the seat of Earl Harcourt and one of the most celebrated of Eighteenth-Century English gardens. A good condition plate with the same design, but from another pottery, is currently for sale on the internet at an antiques dealer for £65.

Middlesborough Pottery blue underglaze transfer print plate

The plate design strongly supports Tony Lewery's idea that the origins of Roses & Castles lie in the popular art of the early nineteenth century. In Flowers Afloat, on page 45, Tony shows an illustration of a blue underglaze transfer printed meatdish that shows a castle scene and a river. Our plate appears to go one stage further since it clearly links a castle scene and a roses pattern - in one item. In fact, a complete roses and castle decoration - circa 1840.

NB Gifford's decorated cabin table

For reference above is a more familiar mid-20th century example of Roses & Castles.

Steve Parkin

Albert's Blog passes a milestone

Since November 2006 we have been running a sitemeter on our blog. This week it passed a milestone - our 10,000th visitor. We are not exactly a big hitter in terms of canal/waterways blogs, but most of the really popular blogs are published by continuous cruisers.

We got a lot of hits courtesy of Granny Buttons when Andrew Denny ran a feature about the conversion of NB Lion. Also, we recently got some heavy hitting when Andrew used my You Tube video about locking techniques in one of his posts. Unlike someone who recently left comments on Granny's blog complaining that Andrew had stolen his video, I was very pleased. It appears that Granny is very influential. More power to Andrew's elbow.

So what of the 10,000th hit? It appears to have originated from Holland.

Best wishes to all for Christmas and the New Year if we don't manage to get on-line again.

I have it in mind to write about a couple of other old cruising books I have recently read, but we might go boating over New Year if ice doesn't come. We're thinking about a grand cruise of the North this coming year.

The Thames from Mouth to Source

Just got another bargain book from Ebay (i.e. less than £10).

I recently managed to acquire a very tidy first edition of Thames from Mouth to Source by L.T.C. (Tom) Rolt. It was published in 1951 and apart from Rolt's very readable text it includes some excellent colour plates, all of which are from watercolours, aquatints or oil-paintings - no photographs. Because the book is essentially historic in its view, this fits in well.

I recently read Peter Ackroyd's Thames- sacred river, which at 447 pages and with a literary style is a big read. Getting back to Rolt's easy style and only 75 pages was light relief! The emphasis is on the history of the great river but he manages to include many references to his voyage along the river with Angela. For me it's a very accessible book. I have included some boat related plates here. They show some early prints of narrowboats (or should it be narrow boats). You should note that they are not decorated.

I also found it interesting that David Blagrove is currently examining the history of the Thames up to the 1860s in the winter edition of the Narrowboat magazine. Particularly since the article is ilustrated with several images found in Rolt's book; they are now very familiar to me. David, of course, is able to provide a fantastic amount of detail about each of images, as only he can.

Caravan Afloat (2)

Well it didn't even get a bid! The Ebay auction ended today and this rare gem made no impression despite the reasonable £29.99 opening price - the last copy offered on ABE was advertised for £75 (see below). Perhaps I should have bought it as an investment?

I've noticed that everybody in the media appears to be blaming everything on the recession (which hasn't yet officially happened - although it appears to be inevitable). Perhaps the seller will blame the lack of response on the "R word".

Or is there less interest in waterways heritage nowadays? I remember 1st editions of Rolt's "Narrow Boat " fetching well over £60 on Ebay around the time of the 60th anniversary of publication when there was plenty of publicity. Perhaps it it is all a question of timing?

Steve Parkin

Caravan Afloat

Earlier in the year I purchased a copy of "A Caravan Afloat" by C J Aubertin. It was a first edition - published in 1916. The book was recently featured in an excellent Waterways World article and is a true classic of early pleasure boating.

I found a single copy in the UK using the ABE Books web site but when I came to pay the £75 (yes it is rare and I am a keen collector), the seller couldn't find it in his shop. It appeared that when he moved premises he misplaced it. I eventually found a copy in New Zealand using the Alibris web site. It is an excellent copy in good condition and it was around half the price of the UK book.

Recently I have been monitoring a copy that is for sale on Ebay. At the moment it has no bids with just two days to go. With a reserve of around £29 it will be interesting to see what happens. I wonder if there will be a last minute bidding war. I won't be bidding!

Water Cans (or Buckby Cans)

We own two water (or Buckby) cans. One, painted by Ron Hough, was a 50th birthday present from Maggie to me. It displays the name of our first boat - "BERTIE". The other was largely painted by the first owner of Albert but Maggie added some more flowers and decoration and I put on the name.

When we had the boat painted the water cans, which we are in the habit of placing on the roof in all-weathers, looked a bit scrappy. Although we chain them on they had suffered some tree-damage and, over around 10 years, there was also a certain amount of crazing caused by the sun. This was especially true on the lids and particularly on the white roses. I also decided that my amateurish sign writing looked out of place with our new paint scheme. As a result, I decided to renovate both cans, get Maggie to refresh the flowers, and then get Colin Dundas to signwrite "ALBERT" on the can.

Colin did a great job and used a similar typeface to the one he developed for the cabin sides.

Water cans

Steve Parkin

Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal

Just been browsing Wikipedia for an item concerning my technical editing job and found to my surprise that the Wiki home page featured article for today is on the Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal. Terrific page with so much historical detail! No wonder they selected it.

Steve Parkin

Signwriting Finished

We went to High House Wharf on Sunday morning to pick up Albert after Colin Dundas had finished the signwriting. Albert looks truly splendid! We are very pleased with both the painting (Baxters) and the signwriting.

The new style signwriting and scumbling look terrific. Colin's suggestion of outlining the scumbling in red worked very well. The scumbling has been done in Dulux Brushwood, as before. Colin used one base coat (acrylic)and two top coats. The first top coat is scumbled (combed etc) and the second is used to provide protection an a darker colour. We chose the English Oak colour.

The finished job (with proud owner and signwriter)

As usual Colin has been very clever ensuring that the panels are "complete" even when the engine room doors are open. This is particularly important to us since we normally run with doors open.

The "Albert" panel with engine doors open

Our name and "No. 1" panels

We will need to start polishing the brass once we have good weather. At the moment it puts the painting to shame.

The weather forecast for Sunday morning wasn't good but turned out bright and windy. Just as we left we found that fellow bloggers NB Hadar were moored up just behind us. They were breasted-up against another boat. Unfortunately we had no time to stop and chat (if they were on board).

We had no problems until we got to Stoke Bruerne, although it was slow going through an angling match near Bugbrooke; we were thanked for slowing down.

Coming out of Blisworth Tunnel it started raining and it just got harder and harder. There were even had some hailstones. We managed to pick up NB That'll Do at the second lock down and had help with the locks from the skipper of NB Buster who was moored up for the night in the Long Pound. He moors at Kingfisher Marina and offered to help when we met at the customary bonfire night barbeque on Saturday night.

Stoke Bruerne flight in the pouring rain (and some hail)!

The River Tove was in spate again and the side weirs were overflowing even more than last weekend. We eventually got back to our berth just before dark. Jon Munk popped his head out and welcomed us home with the obvious comment about the weather being suitable for boating!

Bow details - at high water

Today it appears that they have closed both Stoke Bruerne flight and Cosgrove lock because of flooding. The water level in Kingfisher Marina is very high.


Signwriting Progress

Visited Colin Dundas at High House Wharf today. He is really getting on well with the signwriting. The harlequin decoration is in progress and the scumbling is basically finished. It was great watching him add the blocking to the lettering. Albert will certainly look smart when he and Kevin have finshed with her. I was particularly taken with the script he developed for the "Albert" panel.

Colin Dundas adding the blocking to the signwriting


Moving Albert for Signwriting

On Sunday took Albert up to High House Wharf for Colin Dundas to do the decoration (signwriting, scumbling and harlequin panels).

After Saturday's heavy rain, as Jon Munk put it "there will be no shortage of water under your keel". Indeed there wasn't.

The River Tove, which flows under (via a syphon) and into (via weirs) the Grand Union, was in full spate.Most of the fields alongside the river itself were flooded and the side discharge weirs along the canal were all open. Most of the canal between Yardley Gobion and Stoke Bruerne Bottom Lock had a significant flow. It was very much like navigating the upper sections of the Llangollen, particularly going through bridge holes. The section leading to Stoke Bruerne bottom lock was really interesting. We had to go at some speed to get through the inflow.

River Tove in spate

We waited in the bottom lock for a hire boat to turn around using one of the quieter sections of the river, but unfortunately we had to give up when we realised that it would be touch and go if they made it all. NB Bird on a Wire were moored up and they offered advice.

The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful except for an idiot in Blisworth Tunnel who thought the best way to pass in the tunnel was to stop! He didn't appear to realise that you lose steerage when there is no flow across the rudder. He also thought it was funny when his bow swung out and clunked Albert's newly painted hull. He added insult to injury by photographing the event. Still as they say - boating is a contact sport. It would be nice if there was only occasionally slight contact.

Albert with a plain fore-end

Albert is now safely inside the wet dock at High House Wharf. She should reappear at the weekend.

Coming out of dry dock

Albert left Baxters dry dock at Yardley Gobion today after her three-week re-paint. As the weather was clear and bright Albert looked at her best, although she still isn't fully decorated.

Albert's paint job wasn't without some difficulties but she now looks very smart. You now begin to realise how faded the Middle Coach Green had become when you see the fresh new paint. The new Imitation Gold coach-lines also look very smart.

New paint and anodes

The roof is no longer Mason's Chestnut but is Corfe Grey and the rear section is now Raddle Red (Craftmaster) which should be more practical than the scumbling. The red pigeon box, cratch board and counter are Mason's Middle Red.

New roof colour scheme (decoration to come)

The boat alongside came into the dry dock painted in primer after shot-blasting. She now has a name - Bird on a Wire.

Filling the dry dock after the re-paint

We spent the day tidying up the boat, replacing the curtains and getting rid of the layer of dust that, despite all precautions, had pervaded the inside of the boat.

The next stage is to get Colin Dundas working on the signwriting, decoration and the scumbling. We will take Albert up to High House at the weekend for Colin to start work next week.

New header for our blog

In an attempt to brighten up our blog, I decided to add an image to the header. In doing so I found out why Waterways World, and other canal magazines, have to be particularly careful when choosing their front covers. I ran through loads of our photos before I finally got an image where I could have the title clear against a light background (sky), featured the boat and had a strong "landscape-style" content.

The image I finally settled on was taken on the Upper Thames in August 2007. It was shortly after the floods, we were moving on yellow boards, and you can see that the river is still in spate. During the Summer 2007 Floods the river reached half-way up the trunk of the tree on the right. Somebody helpfully fixed a marker to the trunk.


Repaint Progress

As we indicated in the last blog, Albert was soon about to look worse. Ian has now rubbed her down. It took him a particularly long time to remove the scumbling on the cabin sides and roof because it was really tough; you can tell by the numerous sanding discs on the floor.

After rubbing down

Albert now looks decidedly shabby. Still it won' t be long before new paint gets applied.

Looking at the bits normally underwater

It is always fascinating to see your boat out of the water. It can also be a bit of a nervy time when you start imagining all those horrors that could have occurred beneath the waterline where you can't see them.

Albert in Baxter's Dry Dock

Albert went into dry dock yesterday and today, after Jon & Ian of Baxter's had pressure washed her, I went over to inspect her. I was very pleased to find that she had survived the last two years very well indeed. As Jon said the hull is in very good condition even after 14 years.

Of particular interest were the anodes which we contemplated changing two years ago. In the end we decided, that since they had lasted quite some time and we planned to get her out of the water again in two years, they would do for the time being. I had occasionally caught a glimpse of them in clear river waters and decided that they still existed, but over the last two years I have remained unsure if it was the right decision. It was therefore with some relief that I found that they were still doing their job but they will need replacing this time. I presume that because the blacking was in good condition they haven't had to work too hard.

Anodes that have done their job

The only negative points appear to be a small chip out of the propeller and a small section where some blacking that has peeled off with pressure washing to reveal bare metal. The latter will be easily fixed but we will have to live with the former.

Prop with small chip

The hinges on the side and stern hatches of Albert were never a strong point and some had started to fail. We are having them replaced with "butterfly" hinges with bronze pins. They look much better.

The painting plan appears to be to put on the first coat of paint on Friday. As another boat painter said to us in 2000 when we had our last boat repainted "we're going to make her look a lot worse before she looks better". She did of course.

Albert to get a repaint

We've been quite for a while but we have been getting organised to have Albert painted. We think Albert's green (Mason's Middle Coach Green) was applied when she was built and that was over the 14 years ago. Although it appears to have lasted very well it needs regular polishing and it's getting a little faded and thin. So we are going for Middle Coach Green again.

The roof, which was painted about 4 years ago in Mason's Chestnut, as an approximation to the red oxide roofs of traditional boats, has not lasted as well. The plan is to have the roof painted in grey but replace the stern scumbled section of the roof by Craftmasters Raddle Red. The Dulux Brushwood scumble has lasted well on the cabin sides and we will replace like with like. Unlike varnished scumbles it doesn't need regular maintenance. However, it was less successful on the roof where it cracked a little, probably as a result of more sun. This should keep the stern section looking decidedly traditional.

So at the moment Albert is in the dry dock at Baxters Boatfitting Services. Whilst there she will be blacked, have new anodes, and have new door hinges. Photographs will follow. She should be there for about three weeks.

After the repaint Colin Dundas will be doing the signwriting, the decoration and the scumble. We are aiming to go for a very traditional look with three panels - owners names and home "port", number one, and "Albert". We are also going for the full "Registered at Watford". With so many modern boats going away from traditional decoration I suppose we are making a statement, but we have to with a boat called Albert.

Which reminds me that this summer we saw Albert (No. 3) on the Thames at Kingston on two occasions. On the last we go a very cheery wave from the owner who indicated that they were "number three".

Thames Tideway Poetry

Maggie was so taken with the experience of our trip along the Thames from Limehouse to Brentford in August that, inspired by Terry Darlington, she was moved to write a poem in blank verse.

Tidal Thames

Three boats wait anxiously in the lock.
Silently and almost imperceptibly the water drops
As a narrow slit of daylight widens between the vast gates
And we see our first glimpse of what lies beyond.
Before the waters have chance to equalise, the gates are open
And the lock water rushes down towards the great river.
The tide surges past, and the slight breeze catches the waves
And creates a rough chop.
Suddenly from downstream a ferry rushes by,
Adding its wide wake to the turbulent waters.
Amidst all this, bobbing about like a cork, a friend in his inflatable,
Buzzing over the water
A reassuring presence.
Suddenly we are off, out into the maelstrom.
We pitch and toss as we turn into the tideway.
As we cut through the chop, spray breaks over our bows
And for a moment we retreat behind the safety of the cabin doors.
“Can we stand two hours of this?”
“Are we going to be seasick?”
“You’re braver than I thought you’d be!”
Why do we laugh so much when really we’re scared stiff?
We emerge and look back towards the jagged skyline of Canary Wharf receding into the distance.
Then suddenly, ahead of us, “It’s Tower Bridge!”
Pale and huge against the leaden clouds.
We try to focus our cameras as we rock and roll our way beneath its enormous structure.
The Skipper and First Mate study their charts and plough on.
We are just beginning to enjoy this.
Then it’s City Hall where Lucy works, the Tower of London, The Eye, all seen from a fresh angle.
And the first narrowboat, forging ahead, floats like a matchstick on this mighty river.
When we reach Westminster, our spirits are so uplifted that we sing patriotic songs.
“Rule Britannia, Britannia rues the waves...”
“ And did those feet in ancient times..”
On through the City we sail, steering to cut through the wake of countless larger vessels,
Each bridge greeted with a shout of recognition,
So familiar from above
So imposing from below.
And bus passengers and pedestrians going about their daily business
Look down from above and wave or smile,
not knowing how our hearts race down below.
Gradually the river widens, and the waves subside
As we follow the bends out of the wind.
We realise we may actually live to tell this tale.
Then ahead it’s the Albert Bridge and Narrowboat Albert and her crew
glow with pride as we glide beneath.

The battle is over and our little flotilla reassembles
As we head for the safety of Brentford Lock.
Our two companion boats sail on towards Teddington
And we wave our goodbyes
And express our thanks for their moral support.

Afterwards it’s a group hug and a cup of tea
And a photo to mark this momentous trip.
Will we ever do it again?
The skipper’s face looks doubtful.

But perhaps it’s like childbirth,
It’s not the pain you remember,
It’s the joy.

Maggie Parkin, August 2008

Opening Lock Gates Automatically

When we were travelling down to the Thames this summer, on the Grand Union, we came across Richard Horne who operates working narrowboat Arundel carrying aggregate from the conveyor at Denham to Hanson's wharf at West Drayton. The last time we were down that way, in 2003, we saw the then new Land & Water barges that were specifically designed to fill Cowley Lock operating through Cowley. This time we saw Arundel reversing back empty from the winding to its wharf at Denham to fill up at the coveyor and later, after we had moored, watched her descending Cowley Lock.

Richard, who operates the boat as Phoenix Canal Carriers, was operating single-handed and was using an interesting technique to open the lower lock gates. It was a version of a technique that I had not seen before but had read about in Waterways World in the mid 1990s. The technique consists of using the boats motive power (i.e. horse or motor) to automatically open the lock gates when the lock is empty. The description I read in Waterways World described a pair of horse boats going down Hatton Flight. I remember finding it very hard to follow the description; I read it through several times before I began to understand it. Seing a modern version with just one boat made it easier to follow but I have to say it was no less impressive in terms of ingenuity.

I took a video of the technique on my Nokia N95. I hope you can follow what is happening. The process involves putting a line from the towing mast around the lock gate rail and selecting reverse on the motor. When the water levels are equal the force on the line which over the gate is sufficient to open it. Once the gate is open the motor engine is put into neutral via a line to the engine-hole. Richard gets on board and then leaves the lock, retrieving the line to the gates in the process. Obviously the gates are left open in the manner that prevailed during the days of full-scale commercial carrying.

Richard Horne automatically opening the gates of Cowley Lock using the engine of NB Arundel, August 1st 2008

I discussed how much aggregate Arundel was carrying with Richard. He had on board a very impressive 30 1/4 tonnes. As he pointed out, it just demonstrated what could be carried when canals are properly dredged. It appears the section between Denham and West Drayton has been dredged to 7ft.

Steve Parkin

Stoke Hammond & Yardley Gobion

On Saturday (23/8) we travelled down to Stoke Hammond. We had good bright weather all day. As we took on water at Leighton Buzzard we met NB Frobisher, a converted Admiral class working boat.

We moored up above the Globe Inn for lunch and then went down Soulbury locks accompanied by Marge, a Sea Otter that was out for the weekend from Cheddington. Robin Smithett was busy photographing Wyvern Shipping hire boats arriving at the locks.

We moored up for the night above Stoke Hammond lock. We were then passed by a series of Wyvern Shipping boats out for the Bank Holiday weekend. As it got dark a hot air ballon landed close to the lock.

Hot air ballon landing near Stoke Hammond

On Sunday (24/8) morning we woke to rain and spent the rest of the morning travelling through Milton Keynes in light rain and mist. At one stage, just south of the city centre we had an interesting encounter with a large wide beam going south very slowly. This required boats going north to pull over into the bank. The crew of the narrow boat following them desribed their journey as like watching paint dry. We passed Granny Buttons close to Campbell Park. Andrew Denny appeared not to be on board. Perhaps he was shopping in Milton Keynes, or perhaps not.

By lunchtime the weather had improved and we moored up at Great Linford for lunch. The canal was very busy. Having spent a month around London where there was little traffic it came as a suprise.

As we approached Cosgrove Lock we met Janet Irons taking her dog Thea for a walk. They came on board for a short trip and a cup of tea. By the time we had arrived back at Kingfisher marina the weather had turned again and we unloaded the boat under gloomy skies.

We appear to have travelled 241 miles and negotioated 221 locks in our summer cruise. It was unforgetable. Now we shall be preparing Albert for her repaint in October.


On Friday (22/8) Anne and Edward left us. They were picked up from Marsworth by Fred & Margaret, Anne’s parents, and went home to Sheffield. We will miss their good company, their crewing skills and our laughs together.

Waiting at Seabrook Locks

We left Marsworth in the afternoon in bright sunshine and travelled down to Slapton. The views of the Chilterns were great. The lion at Whipsnade looked very prominent. However, before we left Marsworth we had some excellent sandwiches at the Bluebells Cafe. Along with the Lockside cafe at Cowley, this is another example of a canal-side cafe that is really providing good food.


On Thursday (21/8) the weather finally improved a little as we headed for Marsworth. We took on water at the Park in Berkhamsted and more provisions from Waitrose. The trip up to Cowroast was very pleasant and relatively uneventful although Steve managed to find a hole in the towpath where a breach had been repaired but had become undermined; his foot suddenly went down the hole.

The trip through Tring cutting in sunshine was delightful with lots of Maggie’s favourite dappled shade.

Tring Cutting


We went down the Marsworth flight and moored up by the reservoirs. There were lots of anglers, people taking their dogs for walks, and families enjoying the sunshine, although it wasn’t particularly warm given the time of the year. Watching the sun set over the reservoirs was a good end to the day.

Marsworth mooring


On Wednesday (20/8), we left Grove in showery conditions. The showers continued on and off for most of the day. We met NB Mrs Armitage around Kings Langley and continued going up locks with them for some time.

When we went down to London we completely missed the changes at the former Ovaltine factory and farm. Going south we saw the new developments but didn’t connect them to the site. This time we specifically took note and made the connection. The new housing looks very impressive but it is a shame that nothing appears to relate to the site's former use. Perhaps they have named a road Ovaltine Way, or something similar, but we couldn’t tell from the canal.

Since the above was written we found out that the factory facade has been kept. You just can't see it from the canal.

Mrs Armitage stopped for services at Winkwell and we went on through the electrically operated swing bridge. Edward operated the bridge console. He particularly enjoyed stopping the traffic. Because boats were also coming south he managed to delay the traffic even longer than normal. The drivers appeared to be particularly good natured and didn’t complain.

Winkwell Swing Bridge

Just before Berkhamsted we came across an unoccupied boat whose stern mooring rope had broken and was blocking the navigation. A neighbouring boat owner tried bringing the boat alongside but he was having trouble. We assisted with poles and ropes and after some time got it moored up. The original mooring rope was much frayed and well passed its “sell by date”. It was not surprising that it had broken.

We moored up at Castle Wharf in Berkhamsted close to hotel boat Wood Owl and opposite the former site of Bridgewater Boats. The weather had improved sufficiently for Steve to do some much need brass cleaning before we went out for an excellent meal at Chez Gerard.

The Grove, Watford

Tuesday (19/8) was a really wet day. Although it started in sunshine, when we went to Tesco in Rickmansworth, it soon deteriorated into heavy showers and finally continuous rain. It only really cleared up when we reached Grove where we moored for the night.

Batchworth Locks

Edward steering with the stern doors closed!

We went up locks with NB Felicitas, a boat that was exhibited at this year’s Crick Boat Show. The owners are started continuous cruising in April but hope to get winter moorings in Crick. We both took on water at Cassio Bridge Lock and Albert’s crew gathered blackberries during a gap in the showers.

Sampling blackberries at Casio Bridge Lock

We went up through Iron Bridge and Cassiobury Park Locks with hotel boat Wood Owl in the rain and moored up early by the bridge leading to the The Grove mansion. It looks a very impressive golf course.

Later in the afternoon NB Mr Heron joined us on the mooring. We are celebrating Anne and Edward’s wedding anniversary tonight with supper on board; the blackberries will come in handy.


On Monday (18/8), after a wet night we left went up Cowley lock with NB Heron who had moored up near Cowley Peachey. Through Uxbridge we followed the two very slow narrowboats we met on the Paddington Arm. NB Heron accompanied us all the way until Copper Mill Lock where we took on water and had a sandwich lunch. NB Heron took longer and followed on later. This section is a surprisingly pretty part of the Grand Union given how close it is to Central London. The rain threatened all the time we were on the move but it managed to stay dry until we moored up at Stokers Lock.

Limehouse, Tideway, Brentford and Cowley

Catching up on posts, bit of a delay but with good reasons.

On Friday (15/8) we left Little Venice visitor moorings and travelled down the Regents Canal to Limehouse.

Approaching Maida Hill Tunnel

The trip through Regents Park in bright sunshine was delightful. When we reached the top of Camden Locks we found narrow boats Imagine and Soup Dragon using the right-hand lock so we took the left. It was interesting locking down side by side in two locks. There were lots of sightseers, almost like Stoke Bruerne Top Lock on a warm August Bank Holiday Monday.

We moored up for lunch just before Islington tunnel and were overtaken by Imagine and Soup Dragon. We followed them through the tunnel and met a boat waiting at the other end. Because it is a one-way passage tunnel they had to wait sometime for three boats to pass. Unfortunately, just as we left the tunnel another boat entered at the other end and therefore they had to wait even longer. The following boat turned out to be the community boat Pride of Sandwell. We met the boat, and her skipper, earlier in the year in Braunston when the boat was in transit from the West Midlands to London. We went down several locks with them. The kids on board were enjoying themselves and were generally well behaved. They turn off down the Hertford Union (Duckett’s Cut) to the River Lee. We carried on descending locks until we got to Limehouse Basin.

The basin looked great in the late afternoon sunshine. Several boats were moored up against the basin walls waiting to lock out onto the tidal Thames. We decided to go for the “posh” option and pay for a mooring on the floating pontoons. It was shortly after our arrival that our cruising plans changed dramatically. We discovered that we could accompany some of the crews going onto the Tideway and Maggie, who has always been reluctant to venture onto the Tideway, had to agree that this was a golden opportunity to travel through the heart of London by narrow boat. So instead of sampling the delights of the River Lee we chose to experience central London from the river! We negotiated with Imagine and Soup Dragon about forming a flotilla, and discussed our plans with the lockkeepers.

After preparing the boat (deploying the anchor, adjusting the ballast, checking the weed hatch, and sealing up the front door vents) we locked onto the Tideway at 11.30 on Saturday morning (16/8). However, before we left the marina were interviewed by the River Police in their counter terrorism role! The officers had appeared on the recent TV series and assured us that we didn’t look like terrorists and admired Albert’s interior. Leaving the lock onto the turbulent Thames was an experience, particularly as a high-speed catamaran just passed us as we left the cut. Michael with his mum as crew on Soup Dragon led the way. We followed, and Imagine with Nick and Sarah brought the rear. Soup Dragon, having a more powerful engine, was plainly faster than Albert with its Ruston 2YWM and Imagine with its Gardner 2LW. We kept in touch by UHF radio which was invaluable. The general swell on the river was strong particularly along exposed reaches.

Canary Wharf from the Tideway

It was elating to see Tower Bridge as we turned the curve at Wapping; surely this has to be the boating highlight. It was quite rough around Parliament with a fresh wind, lots of crossing river traffic and a strong incoming tide. We took as many pictures as we could but we had to be very aware of obeying the navigation rules and keeping a good watch on other traffic. At one point, Nick on Imagine had to navigate carefully to avoid a large trip boat that was trying to come alongside Westminster Pier. The views of The London Eye, Parliament and Westminster Bridge were fantastic. Although our speed over the water was relatively modest the rate at which we passed under bridges clearly indicated how quickly we were travelling. Anne and Maggie who were sitting in the well deck occasionally got wet from spray as the bows pitched.

Albert passing under Tower Bridge

Choppy in the Westminster Reach

Maggie getting splashed outside the Houses of Parliament

After Battersea the river became calmer and boat traffic a lot less. We were particularly keen to photograph Albert approaching Albert Bridge. Michael came on the UHF radio and asked if Albert was glowing with pride as she passed underneath.

Albert approaching Albert Bridge

Steve was particularly interested in the journey over the Tideway rowing course (Varsity Boat Race) since he has rowed in the Head of the River Races. By now we were travelling in bright sunshine on relatively calm water.

Passing the rowing clubs at Putney

We slowed down a little since Imagine and Soup Dragon were travelling up to Teddington through the Richmond Barrier and didn’t want to arrive at the barrier before it was raised. The calm of the water was disturbed when a cruiser, (Quakers Two) who had left Limehouse shortly after us, overtook us at Kew Bridge. Their wake was larger than nearly all the traffic we met in Central London.

We waved goodbye to Imagine & Soup Dragon and they carried on up to Teddington. We turned once more up the cut to Brentford and Thames Lock. We negotiated the low bridge at Brentford High Street and the Gauging Locks and moored up in the basin.

The crew at Brentford

With a feeling of elation we recounted tales of the trip all evening. What a wonderful journey! We are indebted to the crews of Imagine and Soup Dragon for letting us join them for this memorable trip.

We left Brentford Basin on Sunday (17/8)morning in sunshine and made our way up Hanwell Locks to Norwood. Initially we travelled with NB Mr Heron, but because other boats were moving up the flight it made more sense for them to pair up with another crew and we travelled up the main part of the flight alone. However, with a crew of four we made great progress and soon moved on to Bulls Bridge where we visited Tesco for provisions. We moored up for the night just below Cowley Lock.

Little Venice

On Tuesday (12/8) we left Teddington on the early morning tide and followed NB Miss Matty (from Cranford) down through Richmond in glorious sunshine. We entered Thames Lock at Brentford around 12:00 and also went up the Hanwell Locks with them.

Thames at Richmond

After Osterley Lock we manage to pick up a large sheet of builder’s film around Albert’s propeller. It took some time to get the prop clear but Miss Matty waited for us. We turned down the Paddington Arm at moored up at Willowtree Marina at about 5:30PM. It was great to use the facilities of the marina, including the showers. It turned out that the berth we were using was used until recently by Lee Pascal as his permanent mooring. In 2003, we went down the Thames with Lee and had some great times. It appears he is now continuous cruising.

Interesting boat descending Osterley Lock

On Wednesday (13/8) the plan was to meet our friends Anne & Edward Winter in Little Venice. We had a relatively uneventful trip down to London, except there was a stiff headwind and we had to overtake two very slow boats. Both boats waved us past but one accelerated as we overtook them.

We met Miss Matty as we approached Little Venice and they helped us moor up. We double moored against NB Amphora who left in the late afternoon. We then moored up against the bank and Miss Matty moored up outside us. The Winters arrived mid afternoon and we spent an interesting late afternoon and evening around Paddington visiting the new developments. It was very windy in the Paddington Basin where the waves were significant and some boats were adding some extra lines to avoid being blown away.

We decided to stay on in Little Venice on Thursday (14/8). We had a great day out visiting London Zoo, travelling there by Waterbus.

Going to London Zoo by Waterbus

Since it was at least twenty years since we last visited the zoo it was great to see how it had developed. Some of the displays were just fabulous. A display on leaf-cutter ants where they walked along an exposed rope was particularly wonderful. You could really get up close to the ants and observe their individual behaviour.

Leaf Cutter Ants at work

The larger mammals, including the gorillas were also intersting in their new more "open" enclosure. Tomorrow we leave for Limehouse Basin.


On Monday (11/8) morning we took on water above Pyford Lock and went down with NB Swallow who was turning into the Marina. The weather was bright but cloudy as we went down through Byfleet and New Haw. It was an uneventful but very pleasant journey down to Thames Lock where we returned our Wey Navigation’s windlass.

Working out on the Wey - the long throw windlass is supplied by the National Trust

We can certainly recommend the Wey. The staff of the navigation were particularly helpful and friendly and the scenery is stunning. Although moorings on the lower reaches can be difficult it is worth going beyond Pyrford where they improve considerably.

Coxes Mill & Lock

We went down the Thames towards Teddington picking up out temporary licence at Sunbury Locks where we were dwarfed by a barge going north. It was quite windy in the Kingston reach and Albert’s bows began to “nod”. Saw Rangitoto moored up outside Hampton Court; Irene and Brian were not on board, maybe they we were visiting the palace.

Sunbury Locks

We found the moorings at Teddington nearly empty and moored up for the night. We will go down to Brentford tomorrow morning on the falling tide. We had a great evening in Teddington meeting both our daughters and their partners. During the night a couple of large cruisers arrived on the moorings. We assume they came up from London on the evening tide.


Over the weekend we had a great time at the wedding of Holly Winter and Paul Stevens. However, we couldn’t completely get away from water as the wedding was held at Frensham Pond Hotel near Farnham. In our view the pond is certainly not a pond but a lake.

We were picked up by our friends Anne and Edward Winter (the MOB & FOB) on Friday (8/8) morning and left Albert in the hands of the National Trust (in a manner of speaking). In the afternoon we enjoyed a walk around the pond in bright sunshine. There were kids swimming and even a beach umbrella protecting a family from the sun. Unfortunately the sun wasn’t to last but it didn’t spoil the wedding celebrations on Saturday (9/8) at all. As with all good weddings it’s the people that make the event. Here is a picture of the bride and groom near the pond.

The new Mr & Mrs Stevens

On Sunday (10/8) morning we got a taxi back to Albert at Dapdune, winded and made our way back to Pyford. It was a pleasant trip largely in sunshine. The views near Send were again stunning and Newark Priory looked good in the sunshine.

Wey Navigation near Send

We paused at Trigg’s Lock for a sandwich and were caught up by a day boat from Guilford. We had looked forward to sharing the lock with them but when we saw the adults allowing their young children to jump off the roof of the boat onto Send Church footbridge and then back onto the roof of the boat again, all whilst the boat was moving, we decided not to go down that route! The adults on board thanked us for letting them through the lock but Steve told them in no uncertain terms that he considered their behaviour unacceptable and that was why we were not sharing the lock with them.

Their operation of the lock was hardly better. The children operated the paddles but left the windlasses on the spigots (at head height) while the lock filled. This is dangerous enough on canal locks where there are pawl catches but on the River Wey there are no pawls, only hydraulic pressure holds paddles up, and the water flows are significantly stronger. We saw the effects of an impact of a spinning windlass on an adult’s skull some years ago on the Grand Union and it was not pretty. The thought of this happening to a child are at the very least alarming.

We moored up for the night at Pyrford above the lock and in front of NB George. They had managed to reach the head of navigation at Goldalming but with the rains over the weekend reported that getting under Broadford Bridge (nominal 6ft draught) coming down stream was very tight.

Pyrford lock was very busy with boats and gongoozlers. It was a little like a summer Sunday afternoon at Stoke Bruerne Top Lock. The popularity of the Anchor Inn appears to be responsible. Having run down our provisions we visited the Anchor again and had another great meal.

Pyrford Lock, Sunday Afternoon

Guildford (2)

What a start to the day (7/8)! We woke to blue skies and decided to move towards Guilford to see what the mooring arrangements were at Dapdune Wharf; we planned to leave Albert there for two days while we go to a wedding near Farnham.

Maggie went up to Stoke Lock to get it ready and I stayed on Albert to cast off. I cast of at the stern first. Because it was relatively shallow when we arrived we had left the stern well out from the bank and the bows tucked in alongside. I then went forward and cast off. No problem so far. I then walked aft and selected forward – no progress we were stuck aground at the stern. This isn’t usually a problem and often happens with a deep drafted boat, it usually just requires a bit of poling. I tried to push Albert off using one of the long poles we have aboard but she just wouldn’t budge. She appeared to be firmly wedged under the stern and was determined not to move. At this point I should point out that there was a reasonable flow on the river, particularly from a storm water discharge just opposite our mooring. The flow started to move Albert’s bows downstream, but unfortunately not the stern. In a very short space of time the bows moved across the river to the opposite bank and we were blocking navigation, from bank to bank. Try as we may we couldn’t either pole the bows back or get the stern released. In the end we had to call out the local lengthsman who happened to be at the lock on his boat and he immediately saw our predicament. He and his girlfriend arrived with poles, shortly followed by the crew of cruiser Idler who we had shared locks with the day before. Even a passing jogger joined in to help.

Several techniques to move Albert were tried but eventually, some two hours after we had first tried to leave our mooring, we got her free. We joined three ropes together and with five people pulling upstream on the bow and two poling at the stern Albert came free to much celebration. She was unscathed but looked rather muddy. We were very relieved.

Dapdune Wharf, Guilford

We then went up through the lock with a boat that arrived just after we were free and headed for Guildford. When we arrived at Dapdune, there space for Albert available so we headed for it and moored up behind the former working boat NB George. We often see George moored up just north of Weedon on the Grand Union. We checked on the mooring arrangements at the wharf with the staff at the National Trust Navigations Office and they were fine.

Wey Barge, Dapdune Wharf

Guildford (1)

After our night outside the Anchor Inn, on Wednesday (6/8) morning we reversed back to Pyrford Marina. It is a large marina with a very swish dry dock. We took on fuel, which was no problem except the increasing price and the fact that we needed 104 litres, but the pump-out was another matter. We seem to have a jinx when it comes to pump-outs. Last year on the Oxford Canal the pump-out at Heyford Wharf was blocked and this year the pump-out at Pyrford was also blocked. It took two men over half-an-hour to fix it. Still once fixed it did a great job and we were on our way by around 11:00.

Anchor Inn, Pyrford

Walsham Flood Gates

The trip up through Newark and Papercourt Locks was delightful although we still struggled with the strong flows and working the locks alone.

Newark Priory

However, we were soon joined by the cruiser Idler. Sharing the locks that have strong flows with a fibre-glass cruiser appeared a little daunting at first but we soon developed a technique which involved the use of bow and centre lines which kept Albert from moving across.

Send Church

The section of navigation between Send and Burpham was particularly pretty. It probably looked at its best in the summer sunshine. This section passes close to Sutton Place and is also very twisty with a particularly difficult turn and bridge (Broad Oak Bridge) which, just to make things more interesting, also incorporates a weir.

Damsel Fly

Egyptian Geese

Not wishing to travel through Guildford yet, since we are hopefully mooring here over the weekend, we stopped just below Stoke Lock. There are some delightful meadows here but earlier on this evening the A3 road just beyond was noisy. As we settled down for the evening Brian and Irene O’Neill came out of the lock going downstream on NB Rangitoto. From New Zealand, they moor their boat next to Albert at Kingfisher Marina. They left Yardley Gobion in June and are having a slow cruise. It appears their global average distance per day is a mere 2.1 miles per day. Brian explains there slow progress in terms of how much they are enjoying meeting people and admiring the countryside. It looks like we might see them again as they are planning to explore the Regents Canal. We will have to keep an eye out.