Thursday, 6 November 2008

It ends

Kensal Green to Battlebridge Basin, 5 miles, 4 locks

So is was it then. The day when surely I must finally get 'home'. The sky was grey, but in a good way and was saying that it was giving me a chance if I was prepared to take it. Not wishing to rush into anything, I went to Sainsbury's for breakfast. It's not quite up to Bull's Bridge Tesco standards, but it's okay.

Back at Oothoon, I did the usual pre-flight check of the water levels (hardly needed topping up) and selected my clothing for the day (Caterpillar boots, Dickies work trousers, a Snickers polo shirt worn over an NTK 'geek' T-shirt, and a fluorescent green workman's jacket. I looked just like one of the workmen on the aggregate barges that're going up to the Olympic site, which suited me just fine. 

I cast off and headed along past Sainsbury's. I wasn't expecting trouble today, unlike yesterday when I was constantly on the look out. I think I felt that this close to home I didn't care. Worst case, I'd get a neighbour to come and tow me back if need be. The canal drifted by and soon I was passing Trellick Tower—long one of my favourite buildings in London, even if it is a brutal concrete tower block. Trellick Tower also means that Little Venice is just around the corner and sure enough there's a large collection of boats leading to the approach. As I get near the bridge which is the entrance, a little boat appears in the 'hole', but thankfully reverses and gets out of the way. Then I'm nearly under the bridge when another boat has a go at coming through, but he manages to move out of the way and we circle around each other as I emerge into the basin.

I'd put my tunnel light on before I set off, so I'm all ready by the time I reach the Maida Hill tunnel. It's only a little one and it's clear, and I've been through it loads of times, but I guess my attitude to tunnels has changed while I've been away (Blisworth—shudder!) and I'm glad I'm through it quickly. My neighbours had been through here a little while before I'd set off and had somehow damaged their chimney, but I'm at a loss to see how unless they went through with sunglasses on or something.

Just after the tunnel there's a little basin, then a tiny tunnel under a building. Creeping out from the mouth of the tunnel is the Beauchamp electric barge. The Beauchamp is huge. I mean huge! It's about 75ft (~23m) long and about as wide as you can possibly be and fit into a lock. It completely fills the tunnel and it's about to fill the basin. Quickly I go into reverse, which brings my prow straight into her path, but a bit of reversing into a handy nook, followed by full left rudder tucks my nose in and the behemoth silently slithers past and turns towards the next tunnel. The skipper gives me a friendly wave as he goes past and I'm pleased that I was here and not the other side of the Maida Hill tunnel, because with all the boats moored up there I'm not sure that there would be room for all of us.

A nice quiet stretch of canal through Regent's Park and the Zoo, with the Snowden aviary on the left and I'm at the bridge and 90° bend where the floating Chinese restaurant is at Cumberland Basin. This can be a tricky manoeuvre to do, especially if there's a Jason's Trip boat coming under the bridge at the same time, but I do just fine. I think the lack of an audience probably helped, since I could give it my full concentration.

Past moored boats and nice houses and the canal eventually ends up at Camden. I haven't really thought about Camden and how I'm going to do the locks, but now that I'm approaching them I'm feeling apprehensive. There are always lots of gongoozlers there, which I could do without. I'm lucky, though, in that the gates of the first lock are open and I can go straight in. As I do so, a workman appears and starts fishing around for something in the lock with a SeaSearcher magnet. He kindly closes the gate on his side, so I do the one on the side where I've parked and open the front paddles. There are a few observers, including three builders who are clearly fascinated. Oothoon descends into the lock beautifully and I soon have the paddles closed and a gate open, and I'm on to the next lock.

The next lock also has the gates open and is an easy approach. After closing them, I set Oothoon going down and look towards the third lock across the basin. It's empty and the gates are closed, but after this lock is drained, I wander down to fill it and open one of the gates ready.

The approach into the third lock is made more difficult by a weir, whose water is pushing the boat off course. I correct and manage to make a passable entry into the lock. I'm going a little quickly, since I'd needed to use some power to counteract the force of the weir, but I don't want to go into reverse which will send me to the right and nudge open the other gate. In the end I jump off and try to slow her with the centre rope, but the bollards on this lock are simply slim concrete cylinders and the rope soon comes off. She's slowed down, but still manages to lightly dunch the bottom gates, and to top it all, the other top gate has opened anyway.

I operate the lock with a trio of people watching from the nearby bridge, but it all goes well. I almost don't need to open the bottom gates, since they spring open themselves. Before long I'm out and into the twisty section of canal that weaves under bridges and eventually leads to St Pancras.

I want to stop at the dry dock at St Pancras to fill up with diesel. It's not that I need it, but I want the tank full over the winter to avoid problems with condensation. I tie up and pop in to talk to Fred, who is busy as usual but still has time to chat for a bit. Peter the welder is also there and he offers to make me a cuppa while I tell him about what I've been up to. Afterwards it turns out that Fred doesn't sell diesel any more and it's the St Pancras Cruising Club who run the pump, but none of them seem to be there so I head off into St Pancras lock. There's another boat waiting to come up and I pass it on the way around the corner when I'm really into the home stretch. There's just the bit where Goodsway Moorings used to be before all the boats were moved on to make way for the King's Cross redevelopment,York Way bridge to get under, then I'm at Battlebridge Basin.

Just as she'd promised, Claudine had untied her boat Bird Song from the one that's normally on the other side, but the wind had blown Bird Song over and there was no gap. Suddenly there was a yell and there were Josie and Sarah, waving madly at me, and pulling Bird Song out of the way so I could get in. At little bit of pivoting on the end of a boat and...I'm in. I put Oothoon into neutral and slowly slide into my berth.

After I've tied up at the back, I walk down the gunwale and Josie and Sarah are waiting to meet me. After a hug, they offer to have me round for a drink and a chat, but I say that I need to sort out my boat first. I tie up the front of the boat and then go back to the engine room to stop the engine and turn the stern gland greaser. I also collect a few things, put the inverter into 'always on' mode and lock everything up. What a relief.

A little while later I heft the gangplank off the roof and try to re-install it. It's a clever design by Fred at St Pancras and it has two pipes which go into holes in the prow, behind which are more pipes. Once they're in the holes, the pipes provide something for the cantilevered plank to brace against and there are two pins to stop the pipes from slipping out. Once that's in place—something Josie has to help me with, since I can't get the alignment right and she ends up lifting one end while I get it in the hole—I attach the other end and access to the boat is once again easy. It just remains for me to re-attach the mains cable from the front of the boat and everything is back to normal.

Josie and Sarah are insistent about having a drink, but I suggest that I'd like to see the new building—King's Place—that has been finished and opened while I've been away. They suggest that we go over and we can have a drink there. It's all very nice, with a subterranean art gallery and double-height escalators, but there's not a lot of character. The Rotunda bar/restaurant has nice views and pretty staff, but service is patchy to say the least. Josie wants champagne and I quite fancy it myself, but I also want a cup of tea. In the end I get both. I also order the 'nibbles' tray, which has olive bread sticks, almonds, olives, chilli-fied broad beans and corn kernels. After that, more champagne and at some point Josie produces a box of chocolates, which is very nice. I share them among us. After even more champagne, we stagger back to our boats.

The next bit is a bit blurry. I know I went through some of my post and also sent some messages on the Internet, but don't really know where the time went. I do know that I was feeling a bit like I was back in the rat race again, wedged between umpteen other boats in the middle of the metropolis.

Dinner was Tesco Four-cheese Ravioli with a bit of pesto. Quick and functional.

A little later there were voices outside the boat and it was Josie talking to Claudine. I went out to have a chat, but Claudine was off to bed. We were joined by Sandra—another neighbour from the other side of Josie and Sarah's boat—and I went back with her to have a chat. It was quite nice, because she'd been reading this blog and decided it was easier to ask the organ grinder or something. A combination of her roaring fire and her lovely whisky completely wore me out and after a while all I could do was come home to bed.

So that's it. It's over. After all the stress and worry that I've had on the return journey and throughout the voyage, it all seems like an anticlimax to be back here. It's going to be strange, not having to look at maps to find a good place to stop or to worry whether something else will go wrong, or the weather will be horrible. Strange? Hmmm, boring more like!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

So close and yet so far

Bull's Bridge to Kensal Green, 11 miles, 0 locks

Once the traffic noise stopped last night I must have slept soundly because it's after 9:30 when I wake up, meaning I've been in bed for 12 hours! The weather looks grey and miserable and liable to rain, and as I walk to Tesco for breakfast I can feel the moisture in the air.

After breakfast and the news that Barack Obama is the new president of the United States (why do I keep misreading that as "Black Obama"?) I shop for skimmed milk and orange juice then go back to poor old Oothoon. I've convinced myself that the problem with the pump has happened again and it should be easy to fix, however I thought it was too easy yesterday and so I'm expecting the worst. When I finally get into the engine room, the problem is the same as yesterday, so I turn the shaft and tighten the grub screw. After turning the engine over a little, to check that the pump's shaft is turning, I'm convinced that the pulley is slack. I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing that the screw probably wore a groove into the shaft when it was turning yesterday, so perhaps there's no 'flat bit' there anymore. I loosen the grub screw and gently tap the pulley with the hammer I use to knock pegs into the ground. I just want to shift it along the shaft a little bit, just in case there is a groove. I figure that it won't stop a new groove being cut if things don't work out, but it might be good enough to get me to Paddington, which is where I'm heading for today. With that all done and the engine topped up again, I start the engine and everything seems okay. It all feels liable to failure at any moment, however I have no choice but to live with it.

I wander along to say goodbye to Duncan, who seems to be having engine trouble of his own. Although he's got lots of fuel, he thinks that there's a problem with the 'lift pump', which pushes the fuel into the injectors. It means that the engine starts, but then won't run for more than a few seconds. Since water pumps and lack of fuel aren't the cause, I'm out of my depth, so we say goodbye and I head off. He gives me a cheery wave from the engine bay as I pass, with a spanner clamped between his teeth the way a Flamenco Dancer might hold a Rose.

It's a tight turn under the bridge onto the Paddington Section of the Grand Union, but I manage without hitting the sides, then I'm on my way. Last year when I did this, I had only been going for about 20 minutes when the rain started and it didn't stop until I was indoors at Paddington (at which point my gas ran out, while I was having a shower). History was repeated today when the rain started as I was approaching the Uxbridge Road bridge at Southall, but at least this time I had all my waterproofs on. The drips from the hood were quite annoying, as was the way my eyebrows would catch on the edge of the hood and flick water into my eyes, but at least I was largely dry. I had the back hatch and one of the back doors closed, to keep the rain out of the engine room, but every time I went under a bridge, I'd shove the hatch forward to check the engine temperature: 50°.

The rain came and went throughout the day and I realised that I was starting to run out of daylight, so I sped up. I was worried that this might undo my repair to the engine, but the temperature just climbed to 55° and came right back down again when I slowed to pass moored boats. There were no n'er-do-well's at Greenford—I don't blame them in this weather—and the day was uneventful and dull. Fortunately I had the engine temperature to fret over, which kept me on my toes. I waved at a few people on the bank as I went past, including Citizen Matt on Growltiger—back in her usual mooring—and by sundown I was passing Kensal Green, where there are good moorings and a Sainsbury's. I'd wanted to get to Paddington, because that is the symbolic end of the arm, however there's only about 30 minutes in it, which would be nothing in the morning, but tonight would mean that I'd arrive in the dark. I decided that I was better off mooring here and did the necessaries.

I showered and finished off yesterday's houmous for a snack, then settled down for a rest. I'd left the engine running and was a bit worried about it, but when there was a loud "boom!" I was expecting the worst. Grabbing the everlasting torch and running to the back of the boat, I opened the doors to find the temperature normal and nothing amiss. Then there was another "boom!" and I realised with a jolt that it's November 5th and everyone would be setting off fireworks. I had to go to Sainsbury's as my baking potatoes weren't tip-top and as I got to the bridge over the disused entrance to a no-longer-there basin, there were more bangs and there was a spectacular firework display. I couldn't see the low-level stuff, but I could see the rockets clearly and it was very impressive.

You know you're back in London in the Kensal Green Sainsbury's. Half the people there look like they couldn't survive outside London—either because they'd get beaten up for their appearance or because they'd be completely lost in a non-urban environment. Maybe they'd see a visit to 'the country' as an opportunity to shop at Barbour. Either way, it was all rather amusing and I wandered the aisles feeling like I was some strange invisible visitor sent to spy on Londoners.

Dinner, which was later than expected due to the delay of the shopping trip and potatoes taking 90 minutes to bake, was sirloin steak, with a baked potato with a dollop of sour cream and chive dip, some sauté'd mushrooms and a fried tomato. I had intended to have peas too, but forgot at the last minute. As it was I didn't need them.

Chatted to Paul before he goes off on holiday to the Lake District—mad fool in this weather—and caught up with e-mail and messages. I've txt'd my neighbour Claudine to ask that any ropes spanning my berth be untied so I can go straight in, and she txt'd back to say that she's looking forward to seeing me. It's all going to be a bit strange once I'm back. I'm looking forward to being without stress for a while and washing my knickers (thank goodness I have so many that I haven't run out of clean ones yet) but I wonder what'll happen once that all wears off. Will I have the wanderlust back on Monday? Maybe I should get to King's Cross first before I start worrying about what happens next.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Bulls Bridge Tesco Again

Brentford to Bull's Bridge, 5 miles, 10 locks

I must have been tired because it was after 9am when I woke. Looking out of the window, it was grey but not raining and likely to stay like that. I had a cheery breakfast of a bacon and mushroom sandwich—cooked with the window open so everyone around would feel hungry—then it was straight on to displacement activities like emptying the loo and the bins, rather than getting dressed up and setting off to do the Hanwell locks.

Eventually I could put it off no longer, so I topped up the engine with water, started it, then....wandered down the wharf to Daisy to say goodbye to John and Pauline. A few boats before them was a little narrowboat called Amy, which was just about to set off. I notice that the skipper is also by himself and I quickly ask whether he's going up to Bulls Bridge. He is and says he'll wait for me at the first lock.

John has got the back deck up and lurking beneath is the largest engine I've ever seen. It's ludicrously large, but then it is 4.7 litres! Turns out there's a leak in the pipes to the calorifier—which uses waste heat from the engine to warm the water in the hot water tank—and he's trying to track it down. We chat about their plans and Pauline joins us at this point, and they're going to moor in Brentford for three months (for a very reasonable sum) and then decide what to do after that. They're still waiting for the sale of their house to complete, although that should be done this weekend and after that it's hunting for a bigger boat and a more permanent mooring. I say my goodbyes and return to Oothoon, which is waiting patiently with an engine temperature so low that the gauge hasn't moved.

Amy's skipper's name is Duncan and as promised he's waiting at the first lock. I thought there were 12 locks from Brentford to Bulls Bridge, but he points out that two of them are Thames Lock and the Brentford Gauging Locks, so there's only 10 left to do. One of the gates of this lock is open, so Amy goes in first and nips over to the side, then I follow. As the gate is on my side, I climb up the lock ladder and close the gate, then open the ground paddles for the top gates. It's very strange doing locks by hand again, after what seems like an eternity on the Thames. Oothoon's tiller almost catches on the bottom gate, but springs free at the last minute and I realise that I'm not concentrating properly.By the time the lock is full Duncan has suggested that I open my gate and we'll both go through it, and he'll close it afterwards.

Both gates are open at the next lock, however my usual approach, which is to jump off as the stern goes past the end of the lock, then run up the stairs with the centre rope and lift it over the gate so I can bring the boat to a stop on a bollard, won't work as someone has built a bridge over the end of the lock and I wouldn't be able to pass the rope under. With nothing else for it, I have to climb on the roof and up the lock ladder again. At least it isn't too slimey. As we operate the lock, Duncan and I get a chance to chat. Turns out that he's worried that his engine might overheat because there's an airlock. I suggest that we breast up if it's going to be a problem, but he says it'll be okay and that he just needs to watch it.

No disasters with that lock, so I head off for the next one. This is the first of the 'Hanwell Six', which is a flight of six closely spaced locks in two groups of three. In fact there are seven locks at Hanwell (I used to live there), but there's a gap between the 'six' and the top lock, so it usually isn't included. I arrive and make a little mess of the landing, largely because the entrance to the River Brent is right next to the landing spot and causes odd currents. Once I'm landed, I see that the lock is empty, which is perfect, but for some reason I feel the urge to fill the lock. The paddles all have anti-vandal locks on them, so I've plenty of time to realise my mistake, but it isn't until I've opened the ground paddles and can see water rushing in that I realise I've blundered. I close the paddles and do up the anti-vandal stuff, then go and open the bottom paddles. While I'm doing this, Duncan has arrived and joins me at the gates. I explain what I've done and apologise, but he's a mellow kind of chap and brushes it off. Also he's concerned that he's got something round his prop, but doesn't want to spend time looking at it because of the limited amount of daylight left and asks if we can breast up after all. I agree and once we've got the gates open, I edge Oothoon over alongside Amy. We tie the sterns together and connect the bow using Amy's ropes and the centre using Oothoon's. We also tie Amy's tiller so it's steering straight-ahead, so the two boats won't be fighting each other.

All hitched up we head into the first of the Hanwell Six. Duncan says that he'll do the locking, so I stay aboard Oothoon and control the boats. The first lock goes okay and we're both delighted that the bottom gates are open on the next two locks. That should make life easy. I navigate the boats into the second lock while Duncan closes the gates behind and he joins me just as the sterns pass the bottom gates.

The second and third locks go without a hitch and Duncan runs ahead to set the fourth lock while I open the top gates of the third. I'm just about to head out of the lock when I notice that Oothoons temperature is up to 90° and she's starting to steam. I can't figure out why this might suddenly be happening, unless it's due to the extra load caused by Amy. When Duncan returns, I tell him what's happened and he suggests that maybe Amy's hull is stopping the flow of water over Oothoon's skin tank and so it's not working well. To prove that the cooling is working, I disengage the clutch and rev the engine hard, and the temperature drops a little bit. I consider the other possibility, which is that all the water has leaked out and so there's nothing to cool with, but can't see why that would happen.

In the end I stop the engine and wait a bit for it to cool down. Once it's at a more respectable 80° I get into the engine room, clear the stuff off the engine cover and lift the cover up. The bilges don't seem to be full of water, so that discounts the leak theory, but after feeling the temperature of various pipes with my hand, it's clear that our old favourite—the auxiliary water pump—isn't pumping. I can't believe it's the impeller again; also I had said to Duncan that I could hear a whining noise, so I wondered whether it's just that the pump has shifted and the drive belt is now loose. I feel it, but it still feels under tension, so I start the engine to have a look. Immediately it's clear what the problem is: the water pump's pulley is going round, but it isn't turning the shaft of the water pump. That would explain why the pump isn't pumping. I stop the engine and mention this to Duncan, saying that surely it can't be that simple. The pulley has a little grub screw tightened with an Allen key and when I check it, the grub screw feels loose. I can tighten it, but it needs to be aligned with the flat part of the drive shaft. There's no way to turn the pulley, since it's driven by the engine, but I wonder whether I can turn the pump shaft. I ask Duncan if he's got a pair of Mole Grips and he produces an absolutely ancient pair, but they're good enough. Gripping the end of the shaft, I turn it until the flat bit is roughly under the grub screw. I tighten the screw as tight as I can, start the engine and the pump is working again. Like a miracle, the temperature drops away before our eyes and soon it's back to 50°. It all seems too simple for my liking, but I'm gradually getting used to the idea that engines aren't complicated things and that you quickly see the consequences of cause and effect. Anyway the temperature is now back to normal, so with a deep feeling of disbelief I head into the next lock.

The last three locks of the 'six' pass quickly and I collect Duncan after the last one for the ride to the top lock. We're chatting—him on the back of Amy and me on the back of Oothoon, when I realise that we're going through Three Bridges—a unique place where the road goes over the canal and the canal goes over the railway, all one on top of the other. I meant to photograph it, just as I meant to last year, but yet again I've been gassing and missed it. Oh well. 

The next two locks are also simple enough and we decide to leave Oothoon and Amy breasted up for the trip to Bulls Bridge. According to the eTrex, it was 16:29 and sundown as we came out of the last lock, so we haven't got much daylight left and this is probably the best option. Duncan turns on his tunnel light, so we'll be able to see where we're going and we start on the takes-longer-than-you-think-it's-going-to stretch up to Bulls Bridge.  In fact it takes nearly 90 minutes and almost all of it in the dark, but we get there in the end. There's a burnt-out wreck of a tiny narrowboat semi-submerged next to the wharf, dividing it into an Amy-sized bit and an Oothoon-sized bit. We decide to separate the boats and Amy can dock under her own power. It's only when we've untied and I'm trying to back Oothoon down the canal to get a better approach to the landing that I realise that she's overheating again. The temperature's up to 90° but holding there, so I risk it and manage to get back to where I can take a good line for the shore. Then it's head for the shore, get the back in, stop the engine, then jump off. I haul her alongside to the sound of the engine gently fizzing.

There's no way I want to start messing with the engine at this time of night and figuring that the batteries are probably charged well enough after the day's exertions I tie up and go below. After a cup of tea and a snack, because my tummy has suddenly realised that I haven't eaten since 10, I get changed and head for Bulls Bridge Tesco. There's something very comforting and familiar about being back here. I don't intend to buy much—I've got pizza in mind—so I just take a shopping bag rather than the trolley, but I end up buying more than I anticipated—partially due to some great offers that I don't want to miss—and have to ask for a carrier bag to handle the overflow. I didn't know they still did them, so I'm pleased that they do if you absolutely must have one.

Dinner was some pitta bread with Jalapeño humous, followed by a small Pizza Express "Sloppy Giuseppe" pizza, which is on a half price offer. I stoked up the fire before I went shopping and it's gone into overdrive, combining with the chillis in the humous and the spiciness of the pizza to make it unbearably hot. In the end I retire to bed at 9:30pm, completely wiped out, however the traffic noise from Tesco's car park combined with the heat means I lie awake on the bed for what seems like hours. Next thing I know it's after 4 in the morning and I'm cold, so I climb into bed properly and am straight off to sleep.

Monday, 3 November 2008


Teddington to Brentford, 5.5 miles, 3 locks

Couldn't sleep. I took the phone to bed with me because I kept thinking that the Brentford lock keeper would call any moment and that it'd be action stations in order to catch the early tide. In the end I must have fallen asleep, because I woke at 04:20 and there had been no phone call. Well that's the pressure off for tonight at least.

In the morning I woke early and can't get back to sleep again. I lie in bed worrying about the journey to Brentford and how I'll cope. The crazy thing is that over the last few months I've done a reasonable amount of night-time boating—the last few locks of the Aylesbury arm or the day I went through Leicester for example—so I know I can do it. What's more, I've done the trip from Teddington to Brentford before, so I know I can do that too. And I've got technology on my side in the form of the moving map on the iPhone. Really, unless the engine conks or there's some difficult-to-see underwater obstacle, there's really nothing that should go wrong. Trying to look on the bright side, I even tell myself that it might be a more scenic transit, since I'll see Twickenham and Richmond by night from the river. It doesn't matter though—I'm completely wound up about the whole thing and no amount of rationalisation can do anything about it.

I get up and go back to bed a few times, forcing myself largely because I'm scared to be awake to face the day, but by 9am I can't handle it any more and I have to get up. The high tide isn't until 17:41 and I don't expect to leave until about 17:20 if the lock keeper is going to be there tonight, so I've a whole day to kill. I'm not very hungry but manage an F2 breakfast of bran flakes, banana and yoghurt. I have coffee with it, which is probably a mistake and upsets my stomach.

After a while I decide to take a walk into Teddington, largely to pass the time. John—the captain of Daisy—is out and about and we chat about the latest news. He's been told that they're going out of the lock at 4pm, which is  barely 40 minutes after high water at London Bridge and means that they'll be going against the incoming tide. It's probably fine for them, with their 4.7 litre engine and their wonderful power/weight ratio, but not so good for me. I mention this, but John says that the lock keeper thinks the tide will be a gentle one and it won't be a problem. I decide to talk to the lock keeper myself.

On the way there, I notice that they've gone to Yellow Boards. This means that there's a caution warning, that the current may be stronger than usual and additional care must be taken. I assume that this is due to Saturday's water coming down from the Midlands, which turns out to be the case. I ask about this business of going out at 4pm and why the tide might be gentle, and the answer to the last bit is that the water coming downstream will counteract the incoming flow to some extend, which is in my favour. The 4pm thing is so we'll have daylight for a large part of the journey and twilight as we arrive at Brentford, which will be safer than travelling in the darkness. We'll still need the tunnel light on and navigation lights, but it won't be too bad. It all sounds very reasonable and reasoned, but I say that I still won't go unless I know there's to be a BW lock keeper waiting and the EA lock keeper agrees. He says to call Brentford at 15:45, since the lock keeper should be on duty by then.

With all that settled, I head for Teddington. I've wandered along the main road before and been struck at the number of 'French' places that there are, but they seem to have multiplied since last time. Even the 'French' gastropub has opened a tiny bistro opposite, which is undercutting the pub with its "Formule" set lunch. Amazing to find this French idea at French-style prices in Teddington. There has to be a story behind that.

I walk the length of the street until I run out of shops, then turn round and walk back. There's nothing particularly I want and I feel too sick in the stomach to stop somewhere for coffee. I decide that it might be better if I ate something though, so I pop into M&S and buy a loaf and a cheap sandwich, which I eat as I walk back to the boat. I've decided that the thing to do is keep busy, which will stop my mind from worrying, and that this aimless wandering is making things worse not better.

Back at the boat, I top up the engine water and am delighted to find that it needs almost none, then I start the engine. Down below, I apply myself to the problem of the rear navigation light, because I've decided that taking the control panel off in order to sort out the live wires I found yesterday, just before I'm about to go down the tidal river, is just too risky, so I can't use that as a power source. What I did notice yesterday, while I was fiddling with the wires, was a 9 volt PP3 battery. On a whim I pop back to the engine room to get it, to see whether it's powerful enough to light one of IKEA's LED lights. Turns out that it is, albeit not as brightly as 12v would, but probably still brighter than the 1.5v incandescent that the rear light should be. The problem is how to connect the wires to the battery, since the PP3 has that weird press-stud arrangement on the top. In the end I figure that the bare wires touching the contacts, held in place with an elastic band would be perfect, but I don't have an elastic band. I rummage around for a bit and come up with a possible solution: Velcro cable tidies. These are supposed to attach to a cable so that when you gather the cable up, it will wrap around and keep it tidy. I try wrapping one around the battery and get a very snug fit; pushing it off the terminals slightly so I can get the cable in, then pulling it back, seems to keep the bare cable ends attached to the terminals. The whole lot fits back into the light's housing well enough for the waterproof seal to be made. Problem solved!

It's now a bit after 2pm and I pop out to check that there's going to be somewhere to mount the rear light. Turns out it'll hook over the diesel tank breather tube, which is conveniently centred on my back deck. John comes over and we discuss the evening's plans. I tell him about the 15:45 phone call, which to me is very tight if we're setting off at 16:00, but John says that if we don't get a reply then we won't go, which I'm happy about.

Not long after, another narrowboat arrives. They're going to Limehouse; or rather they're going to the West India dock, since this is their home mooring. We discuss strategies for getting in there, but they've done it loads of times and think nothing of it. I'm slightly envious of their confidence, but I'm pleased to say that it rubs off on me. 

At 15:30, I put in my contact lenses and start to take equipment to the engine room. I've got the Uniden Mystic GPS VHF radio; the map book in its little house along with the iPhone, whose power cable is dangling out of a corner; the power supply for the iPhone; a mains extension lead, my normal phone and the everlasting torch. John says that he's going to move up to the lock ready for the off, so after plugging everything together—and discovering that the iPhone's touch screen still works through the plastic of the map book's waterproof housing—I join him. It's just before 4pm and as I pull into the lock alongside, I ask if he's heard from the Brentford lock keeper. He has, and says that they're waiting for us. That's good, because it has just started to drizzle, to make things more interesting.

The descent into the lock is gentle and although I start on a centre rope, I don't need it and get back aboard. The gates open and John waves me to go first as we'd agreed. Fearful of the power of the tide and also the water coming down the weir, I open Oothoon's throttle fully and roar out of the lock. The GPS on the VHF radio tells me my speed and it's initially 3mph, 4mph and eventually once I'm clear of the locks and wash from the weir I get up to 7.9mph. I'm fretting about this, because to me it shows that Oothoon isn't fighting the current well enough, but after I look back and see that Daisy is a long way behind, it dawns on me that I'm in the wrong units! Changing the setting on the radio to show KPH, I realise that I'm doing over 12kph—far in excess of the river's limit of 8kph. Relieved, as this will mean that the engine doesn't have to work so hard, I slow down and start cruising at a more reasonable 8.9kph, which I think is a good compromise between keeping to the limit and not wishing to waste the daylight.

The river splits and I'm a bit confused as to which way to go, but I stick to the right and this seems to be the correct course. The iPhone is showing my position perfectly  and because I can move the map around through the plastic, I'm able to see that this island is quite short and is really a detour for a boatyard, so I'm on the right course.

Not long after and I'm at the first bend and I can see a huge island ahead. A quick check of Nicholson's shows it to be Eel Pie Island at Twickenham, which to me is a milestone. I used to work in Twickenham, many years ago, so this feels like familiar territory to me. Past that and the stately homes of Ham House and Marble Hill house and there's another island. Once again I can see that I just need to stick to the right and I'll be fine. Daisy is coming up on my port side and we go along together.

Round the corner and we're going past Richmond. I can see navigation lights coming towards me and I'm worried that Daisy might not have seen them, but it turns out to be another narrowboat coming upstream and there's plenty of room for us to pass. Daisy is still parallel as we approach Richmond Bridge and although I head for the designated navigation arch (indicated by two orange lights above) Daisy goes through the one next to it. There's nothing coming, so it isn't a problem, although it is starting to get dark now.

Soon after Richmond Bridge there's the railway bridge; and immediately after that there's Twickenham Road Bridge. The navigation spans are all lined up, so going through them isn't a problem, and beyond them I can see that two spans of Richmond footbridge are open. This bridge spans Richmond Lock and the weirs that will be left open after the weekend, although they're clearly open now and not an obstacle. Another milestone. Daisy has pulled behind me now and is keeping a decent distance. Perhaps they're following my rear navigation light, which is still shining perfectly.

It's properly dark now, probably because after you leave Richmond there's Kew on one side of the river and Isleworth Ait on the other, neither of which have much lighting. I'm close enough to the shore that I can still see it clearly though and the iPhone is showing me exactly where I am, so I'm not worried. I can't see Nicholson's anymore without using the everlasting torch, but I've mainly been using that to check the temperature gauge, which has risen slightly above 50° but still not reached 60°. As we reach the end of the Ait, the iPhone has a glitch and pops up an alert to say that Data Roaming isn't enabled. This will be O2's network playing tricks on me, so I tap OK, press the home button, then restart Google Maps. After a moment it finds me and displays my position on the map, however it has zoomed out from where I previously had it and shows me a bigger picture. It's fine, because I don't need fine detail at the moment, although the rain lying on the plastic of the map book cover is a nuisance.

After Isleworth Ait, Syon House takes over and so there's still no light on that side of the river. After what seems like a very long time the tower blocks at Brentford come into view and we're on the home straight. As I get close to where the iPhone says the lock entrance should be, I zoom in a little and I'm glad for the clues it gives me as it lets me work out where the entrance to the marina is—hard to do because the bright light from the Brentford towers has turned everything into a silhouette. If that's the marina, then the lock entrance should be straight afterwards and the iPhone shows that I'm nearly upon it, so I start to turn. As I get closer to the bank I see the strange silvery sculpture that is at the end of the lock cut and know that I'm there. All I have to do is avoid hitting the sides as I turn into the cut and I'm in. I get a little way down and look back, to find that Daisy has followed me and is also in the cut. Looks like we've made it.

It's a bit dark in the lock cut and the drizzle is making things very hard to see, but it looks to me like neither lock is open. I get closer and closer, and more and more worried, then finally the left hand lock opens almost as I'm upon it. In I go, followed by Daisy. The lock keeper closes the gates and asks my name, and when I reply he says that he's left a message on my voicemail telling me to come down. He also apologises that no-one got back to us yesterday, but the regular lock keeper has been ill and it was only when he came on duty today that he heard all the messages that we'd left.

The water is level through the locks, so there's no delay waiting to go up or down, and the lock keeper opens the far gates immediately. He warns us that headroom is very poor under Brentford High Street bridge, but that water levels are dropping and if we can't get under, it'll only need a wait of about 10 minutes. The cut from Thames Lock to the Brentford Gauging Locks is quite twisty and full of moored boats, so it takes about that long to get to the bridge anyway and both of us can slip underneath without a problem. The crew of Daisy go ahead to get the lock open, but there seems to be a problem with it. Eventually I go in the one door that they can get open, and nip over so that Daisy can get in alongside. Between the three of us, we can't figure out why we can't get the lock to fill once we've closed the gate. I speculate that the problem might be that the lock is broken, so I activate the other lock to see if that works. It seems to, so I don't know what's wrong with the lock we're in. Eventually it turns out to be operator error caused by a lack of light on the control panel. If we could have seen it properly, we might have worked out that there are separate buttons for the gates and paddles on each side of the lock, but I guess after the Thames locks—where it's all sequenced off a single button—that isn't what you're looking for. Eventually we figure it out and the boats come up and we get the gates open, but it's tempting to say that instead of having a little 'lock activated' light, a proper overhead light so you could see the whole panel, or perhaps illuminated buttons, would have made life much easier.

Brentford basin is full, or at least the visitor moorings are anyway. Daisy is small enough to turn and nip back to park on the pump-out mooring, but I'm having terrible trouble controlling Oothoon due to the wind blowing down the exit from the basin, which is bad news with so many boats around. Eventually I get her under control and need to reverse back down the basin, as I'm not convinced that there's room to turn at the other end. It takes a little while, but the practice I got reversing around corners and back down the Oxford canal, the second time my impeller failed, proved invaluable. I end up moored just after the locks, on a mooring of indeterminate purpose. I'm not on the 'facilities' mooring, but I think there are water points, so I'm probably in someone's way. It'll do for this evening though.

I call my friend Jan and he comes round for dinner. I was originally going to suggest that we ate out, to celebrate my safe arrival back on the canals, but in the end I make Chicken Fajitas, using a bag of frozen 'popcorn' chicken from Tesco. It's lovely and very quick to make (about 15-20 minutes from lighting the oven to serving). I'm running short of coal and Jan kindly takes me to Bulls Bridge Tesco to get some more. I know I'll probably be there tomorrow, so can get some myself, but there's the possibility that something will happen and I won't make it, so I'm pleased we went.

I'm completely exhausted and really looking forward to a good night's sleep. In hindsight I can't see what all the fuss was about and it was all very straightforward, but I suspect that it's more due to the lock keeper's idea that we go at 16:00 to get some daylight, than any brilliant navigational abilities on my part. Either way, I'm glad it's over. Now there's just the long lock-laden journey back to Battlebridge.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

An unpleasant surprise

Laleham to Teddington, 12.75 miles, 4 locks

A look out of the window and the sky is grey, however there's a brighter patch over there and maybe the forecast for rain is wrong. Whatever it's going to do, it's too good to waste and after a celebratory breakfast of mushrooms, bacon and scrambled egg, I top up the engine's water (again) and set off.

After a while there's the M3 motorway bridge. I moored here last year on the way up the Thames with my friend Jan, so we could go to The Kingfisher pub for lunch. I think it was raining when we went in, but sunny when we came out and I remember that the mooring was interesting because you can't actually moor under the bridge as there's nothing to attach to, so we were tied to some bushes or something.

After the bridge there's Chertsey lock and the river does a crazy detour, then you're going past Pharaoh's Island. It's all lovely housing round here. Next is Shepperton Lock and once you're through that, there's the choice of the Thames ahead or the River Wey to the right. I wanted to go down the Wey last year, but there wasn't time. If circumstances were different I might have gone down now, but I really want to get back to London, so I press on. There's another impressive 'bypass' just after D'Oyly Carte island, where a large bit of river is avoided by Desborough Cut, then you're going past Walton on Thames. It's a nice straight stretch of river and it's strange to see everyone going about their business. I keep forgetting that today is Sunday and for everyone else it's the weekend.

After Walton there's Sunbury locks. The right-hand one is electrified and is normally used, whereas the left-hand one is manual and (I later found) has no bottom gates at the moment. The lock keeper had just gone for lunch, so I tie up and go to operate the lock, hoping that there's power. There is; but although the lock is full I can't get the top gates to open. I try raising and lowering the paddles, and even go to the other control panel to make sure that the bottom paddles are properly shut. In the end the gates deign to open, meanwhile another narrowboat has turned up and one of the crew volunteers to operate the lock. They're based at Godalming on the River Wey and are just having a trip to Kingston for some shopping, which sounds like a nice way to do things. We're soon through the lock and I leave them to close the gates and follow.

By the time we get to Molesey lock, the lock keepers are back from lunch and do it for us. After Molesey lock the river is dominated by Hampton Court Palace, which looks fantastic. They've even guilded some of the gates on the river side and it shines brilliantly in the sun, which has come out especially. After Hampton Court the river is full of little sailing boats, as there appear to be a lot of sailing clubs along this stretch of river and this continues even as you go through the middle of Kingston upon Thames, with people whizzing round and ducking as the sails flop from side to side as they tack along the river. I'm quite glad to leave them all behind, because I can't manoeuvre out of the way if they get it wrong. Before I know it I can see large weirs and there's Teddington lock.

I'm still tying up when there's a couple from n.b. Daisy at the back deck asking if I'm going to Brentford. I say that I am and they ask whether I've booked passage. I haven't, not knowing when I was going to get here, but they say that they've called ahead to try to book and that the next tide is at 5pm! I'm a bit alarmed by this, because if we went on it, it would mean that we'd be leaving in the dark. Apparently the alternative is the tide at 3am, which is equally dark. I say that I'll go and talk to the lock keeper and see what he says. Sure enough, the next tide is at 17:00, which would mean leaving at 16:30—a mere 40 minutes away. As I haven't booked passage with British Waterways, who operate the locks at Brentford, I'll need to give them a ring. The lock keeper tries, but gets no answer and he explains that in the off-season they only go in if someone has booked; and that you need to do it 24 hours in advance. He gives me a set of tide tables and Brentford's phone number, and says to come back when we need to lock.

I return to "Daisy" to tell them what has happened. Until the passage is confirmed by the Brentford lock keeper, none of us are going anywhere, since you need to be sure that the lock will be open. I call Brentford and leave a message on the answering machine saying that I want passage, but then we wait. The couple explain that an additional wrinkle is that the Thames gets drained between Teddington and Richmond for the month of November, so once that happens we won't be able to go anyway. I can't quite figure out how that can happen, especially when the lock keeper has explained that all the rain that fell yesterday is on its way down from the Midlands and that the water levels are rising, which frankly gives me the jitters. Neither of us have heard anything by 16:20 so we figure that at least it won't be tonight, but I guess there's a chance that the lock keeper might call in the early hours of the morning.

I go back to Oothoon and try to make sense of everything. By a combination of looking at the tide tables and the BBC web site, I construct a table of tide times, departure times, arrival times and sunrise/sunset times. Unless we want to transit to Brentford and arrive in the dark, the earliest we can go is Wednesday morning, when the sun will have risen 20 minutes before we get there, but there's this business of the Thames being drained. In the end I figure out what's happening: the Environment Agency run the river to just below Teddington, British Waterways run Brentford locks and the Port of London Authority run the river between the two, but they're all separate and don't seem to talk to each other. The 'draining' is done by the Port of London and is for five weeks starting on November 8th, and what it means is that the weirs will be left open at Richmond. Normally the weirs are closed, except for a couple of hours before and after high tide, to ensure that the water levels in the river are kept high; with the weirs open, the stretch from Teddington to Brentford will have no water at low-tide and will be somewhat below normal levels at high-tide. If I understand it right, it shouldn't affect the transit of a narrowboat, since that can only go at high tide anyway, so as long as there's enough water left to get us into the lock at Brentford, we'll be fine.

What a mess. I can't believe that I've got this far only to get caught out by the tides. I decide that I don't want to cook, so head over to The Angler's on the other side of the river, for some dinner and to have a think. I've got most of the things I need for the river: an anchor and a VHF radio, but I don't have navigation lights. Funnily enough I'd bought some battery-powered ones in the chandlers at Uxbridge before I set off back in August but I don't have the right kind of battery to power them. If I need to be on the 3am tide, I won't have time to get any before then either. I've put the radio on charge, so that should be ready by the time I get back and while it has a built-in Garmin navigation GPS, I've never bought the charts for the Thames because I could never figure out which of the umpteen formats that Garmin offer is the right one (the radio is made by Uniden so Garmin don't list it). I don't want to be going down the river blind, especially as I need to make an 'instrument' landing at Brentford, but then it occurs to me that I could use Google Maps on the iPhone I rashly bought while I was in Banbury. If I connected it to the mains, so it didn't run out of power, I could use the built-in GPS to show my position on the moving map, so at least I'd know where I was. If I traced the route before I set off, Google Maps would even have the map data cached, so it wouldn't matter if there wasn't a great mobile phone signal. This had to be worth a try.

Back at Oothoon I had another look at the navigation lights. I couldn't work out what size of battery they needed, but all they had for illumination was a little torch bulb. I wondered if there was some way to power that from the boat's 12v system, which got me thinking about all the spare Ikea LED lights I still had lying around. I wondered whether I could somehow use those. Taking the coloured cover off one of the lights and holding it up to the LED lights I'd installed already, I could see that they were almost exactly the same size. If I could take the cover off the LED lights, maybe something could be done. I disassembled one of the unused LED lights and took the diffuser off the front, and was amazed to find that it fitted into the navigation light perfectly. I could even do it up so that the cover went up to the rubber seal to make it waterproof. All I'd need to do was drill a small hole to let the wire though, connect it to the same power supply as the tunnel light uses, and I'd have a starboard navigation light. Excitedly I put all the bits together and went outside to see how to fit it. Mounting was easy, since I could attach it to the fold-down step that is on each side, and the incident with the tree in Sheepwash Cut turned out to have a silver lining, because instead of the pure wire that had gone to the tunnel lights previously, there was now a screw connector block that the nav. lights could connect to. Thinking that this was all too easy, I attached the mounting bracket to the step with tie-wraps (or 'twistys', as they call them in the US) then wired up my hacked light. Flipping the switch, I was delighted when both the tunnel light and the nav light lit up—and really brightly too. The cable was just long enough to reach to the step and voila! I did the same to the red light for the port side and that worked too. Figuring that the cable-entry hole had stopped them being weatherproof, I tied a knot in the cable inside the housing as a strain relief, then put silicone sealant on the outside. Not fantastic, but probably good enough for the time it needed to work.

The rear nav light was going to be more of an issue as there's no power out back. Hard to believe when there's the entire engine room there, but I guess there's no call for it. I had a look around and found a couple of wires poking out of a hole in the side panel and was pleased to find that they were live. Unfortunately in doing this, I'd somehow removed the wire's insulation and as I investigated there was the occasional spark. I managed to get the strands apart, but it was quite alarming really. Assuming that I'm not on the 3am tide tomorrow morning (please make that be so) then I'll try to tidy them up tomorrow. Funny that I should want there to be power, but then be dismayed when there is. 

I guess all there's left to do now is wait to hear from the Brentford lock keeper.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

A wash out

Magna Carta Island to Laleham, 4.5 mile, 2 locks

A late start today, mainly because it's grey and overcast and the forecast is for rain, but it keeps not raining and I keep putting off leaving. To pass the time I bake one of Herr Aldi's Ciabatta's and have a bacon sandwich for breakfast. Eventually I decide I'm going to go and get everything ready, and it immediately starts to rain. This is the rain I've been expecting and it's my cue to go back below and abandon the day. By now it's lunchtime so I have a cornish pasty with a bit more Ciabatta and a cup of tea.

After lunch I notice that the rain has stopped and the sky looks like it might brighten up. The weather's been so variable recently that it's hard to tell what is going on, so I wonder whether I should take a chance and set off, but not doing so is driving me insane so I get togged up and go.

I'm just round the bend at Runnymede and through Bell Weir lock when the rain starts. Just after the lock is the M25 bridge, which I utilise as cover while I put my waterproofs on After that, you're inside the M25. When I used to go places by car, the M25 was always significant, because once I was within it, it meant I was practically home. It's not quite like that on a boat, though—the M25 being 2-3 days away from Battlebridge if you go up the Grand Union, or 2 days if you nip down the Slough Arm or up the Lee Navigation. Either way, as I'm on a boat, I'm not near home yet.

After the excitement of the M25 bridge, there's Staines. I'd been warned not to moor in Staines on Halloween, since the locals might get rowdy, but it all looks very modern and impersonal and it's not long before it's behind you.  The rain is starting to get unpleasant now, but I press on to Penton Hook lock. Neither me nor the lock keeper wants me to be there, but it's a tiddler at 4ft (1.2m) and I'm soon through it. I'm pleased, because the rain is very heavy and there's really no point in going any further. There are supposedly moorings nearby at Laleham and I hope they're decent. I'm in luck and it's a proper concrete wharf with decent mooring posts. There's a little plastic cruiser tied up, but there's still plenty of room for me. I make my approach and tie Oothoon up with the centre rope, then try to get her hard against the wharf with the bow and stern lines. The problem is that I should really be facing upstream, but there's no way I'm going to attempt to turn her round in this weather and after a couple of goes I eventually get her tied up properly. I leave the engine running to charge the batteries, since it hasn't run much today and head below. Everything is dripping and I'm pleased I'd put my waterproofs on, however I'm still very cold. I get changed into dry clothing and stoke up the fire, and after bowl of soup with the last of the Ciabatta and a sit next to the stove I'm feeling better.

I notice that there's a drip-drip-drip from the ceiling and it's once again the ring where I attach the centre rope. I want to ignore it but it's too insistent, so in the end I venture out in the rain with silicone sealant and try to bodge it up. I half succeed, in the sense that afterwards it drips about half as much. I stuff some kitchen roll in the hole to absorb the water which dams the flood. I could really do without this at the moment.

I'm not really all that hungry, but in the end I make Scumbalina Fish Pie Deluxe for dinner. All I really want is something I can just shove in the oven and then eat, and while this requires me to mash potatoes and sauté courgettes, it is as close as I can get. By the time it's ready I'm actually in the mood for it and it's very warming and comforting.

Paul txt's to remind me that it's Saturday night and that means only one thing: off to The Roost in Animal Crossing to hear K.K. Slider play. Apparently the song Paul heard was called "K.K. Folk", so that's what I request. It's another one of those where the bootleg that K.K. gives me afterwards is better than the proper song. I've recorded it on the computer anyway, which means I'm building up a nice little collection of songs, but I'm told that there are over 50 in K.K.'s repertoire so I've got a while before I've heard the lot. I'm a bit astonished that it's Saturday already though. Where did the week go?

The rain stops just before I go to bed. I've done very little travelling but I feel completely exhausted. About the only good news is that I've checked the map and if I have a good day tomorrow, I'll be at Teddington and only a short distance from the Grand Union canal at Brentford. Frankly, it'll be a relief to be back on canals again.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Good progress

Cliveden to Magna Carta Island, 12.75 miles, 5 locks

Grey today but dry. The forecast was for rain, but now it seems to have changed its mind. I had considered spending the day here and going to have a look at Cliveden House—or more specifically the gardens, which are apparently magnificent—but if the weather's going to be kind then I don't want to waste it.

The engine needed topping up with water again, but not very much, so I figure that it'll survive another day. It starts easily enough, given enough glowplugs, and I'm soon on my way. A couple of boats have gone down while I've been getting ready, including the man from the water point yesterday and the chap who didn't seem to know what he was doing who'd turned in front of me at Marlow, and I catch up with them at Boulter's Lock which is in Maidenhead. To my surprise the lock lay-by is quite busy, with a few boats waiting. Being curious, I decide to walk up to the lock to see what is going on and at the head of the queue is the chap from Marlow. He and the woman he's with seem to be very jittery and the lock keeper is shouting across to them. After the lock keeper goes to set the lock, I ask the woman what is happening. Turns out that they'd actually moored at Marlow the night before, gone for dinner and then retired early. In the middle of the night they'd been awoken by a 'bump' and when they'd got up, they found that their ropes had been cut and they were adrift in the middle of the river! They'd tried dropping the anchor, although that hadn't done much good and in the end they'd started the engine and got to the shore. The reason there was a delay at the lock was because they only had 'good' ropes on one side and wanted the lock keeper to make sure that they went in on that side. I talked to the woman a bit and suggested that they try tying their remaining bits of rope together and I also pointed out that, at the front at least, the ropes were just looped around cleats on the fore-deck and that as they entered the lock there'd be plenty of time for her to unloop the rope and move it to the other side if necessary. If she did that, she'd be back in control, which would help her to calm down.

Eventually they went into the lock, followed by a couple of other boats that were waiting. A narrowboat had turned up behind me and finding no-one aboard, had jumped in front of me. They were much shorter and could fit in the lock with the others and in the end it was just me and a very large and impressive boat left behind. I got chatting to the three men on the impressive boat, who were on their way to St Katherine's Dock in London. They didn't seem bothered about anything, having "lots of food and drink aboard, but no women." We locked together and they whooshed off while I sorted out my ropes.

I always get a strange feeling when I go through Maidenhead on the Thames because I briefly lived here for a year when I was 20. I remember that I kind of knew that Maidenhead was on the river, but I never actually walked down to see it. I sometimes wonder how my life might have been different if I had seen the river and perhaps been influenced by it. Certainly for someone who was 'in computers', Maidenhead and the Thames Valley generally was the place to be, but I ended up on the Isle of Man instead, which is about as tech-free as you can get.

From Maidenhead it's only a short way and then you're in Bray lock. Bray was a mystical place to me when I lived in Maidenhead because of The Waterside Inn, which was (or is) a Michelin-starred restaurant. My flatmate at the time, who was female, was having an extra-marital affair with one of the salesmen at her work and they'd occasionally go there. I know that girls mature a lot faster than boys, but I really was pretty unsophisticated and naïve—to the extend that I was always a bit shocked if he stayed the night—so I doubt I'd have appreciated it. I still associate Bray with Michelin Stars, though, except now it's Heston Blumenthal and The Fat Duck, which I'd love to go to some day.

Through Bray and past the famous Bray film studios, and then past the Oakley Court Hotel, which would easily be recognised by any Rocky Horror fan as Frank'n'furter's house in the Rocky Horror Picture Show or perhaps as the St Trinian's schoolhouse for an older generation. Soon afterwards there's Windsor Marina, where the impressive boat was tied up to refuel and then there's a sharp bend and you're going past Windsor racecourse, which means that Windsor itself can't be far away. 

Windsor from the river is dominated by two things: the castle (naturally) and a giant Ferris Wheel. Windsor charge you to stop on their side (£4 for 24 hours or part of) so a lot of people moor on the Eton side, which is rougher but free. I was ready for lunch by now, so I turned around and headed for the Eton bank, but every time I got close and was ready to jump onto the land, a huge French Brothers trip boat would go past and I'd get washed away. After a couple of goes at this—and actually making it ashore at one point—I decided that this was much too complicated a landing for one person, so I got back aboard and headed for the next lock, which is Romney lock. I got there a little before 2pm, which meant that the lock keeper was still at lunch, so I took the opportunity to park in the lock lay-by and have my own lunch of a baguette filled with pork and coleslaw.

After Romney lock you're alongside The Home Park, which I think must be the old grounds of Windsor Castle, then you go under Victoria Bridge and suddenly there are "Crown Estates" signs clearly saying that there's no mooring. Since I went past here last year, new signs have been added alongside, indicating that this is protected area as defined by the Prevention of Terrorism Act and that any trespass is a criminal offence. I'm sure that Her Majesty doesn't really want people stopping and tromping around in her garden, but I'd really hate to break down along this stretch if my choices were to drift with the current and hope for the best, or land and get banged up for 28 days without access to a lawyer. At least it's only 28 days!

Eventually you go under Albert Bridge and normality returns. The Thames disappears off to the left, via an impressive weir and the navigation continues to the right along the 'New Cut'. That's 'New' as in 1822. At the end is Old Windsor lock and then you meander through Old Windsor until it all becomes a bit more rural. To the left is Magna Carta Island, where the Magna Carta was (allegedly) signed. To the right is the impressive face of Cooper's Hill, which has an RAF memorial on the top and the Magna Carta monument on the bottom. I'd wanted to see this last time I came past and as it was getting on for 4pm I decided I'd stop. I found a lovely curved National Trust mooring just past the monument and pulled in.

Not long after I'd moored, the impressive boat from earlier today went past and after seeing my mooring, decided to stop in the next 'cove'. It was a bit shallow, but they somehow managed to get in, although with no access to the bank. However, as they had previously said, they had almost everything the needed aboard. They were kind enough to invite me aboard for a drink, however I said I wanted to see the monument so I left them to it. The monument itself was erected by the American Bar Association in affirmation of their upholding of the principles that Magna Carta embodies. Nice of them, I guess. There's also the John F. Kennedy Memorial nearby, but whereas the Magna Carta monument is easy to find and brightly lit at night, the Kennedy monument is in the trees somewhere and as the light was fading, I didn't find it.

Dinner was soup and bread. I wasn't particularly hungry for some reason. but that was fine. I talked to Paul and played Animal Crossing, then had surprise visit from Gary, who lives in Brentford. As Brentford is next to the M4, I'm only about a 35 minute drive away, which really puts this 'boat speed' thing into perspective. We chat and catch up with gossip. Turns out that one of his relatives used to live in The Home Park as an employee of Her Majesty and would occasionally see her. That must be a very strange experience.