Our mooring choice at Cowley Peachey had been a good one but on Tuesday it was time to move on again. We set off at eight and headed for Cowley lock which didn’t take too long despite our slow speed past the mile or so of moored boats. The lock was empty when we arrived so it only took a few minutes to get through and on to the service point above. We needed to do everything and the tap wasn’t the quickest that we’ve encountered so we made the most of it by running the washing machine and having our showers while we were there. Everything was complete just after nine so we untied and resumed our journey. Moored boats line the canal all the way through Uxbridge so we made slow progress until we reached the town lock. The weather was nice and we were in no hurry so we didn’t really mind the journey at tickover speed. Boats were moored three abreast below Denham deep lock but we’re narrow and the two boats which were leaving the lock were narrow too so we all had enough space. It made me think though that it might not have been so simple if we had a widebeam and were waiting for a similar size vessel to descend. Denham Deep is a big old lock so Sue took her time with the paddles and kept the water turbulence to a minimum so that I could keep control of the boat.
Once clear of the lock, we started looking for a suitable mooring close to Harefield marina and eventually found a spot just above widewater lock. We were pretty much in the same place that marked the furthest point of our trip in August 2012 on our first boat, Phoenix III. On that occasion we only ventured as far as the local pub, The Horse and Barge. Five years on and the pub has been renamed and is now The Bear on the Barge.
Uxbridge is classed as being in London despite the fact that it is about 18 miles from Charing Cross and although it has a tube station, the trip to Euston from here would take 50 minutes which is about the same time as a train trip from Rugby in Warwickshire would take.
Traditionally in the East End of London, cockneys were defined as having been born within earshot of Bow Bells, the bells of St Mary-le-Bow in the Cheapside district of the City of London. Today it seems that to qualify as a Londoner one just has to be born within earshot of London’s orbital motorway, the M25 and the residents of Uxbridge would certainly fall into that category.
For the last month we have almost circumnavigated Heathrow airport and now we are probably closer to it than we have been at any point on our journey. Strangely enough, this location is also the quietest one that we have moored in with hardly any aircraft noise at all. This is because we are on a stretch of canal which runs parallel to the runways at Heathrow so arriving and departing aircraft are never passing overhead.
Our mooring lies about two miles away from Uxbridge town centre with its multitude of shops. Closer to hand is a Tesco and an Aldi so pretty much everything is catered for. The buses, as with those in Brentford, Richmond and Kingston are London buses and for those of us who live outside the London area and are unfamiliar with them, let me tell you how good they are. The bus fare is a flat £1.50 regardless of how far you are travelling. The buses are cashless, regular users use an Oyster card but for the casual user or “out of towner”, a contactless debit or credit card is acceptable. There is a daily charge limit of £4.50 so there is plenty of scope for travelling around. It’s impossible to know how much time is saved by the bus driver and admin staff but it does mean that the buses stop for just a minimal period at every stop.
On Saturday we decided to walk into town and explore the central area but we were caught out by an unexpected and un-forecast rain shower along the way. The rain was never very far away as we wandered around so upon finding that there was cinema in the town centre we decided to go in and watch the latest Planet of the Apes film. By the time we left almost three hours later, we had been suitably entertained and better still, the weather had brightened up and the rain had gone for the afternoon. We walked back to our mooring by way of the towpath and made a refreshment stop at the Malt Shovel which is just above Cowley lock. As we settled down, the Jam Butty boat appeared so we said a quick “Hello and Cheerio” as they headed northwards. We last saw them at Thrupp at the beginning of June, since when they have cruised the Thames and then toured the central London waterways.
We took another trip into town on Sunday and we were surprised at how busy it was for a Sunday morning, Uxbridge certainly seems to be a thriving commercial centre. After shopping for a few items we caught the bus back to the Tesco store near our mooring, shopped for some lunch ingredients and then returned to the boat where we settled down and watch the men’s singles final at Wimbledon.
Monday was yet another hot and sunny day but nevertheless we walked into town again, we didn’t need to do much but I wanted to get my hair cut. It was mid afternoon by the time we got back to Caxton and there we took shelter in the shade of the front cratch until the heat of the day began to subside.
On Friday morning we awoke to grey skies again, warm enough but dull and rain didn’t seem too far away. Our next destination was going to be somewhere near Uxbridge with a bit of luck so we got going at eight and reversed back to the service area where we filled the water tank before setting off on the beginning of our journey north. We knew that we would need to pass through at least ten locks and that would include the seven of the Hanwell flight. The flight is manned by volunteers and we had been given their phone number when we had reached Brentford on Sunday. The lock nearest to Brentford was no problem but the next, Osterley lock was terrible. Compounding the heavily silted waterway which was thick with litter, the lock chamber was full of all sorts of crap including a car wheel with tyre, three leather footballs and countless plastic bottles. Both gates had to be opened by Sue to allow Caxton to enter because both were blocked by the detritus behind them. Once we had risen to the upper level, we had to swap places because the top gates were almost impossible to shift. Eventually we escaped the clutches of this horrible lock and Sue made the call to the volunteer lock keepers to ask them for assistance through the Hanwell locks. We could see someone with the tell-tale trademark blue sweatshirt and red life jacket of a CaRT lock keeper as we approached the bottom of the flight. There are three lockies here and they have been volunteering for the last six years, we were very grateful for their help through this series of closely spaced deep locks. We were the only boat working through the locks but with our helpers it was a straightforward ascent. Eventually we left Norwood Top lock and started on the long pound between there and Cowley lock. The waterway below the Hanwell flight had been shallow and silted up as well as being troubled with a lot of litter. The canal above the flight was deeper and clearer but much of it covered in a carpet of green weed. Apparently this weed is causing trouble all over the London area, however we weren’t inconvenienced by it as we made our journey.
Since we embarked on this trip at the beginning of May we haven’t been travelling every day and when we have moved, we haven’t travelled for more than a couple of hours or so. Today was always going to be different because we had no intention of mooring anywhere south of the junction with the Slough arm of the canal. Admittedly we haven’t been this way before and we had made our decision based on hearsay, something that we usually try to avoid. There are many tales of boaters having trouble in certain locations which are very often just a case of the same story being repeated over and over. The story changing slightly with each iteration, giving the impression that the area concerned is really problematic. We decided that we would rather commit to a five and a half hour trip and take no risk of mooring in an undesirable spot. As we made our journey we saw nothing that suggested that we were being over cautious; the whole stretch, including the Bull’s bridge area, seemed a bit grim and uninviting.
At half past two we reached the moorings opposite Packet Boat marina which looked to be just the sort of area that we were looking for so we pulled up and hammered the pins in and then had a well needed late lunch.
Admittedly, especially after some of the places that we have recently visited, the sound of spending almost a week in Brentford dock doesn’t sound like a very exciting prospect. We stayed on our mooring from Sunday afternoon until Friday morning and it was a really good experience. As described in the previous post we spent Monday visiting Kew Gardens. The forecast for Tuesday was for heavy rain so we decided to stay put and wait for it to arrive. It came eventually but not until late in the afternoon, meaning that we had squandered most of the day; not that we had given up any plans to do anything. In the evening we noticed that the boat was listing, despite being at the bottom of the Grand Union, this stretch is still a river, the Brent. When we had tied up two days earlier, we had noticed that the water level was quite low and that with the amount of silt, we were actually sitting on the bottom. As we moved around the boat, strange noises came from underneath the baseplate, no doubt as the suction between it and the mud broke allowing water to bubble through. The heavy rain had quickly caused the water level to rise by around 9 inches and by eight o’clock, the ropes had tightened and created the listing to the port side. It only took a few minutes to slacken the ropes and rectify the problem and when I checked again a few hours later, the level had stabilised and we were able to go to bed in peace.
Wednesday was spent locally; a grocery trip to Morrisons, boat cleaning inside and out, chatting with other boaters and rounding the early evening off with a drink on the balcony of the Time Café Bar which overlooks the Brentford gauging locks.
When we had travelled from Teddington, one of the boats in the lock with us was a widebeam called “Miss T Morning”. We had moored near this boat on a couple of occasions as we had travelled down the Thames although hadn’t actually spoken to the crew. After leaving the lock, MTM zoomed off and had soon left the rest of us behind but as we reached Richmond, saw that they had pulled over on to a grassy mooring. We hadn’t factored in the possibility of mooring in Richmond with it being on the tidal section so we assumed that they knew the area, knew that there would be little mooring and had made sure that they were getting whatever there was for themselves. Nothing could have been further from the truth as I found out when I was approached by the owner whose name was Dave. He told me that they had in fact broken down and that was why they had pulled over. Their “mooring”, as nice as it had looked to us as we passed was an enforced one and they had spent the next 48 hours adjusting their lines as the tide came in and out. Eventually, they had managed to get a tug to pull them off the river and through the Thames lock and they were now sitting between that and Brentford gauging locks, still suffering with the movements of the tides although I suspect to a lesser extent than when on the Thames. RCR had been to inspect the engine but their analysis was inconclusive so a marine engineer was due to visit next. Dave said that all parties: RCR who had recently carried out the service, Betamarine who had supplied the engine and the boat builder were all trying to wash their hands of the problem. Very frustrating for the owners considering that the boat was just over a year old. As for the outcome, we’ll probably never know unless we bump into them later on our trip.
Thursday dawned bright and sunny so we walked to Richmond, some two and a bit miles away. The walk took us through Syon Park and passed by Syon house, the ancestral home of the Dukes of Northumberland and very nice it was too. It took us less than an hour to reach Richmond where we took a closer look at the weir that we had passed over just a few days earlier. As the tide goes out, the weir is created by dropping barriers from the bridge and this maintains a navigable level between Richmond and Teddington by holding water upstream; during this time, through traffic must use Richmond lock. When the tide comes in and the levels equalise, the weir gates are lifted allowing normal navigation.
Richmond itself has a bit of a seaside town feel to it, possibly because the streets slope down to the river and there is evidence of flooding near the water’s edge. It didn’t take us long to walk around the town and as it was still quite early, we jumped on a bus and visited Kingston again. The town was quieter than it had been the previous weekend so we were able to do a bit of shopping and have some lunch down by the waterside. After lunch we caught the bus back to Brentford High Street and walked back to the Docks.
The area around the dock is and has been redeveloped and although there is still building work going on, by this time next year it will be fully surrounded by apartment blocks. These are luxury apartments and the cheapest are over £400k for one bedroom accommodation! The area is well lit and quiet at night, pedestrians pass by during the day between the nearby Holiday Inn and the railway station so it’s all relatively peaceful save the noise from the railway and the ever present planes in and out of Heathrow. Full services are available including a pump out for those who need that facility. All in all it is a good mooring for anyone waiting to get on to the Thames or having just left it.
Braunston is only 93 miles away!
No complaints about our mooring in Brentford at all so after a peaceful night’s sleep we awoke and made plans to visit Kew Gardens situated just a couple of miles away. Neither of us had been there before so armed with no more than cameras, enthusiasm and a bit of cash in our pockets, we locked Caxton up and started walking.
Brentford High Street is like many of the greater London towns that have been absorbed into the metropolis. Somewhere between Staines and Hampton Court we had ventured into the enlarged London; the buses are red and carry the tfl logo and the businesses advertise 0208 phone numbers. Where the border actually is, I’m not certain but we had definitely crossed it.
By the time we had reached Kew Bridge we could see the tide was well and truly out leaving boats beached on the riverbed. When we returned four hours later, the tide was in and the scene had changed.
We weren’t disappointed with our visit to Kew, there is much to see in this huge park so once again I’ll let some pictures give the reader a flavour of the place.
After a pretty poor night’s sleep we were ready to leave Kingston and make our way to Teddington for the final part of our journey on the Thames. The regatta was already underway when we pulled our pins out and then gingerly passed along Kingston Riverside. It took us less than an hour to reach the lock mooring at Teddington where we tied up and began our wait for the high tide at 16:10. We had lunch on board and then walked back into Teddington’s main street where we had wandered the day before. Killing time was akin to waiting for a flight at the end of a foreign holiday. It’s fair to say that we were both a little bit unsure as to what our trip on the tidal section of the river would be like so we were reassured after talking to the crew on a boat also making the trip and who had done so a number of times before.
At 3.30pm we made our way into Teddington lock and were joined by three more narrowboats and three widebeam boats. The tide had raised the river level considerably and as a result our drop was only about two feet. The gates opened, the engines started and we were off! Non boaters won’t realise that it is impossible to know the speed at which a narrowboat is travelling. Normally on a canal, Caxton’s engine is run at about 1500rpm when conditions permit and that seems to propel us at a reasonable speed. On the Thames we have been running at 1500 to 1700 rpm and we still have made little wash in the deeper, wider water. We decided that we should travel at a speed consistent with the other boats that were travelling with us and this turned out to be between 1900 and 2000 rpm. With the flow of the river and the receding tide we still don’t know what our speed was but we made rapid progress and one hour later we reached the turn at Brentford. This turn involves going hard to port through about 120 degrees but with the warning that the corner can’t be cut otherwise there is the risk of grounding and there will always be the pull of the tide to drag the boat off course. We made the turn without incident but in the few moments when we were at right angles to the river flow and just before we became sheltered by the lock entrance, it was a strange sensation to watch Caxton moving forwards and still be pushed sidewards downstream.
A few moments later and we were in the right hand Thames lock which seemed very short after a month using the long locks of the Thames. We passed through very quickly, assisted by the lock keeper and then found ourselves back on what seemed like familiar waters. This was still a river, The Brent, but resembled a canal with its narrow, windy nature. We crawled past a number of houseboats and then reached Brentford gauging locks where again we were helped through by CaRT lock keepers. Shortly after we found a space on the visitor moorings in Brentford dock where we tied up for the night.
A few weeks ago we were lucky enough to see the Queen’s rowing barge, Gloriana which was being taken to Henley for the regatta. We saw her again but tied up as we walked from Kingston to Hampton Court and guessed that she might be making an appearance at the Kingston Regatta. We were right and as a result were able to get a number of photographs and some video of her being propelled by rowers.
On the third day of our stay at Hampton Court we decided to visit Kingston on Thames. The previous two days had been very hot and sunny but despite the fact that this one was heading the same way, we decided to walk to our destination. Kingston turned out to be a revelation, a wonderful riverside town with a vibrant waterfront, a town centre market and a fabulous range of shops. After exploring for a couple of hours we had lunch and did a bit of clothes shopping before walking back to our mooring at Hampton Court. One of the reasons for our visit had been to check out possible moorings in Kingston and to find out more about the regatta which was scheduled for the following day (Saturday). The regatta didn’t look to be anywhere near as big an event as Henley had been but nevertheless we left Kingston with the idea that we would probably struggle to find a mooring the following day.
It was 7.45 when we got up on Saturday and within a few minutes, Caxton was turning around mid stream and heading back to Molesey lock. Locks on the Thames are of course little effort so this trip up and back presented no problem to us but would allow us to refill the water tank and to empty all of our cassettes. After winding above the lock we dropped back down and passed by the mooring that we had been occupying for the previous three days.
This stretch of water is another one which is very busy with trip boats but at this time of the morning we were untroubled by such craft. It didn’t take long until we were on the approach to Kingston and we could see that there would be plenty of space to moor as long as we could manage to hammer our pins into the small space between the concrete edge and the pavement. At the second attempt we managed to find a suitable spot and with a bit of brute force using the sledgehammer, we were sorted. The mooring arrangements here are with the local council and are for 24 hours only but free of charge.
After wandering into town and doing a bit of food shopping, we returned to the boat, had some lunch and then walked to Teddington lock. We wanted to make sure that we knew what to do the following day when we dropped down on to the tidal Thames for our journey to Brentford.
One of the few niggles that we have had about mooring on the Thames is the quality of the mooring places. GRP cruisers are adorned with huge fenders and sit higher in the water than narrowboats and it seems that most moorings are designed for them. Our mooring at Kingston was no exception and it was impossible to protect our boat from the concrete edge. We were pleased to discover that there is a chandlery at Teddington and despite the fact that we had very little time left on the river, we wanted to buy a big fender to improve our mooring both for that night and for in the future.
The Boat shop is a fabulous establishment, a proper boater’s shop. On the canal system we are used to and probably take for granted, the ability to find such places without trouble. On the Thames it is a different story so finding this place seemed like finding an oasis in a desert! We got what we wanted and more. The proprietor is a smashing bloke and a font of knowledge as far as boating, the river and the local area is concerned. More importantly, the prices there are very reasonable, especially for this part of the country. The shop is just over the bridge from the lock and is well worth a visit, they also have an ebay shop (click here) so online shopping is also possible.
We walked back to our mooring along the north bank of the river via Thames Ditton with a slight diversion through Kingston town centre where the annual Youth Arts Festival was in full swing. By the time we had returned, the activities of the regatta had long since ended and the trip boats were all tucked up safely for the night but we positioned our newly purchased fat fender anyway in anticipation of it all kicking off again in the morning.
At 2am Sue was awakened by voices outside, I wasn’t aware until I heard her open the hatch and ask the young people sitting on a nearby bench to either be quiet or move on. They expressed surprise that anyone actually occupied the boats but it still took the threat of a call to the police to make them go away. Unbeknown to us, the occupants of a nearby widebeam, wb Flub, had also been awoken but by the sound of someone on their roof! They did call the police but no officers showed up at all. Fortunately there was no damage to the boat or indeed injury to the crew.
So our experience of Kingston was a bit mixed, the town itself is a great place to visit but it would be better if the police had a bit of a presence along the riverfront after dark.
Hampton Court Palace had always been on our list of places to visit but we hadn’t realised that the flower show was going to be staged there in the week that we would arrive. Hampton Court flower show is on a similar scale to the Chelsea flower show and attracts thousands of visitors on a daily basis for the week that it is staged. We had pretty much written off any prospect of mooring near the palace by the time we had left Molesey lock after listening to the wise words of the lock keeper but as we passed under the bridge that links East Molesey with the northern bank of the Thames we could see that there might possibly be space on the palace moorings. Sure enough, there was more than enough space for us so we quickly got alongside and tied up. Although run by Historic Royal Palaces, the arrangements are the same as most EA moorings – first day free and then two days at £5 per day (£10 for boats of 60 feet or more). We quickly decided to stay the full three days and figured that £20 wasn’t out of line with what we had been paying in other places. The warden greeted us as we moored and said that he would collect the fee the following day, he didn’t return in all of the time that we were there so our three days were free, gratis and for nothing.
Our first day saw us exploring East Molesey, a lovely little town with many small shops lining two or three main thoroughfares. Most businesses seemed to have displays outside them and we soon discovered that there was a local competition during the flower show for the best “garden”.
On day two we visited Hampton Court Palace and it was excellent! We were advised on entry that there would be a re-enactment taking place and that it would begin in just a few minutes time. This show involved a group of actors telling the story of Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn in the period of time when Henry was desperate for Ann to bear him a son and while he was in the process of being excommunicated by the catholic church. We are very familiar with this period in English history but even for us it was very informative as well as being entertaining.
After we had followed the acting troupe around the palace and their show was over, we explored the buildings and grounds. Despite the fact that the flower show was in full swing, the grounds are so large that visitors to the palace are not disadvantaged by its presence. In addition to visiting all of the formal gardens, no trip to Hampton Court would be complete without going into the maze so of course we did that too. The pictures that follow give some idea of what there is to see at Hampton Court but in all honesty it would be impossible to try and do the place justice with a few snaps.
After our two days spent in Laleham we decided to move a bit further downstream, so we were up and about reasonably early again. We did think that we might get tied up somewhere around Shepperton or Walton on Thames but unfortunately we couldn’t find anywhere suitable to moor. We drifted on and just as we were thinking that Sunbury on Thames might be the place, we spied a 24 hour mooring near the Weir. The Weir being a small hotel situated opposite, funnily enough, a weir. We soon got Caxton secured to the bank and walked back the mile and a bit back into Walton on Thames. Walton was alright, a modern town centre with all of the usual shops. Nothing fantastic but alright. After a short trip around Sainsbury’s, we walked back along the Thames path and returned to our mooring. The pub garden was quite busy but the advantage of being directly outside meant being able to buy a drink and then enjoy it on the front deck sitting on a comfortable seat!