It was a bit of a struggle but we finally managed to break out of Berkhamsted. On Wednesday evening we had decided that we would leave on Thursday but after overnight rain and waking up to an overcast morning, we decided to stay another day. On Thursday night we agreed to leave the following morning but after a short conversation at 8am on Friday we decided to stay and catch the bus to Aylesbury for the day.
On our return we were finally agreed that we would leave Berkhamsted on Saturday morning. At ten o’clock on Friday night we had a random idea to walk to the local pub. This was a first for us, yes we like going to the pub but usually in the afternoon, sometimes in the early evening but never at night and certainly not at bedtime!
We walked the short distance to the Boat Inn and spent a couple of hours there. It was noisy but we soon got used to it and had a lovely time there.
When Saturday morning came around, staying in Berkhamsted for yet another day wasn’t a difficult decision to make so we had a lazy start before walking into town.
The Saturday market was in full swing when we reached the High Street and we bought some fruit and veg there before returning to our boat for lunch.
After lunch we walked to Waitrose and made a few more purchases for the next part of our voyage and then returned once again to our mooring.
The sun came out and I realised that we hadn’t visited the Rising Sun pub which sat a few hundred yards away. It seemed a little unfair to neglect the establishment having spent money in the other canalside pubs, The Crystal Palace and the Boat Inn. So we walked along the towpath and enjoyed a drink, sitting outside the pub, next to the lock on what was a sunny afternoon. We later agreed that we should end our stay in Berkhamsted and move on the following morning.
When Sunday morning came around we were resolute, despite the temptation of the monthly Farmers Market which we knew was taking place that morning in the town. We set off just after nine o’clock and started the climb out of town towards the summit at Cow Roast. It didn’t take us long considering we had eight locks to do and did all of them on our own. We saw a few boats coming down the hill so that, combined with the instruction on some locks to leave bottom paddles drawn meant that almost all locks were set in our favour. The only boat that we saw travelling in the same direction as we were was a widebeam that we caught up when we reached our seventh lock of the day. Caxton’s water tank was in desperate need of replenishment so our target had been the services above Cow Roast lock where we also took the opportunity to get rid of the “Get-riddables”. Once sorted, we moved on a few hundred yards and tied up just beyond the marina.
After lunch, showered and dressed in fresh clothes, we went for a walk. Along the towpath to Tring Station and then to the village of Aldbury. This place is very pretty with a duck pond in the middle of the village, a small shop and a fairly large church. After a walk around the church, we paid a brief visit to the nearby Greyhound pub for a much needed refreshment before we started the walk back to the canal. We were returning by a different route to give us a circular walk and that caused us to pass the second pub in the village, The Valliant Trooper. “Pass” as in “pass through” rather than “pass by”. We were soon on our way again and walking along the narrow lane that would eventually get us back to the boat. The sunshine was by now, giving way to dark clouds and by half past five it had started to rain, so that was us in for the rest of the evening.
Berkhamsted is old, very old according to Wikipedia with there being evidence of human settlement in the area dating back 5,000 years. The first written reference to the town was in 970AD and it gets a mention in the Domesday book. The town has clearly benefited from trade over the centuries and still has a very solid feel of prosperity to it, or so it seemed to us as we explored its streets.
We visited the ruins of the castle which is adjacent to the railway station and then spent the next few days exploring the long high street which runs through the middle of the town. There are many independent shops in Berkhamsted which makes a nice change from seeing town centres which have been cloned by the national retail chains. In an age when pubs are supposedly closing at an alarming rate, this town still manages to support what seems to be more than its fair share of them. The Rex is a fully restored Art Deco cinema which shows a different film every day although there was nothing that we fancied seeing when we were there. There are so many interesting looking buildings that it would take forever to describe them all so here are a few pictures taken around the town. And here is the town’s Blue Plaque Guide.
The next leg of our journey would take us from Winkwell to Berkhamsted, a town that we had loved when we visited it in 2012 so it was a destination that we had been looking forward to revisiting. First though there was the small matter of eight locks to negotiate our way through. All was well until we reached the last pound below the town itself, we were warned by another boater that the pound was low and to stick to the centre of the channel. This we did but with a boat descending the lock above, we had to wait for them to come through. Two boats were moored below the lock, both listing heavily towards the middle of the canal. With Sue on the bank I floated between the two boats, waiting for the lock to empty. As soon as the water rushed out of the lock, the level in the pound rose quickly and the narrowboat behind me also rose. Clearly, its lines had been secured when the pound was on the low side so as it rose the lines tightened and first the stern pin was pulled out of the ground quickly followed by the centre pin. The water current immediately pulled the boat straight across the canal, blocking passage for the boat coming down. Caxton was unaffected except that I had to wait until the boat was re-moored by the lady from the boat descending the lock whose husband sat in the chamber until he had a clear passage through. Surprisingly, the pound above the lock was at a normal height so once we were through we made good progress to the water point where we filled our tank.
With the tank filled and all toilet cassettes emptied we were ready for our stay in Berkhamsted. Amazingly we yet again found a mooring in a place where we had tied up before (Harefield, Apsley and Winkwell being the others in recent weeks) opposite Castle Wharf.
When we stopped here before, we inadvertently wandered into the private garden of the house opposite. Having tied up and got ourselves ready to walk into town, Sue reacquainted herself with the owner and local celebrity councillor, Lindy.
Our stay in Berkhamsted (Berko to the boating fraternity) will be covered in the next post.
We embarked on the next leg of our journey on Sunday, the day after our trip to London. We were still climbing as we have done since we left the Thames and despite the fact that there are many locks on this section of the Grand Union, we have plenty of time on our side so we are only travelling for two to three hours at a time covering two to three miles and working six or seven locks. Sunday was no exception and our target was to get above the swing bridge at Winkwell but first we had to get through the first lock and carry out the services. This we did and took advantage of the fact that we were inconveniencing no one by catching up with the laundry while filling with water.
Once serviced we were on our way again and continued with our journey uphill, a journey with very little to report except to say that the temperature rose quite quickly and we were glad that we didn’t have a long day of travelling to do. Eventually we reached the swing bridge near the Three Horseshoes at Winkwell and we were pleasantly surprised to see that we would be able to moor there with the bonus that the VM rings were well spaced for our boat. We quickly tied up, had lunch, got showered and changed before setting off up the hill to explore the village. The village turned out to be mainly housing served by a small central parade of shops but nevertheless a nice little enclave. By the time we returned to the canal, the pub had become very busy and the moorings had completely filled up so we sat on the front deck and lounged. Well we would have lounged except for the fact that Caxton was listing heavily to starboard caused by the lack of water in the pound and shallowness of the canal near the bank. The fat fenders had been deployed and the lines slackened but still we listed until every time that a boat came down through the lock above. I did quip that we were up and down like a …… ……. but the rest of the phrase isn’t really for publishing here. With Caxton having a crossway bed, we were prepared to sleep the opposite way to normal to avoid the dreaded early morning headache caused by sleeping with your head below the height of your body but by the time bedtime came around, the pound had risen and the bed was level.
By morning time, the pound had risen further and the boat was listing in the opposite direction but no matter, we were moving on anyway.
After threatening to visit London since we got off the Thames at Brentford, we decided that Apsley would be a good place to do it from. The railway station is a five minute walk from where we were moored so on Saturday morning we caught the 0938 to Euston. The half hourly service takes thirty minutes to reach the capital so we found ourselves on the station concourse just before quarter past ten. We had intended to take the tube to Borough Market but the station was so busy, we decided to walk there; it’s only three miles after all! Once we had crossed the Euston road, the number of pedestrians had thinned out so we had an enjoyable walk in the Saturday morning sunshine. The route is a fairly straightforward and one that we have taken before so we were able to have a good look at some of the architecture along the way. As we crossed the Thames on Blackfriars bridge we tried to work out the state of the tide, coming to the conclusion that it was going out and was pretty low at that time. This was confirmed as we walked along the southern embankment and could see that there were a number of people walking on the exposed beach. Soon we reached Borough Market which was already heaving with shoppers, when we have visited before we have been staying in London and were able to get there when it opened at 8am. Now, three hours after opening time, the market was packed but we still managed to get around it all, buying a couple of items and sampling lots more.
The hour that we had spent in the market went quickly and then we started the trek back north to Euston.
Fleet Street was full of buses when we walked along it, a mixture of service buses and tour coaches lined up, no doubt waiting for traffic lights to change somewhere. Well the lights changed or the hold up cleared and they all moved off one by one. All, that is, except for one open top tour bus which stayed resolutely still. We automatically looked at the driver and saw him sitting, slightly slumped in his seat with his eyes closed. He then lifted his head and looked around to see that the traffic had moved and the road ahead was empty. He then caught sight of us pointing and laughing at him. In fairness, he grinned and waved back at us before moving on with his bus load of passengers who were oblivious to the actions of their sleepy driver.
We took our time and broke our journey part way at an open air café. Our light lunch was fine although we wondered at one point whether we had made a good choice of venue. I asked for a sandwich which was listed on the menu as being, “Pastrami and pickle rye”. “What kind of bread would like?”, asked the waiter, “White, wholemeal or ciabatta?”. “I would like to think that it is on rye bread”, I replied. “Oh, yes, my mistake.” he said, laughing. Meanwhile the couple at the table next to us were sending their food back and the family at another table were given the wrong bill to settle. As it turned out, Sue’s jacket potato and my pastrami and pickle on rye sandwich arrived and they were fine, although my idea of rye bread is clearly different to whoever made the sandwich.
After our brief stop, we walked the final mile or so back to Euston and only had a few minutes to wait before we could board our train back to Apsley for the rest of the day.
Well, as the song says, what a difference a day makes. We awoke on Thursday to the sound of silence, the continuous drumming of the rain had gone and although it was quite cool and cloudy outside, it was pleasant enough for travelling. We didn’t go far, only a couple of miles and four locks but that got us to Apsley which is on the outskirts of Hemel Hempstead. We found a suitable mooring just above the lock that sits just above the marina and is in pretty much the same spot as we moored when we were here five years ago, what a coincidence!
After getting ready and having lunch on board, we walked back to the footbridge which carries the path over the canal towards the Paper Mill pub, although we didn’t stop there. Instead we walked up to the main road and walked into Apsley itself. Small shops line the main road for a few hundred yards, nothing of great significance but interesting to see yet another place that we had skipped through in previous years. On the way back to the boat we did some shopping in the handily placed canal side Sainsbury’s.
While we were Apsley, we saw Barnowl No8, Octavia, the boat built just before Caxton.
On Saturday morning we were up and about and heading into Hemel Hempstead for no other reason than to have a look around. We didn’t really know what to expect but we were very pleasantly surprised. We walked along the towpath for a while and then reached a main road leading to the town centre. We soon discovered Hemel Hempstead’s “Magic Roundabout”.
Hemel Hempstead was one of Britain’s New Towns so this sort of thing is to be expected but once beyond the ridiculous road layout, we were in for a bit of a treat. The main shopping area is wide, open and pedestrianised with lots of retail shops. We had a stop for coffee at one of the independent coffee shops there (we counted three but there may be more). They have to compete with the big three coffee chains but they all seemed to be thriving – no doubt down to good service as well as a good product.
The town hides a secret from the casual visitor, the old town or specifically the High Street. To get there, we had to walk through the centre and on for about another half a mile but it was worth it. The High Street today has a number of barber shops, hairdressers antique shops and pubs as well as the old town hall. It’s lovely and is in stark contrast to the new town centre. That’s not to say that the new part is hideous, it’s just different and is lovely in its own modern way.
If, like me you were a fan of “Pie in the sky“, a 90’s light hearted police drama starring Richard Griffiths, you would be happy, like I was, to see the location of Henry Crabbe’s restaurant, Pie in the Sky in the High Street.
After lunch in the Old Bell, we walked back through the new town to the park and then to the canal towpath. On our way back, we called in at the farm shop near Two Waters and bought some locally produced honey which will find its way to mother’s kitchen in late November when we visit her. Sunnyside Rural Trust run the venture and they provide work and experience for those with learning difficulties, a very good cause in our opinion.
We rounded the afternoon off with a visit to the nearby and aforementioned “Paper Mill” where we sat on the canalside terrace and watched the odd boat go past for a while. As you could probably guess there was once a paper mill here and nearby there is a museum although unfortunately, because it has limited opening times, we didn’t get a chance to see it. We did see this clock, however and that gives away the type of paper once made here. I must admit that I didn’t look closely at it at first, thinking that it was just another factory clock but Sue spotted the detail.
Wednesday brought the promised rain, starting in the early morning and carrying on incessantly until after 9pm!
Had we been at home, surrounded by bricks and mortar, this probably wouldn’t have mattered; we would have stayed in and amused ourselves with the occasional glance at the weather outside. Our boat has everything that our home has, yet these sort of days seem to be oppressive, but why? The only explanation that I can offer is that a boat is supposed to move and when it isn’t moving we are exploring.
On this occasion we were moored near King’s Langley railway station and we had thought of travelling to London for the day. The weather there wouldn’t be much better but we wouldn’t have to be outside all of the time so it might be worth our while. Fifteen minutes before we had planned to set off for the station, the heavens opened and the light rain turned to a deluge. We abandoned our plan and settled in for the day. As Sue prepared lunch, the monsoon eased off so as we ate we decided to take the train to Watford and have a wander around the shopping centre. Just as we prepared to go, the monsoon returned so plan ‘B’ was scuppered too.
In the end, with the exception of a quick check of the mooring lines, we stayed indoors all day listening to and watching the rain falling. Perhaps the cabin fever is caused by the triumph of hope over experience? Who knows, maybe next time we should just travel or explore in the rain to allay the onset of cabin fever but maybe it would be better to just accept that we will be stuck indoors for the day.
When we set off on our adventure back in May we believed that, unlike all of our holidays and short breaks over the years, we wouldn’t have to factor the weather into our travel plans. That isn’t entirely true but it does mean that we don’t have to travel in the rain or have to have long days to compensate for days lost to really bad weather. Wednesday was forecast to bring heavy rain all day so we decided to move a bit further on Tuesday and then sit out the storm.
It was 8.30 when we set off and after making slow progress past the long line of moored boats, we worked up through the first lock and took on water.
Cassiobury park looked quite gloomy, the trees are still in full leaf but it was the leaden coloured sky which made everything look dull.
We were caught up at the next lock by nb Myra-D so when we reached the next lock after that, we waited for them to catch us up again and we worked the next three locks with them. As we left Lady Capel’s lock, Myra-D encountered a problem that they thought would involve a visit to the weedhatch. We carried on, expecting them to catch us up at the Hunton Bridge locks half a mile further on. Sue prepped the lower lock and while I manoeuvred into position, she set the upper lock too. Then we waited but after a while had to come to the conclusion that our lock buddies had encountered a bigger problem than they had anticipated, so we carried on.
Eventually we reached the bridge which carries the M25 over the canal and railway and passed under it, we had first entered the concrete motorway ring which sits around London when we passed under the road between Runnymede and Staines just over a month ago as we made our way down the Thames. Shortly after passing under the motorway, we reached Kings Langley where we found a mooring below the village lock. The pound was a little low and as a result we struggled to get the stern close to the bank but with a bit of rocking and the use of the fat fenders, we were in and secure. Having travelled for four hours and worked through nine locks, we decided to get showered and go to the local pub for lunch, something that we had done when we passed this way five years ago. As before, lunch was very good at The Rose & Crown and it was four o’clock when we arrived back at our boat. A few minutes later and we could hear a boat engine so we looked out to see nb Myra-D lashed to another narrowboat with only the other boat’s engine running. It turned out that the problem that they had was a broken cable but they had arranged for one to be delivered to them the following day. Maybe we’ll see them again on our travels and find out the whole story.
Croxley Green is only just over two miles away from Watford town centre so on Monday, after a lazy start, we walked into town and explored the place. It was alright, a busy High Street with a large Intu shopping centre filled with all of the usual retail suspects.
After a wander around we dodged a heavy rain shower by ducking into one of the local Wetherspoons. A couple of drinks over a satisfying lunch let us avoid a drenching and when we emerged on to the High Street we saw that the sky still looked threatening and that there were a number of bus stops just across the road.
It wasn’t too difficult to make the decision to get the bus back to Croxley Green even though we had only had a fleeting glimpse of Watford. I don’t wish to disrespect the town but its centre at least doesn’t seem to hold anything unique for the traveller.
We weren’t too sure of which bus to catch and when we asked the driver of the 420 bus, he didn’t seem too helpful. Luckily enough, a fellow passenger who was sitting near the front of the bus told us that if we got off when he did, he would point us in the right direction. True to his word, he let us know when he was getting off and as promised, pointed us in the direction of the road to the canal. We had only just reached the boat when the rain started again and it continued on and off for the rest of the evening so we just spent our time indoors chatting about nothing in particular and everything in general – as usual!
In the time since I retired I have woken up at any time between 4am and 9am, no idea why but with very little to do each day it doesn’t bother me. On Sunday I awoke at 7.30, just a little hungover from the afternoon spent in the local Wetherspoons. For reasons best known to herself, Sue felt the urge to get up and get going so at eight o’clock she forced me out of bed and made me get the boat moving. The overnight temperature had been quite low so the early morning trip was a little fresh feeling to say the least but it did clear my fuzzy head! We stopped below Batchworth lock and carried out our services again and then set off. We didn’t travel far, three locks and a couple of miles brought us to Croxley Green where we found a good straight mooring with Armco lining the bank and for the first time since we left Kidlington on the Oxford canal, we were able to use our piling pins with a little spring at the stern giving us a really secure mooring.
Croxley Green has a village feel to it with a tube station, a couple of pubs and a few local convenience stores. In reality it is a suburb of either Rickmansworth or Watford although judging by house prices it’s probably still classed as a part of London. We had a wander around and did a bit of shopping after we arrived on Sunday but spent most of the afternoon sitting on the front deck of Caxton in the sunshine.