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.