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!
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.