Tuesday 29 August 2023


Today's Canals : Paddington Arm, Grand Union Main Line, Slough Arm

Today was scheduled to complete the re-tracing of our route back to High Line. Because of the car loading logistics at the boatyard we aimed to moor as close to them as possible just before reaching there. We will then be able to unload when we arrive and only move the boat down to its mooring (which is likely to be quite a walk again) as the last thing before leaving.

Not long after setting off we spotted this landmark - a pseudo lighthouse. With a business icon like that, one might expect quite a fashionable business.

Alas, no - it is a self storage unit in an anonymous shed!

From setting off we could see a thin film on the water surface and an oily smell. This gradually grew worse as we approached Southall where we stopped for the waterpoint - a load of washing is planned to reduce the amount of clothes needed to be taken home. You can just about make out the pollution is this photo with the edge of where we disturbed it.

This photo, taken as we were leaving (hoping that the pollution had not contaminated the tap water!) does include a lady who was a volunteer from a swan charity. She had come here to check on the swans. There were only two to be seen, looking a bit the worse for the oil, although normally rather more hang around here. She was preparing her equipment although on her own, we could be see how much she could do but she was in contact with her organisation and, hopefully, will also be reporting to the Environment Agency.

We commented on the former Southall Gas Works site on the way into London. In the past it has not been a pretty sight, with blank ply fencing blocking any view of the endless rows of parked cars. All now gone and at least the perimeter is now a good fence.

We missed taking a better view of the first stage of development (we were too busy checking on the arrival rate of planes into Heathrow after yesterday's  major disruption to Air Traffic Control).

However, passing under the new bridge carrying an access road, we did discover that the site is now called The Green Quarter. Looking at its web site it is clear that this will be a major development, mostly housing apartments, with some low rise houses.

We also were able to download a brochure from 2018 showing the design before any work had actually started. Eventually a large triangular plot will extend from near to Southall station to this bridge. Somewhat cheekily, they have included a circular tower that seems inspired (if that is the right description) by the now demolished gas holder.

At Bulls Bridge junction, the former canal building (whose purpose we cannot discover) has now been renovated and seems to be occupied even though it is surrounded by the most inhospitable industrial landscape!

Just around the corner a new large building is being constructed. As far as we can see, this is yet another very large data centre. The internet mat well be an invaluable part of our contemporary society but it does involve creating some very nondescript architecture. We think this unit replaces a former FedEx equally bland logistics centre.

A little later we watched as this leviathan made its way slowly towards us - under the next bridge it seemed to take up the whole width of the canal. As there were also some moored boats we pulled and waited for it to pass. Not sure what the main vessel is/was but it did look as if at one time it was converted from a barge to living space.

We moored outside Tesco in Yiewsley - Christine asked Mike to go and get a couple of small items whilst she finished off cleaning the floor throughout the boat. We also had lunch before moving on.

Later we turned onto the Slough Arm and slowly made our way down to moor just a short distance before the boatyard. We were relieved to find somewhere as most of the canal so far had dense and wide reed banks making it impossible for a boat to get anywhere near enough to moor, even with our new extra long gangplank. (Mike finished the plank with a hole at either end to accommodate a mooring spike which we have often seen used to prevent the plank being dumped into the water by a speeding boat coming by) In the end we found a reasonable piece of bank and so no plank was needed, rather to Christine's disappointment!

7.2 Miles - 0 Locks

Monday 28 August 2023


Today's Canal : Paddington Arm

Our stay in the centre of London was drawing to a close and we have two days to make our way back to High Line where we will take a mooring whilst we return home for a short while. (We may well explain why in a later blog!)

We were away in good time, first going yet again to the end of the basin to turn around. On the way out we passed one of the more recent entrances to Paddington Station and the nearest (so we thought) to the Circle Line platforms. On Thursday evening on our return from the prom we were disappointed to emerge from the Underground some distance away, towards the front of the station. We had forgotten that the Circle Line has two stations here, one for each direction! Soon, with the new Paddington Square complex, this will no longer be the most recent.

Soon we arrived at Brownings Pool and turned left to head west out of central London. We tried to get diesel from the fuel boat but, alas, he was in a hurry for an urgent appointment elsewhere.

We called again at the service block but another boat had just started a long fill with water so we only used the disposal facilities (water was not a priority) We have also discovered a bit more of the history of this toll stop - see here. (scroll down some way)

When we set off again, we immediately passed this boat but when checking its history we became rather confused. For a long time we have understood this to be the boat that was Richard Branson's home in early married life and from where he is said to have run his burgeoning empire in its early days. However the first Google result we looked at talked about it being rented out and looking very different (the lack of the large room is obvious) We tried other sites and the majority opinion is clearly on the side of our memory! But it has had a considerable makeover since we last saw it when it looked very much more in keeping with a long but impoverished entrepreneur. As far as we can see, it is now rented out although Branson son used it for a while.

This weekend is the famous Notting Hill Carnival - one of the local cc'ing boaters said that she thought that this is why at the moment there are even fewer free spots to assist them move every 14 days. The route comes closest to the canal just by the WestWay flyover and for a while we could see signs of the event. Here, somewhat obscured by moored boats is one site with lots of stalls no doubt selling street food and anything else that might be attractive to the average carnival goer! (Alas, we have little idea . . .)

All needs are met - here a small block of temporary toilets, perhaps the idea of another local keen to make a few pounds from an event aid to attract 2 million visitors. We could not get it into the same photo but a sign said "£3 toilet - £5 Queue jump" Whatever happened to spending a penny?

Every so often we could see small groups of police waiting to be called in the event of an incident but it seemed too early for much to go wrong. As we went under one footbridge a long line of officers were crossing over and they certainly seemed in in festive mood and waved cheerily.

We continued on further out of the city centre but the packed lines of moored boats meant that we could not make a great speed but gradually we felt that all was not well with the prop. When we started to have more room to up the throttle we knew that a trip down the weed hatch was necessary. This produced a modest haul, some weed but the more significant two items were part of a builder's bag (or something of similar tough material) and a metre of rope. Fortunately neither had become wrapped to tightly around the prop or shaft and came out comparatively easily. The difference was apparent immediately once we set off again.

Shortly before we crossed the North Circular we passed this older building, oddly placed amongst a lot of modern mainly industrial or commercial development. We have not yet been able to confirm what its original purpose was but it looks like  house for a canal employee, perhaps a senior lengthsman. There is no reason for there to be a toll house here but it can be seen on old OS maps, and on the 1895 edition it is labelled simply Canal Cottage. By 1945 even that information is missing.

We have not made any entries recently into our Unusual Boats Gallery. Of course we have seen plenty of re-purposed lifeboats but they are generally bright orange. Whether this one was originally that colour we cannot tell but its current lime green either floats your boat or sinks it!

Talking of re-purposing - it is good that this late season family of cygnets and their parents have made good use of the otherwise derelict burnt out shell.

Close to the edge of Horsenden Hill is Ballot Box Bridge. Some time ago we had read that it came from the fact that a ballot box specially for boaters was stationed here during elections. Thanks to a short note at the bottom of this web page, we see that the ballot box was located at a nearby pub which consequently gained the same name. Although that pub was demolished it was replaced a little way north of the original, kept the same name and is still there today.

We stopped at High Line, Northolt for fuel but alas they only open three days a week and Monday is not one of them!

Just after passing under Western Way is this footbridge. As it looks now it hardly merits a note but when we came last it was still a wooden structure. Over time we had seen it vandalised and then even the new one was badly damaged by a fire. It seems that a steel replacement was the obvious remedy!

Willowtree Marina is normally open every day for wharfside services but as Christine started to call the number on the large signs to ask for diesel we spotted a small notice saying that they were to be closed on Bank Holiday Monday - today! We think we can manage til we reach Iver if not then tomorrow's blog will be about how we bow hauled for miles!

Accordingly we opted to moor soon after, close to a highly contested local cricket match on the adjacent playing fields. Mike later took a walk around the field where he quickly realised that he was very much the odd one out!

The commentary over the PA was not in English - so  not much help to us. It was not easy to find anyone who could answer questions but we think that it is an eight team tournament of very limited overs. Certainly there was a very quick turnover of batsmen but as there was no scoreboard Mike could not work out the state of the match.

A lot of cups to be given out at the end.

11.7 Miles - 0 Locks

Sunday 27 August 2023

Sunday In Paddington

Paddington Basin

The GoBoats team were tidying up their hire craft in readiness for the imminent arrival of the first clients. They were almost all booked out for every part of the day, well into the evening.

The Rolling Bridge, opposite our mooring looked strangely quiet, but it is 'early' morning on a Sunday in a Bank Holiday! It has this name because it has a mechanism to rollup the sections to allow access in to the tiny basin beyond (why?) We have once seen it being routinely tested but not this time.

We had decided to go to St John's Hyde Park church for the morning service. About 15 minutes walk away. On the way we noticed this ornate lamp post.

The parish covers not only the Merchant Square development but also a more diverse area known as Hyde Park Estate. Although Wikipedia describes it as an affluent area with a number of embassies, it also includes high density blocks of flats in amongst Victorian villas. The flats were built on land that was badly damaged by wartime air raids.

The area was originally owned by the Bishop of London but now transferred to the Church Commissioners who continued to own and manage it. In the early 19C it was developed as demand for housing in London grew rapidly. The church was opened in 1832 and since then there have been various othe churches in the area which no longer exist. St John's is now the parish church. It was intended to have a capacity for a congregation of 2200, with 700 free pews and the rest rented.

In the aftermath or the Second World War, the trend was for people to move out of the city centre to the suburbs and the church and parish fell on hard times. The building became neglected but in the 1960s was properly renovated and more recently its facilities were brought up to date once again.

It has a strong musical tradition, today employing eight choral scholars although this week they were still on their annual summer holidays but will return next Sunday. This emphasis on music was still evident in today's liturgy albeit led by a single tenor cantor and the organist.

The sermon by the vicar was quite a strident look at the implications for leadership in a modern, often secularised, society. He drew messages from the epistle reading that would make uncomfortable listening for many today in institutional leadership roles.

Afterwards we walked back to the boat and enjoyed a very lazy afternoon, before having our conventional roast dinner.

0 Miles - 0 Locks

Saturday 26 August 2023

Back to Paddington - Again

Today's Canals : Regents Canal, Paddington Arm

The mooring outside the Canal Museum is only until 10 am so we were away by that time. We could have stayed a little longer if we wanted to visit the museum but in the end we did not think that it was worth it. In any case, the time to get back to Paddington just fitted with the earliest arrival time of 1 pm.

Battlebridge Basin has had a a varied history as well as several names. It was constructed in 1820 and the building that now forms the Canal Museum was once used to support the trade of importiong ice from Norway. Until the invention of freezing machinery a ready supply of ice was important, especially to up market caterers. Inside the building is a large pit that was used to store theice once delivered from the docks. At one time, many large houses in the UK had an ice house which was filled each winter with snow which was tightly compacted. Food, especially meats, was kept on top of what was, in effect, a large block of ice. This gradually meted but was expected to last from one winter to the next, when it was re-filled.

By 1970, the basin was all but derelict and destined to be filled in and used for building projects. However, a group that became named The London Narrow Boat Company, campaigned for the basin to be retained and they leased the end section for permanent moorings for their members. They did much to ensure that the basin was properly dredged and tidied up.

One one corner of the entrance is a development called Kings Place (on the right in the picture) which includes an arts centre and auditorium as well as being the head office of The Guardian.

Close by, on the main canal, is a step of steps, created in a development as a public space. It has been improved since we last saw it and today was host to a dance-exercise class.at St Pancras Lock here again is the Gas Holder development. Since our blog yesterday, Lady C from the Canal World Forum has been in touch to correct a comment we made. The gas works were not on this location, which was at one time part of the huge coal depot, but on the opposite side. They were re-erected here in 2013 after their restoration. The gas works closed in 2000. More about this history here. The land that was once the gas works has largely been taken over by expanded rail lines into St Pancras.

Close to the lock is the above structure, a Victorian Water Tower, built to provide water to power the nearby steam locomotives running in and out of Kings Cross. Again, it is not in its original location.

Land in London may be scarcer but it is often repurposed. Here, one building is being  pulverised to be replaced, no doubt, by something much grander and more profitable! the demolition team are trying to minimise the effect of the dust that they create by spraying the site with a mist of water.

The Elm Village housing project opened in 1983 and was considered a major new evolution in the way in which 'affordable' housing was to be provided, breaking down the previous harsh division between private and publicly funded housing. A report at the time sets out the aims of the project and how it was realised.

Yesterday we poked fun, ever so gently, at the architectural style of one development but directly opposite is this much older terrace. A contrast, but that is the delight of urban development over a longer term.

We also mentioned yesterday how the food and drink provision alongside the three Camden Locks has expended - this is between the two lower locks, Hawley Wharf.

At the middle lock this chap asked (or being French a lady asked for him!) if he could help. Not just little ones that take delight in working a lock that they have not done before. By the time we had worked through there was quite a crowd and we were able to arrange that he had a good round of applause!

At the top lock we had the help of a volunteer - just as well as Mike, having walked up from the previous lock, had a struggle to discover the way across to the far side, the safety barriers to keep crowds from falling in did almost too good a job! By the time Mike made it over (pushing through dense crowds around the Camden Market basin) the lock keeper had just about brough Christine + boat up to the top level..

Lots of trip boats of various sizes - you can even have a serenade (although we could not hear what the lass was singing)

From the top of the locks there is no towpath mooring for some distance - but these two found a way! The places that some people find just to live in London is quite astounding (and worrying)

We took a closer look at the Snowden Aviary and did manage to spot a couple of the colobus monkeys but too far away to capture on photo. You can see, however, the place where visitors inside the netting can watch them close up.

The next section of the Regent's Canal has numerous bridges of many different purposes. At times it seems as if there is almost nothing in between. The Lisson Grove footbridge is currently closed as the sign indicates. Pity there is no spell checker for such signage! (Not that we are in any position to comment . . . )

For some reason this view of the Western end of the Maida Hill Tunnel always seems intriguing.

The section of the canal through Little Venice before is always lined by boats on both sides, double bankled to one side. So it was strange to see this behemoth advancing towards us. Fortunately we manged to find a spot where there was only a single set of boats of both sides so we could pull in to let it pass. No thanks! It was, of course, yet another trip boat, this one with food being served.

After passing through Brownings Pool we made our way down the final section the moorings in Paddington Basin. This is another of the restaurant boats - fortunately they don't do trips!

Christine spotted this cormorant on the first mooring pontoon. Mike nearly missed it (concentrating on avoiding possible GoBoats!) but was instructed to take a photo.

Our mooring awaited, immediately opposite where we moored before - perhaps even quieter at night.

After lunch Mike had a few maintenance tasks to complete. The first he had attempted yesterday but failed through lack of time. A hing on one of the under bunk doors in the front cabin had come unscrewed. It was very awkward to reach and it needed time to be able to remove the bunk top to gain better access. Once that was done it was reasonably straightforward.

We wanted to improve the wooden gang plank (aka scaffolding board) that we bought in an emergency in Newbury a few weeks ago. We have decided, at least for now, to keep it for those usually rare occasions when the aluminium rescue ladder/gang plank cannot reach. However, when wet it is a bit slippery and we also wanted to be able to keep most of it just off the roof surface. So we brought with us this time, materials to add cross pieces to resolve both issues - they had to be cut to size and screwed on. After doing the first few, a really heavy thunderstorm arrived and work had to be suspended for a while. There was not enough time to do the final task, tightening screws on another cupboard door so that will have to await another break in cruising (or another heavy rain storm)

Meanwhile Christine went to the nearby tesco for a few items but found the shelves very inadequate. Not even carrots. So she had to go around to the other side of the basin back to the M and S Food shop, which is surprising well stocked but not as close from where we are moored this time.

4.1 Miles - 4 Locks