Rikki Don’t Lose that Number

17 to 23 Jun- heading towards Hemel Hempstead and Rickmansworth

We stayed put on Monday and of course – as soon as the weekend was over – it was a beautiful day. I took the opportunity to do some washing, which dried beautifully. I also did some more cutting-out for the Xmas bags project. It’s the bit I least enjoy. Mainly because you have to decide what variety of sizes you want to make from a finite size of material. It’s a bit of a chore! You’ll no doubt be relieved to know, by the way, that Waitrose had re-stocked with strawberries, thus all’s well with the world.

We set off after work – a delightful evening – down through the attractive little town of Berkhamsted. The High Street is well served for shops – butcher’s, bakers, restaurants, cafes and the usual run of charity shops, etc. And at around 30 minutes by train to London Euston, it’s prime commuterville.

The route down through the locks takes you past 3 pubs, one after another almost, and all well patronised on this lovely sunny evening. By the time we got to the third Paul was up for a pint – and he got it, in his trusty takeaway tankard – Adnams Lighthouse, which I rather liked too. We passed a genuine Canadian Totem Pole – commissioned by a local as a thank you to Vancouver Island locals for saving his brother, it was erected in 1968 and is 9m tall.

It’s a quite heavily locked section of the GU and after we’d done three locks we decided to pull over just above the next lock as they just keep coming! Berko, the canal and railway go hand in hand and it’s closer than we’d like for tonight’s mooring, but it would have to do.

Well – you live and learn. We naively thought we’d be OK with the train racket but it’s an incredibly busy line. It was pretty quiet between 1 am and 5:30 am but we got woken early and found it hard to get back to sleep. Unfortunately – as is so often the case – the trainline accompanies us pretty much all the way to Watford. Matchsticks anyone?

We stayed all day there too – until Paul finished work – we planned to do three more locks and hopefully distance ourselves from the railway a little for that night’s mooring. And that’s exactly what we did. It was another lovely evening – warm, sunny and very little wind for once. Rather delightful.

The last lock we did was a bit stinky and I wasn’t at all surprised to see it was called Sewer Lock. After the lock. finding a place to moor looked a bit challenging as there were already lots of moored boats. It’s always a bit of a risk, cruising in the evening, as people who are untrammelled by the demands of work tend to have cruised and pulled over by late afternoon. We found one spot but it was a bit dingy (no solar). I waited there while Paul went ahead to scout for any better spots. He rang to say he’d found somewhere and I set off to meet him.

It was a very nice spot and I’m surprised no-one else had taken it. There was still some noise from the train line but at an ignorable level. We both slept like babes anyway!

I’m just going to have a quiet little rant now – with the emphasis on quiet. We were sitting eating our brekker, when we heard a boat approaching. But it was not his engine we could hear. It was his RADIO – full blare, tuned to an annoying commercial station with over excited presenters, shouty ads and dire MOR music. And he left it on while he went to attend to the lock, so we got to hear it for some time, whether we wanted to or not. Feel free to have your radio on if you must, but at a level only you can hear, or use headphones. I have no wish for my peace and quiet to be shattered by your dodgy listening habits, squire. I prefer bird song and – yes – even train noise!. Thank you.

Tonight’s hop would takes us down to Winkwell and that infamous bridge and as far as we know the bridge is currently in fine fettle. But first there were 3 locks to do. It’s a tad annoying that – when locking down – all the locks are against you for reasons of leakage. You are requested to leave the locks empty and a paddle up. So the first thing you have to do is drop the paddle on the bottom gates and only then can you come back and start filling the lock so that you can descend .

The bridge was in good order and we had the extreme ultra power of stopping the traffic during rush hour. Double points! We started looking for places to moor, but they were either very close to the railway line (we’re not doing that again!) or shallow. We went through another couple of locks and finally found somewhere – a little shaded for our liking and a little too urban – but i guess we are going to have to get used to that on our route this year.

Considering it was on the edge of Hemel Hempstead, we had an amazingly quiet night. We had to move at lunchtime because Paul had a meeting with the US early evening. It was four locks to our destination – I cruised the distance and then called Paul out to operate the locks before he went back to work. We were aiming for Apsley Waterside and Marina for a free night’s mooring, using our “Explore 100 benefit. It was also a good spot for a quick grocery delivery on Friday.

It’s a pretty well-specced Marina, with all the usual things you’d expect from a Marina plus a Premier convenience store, a tapas bar and an Italian and a coffee bar. The approach is through a locked bridge so Paul nipped off to open that while I brought the boat in through the narrow mouth and then immediately left onto our pontoon. Needless to say there was a fair audience, so I felt a bit under pressure, but it all went perfectly. Go me! A chap watching told Paul I’d done very well, which was nice to hear.

We had a naughty and delicious takeaway from Taco Bell that evening, which was the warmest of the year so far – although we still have our spring bedding on. On Friday morning, the coffee van – LIttle Union Coffee and Dough – was open. It’s based an on a traditional Piaggio Apé  – the classic light commercial vehicle, beloved of Italian farmers. Very cute. We decided we’;d take advantage of it and had a delicious coffee and a Pain au Chocolat – possibly the best I’ve had outside of France! Light and with great lamination. Well done Little Union! I note that they have recently opened a cafe nearby too. We wish them every success. Apsley Marina is lucky to have them so close!

We took delivery of our groceries and were off. We’d had a great stay at Apsley, who were very welcoming. It’s a great stop. And Paul was particularly chuffed to have had the opportunity to use his 32 amp mains cable without the customary 16 amp adapter – we got a very fast charge.

It was a lovely sunny morning as we set off – although it looked initially as though cloud might be bubbling up. Luckily the clouds receded and we had a lovely cruise, down half a dozen locks, through Nash Mills and Kings Langley. It really felt like summer had arrived.

We are travelling along the River Gade valley, which runs cheek by jowl with the Grand Union. The Gade was used to power the paper mills that the area is renowned for. There were mills in Hemel (Apsley), Nash Mills, and also in Croxley Green – mostly owned initially by John Dickinson, famous for inventing a new kind of paper for cannon cartridges. This type of paper did not smoulder after the cannon had fired, which had previously been the cause of numerous accidental explosions. It was said to have been of great value in the battles against Napoleon, increasing the British firing rate while simultaneously reducing premature firing accidents

Kings Langley was the UK home of Ovaltine and the art deco style Ovaltine factory is a well-known local landmark. Production ceased in 2002 and the factory has now been redeveloped as luxury flats. You can see a picture of the old factory here . The (2 bed) apartments change hands for upwards of £260K. Ovaltine was first marketed as a  as an energy booster. Water or milk could be added, and it could be consumed hot or cold. Later, advertising would highlight Ovaltine’s ability to relax the drinker as it was caffeine-free, making it the perfect bedtime drink. The canal brought the coal to run the boilers – dodor to from colliery to factory.

It was pretty hot as we cruised and we finally decided to pull over late afternoon. We ended up just inside the M25 – over 70 miles and a similar number of locks from Braunston – just after Lock 71. There was a little rail noise and some road roar but nothing too bothersome and we actually had a really good night’s sleep, waking just before 9am.

After breakfast, we set off and, just as we arrived at the first pair of locks the heavens opened. As I went down in the lock, I noticed that someone was watching me – probably thinking why on earth are they doing that?! And it’s good point. Luckily it was as short as it was sharp – but just long enough to give us all a good wetting.

We made our way down through Cassiobury Park – one of Watford’s hidden gems and stopped for lunch in a lovely spot. It was so delightful – just birdsong – that we decided to stay for the rest of the day and night. The park covers 190 acres (70 ha) and is part of the former estate of the Earls of Essex, who once had a very fine house here. Sadly, even the wealth of an América heiress could not save the estate, which was chopped up and sold off piecemeal – this part to Watford Council in 1909. The house was demolished in 1927, sadly.

Cassiobury House

As we cruise, we constantly monitor how much current we are using, and especially so of late, with our new propellor. We are pretty pleased with the new performance figures and have found it more responsive to stopping and starting and also in energy consumption. We noticed today, when we were cruising on solar alone, that we were getting a speed of between 2 and 2.5 mph and consuming just 17.8 amps. Previously to attain this speed – which is our preferred cruising velocity – we would have been using between 25 and 30 amps. Note also that the RPM is 400 in today’s picture and in the comparison 800 – this is the other bonus. We thought our last prop gave us silent cruising, but the new prop takes silence to a new level. .Obviously, the figures are affected by depth of water and weed etc but we are happy with what we see and hear.

I was sad to leave our delightful Cassiobury mooring. I get the feeling that moorings like that will be like hen’s teeth, the closer we get to London. But it was a delightful day – hot and sunny – and we set off in high spirits. Those high spirits were quickly tempered by the first lock, on which the ground paddles were out of action on both sides. This meant having to fill the lock with just the gate paddles. It took about 20 minutes and even when full, Paul had to enlist a passer-by to help him open the gates.

It was hard to be tetchy at such a beautiful spot, though and our good spirits were soon restored by a frosty iced tea and the continuing beauty of the stretch of canal. Our proximity to London was highlighted by seeing a tube train going over a bridge ahead of us. The Metropolitan line terminates on a short two stop branch line at Watford, while the main line goes on to Amersham, via Rickmansworth.

The canal skirts round the edge of Rickmansworth – known by the old boaters as “Ricky” – and we picked up a single hander with a malfunctioning gearbox, pulling his rainbow coloured boat through the locks with a rope at one point, which clipped our wings somewhat. But he soon dropped off and we eventually found ourselves in Batchworth, where we stopped to do services and have lunch. There was a large sign inviting us to use the 14-day visitor moorings. All I can say is, Batchworth had a lot of visitors, all looking as if they had stayed at least 14 days. Ah well. We’ll find somewhere.

At Batchworth Lock, by the way, , you can see the lock which led to the Rickmansworth Arm aka Salter’s Cut – built specifically to serve a brewery owned by Stephen Salter in 1804.

The area is now peppered with ex-gravel pits which run close to the canal. They were known as ‘wet pits’ because, following extraction of gravel, they filled with water. As time passed they formed into lakes and have become a popular fishing/sailing/recreational area as well as developing into nature reserves. The Rickmansworth lakes are known as Batchworth, Bury and Stockers and collectively as The Aquadrome. We are starting to see some weird and wonderful and large craft now. – including one with a VW Touran welded on the roof – I kid you not!

We passed though Stockers Lock – our final lock of the week and found a very nice quiet spot overlooking farmland and Stockers Farm. The farm – which dates back to 1700 – has featured in quite few movies, including Bridget Jones -The Edge of Reason! And thus another week – our 6th – was over.

Looking ahead – we are now only 23 minutes by train to London Euston. Of course it will take a lot longer by boat and we won’t be going there direct as we have guests – Nick & Sarah Holmes – this weekend. We’ll be heading for Slough initially and then – well come back next week and find out!.

17th to 23rd Jun1431

2 Replies to “Rikki Don’t Lose that Number”

  1. Oh that was a trip down memory lane for me, I lived in North Watford for a few years and went to college at Cassiobury Park. I worked at Rolls Royce Aero Engine in Leavesden, so I know King’s Langley and Abbots Langley.
    It sounds like you are having a fantastic journey on the Grand Union. Have fun, I look forward to the next episode of your travel blog xx

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