Ice

Hertford UniondeeA night in Hackney Marshes turned out to be unbelievably quiet considering the long, long lines of people going about life along the towpath. It wasn’t much of a journey before turning off onto the Hertford Union Canal – also known as ‘Duckett’s’ after Sir George Duckett who tirelessly lobbied for construction of the 1.5 kms of water designed to bypass the torturous, tidal Bow Back Rivers of the Lea. The canal was a commercial failure and in less than 20 years after its openingHertford Union in 1830, it was unnavigable. All restored and working well today, the canal began with Old Ford Locks and soon had a feeling of time gone by which lasted to the join up with the Regent’s Canal.Lee Navigation

Having chopped out Limehouse and Mile End we emerged in Bethnal Green. The Battlebridge BasinVictoria Park moorings were heaving with boats, up through Haggerston, Hoxton and Islington where we disappeared into the gloom of Islington tunnel. Oblivious to the changes that have gone on all around, the tunnel stands just as it did when it was opened in 1818.pink sk

The various London Canal Museum mooringwharfs and basins and docks tucked in and around London are a constant source of intrigue to us so it seemed a great opportunity to take advantage of the London Canal Museum moorings at only £8 with water annd electric. Tucked down in a far corner where Ice Wharf Marina and Battlebridge Moorings meet, the visitor gap has proper old warehouse views. The Canal Museum is situated in Carlo St Pancreas StationGatti’s old ice warehouses – a Swiss entrepreneur whtimeo made his fortune importing ice from Norway in the 1860’s. The ice was shipped from Norway, travelled up the Thames, was offloaded onto barges in Regent’s Dock (Limehouse) and St Pancreasfinally up the canal and into the warehouse. He soon became the largest ice importer in London, making ice-cream affordable for the not quiBattlebridge Mooringste so rich, plus the option of domestic ice boxes thanks to his fleet of delivery carts..

A few minutes walk from the peace of Battlebridge Basin is the bustle of Kings Cross and beautiful St Pancreas Station that only just avoided demolition in the 1960’s architectural smash up.

Quite mad to think we could be in Paris in less time than it would take us to travel back to Hackney Marshes.

 

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Brown Balls

River StortThe Lee Valley Country Park at Cheshunt provided a great place to stop on many levels, there was even entertainment for The Murkster. But 3G was flaky. The moorings are popular and were pretty filled by the time we pulled our pins.Waltham Abbey

A short drop down a couple of locks landed us at a very handy spot for Home Bargains, Pets at Home, maggots via vending machine (?) and King Harold’s tomb. As with most kings who died in battle there are a certain amount ofmaggots conspiracy theories surrounding the arrow and the eye: any man who guarded his coast with such determination would have been buried by the sea shore; the tomb was a red herring… King Harold actually survive and lived out his days a hermit up in Chester…and many more. Anyhow, there were film crews filming what looked something like Time Team and so far as Waltham Abbey is concerned King Harold’s resting place is right there, under the high altar, with them.

One sack of brown balls is usually enough to send Murk bananas, so the arrival King Harold's tombof five left him slightly overwhelmed yet happy in the closest he’ll probably ever get to greedy labrador heaven.River Lea

After a water fill and rubbish dump, we were back on the move, down through one final lock before parking up for a night on one of the last stretches of rural Lea before London begins to open up all around. Perhaps not as pretty as the Stort butheaven then the Lea has had a hard life – in the first half of the 20th century it was the UK’s ‘silicon valley’, site of an electronics revolution with the invention of the diode in 1904. Thorn MK, Ferguson, Belling and Amstrad all set up factories along the brilliantly functional stretch of water.

Mild tonight and the ceiling has finally stopped dingle dangling with rain.

 


Towie

Parndon MillThe river continues to curl deeper into Essex and on towards Bishop’s Stortfort, but the rain continues to fall and the levels are rising. The pitter patter on the roof isn’t creating the cozy, comforting, snug feeling it usually does. The locks are neither here nor there, at 13.25ft they’re wider than single but not enough space for two boats meaning that rHarlowoping is a certainty as the paddles are pretty sharp. Opened in the 1780’s the canalised navigation was originally part of grander plans to link London to Kings Lynn, main cargos included: wheat, beans, peas, flour, coal and pigRiver Storteon dung.

On past Parndon Mill that’s been immaculately restored since the 1960’s and serves as a creative place for artists with all sorts of skills. With a long history dating back to a mention in the Domesday Book the mill has fallen victim to numerous fires, due to the combustible nature of the flour milled from the grain produced from the rich surrounding farm land.

…And then we came to Harlow.

HarlowMoored just by the station, with a waterpoint just a boat’s length back it wasn’t rural idylic but there were plus points. Plus the town is just a short walk away. Brain child of world-renowned architect Sir Frederick Gibberd, the town’s promoters promise, ‘Whether you’re planning a few hours, a few days or a lifetime here, Harlow won’t dHarlowisappoint.’  A New Town, built after World War II to ease overcrowding caused by bombing during the Blitz it boasts Britain’s first pedestrian precinct and ‘modern style’ residential tower block. With rail links to London Liverpool Street and proximity to the M11 it has secured itself as part of the London commuter belt. Like it or not, you can’t argue with anywhere that offers up Poundland, Wilkos, 99p Store AND Savers all one after the other.

It was set to be a quiet night since the trains have all but stopped but a car has rolled up, crammed full of passengers who seem to enjoy listening to the same thumping beats, over and over and over. Okay bring back the rain.


Chimney Squeezers

onto the River StortA stark contrast from the River Lea, the Stort twists and turns, is peppered with olRiver Stortd water mills and heads towards Essex at a fairly rapid rate. London feels (and is) quite a way away: the water is clear, bridges aren’t splashed in paint and a whole world of wildlife appears to be thriving. Ploughed fields ran alongside the river for most of the day.

Arriving at Roydon Lock it was brilliant to discover you can get just about anythingRoydon Lock you might need from an ice cream to your laundry done. The owners are unbelievably helpful and we left stocked with all boatyRiver Stort essentials… a word of warning followed our exit from the lock ‘Don’t stay up there for too long or you’ll never get back under the bridge, the levels are already up.’ Oooh okay, it’s nice up here but I’m not sure a whole winter River Stortat the top of the River Stort might be such a good idea. The rain can stay away please. Peculiarly Nicholson seems to have given up providing a map for our current section, so we’ll be reading the footnotes and imaginging what lies ahead.

Far from busy, but there are a few boats moving about and a good few windows casting orange glows across the water tonight.


Pearlies

Lee Navigation near LimehouseLeaving Limehouse Basin we turned right and out onto the Lee Navigation. Soon into the Lee Navigation near Limehouseland of the Pearly Kings and Queens, through Bow Locks and nearishly past the Bow Bells. The ‘to be true Cockney’ rule that you have to be born within earshot of Bow Bells means it was technically impossible toLee Navigation be a Cockney throughout certain times in history: in 1666, St Mary-le-bow was destroyed by the great fire;  in 1941 the bells were Lee Navigationdestroyed by blitz bombing and today causes a bit of a problem as the surrounding area is no longer residential although a few hospitals within ear shot of the bells do their bit to keep the Cockneys coming.

The Olympic Stadium reentrance to Olympic Stadiummains barricaded off to casual passers-by although a strict in/out trip tOlympic Stadiumhrough the park is do-able by prior arrangement. Judging by the stacks of boats bobbing about nearby, the heavily guarded loop of water would fill up in no time if the barricades came down.

Hackney was busy with lively, colourful conversions – galleries, cafes, bars, theatres, studios all packed with Sunday morning crowds. Life drained Hackneyaway as we headed out towards Tottenham, where the water feels side-lined compared to what went before. The banks continue to be chock full of boats and it’s pretty safe to consider any space is probably there due to shallow water rather than being up for grabs in terms of mooring. We ploughed on…

…and on.

Interesting stuff dwindled tTottenhamo the point of nothing other than long, straight stretches, flanked by pylons – swerving the islands of Lee Navigationweeds grappling for the prop was something to get excited about. Never one to give up, Nick kept flicking the Nicholson pages, convinced there was better to come, and there was, just above Rammey Marsh Lock, before the M25. A pretty stretch with trees and grass and STICKS which meant kindling and an easy fire.


Cocktail

Trafalgar SquareForget asking to share mooring rings, guarding your offside from moor alongsiders and expecting any sort of gap between your boat and the next, London is a whole different ball game – one continual loop of musical boats where everyone ropes up to anythinJared Odrickg that keeps them roughly secured to the towpath, it’s not that people aren’t nice, everyone gets along well enough, it’s just the way it is.

So, wRegent's Streetriting from a different patch of water from the one we’d expected to sleep on, we took advantage of this NFL Regent's Streetevening’s boat shuffle and hooked up to the nearest waterpoint before settling in for the NFL Regent's Streetnight – possibly.

A far cry from someSpeakers' Corner of the dark, deserted rural spots we’ve parked up in, here the sky isn’t ever truly black and the towpath never sleeps.

A couple of days discovering and re-discovering Portrait GalleryLondon we’ve come across all Speakers' Cornersorts: NFL on Regent’s Street (good, but the drains were oh so stinky), Covent Garden, a lively Speakers’ Corner (not one for you SFR), Kensington Gardens, Trafalgar Square, the National Portrait Gallery (loved that)…

Bill Nighy's back

Bill Nighy’s back

The house boats across tundergroundhe water and the enormous Georgian houses beyond make for a pretty good view, meanwhile they get to look a stack of us boaters; one big cocktail of people all getting something from the canal, somehow it seems to work.

 


Living Local

Despite far less boat travel tTower and poppieshan normal we seem to have been all over the place thisMillenium Bridge last week, thanks to legs and trains. Our mental web of London continues to gradually grow and some roads are magically beginning to link up, making a few convenient loops.

Unfortunate enoSouth Bankugh to take navigational advice from SFR, AJ and UM arrived at Paddington Little Venicehaving traipsed through most of London on foot – this wasn’t made any more enjoyable by a very large roll of rubber we’d asked them to bring along. It was lovely to catch up with the ‘la famille’ and with London dangling off tube stops it doesn’t take too long to get right back down to the Thames and onto the South Bank. The tower poppy display is spreading, apparently the appeal for volunteers to plant the ceramic flowers was overwhelming.Thames

‘Home’ in terms of family is now just a 30 minute Southern Rail ride away (when there hasn’t been a fatality on the line that is), which feels so local Grand Union towards Kensal Greencompared to Manchester or Birmingham. Swiss Family came up trumps with a great book to aid our London adventure and it was brilliant to see so many familiar faces in one place!

Having maxed out our stay in Paddington Basin we untied anKensal Green Sainbury'sd headed out for water in Little Venice followed by a mega shop at the mammoth Sainsbury’s at Kensal Green. Boats boats boats everywhere, every shape, every sort, pretty much anything goes. Little Venice is twinkling tonight, breasted up and not far along from our lovely neighbours Golden Hinde IIfrom Paddington Basin, so far so good – although the far end, beyond theLittle Venice designated visitor moorings has some pretty nasty bags of grot on the tow path and so much rubbish dumped in the water it’s actually impossible to moor.

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind last few days, but London life is beginning to shape up nicely.