The 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 roping 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 pigeon 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.
Moored 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 disappoint.’ 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.
Time was up in Little Venice so we detangled our ropes from our neighbour’s, shuffled boats about, then stopped at the tap for gallons and gallons of water. The washing machine was going flat-out for most of the day. Under Cafe Laville where Nick sent a few lattes, flat whites and green teas flying by testing the horn. Amazing how small London canal world soon squashes – turning down into Camden we passed our neighbour midway through a trip boat commentary. A top lock hanger joined us – as did a volunteer, which was a bonus.
Camden was crazy busy, the lock gates double as benches, with some long-term sitters no longer recognising them as integral to the working of the lock. It took a while, but we emerged the otherside and began the run along to Kings Cross. The Islington moorings are few in number and strictly single moor but they’re very nice and have a waterpoint close by.
Bethnal Green wound round, and back, and in on itself, Victoria Park was packed with all sorts of boats and boaters – just about anything can pop out of a hatch along there. The light had begun to fade as we dropped through the final lock and into Limehouse – deserted compared to the last time we were here, we pitched up, the only boat hugging the concrete wall last night.
When the rain finally cleared and the sun broke through we walked down through Canary Wharf and beautiful West India Docks before ending up in Millwall – aside from a walk along the Thames the main purpose of the trip was to buy fire lighters…it’s not easy in London. Don’t Londoners have fires?
Back at Limehouse we moved over to the super sucky pump-out machine that managed to get right down to our green light. Yay. Fire lit, shit pumped and chicken in – even city life can stay relatively simple.
Boris bikes definitely seem the way to go as at the moment we are walking our legs off. It was another sunny morning so we set off in the direction of Little Venice and ended up in Portobello Market. The market dates back to 1870 when traders gathered to sell their horses. Busy streets, splashes of colourful houses, out of the ordinary things for sale and an energetic atmosphere made for an interesting wander. A long list of films, novels and songs have sprung from various doors and shops – not least Paddington Bear who enjoyed elevenses on Portobello Road with Mr Gruber each day – resulting in clusters of flashing cameras in various locations.
Legs hanging, we opened the door to a fresh and fully fueled Murk, eager for a walk, so after a very quick lunch we were back out – off through Bayswater and down to Hyde Park.
The moorings have busied up as the weekend has gone on, tonight was especially busy with boats circling in search of a space.
It began as a tiny thought yesterday afternoon, it grew during Bake Off and was squished again after reading the ‘London Tideway Guide: Downstream Addition’ – at 24 pages it’s a whopping eight pages longer than it’s upstream counterpart and with lines like ‘It is very important to appreciate that making the passage downstream to Limehouse from Teddington or from Brentford is considerably more challenging that coming the other way,’ we decided it was no go. So we went to bed, happy with the knowledge that just a short trip down to Brentford lay ahead.
But the sun was shining this morning, and the water was calm, and the tides were perfect. There was no way we could go though as we hadn’t given Limehouse 24hrs notice – so emphasising our lack of booking we felt safe to ask the Teddington lock keeper, expecting flat no, meaning we could at least tell ourselves we tried. We weren’t expecting him to say ‘It should be fine, phone Limehouse,’ and we really weren’t expecting Limehouse to say come on down…
Waiting with a nervous hireboater on his way to Brentford wasn’t the most calming start, then out of the blue another narrowboat sped along to Teddington Lock, he was going all the way too. Yay. Out into slack water nothing seemed any different to the non-tidal section above Teddington, in fact with so little rain and a low tide the river was way calmer than our previous Brentford journey. As the hireboater veered away into the safety of The Grand Union Canal we ploughed on, the tide was beginning to pick up and it was no struggle to keep good time. Miles and miles passed, the water grew wide, the Boat Race finish came and went, the Boat Race start came and went, Harrods Depositary, Battersea Power Station – other than the odd City Cruiser the water seemed quite quiet. Then London came in waves, thick and fast. The traffic busied up and the landmarks were hard to keep up with in between negotiating the best angle to direct the boat in order to tackle the ever-increasing rolls of wake. Suddenly London was all around, we were a teeny-weeny boat muddled in a big city snow globe – even a crazy Dazzle ship used extensively in WW1 added to the mad whirl wind.
The grand finale came in the form of Tower Bridge – built from 31 million bricks, two million rivets and 22,000 litres of paint that all opens on average three times a day…no need for our passage, we just about squeezed under, before radioing our position into Limehouse.
As the sights decreased the reality of the turn into Limehouse Basin hit home. The main rule being: travel on to get a good view round the bend before attempting to turn to the wrong side of the river…the Clippers come quickly, which they did, two of them just as we wanted to turn. Eeek. So we waited, the boat pitched and rolled in their wake. In reality there’s not an awful lot of time that Clippers aren’t zooming at you from one direction or the other, flashing their ‘making life easier’ sign writing – really? We bit the bullet and turned. Willing the boat to come round the waters were all over the place – people talk of ‘back-Eddys’ – perhaps that’s what it was, but one things for sure it’s our trickiest lock turn to date, smashing Selby out the park. Safe and sound we moved into the lock and up into a gloriously sunny Limehouse Basin.
An adrenalin fuelled start to London for all three of us, having had an axe fall on him during the turn Murk was pleased to stretch his legs – which he did in Canary Wharf as though he owned the place.
A misty start meant Cliveden House had vanished this morning. The sky began to clear as we travelled down river passing some very elaborate homes, it seems a flag pole and boat are a must along this stretch. Not overly busy with private boats today although plenty of French Brothers river trips were running. No horse racing to gawk at as we drifted by, just long long lines of sprinklers watering the course. Rounding the bend the castle began to come into view, with mooring available on either side and the island we opted for a night on Eton College Fields – Windsor is just 100m across the water.
The city was bustling as usual, still odd to see hotels we’ve stayed in and car parks we used before sussing out this alternative way to see England. After a walk through the shops and up to the castle we made a very quick trip to Waitrose.
Up on the roof and moored right on the flight path Nick lost himself in ‘Planefinder’, point it at a plane and you get all sorts of interesting information down to details like how many seats are on each flight. It’s along the same lines as his M6 traffic reports – interesting for the first few minutes….
Still reeling from getting caught for our first mooring fee this trip, enjoying the evening sunshine there was no escaping the ticket man marching along the riverbank. The further downstream we’ve travelled the higher we’ve climbed in terms of ‘neighbours’, not totally next door but we’re claiming Windsor Castle for tonight, Liz and Phil even helped with our tv tuning thanks to a surprising aerial poking out from a turret.