Working ones way north up the Grand Union Canal from London involves a lot of locks. After a lazy day yesterday getting to the north-western side of Watford, today we were anticipating tackling 23 locks along the 11-mile stretch to Berkhamsted, where a civilized shopping opportunity (i.e. Waitrose) awaited us.
The morning began cool and overcast but Franco and Francine soon warmed by walking between and operating the first flurry of locks scattered at approximately half-mile intervals along the first five miles.
Interestingly, on leaving Watford we stopped hearing the tell-tale squeaking of any Ring-necked Parakeets. I had been fascinated to see just how far their range had expanded towards us and now I think I have my answer. Currently, my old home town of Watford in Hertfordshire seems to be as far as as they have spread in our direction towards Bedfordshire.
Progress was smooth given little in the way of other traffic and was particularly aided by several locks bearing CRT instructions to leave them empty, meaning they were already set in our favour. This seems like another good reason for doing the Thames Ring in the anticlockwise direction, the first being to travel with the flow of the River Thames.
As the day continued, so did the locks. The clouds, however, dissipated and the sun began shining on an ever warmer lock team of Franco and Francine. 24°C was anticipated and, combined with the physical labour, appeared to get too much for some.
With a few locks being spaced a little further apart so, our legs and arms beginning to notice their hitherto almost constant effort, Francine and I began hopping on and off Juniper to ride between our physical workouts. When more locks were grouped into flights, we reverted to walking between those. It’s surprising what you see alongside an English canal on foot – the parrots are nothing.
Skirting Hemel Hempstead the canal runs through Apsley Mills where we came across what I think is a fine example of canal-side redevelopment. On one side is a marina overlooked by attractive housing whilst on the other side was an delightfully presented Fuller’s bar/restaurant with very appealing canal-side external seating. What a welcoming atmosphere in which to while away an hour or two. Take note, Brackley.
After locking our way up beyond Apsley Mills, we needed our regular water stop and were bemused to find a CRT working barge moored so as to partially obstruct the water point. Brilliant! Capt. Virginia juggled Juniper’s bow in and rafted her stern off the working barge in such a way that Juniper’s water hose would just about reach when fully extended. Eureka, all was revealed! The very last six inches of the hose, until now hidden within the reel, was twisted and flattened. Small wonder that all our water stops had been taking getting on for an hour. We corrected it. What a shame we would have but one day left to benefit from our discovery.
With yet more locks in the offing we, of course, did not while away an hour or two but kept on to Berkhamsted (where, incidentally, we passed another similarly attractive and welcoming-looking canal-side Fuller’s bar/restaurant – a theme emerges). Finally, we ended our 11-mile trip to Berkhamsted having walked about 7 miles of it. Once in Berkhamsted, we found a very pleasant free mooring spot beside the park, though the mooring/no mooring sign had us confused until a man painting his double-wide barge cleared things up for us. Comfortable that we were parking legally, Juniper was securely moored and, with a weary Franco voting with his beer glass and dipping out, a raiding party was despatched to Waitrose to see what booty could be traded from the natives.
Our Berkhamsted mooring spot meant we stopped just short of what would have been our 23rd lock of the day. That means we’ll have an extra lock to do tomorrow to get to the Grove Lock in Leighton Buzzard. So, a day of just 25 more locks tomorrow, then. Arghhh!