At the risk of repeating myself, entry onto the tidal part of the River Thames through Teddington Locks and subsequent exit from the tidal part of the River Thames onto the Grand Union Canal through Thames lock at Brentford is critically time dependent. With an unusual stroke of amazingly good fortune, with no forward planning whatsoever, we arrived at Teddington locks in readiness for today’s morning high tide at 8:24 AM. Timing really couldn’t have been any better.
What we didn’t know was how our transit was to be controlled so, after another miserable night sniffling, coughing and disturbing Francine, I wandered down to the lockkeepers at 7:30 AM (unlike the rest of the locks on the River Thames, Teddington locks are manned 24 hours a day) to see what the form was. I received a completely unexpected and rather unwelcome response.
The lockkeeper that that was due to have been at Thames Lock (Brentford) had phoned in sick. Thames Lock was currently not manned. The lockkeeper at Teddington had put in a call to the Port of London Authority and was waiting to hear back as to whether or not a replacement lockkeeper could be found in time – in time for the tide, that is. If no healthy lockkeeper could be found, we would not be allowed through Teddington Locks because we would be unable to escape onto the Grand Union Canal; we would have to wait another day. (The tide a day later would be about an hour later: ~9:30 AM). I was to return to the boat and the Teddington lockkeeper would wave us through if the problem at Thames Lock got resolved.
Marvellous! I couldn’t believe that any process so critical could be so fragile. I relayed the situation to a couple in another narrow boat waiting behind Juniper. We were lucky in that we now thought that we had a few days in hand and could afford to waste a day. The couple in the narrowboat waiting behind us could not.
At least if we did get stuck for a day, Richmond Park was a mere 1¾ miles away so Francine and I would have an unusually pleasurable distraction. Maybe we’d even be able to snag a photo of the delightful Rose-ringed Parakeets that we’d dubbed “squeaky toys” after the sound of their call which we’d been hearing since our stay at Windsor.
There had been another issue: apparently the police had closed the Hanwell flight of locks (6?) near the bottom of the Grand Union Canal but the lockkeeper thought that the closure was now over and that the queue of boats thus caused had cleared. The closure had been to enable a search for a young girl who had disappeared. Being out of touch with the news for a couple of weeks, we’d remained blissfully unaware.
After a modest wait, our nail-biting tension was released by a wave to proceed from the Teddington lockkeeper; it seemed that Thames lock was again operational and awaiting our arrival. Phew! A flotilla of three narrowboats went through Teddington Old Lock and entered the tidal Thames.
Capt. Virginia put the pedal to the metal and screamed off, in barge terms, at a blistering 6 mph ahead of the other two. He overtook a Guillemot, too, which I’d not seen before and which I thought was a little out of place. [Ed: Capt. Virginia was probably getting his own back for being overtaken by a duck at the start of the trip.]
We’d asked the Teddington lockkeeper if the entrance to the Grand Union Canal was obvious and were told it was not. Helpful! “Keep an eye out for a steel sculpture”, we were told. A little over an hour later we spotted a possibility. Being a sharp left turn of >90°, the entrance could be missed. Getting it right was not helped by the fact that our map seemed to show a marina before the canal whereas the marina entrance is actually after the canal. I wonder how that happened? With the now ebbing tide affecting Juniper a little, we made a hand-brake turn into the acute entrance to the Grand Union Canal. Coming from the other direction, there is a more visible sign declaring this to be the Grand union but signage from our direction is scant, to say the least. A pleasant young replacement lockkeeper helped us through the Thames lock onto the GUC proper.
After another powered lock operated by Franco, we were back to our 30+ minute water stops, this one hindered by another narrow boat that had used the service area as an overnight stop, against instructions. Thanks pal! At least a CRT employee knocked on his door and told him to move on.
The bottom end of the GUC was an experience and not one that any of us would care to repeat. We made our way slowly further north through ill-maintained locks with ratchets that didn’t work (hold the windlass to keep them open) and even a sluice that was missing, up a canal whose oil-filmed surface was often strewn with a near constant collection of discarded bottles, cans, plastic bags and general litter, past a frequently industrial landscape with lines of permanently moored boats some of which looked ready to sink. It was a depressing sight. Francine thought she even spotted a coconut drifting about. A lockkeeper, a CRT volunteer, further on told us it really probably had been a coconut: there’s a Hindu community at Southall who regularly chuck coconuts into the canal in the belief that they will make their way to the Ganges.
We paused at a Tesco Extra at Bulls Bridge, Southall, for more supplies and again met one of our flotilla of three from the Teddington run. Our shopping experience here felt like shopping in a foreign country. We were struck by the very different levels of stock in this store compared to those at our more usual haunts. Though this was a large store, the wine section was small so our choice was limited. The cheese section was smaller than I’d have expected, too, with little in the way of interesting varieties, and the fresh meat counter was all but empty with just three or four pieces of lamb available. Somehow we found a few days worth of supplies and continued.
There were occasional more pleasant interludes but the general ambience really didn’t start to improve until we left Uxbridge and Denham deep lock behind. Here we moored in a quiet, more rural location with no neighbours, either floating or sinking.
We’d made it through the tidal Thames so any time pressure was off. Now our onward journey should be more appealing.