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Monday, 13 July 2009

To and fro on the Lee & Stort

1st July Wednesday bright with light overcast. People keep saying we shouldn’t complain about it being so hot after the awful summer we had last year. Well I went through my diary the other day to see how we made out because our recollection was of wonderful weather. From 23rd April 08 till 15th October I noted 1 day when it poured, 7 days with bits of heavy rain, one of which I recall saw me drowned on the lockside at Bradford on Avon, and 15 days when I noted it drizzled. I accept that there were a few occasions when we did not keep our diary as we didn’t boat, but never the less I reckon where we were last year we had a pretty good summer! Of course it could be that the sun shines on the righteous, or of course that if you are happy & enjoying life you only remember the good things!

Well we set off from Bishops Stortford earlyish this day with it bright overcast and stopped at Sawbridgeworth to collect prescriptions. After lunch the sun came out full strength & I set up the parasol as we cruised, mooring near the site of our first BBQ, it was too hot really!



We want to get to Hertford and then back to BS to meet Carol’s cousin on 7th. So on 2nd we were away at 7.20 (unheard of time for us) in bright sun and we cleared the last 3 locks on the Stort before turning upstream on the Lea. A grass snake swam into Hardmead Lock to share it with Carol but she shooed it out.



We arrived in Hertford at 12, winded and tried to pull into a free space on the brand new visitor moorings and got stuck. I reckon Lily only draws 22” so that is not deep. I asked the chap in front of where we were trying to tie up if he’d mind easing back a bit to see if we could get in, which he not only did, but also joined me & another chap on a rope pulling Lily in. Apparently another boat had just left the space, so we must have put on weight, but our mooring arrangement was weird as the boat was on the tilt towards the towpath! Hertford is lovely and we had a wander around after our meal, it being a Thursday & there being a Wetherspoon’s in the centre near the mooring, we had a curry, lovely! We ambled around the castle that was reconstructed in the 1800s and then came across a funny way of keeping cool.





I called to the chap so I could see his face but got no reaction, but when we returned about 15 mins later he’d gone. One of the National Trust properties we looked out in London was Blewcoats School, which is close by New Scotland Yard, and which is now just a NT shop in an old building. In Hertford wandering towards a Tesco we came across another part of Bluecoats School, only this used to be the girls school & much grander, though now offices & housing, but I didn’t have my camera. Also in Hertford I was impressed by this wonderful “sign” on a gable end in moulded bricks/tile relief.

After overnight rain the next day (3rd) I set to to wash off and polish the port side of the boat, something I had waited to get a suitable mooring to permit. We then walked into town and came across a lovely wet fish stall and fresh fruit and veg stall and did our shopping After watching one and part of the other men’s Wimbledon semi-finals before we set off at 17.45 & cruised till 20.00. Setting off involved 2 pushing on our pole & us rocking the boat, during which we got fabric round the prop! The fish & fruit & veg made a lovely supper.

Saturday 4th bright and warm and we were off before 8. We had a fairly slow cruise until we tied up above Tednambury Lock above Sawbridgeworth. It was a glorious mooring spot, special in that the railway line was the other side of a hill. It is a very busy line and there are innumerable level crossings necessitating blasts on the 145 db horn. The day was lovely, a bit overcast with sun and clouds.


We clocked up 11miles and 12 locks. On the Stort both gates need opening to get a narrowboat in, and I reckon that when a lock is against us with both gates open (the norm on these rivers) then I walk around 1/5 mile as I work through the lock! The local hire boat on these rivers is Lee Valley Boat Hire, are they the scruffiest hire boats on the system? When you see a boat from Rose Narrowboats, they may be old, but their paint shines, Lee’s boats could well be newer but they are positively dingy outside, I wonder what the inside is like?

This lovely house is close by Twyford Lock near Bishops Stortford

Sunday 5th & Monday 6th were cloudy with sun breaks, still warm and the odd shower. We cruised into Bishops Stortford on Sunday and watched the wonderful men’s final from Wimbledon, and on Monday shopped to cater for our Australian visitors on Tuesday and Wednesday. We had a theft whilst there when Lily was stolen. She was a largish garden ornament frog on a lily pad, made of cast stone but with a bronze finish, but was heavy. Despite searching with the boat hook & looking down through the clear water, we could not see her there. We cruised back to Sawbridgeworth to meet the guests.

Tuesday 7th was wet and our guests from Oz arrived at 12. There was Carol’s cousin Peter, his two daughters plus one of their best friends and her father, who was a friend of Peter! Al had never been to the UK so I felt I had to introduce him to proper beer and we decamped to a quaint pub for a few bitters before Carol fed us royally and then we chatted the afternoon away. Peter & Al had flown for 24 hours before they came to us so they were tired & all headed off to their B&B. 2 of the girls got here via South America & many other points, the other one had done a few European stops before they assembled to all land with us! They all enjoy boating, both fathers have white plastic things with flappy rags on sticks and looked forward to Wednesday 8th they rejoined us on a fine day for a lovely cruise towards Bishop’s Stortford for a lunch stop. We walked off some of the food with a walk to try to see the Stone Age Walbury Camp, but all we found was private gardens. We cruised back, talked a load more and enjoyed scones, cake and flapjack before they headed off northwards for Peter to see his mother near Forfar.


Thursday 9th Duke & Duchess had moored next to us last night, they had never been on the Stort before & my guess is that they were surprised that they couldn’t go through locks breasted up. They might also have had problems with their towing mast being too high to pass under several bridges. They had one lady passenger aged 92 who used to boat up the river with her husband & she was giving them advice.


We moved back to Bishops Stortford, we should have had Carol’s schoolfriend joining us but she was too busy & short staffed at her riding school to come, but we got set for an early start on Friday 10th when we used the train to get us to Hampton Court Flower Show. It was a lovely day, intermittent sun and a pleasant breeze to keep us cool. We had never been before & we loved it. We ate at a Chinese restaurant that night, and ate too well!!

Saturday 11th we re-provisioned for our next visitors before setting off for London at 12, having topped up the water. We had intermittent slight drizzle to start with, but it cleared and we made good progress until we got to Harlow Mill Lock where the boat before us could not get one of the top gates shut. I joined them together with another chap and eventually after forcing open the other top gate, the opposite gate then shut, but then the other one would not! I poked around with my pole & fished with my Sea Searcher, didn’t feel anything, but we managed to get both gates shut in the end. When I tried to open the bottom gates one would not open fully and given the width of a hire boat we had passed there were troubles ahead, so we spoke to the hire company for them to seek BW help. We also gave a tow to a new boater who was calmly trying to empty a lock with top paddles up. He had other problems too in his little clinker built boat from about 1950 with its original Stuart Turner inboard engine not working & batteries for his electric outboard empty. We finished the day again near our first BBQ site but all Carol managed today was a bowl of cereal and I ate a fairly light repast, we must not eat again as we did on Friday!! It was windy and cool by the evening and a 7 hour cruise.

Sunday 12th it was very wet overnight and first thing, but mild & had dried up by the time we set off at 8.20 and by the time we got onto the Lee at 9.40 it was bright and sunny. We stopped to watch the German Grand Prix before setting off again to end the day above Ponders End Lock. We’d covered 11½ miles and 12 locks in 6 hours. As we tied up it threatened to pour, but didn’t to start with, but did later.

The Lee(a) is a wide-ish deep river with heavy locks. On both the Lee & Stort they built bridges over the tail of the locks, but close to the gates. Because hand rails are now set on the bridges, balance beams have to be cranked at around 90 degrees, meaning they give leverage for pushing the gates, but no counterbalancing, and as such they are heavy. Also the gates are mostly made of steel, fairly hard wearing but not pretty.



Monday 13th It rained again over night but was bright but cool as we set off at 9. We had a fast cruise down the river, hardly making a ripple. Several of the locks are mechanised, but most are paired with a manual lock and at Tottenham Lock the powered lock was still U/S so I had to work the manual one. It was about 200 turns to wind a gate open or shut!!! The paddles took something over 30, but then only one of the bottom paddles was working……it took an age! As we reached the junction with the Hertfordshire Union Canal we hit weed. Enfield Lock that was so awful on the way up was crystal clear this time, but the approach to Old Ford Lock was bright green all over with duck weed and large clumps of Floating Pennywort in it. BW were messing around with a weed cutter, but think it wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do.






When we got to old Ford Lock both locks were U/S with the manual one being re-gated and this diver going down to fix a paddle on the electric one.

It was interesting to watch, and more so to hear that when they drained to manual lock they found a VW Campervan in there, and boats were happily passing over it, which goes to show how deep the locks are!! They had to put the bracing into the lock to support the sides especially as they were going to use a 100 ton crane set on the side.

Out we went, onto fill with fuel and then back and up through the first 3 locks on the Hertford Union before tying up alongside Victoria Park. 9 locks and 10 miles

We are on our way back to Kings Cross to collect Carol’s sister & husband Mike ( famed for Caen Hill last year ) as they are joining us to cruise from Limehouse to Brentford on Wednesday afternoon.