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Summer 2003. From Chertsey to the Rivers Lee and Stort in 'Amberel' - by Andy Lawrie

My crew were to be my brother-in-law Brian and nephew Andrew. They arrived at the marina in Chertsey from their home in Birmingham, loaded their gear into the boat and we were off.

Downriver to reach Teddington just before high tide, then on to Brentford. Previously I had only ever gone straight through Brentford, this time we were to turn into the entrance of the Grand Union Canal. We paid our dues and bought a facilities key.

Under Brentford High Street Bridge, then under the A4 - rather strange that, I go over the bridge every time I visit my Mum, you can't see the canal from the road at all and don't even realise it's there.

Spent the first night by Osterley Park.

Next morning up the Hanwell flight of locks and onto a very long pound above Norwood Top Lock. At Bull's Bridge turned right onto the Paddington Arm past Southall, Ealing, Perivale and Alperton. Over the North Circular Road on a long aqueduct; you can see the cars below but I don't ever recall having seen a boat going over when I have driven round the road. Acton, Kensal Green and then we are at Little Venice, where we are to join the Regent's Canal. Hundreds of boats continuously line both banks. I throttle back to minimise my wash as we pass them and - the engine stops. I quickly crank it over and but it stays stopped. I very quickly realise that I must have forgotten to open the breather after filling the fuel tank last night and, sure enough, when I unscrew the breather there is a loud "boing" as the tank regains its proper shape. A quick squeeze of the priming pump, touch the starter and to my relief, off she goes again. During the whole interlude she had drifted slowly and straight as an arrow down the middle of the canal, so no embarrassing collision with a moored boat.

At the junction of the two canals are full facilities, so we very publicly filled up with water and emptied the loo - the place was teeming with people.

Off along the Regent's Canal, still packed with moored boats, then under the Maida Hill tunnel into Lisson Grove. At this point we started passing the most palatial properties with extensive and immaculately landscaped grounds. I know this bit of London reasonably well, but this was a revelation to me - you don't see it from the road. Into Regent's Park and then into London Zoo. You can see some animals, but not many. A very interesting stretch indeed, and passed all too quickly.

Through Camden and Kentish Town there are several locks, all very public and busy with pedestrians, people eating their lunch, etc. St. Pancras and King's Cross, then under York Way, only a hundred yards or so from one of my customers. Through the 1Km long Islington Tunnel and we are into the East End. Moor up for the night beside Victoria Park.

In the morning we set off early and almost immediately entered Old Ford Lock. An artist had set up his easel within the arc described by the balance beam at the far end, and he didn't want to move it! What a clown. We pointed out that if he didn't move he would soon have a whole queue of boats waiting to go through and eventually he did, though with very bad grace.

Turned left into the Hertford Union Canal, which links to the River Lee. There are 3 locks on this short canal. We got to the first one, put it into reverse - and nothing happened. The boat just carried on. No matter how hard I gunned the engine it made no difference. So we hit the bank, fortunately quite gently. And we found what the problem was - weed. I was told what sort of weed it was, but I've since forgotten. It was dreadful stuff. It had an moderate adverse effect going forwards, but a disastrous effect with the prop spinning the other way. It was to affect us for about 5 miles, and we had to take it very steadily indeed, with frequent stops to clear the prop.

At Hackney we turned left again onto the River Lee. This is the stretch that is going to be transformed for the 2012 Olympics. Tottenham, Edmonton, Pickett's Lock, Ponder's End, Enfield, Waltham Abbey, Cheshunt. We stopped for the night, but while having our supper the peace of the evening was split by loud explosions and crackling noises. We hurried outside and it looked like an electricity sub-station was in the process of self destructing - huge electric arcs and flashes. We were all a bit un-nerved by it and moved a few more miles upriver before settling down again for the night.

On to Hoddesdon and to Feilde's Weir Lock, the last one before the confluence of the Lee and Stort. This is by far the prettiest lock on the whole river, AND they did ice creams - this was one VERY hot week. One 'photo of the lock gates, and another of my nephew driving "Amberel" into it. Andrew is a very responsible young lad, and I had no qualms about him helming the boat.

We decided to do the Stort first, then the remainder of the Lee, so we turned right after the lock. The Stort became much more rural, and there were fewer places to moor. Through Harlow and Sawbridgeworth, past some very attractive waterside developments.

The bridges were getting lower and lower. Eventually we had to do what I had been putting off for as long as possible - drop the screen. What a job! It took the three of us two hours of hard and bitter struggle to get the centre pin out, and I simply don't understand how we didn't break it in the process. But eventually out it did come, and we folded the screen down.

All along the route the lock gates had been heavy and hard - very tiring in the hot weather. The last one before Bishop's Stortford was even worse, because the bottom gate had a leak - not a big one, but enough for the level in the lock to stabilise a couple of inches below the top level. Eventually we got the gates open against this head by a combined, almost superhuman, effort, and we were through.

But we still weren't at Bishop's Stortford - at the last bridge even the folded down screen was several inches too high to get through. We had to take the entire screen completely off, and we still had less than a tenth of an inch to spare. We even had to move around the boat to get different bits lower at different points.

We didn't stay long in Bishop's Stortford; just long enough to do our shopping. I didn't want the give the river a chance to rise by even the tiniest amount or we wouldn't get back again.

So back the way we had come, until we got back to the Lee. We again turned upstream, past Stanstead, through Ware and to the head of navigation at Hertford.

There isn't much to say about the return trip down the Lee as it was much the same as the way up, except that the sub-station was mercifully quiet. There is a photo of Andrew taking "Amberel" down through Dobbs Weir Lock.

We were not going to return along the Regent's Canal, but would rejoin the Thames at Limehouse. We therefore passed the end of the Hertford Union Canal, where the weed was as bad as before, and on to Old Ford Lock (not the same Old Ford Lock as the one on the Regent's Canal), where it was worst of all. But we did get through it, and by Bow it had cleared. Past Bow Locks of the multiple puns, along Limehouse Cut and into Limehouse Basin, where we spent the night.

In the morning, out through the lock on the first locking on the rising tide and home to Chertsey.

(Many thanks to Andy for his kind permssion to include his © photos and text on this site)