Saturday, May 14, 2011

South to London

Spring blossom was bursting out all along the canal as we cruised 'through' Milton Keynes. We are amazed at the way that the canal goes around MK, even through some fairly busy parts of it, yet seems almost untouched by the city and all its ordered symmetry. It's as if the planners decided to make the Grand Union a 'linear park' along the northern and eastern edges – maybe that's exactly what they did!

Simple beauty as the canalside responds to the warmer weather . . .

 . . . and the incredible colours and shapes of this Mandarin duck's plumage! We spotted him and his mate near Leighton Buzzard.

The leaves were coming out on this lock cottage near Marsworth. What will it look like when we come back past it in late May or so?

After climbing up the northern side of the Chilterns, the canal comes down again from Tring and on to Berkhamsted, apparently celebrating its pedigree as an inland port! We were stuck near here in late October 2007 while we waited for a broken lock gate to be repaired, and then had a family get-together there on our way back in late December the same year.

Coming down through Hemel Hempstead the next day, we shared a few locks with a 'coal boat', one of a small number of canal traders who supply many boats and waterside businesses with coal, diesel and bottled gas.

Meanwhile, our rooftop salad garden was getting near to production. Here's Dave planting out a few seedlings.

Passing walkers often stop for a chat when they see a boat working through a lock . . .

 . . . and children usually want to help with the lock gates! Here in Cassiobury Park, near Watford.

The next morning, Val spotted a heron in silhouette on a rooftop in Rickmansworth  . . .

 . . . then later that day we saw a pair of Great Crested Grebe with their youngsters – one in the water, one having a ride – near Harefield.

We had reached the edge of the London suburbs but could still enjoy the countryside reaching in along the canal's 'green corridor'.

Over the 4 years that we have been cruising on 'Zindagi', we have noticed an ever-increasing number of 'seabirds' on the canals and cormorants are probably the most ubiquitous. This one was fishing near Alperton in west London as we made our way towards . . .

 . . . Paddington Basin! Here is 'Zindagi' moored at the foot of towering modern office blocks. Rather different from our more usual rural surroundings, but remarkably peaceful and secure in the heart of London.

Thursday, May 12, 2011


When we came back to the boat at the end of January, we had two specific events on the horizon. First was that 'Zindagi' needed to have its first 4-yearly safety inspection. We were recommended to Richard as a good local Boat Safety Examiner, and he came on 7th February and gave the boat a thorough check over, asking quite a few questions and needing to calculate things like whether we had sufficient fixed ventilation for our woodburner, oven and hob. As we have no gas on board, that saved quite a lot of checks and questions, and he was soon on his way, telling us that our certificate would be in the post.

Next was the need to re-black the bottom of the boat. Last time we did this was up in Skipton (Yorkshire) in July 2008. 2½ years had passed and, though Zindagi's hull didn't look too bad, we knew it was time to go ahead with it.

Fortunately, Gayton Marina has its own crane and a large hardstanding where three boats can stand out on old sleepers while they are pressure-washed and re-coated with bitumen. So 16th February saw us nose out of our moorings and along to the crane, sliding Zindagi into the sling suspended from the crane.

Then it was up, up and away as the crane lifted the boat out of the water and round onto the sleepers. Just a little scary to watch, but it all went smoothly, and soon Richard (in the hat) was pressure-washing the hull.

You can certainly see the difference between 'before' and 'after', but we all agreed that the hull seemed to be in quite good order.

We weren't allowed to use the pressure washer as we had done in Skipton, but could certainly get on with applying the bitumen! As before, we put the first coat on with stubby brushes, working the bitumen into any little crevices, and then put the second coat on with a roller.

There had been a delay with getting us out, as the weather the previous few days had been terrible and the boats that were out for blacking just couldn't be finished on time. Now we had another delay. The crane broke down! It could still lift and turn, but the drive to the caterpillar tracks was broken.

As we were furthest away from the canal side, we could not be moved until it was fixed, so we stayed 'up in the air' a bit longer, which gave us the opportunity to get a bit more paintwork touched up – 'Zindagi' was starting to look pretty trim!

No sooner were we back on the water than we made another attempt to get our balloon flight. We drove over to Shrewsbury the day before, only to be told (again!) that the conditions were not favourable. We still had an enjoyable time, and met the latest addition to Adam and Rachel's household – Lottie, their young Rottweiler, very friendly and becoming well-trained.

March turned into April and Spring began to move on, with blossom and the first ducklings to prove it. Our plans to travel down to London and on to the Rivers Lee and Stort firmed up, and we chugged out of the marina on the 8th of April.

So here we are, mooring up at the canalside again. It may only have been half a mile along the canal from Blisworth, but we were on the move again!