Friday, day 20, saw us with our biggest crew so far – a total of four of us (John, Dave, Martin and myself) took Innocenti down the Regent’s Canal to Limehouse Basin. It starts in the immensely posh area between Regent’s Park and St John’s Wood, and then progressively gets scruffier as it goes east until it encounters the gentrified Docklands area. After the long cutting at the back of Regent’s Park (including London Zoo, where a lady thought we were a trip boat!) the canal suddenly emerges in Camden, where there are three locks, a canalside market and far too many people busy being Very Cool. Many of these cool people were sat with their feet dangling over the canal bank, making the approach to the locks a bit tricky! At the second lock, a rock duo (five string bass and assorted percussion) played loud and continuous improvisation at top volume!
Beyond Camden, the canal snakes around the approaches to Euston, St Pancras and King’s Cross stations – a lot of this area is being actively redeveloped right now – and then plunges into a long tunnel under Islington. Once you emerge the other side, there are locks every mile or so as the canal descends through Haggerston, Hackney and Mile End. Not many boats seem to come this way, and the locks were quite hard work. Limehouse Basin is the old Regent’s Canal Dock, now partly infilled and featuring a lot of smart yachts and narrowboats moored in the marina part. There’s a small public mooring, and we breasted up to a group of narrowboats from Cheshire who were spending the weekend there.
Day 20: Little Venice to Limehouse, 8 miles and 12 locks.
Day 21 was Tidal Thames day. I have to confess to having been rather nervous about this, having heard all sorts of tales. I made my preparations: VHF radio, check!; anchor and 50m of line, check!; lifejackets, check! and just after 3pm we were locked down into the wide expanse of Old Father Thames. It was a calm day, but a passing Thames Clipper had left the reach rather choppy, and we pitched and bounced along as I got the feel of the boat. By the time we reached Tower Bridge, I was happy that we weren’t going to have waves break over the bow or roll dramatically in the choppy water, and then it was just a matter of avoiding the traffic. We were overtaken and carved up by a selection of commercial trip boats, but didn’t get in anybody’s way and didn’t need to use the comprehensive table of horn signals I’d been given. Beyond Vauxhall Bridge the commercial traffic dies down and the river becomes much quieter – just the odd RIB and gin palace passing – and we eventually got to Teddington Lock at about 7pm. Beyond Teddington we pass into Environment Agency waters and yet another river to get the hang of. We moored in Kingston, on a pontoon outside a riverside bar that claimed to require the payment of a £10 mooring fee. I rang both the numbers on the notice and got a confused security guard and a secretary who took my phone number. No signing of the threatened clampers by the morning, so we got away without paying.
Day 21: Limehouse to Kingston-upon-Thames: 23 miles and 2 locks.
Day 22 was up the Thames to Staines. A very pleasant stretch, rather like cruisingthrough an estate agent’s brochure – hundreds and hundreds of desirable waterside residences, some on land, some afloat, all lined up and mostly looking their best in the summer sun. The Thames locks are all attended by lock-keepers in the daytime, and you’re required to rope up and cut your engine. However, they are huge, and can easily take at least half-a-dozen boats. We stopped at Walton for Sunday lunch at a riverside pub, and found ourselves being hailed by a huge barge that wanted to moor alongside. That they did, and when we left we were able to slip away from under their mooring lines.
I had planned to stop at Windsor, but a late start and a long lunch break meant that stopping at Staines made more sense. I have to admit that Staines does not have a great reputation, being the supposed home of Ali G and the “Staines Massive”, and the inspiration for the depressing tunes of Hard-Fi. However, it does have a small if rather nicely built public mooring, and an excellent and inexpensive sushi bar close by. In the rather anywhere-UK High Street is a statue of two workers with a long tube of something. When you get close to it, it’s a monument to the lino flooring factory which was once Staines’ major industry and is now, predictably, a giant shopping centre. Somehow this sums the place up nicely.
Day 22: Kingston to Staines, 14 miles and 5 locks.