Monday 11th to Sunday 17th April 2011

Monday – River Lee to River Stort.
Heading back downstream on the Lee we hung a left and disappeared up the Stort. Disappeared is about right because the river is narrow, winding and the trees quickly close in on you, its magic up here. There are few boats and only us two on the move. Perhaps the new marina at Roydon has swallowed them up but still there are plenty of empty pontoons there, we could just see them through the trees as we climbed the hill through Roydon Lock.

Today’s was a short cruise so after coffee on Sarah-Kate V and I walked to the village to see what was about. Not a lot.
Knowing Mark (nb.Willawaw) was somewhere in these parts I gave him a shout on channel 16 and raised him on another boat, heading for the marina we’d just passed. Had he not been rushing off afterwards we might have met up for a chin-wag.

The day ended with the sun doing a runner and the clouds coming to stay. The rain brought a chill with it and I made up my mind to put the chimney back on again.

Tuesday – to Feakes Lock.
These are interesting locks, all under 14 feet wide so its only one boat at a time. Most locks have steel gates and one had key operated hydraulic bottom gates but manual paddles.
There’s often no visible flow on the river, it often clears enough to see the bottom but there’s little or no vegetation down there. The only fish we saw (only Mike saw it) was up the top end at Bishops Stortford. This is the closed season so perhaps they are all nesting in the trees.
The winding river makes sure you don’t fall asleep while cruising.

One has to say the towpaths up this way are immaculate with their wooden edge boards, tarred walking surface sprinkled with fine graded pink stone chippings.
Grass cutting has to go ahead whether there’s grass or not and the blower fella, if he can’t find grass cuttings, blows the dust off the stones instead. You could get away with wearing ballet shoes along this river, it’s so clean that even your mother wouldn’t tell you off.

Parndon Mill was a real picture in the sunshine. We’ll have to look at this again on the way down river, there’s sure to be story for that chimney on the right and that delightful house on the left.

Burnt Mill was next and its rubbish skips were gone (the ones advertised on the BW posters) but lying in the trees was a work flat half filled with branches, supermarket bags and household rubbish. Don’t you dare, shouted V, as I slowed the boat and pondered the opportunities.
As it happened I later spoke to a BW (not a contractor) towpath cutter who said we were free to use that boat for rubbish disposal. Dooohhh, my instincts were right for once.

We hardly saw anything of Harlow, some might say that’s a blessing.

Actually we’ve hardly seen lots of things like moorhens, coots and ducks. Has someone been eating them? Is there any connection between this and the missing fish?

TV signals leave a lot to be desired, just four analogue stations and very poor quality. But I say who wants tele’ when there’s nature all around us, apart from birds and fish.

Wednesday – Feakes Lock to Bishops Stortford.
Spotted our first ducklings of the year. Can you see one hiding from us in the reeds? He probably has no idea that boats are good for food.

Talking of ducks, we ducked at this bridge. Not much more than a foot to spare, and we are minimalistic on the roof so watch out any of you with bikes on top.

Does anyone know what these things are?

The locks have two of these hooks set into the wall, both on the left hand side (ascending). Mike has an idea they were used to stop un-powered butties that were sent into the lock. Sounds good to me, but any other ideas?

A cool and cloudy day accompanied the last leg of our Spring cruise. ‘Stortford (as they say round here) is as far as we can go. There’s another bridge upstream but to get to it you’d need one of those hover-boards that Marty used on Back to the Future because the water has lost its battle against the rubbish.

But ‘Stortford is a welcome sight, here’s everything we need – essential boat services, shops, decent moorings and the promise of a quiet night. A local rozzer assured us that the towpaths were quiet at night, unlike the town itself, his words not mine.

And so to the end of our spring cruise. Mike and Jo have been our guides for the past six weeks, from Braunston through London, up the Lea/Lee and finally to the top of the Stort.
It only remained to celebrate our safe arrival and part ways after a slap-up meal with all the trimmings aboard Sarah-Kate. Mike and Jo have been lovely travelling companions and it wasn’t without some sadness that we said our goodbyes Wednesday night, wishing each other bon-voyage for the summer.
last supper

As we waved goodbye to Mike and Jo I realised how easy they had made life for us on this journey into the unknown and I was thankful that I had someone like V to record all the hints, tips and mooring places that we’d be making use of when our turn comes to head back to the Grand Union.

V says we’ll stay on the Stort for a couple of weeks so that we can get all the jobs done that have waited for the warmer weather. By that I think she means me.

After another quiet night in town and a last minute dash to shops by V, we cruised to nature’s doorstep at Rushy Mead nature reserve a mile or so from the centre of town.

Rushy Mead was once grazed as part of the Stort floodplain before it was turned into filter beds for a sewage treatment works – oh lovely. Still owned by Thames Water it is now managed by Essex Wildlife Trust and has become a haven for Stort’s walkers, runners, cyclists, the occasional bird and of course us.

I wondered why there were so few boats about until the Friday afternoon flight plan kicked in at Stansted Airport. At its worst we get a twin jet engine silver monster every 45 seconds, but to be fair it can go quiet for up to half an hour.

It’s brightening up and ‘tis the season for spring cleaning. Starting with the galley floor and ending with the potholes there’s washing, sanding, wiping and varnishing to do.

Paint and varnish are wonderful things in narrowboats, if you plan it just right you can’t get to the other end of the boat to start another job while the floor is wet. This makes time for hobbies, in particular, wirelesses.
Graham (G8LUV) lent me a couple of handsets that make perfect marine VHF radios and only needed a bit of programming. One coat of varnish later and we have them working perfectly, all ready for the Thames.

More varnishing meant more time to play and this was the day for sticking a dipole on the top of a 20 foot mast.
We’ve seen a huge increase in boat activity today, two narrowboats and two cruisers on the move. But it’s the canoes that move us most of all. Twice I’ve had to push us off the shallows after they’ve thrashed and splashed their way downstream.
The wildlife is underwhelming, just two ducks and a moorhen. No fish, which is a pity because the bread I threw out yesterday is still lying on the river bed next to the spud peelings outside our side hatch, most embarrassing.

I’m afraid it’s more of the sanding and varnishing today so while I made dust V walked up the towpath to the Community Church in ‘Stortford.
The sun is out and we’ve seen one boat and a few strollers but it’s quiet, just perfect for running that orbital sander up and down the floorboards.
After lunch things changed, the sun came out and the planes turned the other way, they’re landing instead of taking off. It’s roughly a ratio of four Ryan Air to one Easy Jet and one Thomas Cook.
Fascinating isn’t it. I have no interest in aeroplanes built since the war and going by the tone of voice of the pilots (on this little VHF receiver of Graham’s) I’d say they were bored with it too.
But it makes you wonder doesn’t it, where do they go and what do they see from so far above us.