On Friday 28th August, 7th Camberley Scouts set off on a two day canal boat adventure.
Starting from Hillingdon Narrowboats, there were 9 scouts in all and 3 leaders, Ant, Leigh and Keith, plus a ‘steerer’, Graham, who came as part of the boat package – provided we fed and watered him well.
We travelled in 2 cars to the boatyard where we boarded Theo – a 71 foot long, by less than 7 feet wide narrowboat and loaded our kit and food. A brief safety talk and explanation of how stuff works and off we went north to our first lock. The crew was divided into three teams each with one adult leader and three scouts so we could share the lock work and the washing up!!
Heading up, we entered empty locks and using the lock paddles under water at each end of the lock to allow locks to be filled and emptied by boaters using a cranking handle called a ‘windlass’, filled them and went through to the next. All the scouts did the locks, winding paddles and opening gates weighing several tons each. An hour and a half later and we were at Tesco in Batchworth where we moored for the night. There was time to feed the ducks before a feast of hot dogs with ketchup and mustard. With five boys in one cabin, four in another, the steerer in his own at the stern, and three leaders in the front, we settled in to our bunks for the night.
Early Saturday morning, the crew stirred and breakfast of cereal, jam, marmalade and bread was washed down with tea and juice, before we set off north again and worked the locks in our teams – well sort of… There were some always helping even when it wasn’t their turn as it was great to be involved. Between locks, much time was spent onthe roof watching the world go by, feeding ducks on the move and saying hello to everybody on the towpath and
Our steerer did most of the steering but many scouts were encouraged to have a go at steering 20 tons of steel without incident…well almost anyway. There were a few times we got into a bit of a mess with trees and bushes as much of the canal is overhung with vegetation, but curiously our steerer seemed to be the one steering when these incidents happened…
Through Cassiobury Park, where there are always spectators watching you while you work the locks and then through The Grove Park and some twisty bits with a fancy bridge until we stopped near Lady Capels lock for a lunch of bread rolls, cheese, ham, crisps, oranges and apples. Lunch over, we set off again north, going up through Hunton Bridge and Abbots Langley passing under the M25 (Junction 20) which is carried by a massive bridge half a mile long, spanning the valley.
Late afternoon now and we needed to turn and head back south to find a mooring, so we went through the Home Park lock and turned in a ‘winding hole’ which is a special section of the canal where it is widened to allow boats to turn. Now heading south we went back through Home Park lock, under the motorway again to find a mooring near Hunton Bridge for the night.
Tonight’s dinner was chicken casserole so all the boys had a go peeling and chopping spuds. While the chicken casserole was cooking there was a group photo or two, then most of the scouts walked with two leaders along the towpath and found a playground with various swings. Much fun was had by all climbing and burning off energy before it was time to get back to the boat for the feast. Amazingly the scouts ate the whole lot followed by some cake, but there was no time and definitely no space for yogurt.
Several games of cards were played and some new games were learnt. The favourite game seemed to be cheat! For those not playing cards, the fishing tackle was set up in the dusk and several boys had a go. One caught his first ever fish while the leaders caught one or two each. Top prize goes to our scout leader Ant, for somehow successfully catching the smallest fish in the whole of the canal network! Meanwhile, our steerer had been out to see another boat which was having a bit of trouble and he asked if we minded helping them get back to the boatyard. Of course everybody helps everybody else on the waterways, plus it would be a new experience to tie another boat alongside and take them through the locks like a ‘widebeam’, so we agreed.
After breakfast the following morning we set off and found the other boat which was a family with two small boys (one was a Beaver) and we tied the boats together and set off. We had become a crew of 17 plus a dog and the two boys were ‘adopted’ by the scouts and well looked after with all helping at the locks.
Through the winding section at The Grove Park before stopping for lunch in Cassiobury Park, then onwards towards the boatyard for the final leg of our cruise.
With our added boat tied alongside, we were cruising the canal as a Barge and Butty (Powered boat and unpowered boat) in the same way as boaters did when canals were workplaces. Before they were powered, boats were towed by horses using a long rope pulling many tons of coal, ore and other goods. This is why the path alongside the canal is called a ‘towpath’ and evidence of this may be seen today at some bridges where an iron rail is fitted to the underside edges of the bridge to reduce rope wear – yet you can see deep grooves cut into the iron over the years by the action of grit laden ropes. Our progress was not fast because of our added load and we arrived back at the boatyard at about 6.30 to disembark and load the vehicles. Another final group photo before thanking our steerer for looking after us. Then we set off home after a brilliant couple of days cruising the Grand Union Canal. We travelled 9 miles and 15 locks each way and had two days of great fun doing something different, where everybody learnt something new. Several boys steered the boat and everybody did locks, made sandwiches, peeled and chopped spuds, did washing up, drying and putting away. Some caught their first ever fish, or discovered they liked tea, or managed to tie shoe laces for the first time. So many new experiences – We all said we were going to do this again…..
Keith Welsh – 7th Camberley