Grand Union Canal: Rickmansworth to Aylesbury
3 to 6 July 2014
This was our third little holiday this year with Paul and Christine Balmer of
This time, we would be crew not just for fun or to help move the boat, but while
filming was being done for their set of Grand Union Canal DVDs which should hit
the shelves next year. The quality of our crewing and steering, and ability to
take directions, was clearly good enough for Paul to risk it, and it provided an
interesting extra dimension to the outing.
Not only is there "conventional" filming going on (if filming
from the roof of a moving narrowboat is conventional), where there is generally
scope for editing out anything odd, but the boat is fitted with a forward-facing
"bowcam" which films the entire journey and is then speeded up. These are great
fun to watch, but while driving the boat or operating locks, one is always
conscious that everything you are doing is on camera, and that things that are
normally unimportant, such as is the boat pointing at the lock while waiting for
it to be prepared, are now very relevant because you want the viewer to have a
tidy view of what's going on. There is scope for some splicing of the footage if
really needed, for instance in locks where the dark lock gates in front of the
camera allow for a transparent cut, but generally what you see is what we did,
warts and all, so it's best to minimise the warts. The combination of Stephen
spending quite a bit of time at the tiller (as Paul was either filming or
thinking about filming, and Lucy wasn't keen to drive on camera) and when
working locks being aware of being either on the bowcam or the main camera,
meant that relatively few photos got taken, including none the last day, but
what follows gives a flavour.
On the Thursday evening, we drove down to Rickmansworth, parked the car and
walked to the boat. Later, we all went for a little stroll to check out the
locations for the next morning's interesting manoeuvres. We also had the
opportunity to check out the Little Union Canal, here.
An unusual scene on the Grand Union Canal, with two broad locks of different
heights next to each other, the differing heights clearly indicating that this
is a junction. The writing on the wall "Keep Right" and "This Lock" show that
boaters are expected and desired to take the right-hand lock which is the main
line towards Braunston and the north. With special permission, we are meeting a
member of CRT staff tomorrow morning to film us taking the left hand lock, which
will take us onto the rarely cruised River Chess.
Next morning, we have passed through the lock and are now proceeding cautiously
along the River Chess, or rather we are waiting while the very slow powered
mechanism raises the lift bridge for us to pass through, while Paul gets some
footage on the memory card. The route turns right after the bridge and makes its
way past several boats before turning left under a disused railway bridge, but
we ran aground before we could get through the railway bridge, and came back
through the lift bridge.
Heading backwards, we approach the lock (on the left - the weir is on the right)
to descend back onto the main line of the Grand Union Canal after the rare treat
of cruising the River Chess
Next came a manoeuvre that had also been discussed the previous evening,
involving Stephen reversing backwards under the road bridge much further than
was needed to get into the other lock. This enabled a clean start to the bowcam,
the potential for other filming, and some still photos to be taken which, as the
mock-ups above show, are likely to form the front cover of one of the Grand
Union Canal DVDs when they become available. That's Stephen at the tiller and
Lucy on the right-hand lock beam.
Over the next two days, we cruised and filmed north through Hemel Hempstead and
Berkhamsted, all new canals for us. The weather was mixed, with some rain, and
we had a slight problem with a full memory card in the Bowcam which hopefully
won't be obvious to viewers. We reached Bulbourne Junction where we turned off
the mainline onto the partially restored Wendover Arm. Lucy and I had
walked along part of the Wendover
Arm in 2002, but hadn't cruised any of the Wendover Arm. A little more had
been restored and rewatered in the last 12 years.
After mooring up for the evening, Stephen went for a walk. This is currently the
terminus of the canal in water, but there is no through route for pedestrians at
present. That gave Stephen the opportunity for a little cross-country walk,
reaching the route of the canal at the new bridge 4A.
The view towards Wendover from Bridge 4A. Clearly work to be done, but also
clearly with the potential to be a canal without vast works.
Looking back in the direction of the boat. The towpath is in good condition and
made for a pleasant stroll.
The view towards some of the reservoirs that supply water to this summit level
of the Grand Union Canal. From here the towpath is diverted for a short distance
along the road, rejoining the route of the canal at Bridge 3.
Next day we had a good trip back along the Wendover Arm, down the Marsworth
Upper Locks (Stephen managing to run the boat aground which will make an
unfortunate feature in the Bowcam DVD), and then the 16 narrow locks into
Aylesbury. We caught a train from Aylesbury back to Rickmansworth to pick up the
Another lovely long weekend with good company, mixed weather, some new
territory and after a busy time we have another 62 locks and 30 miles to add to the tally.