Grand Union Canal: Rickmansworth to Aylesbury
on Waterway Routes

3 to 6 July 2014

This was our third little holiday this year with Paul and Christine Balmer of Waterway Routes. 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 car.

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.


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Unless otherwise stated, all images copyright (c) Stephen and Lucy Dawson