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Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Lee and Stort Navigation: The River of No Return Part I

"The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, Gang aft agley, An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain, For promis'd joy!" ~ Robert Burns, To a Mouse, 1785
   We left Battle Bridge Basin in London the next morning at 7:15 am, slipping away from our breasted up mooring behind the London Canal Museum, excited to be on new waters for us both, faces shining in the sun as we cruised. 
   I was so excited to see the Lee and Stort as I had mapped all the canals in the UK on Google Earth before Les and I ever met and it was the final one on which I worked. I wanted to see Waltham Abbey and the castle in Hertfordshire. I wanted a taste of rural Southeastern England.
   Finally after a frustrating morning dealing with East London local boaters whose maneuvers seemed designed to keep us from ever reaching Limehouse, we came out of the final lock and into Limehouse Basin, slowly turning right. After reviewing the mooring situation we decided to carry on to the Lee and Stort where we would find a lovely quiet bit of shuttered mooring on which to stay the night.
    As we passed under the next bridge the London Marathon was winding up and the final runners were passing overhead. 
    I realized how hungry we were, having cruised steadily from 7:15 a.m. until 12:30 p.m about the time I discovered we had no more bread! "Not a problem!" said Dear Sir and he pulled NB Valerie over to the nearest railings, tied us up, stepped off and said, "I'll be right back" as he blew me a kiss. Up the stairs to the street, across the bridge--and he disappeared from site only to reappear five minutes later with bread in hand!
             I made lunch as Les got us underway again and we sat on the stern in the lovely warm sun eating Tapp sandwiches and drinking freshly made American Lemonade. 
   Refreshed by lunch Les and I were really pleased to be on this journey at last. We had planned all winter for this and we were finally on the Lee and Stort! 
   We left the towered businesses of central London behind us as a gentle wind urged us along. It didn't take long to reach the bow locks. The Bow backs as they are called, are currently closed to cruising for some construction changes I believe. They are scheduled to open to boaters in 2014. We left behind large blocks of canal side businesses and apartments and soon enough we reached our first set of locks. 
   The left side lock was electric and the right side lock was manual. I stayed with the boat while Les went up with my keys to read the directions on the automatic lock. We knew we were close to the Olympic stadium and we were curious about what awaited us as we rose up in the lock. Looking back we said a proper goodbye to London. Ahead--still more industry! 
  One of the Olympic Waterbus sites, smack in the middle of a dubious looking construction area. I am surprised those boats would load up with tourists in an area that is so obviously industrialized.
   Cruising onward we passed old mills, former industrial inlets, and the back of the Olympic stadium which popped in and out of view as we twisted and turned., along with the Orbit--a strange red eyesore if ever I've seen one, peeking through a jungle of construction sites with mountainous piles of rubble. 
     These folks live in units with strange decks that point out across the canal towards the back side of the Olympic stadium. I wonder what their view was like during games?
   Eventually we moved right by the stadium's upward reaching arch supports, past cranes in open industrial sites and continued on under low bridges into what at first peek might have been some open country--but no, it was a prelude to more industry.
   We passed on through the edge of Hoxton and Tottenham, notorious for crime and crowding, with the apartments growing smaller and more cramped, the towers taller. 
   Children play in concrete courtyards as the afternoon sun heats things up.
    If you buy it you could be home by now. Perhaps a circular viewpoint says 'home?' Especially with the metal tree sculpture blooming perennially in place of real, live trees. Nope I think not! We keep cruising onward hoping for a quiet bit of countryside...
...past more apartment blocks--this time with bars on the windows and doors; even the top most floors had security grills on their porches. Graffiti covered the walls and every nook and cranny of outdoor space was filled with people enjoying the warm spring sun. Green spaces were rammed and pub yards overflowed with humanity.
  Wicked sharp metal fencing fans out, strung with barbed wire to keep criminals outside...
    The Anchor and Hope pub--shoebox sized and old fashioned, it is dwarfed by centuries of new buildings. The pub's web page suggests, "Our wonderful pub garden enjoys stunning views of the River Lea; a perfect spot in summer, and our roaring log fire also makes our pub a cosy winter retreat, too." Personally, after having seen the view on the Lea, I would sit inside for a pint.
  Onward we cruised as the afternoon began to wear thin. We passed yet more industry, to arrive at a place where the industrial and the artistic met and created a wonderful moment to watch live art in the making!
   These people...
   ...are watching these people create public art, painting over gang signs and obscenities.
   Birds on a wire and a moment of pure joy in the afternoon sun. My favorite public art piece is the fish sisters as I named them. We had no idea this would be the only bit of real joy along our journey...
 At last the countryside appears and the vista opens up! This is a section of the lower Lea Valley Regional Park which we thought would provide us with the mooring place we sought. Unfortunately it was marred for the remainder of our day's cruise by the electricity pylons following alongside and a waste incinerator labeled an "EcoPark!" Really? REALLY????
 We have a saying in the States: tie a ribbon on a pig--it's still a pig. I held my nose at the acrid smell of incinerated chemicals hanging in the air as we hurried on by.
   Now we began to encounter rafts of local boaters sometimes tied three abreast, floating islands, surrounded by their own garbage which filled the water and floated everywhere. Miles and miles of the wide Lee navigation went on like this and our spirits began to droop. Why were there so many boaters rammed into a relatively small section of the Lee in an area not known for safety?
   Always keep your trolley nearby and in plain site!
   What's 66,000 volts of electricity amongst a group of continuous moorers?
   Mats of garbage floated everywhere amongst the breasted up boaters; it clung to canal side shrubs, and waited in locks to wrap itself around the rudder and prop.
 Don't you just covet these adorable countryside permanent mooring spots guaranteed to lift the hairs on the back of your neck?
   By now it was three o'clock in the afternoon. We were hungry and tired. Surely we will find a safe, sweet spot to moor soon? 
   What's that old saw about fools and angels?  Fools rush in where angels fear to tread....despite trying several times the banks were too shallow and there was no place for us to get in and moor, so we kept going, and going, and going.
   Every lock we approached was against us and for some damn reason the top gates were always left open with at least one paddle up. It seemed to take forever to get through the locks now. 
   Some were all electric, some had electric gates only but manual winding of the paddles and some were all manual--one never knew on approach what to expect. Every lock offered thin hope of a possible mooring at the top, and failed us miserably upon 
 exiting. Either we could not get into the very shallow bank lined with floating flotsam and jetsam, or there were boats already moored up in the only place one could get into. 
   Finally, twelve hours and fifteen locks later, we came up below Waltham Abbey lock, threw up our hands and gave up. We moored for the night in between a string of boats next to a side street where large lorries were pulled in overnight and we called it quits. 
   Not an auspicious beginning to our new waters-southern cruising plans. Perhaps some hot food and a restful night's sleep would change things? I've included all these pictures Ad Nauseum because I want to be sure folks who read the posts about this waterway understand I am not exaggerating our experiences.


David Grant said...

Hi - Thanks for this post. I grew up in Tottenham (1939-1959) fished in this canal and remember the horse-draw barges. My father worked in a large company on its banks.
I have a dream of coming back and travelling this (or others) canal.
Its a pity its showing the signs of our modern 'civilisation'.

Anonymous said...

I've got to tell you that the choices of funny, interesting and cool to NOT do justice to the yuck of your day. Sure hope it gets a Lot better further on south. Such places exist in the RV community in a place called The Slabs in southern CA. Google The Slabs Niland CA and click on images
Karen in Pullman

Carol Palin said...

OMG! What a day that was!

Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi David,
I'm glad you have your memories because as you say civilization has reached the Lee and Stort and unfortunately its not very pretty; memorable but not in a nice way. Thanks for reading our blog and for your comment.

Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Karen,
I will indeed check out the site you mentioned. We have short listed the Museum of the Home for our next foray into London. Thanks you for all the interesting links!
We love you,
Jaq and Les

Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Carol,
Yes indeedy. Keep reading--it gets better, then worse and we will not be returning. Check out like Ducks 2 Water's blog posts about it. We caught up with them up there and they provided us with respite.


SOLD !!! I can see cruising & bookings galore down that way now :). Oh what happy memories that brought back.:) Great blog Jaq, looking forward to part 2. Glad we brought some respite, and you to us, thank God. By the way we've reached the Wendover, ( thought that'll cheer you up ), what shade of green is that your wearing. xxx Lova ya's, catch you on the other channel....laters

Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hello you two! I wondered if you would feel my post did the miserable experience any justice! As you know there is more to come... :(
Wish we were up on the Wendover. We are still camped at Kensal Green waiting for the bloody weather to turn for out trip down to the Thames lock.
I'd say, I'd say my shade of green is puce! LOL.
Hugs, JaqXX

Bryce Lee said...

It is Victoria Day weekend here in Canada (except in Quebec), the traditional start to summer with opening of summer cottages and hordes of motor vehicles on the roads. Mind the current route on the Lea and Stort Navigation is anything but positive. All I can think of is the song "little boxes made all of ticky tack..."(or concrete in those apartment blocks)
The Waterways Map on line shows the probable route you'll follow, may it not be as ugly and mangled as the first 12 hour plus day. Too mmany inhabitants and too much waste and related. And I keep thinking of the more or less wide open spaces Jaq left behind. Mind love is wonderful and you two do have each other. BTW loved the mad dash for the bread commentary. Good for Les.

My question is does Valerie have to return to the L&S navigation and through all that
garbage to regain the balance of the canal sytem?

Carol Ives said...

Ahh I did tell you that the Three mills was a picture amongst all the grot. LOL. Us locals refer to the Orbit as the Stratford Helter Skelter, it is a monstrosity indeed. I know you have to come back this way, do it quickly and blow me a kiss as you go past. xxx

Jaqueline Biggs said...

Yes Bryce, yes we do indeed have to return the same way we came. Stay tuned and find out what happens to women's emotions on this waterway!! ;)
Les is a prince among men and we are blessed indeed to have each other.
I am hopeful that spring has actually arrived in your neck of the woods. It snowed in Anchorage and South Central Alaska yesterday!

Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Carol,
Yes indeed you did say that and you were correct. Three Mills is lovely. It's a shame it went by so quickly!

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs