|Train with plane above near our mooring|
Our plan took us back down the Stort for a stay overnight at Royden, then we would continue on to the junction with the Lee Navigation where we would make a hard right turn, stop at the town of Ware for groceries, go up through three locks and moor in Hertfordshire. Les had made plans with family and friends a month previously to give them a call when we arrived in the county town of Hertford. We wanted to catch up with everyone, share some good meals, and enjoy each others' company. We were both looking forward to having some fun with children, grandchildren and a couple of Les and Val's close friends of many years.
|Les' eagle eyes never miss firewood waiting for us.|
I broke down and cried twice today. It seems like everything is much more difficult over here and I am weary of the make do and mend attitude just because it is the way it has always been done. The war has been over for over fifty years. It is okay to innovate and make life easier. Part of this is being on the bloody Lee and Stort navigation. We will never return here once we escape. What a miserable experience. It seems to magnify issues--even ones we don't know are lurking under the surface--like being homesick.
Les gave me 4 pounds to buy ice creams from Hunsdon lock cottage shop as we were going down the lock. I told the shop keeper "I'm from America and I cannot remember the brand but what we want is vanilla ice cream on a stick, dipped in chocolate."
"Okay" he says and disappears to take an inordinately long time to find two frozen ice creams. His wife returned smiling proudly, holding a tray with two cake style cones filled with two small scoops of white ice cream adorned with a thick bar of chocolate sticking out of each one.
"This isn't what I ordered," and I described it for her.
She said, "Oh you wanted Magnums."
"Yes," said I. Her husband replied, "Oh dear. Well we are out of those."
So I took them, but I cried so hard I couldn't eat all mine. I basically had two licks and gave mine to Les. I am a foreigner in this country and it seems I cannot even order ice cream in England and be understood due to my accent. Ah well. Here's hoping tomorrow is better."
Sunshine greeted us the next day--a bank holiday Monday and the first sunny bank holiday in almost a year and a half since I'd arrived in England! Everyone and their mothers' brothers' sisters' cousins' sons and daughters were out in full force.
|What you cannot see are the little boats in front and on the other side of us!|
The towpath was rammed with people walking, jogging, biking, dogs wandered everywhere and children ran and called to one another. They literally hung off the lock gate beams in fours and sixes, laying bikes down in our way as they stopped to watch us come down the locks.
It took twice as long to get through them because so many folks wanted to know how the locks worked, were we on vacation, did we live aboard, why did we have all that wood on the roof, where was I from, how did we get groceries, was it cold in winter, where had we been and where were we going--the questions were endless. Children queued up to help me push against the beams to close and open the locks gates.
The human energy pulsing around us was exhausting. Les loves to chat with everyone. He's patient and good humored about it all. I don't like crowds--I feel hemmed in and claustrophobic. I've learned how to function as an extrovert in order to move ahead in the world but in my soul I am an introvert, preferring quiet and the companionship of a chosen few friends and loved ones.
At Brick lock a local boater informed us the Lee Navigation was closed--a gate had come off its hinge at Stanstead lock four days previously and apparently those in charge were still shaking their heads and attempting to figure out how to lift the gate and place it back on its hinges. The bloke said CaRT (Canal and river Trust) had not issued a stoppage or restriction notice; they were terrible about keeping boaters informed on the Lee and Stort for some reason.
Les and I looked at each other with the dull realization that we were not going to make it to Hertford at all--ever. We refused to hang about waiting for god knows how long until Stanstead lock was repaired. We weren't going to make our rendezvous with friends and family after all.
On the spot we decided to continue on down the Lee Navigation to Waltham Abbey--another eight locks--moor the night and then make a strategic exit off this damned navigation. We swallowed hard as we thought about everything waiting in front of us--the endless cruising, lock after lock, until we made it back through London and out the other side to Kensal Green.
As we left Waltham Abbey the next morning under a leaden sky threatening rain, we encountered many more local boaters heading back from the Little Venice Cavalcade of Boats. We warned them about the broken lock gate on the Lee. Most were surprised at the news and grateful we had stopped to mention it. Les told a bloke from Bishops Stortford that the Elsan Disposal there was broken down and padlocked shut.
"No, it's not broken down," he said disgustedly. "Local boaters moored up there have padlocked it to keep the likes of you from using it," meaning of course, us continuous cruisers--tourists in the minds of those boaters who break the rules and stay moored up in one spot months and years at a time instead of moving on after fourteen days max.
The man had the decency to shake his head at the behavior of his neighbors, but all I could think of was Jacquie and Stein, who cruised all the way up there in need of the Elsan service, locked out at the whim of the locals. His attitude underscored how I felt about our overall experience. Disgusted...
Another geezer who kept his boat at Royden Boat Club told us how much cleaner the lower Lee navigation was now then twenty years ago.
"You should have seen it--rubbish everywhere and open sewage floating in the water. It is so much better now than it used to be." Les and I looked at each other in disbelief! The lower Lee truly must have been appalling because it was far from pristine now, giving the Coventry canal second place in our minds as one of the filthiest sections of canal in the system.
The rain played with us all day as we worked our way down through five locks to Stonebridge where we felt safe enough for one night moored amongst a line of other boats--something we rarely ever do. We were told CaRT had pulled the volunteer lock keeper from Stonebridge Lock due to the violent crime and high drug use that went on there.
Up early again, we cruised on back through the industrial waysides, the crowded tenements, endless miles of apartment blocks, miles of breasted up continuous moorers and their floating garbage, until we finally made it to the junction of the Lee Navigation and the Hertford Union arm. It was closed for repairs when we cruised out of London. We opted not to continue down to Limehouse. The broken gates on the arm had been fixed and we were making the most of this short cut.
Up three locks, the view changed from graffiti decorated industrial decor to one long side of Victoria Park and very few boats moored! What a change! We were back on the canal system again, headed for canal side mooring at Kings Cross which Stein and Jacquie had mentioned were a safe place to fetch up.
|Heavy metal lock gates. Locks on part of the Stort are an odd width--larger than a single lock but not large enough to accommodate two boats side by side.|
|Very few decent mooring places anywhere on the Lee and Stort.|
All this might have been worth it if we had found God's Paradise at the end but we didn't; we've seen far more beautiful, tranquil and pristine places on the northern canals.