The ride to Windsor was another favorite of mine. It was much shorter, but the reward was a relaxing time in Windsor before returning to Uxbridge. I started by traveling south on the Grand Union to the bridge that crosses to the west at a marina just before Cowley Peachey Junction. The bridge took me to the Slough Arm of the canal. The Slough Arm didn’t look like much at the start. Compared with the other parts of the canal that I toured this was in the poorest condition. As you approach Slough, it is successively more silted until it becomes a mud pie at the end.
The Slough Arm was the most lively part of the canal. Narrowboats were rafted together along the banks to make room for their large numbers. Men were fishing along the banks. They used very long and very expensive carbon fiber fishing poles. They cost hundreds of pounds depending on the length and lightness. I talked with one of the fishermen for a while, but I didn’t learn enough to understand the rationale for the pole dimensions. At one stop I saw bait boxes that were squirming with brightly colored larvae and insects.
This arm of the Grand Union Canal is more silted than the other arms that I traveled. There was less movement of water and as the Slough Arm comes to an end it is mostly a mud flat. It was there that I turned south again toward Windsor. I passed through the town of Slough. There wasn’t much to see. When I mentioned the town to co-workers, they snickered. The poet laureate of Britain, John Betjeman, wrote:
“Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough
It isn’t fit for humans now
There isn’t grass to graze a cow.”
I passed St. Mary’s Parish Church and turned south at the next intersection. Soon I was crossing the Thames River and I could see Windsor Castle in the distance. I was navigating with a very tiny map on my cell phone, so I was happy to see actual landmarks that I could steer toward rather than peering at the map, scrolling around, and wandering around trying to figure out where I was. I visited Windsor more than once by bicycle and in my wandering around the countryside north of Slough I found a small farm where I was able to stop and enjoy strawberries that I picked with a cup of ice cream. So, wandering around isn’t all bad.
Windsor was not very busy when I visited. Marne and I first toured England in 2005 and came to Windsor on the tour bus to see Windsor Castle. It was not nearly as crowded as it was during that visit when the tour buses were lined up in the bus park below the town center. The sidewalk cafes were empty. This time it was quiet and I stopped at a pub on the river for a beer and some lunch. I sat there for some time reading, finishing the snack with tea and cookies.
It was getting late and although I was enjoying the ambience and quiet I knew that I needed to start back to Uxbridge. I wandered through the town opposite the general direction that I followed to get into town. As I reached the Slough Arm I realized that I had a flat tire. I also realized that I had no pump. I had a wrench, tire pry bars, and a patch kit, but no pump. The front tire was the flat one and I tried to ride on the pannier rack over the back tire to get the weight off of the front. That technique was faster than walking, but very uncomfortable and unsustainable.
I came to a narrowboat with a gentleman and his dog passing the time tinkering with the boat. He was a friendly sort and I asked if he had a pump. He said that he might and went into the boat to find it. I wondered why it took him as long as it did because these boats are not large. He reemerged triumphant with the pump in hand. As I repaired the tire we chatted and he mentioned that he drove a lorry at Heathrow. Apparently he was a single male making ends meet with a bohemian life on the canal.
After the repair it didn’t take long to get back to Uxbridge. I bought a pump the next day, but I would not get many more opportunities to use it. The elections happened and our contract was terminated as a part of the fallout. The new PM David Cameron made election promises to get spending under control and our program was an easy target.
Soon after the election I was headed home to Boston. The company shipped my bicycle back with me. It was not an expensive bike, but it had sentimental value after the fun rides that I had on the Grand Union Canal. This is the bicycle that I loaded with 50 pounds of gear to ride 400 miles from Buffalo to Albany in my first self-supported tour in the United States. My experiences in England led to my continuing enjoyment of bicycle touring. However, the Grand Union Canal was special and I miss the opportunity to explore it further.