Tour to the North

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I was in much better shape for my ride from Uxbridge north of the M25 through Hemel Hempstead. This was also about 50 miles round trip. Unlike the London trip, the canal meandered exclusively through meadows and parks as well as colorful gardens. There was much more narrowboat activity on this part of the canal with a slow flow of boats moving up and down the canal and through the locks.

The locks and their operation are fascinating. There are no lock keepers. Each boat skipper carries their own wrench that they use to open the valves that flood or drain the lock. When the lock is at the necessary level, the skipper leans against the massive shore side lever attached to the lock door to swing it open. There are over 20 locks along this stretch of the Grand Union Canal.

There is a small book and gift shop at one of the locks. I stopped there and found a gem of a guidebook for the English waterways. I bought the Waterways Guide 1, Grand Union, Oxford & the South East published by Collins/Nicholson (Harper Collins). The book has an overview map of The Waterways of Britain that shows the extent of the canals: from London on the east to Bristol in the west; from the Thames in the south to York in the north. At least these are the waterways documented by Collins in their guides. My guidebook covered London, Oxford, and Birmingham, which is a lot of territory. The details cover the pubs, parks, boatyards and many other features of the Grand Union Canal in my area. If you ever travel the English canals, the Collins/Nicholson guides should be the first thing that you get.

Many of the locks feature a distinctive building. These may have been historical buildings, but I have been unable to identify their origin or historical significance. They seemed to be built for some purpose at the locks and may have been warehouses or other places of commerce on the canal. They now seem to be homes. My book shop was housed on one of these buildings.

From the top of a viaduct I had a view toward the south that was typical of the meadows and wooded areas along the canal. Many of the people who live in homes and flats along the canal enjoy colorful gardens near the slowly moving water. The viaducts themselves often add to the scenery with the strength and sweep of their catenaries across the canal. A viaduct mural depicts a horse pulling a narrowboat, the confidant skipper steering from the stern. English gardens and classic homes are everywhere.

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