Many of the waterways are inter-connected and I wanted to make use of this to travel back in time from where I now live near Watford to Bishops Stortford, where we used to live. The Stort is a small river and was made navigable in the early 18th century, connecting up with the much wider Lee (also spelt Lea), enabling grain to be transported readily to London.
We used to watch the boats come up as far as Storford (the end of navigation), the river is so small it was as if the boast appeared out of a tunnel made of trees and water.
I must have chosen on of the windiest weeks to travel. Down through the Grand Union (much younger than the Stort navigation) and through London. I am afraid that the wind has rather left its mark on the boat, and me, but that’s another story.
There is so much to see alongside the London waterways, you cruise right past the Snowdon aviary, under “blow up bridge”, Little Venice – my destination for the end of April, Pirates Castle, the Olympic park and stadium, and many industrial sites, some decrepit, some gentrified.
To get to the Stort requires a full day of cruising up the wide Lee. There is one thing that is immediately obvious when you move between different canals, that is the designs are different. Just as the original railways had different designs so too had the canals. They were partly designed around the local river boats or barges and what was best current practice. So whereas on the Grand Union two narrow boats can fit in a lock, and only one gate is needed to be opened, on the Stort the wide beam barges were just a little narrower, and therefore both gates need to be opened for a narrow boat. On both the Stort and Lee they are very safety conscious providing no hand rails across the gates but only foot bridges. Thus if a lock is set against you you have to cross the bridge at least 3 times to operate the lock. So of these pretty back water locks have little footbridges that also lead to private grounds. Therefore they have put little wicket gates each side that have to be unlatched and latched a every crossing. There are no steps down to the lower lock exit thus you also have to climb the ladders in and out of the lock. I do prefer the Grand Union locks.
The trip up the Stort was a wonderfully quiet trip. The willow lined river being made navigable by the use of some 15 locks and numerous weirs. At these locks are pretty cottages with sometimes obscure emblems. Over the front door of one of these white cottages is a red painted embossed hand with the letters GD, presumably after Sir George Duckett, proprietor of the canal.
The only low point on the trip up the Stort was my trip into the Stort, well more of a slip on the quay that resulted in partial immersion and a somewhat twisted and bruised leg that needed nursing for the next few weeks. Ah well every day is a school day!