I arrived at the Tring summit cutting on one of the hottest days of the year after a long period of no rain to find the canal full of water. It was not quite lapping over the narrow dusty tow path but not far off. Quite a few of the moored boats were listing towards the bank as their mooring lines were pulled taught as the boats floated higher. I arrived by bike having got a train from near home due to my car needing a new brake caliper. On the back of my bike I carried the rolled up front canopy of GB having replaced its four zips.
Tring summit is at the top of the long incline from London, the locks starting at Cowley, getting more frequent through the ancient town of Berkhampsted and culminating at Cowroast, the beginning of the three mile cutting that is the summit. At the other end is Bulbourne, which used to be one of the major lock gate manufacturing sites on the Grand Union, but not any longer. Much of the cutting is deep and tree lined making cruises cool in the summer, cold in the winter, fragrant in the spring and propeller cloggingly leaf ridden in the autumn. Water supply is normally a problem thus to find it full was a surprise.
According to one of the wonderful CRT crew, the Environment Agency had temporarily banned CRT from pumping water from a river to feed the canal further down at Berkhampsted, Thus CRT pumped water up the summit over night and were running it down the canal through the seven locks to get to the pound in the town. It was in effect a three mile long, night storage tank. I am guessing that they pumped it from the reservoirs on the other side of the hill which were built to hold water for the canal.
I once mentioned the summit and hill in a casual conversation with my previous boss. He said he thought canals always stayed in the valleys and did not go up hill. “What do you think locks are for and where do you think valleys end up if not in a hill?”, I thought, but did not say. Early retirement was a year or two off and after all he had a tennis court at home a drove a Porshe, poor thing, how could he be expected to know?
Back at the boat it was pleasing to see that the cover still fitted even if the stitching was a bit untidy, or to be truthful very untidy. I would not have paid for such a job, but at £50 a zip I was not going to pay to get it done properly either.
The day before, the hottest for forty years, I had cleared the large pine dining table and shifted the chairs to lay out the expanse of heavy vinyl. I was pleased it was hot so at least I had some chance of fighting back against the cover which had a will of its own. When I wanted it to move through the machine it wanted to slip sideways. When I wanted it to stop it wanted to head off down the other side of the table. When I wanted to straighten it up it grabbed under the corners of the table with its windows, refusing any attempt to move it. Although this was a one person job I would recommend that person have the standard two feet to operate the machine, one hand for the thread, two to pull the cover through the machine, two to push it through, one on the side to keep it straight, one holding the zip in place and one to hold a glass of beer.
It was a lovely day to cruise the length of the summit, especially not having to be concerned about the water level. The short trip was punctuated with conversations with friends and strangers finally a short lunch before heading back home by bike and train.
Now I know we reckon that train fair in the UK is pricey. My day out cost £4.30, I could have had over a hundred such trips for less than the cost of getting the car brake repaired, now that’s pricey. Mind you, not as pricey as my ex-bosses repair bill for car, he blew the engine on his Porshe!