Ancient routes

Heading northwards the canal passes some pretty ancient sites. North of Watford is Berkhamsted a mere thirteen miles by car, an hour by bike or ten hours and 25 locks by boat. There the canal passes close by the ancient site of the castle given to William the Conqueror’s brother. Originally a wooden fort it then had a typical moat and bailey with stone keep. It is now mainly in ruins but still stands in contrast to the rail and canal as they pass by.

Along the canals are water points. These are places to moor whilst filling up with drinnking water from stand pipes. They are rarely in convenient places to stop because when first installed water pipe would have been expensive lead pipes thus they are often located close to lock cottages or other dwellings. Filling up at Berkhamsted I met two of our Waterways Chaplains who walk the towpath on a regular basis, looking to help those in need of practical or spiritual aid. It was pleasant to chat to them but reminded me that I was not going to be doing much of that for the next few weeks whilst cruising.

A few locks further on one gets to the pumping station at Northchurch. This was used to maintain waters in the canal which at this point is above any significant inflows from rivers as it climbs towards the summit.

The summit is reached at Cowroast. This small hamlet has older origins than the Normans, dating back to Roman and even bronze age settlements. The name is probably derived from Cow Rest, a place where drovers could graze their cattle on the route south. Thus this is evidence that generations have used this cutting through the surrounding hills as a route south. The canal, the east coast rail line and the A41 trunk road all pass through this gap.

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Getting through this last lock upwards leads to several miles of relief from locks. The canal has gradually climbed for 30 miles through 45 locks from the outskirts of London. With the prospect of gradually dropping onto the Aylesbury vale one feels that one has at last put the metropolis behind and quieter days await.

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