PS on last year’s Round London

I have just watched a delightful programme in which actors Timothy West and Prunella Scales circumnavigated central London in a narrow boat from Black Prince, the same as the holiday we blogged on last year. It was, however, surprising when Timothy announced in Limehouse Basin that hired narrowboats are not allowed on the river: not so.

We went up the Thames from Limehouse at the same time as  several other Black Prince boats last May. The only condition was that someone on board had to have a VHF/DSC licence and a handheld radio hired from the company, which was fine, as three of us had licences. At least one of the other boats, a group of Norwegian holidaymakers, hired a pilot, and I assume that was negotiated with the company.

So don’t be put off: the exciting river passage was perfectly possible unless they drastically changed the rules between May and the summer when the episode of Channel 4’s Great Canal Journeys seems to have been filmed.

Timothy and Prunella met Andrew Sachs – Manuel from Fawlty Towers to Prunella’s Sybil – on a Regents’ Canal stop, an excuse for old clips from the show. From Limehouse, they did the Thames section of the circumnavigation in a fast river launch.

Limehouse to Brentford with the tide

We’ve booked the lock into the Thames for 1130, to catch the last couple of hours of the tide, which will sweep us up the river. (The boat goes so slowly that it would hardly move if it tried to fight the tide). Three other Black Prince boats head for the lock, with a shared professional pilot, but one turns back because of engine trouble. We head out into the Thames, giving our plan to Thames VTS (traffic control) on VHF channel 14, and head for Tower Bridge.

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We intend to go through the centre span but as we approach a white light starts flashing which is the signal that a large craft needs it, so we divert to the right hand span as a small coaster looms behind us.

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We pass the Tower and all the other sights of central London’s riverside, while concentrating hard on the currents which swirl round every obstruction and moored craft, at the same time reading the bridge by bridge pilotage guide – sadly no longer in print.

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Ben took time off from work nearby to take pictures of us as we went past HMS President.

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Then we passed the London Eye and parliament, where there is a 70 meter exclusion zone for boats.

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The bridges became easier as the traffic eased and the number of darting river buses fell – their stops alternate sides of the river. The first complication was Battersea Railway Bridge, where we had to call Bridge Control for permission to pass because of the extensive work being done on the bridge.

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Two Black Prince boats rented by Norwegians, which had left Limehouse with us, overtook as we approached Chiswick.

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Chris steered the last leg up to the entrance to the River Brent and the tidal lock.

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We wound our way up the narrow river, crowded with moored barges, to the Gauging Lock at Brentford, where we went through into the canal basin and moored for the night. Susannah brought Tom and Ella-Rose to see the boat.

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And this is the photo Ben emailed of us passing The Globe.

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Dinner on board.

Through Islington tunnel

We went through the Islington Tunnel, 960 yards long, running under Chapel Market.

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…and then lunch at the Narrowboat near City Road Basin, once a traditional pub but now a restaurant with bar. Here are five of the crew back in the cockpit getting ready to head for Hackney.

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The area round City Road basin is being transformed:


Past Kingsland Basin – a few years ago a rather scruffy basin full of narrowboats, now a smart new development of flats with the narrowboats moored neatly to new pontoons – and on to Broadway Market, which has bars, bookshops and small restaurants. We moored by a graffiti-strewn wall close to the bridge.
Good dinner in The Dove, a pub on Broadway Market with the longest list of beers (mainly Belgian) I have ever seen. They do moules frites among other dishes. Will and Faye joined us after dinner and came back to the boat for a drink.
Forward lavatory pump not working – the bane of all boating holidays.