Have you got a licence? Doing the London Ring

Doing the London Ring suggests a Circle – but the Cleddau crew’s Ring is more like a letter P with some wiggly bits… It involves the River Thames from Teddington to Brentford – the Grand Union Canal – the Paddington Arm – the Regent’s Canal and the River Thames back to rejoin the Grand Union at Brentford.

An early start was required on Sunday morning, a really early start. Teddington is as far upstream as the tidal effect extends on the Thames so boaters intending to go further downstream need to contact the duty lock keeper for tide timings. The Captain had done his research, scrutinised tide tables and knew that catching a morning tide on Sunday 23rd August would mean being lock ready at 0739.  CS29-01  So, at 0740 Cleddau and Tentatrice, followed by two cruisers, were waved into the middle one of the three Teddington Locks. (See here for other lock information).

It was a 14 feet drop, through the Launch Lock, back down to sea level, having left it on the other side of the country at Bristol on 25th June.

The river felt full and quiet. This was slack water, just an hour before the top of the tide and before the tide turns to pull back out downstream. There was little other traffic – the two cruisers pulled ahead.

Houses, large and small; CS29-02   boats, also large and small. At a boatyard on the Twickenham side a Fire and Rescue Service boat was up on the slipway;  CS29-03  was it having its bottom blacked? Most riverside buildings seem to have a degree of eye appeal – there was a definitely a U-shaped theme going on here  CS29-04  while the bay windows  CS29-05   on the right hand house hint of grander times. Then came Eel Pie Island with its bungalows and verandas.


Downstream on the right hand bank a mansion loomed in a prominent position on a hill.  CS29-07   This is Ham House which looks as if it might make an interesting visit.  The hill and the river sweep round and Richmond appears. Even from the water the area exuded an impression of affluence and elegance.  CS29-09  Under Richmond Bridge,  CS29-08  then under the ornate bridge of Richmond Lock, its barrage open now for the two hours each side of high water.

It was windless; at 9am on a Sunday morning rowers and canoeists had taken to the water.  CS29-10   There was a glance left for Isleworth,  CS29-11   then a long watch as the green edge of Syon Park (London home of the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland) slid by. CS29-12

Opposite Kew Gardens, less than two hours after leaving Teddington, came the not very visible left turn into Brentford which gives access to the Grand Union Canal.  CS29-13   A hundred yards up the channel lay Thames Lock.  CS29-14  A lock keeper appeared, arms waving above his head. “Did you hear my message?” he bellowed.

Apparently not.

“Have you got a licence?” came the next bellowing.

Licence verified the lock gates were opened. There had been weeks on the fresh cool- running Thames waters so here was a shock: debris, rubbish, litter floated densely on the canal water. After the open waters of the river a sense of claustrophobia could soon develop: barges, houseboats and apartment blocks crowd the cut…  CS29-15    Then it was a struggle to operate the Brentford Gauging Locks: which cabinet do you unlock and with which key…?


Brentford has become gentrified in the last decade or so. Gone are the derelict warehouses and factories. Now smart residential apartments and a glitzy GlaxoSmith Kilne office block have replaced them. Ahead of the forecast rain moorings above the locks were grabbed. A local food market  CS29-17  provided Sunday sustenance and some afternoon snoozes helped compensate for the early start.

For months boaters have advised that it’s difficult to find moorings in London. Think of a multi-storey car park, a Spaces Available sign outside it. You drive in, climbing ramp after ramp after ramp, despairing of ever finding the elusive space, then to try to squash yourself into a tight corner on the top deck… It can be like that on the waterways of London. Start early, moor early is the mantra. There are moorings that can be booked – though the process isn’t always easy. But, with moorings booked at the London Canal Museum at Battlebridge Basin (near King’s Cross) for Wednesday night plans had to be laid for Monday and Tuesday cruises…

Monday Conscious of the mooring issue an 8am start was decreed. Rain was expected – and it duly arrived… “Going to Manchester, are yer?” called one of the workforce here.  CS29-18

“Well yes!” (or almost yes, by mid-October…)

There is no photographic evidence of the 10 locks and 5 miles north from Brentford Gauging Locks to Bulls Bridge Junction. (What good would be a waterlogged camera…? If memory serves correctly it felt rural and the River Brent intrudes onto the canal in several places). At the top of the 8 lock Hanwell Flight three volunteer lock keepers were astonished to find any boats moving in such dire conditions… (For wet pictures see the latter part of this Tentatrice blog). Onward another mile and then there was a sharp right turn onto the Paddington Arm.  CS29-19   This was it then, heading east now, past the occasional sad boat and only once, at a difficult moment, meeting an oncoming boat. CS29-20

Relief! There was Willowtree Marina, willing to sell a gas cylinder to nb Tentatrice and to provide overnight moorings for two boats. (Location detail: this was in Hayes, Middlesex). As the rain continued throughout the rest of the day swan parents and their family of nine cygnets continued their preening outside the side hatch window…   CS29-21  Meanwhile, a telephone conference with Les of nb Valerie confirmed the mooring strategy for Tuesday.

Tuesday At 8am the sun was shining – what a relief! Out on the Paddington Arm the swan family were in procession, CS29-23  herons various were looking for fish   CS29-24 CS29-28  and a young fox was scratching itself. CS29-25  Under bridges there are murals CS29-26  and the towpath is in good condition. There was a mosque in Northholt, a glimpse of the Wembley Arches (over in Wembley!) and green, yes GREEN water. CS29-27 This is duckweed; boats can carve a pathway through it but after passing through it swiftly resumes a flat carpet appearance. Towpath signs occasionally indicated proximity to areas: Ealing and Wormwood Scrubs. An aqueduct streamed high above the North Circular CS29-30 and in Acton there are bakery and culinary aromas from food processing plants. There is old industry, there are new apartments CS29-29 and rural opportunities.


“Watch out for the gasometers,” Les had advised, “and be prepared to pick a spot and move further up.” And so it was that the Cleddau and Tentatrice crews found themselves smugly moored up, with gasometers ahead, a railway line to the towpath side, Kensal Green Cemetery on the offside and a Sainsbury’s Extra a few hundred yards ahead. Not bad!

Pouring rain seems appropriate weather for exploring a cemetery:CS29-36  it’s a resting place for a huge cultural mix: Irish, Russian, Japanese, Asian. Princess Sophia, fifth daughter of King George 3rd is there, CS29-37  as well as Sir John Rennie CS29-35 and Nelson’s surgeon. CS29-33 (See here for further details).

Tomorrow then, Wednesday, past Little Venice and Camden Town to the London Canal Museum.

Stats since last post: 22 miles, 13 locks

Monkton Moments* to date: 18

(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)


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3 Responses

  1. Adam says:

    That’s not Ham House up on the hill, it’s the Royal Star and Garter Home. Details here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Star_and_Garter_Home,_Richmond

  2. Jaqueline Biggs says:

    Finally I’ve spent hours reading and catching up with you both, and Sue your prose is delicious!! did you see playwright Harold Pinter’s grave, and Kingdom Isambard Briunel’s plot? I thought it rather plain considering who he was and all he had built.

  3. Captain says:

    Thanks Adam – I stand corrected!
    Jaq, no didn’t see either of those graves. The cemetery is so huge, as you know, and we had no guide (on paper or human) to point us to particular plots. It was so wet too it was often hard to read the inscriptions through the downpour! I would love to see Brunel’s grave though – perhaps another time…
    Sue /Boatwif

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