Awkward River Stort

It was many months ago that I discovered my cousin Lesley lived in Bishop’s Stortford.  I knew the canal could take us there, so I promised to get in touch if we ever made it.  When we finally reached London, we were then bound to head that way. When we got to the junction of the River Lee with the River Stort we turned on to the Stort.

A sign at the junction warned that the locks on the Stort are not wide enough for two boats side-by-side.  We realised that this also means we have to open both gates – at least partially – at all the locks.  That was going to be a little awkward.

Stone tablet at the side of the river.  The block is carved in an uneven style with the words "Man may come and go but the River goes on forever".
How Long IS This River?

I had assumed we would be doing a gentle explore of the area, but events have conspired to hurry us up. We got ourselves to within walking distance of a railway station so that we could attend a funeral, and then that time away was also extended by a day due to rail strikes.

On our return we moved the boat a couple of miles and a couple of locks to get ahead. The plan was also to empty the waste tank before we had guests.  It was a little awkward because the hose needed to go in to the gunwhale on the canal side, but I’ve managed it before.  Clare put the card in to the machine and we could hear the pump running.  After waiting the suggested minute, I opened the valve and … nothing happened.  Various attempts at pausing and restarting made no difference so we gave up.

To my annoyance I then had great difficulty extracting the hose.  This one seemed firmly stuck and I was standing on a four inch wide ledge – if it comes out suddenly I might end up in the water!  Eventually I resorted to using a rope.  By wrapping the end of the centre rope around the hose I was able to apply an upward force without first bending over sideways.  With a little encouragement from Clare too, the hose came out – phew!

Having to open both gates on all the locks was a minor nuisance.  We soon discovered that the winding gear was also inconsistent.  Some (but not all) of the tail gate paddles were operated by hydraulic gear.  This gear is generally easy to use, but the spindles are very slightly larger (why?) than the usual ones.  Our usual windlass with fancy features doesn’t fit, so we have to revert to the inferior type – and sometimes go back to the boat to get it.

Tail gates of a River Stort Lock.  In the foreground, the hydraulic winding gear spindle can be seen.  Across the canal the raised paddle can be seen underneath the corresponding gear. On the other side of the lock gate water rushes out of a tunnel.
Hydraulic Lock Gear

We made good time nevertheless and picked up Lesley as planned at Sawbridgeworth.  We haven’t seen very much of each other since we were children, so we had plenty of catching up to do.  The sunny and warm afternoon was perfect for a leisurely cruise.  A grasshopper joined us for a short while and we also saw dragonflies over the water.

Long Winged Conehead sitting on the boat.  A grasshopper with long feelers sits on the boat.  It's colours all contrast strongly with its background.
Long Winged Conehead on Bartimaeus

We had a lovely catch-up the whole of the way to Bishop’s Stortford – the only awkwardness was the lock gear!  Lesley’s husband John joined us for a cup of tea once we’d moored up, and then we were invited for dinner. Dinner was delicious and my Uncle Alan and his wife Sandy joined us too.  We all agreed that it was great to meet family members when it wasn’t a funeral for a change.

In the morning we explored Bishop’s Stortford.  We had an enjoyable lunch at a cafe where the day’s special was fresh crab sandwiches.  The pump out here was clearly marked “Out of Order” though, so we didn’t waste time or a card trying to use it, but we knew we needed to get to one that worked – and soon.  We got as far as Sawbridgeworth again before we moored at a jaunty angle – getting right to the bank wasn’t an option.

The dew was quite heavy this morning, but we set off early.  The first lock of the day has a different mechanism. The road bridge immediately below the lock has had a footbridge built alongside it.  The footbridge is directly above the lock gates, so they can’t be operated in the usual way at all.  A powered pneumatic system has been added to open and close the gates and paddles.

Tail gates of a River Stort Lock. A road bridge immediately downstream has had a footbridge built alongside it. The bridge crosses above the gate hinges where the arms might normally be attached. A hydraulic mechanism has been installed to allow the gates to be operated.
No Room for Gate Arms under the Bridge

By mid-afternoon, we had reached Roydon Marina Village.  It is not unusual for a marina to be on a lake to the side of the canal.  What is unusual about this one is that the lake is separated from the canal by a lock.  We were worked through the lock by some boaters who were enjoying the sunny afternoon – a random act of kindness.

It was quite a relief to get the waste tank emptied, and we headed back through the lock in the last of the warm afternoon sunshine.  We had a couple of attempts at finding a mooring, but settled on another awkward one.  We’ll have to use the gangplank to get off the boat in the morning.  The mackerel sky as the sun went down is reputed to be a harbinger of a change in the weather – that’s not in our weather forecast.

Mackerel Sky.  A layer of high cloud under a blue sky.
Mackerel Sky
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