Slow to Slough

Once we’d cleared the top lock at Camden, the canal is level for nearly twenty miles.  We opted to extend the level still further by turning in to the Slough Arm, a 5 mile cul-de-sac.  Within the first few hundred yards we had seen a pair of kingfishers chasing each other.  We tried to point them out to a pair of fishermen on the bank, but they seemed underwhelmed, perhaps they viewed them as competition.  They had much more competition from a cormorant we had seen earlier.  It had caught a fish that looked longer than its neck, but with a swift movement the whole fish vanished in to its beak.

The water in the arm is considerably shallower than the main line so we set a correspondingly slower pace. After a couple of miles we reached a section with large number of boats moored on the offside.  Some way along there were a pair of narrowboats moored on the towpath side.  As we approached, one of the boaters jumped up on to her roof to watch us go by.  They had just moored up and she was checking that there was room for a wide boat to pass.  I said I thought there was, but also asked how many she was expecting.  We agreed that we were both surprised to see another moving boat at all.

Another mile further on, we passed a winding hole.  Our sluggish pace dropped even further, clearly we were entering a section where even fewer boats move. Despite the canal being almost straight, there were some places where the vegetation threatened to block the way. 

View from the stern deck of a narrowboat.  Above and in front of the boat there are reeds and bushes.  There is no water visible at all.
There is a Canal Here Somewhere

I could feel that the propellor was being fouled, but until then had been able to clear it with a quick blast of reverse.  I was having to do this more often now, and although it usually improved things, it didn’t feel like it was ever quite clear.  Eventually we came to a complete stop, and after a few more attempts to clear it I realised that the propellor was so clogged that we were being pushed backwards whichever way we turned the propellor.  There was nothing for it but to open the weed hatch.

The back and shoulders of someone with their head in the weed hatch.  The cover of the weed hatch is open and a collection of detritus has been dumped on the rear deck.
Shane Pulling Weed from the Propellor

I found a quite a lot of plastic, but the majority of the clogging was very fine water weed.  I didn’t clear it completely but thought I had done enough and we set off again.  We didn’t get very far before I had to give up and dive in to the hatch again.  This time I cleaned everything off and we made some slow progress.  I had previously been keeping our speed down but I experimented with using more throttle.  We didn’t go as fast as I would have expected at that engine speed, but we did make better progress.

A rat swimming in the canal.  The view is from directly above.  The gunwale of the boat is visible and the rat is swimming parallel to it.  The water is clear so that the rat's features are clearly visible.
Losing the Rat Race

At one stage we noticed that a rat was swimming alongside the boat.  It was gaining on us slightly until it decided to swim round behind us. Our progress was now significantly under a mile per hour.  Even though we were only half a mile from the basin with an hour until sunset, when we saw a stretch of bank that looked easy to moor on, we did.

The next morning we set off again to the basin.  Despite the previous day’s concerns, we made easy progress and were able to turn without any difficulty.  We were not able to get the mooring spikes in at what looked like the right place to moor, so we settled on mooring opposite the winding hole – surely nobody else would be needing to turn.

A woman sitting on the stern deck of a narrowboat. Across the basin the towpath is lined with metal fencing. Beyond St Paul's Church is visible across a field.
Clare on Bartimaeus at Slough Basin

This was our first silver propellor location for some time, so we made sure we recorded our arrival before exploring any further.  We were only a few boat lengths from a busy road in to town, but the mooring still felt very peaceful.  There was an information board at the end of the canal with pictures of wildlife on it.  Unusually, we’d seen nearly all of the depicted creatures, though they had chosen to depict a water vole, but not the rats.

Later in the afternoon we saw a wide boat coming along the canal.  I chatted with the driver as he turned the boat around – I offered to move if needed, but there was just enough space.  They headed off back down the canal leaving us alone, but leaving enough space for a wide boat was a requirement after all.

A narrowboat moored at the side of a canal.  There are trees on the bank behind the boat and the sky above is blue.  The scene is reflected in the still waters of the canal.
Bartimaeus Moored at Slough Basin