On Sunday the 17th of October 12 nomads led by Matt and Mike met at the Club for a local trip towards Watford to explore the canal and river Gade. Despite a good forecast the weather didn’t look too promising with a light drizzle as, after a safety and introductory trip briefing from Matt, we made our way to the canal to put in. The high bank was a challenge to our newer paddlers who acquitted themselves well, but we had our first swimmer of the trip as Sue attempted to get into her new boat. She may have been wet, but was undaunted, as she declared herself warm enough to continue and we headed slowly toward Batchworth lock mindful of the longer distance we’d be paddling today.
A large bunch (flock?) of swans grudgingly let us past at Tesco and we were soon at the first portage of the trip, where practice and a lower bank improved our style. As such a large group of paddlers we drew many admiring comments and, of course, recommended the club. By now the drizzle had stopped completely and the sun was on its way out and we enjoyed the opening out scenery as we made toward the next lock ‘Lot Mead’. As we portaged here we were met by Britta and Tom who proffered a feeble excuse for crying off the trip and we commiserated them on what they were missing before continuing toward Croxley lock.
A pleasant tree lined stretch followed with the occasional resident’s comedy plastic bird to confuse us and we were soon at Croxley lock with our first unimpressive look at the Gade as it flowed just visible across Croxley moor. This lock was, to the relief of many, our last portage on the outward leg, which by now we breezed with many fewer wobbles. For many on their first trip with the club this was probably the furthest they had paddled, but we still had some energy and were thinking of lunch as we continued past the housing estate toward the Gade.
The end of the estate signalled the start of the Gade which flowed parallel to the canal for a while, but inaccessible due to a row of trees. About two hundred yard later we found a passable entrance to the river and Rafael entered, only to get stuck on an underwater log. The rest of the group were directed to take the long way round and followed on up the Gade through true Humphrey Bogart Africa Queen type surroundings with frequent leafy branches to duck under and fallen trees to make our way round. This proved an exciting change to the previous open water, drawing comments that this was ‘real exploring’.
Fortunately none of the fallen trees proved unpassable and we continued a quarter of a mile up the Gade past Croxley business park and under a low bridge to our lunch stop, an attractive picnic lawn on the right. Matt hauled everyone one by one out onto the shallow muddy bank and we congregated on the lawn to chat and enjoy our sandwiches. Thankfully it was still sunny so despite the cool air temperature we didn’t get too cold as lunch stretched to at least half an hour with much discussion.
Finally we put back in slightly higher up the Gade and continued upstream under the railway bridge toward Cassiobury park.
We enjoyed the river scenery and more tree dodging but were soon brought to a halt by a thicket of trees filling the whole river and decided to call it a day and turn back. As we passed our picnic stop once more we discovered we’d put back in above a fallen tree and Matt sawed the largest branch before Rafael could pass through breaking the remaining branches to allow the rest of the group to follow with only minor gymnastics needed over a semi-sunken branch. By now everyone was quite used to the tree dodging and took the Gade back to the canal in their stride. Grouping up and counting once more on the canal we started home, pausing only to explore a side channel where the Gade left the canal over a weir to emerge later on Croxley moor – a trip for another day.
Not to be outdone by Sue, Pierre also managed to fall in portaging at Croxley lock and took it in good humour. The way back seemed longer as we’d used a lot of our energy and a slight head wind slowed us probably more than the very gentle current helped us.
Two more portages remained at the end of the Gade and Batchworth lock, but we were overtaken by an enormous double width barge, not a ‘narrowboat’ coming out of the first lock and were stuck behind it all the way to Batchworth as it manoeuvred gingerly at a snails pace between the moored boats on either side.
Fed up with this we made sure to overtake it at Batchworth lock so we could ‘speed’ back to the Club, pausing only to say goodbye to Phillip on the bank with his dogs and Dan as he left us at the Aquadrome entrance to walk home.
Well done to everyone who made it for the considerable distance and proved themselves capable of completing a trip safely and competent to join the Club Ivel trip next month! Thanks to Annick for the photos and congratulations on her first trip and thanks to Rafael for his assistance
Matt and Mike, trip leaders