Nov 21


About two years ago, Hillingdon Narrowboats adopted Copper Mill Lock from CRT (Canal & River Trust). This meant our volunteers would look after the paint work, tidy, litter pick and generally keep an eye open for any damage to the lock and towpath from the bridge at the Coy Carp right up to the “stink hole”.

A few months ago the local YOS approached us looking for a project that their youngsters could become involved with and at the same time giving something back to the community. After some thought, we decided the lock area would be a worthwhile project benefitting the local and canal communities whilst giving them something they could stand back and say “we did that” with pride.


Before: rust ‘n’ weeds

The project started this October. Not knowing what to expect the youngsters together with some YOS staff turned up at the boathouse and we boarded Star loaded with paint, brushes etc. (all supplied by CRT) and headed off through the lock to moor up by railings near the Coy Carp. Star was used as a base. (shelter, toilets, tea coffee etc) Right from the start they were all very eager to begin as none of them had ever done any boating and the operation of the lock was a fascinating and unusual way to start the day. Work on the railings started with scraping and sanding the rust on the first side. Then with the white undercoat being applied the TRANSFORMATION began.

Over the following 3 days they enthusiastically scraped, sanded, undercoated and glossed the railings, bollards and a part of the lock gates – not to mention themselves! But we all stood back and said wow look at the difference as did loads of people on the towpath and boaters alike.

Each day ended with a short boat trip past the Coy to wind back though the lock and up to the stink hole to and then back to the boathouse. All helped on the lock and most had a go at steering, some taking to it like ducks to water. To say it was a success is an understatement. Although we were complete strangers to start with, we quickly formed a team and new-comers were made welcome. Needless to say the joys of working on the canal wins again.

transformation_afterAfter: clean ‘n’ fresh!

The icing on the cake was when one of the youngsters asked off his own back if he come in and help with some woodwork. so far he has done a few days and couple of the others want to come back to volunteer as well.

Its times like this I know why I love to be involved with HNA and wish to thank all at YOS for the opportunity to help. We are all looking forward to a long and fruitful relationship.

Sep 05

Navigating Empty Pounds

empty_poundIf you ever experienced an empty pound it could be a head scratching problem. The solution, often, is relatively simple.

When travelling up or down a flight of locks, (ie a series of locks close together, separated by a short stretch of canal called a pound), you may encounter an empty pound or you may run aground in the pound.

When travelling up a flight and you find the pound above the lock you are in or are about to enter is too low on water for you to proceed, you will have to walk up to the next lock, open the bottom gates and open the paddles on the top gates to feed water down until there is enough water to operate the lock and travel through the pound. However, before doing this, you will need to check that the next pound has sufficient water in it for two pounds. If not, you will have to walk to the next lock to begin the process. Once there is enough water in the pound, close the lock gates and drop the paddles before proceeding.

If you run aground in a pound when travelling up a flight, you will need to feed water from the pound above the next lock (assuming there is sufficient water in the pound). If the next lock is full then partly open the paddles to send water gently into the pound. If the lock is empty, then the paddles on the top gates will also have to be opened. Close the paddles before carrying on as normal.

When travelling down a flight the process is similar. If you run aground then gently feed water from the pound above, remembering to close the paddles before continuing your journey.

If the pound below the lock you are about to enter is empty, then moor up rather than entering the lock. Check there is enough water in the pound you are moored up in, otherwise you could run aground before you enter the lock. Feed water through the lock into the lower pound by opening the top paddles and opening the bottom gates. Don’t forget to close the paddles and the gates and then proceed as normal.

However, for longer pounds, especially those outside flights or locks, it’s a different kettle of fish (so to speak). If you find that the pound is low, and you start refilling it from above, you run the very real risk of causing problems for boats above you. And it’s not unusual, especially in the summer months, for boats to already be sitting on the bottom, set at a dangerous tilt, with mooring lines as taut as a violin string!

In cases such as that, or indeed, where you really aren’t sure what you’re doing, it’s best to get in touch with the Canal and River Trust, to both let them know and to seek their advice. Very often, water management is going on under the control of CRT, the effects of which won’t be readily apparent to a stranded boater, so it’s definitely worth a call. Get it wrong, and you’ll find yourself running up and down the towpath, windlass in hand, being chased by some very angry boaters!

Aug 28

Open Day – September 4, 2016

As a charity, one of the hardest things do do – other than fundraising – is to get the word out about who we are, what we do, and who we work with. With only a limited number of trustees and volunteers, all too often it’s something that’s overlooked, and something we need to be better at.

To try and increase our visibility, we’re holding an open day – anybody and everybody is welcome to come along, have a look around our boats, talk to our volunteers, our management team, our trainers, and to find out what we do. Whether you’re working with a scout group, vulnerable people, the elderly or the disadvantaged, boating can offer something to everyone.

Our team have worked with school, cub/scout groups, church groups, young offenders, domestic violence victims, the unemployed, the disabled and those suffering from mental health issues. Maybe you’ve got some time on your hands, and could spare a couple of hours a month to help us out: whether it’s IT skills, training skills, painting/decorating, pulling weeds, we can always use another pair of hands. Maybe you’re handy with electrics (12v and 240v) or carpentry? Like tinkering with engines? Fancy training to steer one of our 70 foot long boats? Come along, have a cup of tea and a chat, and see what we’re about.

When: Sunday September 4, 2016 from 11.00am – 5.00pm.

Where: The Boathouse, Summerhouse Lane, Harefield, UB9 6HX (map here).

We’ll also be running short boat trips up and down the canal, to give visitors an idea of what boating is like.

Jul 13

Flashback: Photos from Barry’s Archives

barry_holland_2Many years ago now, when Tim Snowden was running the show at HNA, I had a phone call late in the evening from him:  “I’m currently bringing Spirit back towards HNA with a film crew on board. We’ve been filming scenes in the East End and I’m dropping them off at Hampstead Road Lock in Camden. Can you bring her the rest of the way tomorrow if I leave her here?”

Tim being Tim, naturally the plan changed and he decided to press on to Paddington visitor moorings just beyond Little Venice before he tied up for the day. He hadn’t liked some of the characters he’d spotted at Hampstead Road and decided to “play safe” and moor a little closer to home. Subsequently a call at 23:30 told me where Spirit was resting for the day.

Now, having only done a few short trips for HNA so far, I leapt at the chance to pilot her back to Coppermill. My brother Phil, who vicariously enjoyed anything to do with my “adventures'” on the liquid highway, not only leapt like me, but also informed me that Diana, his wife, had a day off tomorrow and would like to accompany us if possible.
Fine, I thought, it should be a good day. We arranged to meet at “The Grand Junction Arms” in Harlesden at midday, giving me plenty of time in splendid isolation at the tiller from Paddington to Harlesden before my crew came aboard.

In glorious weather I caught a train to Warwick Avenue and walked the short distance to Little Venice, where I found Spirit slumbering peacefully alongside a working flat. I moved off, full of excitement, and in the words of the Pet Shop Boys, went West.

Arriving, like Frank Miller at High Noon, Phil and Di had the 10 second tour of Spirit before we got underway. The perfect weather helped a perfect day pass very quickly – we delivered Spirit back to Coppermill by 18:00.

But the point of this missive is to show a photo that I took at the time – not only does it show the interior of Spirit as it used to be, but shows my brother in his best light. Unfortunately, he is no longer with us, having fallen victim to the demon drink at the tragically early age of fifty.

newsletter_hollandI’ve only recently found this shot in my vast pile of photos at home and I wasted no time in dispatching several shots to Diana, who now lives in Ireland. I’d promised to send this particular shot as it flatters Phil, her hubby, very much.

An excerpt from her reply: “Hi Barry, These are wonderful, thanks so much for sending them. So many memories; I particularly like the one on Spirit.”

And one from Ian Maclachlan, past chairman of HNA: “Thanks for the image Barry, a great shot of your brother.”


Jul 04

How should we leave locks?

canal_lock_150x150According to CRT, locks should normally be left with gates closed and paddles down. But why might you choose to leave a lock in a different state when you’ve finished with it?

HNA’s boathouse is close to a weir on the River Colne, just above Coppermill Lock. Normally, when we come up through the lock, we leave the lock filled, with the top gates open (and, of course, the bottom paddles closed) so that boats heading down the cut can go straight in. This is useful for one very important reason: many boats, perhaps as many as one in three, and especially those with inexperienced boaters on board, will end up, somehow stuck across the weir, unable to to free themselves.

In other cases, particularly where we’re taking boats through the lock to wind, we’ll leave the bottom gates open, knowing that we’ll be returning in a few minutes to go back up through the lock.

In other cases, lock chambers may leak, leading to either very wet ground around the lock, or, in some cases, flooding of local properties, where a filled lock over a prolonged period of time, may cause localised flooding – this is a known problem at lock 76 on the Grand Union at Casisobury Park.

Signs on locks will normally tell you how you should leave it. If it tells you to leave it empty, make sure the top gates are closed, and that you open one of the lower paddles to drain the lock. No need to open them both – just one will allow the lock to drain, and keep it empty until the next boat comes along.

Of course, this all goes wrong if the top lock gates are leaking, and you might end up with an empty pound – the section of canal between two lock – above the lock. And if that happens… well, look out for a future blog posting on how to deal with it.

May 22

Barry on VHF Marine Radio Courses

barry_holland_2HNA Trustee, Steerer all-round good egg, Barry Holland has been off to gain his marine radio certification recently. The course is a requirement for anyone who wants to use a marine VHF DSC radio, it is suitable for experienced boaters as well as novices. It covers both basic marine band VHF operation and Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) procedures using Digital Selective Calling (DSC). The course can be completed and is followed by an independent examination by an RYA (Royal Yachting Association) Examiner.

Here’s how it went…

The classroom course allows you to have maximum hands-on experience. The course runs from 0830hrs to approximately 1630hrs followed by the examination. You will be able to practice procedures using RAYMARINE, SIMRAD and ICOM VHF (types of equipment); DSC and GMDSS equipment fitted with dummy loads in order that they may be operated in the classroom environment. The use of this equipment rather than the computer generated simulators used at some other training establishments enables you to experience hands-on use of the equipment & procedures. These are used throughout the course and examination. Before attending the classroom course we will send you your course pack which will contain a book for you to do some pre-course study, the areas that you need to cover are detailed in the pack.

The above sounds simple enough and indeed is once one gets into classroom mode. However, some time has passed since yours truly was made to sit behind a desk and absorb facts and figures from a tutor standing by a blackboard! In fact, the blackboard no longer exists – I don’t think you’re even allowed to say it any more. Now it’s all TV screens, monitors, power point presentations and digital technology. A vast improvement on the days of squeaky chalk making your teeth come out and dance a cha-cha on your bottom lip!

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. As our hiring public get more adventurous and go further afield some customers feel the need to complete ‘The London Ring’ which comprises of the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal to Little Venice, thence the Regent’s Canal to Limehouse and the River Thames. Upstream to Brentford on the Thames Tideway, going with the flood tide,then re-enter the canal system at Brentford Creek to join the main line that runs to Birmingham and beyond. Provided one remembers to stop at Bull’s Bridge in Hayes, the very start of the Paddington Arm, then one can truly say they’ve done it!

There is in existence a video tape (?) record of this trip being completed in one day, indeed I have a copy and tried unsuccessfully to buy a ticket for the trip. It was filmed by ‘Video Active’ & had Michael Essex Lo-Presti, a well-known canal enthusiast, giving a comprehensive commentary for the 11½ hours that the journey took. He required several throat sweets towards the end in order for his voice to last out.The London Waterbus Company sold the tickets and the man from whom I tried to get a ticket told me that the trip was fully booked & could have been sold twenty times over!

However, Hillingdon Narrowboats Association recommend that a more leisurely, say four days is taken over the completion of the ring.

This where we hit the snag. Training sessions for Steerers Courses are available from HNA and indeed comprise the very waters of which we speak. Naturally, the trainers are fully qualified, including the VHF radio section which all craft over 45 feet have needed for several years. Post training, several people wish to ‘do’ the London Ring, when hiring a boat from us for their families. Unless the steerer has the radio qualification then they are not allowed on the tidal waters.The solution is to take, for the 2½ hours on the tideway, one of HNAs qualified staff on the trip. Prior to my ‘suffering’ in the classroom HNA can boast but a handful of them, hence the decision by committee to get a couple more personnel able, to allow a break for the current holders and to let more hirers to make this fabulous trip through iconic London. Take it from me, you will never, I repeat never see London from such an impressive perspective as this.

So, the day dawned when Ian Maclachlan (a good friend to HNA and former chairman) & myself met at High Wycombe and repaired a few miles to Bisham Abbey Sailing School, on the banks of the Thames near Marlow, where the non-tidal waters do not require such credentials as further downstream on the tideway.

It was a full-on course that was underway by 08:45 and destined not to finish before 17:30 with a short lunch break. It will take a long time before the image of a grown man slotted in behind a desk, struggling to send ‘pretend’ messages and making ‘schoolboy errors’ throughout the day, fades from my memory. No doubt Ian’s view of me engendered the same emotions. Slowly but surely though, our messages ‘tightened up’ and became more accurate and concise as the day wore on. Apologies from the instructor were forthcoming very early in the day as Ian and myself had covered all that was necessary for our needs but, of course, the course was the whole course and nothing but the course—no shortcuts allowed.

The two other candidates in the room for instance are employed by the Environment Agency and will, I am sure, need a lot more of their qualification to make their jobs run more smoothly.

A few days after this intense classroom experience was over, a buff envelope dropped on my mat. Inside was my licence to operate a VHF radio on the tideway – deep joy – be still my beating heart!!

May 14

Writer’s Block? Nah!

beatriceDoes this happen to anyone else I wonder, those feelings when you have come to the end of a piece of work. A certain glee that you have finished, a bout of sadness that you have indeed finished, guilt that you are not at your computer writing and then that awful gut feeling that you’re finished as a writer.

These are what I experienced recently after completing one adult novel and a children’s book. For the first few months writing time about two hours in the afternoon as far as I’m concerned, was spent researching and writing to agents and publishers interested in my genre. Only to be expected were the inevitable rejection slips, roughly 25%, about 70% didn’t bother to answer (I know, it’s a saturated market thank you) and 5% encouraging words although rejected.

At the back of my mind was the niggling yearning to write – but nothing inspired me. I began to despair. Was I suffering from writer’s block? I checked on the Internet and found that Charlie Jane Anders (American writer and commentator) believes there is probably no such thing, rather that there are ten realistic reasons why an author, temporarily, cannot write. Interestingly, the medical definition says it is “…a psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece of writing”.

All this changed when a friend who, like me, often has free time on Sundays, asked if I would like to go to Little Venice, London, to see narrowboats dressed overall for the annual cavalcade. The weather was fair, the crowd sauntering around were friendly, craft stalls displayed wonderful goods and a jazz band added to the atmosphere. There was also a short blessing of the boats by the local vicar. It was all so colourful, especially the boats dripping with bunting, their brass fitments gleaming and enthusiastic, mostly volunteer, crews.

We wandered along the towpath towards Paddington station for our journey home and were delighted to find, almost at the end of the berthed boats, Hillingdon Narrowboats Association. We had no idea that there was such a group in our locale. We chatted with the members for a while and then I spotted their advertisement. My heart soared. Among the vacancies listed was: ‘Wanted – Storyteller’. As a retired teacher, what more could I ask for? Here was a chance to write and read to children, whose company was sorely missed when I retired. I made immediate enquiries and after a few hiccups (the chairman Loraine, who was to interview me, was rushed to hospital on the day), the task was mine. I am now the writer/teller of children’s stories for young passengers on a day’s outing on the canal.

I have already written a ghost story for Halloween and nearly finished a Christmas tale. My first book of canal stories, Towing Path Tales features the life of a 9-14 year old boy, Bert, living on a narrowboat during the early 20th century, is already published and is dedicated to Hillingdon Narrowboats Association. The second book of Bert’s stories is now in the hands of the publisher and the third should be available sometime this year. Readership age range 9 to 90 years! My head is buzzing with ideas, my fingers whizzing over my keys, I am writing – I’m a writer again!

– Beatrice Holloway

Beatrice Holloway has written and produced plays for which she was awarded a Certificate of Merit for “Outstanding Contribution to the Arts in the London Borough of Hillingdon”. Her novels include A Man from the North East detailing the adventures of a young miner, and Elusive Destiny which tells of how a boy lives trying to avoid breaking a commandment. Soon to be published are an adult novel Archie’s Children and a children’s novel Training a Greyhound and other Pocket Money Ideas, featuring children’s mischief. For e-books and more about Beatrice, visit

Apr 23

Living the Dream…

phil_hood…by Phil Hood.

It all started in the summer of 2015 after I made up my mind to buy a “barge” (as I knew it then). So I spent all of my spare time travelling up and down the Grand Union on my trusty mountain bike, which, I found out later, is the scourge of canal dwellers! I went from the Packet Boat to Langley harassing and cajoling information out of anyone kind and patient enough to talk to me. I soon found out that there is an extraordinary large number of mad people on the canal, (or “cut” as the aficionados call it). I spotted HNA on my travels and an idea came to mind. I went online and found out they let complete idiots go on their boats. This was in the form of a bona fide training course in boat handling. Perfect, I thought, and I duly signed up. The cost was exceptionally reasonable, in fact, I would have paid a lot more for such professional tuition.

Going on the course was the best decision I could have made given my desire to get my own craft. I learned everything there was to know about handling a boat and what was expected from people steering on the cut. I would highly recommend this to anyone wanting to experience life on a boat even if they never want to live on one. But I guarantee many will think “I’d love to give up the land and move onto the water”.

That was it! I had to get a boat as soon as possible. Unfortunately, Winter was on its way, but hey ho, in at the deep end! (Actually, it’s not that deep, which I found out on the course!) Dave and Loraine at HNA put me in touch with a friend who was leaving his boat and I grabbed this opportunity with both hands. I didn’t have any expectations of comfort, which was just as well as the on-board heating packed up as soon as I got the keys. It was probably the coldest time I’ve ever experienced! But I was surprised how cosy it was once I worked out how to build a successful fire.

As we now move into Spring, I’m now realising the true attraction of living on the water – the sound of birds in the morning, swans coming to get food from my kitchen (sorry, galley) window and the silence at night…unless you moor under a train bridge!

Many people I meet say it’s the best decision they have ever made and I have to agree wholeheartedly. I doubt I will return to “landlubbering”.

Note: Phil joined us in late 2015 for one of our four-day narrowboat training courses. If you’d like to join us on a future course, take a look at our training pages here.

Mar 06

HNA Becomes a DofE Residential Approved Activity Provider

AAP LOGO DofE Gunmetal_smallWe ended last week with some great news from the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, and are pleased to announced that we have been awarded Residential Approved Activity Provider for the DofE.

This is a great achievement, which follows months of work behind the scenes, and which allows us to offer our training courses to young people who are doing their DofE. Our training courses fit in perfectly with the requirements of the DofE, in that they cover five days and four nights in a group setting, allow young people to take part in a specific course or activity, and that participants join us as individuals rather than as a goup.

Currently, we provide 2-3 courses per year, which young people are able to join, and from later on in 2016, and subject to demand, we’ll be offering DofE-only courses, backed-up with instructors trained in delivering the specifics of the DofE.

HNA’s courses include accommodation, meals, food/drink and course manuals, and take you through one of the most exciting cities in the world, from a unique perspective.

Feb 22

Charging the batteries

barry_hollandWith the promise of blue skies and some sunshine, I thought today, 10 February, would be a good time to take the boat for a trip up the water. It hadn’t been moved since the Slough Basin excursion back in late September. Despite the frost overnight, the day warmed up nicely with even some sunshine as forecast. Just lately the forecasts have been getting more and more accurate – the recent winds were predicted – and indeed the cessation of same. A pity then, that, had I thought the whole thing through, I might have been more alert to the possible consequences of that wind.

Hindsight is 20/20 vision so the saying goes, and as such I may be being too harsh on myself. Suffice it to say that I was definitely not expecting to pick up on my propeller blade a tent-like structure that could have been used to stage the Reading Rock Festival!

One second just gliding along, taking in the wonderful scenery , then, suddenly, a change in the engine note as the prop attempted to reduce the overall size of the tent from mansion-like dimensions to those of a dog-kennel. I quickly switched off the engine and with no power drifted forlornly towards Stocker’s Lock. Despite the strong sunshine, the water was exceedingly cold as I grappled with the ‘Norman Bates’ [the name aptly given by a friend of mine to the large knife he was using when dealing with a similar situation some years ago] down the weed hatch. Plenty of sawing and slashing resulted in seemingly poor returns as regards the amount of plastic and canvas I was slowly amassing on the back deck. Hyperbole not withstanding, it would seem to be the remains of a gazebo that, piece-by-piece emerged from the watery depths. The aforementioned wind no doubt responsible for its being there in the water, just waiting for an ingenue like me to happen by!

After what seemed an age, with cold hands and heaving chest, I thought I’d got it all. Occasional gusts had blown the pile back in the water but much reduced in size. My main concern was not that, but hoping a boat wouldn’t approach around the blind left-hand bend ahead where I was still subject to the vagaries of the wind and current, such as it was. Little did I know the reason why I had been ‘lucky’ that no boat had appeared!

Under way at last again, in no time at all, I was tying up to the bollards below Stocker’s and trying to make out what I could see up at the lock itself.

A crane was lowering into place one of four replacement lock gates! A stoppage of which I was totally unaware – I only wanted to go as far as Tesco and back to base – no chance. “We’ll be three weeks here, mate,” was the cheery rejoinder from one of the many C & RT workers there.

Just as well I could turn below the lock alongside the farm itself (just). I made my way back to base without further incident. If the batteries weren’t charged up by now, tough – I’d had enough for the day and I’d been out for over four hours anyway!

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