Free from coots, I decided to travel as far up the River Lea as I could. The Navigation ends in Hertford so that is where I aimed – 15 miles away, which is only an hour and a half by bicycle, but approximately 10 hours by boat.
Start: Enfield Lock
This was my first single-handed cruise. I was worried about travelling by myself, but I really enjoyed it; this was the autonomy I had sought when I’d bought my boat. I was actually better at handling it than I thought, and the canal north of Enfield is gorgeous – all wide straight stretches surrounded by rich green countryside.
But it was hard work. Between Enfield and Hertford there are 13 locks, and going through a lock single-handed starts to become tedious after the fifth. Luckily I had a few boaters to lock-share with, and a few passers-by who couldn’t resist giving a hand to the skinny girl heaving at a lock gate. They all asked me, “Do you live here?” I was happy for the attention, until a male cyclist who followed me for a couple of locks kept asking, “Are you doing this by yourself? Are you really?’
“Yes!” I finally snapped. “Why is that so hard to understand? Now either help me or bugger off!”
Travelling upstream, you enter the lock when it’s empty, close the gates behind you, then open the upstream sluices to bring the boat up to the level of the next pound. The benefit of doing it this way is there is no chance of getting stuck on the dreaded cill (a concrete shelf at the upstream end of the lock that has the potential to sink a boat if your stern gets caught on it) but it does mean that, with each lock, I was clambering up slime-covered ladders with the centre line in my teeth.
It was 8pm when I finally passed through the last lock and arrived in Hertford. I’d made it without any major dramas (apart from crashing into a small plastic boat in one lock – oops. I cycled back down the towpath later to check it hadn’t sunk). I love it here – a quiet, Tudor market town with some beautiful parks and really good pubs. This is the county town of my birthplace, Hitchin, so it’s quite special to have brought my home here to live for a couple of weeks.