What an agonising choice. Our shortlist of pubs all deserve a prize, but only one can win so it has to be The Rising Sun at Berko. Architecturally it is no great shakes, and the decor isn't anything special, and you can't moor outside the door, but it wins because they are so good at what they do. Simply providing lovely things to drink. And its not by accident. The landlord is always keen to ask your opinion of this beer or that cider and they really do try to have a selection of unusual and delicious stuff. Its the equivalent of fine dining. This is fine drinking. Its also a real pub. A place to have a conversation with people you never saw before. As for their little beer festival, it was small but perfectly formed.
And now for something completely different. The award for Favourite Overnight Mooring. For this year's selection I have decided to go for places that give me pleasure just to be at. They may not necessarily have handy shops or a pub or other attractions. Just nice places to sit on or near the boat and enjoy being there.
So here we go with the shortlist.
1. Kensal Green, London
The last bit of proper greenery before you get into the city centre, although it is only ten minutes walk from the Portobello Road. There is always room to moor here, and you can have a picnic or a BBQ and watch the ducks and geese. Joggers and cyclists go to and fro on the towpath, but it has a nice air of calm. Even the huge gas holder nearby is attractive, and there are some fascinating boats in the area like this one that chugged past us.
2. Grove Park - Grand Union
We stopped here on a glorious summer evening and walked around taking photos. The canal here is actually a bit of river and has a gentle current. I suspect this place is a bit genteel and manicured for some tastes, but you can't deny its beauty.
3. Winkwell - Grand Union
The very next evening from the Grove, we stopped at Winkwell just above the swing bridge. This is the northern outskirts of Hemel Hempstead. You can see the Four Horshoes just down the cut, a popular pub for sitting out by the water. The towpath runs alongside a little stream at the foot of some attractive house gardens.
4. Fenny Stratford lock - Grand Union near Milton Keynes
I bet a lot of people would be surprised at this choice, but I love it. The moorings lie against a hedgerow behind which is a footpath with a surprising abundance and selection of wild flowers. Grace stayed with us here and she loved the walk. On the other side of the canal just some suburban houses and the streets leading over the hill to IKEA, B&Q et al.
Its a really good place to do a spot of gunwale painting as the bank is low. This time I used it to do the signwriting on the starboard side. That bottle you can see is white spirit. The little high street nearby has food and a great hardware shop. Most of all though it is a pleasant place to sit out at night.
5. Hertford Town moorings - River Lea
A nominee in previous years too, I have a soft spot for this place as it was one of the first places we took Herbie. The river here is clear, narrow and gentle and across the towpath lie the town allotments. Despite being only a couple of hundred yards from the town centre it is quiet. Just the odd person strolls past. Mostly just out for a gentle stroll. Hertford is such a nice old town, so even after hours, a short walk gives you lots of fine old buildings to look at. If the wind is in the right direction you have the added bonus of the aroma of hops from the nearby McMullen's Brewery. In this picture we had taken the last spot. Further back, the grass verge is wide enough to sit out on.
Writing these up has given me a strong sense of nostalgia for our cruises this year, and they remind me of why I love cruising. I have no idea yet who I will choose for the winner.