Tuesday 19 December 2023

Milton Keynes to Leighton Buzzard. Grand Union Canal.

Late Autumn on the Grand Union.

Another Saturday dawned, so we left Legend at Bolbeck park and wound our way through the Milton Keynes maze of footpaths to Linford Wood for parkrun - followed by a very nice coffee - and managed to get back without getting rained on, despite the uninspiring weather forecast.

Back at legend we phoned No.1 grandchild to say happy 7th birthday (where does it go?) then in the evening made a big bowl of popcorn ready for watching Strictly in Blackpool.

The next morning we walked down to Campbell park where we’d left the car and drove to Emerson Valley - near Milton Keynes football club - to help marshal the junior parkrun. After that we moved Legend on a bit to Campbell Park, putting car and boat together again. The local wildlife were clearly used to boats and bird tables.

Diane and Richard came for a visit the next day. It was the first time Richard had been on our boat - or anyone else’s for that matter - so there was the usual period of tottering about and unsteadiness that narrowboat virgins go through, which Ann-Marie cunningly cured by distracting everyone with lashings of tea and her wonderful scones. We had a very pleasant walk around Willen Lake before lunch, then a cozy afternoon chatting and catching up.  A perfect day with good friends, and it was especially good to see Diane looking so much better.

This close to Christmas, we felt that we couldn’t leave MK without visiting the bright lights of the shopping centre, so the next morning we walked over there and immersed ourselves in retail extravagance.

A couple of hours was more than enough though, so laden with no shopping whatsoever, we grabbed a couple of coffees from Pret and walked back to the boat via the Light Pyramid and the Circle Dance on the MK Art Trail.

Ann-Marie was up early the next morning, and out for a run round Willen Lake before we moved in the chilly sunshine to Fenny Stratford where we moored just before the stop lock for a couple of nights. Fenny Stratford is conveniently close to Ikea and there were a few things we needed (isn’t there always?), so we went for breakfast the next morning. For a while now we’ve been on the lookout  for some artificial flowers to add a bit of colour to Legend’s roof in the winter, Ikea had a good selection and we came home with a rucksack full of plastic busy lizzies. They are very obviously artificial, but they really brighten it up, and we’re hoping they’ll provide a modicum of shelter for the poor, brave little cyclamen that we’ve abandoned to their fate up there.

On the way home we had a wander round Bletchley...

...had coffee and cake in the Italian cake, and picked up a couple of charity shop jigsaw puzzles. (More about them later.)

The next day we took the car down to Soulbury three locks and although it was sunny walking back, we had a freezing northerly headwind. Brrr. When we got home, while we were adding more layers and more coffee, Nb Wandering Willow came past us on its way to the lock, and we quickly got ourselves sorted so that we could share. Ann-Marie walked down to the lock just in time to find Anna in a muddle because, with the winter sun in her eyes, she hadn’t seen that there was a bridge across the open lock that you need to swing before you go in, (well who would?) and was in the process of pulling her boat back to make room for the bridge swing. Dave hovered while they sorted it out then pulled in alongside. Anna told us she hadn’t had the boat for long, she’d bought it in Skipton and after living on it up there for a while was now heading for Aylesbury for Christmas.

Anna on Wandering Willow leading Legend into Soulbury bottom lock.

We shared Stoke Hammond and the Soulbury three locks and by the time we got to the top we were firm friends. We moored both boats at the top of Soulbury Three and Anna joined us for dinner, during which we discovered that while she was in Skipton she’d become really good friends with Anita, who we’d helped down the locks from Standedge in the summer. They’d been moored near each other and boated together till going their separate ways at Coopers Bridge. It’s been so quiet on the northern waterways this year that with one hand we can count the number of people we’ve met that we’ve felt inclined to exchange details with. (What is it that tells you you’re going to be friends with someone as soon as you meet them? Whatever it is, when you know, you know.) What a small world it is that we should have met, and really got on well with both of them.

Another Saturday arrived - the coldest one so far at -3.5°C. We got the bikes out and cycled to parkrun at Rushmere Country Park. Google described the route as “mostly flat”, and was clearly lying through it’s googling teeth. We had to get off and walk three googling times and got there just as the first timers briefing finished, so as soon as we’d gone through transition from cyclists to runners we were off. Now we know what triathletes feel like. (No, we really don’t).

Rushmere's Mudometer in action!

It was a tough run as well; two trail laps with hills, woods, mud and tree roots; the total antithesis of the flat, paved runs we’ve recently had in and around MK. We both enjoyed it but we were totally knackered by the end.

We got chatting to some local runners in the café afterwards and learned that there was a much flatter - if slightly longer - way back to the canal, which was a great relief because we were seriously contemplating abandoning the bikes and phoning for an Uber.

So, the jigsaw puzzles. Although we love doing jigsaws, there really isn’t enough room in our little boat to indulge in them. However we had the idea of making Advent jigsaws as Christmas presents for Anne & Andy and Karen & Andrew this year and we’d convinced ourselves it was just a matter of discipline and logistics. Step 1 - do the puzzles.  A 1000 piece jigsaw only just fits on our dining table, with room for about twenty bits round the edge, all of which seem desperate to throw themselves to the floor at any given opportunity. Add to that, Dear Reader, the fact that the table, being one of the few horizontal surfaces we own, performs a myriad of vital functions, and you can imagine how much stress this little endeavour introduced into our lives. Oh, and advent was only a week away when we started. Instead of being a calm, relaxing, genteel pastime, completing these two jigsaws suddenly became a mammoth military exercise and very nearly ended with both of them in the at the bottom of the canal.

Unless they read this, the respective recipients will never know how close they came to getting a box of biscuits each instead. However, over the next four days we gritted our teeth, girded our loins, withered our shins and knuckled down. Once they were complete, we took them apart systematically and put 41 pieces into each of the little numbered boxes that we’d made...

...put the little boxes into each if the big boxes and wrapped them up. Despite it being - or maybe because it was - almost impossible, we actually did have a lot of fun doing it, and the little boxes really made it come together.

During all that we managed to fit in marshalling at Leighton Buzzard junior parkrun, and a boat move to Leighton Lock where we stayed for a fortnight. We hadn’t meant to stay that long, but it’ll come as no surprise, Dear Reader, to learn that our plans have changed once more. Instead of charging ahead to get below Rickmansworth before January, we’ve decided to slow things down and stay above there till March when the winter closures should all be finished. Smell the roses, watch the world go by, mess about in the river, that sort of thing. Much more our style.  

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