Tuesday 6 February 2024

Marsworth to Hemel Hempstead. Grand Union Canal

Well, Dear Reader, here we are in 2024. A very happy new year to you, may all your hopes and wishes be granted.

Christmas was a very merry affair following which we had two weeks in France with our lovely family. More about all that later.

We stayed at Marsworth junction for just short of a fortnight while we recovered from the dreaded lurgy. Dave ordered a new Seebeck unit from Ebay for our stove-top fan which has been inactive for about eighteen months. (These units usually come under the misnomer of "Peltier Units" and are the little laminated electronic plate that sits between the top bit and the bottom bit of the fan, and uses the temperature difference to create electrical current. Interestingly, Peltier and Seebeck were two scientists who, independently, discovered the same phenomena from two different directions. Have a look Here.) When the new one arrived it was about twice the size of the original, and the fan now goes like the clappers; much faster than it used to and for less than a tenner.

The Peltier unit is the white sandwich between the top and bottom.


Dave also had a bit of a wake-up call from the doctor about his diabetes. He’s on the maximum dose of all his tablets and the next step, unless he radically changes his diet, will be insulin injections. We’re fully aware that that will happen at some time in the future, but the longer we can postpone it the better. Getting his bread addiction - and carbs in general - under control would be a good first step, and the doctor advised looking at the Glucose Goddess for some ideas on managing his blood sugar.

So that’s what we’re doing. So far it seems to be working, he’s got a review in six months and we’ll let you know how he gets on.

Just before Christmas Ann-Marie tested negative for Covid 19. Dave still had a very faint positive line, and no symptoms, so we walked into Tring for a mooch and a coffee, then had a top-up shop in Tesco. (Tesco were giving away free carrots for Santa’s reindeer, so we got eight. One each. Only joking.) Ann-Marie found the walk quite tiring, and was quite apprehensive about doing parkrun at Houghton Hall a couple of days later, but the encouragement from other runners got her to the finish line.

On Christmas eve we put on our Santa hats and went to volunteer for junior parkrun marshalling in Aylesbury...

...then Ann-Marie was in full-on Christmas baking mode with mince pies, sausage rolls and oatcake crackers.

On Christmas day, like the kids that we are, we were wide awake at five-thirty with Santa’s deliveries strewn across the bed. With all the excitement dealt with, we managed to get another half hour’s kip before getting up to pack for five days away. On the way to Karen’s we stopped in Hemel Hempstead for a Christmas day parkrun. We came away with mixed feelings about that, it was fabulous to be part of it, wearing Santa hats and T-shirts along with all the other mad people...

Ho Ho Ho!

...but the course in Gadebridge park was really muddy and everyone was slip-sliding up the hilly bits. However, pastries and cheesecake in the car afterwards made us feel a lot better. And it was Ann-Marie’s fiftieth parkrun, so that was really good.

We arrived at Karen’s shortly before River and Nick, and started on the dinner preparations. Before long Mum and Dad turned up with the turkey, and we were all set. Dinner was a great success and went on for ages...

...followed by presents, a huge cheese-board...

 ...and a game of Mexican Train that we didn't finish till midnight. When Mum and Dad went to leave, their car wouldn’t start, so they borrowed ours to get them home. We had witching hour turkey sandwiches and carried on chatting for a bit before bed. What a brilliant Christmas day!

Dad brought our car back in the morning, at which point theirs decided to miraculously behave itself, pointing to a failing starter motor. He’s got it booked in with their pet mechanic in a few days, so it’ll get sorted. He also brought his Nespresso coffee maker that he'd got from Santa and we had great fun trying it out.

For the rest of Boxing Day we lazed around with Karen and Andrew in our pyjamas, (no, they weren’t in our pyjamas, silly!) ate lots of turkey and cheese, and watched Strictly and the Lion King.

In the morning we were back in the car and off up the M1 to Keighley to spend a few days with Kate and David. While we were there we had a drive up Ilkley Moor (it’s OK, we wore hats) and walked out to East Buck Stones, giving Ann-Marie a chance to test her new scarf in a proper Yorkshire gale.

The next day Emma joined us and we all went for lunch at the Joyful Deli in Ilkley; a really quirky restaurant in a big
 old barn with a huge fire place. It was a bit draughty, but there were blankest and hot water bottles available and the food was excellent.

In the morning we were up and out with lots of hugs and goodbyes, and over to Lister Park in Bradford for our last parkrun of 2023. Our friend Dalvinder was there too, which was lovely, and great to see her again.

 After that we had a quick costume change and a coffee in Morrison’s, then drove back down the M1 to Worksop to Richard & Kathryn’s for a family gathering along with Ben & Megan, Alan & Vicky and Rachael & Mark. It was a really good afternoon with lots of happy news and positivity. 

Later that evening, after all the goodbyes, we had we had a long, dark drive back to Marsworth, and a short, but equally dark walk, along the towpath to a cold boat. We got the fire lit and were soon warmed up and snuggled into bed with the electric blanket on. 

On New Year’s Eve morning we moved Legend up Marsworth locks to Bulbourne wharf.

 There were lots of walkers out, so it was a lovely social morning. We were going to go further, but it started to rain just as we came out of the top lock, so we stopped by the pub. In the afternoon we had a wet welly walk back to the car and drove into Aylesbury for a mooch and a Waitrose coffee, then over to Tring for the Pantomime. As you know Dear Reader, we love an am-dram panto, and this Jack and the Beanstalk was the best ever, full of gags and innuendos with loads of song and dance, and the funniest Dame imaginable. We were side-achingly laughing for the whole performance. Oh, and they had Tring Brewery’s “Side Pocket for a Toad” on tap in the bar. Fabulous!

After a full day we felt we could justifiably skip the NYE midnight celebrations, and were in bed before ten. In the morning we were up and out early doors to drive to Slough for a New Year’s Day parkrun through Black Park woods, which was really lovely.

 Ann-Marie was still suffering from Covid after-effects and struggled, but persevered to the end. After that we carried on down to Hollycombe Steam in the Country for the Pompey Puddleducks Citroén 2cv Club annual barbecue and a brilliant afternoon with so many old friends from our car club days.

From Bullbourne - once the sun made an appearance - we moved across the Tring Summit, past Cowroast, (where we bought Legend nearly thirteen years previously) down the first few locks on the other side into lovely Berkhampstead, and found a perfect mooring just by Waitrose.

We stayed at Berko for three nights. While we were there the Christmas decorations came down, putting Legend back to it’s normal, not-quite-so-cluttered state. We had a walk round Berkhampstead Castle, (where we met Anna from Nb Wandering Willow on the bailey)...

...then carried on through the woods to do a circular walk over the hills and back to town. A bit muddy but not bad for January.

Our next move was down nine locks from Berko and through Winkwell swing-bridge. The swing-bridge was due to close for repairs, so we needed to get below it. It was a Saturday, so before we kicked off we drove over to Saint Alban’s for parkrun at Jersey Farm, and after we’d moored up we walked back to Berko for the car. A good run, good boating and a nice walk, but it was a very busy and knackering day.

Now we were through Winkwell we could slow down a bit. Ahead of us was Springwell lock, which was closed for maintenance till March, so we were kicking our heels between closures. After volunteering for the junior parkrun at Berkhampstead we took the car into Hemel Hempstead and walked back along the towpath, checking availability of mooring spaces, water depth and solar strength on the way. With our preferred spot chosen, we dropped down one more lock to Boxmoor and moored up for a fortnight.

Heading for a mooring on the right, so we can get that side clean!

We hardly spent any time on board while we were there. First we went down to Farnborough for a couple of routine screening appointments, followed by a quick whiz in for lunch with Mum & Dad, then over to Karen and Andrew's for their joint birthday tea. Curry and birthday cake; great combo! 

After a lovely evening we had another late night back to the boat, put the electric blanket on, lit the fire and warmed up in bed. There's a theme developing here isn't there?

The next morning to Martin & Yvonne’s for a couple of days in their beautiful house in Ardleigh. They took us for a lovely long walk past all the beach huts and along the coastal path at Walton-on-the-Naze with a picnic at the end of the sand bar.

Before we came home we had another walk through the woods behind their house followed by some of Yvonne’s delicious home made soup.

Another Saturday dawned, so another parkrun, this one was in Verulum park in St Alban’s.

Ann-Marie had her new Fitbit so she could keep tabs on her heart rate. In the afternoon we went into Hemel for last minute holiday shopping for us and a to tick all the unavailable-in-France stuff off Frankie’s list. That evening Ann-Marie filled the cool-bag with travelling pack-up stuff, then we drained Legend’s water system down  in case of frost, turned the gas off, double checked our mooring ropes and had an early night in preparation for a long haul trip to the south of France.

As dawn was breaking the next morning we were already at the ferry port in Newhaven doing the car checks and putting the headlight deflectors on - after leaving the boat in the early hours - and docked in Dieppe by the afternoon.

The drive down through the frosty French countryside was beautiful, with shiny white fields and lines of sparkly trees on the roadside.

As part of Dave’s new regime of taking his diabetes seriously, although our meals for the day were all pack-ups, we managed to refrain from our usual constant browsing while travelling, and ate them at appropriate intervals.

We arrived at Jussas about ten-thirty that evening after a tiring but fairly stress-free trip. Because we hadn’t been in any particular rush, we’d had the sat-nav set to avoid tolls, which had given us enough interesting places to look at, while putting us on a plenty of dual carriageway RN roads. We had a quick chat and a catch-up with Frankie, Harry, Jan & Paul, then happily into bed, glad to be not moving and really happy to be with our family again.

We were down there for ten days. There were lots of cuddles with the kids...

 ...a day out to the amazing aquarium at La Rochelle...

...plenty of picking a very excited little boy up from school, a day out to the arcades and crazy golf at an indoor play center...

... an afternoon helping to prune their little vineyard...

...and Dave had a few days in the garage with Harry working on a real nuts and bolts 2cv restoration that needed every panel replacing.

There's not much left of the original.

There's even less now, but at least Harry has a good rust-free starting point.

Dave and Harry also put new injector seals in our car which cured the smell of fumes that has been inside when we’re stopped in traffic and has been gradually getting worse.

What a mess!

They also got a new oil filler cap and pressure washed the engine bay after discovering that Dave had forgotten to replace it at Newhaven when he topped the oil up. Doh!

We had a whole day looking after the kids while Frankie went for a spa day. We took them to the lake and they were really well behaved, walking and cycling all the way round.

The day before we left we went to the market in Montendre with Jan & Paul and Frankie. Although we seldom buy anything, we love walking round French markets, and we all ended up in their usual café for a chat and a spot of people watching before heading back to the house for lunch.

In the afternoon we did our last school pick-up, then loaded up the car ready for an early start the next morning.

The French road network was in turmoil that week because of the farmer’s protests, so we gave ourselves plenty of time and were on our way well before dawn. We came across a couple of blockades on our way north...

...but Google maps gave us alternative routes, even taking us into the back entrance of a motorway services to get round at one point. Our early start paid off and we eventually got to Dieppe with perfect timing.

A week previously the forecast had been dire, but the crossing turned out to be much calmer than we’d feared, and we were home and warming the boat up (again!) well before midnight.

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