Friday 22 December 2023

Leighton Buzzard to Marsworth. Grand Union Canal.

Having decided to slow our boat moves down gave us the chance to start looking at our plans for next year. We booked the Newhaven - Dieppe ferry in January to go and see Frankie and Harry for a fortnight, and a flight to Belfast in February for another couple of weeks with Chloe and Shandy. We would have preferred to go to Ireland on the P&O Liverpool to Dublin freight ferry - we’ve done it before and it’s a really nice crossing - but for some reason, although the website is up and running, it wasn’t taking bookings. :-(

Being moored within walking distance of Leighton meant we could easily get all our last minute present shopping done, so we had a couple of days not joined at the hip getting ready for our respective birthdays in December, and the Big Day at the end.

After four days at the lock, the sun came out and we discovered that despite them not having any leaves left, the big whomping willows between the canal and the river were really overshadowing our mooring. Just round the bend there were far fewer trees and a gap had opened up, so we did a little hop out into the sunshine. Wow, what a difference that made! In the short December days every second of sunlight on the solar panels is precious, but more than that, being out of the shade and having the sun streaming through the windows - even for just a few hours a day - really lifted our mood.

Getting to Leighton crossed the imaginary “one-and-a-half hours to Fleet” line, and driving down to see the folks for the day was now a possibility, so that’s just what we did. We had lunch in Mum and Dad’s new favourite café and swapped presents and cards, then later on did the same with a chippy tea at Karen’s. Of course it was dark when we got back, which was when we realised that - once again - we’d not brought torches with us. It’s not difficult is it? We’ve got two really nice chargeable head torches that Ann Marie and Brian gave us when we were at the Bollington Wharf last year, yet we continually seem to find ourselves walking back to the boat with the pathetic little light from a phone.

Dave’s sixty-sixth birthday was something we’d both been especially looking forward to. Not only was it the day he qualified for his state pension, but also the day he got his bus pass. Also - the icing on the cake - it was a Saturday, so we got to do a birthday parkrun as well! We’d chosen Dunstable Downs for its amazing views, however the dawn temperature was minus three and didn’t get much above that all day. At the top of the Downs it was foggy and icy, visibility was about ten meters and everything was covered in frost.


 We put it off for as long as possible, but finally had to get out of the car and join the other nutters, jigging up and down before the start in an effort to keep some blood circulating to our extremities.

The run director’s briefing was funny; “You run down there towards that… well you can’t see it, but there’s a bush… then turn left to the….. well….um, just follow the person in front!”

We had a good time though, in the café afterwards, while we hugged our hot chocolates and Ann-Marie’s pigtails defrosted, there was a really great atmosphere and a wonderful feeling of comradeship with all the other lunatics that had got up that morning and braved the weather.



Ann-Marie had brought breakfast with us in the form of beans and sausages in the big flask, so we had that in the car and were treated to a special birthday moment when the fog cleared momentarily, the sun came out and we could see right across to the woods on the other side. Seconds later it was foggy again. Spooky, but so, so beautiful.




There was a Christmas festivally type of thing in Bletchley that day, including a “Santa Dash”. We first thought it might be a 5k run, but upon reading the small print found out that it was a sprint up the high street. About two dozen people turned up, mostly kids, but with a good few supposedly grown-ups, all wearing something Christmassy. It was a shame it was so cold, there were three sheets of A4 of people who’d signed up, and if it had been a week earlier it would have been ten degrees warmer and amazing. The race was started by Bletchley’s Santa, who was the closest to the real thing that we’d ever seen. No false beard or Nike trainers for this Saint Nick, he was truly splendid.


The older kids were off like greasy whippets from the go with Dave in hot pursuit, but they don’t make teenagers like they used to - they all began flagging after half way - and despite telling them he was older than their grandad and other encouraging stuff, Dave had to hang back at the end to let a few of them get there first.

Everyone got a Santa Dash Medal,...


...and we hung around for the Children’s choir and about five freezing minutes of the outdoor panto before we dived into the warmth of the Italian café for lunch.



We topped Dave’s retirement birthday off with pizza for dinner and afterwards got a call from Chloe and Shandy to say not only happy birthday, but also to tell us that they’d moved out of the caravan and were living in the house. It wasn’t finished by any means, but it was weather tight, warm, and the power was on. They were still using the caravan for washing and the loo, but that was only till the septic tank got connected in a couple of days time. They’d been aiming to be in by Christmas since they started building in February, and considering how much of the build has been “direct labour” (in other words - them) their progress and what they’ve achieved is astounding. We're so proud of them. A perfect end to a great day.

In the morning there was a smattering of ice on the canal, but it was slightly warmer. After volunteering for Junior parkrun in Leighton, we had a good clean round in the boat, packed up all the ornaments and whatnot that adorn (clutter up?) our boat for the rest of the year, relished the clear spaciousness for ten minutes or so, then filled it all up again with Christmas decorations.

As well as being really cold at Leighton, it was also very wet and there was a couple of days when it rained non-stop. With the river and the canal right next to each other this made things a bit interesting, with the canal overflow sending a deluge into the river, which promptly burst it’s banks and flooding the riverside path.  


Over the next few days we had one of our Grand Tours. First we went over to Wenlock Edge to Alison and Laura’s, for house sitting duties and to look after Jaffa and the chickens while they went to a wedding (Alison and Laura, not the chickens.)

House sitting is such hard work.

Before they left we had a day with them and went to the newly reopened pub down the road for dinner.

On the Saturday we did parkrun in Telford. On the way there in the car it was raining and we very nearly turned back, but thankfully we carried on and had a really good time.


After L&A got back we said our goodbyes and drove across the country to Ilkeston where we were staying with Angie and Dave for the night. After a quick catch up and a brew, we all got changed into our glad rags and headed off into Nottingham for Paul and Steve’s second 70th birthday party. It was brilliant to see so many of our family and friends. Chloe, Shandy and the kids were there, as well as our nieces and nephews and all their families which was a lovely surprise. The pub was quite crowded and very noisy, so it wasn’t that easy to chat to people, but we managed, and it was worth everything to have a hug from the grandkids.


After breakfast with Dave & Angie the next morning we headed back southwards, stopping in on Diane and Richard in Peterborough for dinner and a hand of cribbage before going home. Back at the boat we got the fire going and the electric blanket on and were toasty in no time.  

While we were at A&L’s, Mum and Dad phoned to say that Dad had been admitted to hospital and they were concerned about his heart, so the whole time away was a bit of a worry and Ann-Marie was constantly in touch with Mum and Karen to check on how he was. By the time we got home the news was better but he was still in hospital.

In the morning we moved Legend - you remember Legend? - to Grove Church, about two miles further on. We’d moored there a couple of times before and hadn’t remembered it being muddy, but then we realised that it hadn’t been December then. That night it rained even more, so the tow path was a real swamp in the morning. We deployed the wellies and squelched our way to the car, then drove over to Nottingham for Ann-Marie’s final five nights on her clinical trial. While she was in, Dave had arranged to go down and help Steve and Annmarie, (our friends on the River Thames with the glamping site and the hire boat) with a boat move. They’d bought an ex Black Prince sixty-two footer and needed to bring it back from its base in Bath. Ann-Marie’s intake was at 6pm so after he’d dropped her off, Dave was going to go straight down to the Kennet and Avon to be assistant crew. In the meantime we’d arranged to meet up with Steve and Les for the afternoon. Les couldn’t make it, but Steve brought Tony and Colleen (more boat dwellers) with him and we had a very pleasant time in the Portobello Lounge chatting about batteries, toilets and gongoozlers.

After that we drove round to Quotient which is where it all went as bit pear-shaped.

Ann-Marie tested positive for Covid.

Luckily, Dave hadn’t got far, so we were soon on the road back home. We phoned all the people we’d been in contact with, which after a week travelling round the country was a lot, plus Steve and Annmarie to say that there would be no assistant crew, as Dave would be staying home looking after the poorly lady who, now she thought about it, was feeling rather crap. When we’d left the boat, we’d emptied the fridge, so we had to do a masked-up rush round Tesco to restock before we got back.

Three days later Ann-Marie was feeling worse, no energy, and a wheezy cough. Dave was testing positive as well, but with only minor symptoms, probably because he's had a relatively recent over 65's vaccine.

Jules Fuels came past Grove lock on their fortnightly run up the GU aboard fuel boat Bletchley and butty boat Bideford, so we stocked up with diesel, coal and a bottle of gas.


To ensure that the delivery was contact free, before they arrived Dave unlocked the filler cap, put the empty gas bottle on the back deck and left them to it, then put it all away after they gone. Just not having to think about supplies made us feel better.

On the plus side of things, instead of being on the trial, Ann-Marie was at home for her birthday, so we celebrated with a boat move to Slapton lock (two miles away and less muddy) and an invigorating walk back to the car. It was fabulous being outside, but physically draining and we couldn't believe how little energy we had. Despite all that we still felt quite fortunate; it was the first time we'd had Covid, and compared to the severity of  the virus in it's early stages and the absolute terror we all felt, what we were going through was peanuts.

We were on the phone to Frankie a bit later on that day when there was a tremendous kerfuffle outside, which turned out to be a Muntjac deer that had trapped itself between the boat and the Armco and couldn’t turn round. The poor thing was panicking and looked close to drowning.  We let the front rope off and it swam out and over to the far bank where it climbed out, apparently non-the-worse for the experience.

Over the following days we just felt like curling up, but mustered ourselves each day and did little hops to Seabrook bottom lock, a nameless bit of tow path just after Cooks Wharf, and finally to Marsworth, where we moored up opposite the Aylesbury arm junction.

Plenty of  winter fu-oo-el 


Working up Seabrook locks on the way to Marsworth.

The wing-wall steps on GU locks make life a lot easier for single handers.

It's relatively easy to isolate yourself on a boat, especially in winter. In fact if you don't make a positive effort you can go for weeks without seeing or talking to anyone, so we're quite sure we can get through this without passing it on, and with any luck we'll have the all-clear in time for Christmas.

Merry Christmas Dear Reader, thank you for joining us this year. We'll be on Southern Waters again next year, hopefully we'll get all the way to the most southerly navigation limit at Godalming this time, and we'd love you to come with us.

Have a fabulous 2024, lots of love, D&AMxx    

  

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.  

Tuesday 21 November 2023

Buckby to Milton Keynes. Grand Union Canal.

Our new plan meant that instead of hectically moving the boat every other day for two months in order to get below the stoppages, we could slow down and smell the clichés. We started with a visit to Linzi and Paul who live on Nb Happy Daze near Rugby. Linzi showed us her new collection of water-colour cards that she’d painted and printed for an up-coming craft fair. She is so talented and so prolific, and her paining skills have transformed their boat. Every time we go there there’s something new and beautiful, and their mooring - which started off as a muddy bank when they first took it over seven years ago - just keeps getting better and better. We came home with a lovely kingfisher card...


...and the feeling of being a little bit tempted to put Legend on the waiting list for a mooring there, but only a little bit, we’re not ready to stop quite yet.

Back at Legend, we replaced the tomatoes and courgettes in the big round tubs with daffodil and tulip bulbs in new compost, and re-potted all the strawberries, again in new compost ready for the spring. Along with the cyclamen in the flower troughs the roof garden was looking quite respectable.


Some of the left over strawberries ended up in the hanging basket.

We had a day snuggled by the fire with the hatches battened down, then the next morning packed up and set off for Bristol for a couple of days with Anne and Andy. After the stormy weather the day before we were treated to a lovely sunny day driving down, but the M5 reminded us just how awful UK traffic can be.

Anne and Andy had just got back from a holiday in Madeira. Sadly all the cake had gone, but there was still some rum left, which was delicious. With some of that inside us, we decided that the skyline parkrun in Bath the following morning would be a good idea, but our resolve rapidly faded in the morning when we woke up to heavy rain, and we were far too easily swayed by a lie-in instead. After breakfast we drove into the city and spent a bit of time looking round the M-Shed, before going up to Cabot Circus to meet Sam off a Megabus. Sam is the Australian we met on a WRG camp five years ago when she was doing five weeks of canal camps back to back. We introduced her to Anne when she was looking for somewhere to live in Bristol and, despite her moving back home in 2019, we’ve all kept in touch ever since. We all get on like a house on fire, and it was fabulous to catch up after so long. We had an amazing Lebanese meze lunch, then went back to A&A’s for a happy afternoon chatting. After dinner we went out onto their balcony with it’s city-wide view, to watch the Guy Fawkes night fireworks and wave some sparklers around.


In our serendipitous style, despite not even knowing they were a thing, the fireworks in the grounds of their flat started off just as we went out. It all got a bit dramatic when one of the big rockets fell over and shot across the shrubbery before exploding...


...but thankfully no-one got hurt, and no shrubs were harmed. 

The Sunday was a beautiful clear sunny day so we drove over to Leigh woods for a walk up to the viewpoint looking out over the Clifton suspension bridge.


 Anne’s son Alex came along for the walk, then we were joined by her other son Ben for lunch on Gloucester road. After that there were fond farewells, lots of hugs and promises to visit Melbourne when we go back to Oz, and we set off back across the country. When we got back - after a few hours in a warm car and giving us a stark reminder of things to come - Legend felt freezing, but with the Squirrel stoked up and the electric blanket* on, it wasn’t long before we were toasty and tucked up in bed with Strictly on catch-up.

From Buckby we moved on to Stowe Hill for a couple of nights and then Gayton Junction.


Dave did a couple of wood wombles on the way, but since the price of fuel has gone through the roof more boaters are collecting wood and it’s becoming harder to find stuff. He’s pretty resourceful though, and at that point, although it had come close, we’d not actually run out.

Ann-Marie has restarted midweek runs; the cold grey mornings and the muddy GU towpath have sometimes tested her resolve, but she’s stuck at it and faster parkrun times are proof that she’s getting fitter.

When we set off from Stowe Hill, Dave pressed the started button and the Mighty Lister just gave a click and a grunt. That’ll be a dead starter battery then. It’s about ten years old, so no surprise really. We jumped it with the leisure bank, which is OK to do on occasion, but short, high current loads aren’t something leisure batteries are designed for, so getting a new starter battery is top of the list. Also on that list are oil changes for the boat and the car, which means finding somewhere where that’s possible. For the boat we need a wide enough towpath so we can make a pile of the engine covers without tripping people up, and for the car we need somewhere that’s close to the boat and Dave’s tools, and with hard standing so he can jack the front up. We also need to find somewhere that sells SAE 30 mineral oil for an 1970’s Lister, without paying through the nose for something in a “retro” metal can at a chandlery. This nomadic boating malarkey isn’t all swanning about in the sunshine you know.

With the boat tucked up safely at Gayton we drove down to Mytchett for a couple of days so that we, along with Karen, Andrew, Mum and Dad could go down to Chichester for Bob and Carol’s party. We know Bob and Carol from our 2cv club days donkey’s years ago and it was a combination of Bob’s 80th, Carol’s 75th and their 20th wedding anniversary all rolled into one. It really was a fantastic do with loads of our old mates that we hadn’t seen for ages. Carol had organised it all and managed to keep Bob from finding out about it till they turned up on the day. That girl really knows how to make a party; she’d not only put a buffet spread on, but arranged a wood fired pizza truck and an ice-cream van as well. And because it was a sports club the bar prices were rock bottom, and there was endless free tea and coffee.

We spent the night in Karen’s spare room, then in the morning we went with Dad to the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust (FAST) museum, which was really interesting but flippin' freezing. There was so much to see there we could easily have stayed longer - the volunteers were extremely knowledgeable and very chatty - but the shivering was becoming a distraction and we had a table booked in the Admiral for Sunday lunch celebrating Dad’s birthday. After that, (well after that and after pudding at Karen’s) we had another long drive home and an other evening warming the boat up again.

From Gayton junction we carried on along the long summit, through Blisworth tunnel, and moored up in Stoke Bruerne just before the canal museum. Kathryn, another of our old 2cv friends, lives there, so we popped along for a chat. Kathryn used to have a narrowboat and her aunt was one of the “Idle Women”, so there’s always plenty of common ground for interesting discussions.

The following day Dave was head down in the engine room fitting a relay on the inverter and a remote illuminated switch for it in the bedroom. Because our inverter uses a small amount of our precious electricity just by being powered up, we only switch it on when we need it. Having a little glowing light switch in the bedroom to remind us will firstly save it being left on unnecessarily, and secondly mean we can switch it on and off without going into the engine room.

The next day we were up early and off down the Stoke Buerne lock flight. These locks were all built with side ponds; the really useful water saving reservoirs alongside each lock chamber, but unfortunately they are all silted up and none of them actually work any more. Click Here for a youtube explanation of how side ponds work

One of the Stoke Bruerne flight's silted up side ponds.

These days they’re all pretty little nature reserves and dipping ponds - which is nice. However, because the side ponds included the lock bypass weirs in their construction , now that they don’t work any more, any excess water - with nowhere to go - overfills the lock till it runs over the bottom gates.


That’s all very pretty, but without bypass weirs, when a boat is going down the flight, it can raise the water level in each lock - and the pound above it - by a good six inches. And when the crew of said boat are as slick and efficient as we have become over the years, unless we purposefully slow things down, the towpath below us can, to say the least, become a bit swampy. Local dog walkers in soggy casual shoes have been known to complain. It all sorts itself out at the bottom though as the little River Tove crosses the canal, taking any excess water with it down the overflow sluices. We stopped in the last but one lock while it settled down and while Dave transhipped some tools from the engine room to the car which we’d put in the very nice car park, then moored up at the bottom while he went back and did an oil change. After lunch we carried on to Cosgrove and moored up just after the Gothic bridge.


Strangely, no-one quite knows why such an ornate and clearly expensive bridge was built here. This, from the Cosgrove History website appears to be the closest anyone has got;

 

In 1800 the two halves of the Grand
Junction Canal met here. Construction began at Brentford in Middlesex and
Braunston, Northamptonshire. It is said that a certain Colonel Solmons, 'Lord of
the Manor', agreed to the cutting of the canal on condition that he was allowed
to erect the necessary bridge. However the Lord of the Manor at this time was
George Biggin Esq., whose residence, Cosgrove Priory, is in sight of the bridge.
The proximity may explain the bridge's unusually ornamental appearance.
 

Whatever the reason, it’s a lovely unique thing, and has survived a long and arduous life.

We took the car to Campbell Park in Milton Keynes the next morning and cycled back across the city to Cosgrove, using the CycleStreets app to navigate our way along the Redways and underpasses. Dave got a bit stressed because he hadn’t charged his phone, and he had visions of us of getting lost for weeks in the MK concrete jungle, but it was fine and we got back to Legend without once touching a road. MK gets an unfair bad press sometimes. Yes it’s all artificial, with it’s road grid and roundabouts and man-made parks, but what is natural about the countryside that we all know and love? It might look pretty with it’s fields and sheep and cattle, but when all's said and done, it’s just a great big man made food factory.  At least Milton Keynes is honest about it.

Back at Legend we pulled the pins and had a chilly afternoon chugging our way down across the Great Ouse aqueduct, through Wolverton and following the canal on it’s course along the northern edge of Milton Keynes. We were heading for Campbell park, but after lots of tick over cruising past all the moored boats we ran out of enthusiasm and daylight at Bolbeck park and moored up opposite the iron Shire Horse statue on the Gyosei Art Trail.


All the way through the city there’s no shortage of places to moor and the canal is always just a step away from MK’s huge network of cycle-ways and footpaths, quite literally on the other side of the hedge. Because of that the actual towpath sees very little footfall. You are aware that you’re moored in a city; outside the boat there is all the usual road noise and hubub of urban sprawl, but the only people to walk past your window are the occupants of the nearby boats, making it feel very quiet and safe. This was the fourth time we’d visited Milton Keynes and we’ve always felt happy here.

Wednesday 8 November 2023

King’s lock to Buckby. Grand Union Canal (Leicester Section).

While Ann-Marie was still in Nottingham, Dave had another day single handing up the 18 locks to Newton Harcourt.



For a few of them he was joined by Pam and Keith, a Kiwi couple on Nb Kune Kune, so that made things easier. They tied up at Kilby Bridge but fortunately after the next couple of locks, a local chap called Vinny gave Dave a hand, which he very much appreciated. Some of the bottom gates were inclined to swing back open after he’d shut them; the way to stop that happening is to hold the gate shut and slightly open a top paddle till the water keeps it shut, and obviously that’s a lot easier with two people. You can do it on your own by opening the top paddle then running back to shut the gate, but it doesn’t do the lock any good and it looks like panic.

Dave tied Legend up overlooking Wistow church and the rural centre,


exactly where we’d been with Nb Matilda Blue when we‘d come up here a couple of years ago. It had been the beginning of summer then, with the little River Sence gently meandering between the sheep on the flood plain below the canal. This time the flood plain was rapidly turning into a very wide fast flowing river as Storm Babet drenched the country from top to bottom, and the bedraggled looking sheep were huddled in a bunch by the fence.


While the weather was rubbish, Dave took the engine-room door off, planed it, straightened the hinges and re-fitted it with longer screws so that it shuts without us having to kick it, which is nice.

After two days of heavy rain Ann-Marie came home. The journey back from Nottingham was pretty horrific with lots of abandoned vehicles and flooded roads. Some of the water was so deep that one of the plastic inner wings got bent backwards and Ann-Marie was mortified because she’d broken the car, but it was quickly fixed with a cable tie and Dave was just grateful that she got back safely.

Ann-Marie accumulated a fair bit of foliage in the floods!

Our social media was full of stuff about flooding. Everywhere behind us there was devastation; the moorings at Birstall were under water, there was flooding all through Leicester, and at King’s lock, where Dave had been a few days previously, the River Soar had risen so high that it was over the top of the lock gates.

This isn't our photo, but it could have been if Dave hadn't moved when he did.

Getting moved was a really good call, and we felt very fortunate that we’d been able to do it.

Predictably, most parkruns were cancelled, but we’d got a busy Saturday anyway. First we went to Peterborough for lunch with Diane which was lovely; it had been far too long since we’d seen her and she’d not been well, but it was good to see that she was on the mend and looking good.

After that we went over to Bourne, where Bob and Mandy were staying at their old house - now Mandy’s mum’s - for dinner, then out to a Black Dog Ceilidh.


We were really looking forward to it because Glen and Holly were also going to be there...


...as well as our old Morris dancing side, Bourne Borderers. They opened the evening with a dance set and dragged us up to join in. Considering it had been 13 years since we’d danced and waved big sticks around, we didn’t make too much of a hash of it. The Ceilidh was really good fun and we were up and dancing for most of it, then back to the house for a brew and bed.

In the morning, after Bob’s bacon bagels and lots of hugs and goodbyes, we set off for Smeaton Westerby, where we left the car and walked back to the boat. On the way we met Pam and Keith, who were working Kune Kune through Crane’s lock, at the bottom of the Kibworth flight. It would have been nice to share the flight with them, they seemed like a great couple, but they were too far ahead of us to catch up. Hopefully our paths will cross again sometime. Back at Legend we set off with lunch on the back deck and the washing on the go. We had a lovely sunny autumnal afternoon working up the locks and through Saddington tunnel, before mooring up just before the footbridge at the bottom of the Foxton flight.

Two days later, assisted by the very friendly lock keepers, we set off up the flight...







...and moored just after the visitor car-park bridge, nose to nose with Matilda Blue.


Bob and Mandy returned just in time for lunch on board Legend while their heating kicked in, then we helped them down the flight.


At the bottom we waved them off on their way to their winter mooring at Market Harborough...

Yes, We know that's not the way to Market Harborough, but they went to get some diesel first.

...then with a celebratory ice cream we walked back up to Legend via the observation platform at the top of the inclined plane.


All too soon it was time for Ann-Marie to put her bags in the car and set off back to Nottingham for the third session of her trial, leaving Dave to fend for himself for another five days. He didn’t have chance to get lonely though, that evening he re-united Bob and Mandy’s car with them and stayed for an evening of Bake Off and left over Ceilidh nibbles...


...before wobbling home in the dark. Over the following three days he took Legend across the summit to the top of Watford locks...

Misty morning boating on the summit.

 ...first stopping just after Welford Junction...

Legend hiding in the reeds.

...then again at Crick Wharf.


Mooring on the Leicester Section summit is really easy; there’s no shortage of lovely, south facing stretches with yards of Armco, the towpath isn’t too bad and there’s services at Crick (where there’s also a Co-op), Welford and Yelvertoft. If you were looking for somewhere to spend the winter tootling back and forth, it ticks most boxes.   

Martin and Yvonne dropped in for a cuppa while Dave was at Crick, on their way to see their son Max in Manchester, so he made some scones...

Not a patch on Ann-Marie’s of course
 

...and had a lovely catch up with them. The pair of them were looking well, despite Martin’s recent spell in hospital. Recovery had been difficult, but thankfully he seemed to be over the worst.

The mooring at Watford is one of our favourites...


...there’s a lovely view out over Watford Park on one side, with a gentle hill up a sheep field on the other and despite the proximity of the M1 it is very peaceful. Dave was there for two days before Ann-Marie came home, he filled his time with putting a couple of coats of gloss on the side hatch lid, re-hanging the fridge door and cutting up kindling. He also had a rather hairy cycle ride into Daventry for supplies. He’d forgotten how narrow and muddy the towpath was between Watford locks and Norton junction, and had to get off and push it a few times to avoid falling in the cut.

Ann-Marie came home and after an afternoon spent moving the car to Norton Junction and walking back, Dave set to work on our pumpkin ready for Halloween in a couple of days time.


The next morning we cast off, following Karma and Chalkhill Blue down the locks with our pumpkin on the roof and all the Halloween bunting in the windows.




As we expected, there was no room to moor at the junction, nor between there and the New Inn, so we shared Buckby top lock with a little boat called Compass Rose and moored just below it.

That turned out to be a better place to be than up at the top - being closer to the car park and quieter - and although it was signed as a 48hr visitor mooring, we got there on the 30th of October and, unless there is signage to the contrary, from the 1st of November, all short term moorings revert to 14 days. That evening we sat down and re-considered our current plan. We’d been on a dash to get down to the bottom of the GU before the winter maintenance closures at the beginning of January, but it meant we weren’t seeing any of it and boating was becoming a chore that we had to fit in between trips away from home. Also the new ULEZ - which we have to pay a daily rate to take our car into - was now in force and extended out over the GU below Rickmansworth. So, even though being down below there would put us closer to Mum and Dad, if we had to get public transport for all or even part of the journey to see them, it would take longer than driving down from anywhere further north. It didn’t take long for us to scrap plan A and slow things down. We still want to go down and onto the Thames and the Wey in the spring, but we’re now going to do the bottom of the GU after the closures in March, giving us more time to enjoy the journey.    

With that decision made we put the bird table up and settled in for a week. We needed to leave Legend while we went off for a visit with Anne and Andy in Bristol, and we needed a day to plant the spring bulbs and re-pot the strawberries, so Buckby Top lock was perfect.

As we’ve said many times, the only reliable thing about our cruising plans is their unreliability.     

      

Brentford to New Haw Lock. GU mainline. River Brent. River Thames. Wey and Godalming Navigations.

We had just over a week at Brentford waiting for the Thames strong stream warnings to come down from red to amber, and we made good use of o...