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 clich├ęs. 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.     

      

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 a...