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.

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