Wednesday, 26 April 2017

A complete change of plan and a long day

Sunday 23rd April (St George’s Day); Startops to Grove Lock

Our original idea was to cruise towards London and take the opportunity to spend more time exploring places like Berkhamsted, and then we would leave Chuffed at Packet Boat marina as we have done before.  But we had difficulty even speaking to anyone there; all enquiries get routed to Limehouse, where they cannot help. So rather than get all the way south and have nowhere to stay, we decided to turn at Bulbourne and go back to the Midlands.

A volunteer came on duty as we left – good timing, as he told us we should be able to turn above lock 44 and save ourselves the 4 locks each way we would have had to do if we turned at Bulbourne.

Can he do it?

1 enough room to turn at lock 44

Yes he can!2 yes just

It is not marked as a winding hole but the volunteer said longer boats than ours (55’) have managed it, though with difficulty.  While we were going up we heard the first cuckoo for a couple of years, and a couple of birdwatchers managed to spot it the far side of the reservoir.

We were swiftly back down again and stopped on the service point just as the Marsworth ringers were ringing for Sunday service.  I had forgotten it was Sunday, or I would have joined them!  The new housing at Marsworth junction has been completed since our last visit here and is very ….. neat and tidy.  Not what I would call inspiring (apart from the canal of course) – a great deal of road and hard standing at the front and no gardens to speak of.

3 uninspiring surroundings for the new housing

As we moved off again we encountered the first fishing match we have seen for ages – no grumpy old gits, and everyone smiling in the sunshine (though we saw two fish caught so that would be making them happy too).

4 fishing match at Marsworth

Walkers swung the bridge for us above Seabrook locks and when we caught up with the widebeam we had been warned about (by a boater at Pitstone Marina) we pulled in and had an early lunch.

The glorious weather continued all afternoon.  All the locks have side ponds, in various stages of being reclaimed by nature.

7 old side ponds with all these locks

At Slapton lock we got good views of a tern sitting on a telegraph pole.  For such graceful and elegant fliers they do have a harsh and unpleasant call.  You can see why they are sometimes called sea swallows.

9 tern tail at slapton

  9a tern head at slapton

We had hoped to stop for the night below Slapton Lock but every decent mooring for a couple of miles had been taken.  I found both bottom gates at Church Lock wide open, which was very annoying and I congratulated myself on getting both to close properly once we were down.  We were 50 yards away when one of them slowly swung itself open again.

11 church lock gates wait till you have gone before they open

We pulled in on the rings above Grove lock for the night.  We had gone further and worked harder than we had anticipated so we treated ourselves to the second roast dinner of the weekend – this time in the pub rather than on the boat, which we did last night.  And very nice they both were!

12 moorings above grove lock

6½ miles, 15 locks, 1 swing bridge kindly operated by a walker.

Total this trip; 61 miles, 57 broad locks, 2 tunnels, 1 large aqueduct 3 swing bridges

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Another fabulous day ….

marred only by a couple of total idiots.  But more of that later.  It’s more of a family blog today.

Saturday 22nd April; Startops

We stayed put today as Jen is coming back again with Finn, but as it’s the weekend Daddy Will and Auntie Liz are coming too.  As far as grandparents are concerned, it’s fabulous. 

It was very cold first thing but I soon got warm as I cycled up to Pitstone to get a few bits and pieces in the well-stocked shop.  I wouldn’t like to cycle that road on a weekday but at 9am on a Saturday it was fine.

By the time the family arrived at 11 it had warmed up.  After a cup of tea for us and a feed for Finn we had a lovely stroll – sunhats were the order of the day -

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then back to Chuffed where 5 of us and a baby just fitted round the table for lunch.

Finn seemed completely uninterested in anything boaty – he is still only 6 weeks old - but he was spellbound by the celling when he was held close enough to see it! It does have a fascinating ventilation grille you know, and a light, as well as a contrast in wood colour ….

that ceiling 

They left mid-afternoon as Liz had to catch a train back to London; fortunately Tring station is not far away. 

I went for a run along the Wendover Arm, and on the way back found a couple of walkers at the top of the locks pulling a large section of wooden fencing out of the cut.  A couple of ‘young lads’ had chucked it in the water, and run off to wreak more havoc.  I was just approaching more walkers when we heard a shout and a mighty splash! as two plant tubs from the cottage at the next lock met the same fate.  ‘Oi!’ we yelled as one and they ran off giggling (though one measured his length as they did so, ha ha).  The walkers started retrieving the tubs and I set off in pursuit (it was the way home so I had to go that way…) Once past by a safe distance I asked them why they had done it – of course they denied it.  And not so young either – 2 flabby slobs in their twenties who must have been drinking at the pub at Bulbourne all afternoon.  Ar*****es.  It’s a good thing we were moored off the main path to the car park, or our bike might have met the same fate as the plant pots.

But it’s still a lovely spot and we had a smashing day.

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Monday, 24 April 2017

Cold but a lovely day at Marsworth

Friday 21st April; Seabrook Locks to Marsworth

Time to crack on to Marsworth as we should be meeting daughter Jen and our little grandson for lunch!  We were quite quickly up the remaining Seabrook locks and soon at the first two of the Marsworth flight.  As I walked on to set the second of the two, I saw a mother duck and her new brood in the short pound between the locks.  Now the bank here is high concrete both sides, and ducklings can’t fly; so unless they can escape the pound they will starve as there is nothing for them to eat.  What to do?

Clever duck! as I opened the top gate of the first lock she was in like a shot and had got her family into the lock before Chuffed had started to move.  There was a boat just approaching behind us, so after Dave had brought Chuffed out of the lock I raised a bottom paddle a little so the babies didn’t get sucked through and walked back down to tell the owner.  He was happy to empty the lock slowly and let them out as he wasn’t going far today.

We were soon at the Marsworth facilities block to ensure we had enough water and cassette space for two days of visits.  On the opposite bank is a sign we have not seen before!

1 unusual sign at bridge 131 marsworth junction

The Aylesbury Arm leaves the main line here, so I crossed over the top lock and walked up to the reservoirs to check there was space for us, otherwise it would have meant reversing back through the bridge to moor.  But there was plenty of room.  At the lock below the moorings was a bold heron preening himself on the top gates.  Looks a bit like a vulture in the first picture.  He didn’t move until I was within touching (pecking) distance as I crossed the gates to open the paddles on the other side.

2 very bold heron  3 very bold heron

We moored up at 11, just as Jen was parking her car.  Finn is still only 6 weeks old so as soon as they were in the boat he wanted feeding!

  6 bit overexposed but still gorgeous

After such a cold start the sun had come out and after lunch we all went for a walk up to the Wendover Arm and back. 

Finn wasn’t overly impressed with boating though ….

4 dont think much of this boating lark

Give him time.

After they had gone we strolled down to the Angler’s Retreat for a beer.  It is very dog-friendly and Meg enjoyed the attention (and the Bonio).

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Just 2 and a half miles today, 5 locks and 1 swing bridge, though that was operated by a boater who let us through too.

Total this trip; 54 and a half miles, 42 broad locks, 2 tunnels, 1 large aqueduct, 2 swing bridges

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Water in the air but not enough in the canal

Thursday 20th April; Old Linslade to Seabrook locks

After yesterday’s unbroken sunshine it was cold and cloudy for a while.  We left early for us, well before 9 as we needed to stop at Tesco in Leighton Buzzard and get much closer to Marsworth as we have family visiting at the end of the week.  We trickled past Jules’ Fuels who were making a sale at the Globe moorings.

1 jules fuels near GLobe

We found a boat ahead of us at Leighton Lock, and by the time it was ready for us to go in Jules’ Fuels had arrived.  Dave offered them the lock but they were delivering to a widebeam below the lock.

2 jules fuels below leighton lock

As we approached the Wyvern hire base the CRT licence checker man cycled by.

3 the boat checker man

Only a few Wyverns were out now the school term has started again.  We stopped at Tesco for a quick restock and left as soon as we had put the kettle on.  We were pleased to see that the Grove pub by the lock still had its lovely hanging basket brackets (and flowers too).

4 grove lock pub

After Church Lock the drizzle started, and after a couple of abortive attempts to moor where it was too shallow we stopped for lunch at bridge 118 before Slapton Lock.

As we were finishing lunch a couple of boats went by – first there was NB Valerie, Jaq at the helm muffled up against the cold and drizzle.  She was followed by Waiouru, and Tom spotted us, tucked in behind a large orange lifeboat as we were.  We managed a brief chat before they were on their way.

By the time we were on the move again the sun was struggling to break through and it got rather warm. Near Slapton lock, if you can’t hack living under canvas, you can pay a large amount for what were called wigwams.  Not like the ones made out of beanpoles and sheets we played with when we were kids!  These ones even appear to have woodburners.

7 if you cant hack camping

The locks along here used to have a single lock next to them though those have long gone. But the double-arched bridges remain. 

8 horton lock

The pound between Horton lock and the bottom Ivinghoe lock was very low.  When we came this way a few years ago we moored in this pound, and although there appeared to be no problems when we went to bed – it is a very long pound, after all – we were almost aground by morning.  We made it to Ivinghoe bottom lock, where a very fat widebeam was on its way down.  If they had been 10 minutes earlier we would have been unable to pass each other.  As it was we could only just get onto the lock mooring and the widebeam had to go very slowly to make any headway at all past us.

9 fat boat in shallow pound below ivinghoe

As we went up the first of the Seabrook locks I noticed that the large black cloud that had been getting closer for the last hour was almost upon us.  As soon as we had passed the last of the long line of permanent moorings we stopped for the night and the rain started ten minutes later.  Luckily it was dry later so Meg could have her walk.

7½ miles, 8 locks

Total this trip; 52 miles, 37 broad locks, 2 tunnels, 1 large aqueduct, 1 swing bridge

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Summertime?

Wednesday 19th April; Linford Lakes to Old Linslade

We woke to sunshine and it shone all day long.  Fabulous!

8 moored at linford lakes

The towpath edge was so good Dave couldn’t resist doing more work on the boat.  He washed the port side then did some touching-up of the signwriting.  The trouble with red is it fades rather badly and the bit he did had faded almost to vanishing.

9 a bit of touching up

Meanwhile I took Meg off for a walk and a play with the ball she found in the long grass last night – a rather splendid orange one with black spots.  I took the opportunity to take a couple of pictures of the ruins of St Peter’s church.  If you believe/are interested in werewolves you might like to follow the link.   The village was seized by ‘werewolf panic’ in 1485 – unusual in England, as wolves were already extinct here and it would appear that witches were the more usual bogeypersons.  Anyway after the scapegoating and death of an unfortunate farmhand named Thomas Pipe the area was eventually depopulated and subsequent attempts to re-establish settlements here mysteriously failed.  The website has much more atmospheric pictures than mine which don’t look at all spooky in the bright sunshine!

1 st peters church

Check out that sky!   There were a few gravestones still visible, mostly belonging to the Selby family.

2 selby family

A passing dog walker had told us that the Exbury Egg was moored the other side of the bridge, so we went up to have a look – there it is, an art installation, looking more like a bizarre continuous moorer’s craft than anything else.  It does open to the public so you can look inside but not till later in the day, by which time we had moved on.

3 exbury egg

We didn’t leave the mooring till 10.30 though, and cruised round the edge of Milton Keynes enjoying the beautiful parkland in the sunshine.  There was plenty of mooring even at Campbell Park but we will have to stop here another time.  We are planning to meet family at the weekend and are hoping to get to Marsworth by Friday.  Along the way we passed NB Gulliver and admired her rather brilliant artwork. (Not only did Tom on Waiouru beat me to mentioning it, his photo is better too!).

11 gulliver

There were some good and bad things as we went along.  The parkland was beautiful, and at one point there were marsh marigolds in full flower, but on the towpath side it was clear where MK council must have been making cutbacks …

15 marsh marigolds  14 empty the poo bins please

Another good thing -

17 swan on nest

and another bad – a sunken widebeam with a smell of diesel in the air, though thankfully nothing to be seen on the water.

16 sunk widebeam

No-one around and nothing to show that CRT knew about it so I called them and reported its position.  (Update; Tom on Waiouru posted a picture showing that CRT has put booms around to contain any diesel spill). 

We pulled in above Fenny Stratford lock for lunch, then stopped at the highly convenient service point before continuing, ‘uphill’ again now.  Stoke Hammond lock was pretty, with the flower beds cared for by local boaters and residents.

19 stoke hammond lock

We failed to get pictures of the Soulbury Three, which had a few drinkers and strollers to chat to and help with the gates, then after passing a few Wyvern hireboats on their first day out we pulled in at Old Linslade for the night.

11 and a half miles, 5 locks, 1 swing bridge (Fenny Stratford).

 

Total this trip; 44½ miles, 29 broad locks, 2 tunnels, 1 large aqueduct, 1 swing bridge

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Cold wind, lovely sunshine

Tuesday 18th April; Stoke Bruerne to Linford lakes

We woke to brilliant sunshine and a couple of early risers making for Blisworth tunnel.  We left at our normal time of 9.30, and made slow progress down the rest of the flight – the boat which went down before us had waited for a couple of boats coming up so we stopped after one lock and put the kettle on while the pair came up.  The side pond here has been adapted for pond dipping. 

1 pond dipping in side ponds

The side ponds, built to conserve water, turned out to be time-consuming to use, which would not have endeared them to working boatmen, and were also expensive to maintain.  They fell out of use in the Second World War.

A volunteer turned up to help us through the last two locks and we were on our way past the sign warning us about the River Tove which must overflow into the canal when it is in spate – the raised towpath extends for hundreds of yards.  The sign by the water being pumped in says it is the River Tove outfall, but we couldn’t see the river which seems to be at a lower level.  Odd.

2 slithy river tove

The sun was glorious and if you were out of the wind it was lovely and warm.

3 enjoying the sun

The countryside gradually became more attractive.  We were amused by the warning sign at Kingfisher marina;

4 kingfisher marina

We cruised past acres of oilseed rape in full flower.  This farmhouse was surrounded.  Imagine waking up to this sea of acid yellow if you had had a late night ….

5 imagine waking up to yellow

and later in the year there is that cabbagey smell too.

We passed under the pretty Soloman’s bridge and were hailed by a gentleman who reads our blog, walking with a group on the towpath.  What a lovely surprise – it’s only the second time that has ever happened!  Do please leave us a comment and your name sir – are you a boater?  We waited for a couple of boats to come up Cosgrove lock, then dropped down and moored on the visitor moorings.  Dave went off to find the shop, while I made some soup for lunch.  It was warm enough to have the side hatch open which was very pleasant.  We went on over the Great Ouse aqueduct, where we were blasted by the cold wind

7 great ouse from the grand trunk aqueduct

and through Wolverton where I managed to get a snap of the running figure sculpture against the sky.  My attempt the last time we came this way was foiled by the buildings.

9 figure at wolverton

I couldn’t resist another picture of the stunning railway mural which has somehow managed to escape the attentions of the graffiti artists.

11 wolverton mural and no graffiti

We continued through the outskirts of Milton Keynes to the lovely moorings near the Linford Lakes.  The edge was perfect for Dave to finish rubbing down and painting the gunwales on the port side, and I emptied the well deck of lockers, bike and matting to sweep away the grit, grass, leaves and cobwebs that have accumulated since the autumn.  It was such a mess that I took no photos.  Suffice it to say that we ended up with a large bag of rubbish. We even had enough time while the sun was out to take Meg for a lovely walk in the fields.

6 locks, nearly 10 miles, Great Ouse aqueduct

Total this trip; 33 miles, 24 broad locks, 2 tunnels, 1 large aqueduct

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Blisworth tunnel and Stoke Bruerne

Monday 17th April; Nether Heyford to Stoke Bruerne

We pulled pins before 9.30 and a jolly cold morning it was too.  There were far fewer boats on the move today; after a steady procession of ABC hire boats passing yesterday on their way back to base at Gayton marina, today it was mostly private boats.  We saw our first widebeam on the move; it was Vanitas,  owned by a travelling tattoo artist and signmaker. 

1 tattoo widebeam

We didn’t find it warm enough to take our coats off – perhaps his tattoos kept his arms warm.  We were just glad we had our thermals on!  At Gayton junction we saw that the services mooring was empty so we reversed onto the mooring to top up the water and empty a cassette.  There is a mosaic on the wall commemorating the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Northampton arm.

3 mosaic at gayton junction

2 gayton junction info

I’m not sure how gentlemen would feel with this fellow looking on while they made more personal use of the facilities …..

  5 gayton junction4 in loo at gayton junction

I’m not good at celebs, is it Sly Stallone?  We had hoped to moor at Blisworth to have lunch but there were no spaces long enough so we went on through the tunnel, which was VERY wet.

6 north portal blisworth tunnel

We were through in just over half an hour. We passed two boats; the second was the trip boat which goes in, switches all its lights off for a moment before reversing out again.  We could hear all the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ and ‘oh it’s so dark’ exclamations echoing back down the tunnel as we came out into the daylight.  We moored a couple of hundred yards further on.  There was a widebeam moored up just by the waiting area;  he was waiting for his booked slot at 8am tomorrow.  CRT are installing new rings for visitor moorings along here, but the edge is all piled so I am not quite sure why.

After lunch we pootled off again, passing our first moorhen chicks on our way to Stoke Bruerne locks.

9 baby coot stoke bruerne

At the top lock there were two boats coming out to our left, and the trip boat just leaving the pub on our right ….  Plenty of room though. 

10 boats to the right and left

In spite of the chilly wind there were plenty of gongoozlers at the top lock and a willing young teenager to open the gate.  With two boats coming up I had hardly any work to do.  Another small child helped at the second lock, then with a long stretch of empty moorings ahead we picked our spot, moored up and took Meg off for a walk.

11 moored at stoke bruerne

In the evening we had a nice curry in Spice of Bruerne, though I was a little alarmed by the waiter ecstatically greeting me as a ‘beautiful lady’.  Hmmm.

8 miles, 2 locks, Blisworth tunnel

Total this trip; 23 miles, 18 broad locks, 2 tunnels