Monday, 26 June 2017

Down to Aylesbury and back

Last time we came along the Grand Union, the Aylesbury Arm was out of action due to a collapsed lock, so we were pleased to get there this time.  There are 16 narrow locks down and 16 back and we've enjoyed the excursion.  But to bring us up to date let's go back to last Wednesday.  Ian started the day by changing the engine oil and then we cruised in a short way to moorings in Leighton Buzzard which are right beside Tesco and Aldi.  So it was shopping time before we carried on out of Leighton to moor below Slapton Lock.

For a few locks we shared with an unusual little boat called Pickles and his entertaining owner, Charlie.  Here you can see both around Grove Lock which benefits from a Fullers pub alongside.  Pickles is apparently a Belgian River Boat and is a shade over 7 feet wide.  But we did just fit together.

This is Slapton Lock.  In the bushes to the right of the wide lock are the remains of a narrow lock that was built alongside to lessen the traffic jams in commercial days.

We had our first barbecue below Slapton Lock where we found a welcome patch of shade in this last of the really hot days.  The bucket is full of water in case of accidents with the barbecue!

On Thursday we climbed another 9 locks to Marsworth where the Aylesbury Arm turns off.
This picture illustrates a new technique we learned from a CRT volunteer.  Having one boat in a wide lock can throw the boat around when going up.  We've always opened the ground paddle on the same side as the boat which helps but our volunteer suggested also opening the gate paddles on the opposite side.  Seems to work to hold the boat into the side.

At the top of the Seabrook locks we were surprised to find a swing bridge.  Just like the Leeds and Liverpool Canal which has loads of them.

Next to our mooring at Marsworth was a field of poppies.  Helen took this picture which has a feeling of Monet about it.
 On a walk from the boat we came past the Startops reservoir, one of several that feed the canals.  You can just make out the canal to the left below the reservoir.

We are into butterflies this year.  This is a Marbled White which likes clover.  On some of our walks lately there have been hosts of butterflies taking to the wing as we disturbed the grass.  This must be a sign of good farming practices around here.

This is Marsworth Church.  The village has some lovely old buildings and green spaces.

The building behind the telegraph pole is the Red Lion pub.  Part thatched, the building is a delight, but the pub was not open when we passed.  However we dropped in for a drink today on our return to Marsworth.  Well kept London Pride and a fine garden made the trip worth while.

On Friday we set off for our weekend on the Aylesbury Arm.  There are few boats moving down there and the canal passes through quite a remote rural landscape before finally reaching the town six miles down.

Here is the top lock by the junction.  The first two locks form a staircase, the only one on the Grand Union.  A single storey lock keeper's house stands by the lock.

Here is Leo in the top lock.  The houses on the other side of the lock are recently built on the site of an old British Waterways yard.

A sign welcomes boaters and explains about staircase locks for the uninitiated.  Our problem was that the pound below the staircase was a fairly empty muddy ditch.  We think that lock 3, a few yards further must have been leaking overnight.  So we put Leo in the top lock and ran water through until the pound below was deep enough.

Black Jack's Lock is number 4 and has a delightful garden alongside, both above and below the lock.

After 11 locks we entered a very shallow pound where progress was pretty slow.  We passed Bates Boatyard which has some traditional boats in various states of restoration.  Bilge pumps cut in as you pass suggesting that some of them would sink without constant pumping out.

I told you we are into butterflies!  This one is a Comma.

We spent Friday night in a quiet rural spot part way down the locks and carried on down the last 5 locks on Saturday.

Some sections of the Arm have lots of reed growth with a narrow channel down the middle.  This reminded us of the Rufford Branch of the Leeds and Liverpool which we cruised last year.

The last bridge before the end at Aylesbury is a new one but built to a traditional style and won prizes for its design.  The bridgeholes are very narrow and one has only a couple of inches clearance.

Here is Helen sitting next to Ronnie Barker outside the Waterside Theatre in Aylesbury.  One of his early performances was in a hall in Aylesbury.
 The museum is well worth a visit and it's free.  The exhibits are well set out and explained and there is a lovely walled garden, seen here, where tea and cake is a must.

Aylesbury has some lovely old buildings especially around the church and was a delight to wander around.

This is Church Street with St Mary's Church at the end.

You can see Leo in the middle here moored on pontoons with Waitrose alongside and the Waterside Theatre behind the tree.  We heard that there have been problems with boats being interfered with by late night youths but we were OK.
On Saturday evening we went to the theatre (just 2 minutes walk from the boat).  This view was taken from upstairs in the theatre.  We saw 'That'll be the Day' with music from the 50s, 60s and 70s played by some very talented musicians.  The audience seemed to be the same sort of age as we are.  I wonder why?

On Sunday we left Aylesbury but we didn't get all the way back to the main line.  What with shopping, filling with water and getting rid of rubbish, the day just seemed to disappear.  So we've finished the return today (Monday) and are now moored right on the junction at the top.

As we left Aylesbury there were lots of people lining the towpath.  It was not to wave goodbye to Leo though: there was a family fun run and canoeing festival going on.

The canoes kindly got out of our way and then covered the water behind with a rainbow of colours.

From another rural mooring on Sunday afternoon we did our usual local walk and came back through Wilstone.  We had heard music as we approached and found the whole village was having an open day.  So yet more tea and cakes!  The folk group playing at the Half Moon pub was very good too.

So today we've come back to Marsworth and here you can see Leo in the lower lock of the staircase near the top of the Arm.  Going down the Aylesbury Arm was a pleasant diversion and it was lovely to have narrow locks again.  The Arm is shallow and was a bit overgrown with vegetation but it is good to have a bit of a challenge now and again.

This is the sign at Marsworth junction right next to the boat.  From here our way lies south towards Brentford and London.  But before we start the long descent into London we have another 7 wide locks to climb up to summit level to get over the Chiltern Hills.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Roasting in the South East of England

We reckon that we are now in the South East and the last few days have been very hot indeed.  Though we have a solar panel and usually look for open moorings to maximise the solar gain, we have been stopping early and mooring under the trees to stay cooler.  We are moored tonight above Leighton Lock on the edge of Leighton Buzzard.  After coming down from Stoke Bruerne to cross the River Great Ouse, we have now begun our climb up to the Chilterns.

On Friday we did the audio tour from the museum at Stoke Bruerne.  This took us from the top of the locks to the tunnel and then back below the top lock to the site of an old brick works.  The tour taught us some new things particularly the tussle with the parson and his fishponds when the canal was built and the site of the tramway over Blisworth Hill until the tunnel was complete.  In the afternoon we went down the 7 Stoke Locks and moored at Grafton Regis.

Sister Mary Ward, whose gravestone can be found behind the museum, was famous for looking after the boat people who had no other access to medical care.  She delivered many babies in narrowboat cabins.

This is the view looking towards the top lock from below.  There used to be two locks side by side to cut down on traffic jams, but today only the right hand one functions.

This curious structure made of wrought iron is on the grass next to the museum.  It was a pro forma for building the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct near Llangollen.  Structures like these were bolted to the brick piers and supported the wrought iron trough that carries the boats.

The 'regis' after its name tells you that there is a royal connection for this tiny village and the answer is to be found on a board at the church.  Apparently Henry VIII also used to spend some time here every year of his reign.

The village is on a hill above the canal and here is the view looking down.  You can just see Leo on the canal in the middle of the photo.

Someone in the village enjoys a joke and has cut his hedge into the shape of a whale!  We particularly liked the water spout of drooping twigs.

On Saturday we enjoyed a very peaceful rural stretch of canal to reach Cosgrove where a lock dropped us down 3 feet to cross the aqueduct over the River Great Ouse.

No-one seems to know why this canal bridge at Cosgrove is so ornate.  It serves to introduce the pretty scenes around the lock.

These canalside cottages are new.  Just shows what you can do with modern architecture and construction when you try.  The cottages have a human scale and really add to the scene.

Here is the view looking down from the boat to the young River Great Ouse below.  A new canal is planned to run from near here to Bedford to join the River which is navigable from there to the sea at Wisbech.

Here is Leo crossing the aqueduct.  Before this was built boats had to lock down to the river, cross it and then climb locks the other side back to the canal.

After crossing the aqueduct the canal goes through Wolverton and passes this stainless steel chap.  He is holding on his arm and hand a line of bicycles, including a penny farthing.  Not sure why.

Soon we crossed a much more modern aqueduct over a dual carriageway which is one of the roads round Milton Keynes.  We cycled a bit round here (despite the heat) and were amazed when a car stopped to allow us to cross the road on one of the many cycleways round the town.

As the canal circles Milton Keynes it is green and pleasant with lots of green open land round it.  We found some good shade at Great Linford and decided to stop there to stay cool.

On Sunday we didn't move and enjoyed a visit (on Father's Day too) from our daughter Lucy, her partner Becca and our son David.

I can't say we did very much with them beyond visiting the Nag's Head in Great Linslade for lunch (well worth a visit) and going for a short walk.  However it was lovely to see them all and to catch up with their news.

On Monday we set off early to avoid the heat and, after visiting the services at Gifford Park, we finally escaped the clutches of Milton Keynes, went up the miniscule lock at Fenny Stratford (only one foot) and found another welcome patch of shade opposite Stoke Hall.

Though the rise at Fenny Stratford Lock is tiny it has the added complication of a swing bridge across the middle of the lock.  Helen is swinging this clear before Ian brings Leo into the lock.

Here is a nice peaceful scene looking across the canal to Stoke Hall which may now be an old people's home but we're not sure about that.  It was a lovely spot to moor and, when it got cooler, we walked down to the  River Ouzel whose valley the canal follows towards the hills.

Today again we set off early to avoid the heat and have managed five locks and a few miles before the temperature sent us scurrying for shade once more, this time above Leighton Lock on the edge of Leighton Buzzard.

This is Soulbury Three Locks where a couple of CRT volunteers helped us up the 20 feet or so.  No other boats were moving through until we got to the top to find one waiting to come down.  There have been surprisingly few boats moving the last few days.

How's this for an unusual boat design.  Goodness knows how you manage this when mooring or locking.

The Globe Inn at Linslade is a pretty pub and needed to be sampled, so we moored above the lock and walked back for a reasonably priced lunch with well kept beer.

And here we are now in the shade enjoying a light breeze to cool heads and stay sane.  The weather forecast says we can expect the same 29 to 30 degrees tomorrow but then fortunately it is supposed to get cooler.

From here we shall be climbing into the Chilterns and on the way we plan to go down the narrow canal to Aylesbury.  Though we have cruised the Grand Union before, the Aylesbury Arm had a broken lock then so we have never taken Leo that way.  After that it will be down to London and beyond.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Stoke Bruerne is a delight!

We've been home to Yorkshire for a week so Leo has been having a holiday from travelling, staying in a friendly marina near Norton Junction where the Leicester Branch of the Grand Union turns off the main canal. So last Monday we came back to Weltonfield Narrowboats by train and taxi and set off again, mooring nearby that evening. The following day we turned left at Norton Junction and went down the 7 Buckby Locks:

Here we are just leaving the marina and heading back on the Leicester Branch for a short way down to the junction with the main line.  Having not yet restocked the boat, we ate that evening at the New Inn at the top of the Buckby Locks. We thought the weekday menu was better than the Sunday roast.

Coming down the Buckby Locks we teamed up with Matt and his grandfather Brian on Matt's newly bought boat called 'Pied Piper'.  Matt was new to driving a narrowboat, but made a fine job of navigating the locks.

The locks are delightfully rural and here Leo and Pied Piper wait while Helen and Brian set one of the locks.  We met quite a few boats coming up.

The Buckby Locks were built with side ponds but these are no longer in use, though many still hold water.


Our son David has a large plastic duck called Middlewich (guess where he came from).  Middlewich obviously has a cousin who tails behind this oddly named narrowboat.

There are quite a number of fine old working boats round here and the inner one of these is called 'Ian'.

We spent Tuesday night at Weedon which proved to be a fascinating place as these pictures will show.  First we shopped at Tesco near the junction of the A5 and the A45.  That end of town is busy and not particularly attractive.  Lower Weedon is much better  though:

Some of the buildings are of soft yellow stone and this one was an inn and was built in the 1600s.

The infant river Nene flows through Weedon.  We've cruised down the Nene but you'd need a model boat to do so here.

The chief point of interest in Weedon is the Royal Ordnance Depot which was built in 1805.  This was when there was a fear of invasion by the French so the step was taken to move our weapons and explosives away from the coast where they might be seized.  A branch of the canal came into the Depot and was lined with warehouses.

This fire engine must have been needed in case of accidents with explosives.

The canal branch has a lodge at each end with a portcullis to prevent unauthorised entry and the East Lodge has a fine clock which is still chiming the hours.

A military horse training centre was also set up here and these hitching posts remain, now incongruously set between modern houses.  If you go in the church you will find a splendid free booklet called 'Weedon Bec Walks' which tells a lot of the history as well as acting as a guide.

On the walk back to Leo we passed under the railway and then under the canal.  The bridges get lower as you step back in time.

On Wednesday it was very hot and we didn't go far, mooring at Gayton close the junction with the Northampton Arm.  And today we've carried on to Stoke Bruerne:

We passed High House moorings, where Leo spent the winter of 2013/14, and stopped for a chat with Penny who lives there.

 Leo is one of the line of boats moored here with a nice view of horses and the hilltop village of Gayton beyond.

We walked up to Gayton which has some fine old buildings like the Manor shown here.

This pretty plant was growing on top of a wall.  We think it is Stonecrop.

Walking back from the village, the farmer had kindly mowed a clear strip through the wheat to mark the footpath.  You can see the plain below which stretches to Northampton and beyond.

Just before Gayton Junction the towpath is on both sides after this fine crossover bridge.

Here is the Junction with the Northampton Arm going left.  The Arm is a narrow canal, whereas the main line is a wide one and the Arm falls through 17 narrow locks to join the River Nene at the bottom.  We have been that way before, but it is not on the agenda this year.

Through Blisworth we passed this mill, more reminiscent of northern towns, and then after a short cutting you are into the long Blisworth Tunnel. At one and three-quarter miles it is the longest wide tunnel and the third longest of all canal tunnels in Britain. Standedge and Dudley are longer. We passed three boats in the tunnel.

Stoke Bruerne lies just beyond the tunnel and is a delightful place with a flight of 7 locks, two pubs and a waterways museum which we visited this afternoon and would recommend.

We have had tea this afternoon with Kathryn, a friend from the River Wey, who now lives in one of the lovely cottages by the top lock and this evening we are out for a meal with friends Paul and Gail who shared locks with us when we last came this way. Once we've finished enjoying Stoke Bruerne and meeting friends, then we'll be on our way south to the delights of Milton Keynes!