Friday, 30 September 2011

Leighton Buzzard

A beautiful, beautiful day! When we awoke it was already bright and quickly warming up. Mike took advantage of still having the car and popped to Netherfield Centre for a newspaper. This section of Milton Keynes was one of the early parts and not good looking when we lived here. The local shopping precinct is really rather ugly and seen even its own better days. nevertheless, Mike was able to pick the last copy of the Guardian!

We had to wait until the marina office opened at 10 am in order to return the pier key and reclaim our deposit. We turned down the opportunity for diesel, hoping to find something a bit better priced (here it was 99p + duty - less than three weeks ago).

Bridge 89
On our way - the exit from the marina is a bit tight but we managed to avoid an on-coming boat! The views were just magnificent. Green space was a particular feature of this new town right from the outset and it is good to see it still fulfilling the purpose its designers had in mind. Many of the trees are now quite mature.

Bridge 92
Fenny Stratford Lock
The first lock was Fenny Stratford which we shared with the single-hander who passed us at the marina entrance. A pleasant young man with distinctive pigtail whom we were really happy to share - he obviously knew how to handle his boat and the locks as a single-hander (too few do!).

Red Lion and Bridge 95 - Fenny Stratford Lock
However, he went ahead as we wanted to stop at the service station immediately above the lock for elsan and water.

Water Eaton
As the canal begins to leave Milton Keynes behind the scenery opens up - at Water Eaton there is a splendid line of tall trees. A short while later, in the distance, we could see Great Brickhill where we lived in the 1980's, on top of a hill.

At Willowbridge Boatyard (a 'proper' boatyard with lots of real chandlery - an amazing stock) we stopped to fill up with diesel. Despite being owned jointly with the marina we left earlier, their price was 95p. Apparently, this was because they have a very much larger tank than the marina and can obtain a better price. We also bought some fuel in case, or when, it turns cold at nights together with an end for our anchor chain that is large enough to pass through a mooring rope (the chain links themselves are not quite big enough).

Stoke Hammond Lock
Bridge 104 below Stoke Hammond Lock
On again and as we approached Stoke Hammond lock, the single hander spotted us coming and opened a gate for us so that we could both go up together. Sadly, he was not stopping for lunch so we may not see him again today. The double-arched bridges below the locks are reminder that at one time these  locks were doubled.

Bridge 105
A couple of bridges are marked in Nicholsons as Swing Bridge (kept closed) - if you look closely you can see why!

Soulbury Three Locks from top lock
With the sun being so warm, our lunch break stretch out longer than usual before we were ready to tackle the Three Locks at Soulbury - always plenty of gongoozlers here. In addition there was a steady stream of Wyvern Shipping hire boats coming down - their base is only a short cruise from here.

Former Wharf Bridge, Leighton Buzzard
A very pleasant stretch followed with just the single Leighton lock left for today - we had already decided to look for an overnight mooring close to the shops in Leighton Buzzard so that we could get some milk and a paper for the weekend in the morning. A long line of permanent moorings occupies the bank for some distance before the town centre and visitor moorings have to be found south of the main bridge - and the former wharf entrance bridge that has been retained despite the development of the area.

12.5 miles - 6 locks

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Return to Peartree Bridge

Mike's second appointment at Bodmin Hospital was over very quickly (he was seen about 10 minutes ahead of the appointment!) and after returning a call to his sister who had just returned from a trip to Peru (and was very excited by the experience despite her recovering broken leg), we were on out way.

We were in the midst of a wonderful Indian Summer with temperatures up to 29C on the way and almost cloudless skies. We made very good progress until just before the Botley Interchange near Oxford when we encountered a very long tail back. Local radio reported that it was as the result of an accident involving a caravan. About 45 minutes later, close to the Islip turning and despite seeing at least three other incidents caused by the queue, we suddenly were away at top speed. Nothing of the incident remained to be seen so, no doubt, it was taking some time for the built up queue to sort itself out.

Anyway, we reached the marina before 6 o'clock and began to unload. We did not expect to set off until the morning as we had a key for the gate to return and reclaim our deposit. It was still light by the time we had generally unpacked.

Mike investigated the possibility of moving the car first thing tomorrow but in the end we decided to leave it until later. It is possible that we will reach Packet Boat before the time we are due to return home so it might be more sensible to do it then. Otherwise we will leave until the end of the trip.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011


On the day after reaching Milton Keynes, Mike took the train journey - including the tiny shuttle into Stourbridge Town - to collect the car where it had been parked at the Bonded Warehouse. At each of the connections he was able to catch an earlier train which meant that the rest of the day was a bit easier.

After he reported that he was on his way back to Milton Keynes, Christine set off to bring the boat down to the marina at Peartree Bridge where we had booked a space for the next couple of weeks or so whilst we returned home. Just as Mike reached there, Christine was turning the boat into the narrow marina entrance - just as well Mike arrived as it was hardly possible to run in without some traditional winding help at the bows. In any event, we were soon moored up and ready sort out arrangements for leaving the boat.

In the evening we went in to Milton Keynes for a meal - as a special for his birthday Mike got to choose and opted for Pizza Hut (shh! do not tell anyone or his reputation will be forever ruined!)

Next day, Mike popped to a local shop for a paper whilst Christine finished off packing and then Mike loaded up the car ready for the drive home.
It has been a busy couple of weeks - including several meetings or other activities every day. We have not had a day to ourselves. However, very considerable progress has been made in this time towards the transfer of the ownership of our business (holidays for people with learning disabilities) to the present management team. It is sufficiently well-advanced towards an expected completion on 31 December that we have been able to make a joint announcement to our staff. We will still be landlords and Mike will have at least 12 months commitment to IT support whilst an alternative is sourced.

This week has also seen us involved in a visit of the Bishop of Truro to our parish - Mike is a churchwarden - with today being a whole day tour of local businesses and other activities. Just as well good weather has broken out!

Tomorrow we expect to be returning to Milton Keynes, although we cannot set off until lunch time as Mike has a couple of appointments in the morning. We have just over a week to cruise down to Cowley Peachey to make our first visit - by boat at least - to our new winter mooring, even if this will hopefully not yet be our last trip of the year. It should be a well-paced trip but, as of a few minutes ago, we are now committed to looking after grand children on the Saturday before we return home. After all, this is one of the reasons we have found a new mooring within a 25 minutes drive of their house in Windsor.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Milton Keynes

It was a grey day but not as windy and it remained dry. at times the sun made a brave attempt to break through!

A little while before we set off we were passed by the two boats tied together side-by-side that had held us up in Stoke Bruerne locks yesterday. Although it was a while before we set off, it was not long before we found ourselves crawling along behind them. They made no attempt to allow us to pass, even at a marina entrance where there was more than enough space. Eventually a queue of at least three boats built up behind them but nothing seemed to deter them from blocking our progress.

However, at a narrow section they found themselves in difficulty avoiding a boat coming the other way and forced themselves onto the bank. As a result they had little option but to allow us to pass.

Cosgrove Lock
When we arrived at Cosgrove Lock we learned from the boat that shared with us that they had had to follow the pair through Blisworth Tunnel yesterday - they were 'in'line' but appeared to have little idea of how to control either boat, both of which lurched from side-to-side and took forever!

Iron Trunk Aqueduct

Shortly after clearing Cosgrove we passed over the Iron Trunk Aqueduct - which has been the subject of a campaign to allocate funds to allow it to be re-painted for the first time in ages.

New Apartments in Wolverton
We were now into the outskirts of Milton Keynes which remains a generally pleasant experience although the re-development of Wolverton is still in progress. New blocks of apartments have risen on one side but some of the old workshop buildings await a use. The long mural remains an interesting feature.

Railway Mural, Wolverton
After stopping at the services in Great Linford we continued on to Campbell Park where we planned to overnight so that Mike can catch a train tomorrow to retrieve the car. He to bought tickets on-line - a strange and wondrous process that seems to offer the same tickets for widely different prices and not allow the purchase of others that are listed as 'best buy'.

We caught a bus from a nearby stop - Cricket Green Roundabout - to the station where the tickets could be retrieved from a machine. Another bus took us back to the shopping centre where we spent a little time at the Cornerstone, the city centre church which we were involved in planning over twenty years ago. Then to the shops, mainly Waitrose for a few more items, especially some for roast vegetables tonight. Yet another bus trip returned us to Cricket Green - the power of bus passes!

12.5 miles - 1 lock

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Stoke Bruerne

We found ourselves off a little earlier than usual, at nine o'clock but a short time later we had passed Norton Junction and arrived at the top of the Buckby Flight. We were greeted by the lock keeper who informed us that we would have to wait up to an hour for a second boat arrived as this flight was operating the same restriction as Braunston.

Norton Junction
However, it was only about half an hour, leaving us on the same schedule if we had left at our normal time! A pleasant shared ownership boat accompanied us down the flight - at least they had son and girl friend to help.

Buckby Top Lock
On the other hand, the rain turned very nasty and we all quickly became very soaked! Nevertheless we all pressed on as we needed to get through the locks.

Long Bucky Lock 9

From here is is a long stretch - passing Stowe Hill where we moored a couple of times last year. We looked to call at Weedon but the visitor moorings (which are 14 day ones) were all occupied and the only item we really had on our list was a newspaper.

Our estimated progress indicated that we could get through Stoke Bruerne locks (which did not have a time limit on operation) is we pressed on. Mooring just above Stoke Bruerne is a bit limited and then there is the tunnel.

As a result we had lunch 'on the run' but did stop at Gayton Junction to use the services. On again and by now the rain had stopped and we began to dry out. The afternoon was not especially sunny or warm but at least it was dry.
Turnover Bridge 47 near Gayton
Normally, Christine declines every opportunity to steer through tunnels and duly called upon Mike as we approached Blisworth Tunnel. However, as we passed the half way mark and already managed to pass an on-coming boat without difficulty, Christine decided that she could after all manage it and took over. She even had to cope with another on-coming boat! (He had previously assumed I wouldn't! - C)

Blisworth Tunnel North Portal
Blisworth Tunnel South Portal
As it was rather chilly, Mike set about setting up the new chimney - removing the Witches Hat from the old chimney and fitting it to the new double skinned one we bought at Teddesley. Christine also got Mike to put up four little hooks for drying wet coats.

When we arrived at Stoke Bruerne there was a very strong cross wind and another boat waiting to go - it came from the opposite side water point but this meant that Christine had no option but allow the wind to take us over to the spot which he had just vacated.

Stoke Bruerne Top Lock
When the preceding boats had finished and the lock re-filled the other boat (which had already found it difficult to hold station in the wind) entered the lock leaving Mike with a rather difficult manoeuvre. Although he managed it without hitting either a bank, lock or boat, an onlooker complained that in the process water had splashed over his shoes! Tough!

Stoke Bruerne Lock 18
There were three people on the accompanying boat (another Elton Moss boat as with this morning - Shared Ownership?) so we made good progress. We dropped down the rest off the flight with little incident and then moored as soon as we could find a spot with the possibility of a TV signal. After mooring Mike discovered that the bank had some rather sharp wild rose thorns so he cut them back, scratching his hands in the process! At least the tv worked!

18.7 miles - 14 locks

Monday, 5 September 2011


A cold start to the day with overnight rain threatening to return. We set off as usual, passing the familiar Napton Junction soon after. The stretch to Braunston is familiar and generally unremarkable.

Entrance to Wigrams Turn Marina, Napton Junction

It is always sad to see buildings that look as if they could have been serviceable but which have been left to go to ruin. One wonders what the history is to lead to this situation. Surely a property in this sort of location would today be quite valuable even if basic services have to be installed.

Dark Skies and Fields near Napton
At one point there was a sign to coast past a dam - it appeared to be a temporary fix to a leak, comprising a large tarpaulin laid across the bed of the canal.

We also passed a Waterways crew repairing a bank with new piling.

Turnover Bridge, Braunston Junction
Braunston Junction Bridges
At Braunston Junction we stopped to use the services - this involved having to reverse back from the turning. At least it gave Christine a chance to pop in to the chandlers to look at their anchors to see how they compared with the one we bought in Stourport, which is just a bit too big in one direction to find a real stowage place on board. If we could just modify it a bit . . .

Waterways Office, former Toll House, Braunston
We moved on slowly, planning to stops, as we have before, above the first lock, to have our lunch. However, when we arrived at the Braunston flight we discovered that the restriction notice required us to wait for up to an hour for a boat to arrive and lock share. At least it was only 25 minutes! But then we also discovered that the lock keeper was imposing a further restriction of waiting up to an hour for a boat to come the other way to empty the lock ahead. This had cause a queue of four pairs to build up in the first pound.

Eventually the pair ahead of us was able to proceed and we followed on, a little slower than usual but not too bad. Christine had already prepared her lunch and eaten it whilst we waiting below the bottom lock. Mike was about to start when the other boat arrived and he had to wait until the third lock when there was a longer wait and he could cook his! The weather improved and warm layers had to be removed.

After about 2 and half hours from when we arrived at the bottom of the flight we emerged at the top and soon entered the cutting for the tunnel. Braunston Tunnel is wide and dry - we met just a couple of boats coming the other way.

Rather than go down Buckby Locks and risk having to go some distance beyond to escape the roar of the M1 for the night, we decided to pull in before Norton Junction. Bad idea! We had known this stretch to be very shallow at the edges although that reputation had been dissipated at our last visit (or even two) when we had found a suitable spot. Either it has been removed or we were very lucky on those occasions because try as we might we could not get alongside and, with the junction fast approaching, we opted to pull as best we could and not worry about the tv signal!

8.4 miles - 6 locks

Sunday, 4 September 2011


We had moored at Bascote Bridge so that we could walk into Long Itchington for the morning service at 9:30. It was a wet morning - a dismal, drizzle that would not fill very many locks let alone reservoirs!

Long Itchington Parish Church
It was a reasonably well-attended service, for a small village, with several small children. The people were welcoming (ish) and it was a Common Worship liturgy - despite our (mis?) reading of their web info which suggested a traditional form. A group of six parishes and other worship centres, served by four clergy.

On the way back we called at the Co-op for some carrots and also allowed ourselves a mid-morning treat of pastries - which we duly consumed once back on the boat and armed with mugs of coffee.

We did not hang about as we knew that Calcutt Locks are supposed to close at 4 pm, although we had already calculated that we did not need to go far beyond that for our schedule to reach Milton Keynes for our next reserved mooring.

Two Boats Inn - Long Itchington Wharf
It was a short run to the Long Itchington Locks, just a couple, which merge into the Stockton flight. Just before the Stockton flight there is a collection of old working boats.

Long Itchington Bottom Lock

After about four of the Stockton locks we saw that a boat was behind us - we had not spotted it at the bottom but perhaps it caught us up when we had to pass a boat on the way down - which always adds a bit to the timings. They were a pleasant Danish couple with a very small baby that was conveniently asleep through all these proceedings. At least the two steerers were able to work side-by-side between and into locks which made it a lot smoother. However, it is a lot busier when working two boats through - which proved too much for the cameraman, hence not a lot more pix!

We felt that we still had enough time for Calcutt and lunch so we stopped shortly after Stockton Top Lock for a reasonable lunch break.

Off again and the canal was becoming quite busy. We were behind a hire boat but not concerned - there were also a lot of moored boats to slow us down. However, as we crept passed a boat that was just stopping and not yet fixed, another boat came right behind us and started to mutter. As soon as practicable we let them pass and then they appeared to push past the boat ahead, making some excuse that they wanted to get through Calcutt before they closed - no matter that others ahead also wanted to do so!

We reached Calcutt just before three o'clock - a small boat and a (rusty) pan were waiting so it was clear that we would not be rushing the flight! Christine learnt that he the young chap had just acquired that pan and was taking it up one lock to a mooring where he would be converting it for a liveaboard and was quite excited at the prospect.

Eventually we, with the hire boat, made it into the bottom lock and soon after into the middle lock. As we were ascending, a boat came off its mooring and proceeded into the (empty) lock above. At least they waited for the hire boat (which was ahead of us in the queue as it were) to go up with them. This left us to wait for a boat on its own in the previous lock to join us - turned out to be a boat we had shared with yesterday.

By the time we were moored it had turned into a pleasant sunny afternoon! For once we had the chance to sit and enjoy!
5.1 miles - 13 locks

Saturday, 3 September 2011


Another train day - this time to return Jess to Reading Station. Mike had already bought the tickets so we did not have to set off too far in advance of the 10 o'clock departure. The station was very close - Christine walked with them so that she could continue into the town centre to do a little more shopping.

he train was on time and there was plenty of room so Mike and Jess were able to find a table to themselves. This allowed Jess to do more of her workbook with stickers - which kept her busy for all of the journey which was, however, only just over an hour.

They met with Joanna, accompanied by Alice, at the usual meeting place and this time there was a little more opportunity for a bit of a chat before it was time for Mike to find his return train.

Again, on time and plenty of space so it was not long before his was texting Christine to report that he was just leaving the last stop. Christine, however, suggested that we go back into the town centre, not least because there was a Julian Graves and she knew that Mike had been searching for one (for after-dinner treats) for some days without success (Holland and Barratt is not the same!)

As Christine unpacked at the boat she realised that she had forgotten a couple of items so returned to the nearby Spar shop (whose friendliness we can wholeheartedly recommend). By around 3 o'clock we were off again - it seemed slightly strange not to have a little one to look out for!

Bridge 40
Very quickly we encountered a boat that pulled out in front of us as we came through a bridge - but we had little choice but to share the locks with them. The young man in the crew seemed especially keen to avoid doing any more work than was necessary!

Fosse Middle Lock
However, just below Fosse Top Lock we pulled into the sanitary station and took sufficiently long about the process that the accompanying boat went ahead and we were caught up by Susan (a Kate Boat) which was being steered by its owner and whose crew we had talked to at the first lock (they too had had much the same experience as ourselves!)

We happily shared the locks until we reached the Long Itchington pound. We planned to user the water point below bridge 27 as we might walk into the village for the morning service. The other boat were keen to make it a little further as they wanted to patronise the Two Boats Inn!

Bridge 27

Friday, 2 September 2011


Tomorrow Jess returns home and so our target today was to moor as close to Leamington Spa Railway Station as possible. All that lay in our way was Hatton 21 - an (in)famous flight of broad locks.

Bridge 60
Mike set off earlier that most days as we had a good hour's run to the top lock - it was a bright sunny day and was warm enough in the middle of the day, at least when working locks! Shrewley Tunnel, with its unusual extra tunnel for horses, told us that we were near the Hatton Flight.

Shrewley Tunnel
At the top lock we missed the rubbish and elsan point, thinking that the sign on the building below the lock indicated it. However, as soon as we had emptied the lock we realised that the point was indeed (as Nicholson's indicated) above the top lock! Since the building below turned out to be a cafe doing a good breakfast trade we thought it bad form to stop there to bring out our disposals! The result was that Mike had to haul the elsan up the lock ladder. Ahh!

Hatton Top Lock
By the time we had completed that task and readied ourselves in the second lock we noticed that another boat had arrived at the top so we waited for them to come down - there is a strong presumption in favour of lock sharing wherever possible in order to conserve water. However, and we were not sure if this was because of back pumping, the flight was running strongly over the weirs or gates all the way down. The long pound had, as reported, been about 300mm down on normal level, so a bit of a puzzle.

Maintenance Yard at Lock 43
It was good to be able to share and the crew of the other boat were friendly but working two boats through is almost as much effort as one (since it is better to open both gates) but slower as two boats take longer to enter or exit the locks unless breasted up - which was a bit beyond us with an unknown accompanying boat (and a bit much for them as well, no doubt!)

Dragonfly Sculpture

The flight originally had both broad and narrow locks but the latter no longer exist although many have been converted into overflow weirs.

It was with some relief that we were able to moor below the flight to have a much deserved lunch break - one a bit longer than usual!

Lock 27 - one to go!
Cape of Good Hope Pub
Off again and we had just the two Cape Locks to work through before we were on the Leamington Spa level.

Cape Bottom Lock
Another of our targets was the large Tesco store at Emscote Road Bridge and we tied up and set off with our bags and a long shopping list, top of which was more milk. Alas, when we arrived we discovered that it was closed for refurbishment and will re-open next Monday - a bit too long for us to wait! We did find a local shop for milk and a paper as well as a tin of tuna for the evening meal, just in case nothing else turns up!

A little further and we crossed Avon Aqueduct and another which spans a railway line.

 A little further on we saw a boat unloading a trolleyful of groceries and then saw that there were mooring rings alongside a Lidl store. Christine went off and returned with about half of her list - Jess was pleased to be very helpful in loading the goods onto the boat.

Just a short distance and we reached Bridge 41 which is almost as close to a railway station as possible and also a good set of mooring rings with sufficient space for us to moor.

Mike went off to buy tickets for tomorrow and also returned with an extra treat for the evening meal (a container of Smarties ice cream!) as well as a couple of other items that Lidl did not stock - if he had thought of taking the list he might have found even more!

8.6 miles - 23 locks