Monday, 16 April 2012

Milton Keynes

Before setting off, Mike popped across to Tesco for the daily paper. We also made use of the sanitary station just a couple of hundred metres on from where we had moored.

Now we were ready for the final run in to Milton Keynes, our destination on this trip. Although it remained quite chilly all day, it was bright and sunny. (No rain and the news relayed further official drought conditions now covering most of the country where there are canals)

Leighton Lock
Before reaching Leighton Lock we passed the Wyvern Shipping hire base - it was from here that we set off on our Canal 40 trip (see

The next stretch is very pleasant and for quite a distance Great Brickhill, we we lived in the 1980's, could be seen on the hill set back from the valley which carries the canal and the River Ouzel.

Soulbury Three Locks
Soulbury Three Locks is a popular spot at weekends and in the summer time but today it was all but deserted. The flight was full so we dropped down quite quickly, once Christine had managed to remove a branch that was stuck behind one of the top gates of the first lock. as we left the flight, a boat was ready to come up - most convenient!

Stoke Hammond Lock
At Stoke Hammond there are back pumps in the original pump house and these were running, maintaining the water level even though we had seen very few boats on the move.

Stoke Hammond Lock Pump House
Time then for a lunch break before continuing to our destination, with only the very shallow Fenny Stratford lock ahead of us.

Fenny Stratford Lock
The story is that this lock was built after the main line had been completed but when it was found that water leaked out of the pound too quickly. The lock with only a drop of about one foot (300 mm) was added so that the long pound through to Cosgrove could be lowered, with - it seems - good results.

Before passing through the lock we filled up with water. The lock also has a swing bridge across which gives vehicle access to the former lock cottage - although it does not look as if it is regularly used for this purpose any more.

The canal through Milton Keynes is a mixture of the old and the new as these two photos of bridges demonstrate.

We eventually moored just before the marina where we have arranged to leave the boat for the next couple of weeks, with time for Mike to retrieve the car, ready for our homeward journey tomorrow.

9.5 miles - 6 locks

Sunday, 15 April 2012


Mike, as planned, went down to Limehouse in London for his conference of Diocesan Lay Chairs. The journey was very efficient despite the closure of the Dockland Light Railway which meant that he had to catch a c2c overground train from Fenchurch Street instead.

Christine collected the car and returned to Leighton Buzzard, grateful that she had taken her iPad with her to help find her route when the road signs let her down!

Back at the boat she found to her horror that our boat was adrift across the canal - probably as the result of a boat passing by too fast. We certainly saw several doing this over the weekend, despite being so close to a sharp bend under a bridge! It had been properly moored when Mike checked before leaving.

However, she was able to recruit a walker on the towpath to assist with retrieving the boat and she nailed it down firmly with an additional pin to secure the centre rope.

It was some relief that she had a phone call to say that the laptop was ready for collection (promo for Andy at Leighton Computer Services is proper here!)  and she set of to pick it up. Before being allowed to take it away she was invited to see pictures of his house in Istria which is clearly a proud possession.

On Sunday morning, Christine drove up to central Milton Keynes to attend the main morning service at the church of Christ the Cornerstone - which had been our home for the 1980's. she was pleased to be made very welcome and met with several people we remebered from those many years ago. It was great to feel that the church was so lively and welcoming, a credit to all those who worked so hard to set it up in the first place and, more especially, to develop it over the years since then.

Mike returned from London more swiftly than expected but that at least gave some time to catch up on these blogs

Friday, 13 April 2012

Leighton Buzzard

We had moored overnight at the top of the Marsworth flight ready for their scheduled opening at 10 am. Just after 9:30, as a misty morning was beginning to clear, we moved the boat to the junction to find that the locks had already been removed and we could make a start. Entering the lock, Mike knocked the pole from the roof into the water and as he was retrieving it we were joined by a working boat making a delivery of building materials to a cottage three locks down.

Early morning mists
As we locked through, Christine chatted to a man taking photographs of the unused side ponds. It seems that BW are looking at plans to turn them into nature reserves. OK so that is a good idea but perhaps it might have been even better to restore them to operation and save some of the precious water whose lack is causing the extensive closures!

Lock cottage for deliveries
Low water in reservoir
fter the first three locks we continued on our own and were pleased with our smooth progress - the seven locks took us under the one and half hours normally allowed for the flight. Near the bottom we had a clearer view of the reservoirs and the extent to which they are lacking water this early in the season.

Approaching Pitstone we met a very wide beam trip boat out with a lively group who seemed amused at the though of us photographing them photographing us!

Bridge 125
Unusually for this canal, the bridge just north of the Pitstone railway bridge is a swing bridge. It has to be kept across the canal as a public footpath crosses the canal at this point.

Seabrook Pumping House
At Seabrook, back pumps were keeping the upper pound topped up - although the modern day pumps only occupy a small part of the original pump house.

Whipsnade Chalk Lion

We were keeping an eye open for the Whipsnade white lion, carved into the distant hillside in 1933 to promote the wildlife park, but it was a little further north than we remembered. Still, we did eventually catch it on camera!

Lock sharing
At Slapton Lock we met the first of the Wyvern Shipping hire boats out from Leighton Buzzard. They asked where was the nearest place they could turn around and Mike remembered that it was just under the nearby bridge so we waited for them and shared this and the next couple of locks as they headed back at the end of their first-time holiday. He was just retiring from the police service and was planning a celebration meal at the Grove Pub so we left them there and continued on to Leighton Buzzard itself.

St Michael and All Angels
Church Lock is named as a result of being adjacent to a small church - we have not really thought much about this on past journeys this way but today Mike took a look and discovered this helpful explanatory notice.

Just before Grove Lock, the non-towpath side of the canal has obviously been subject to extensive erosion in the past as this small stretch of one-time bank edging shows.

Bank erosion
Mike needed to be close enough to catch a train next morning as he was attending a weekend conference in London - and Christine was going back to Apsley to collect the car from where we had left it earlier in the week.

We were moored by late afternoon and Mike managed to make contact with one of the local computer repairers who agreed to meet and collect our laptop, hopefully repaired the next day. We also walked to the station to buy our tickets rather than risk being late in the morning.This was just as well as it took more than a few few moments for the lady in the ticket office to work out how to generate the correct ticket for Mike's journey (because the Docklands Light Railway was closed over the weekend and a less obvious alternative was needed) Christine's ticket was much simpler!

Walking back we tried to identify a parking place for the car over the weekend but, so close to a commuter station, all the streets have parking restrictions aimed to ease life for local residents. However, close to our mooring we struck lucky: there is a lot of parking spaces on old industrial land which was being used by a fitness club in one of the buildings. Asking nicely, Christine was given a parking permit card which especially helpful. Well done energie!

8.5 miles - 18 locks

Thursday, 12 April 2012


Our plan was to reach the summit pound today and hopefully moor just above the Marsworth flight at Bulbourne. With the shortage of water in the main summit reservoirs, there are restrictions on lock opening. We need to be at Cowroast Lock by 3pm when it is locked but as the last entry at Marsworth is 1.30 we know that we have no chance of passing through there today.

We set off promptly on what was generally a fine and often sunny day. After the first lock we knew that it was likely to be a low pound as this has long been the case - it is mentioned in Nicholsons as a pound to avoid for overnight mooring.

Low pound above lock 58
As we were about to set off, Mike discovered that the laptop had been infected by the new Smart Fortress virus and although he ran the anti virus check it failed to rectify the problem. Hence the late appearance of this blog.

Indeed it was low but we managed to keep a good course down the middle without mishaps but in the next pound, also low, we encountered an underwater obstructions, probably a large coping stone, which wedged under the centre of the boats, the hardest place from which to get free. It took at least ten minutes of forwards and backwards eventually to release us - the adjacent moored boats did not help!

Former Lock 56 Cottage 
The lock cottages are all now privately owned and this one is just finishing and extensive and effectively modern extension.

Mid morning and we were approaching the self declared Port of Berkhamsted. This was at one time the limit for wide beam boats. The former wharf was under development when we last passed this way but it is now smart new housing.

Redeveloped Berkhampsted Wharf
Not too sure that the Crystal Palace deserves it self comparison with its more famous cousin!

We stopped at the open park area by the new footbridge for water and shopping. Christine went shopping giving mike another chance to sort the laptop, unsuccessfully. He also filled up with water whilst waiting for Christine who had to take an additional diversion as the footbridge was closed for work to be on it.

Amusing to note that the original pumping house at Northchurch Lock is the same age as ourselves.

Northchurch Pumping Station
A few locks on and we had a short lunch break as 3pm and Cowroast were in our sights - which we finally reached with 20 minutes or so to spare. Whilst coming up the lock we emptied the elsan but that did not delay us.
Cowroast Lock
 The two and a half mile summit pounds is being kept deliberately low in an experiment to see if it reduces the exceptional water loss through the canal banks. Although slow, progress was not difficult but meeting another boat on a bend took some care!

It is probably not the cause of the water loss but the low level did expose the poor state of the bank edge where much of the stonework has fallen away

We arrived at Bulbourne where the moorings were much emptier than usual and so we stayed the night just above the top lock. It was indeed very firmly locked.

The Toll House
7.3 miles - 13 locks

Wednesday, 11 April 2012


The three girls were returning home this morning - we had arranged with Adrian to meet at the Red Lion lock near Kings Langley at 11 o'clock.

Main railway line
We set off in good time on a bright, sunny morning and had three locks to go before our rendezvous. Before long we came close to the main electrified railway line which is a close companion to the canal until around the Watford Gap service station.
M25 Viaduct
A little further and we passed under the long M25 viaduct that strides majestically across the valley.

Kings Langley Lock
Kings Langley lock looks quite rural although the town is only a stone's throw away.

We reached our meeting point and tied up with a few minutes to spare. Mike also discovered that there was a useful place for Adrian to park whilst collecting the girls and their luggage.

Adrian gave Mike a lift back to Croxley so that he could move our car further up our route, close enough to one of the railway stations for Christine to move it again this Saturday.

After lunch we moved into Red Lion Lock - a BW workboat was also just moving into the lock - they were quite frustrated as they were supposed to be repairing the bottom gate linings (the pieces of wood along the edges which help to make a better seal when the lock is full) but every time they started another boat came along! They let us through but said that after that they would start work anyway!

Above the lock was a fuel boat - Christine made contact with him whilst Mike was away as we were almost out of coal for the stove - and we also filled up with diesel. Amusingly, it turned out that the operator was a man that we had seen on Monday when he was painting his fence alongside his permanent mooring. He also used to moor at Packet Boat and knew at least one of the other people there that we had met during our stay.

Nash Mills Redevelopment
Alongside the next pound stood at one time the large Nash paper mill that gives the two locks their name. It was almost all demolished when we passed here last autumn but now work is well under way by Crest Nicholson, constructing a large housing estate.

Navigation Bridge
Below Apsley Bottom Lock is the new Navigation Footbridge, alongside the equally modern Paper Mill pub.

Hemel Hempstead
We continued lock after lock through Hemel Hempstead. Boxmoor is a large open area alongside the canal. Across the other side is a very varied collection of architectural ages and style.

We had our first sighting of ducklings of the year at the Fishery Lock with proud and defensive parents.

Winkwell Swingbridge
The well-known Winkwell Swing Bridge is currently being re-furbished with a replacement temporary footbridge. Not sure what happens to vehicles but the new bridge seems to be almost complete.

Winkwell top lock, our penultimate for today, has very new gates which have not yet been painted.

Winkwell Top Lock
During the afternoon we had a couple of heavy showers one of which decided to fall just as we were mooring for the night - yet again we are some distance from the bank.

5.8 miles - 14 locks

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Three Visitors

The task for the morning was to collect a couple of grand daughters - except that we had a phone call to ask if we could take a third! The predicted journey time was just about an hour - but that did not take full account of the delays. The main hold up was on the North Orbital road down to the A40 where we had to queue for almost three miles, all because the A40 is being dug up to be repaired and is down to a single lane out of three where we joined it.

The M25 and M4 were quite free flowing so we thought the problems were behind us until we came off the motorway and found a long queue on the dual carriageway into Windsor. In the end we were not noticeably late as we had given ourselves quite a good margin for error!

After inspecting the latest home improvements and a welcome mug of coffee we loaded Ellie, Alice and Jess, together with luggage for a week not just overnight! On the M4 we were glad not to be going the other way as an accident was causing tailbacks for many miles but we were able to keep going and were back at the boat in good time.

By now it was definitely lunchtime so it was a variety of sandwiches and snacks to suit every taste!

Now we could leave and Ellie and Jess set off with Christine to set the first lock, leaving Mike to manipulate the boat off the shallow bank where we had moored overnight - the water level varies quite noticeably.

Apart from a brief shower, it was bright and sunny as we rose up through a succession of locks and bridges. First the next stretch, all three girls huddled around the iPad to play various games.

Later, while Alice and Jess settled down to watch a DVD, Ellie practised her steering skills - very much more aware of what it involves. She successfully navigated several bridges including the well-known Grove Park Bridge.

The Grove Bridge
The last few locks saw Ellie taking charge of the lock with either Mike or Christine steering into the lock. As a result we made good time and were able to moor up above North Grove Lock. With several roads, a motorway and a railway line close by, it was not the quietest of moorings but at least we could come alongside (just) and have a line of sight to the satellite for a tv signal!

Time now for a roast dinner!

3.9 miles - 8 locks

Monday, 9 April 2012

Easter Start

It was a wet day throughout - from well before we awoke! However, it was rarely 'proper' rain (Christine objects: it was real enough for her!) although there was enough to keep us in our wet weather clothes and to need to dry out afterwards! Hopefully it will at least start to dampen the ground surface so that any further rain will properly penetrate to the water courses.

Leaving packet Boat Marina - with swan on guard
We were off in good time as we wanted to make sure that we reached our planned destination - Croxley - as we have a commitment tomorrow to pick up two granddaughters who are coming to stay over whilst their Adrian and Joanna go to a family funeral in the afternoon.

At the first lock, the keeper was running water down as there had been reports of the level at Camden being eight inches down at the weekend. 27 miles of level pound take some filling but he assured us that the river which joins in just below Uxbridge Lock will soon fill up that pound.

It then turns out that he was the lock keeper we checked in with at Brentford Thames Lock after our trip up the Thames. He had been concerned because he had been expecting another boat to make the trip that day but we told him that no-one else locked down with us. We had suggested that, as they were a Black Prince boat, they had probably been caught by the closure of the Regents canal. It was interesting to find out that we had been right - he later checked with the hire company!

There are some strange or special constructions of boats around here!

Floating dry dock below Denham Deep Lock

No doubt this one is having a dispute with the spelling tsar!

River feed just below Uxbridge Lock
The first section away from Packet Boat was lined with moored boats for some distance but gradually more open stretches arrived, although there is another mass gathering of boats on both banks (few of which look as if they ever move) close to Rickmansworth.

We shared locks for a couple of the locks in the morning - they had just come out of Harefield Marina and were on a short outing to Coy Carp Pub. Harefield Marina is itself a former gravel pit but much of the bank between it and the canal appears to have disappeared - but beware anyone who tries to cross the line direct in or out of their moorings! (The camera also has caught some of the rain!)

Harefield Marina
We stopped for lunch and felt that we were justified in having a bacon butty - accompanied by eggy bread (made from the remains of a spelt loaf).

Off again and by now one side of the canal was often rural - although urban areas are never very far away - with the long line of lakes made from old gravel workings on the other side.

This heron stayed put even as Mike walked past, only a few feet away!

Below Copper Mill Lock
There is a strong cross stream just below Copper Mill Lock and Christine discovered that even in the present drought the strength made it rather difficult to keep away from the downstream bank!

There are always buildings worth spotting, some have been here since the canal was first built but others are only meant to look that way. This splendid apartment block, just like an old warehouse, was actually built in 2004!

We spotted this 'hanging' fellow when we came this way last autumn - but he his looking rather more weathered now!

Just below Stockers Lock we could see two boats just leaving the lock (they were hire day boats) but were obstructed by a loose boat which had lost one end of its moorings and was right across the cut. Mike used the stern fender of our boat to ease it round and back to the back whilst some of the crew of one hire boat and another waiting to follow them down the lock made it fast to the bank again! Alas we did not manage a proper action photo - only the final moments!

We arrived at Croxley in good time and attempted to moor below Common Lock only to discover that the banks are very shallow. We reversed back a little way to some mooring rings, courtesy the Keynsian projects of the late 1930's, but even so we stuck out at the stern!

Mike then decided to collect the car from Packet Boat today, giving us more time in the morning to get down to Windsor. he had researched the journey before leaving home.

For those of us more used to irregular bus services, perhaps just some days of the week, it seems amazing what can be done with public transport in this part of the world! It did take a little bit of luck as we had forgotten that it was a Bank Holiday with a different timetable. Mike was surprised to see the first bus, the 724 from Croxley Station, 10 minutes earlier than he had expected! Fortunately he was early!

That bus took him to Uxbridge, very close to the station where the 222 to Cowley Peachey departs. Although one was leaving just as he found the right bus stop - there seemed to be more to choose from than in the whole of Cornwall! - is was only about 12 minutes before the next.

What also was a pleasant surprise was that he was able to use his Cornwall bus pass and both journeys needed no additional fare! So, just an hour after leaving Croxley Station he was at the car and setting the Sat Nav (on the mobile phone) for the return journey which took just half an hour!

10.1 miles - 10 locks