Saturday, 31 October 2015


Today's Canal - Grand Union

It was rather misty when we made a relatively early start this morning. At least it was dry and not too chilly. It turned out that we had a little more time today that we thought. At first, Mike set up today's route on the basis that we would overnight in Berkhampstead. However, later on, Christine discovered a church very close to the canal at Northchurch so we opted for that as our destination today. Unfortunately, Mike forgot then to update his canal plan - we had about an hour more than expected!

First we had the three Seabrook Locks. Although they are listed as a flight, they are quite spread out so we did not gain the usual efficiencies from working locks in a flight.

Above these three locks comes a swing bridge which, as swing bridges go, was relatively easy to move.

The next two locks are close together and are listed as Marsworth Locks but they are quite separate from the main Marsworth flight that comes just after the junction with the Aylesbury Arm. The creeper on the front of the top lock cottage has turned an interesting colour but the branches form an intriguing network pattern.

A wide beam boat just beyond the locks has all the appearance of never moving. With its forest of trees occupying not only the whole roof but also all of the stern and bow decks, there is not much space to be able to steer!

At the junction, the re-development of the former canal workshop and base is nearing completion - including what seems to be a new service block for boaters, no time to stop and look this time. Not clear whether the old 'tip out' elsan unit will be demolished when the block is finished.

As we felt earlier in the year when the buildings were at a much earlier stage of completion, the architecture is not exciting. They look like someone's idea of what will sell at above the market rate for what are probably nothing special as houses. We also wondered what was hidden behind the wooden doors all along the ground floor.

10:30 and we were ready to tackle the flight of eight locks. We did have a little help from three small children - and their parents - for the first few locks but their stamina seemed to desert them by the time we were half way!

The reservoirs seemed to be pretty much full.

The house at the lock one down from the summit is always a welcome sight. We also noticed a Royal Mail van parked by the top lock with no postie in sight. As we were nearly finished filling the long, she returned having had to deliver post to the house further down the flight which has no nearer road access. It also offers Bed and Breakfast. let's hope the guests know abut the walk before they arrive.

In any event, we made good progress and arrived at the top of the flight at seven minutes before noon. Rather better than we had allowed.

A twee shed beside a boat moored just above the flight.

We have heard that the workshops at Bulbourne are also to be developed as housing although the part still used by CRT especially for loading new lock gates onto boats is to be retained.

This brought us to the Tring Summit pound which is very dark, overlooked by trees and much of it in a cutting. As a result we hardly noticed the distinct change in the weather - we left Marsworth Junction still partly overcast (although we had seen some hints of sunshine) but by the time we emerged near to Cowroast, almost clear skies had arrived and the rest of the day was very pleasant indeed.

As we had much more time than we thought when we set off this morning, we were definitely able to treat ourselves to a proper lunch hour! Just before we moored we saw this family trying to inflate a small boat - it seemed like real hard work and they had plenty yet to fill!

From here is it downhill all the way, beginning with the top lock at Cowroast. A CRT workboat was moored rather close to the water point, which in turn does not leave much of the lock landing, so we abandoned the idea of filling our water tank (we can last at least a couple of days anyway) but used the disposal facilities once we were in the lock.

The two Dudswell lock arrived before long below the summit and then it was only a shirt run to Northchurch Lock. We were not sure whether to moor above or below the lock - the chances of a tv signal would be about the same in both cases, but there was quite a line of boats above the lock. Christine took a look beyond where there were only three boats so we decided to go down and try our luck there.

We had not been near anywhere for a paper today but Mike knew that a short distance from the lock was a supermarket where he had picked up a paper before. Mind you, that was first thing in the morning. It was now nigh on three o'clock so Christine set off to the shop leaving Mike to work the boat down. The lock was empty and a bottom gate open so it was not going to be quick.

However, as she set off she spotted a boat coming up so Mike had an even longer wait. When he came into the lock he reported that another boat was following behind so more wait! As a result by the time Mike was just moving the boat out at the bottom of the lock, Christine returned just in time to close the gate.

8.7 Miles - 16 Locks

Friday, 30 October 2015


Today's Canal - Grand Union

Back to the two of us for the remainder of this trip back to Packet Boat. It is familiar territory and quite heavily locked. Late in the afternoon, Christine was setting a lock and met a hire boat on its way back to Wyvern Shipping, just north of Leighton Buzzard. They had been to Brentford and back in 6 days! So we know what our challenge is . . .

It was still wet when we set off and plenty more leaves had been blown down overnight. The towpath was almost ankle deep by now!

As we cruised towards Leighton Buzzard we passed through the Three Locks at Soulbury - where are the volunteer lock keepers when you could do with them? No doubt it is is not a prime day for Wyvern boats - the volunteers are concentrated on those days when the most number of new hirers are passing through. In fact we saw just one boat coming the opposite direction all morning.

Along the way we also saw several place where winter boats seem to be gathering - it is not always easy to see what is the attraction of specific places but no doubt those who need to know, do know!

We arrived at the Shopping Stop in Leighton Buzzard. Christine wanted to try out the Aldi store first and we collected quite a lot of what we wanted but there were several items on our list which the limited range of the discounters do not cover. We made a quick foray into Homebase - we are planning to improve the catches on our under-bunk storage cupboard doors which do not always stay shut. However, they did not have the ones we had in mind so that will have to wait until later. Tesco, nearest to the canal provided the remainder of our shopping list apart from a newspaper.

The services are on a separate mooring a few hundred metres ahead just under the main road bridge that divides Leighton from Linslade. Whilst Mike carried out the usual filling and emptying, Christine walked into town to pick up a newspaper from Waitrose.

We were now somewhat behind our expected schedule so we had lunch on the go. This was not helped by the fact that we were now entering a section where the locks come singly, typically ten minutes apart.

By the time we arrived at Slapton Lock, the light was already beginning to fail.

Mike was keen to see if he could spot the Dunstable Lion as he missed it on the way up earlier in the year. he did indeed see it but now it seems almost to blend into its background. We recall that not long ago it stood out much more clearly. perhaps it needs a little TLC.

We were following a couple of boats but we managed to keep up with them despite having to turn each lock. Above Ivinghoe Top Lock we opted to call it a day - we might have been able to go through another lock but here there looked as if we had a good line for the tv - last night we failed completely but our mooring spot was dictated by car logistics and not our evening entertainment! The straight piece of bank which Mike selected turned out to be a bit shallow and we moored a little out from the bank. Still, the canal is very wide at this point so there is no chance of being an obstruction.

10.9 miles - 11 Locks

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Stoke Hammond

Today's Canal - Grand Union

Today's cruise can probably be summarised by 'leaves and moored boats' with the sub text of grey and damp. Although it was quite bright when we set off, within the hour grey clouds had arrive and a wet drizzle came along with them. Although we had some dry patches, most of the day remained much as this.

We only had two locks today - Cosgrove after almost twp hours cruising and then Fenny towards the end of the day. In between were long level pounds. The leaves have continued to fall off the trees and we found them especially annoying today - perhaps because we noticed it even more with the uninterrupted cruising times.

But Milton Keynes has become even more a place for continuous in-line casual mooring. No doubt this is a function of employment opportunities in MK, coupled with rising house prices, but many of the huge number of boats did look as if they were permanently occupied and almost none of them on long term moorings, let alone ones with residential permission. This must be one of the more significant enforcement hot spots outside London and the western end of the Kennet and Avon. No doubt we shall see more as we continue southwards. To our surprise we have not seen any Winter Mooring signs despite the indications from CRT that they would be out by now. They are supposed to commence on 1st November.

Just before Cosgrove we passed some bank repair works - here now back filling after finishing the actual piles themselves. Rather than dredgings they were using aggregate brought in specially for the task.

We shared Cosgrove Lock with a boat just ahead who had already filled it. It was a rather slow boat and we were grateful that he let us pass quite soon after leaving the lock.

We also noticed the continued growth in the number of wide beam boats in the Milton Keynes area - we even met several on the move.

At Wolverton we dropped Andrew off to catch a train from the nearby station back to Birmingham to collect his car. We will rendezvous with him later when we know where we are likely to moor for the night.

The observant will have noticed the distinctive lack of photos in this blog. Not only was the weather unkind to the camera but also this stretch is familiar and all rather the same. Even if it had been bright and sunny, most of our library photos are now quite good so finding something different is a challenge!

However, here are a couple to give some indication of the wonderful autumnal colours - the railway bridge is a former branch from Wolverton through to Newport Pagnell (which saw off the short canal that pre-existed it). The line is long since closed and is now a popular cycle and foot path.

At Giffard park we stopped to use the services and, with an extremely slow tap, we were able to have our lunch whilst waiting. In fact the tap was so slow that the tank was still not full by the time we were ready to leave.

We hoped for a little leg stretch at Fenny Lock but even that we largely denied as a couple of chaps were there waiting for a boat to arrive so they let us down and opened the swing bridge for us.

By now the light was failing even quicker that the past few days but we did manage to make our first provisional mooring and meeting point. Christine called Andrew who was by now not far away and within minutes he had arrived and began to load up his belongings into the car. He did, however, stay for the evening meal!

18.8 Miles - 2 Locks

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Stoke Bruerne

Today's Canal - Grand Union

Christine has noted that the blog has made no mention of our blackberry picking over the past two or three days. Not a lot but enough to make a tasty blackberry and pear crimble with custard for last night's meal.

As forecast, we awoke to rain. Although it was pretty constant it as not drenchingly heavy but enough to make sure that those outside got properly wet!

Before setting off, Mike was 'asked' by Christine to walk back to the top lock with the outstanding rubbish to dispose. He took the opportunity to go a little further and to chat to one of the CRT workers who were preparing for next week's stoppage. The mortice and tenon joints are slightly larger than the ones that Mike learnt to do at school! The principle is the same . . .

Although we have been this way before several times, there are still small thigs that have escaped notice hitherto. Often it is the out-of-place that catches the eye. Firstly, it was the bright red of the old postbox.

And from a different angle there was a railway signal! A nearby house also had another railway signal. (Close followers may have noticed that above we originally said phone box rather than post box -perhaps that was encouraged as a slip by the fact that there was one next door along with the signal)

Hopefully you can see how much the rain was falling.

Andrew had to take evading action when a towing pair arrived at what turned out to be a former bridge hole at just the wrong time. It was not possible to see immediately that there was a butty behind but at least it did not have to make and emergency stop, not easy when towing.

Andrew hopped off at the first road aqueduct into Weedon and walked around to pick up a paper. We moored alongside the church where we have stopped before for shopping and Christine went down the steps to meet him - only to find he was already almost at the bottom.

With half of the long pound still ahead of us we opted to have lunch on the go. Shortly we were rewarded by the rain clearing earlier than expected and by early afternoon blue sunny skies arrived and we were treated to another gorgeous autumnal afternoon. The only problem being that more and more leaves have fallen and in some places we had to clear the prop every few minutes.

This tree looks almost ready for winter but others are still laden with bright red berries.

Now what's not to like about scenes like this?

We made the briefest of stops at Gayton Junction to empty the elsan but with three boats all manoeuvring at the same time around the service stop - and hand signals not always conveying the intended message - it was just a little more complicated than it might have been.

Blisworth Tunnel followed a little while later and then we were at the top of the Stoke Bruerne flight. A Wyvern hire boat (Primrose which we hired in the past) just failed to see us arriving and set off down the lock but we caught up with them at the next lock as they waited for a boat in the other direction. We shared the remaining flight.

Since their steerer was willing to navigate between locks side-by-side we made good steady progress. Some visiting friends of the hire boat family were also helping and it was all very new to them. They soon learnt!

We continued on for a few minutes to find a suitable mooring away from the locks. It took just a little longer as initially the bank was not good for mooring.

17.7 Miles - 13 Locks

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Norton Junction

Today's Canals - Grand Union, Oxford (historically)

A somewhat less strenuous day today but also without too many new or interesting features. As a result this will probably be a shorter blog than usual and certainly we took just a fraction of the photos.

One reason, apart from the fact that we are now back on quite familiar territory as every trip north from Packet Boat has to come as far as Norton Junction (unless perhaps taking the unusual route down to the Fens). But also most of today was rather overcast. It was dry and because of the cloud the temperature was noticeably warmer. We did have a short period in the middle of the day when the sun came out but again we had no rain.

The reason for the 'historically' bit in the headline is that the section between Napton and Braunston was originally part of the Oxford Canal - the southern part runs from Napton whilst the northern section heads straight on at Braunston. Today, most people would think that the five miles in between was part of the Grand Union and, indeed, the later upgrading of the main line route from London to Birmingham made it so. However, for a time the Oxford Canal Company made good returns by charging high tolls for boats passing across their water!

Shortly after setting off we passed Nelson's Wharf where Willow Wren training established a base for their Helmsman Courses and developed splendid looking facilities. At the time, the former arm to a nearby cement works was mostly filled in and the abandoned railway line also blocked the route. When we came this way last year a short section with room for a couple of boats had been completed but we were surprised to see the extent of the restoration work now in progress that will take the arm much further back, beyond the line of the former railway.

Further details of the work they are doing can be found at

Much of the pound through to Calcutt has moored boats so progress was a little slower than might otherwise have been possible.

There are three locks at Calcutt but our aim was to stop at the boatyard after the first two which we duly did. Here we took on diesel, a gas bottle and a bag of coal so our fuel stocks are now much healthier. It was an efficient operation and we were able to back out into the main line before the boats, which had started up the flight just after us, were anywhere near ready to come out.

Looking back at Calcutt Top, this was the end of the 'candlestick' locks, with the distinctive tall paddle gears. Although they can sometimes be a bit heavy to turn, the overall lock design is so much more efficient than anywhere else on the Grand Union.

At the start of the inline moorings just before Napton Junction we spotted this bijou boat - perhaps it is used as an annex! It looks even shorter than Mouse, a little pusher tug that normally resides at Braunston.

After the junction we saw several stretches of very recent bank repairs. We were not impressed and the result is so poor that one part (we missed a photo of it) had already fallen into the canal. Some sections just used the roll matting and stakes whilst others had the fabric stretched probably too loosely between the stakes for additional retention. We can only hope that the contractors will be called back to do the work properly. It seems unlikely that there can be much excuse so soon after the work has been done - the dredgings deposited on the bank were still very wet.

When passing under many of the brick accommodation bridges it is easy to forget that much of what you see is just the parapets protecting users over the top falling over the edge. When we see one without the parapets, presumably to allow wider farm machinery to pass from one field to another, it is a surprise to see how narrow the arch is at the apex. A tribute to the inherent strength of an arch design.

Nearing noon, the elegant spire of Braunston Church came into view and by now sufficient sun had emerged to make it a charming scene.

We paused at the service mooring by the junction to take on water and make the usual disposals. Christine called at Midland Chandlers to buy a replacement cartridge for Mike's life jacket which he (again) accidentally set off a few days ago. However, she did not find a suitable life jacket for herself (she would like a replacement for the buoyancy aid which has had for a while) but not only were they out of stock but the sadly told her that she had just missed the 20% discount day! perhaps we will have to use mail order to obtain one as we have been looking for most of the season.

Meanwhile, Andrew had walked to the village shop for today's newspaper and rejoined us at the next bridge. Before the next locks we pulled in for a lunch break. We noticed that the canal was really busy ta this point and quite a few boats passed us as we were moored.

On then to the Braunston flight of six locks. We took a little longer than we might as a couple of hire boats were taking their time going up just ahead of us whilst several boats were heading down the flight as well. despite this we only lost about 10 minutes over our standard estimate!

We were amused to see the old railway sign attached to the wall of the top lock cottage (now a private house).

At the top we quickly headed into Braunston Tunnel only to find that the two hire boats were going very slowly indeed and Andrew had quite a task making sure that we did not ram into the second. It is difficult to judge distances from behind when in the tunnel - the tunnel bands did not seem to show up much at all.

After the tunnel it is a short distance to Norton Junction where we saw a number of work boats gathering ahead of the stoppage next weeks for gate replacement. The gates and balance beams have already arrived and waiting on a barge to be fitted.

In order to have a chance of a tv signal we went down one lock with one of the hire boats we had been following - they kindly spotted us coming and opened up the top gates which they had just shut so that we could join them. Like us they were only going down one lock to the pound below for an overnight mooring.

12.3 Miles - 10 Locks