Sunday, 28 September 2008

Weekend trip to Aylesbury

SATURDAY - The weather forecast for the weekend looked fine, so we thought we'd go to Aylesbury, which we haven't done for a couple of years.

As always, we were later getting started than we intended - mostly getting things sorted a bit before we left home. It was misty in the valley, and over the marina - which didn't burn off until quite late in the morning. At the marina we went and bought another cylinder of gas - and then set off just after 11 am. As the trip to Aylesbury is about 7 hours, we were a little apprehensive about possible hold-ups and maybe ending up travelling after dusk.

It's late September, the trees are still green, although the green is turning to a yellower shade, and a couple of the trees on the hillside overlooking the marina had flame red tops - but only the first few leaves were beginning to drift down onto the canal as we went across the summit. The summit was quite chilly, although the weather forecast was predicting 21 degrees - but by the time we were working down the Marsworth flight the sun was on our backs and jumpers were quickly discarded. The hedgerow was heavy with autumn fruit - I can't remember seeing so many blackberries, hips and haws - but I didn't see any sloes until we were on the Aylesbury arm, and no damsons anywhere.

Incidentally Bluebell's cafe by the last lock in the flight sells excellent ice cream, as well as a balsamic vinegar flavoured ice cream (I kid you not!) - quite the most disgusting flavour I think I've ever experienced.

We worked quickly down the Marsworth flight, and I said to Alan that I'd walk the couple of hundred yards along the towpath from the White Lion down to the Aylesbury arm. Passing the garden of the pub I saw bench tables groaning with massive ploughmans' lunches, and huge jugs of beer - the reason quickly became obvious - there were ready for the two 'teams' of morris men who were entertaining the customers. I took a couple of photos - then sprinted along the towpath to arrive panting and wheezing just as Alan was bringing the boat to the side by the first lock of the Aylesbury arm, and wondering where I was.

As we took the boat down the first two locks - a staircase - at the beginning of the arm I looked up to see a pair of red kites wheeling overhead - twisting and turning by a slight turn of their distinctive forked tails. They were too far away for me to take a photo, but this is what they look like - they were re-introduced to the Chilterns a few years back and have flourished.

The first mile of the Aylesbury arm the locks come thick and fast - nine in all. The next seven locks take another five miles. The arm is beautiful, rural and remote, it doesn't pass through any towns or villages until you get to Aylesbury itself. At this time of year the fields are empty, some filled with stubble, others already ploughed. Often with a lone heron standing, or a staghorn oak, and fringed with Corot willows, their characteristic silver green turning yellow. Here on the Herts/ Bucks border, where the canal crawls slowly away from the still misty Chiltern hills, you can look to the west and see the cars and lorries scuttling by on the distant A41 - seemingly a hundred years away.
We ate on the hoof, grabbing a mug of soup, and a bite of baguette when we could - we didn't want to have to slow down. Strangely the locks are wider than most narrow locks - leaving a good 18 inches room at the side of the boat. However, the bridges seem extremely narrow - we took our chimney off to ensure it didn't meet the same fate as it's predecessor.

As we approached Aylesbury we went through a section where there is only about 6 feet between the reeds on each side of the canal. We've been down here before, and the reeds have been rampant, but nothing like this, with reeds brushing both sides of the boat. We were a little apprehensive about meeting another boat in this long section. Notice the missing chimney in this photo

Aylesbury arrives, as does the need for a key to operate the locks. Two of the locks on the final run-in to the town have anti-vandal locks requiring a British Waterways key. As I've left my keys behind in these types of locks before now I detached my BW key from my keyring and tied it to my jean's belt loop by a long piece of string, then tucked it into a pocket.

We arrived at a little after six, still with an hour or so of light. The Aylesbury Canal Society's basin was completely full, so we turned the boat and reversed into the mooring outside the Inland Revenue offices. We each had a shower then headed into the town.

There was something quite surreal about the town. The streets were empty, and there didn't seem to be very many restaurants where we were. Then in the square in the middle of the town was an ambulance, with it bored looking paramedics waiting for the night's work - making us somewhat apprehensive about what it would be like later. We wandered on, and we found the streets where the restarants and bars were - rejecting the possibility of a Portuguese restaurant. Pizza Express said that unless we had booked then they couldn't accommodate us for at least an hour and a half. We were beginning to feel that the only possibilities were KFC or a takeaway pizza, and Alan had already turned to go back towards the boat when I spotted Prezzo. They could offer us a table quickly, and we had excellent pizza and pasta meals with good service, and good coffee afterwards.

We went back to the boat, half expecting disturbance from the town during the night, but quickly fell asleep and heard nothing.

SUNDAY - despite having set an alarm we really couldn't be bothered to get up early - it was cold and very misty outside. Eventually Alan got up and lit a fire, then we made coffee and porridge before setting off through the fading mist at after 10 o'clock.

Chalice moored opposite nb Chiswick, and next to the IR offices in Aylesbury

Aylesbury Canal Basin in the morning mist.

We moored up after the first lock, and went into Tescos.

Looking at the tins of soup in Tescos I decided that it would be far better to make our own, using the heat from the boat's stove to cook it. So I went back to the fruit and veg section and picked up a wide selection of vegetables. Then back to the boat and the next few locks - by now we were in full sunshine.

This heron was on the towpath opposite factories or warehouses in Aylesbury, and seemed fairly unperturbed by me walking along carrying a boat hook to allow me to push the both the bottom gates open without having to cross the lock.

Once out of Aylesbury I cut up the root veg and put them on the stove with some stock and a tin of tomatoes to cook. Then we got to some more locks and I was needed to help with them. After those I put in the other veg - beans, leeks, mushrooms, peppers, etc and put the soup - now looking very chunky - back on the stove to finish off.

We worked on until about 1 pm, and decided to stop for lunch - quite unusual for us - so we moored, and ate what was far more like a stew than a soup with some cheese and crusty bread from the supermarket.
There was lots of water, often pouring over the gates, as seen in this photo of Black Jack's lock (No. 4).

Near Puttenham I saw one of the red kites again, but this time being mobbed by angry seagulls.

We were finally out of the Aylesury arm by about 4:00 pm, and had good luck working up through the Marsworth flight - with many of the locks for us, and many spectators out in the autumn sunshine. Several times I was asked if we wanted help with the gates on the other side of the lock, and people seemed quite surprised that we only needed one opened. We got back to the marina at soon after six, tidied up, loaded the car, and off home. A great weekend - time to spend together - time out in the fresh air - but very tired after 20 miles and 46 locks.


saltysplash said...

Sounds like a great trip folks.
The Arm is on my list of priority trips.
Great Blog btw

Cath said...

Cheers, Salty, it's a great arm - very attractive but hard work though.
Thanks for the encouragement!

Neil Corbett said...

We like the Aylesbury arm, narrow locks! And we had the same feeling about Aylesbury when we wandered around on a Sunday night looking for somewhere to eat! Did you see the novel mooring 'heads' at Jem Bates' boatyard on your way past?

Cath said...

We saw the boatyard, but to be honest we didn't notice anything unusual about any mooring 'heads'. Now I need to go again to have another look!