Sunday, 27 February 2011

Short Break at Half Term - Fifth and Final Day

(posted by Alan)

Globe Inn, Leighton Buzzard to Cook's Wharf

Today was just a case of a fairly standard run back to base from just north of Leighton Buzzard - relatively undemanding, although the weather forecast didn't exactly sound brilliant.  There was no great hurry to start, as we definitely needed a stop at Leighton Buzzard Tesco, and being a Sunday, that didn't open until 10:00 am anyway - so we did the short trip down to there to be ready for that.

By the time we restarted the rain had set in, and it was also colder than yesterday, so not the best of boating weather.  There was a brief moment just North of Leighton where we actually had 4 boats moving at once, but at least one of these seemed to be only making a trip of a few hundred yards, and we eventually ended up passing through Grove lock with the same couple we had accompanied through several locks yesterday.  As we already knew they were taking their brand new boat to Grove Marina, it was fairly obvious we would be on our own after that, and so it proved to be.

Lots of rain
And even more rain
In fact we hardly saw anything else move until we had done the further 8 locks back to base.  It rained steadily, so Cath took over steering for stints, to allow me to go in briefly in attempts to warm up.  I'm not supposed to be doing much hard work after eye surgery, but did work around 4 of the locks, and was pleased to be doing so again.

Even on days like today there are unusual sights to see some places, and Cath spotted a Muntjac deer in the former side-ponds of one of the many locks.  It was really quite close, and in no great hurry to run off, despite us being there.
I predicted the rain would stop as we approached "base", and I wasn't far wrong.  It seemed to take an eternity to pack and load the car, (we seem to take stuff for 3 weeks, even if only going for 5 days, or so!), but eventually we were ready, and another trip was sadly over.

Because of our disrupted year last year, we never once got further north than Cosgrove, so already this year, still in February, we have done better on that front than last year.  We hope to go a great deal further in the summer!

Globe Inn, Leighton Buzzard to Cook's Wharf
Miles: 7.9, Locks:10

Total Miles: 65.6, Total Locks:46

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Short Break at Half Term - Fourth Day

(posted by Alan)

Stantonbury, Milton Keynes to Globe Inn, Leighton Buzzard

A strange sort of day, probably best summarised by "it rained!".

Cath sleeps well on the boat, using it to recharge her batteries after what has been a fairly demanding time work and family-wise.  So quite often the "home" routine is reversed and it is me who gets up to attend to the morning chores, which basically are....

1) See if fire is still alight, and attempt to rescue it if it is.
2) Get gettle on to start coffee making process,
3) Take Charlie out for at least basic toileting essentials.

Sounds easy, but all involves stumbling through the cabin where David is trying to sleep, (with head to coffee end, and feet to stove and dog end...).  As Charlie wants to quickly re-introduce himself to all on board, it can get a bit lively.

Anyway, we had moored in a spot I never have before, strangely remote, given it was broadly "Milton Keynes", and I quickly found I could deviate from tow-path across a field, with a massive lake to one side, but a ruined stone building ahead.  This proved to be a former parish church of Stantonbury, but stood now completely alone surrounded by fields.  Next time I must take my camera!

Once back at the boat, the more the rest of the family started to stir, the more it rained!  So we decided we were in no great hurry to get going.  However, it really showed no sign of letting up, so eventually I donned reasonably weatherproof gear, got ready, and set off.

It really was a day when nobody else much was moving, but a boat had passed in our direction maybe 20 minutes before we set off.  I was a little surprised to catch it well before Fenny lock, but we did, and followed at their pace.  After that they suggested we went ahead, which allowed us to have locks part prepared before they caught up, and we slipped quickly through Stoke Hammond, (greeted unexpectedly by Allan from "Keeping Up"), and then "Three Locks", where the other boat planned to stop.  In practice so did we, as Cath got hit by a very sudden migraine, literally whilst walking between the top two locks.  (How different is a deserted "Three Locks" on a Saturday in February, to mid-summer, when you would have to be asking sightseers to move, in order to be able to operate the locks at all...)

We moored for a while, whilst Cath rested - an unexpected bonus being that the rain largely stopped whilst we were tied up.  Eventually I started up again, and pottered down the "Jackdaw Pound", still one of my favourite bits of this canal.  By then the sun was out, but I really was enjoying it largely on my own, with just the occasional dog walker for passing company.

We so much enjoyed a visit to the Globe Inn only a month or so ago, that we thought we would go again. By 6pm Cath felt better, if a bit wobbly, and decided that eating out would be better than trying to cook. When we did eventually get to the Globe, we were told "Sorry, no! - we are at full capacity!", but eventually negotiated ourselves into a corner seat, not otherwise booked for dining.  Another good meal, although the next time I'll not ask the barman to recommend his selection from around five different ales.  Sorry, but the "Abbott" was not what it should have been, and the one I subsequently switched to was a very much better bet.  I'd recommend it now, but other than remembering it was from a fairly obscure brewery, and that it's name began with "Old", exactly what it was has already slipped my mind.

Throughout our stay in the well crowded pub, Charlie, although well behaved, at times acting like an absolute "tart",  not just enjoying the attentions of strangers, but at times positively relishing it.  Everybody seems to love Charlie, in a way we had not anticipated when he first arrived from the "rescue", and he certainly turns many heads.

I'm not sure if there are any pictures for today - it really did rain rather too much for photography.

Stantonbury, Milton Keynes to Globe Inn, Leighton Buzzard
Miles: 14.5, Locks:5

Total Miles: 57.7, Total Locks:36

Friday, 25 February 2011

Short Break at Half Term - Third Day

(Posted by Cath)

Stoke Bruerne to Stantonbury, Milton Keynes

We didn't want to rush back to the home mooring at the same speed as we'd come up to Stoke, and I also wanted to look at the Museum.  Alan was not so keen on the museum, but agreed to come with me.  

We had to wait until 11 am for the museum to open, so Charlie got a couple of walks, and I got an hour or two of coursework marking done - sadly, the pile I am working through is not going down nearly as fast as I'd like.

The museum has a gift shop, full of the kind of things that were a magnet to our kids when we used to visit museums and castles with them when they were younger - bookmarks, fridge magnets, pencils, pens, erasers, etc. as well as a very good canal oriented bookshop - we found ourselves picking up book after book and deciding that we really did need it in our collection.  We were told that if we signed a gift aid certificate for our entry fees we could have a season ticket for the year - not a bad idea as we hope to be in Stoke several times this summer.   We were given audio 'interpretation' devices - but found that we preferred to look at the exhibits without being directed at various key points - we know enough of the basics, we were more interested in looking in detail at things.  I'm sure these are very useful if you don't have much experience of the canals, but there is only so much detail they can give you.

We think that there is a basic problem with canal museums - it is very difficult to bring something like this up to the modern standards.  So many museums these days are filled with interactivity, games, and animated interpretations.  Children are used to having a lot to do - our sons used to love the Science Museum in London, particularly Launchpad and the activities in the basement - there was so much to do, so many ways of exploring science.  What is there that you can do in a canal museum?  There is only so much you can do with 'worksheets', particularly for a generation brought up on interactive games.  While there seems to be a steady stream of people through the museum it is difficult to know how it can compete against the outside world in the current economic climate.

What did I find interesting?  The painted 'ware' - comparing the different styles (and qualities).  There was a water can from 1901, showing scenes of canal life, including four little dogs - although the paint was quite old and faded I would like to have been able to see the other side.  The 'Idle Women' exhibit was interesting, as well as the information about the canal 'navvies'.  There is a huge wheelbarrow on display - surely no-one was ever strong enough to use it?  A peculiar leather and wood device proved to be the innards of a bilge pump - it didn't look very efficient.  I was also interested to get the chance to pick up and examine a modern replica "boatwoman's bonnet" - I had no idea that they were constructed like that - they must have used huge amounts of cloth.  I loved the notice about 'locomotives and other ponderous carriages' - taken from a bridge that could only handle the normal 'local traffic'.

On the second floor is the reconstructed boatman's cabin of a butty.  It doesn't look right - you can't go inside to get a proper look, but the cupboards and stove just seem wrong.  I'm sure the museum know what the proportions and measurements should be, but from outside they look odd.

Coming back down the Stoke Bruerne Locks.

We spent an hour in the museum, stopped at the Cheese Boat for some supplies, then back to Chalice, a snatched lunch of toasted cheese on crumpets, and off down the locks again.  We shared with a single hander from Blisworth, passing a number of boats going up - far more moving than yesterday.

It was grey, and drizzly, and by the time that we were through Cosgrove it was clear that we weren't going to be able to get much further before dark.  We moored next to a spinney of trees near Stantonbury, almost in the dark by the time were were there.  Wine, and spaghetti bolognese, then sleep.  We need to buy some food, or stop for a pub meal this evening.

Stoke Bruerne to Stantonbury, Milton Keynes
Miles: 10.3, Locks:8

Total Miles: 43.2, Total Locks:31

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Short Break at Half Term - Second Day

(Posted by Cath)

Fenny Stratford to Stoke Bruerne

We knew that today would be a lot of long miles, then the climb up the flight to Stoke Bruerne.  It was a glorious day, cold, but with high, broken cloud letting the sun through.

Grafton Street Aqueduct, Milton Keynes

We took it in turns steering.  I spent two hours cleaning the inside of the boat of the dust and grime that had settled over the recent winter when it had been necessary to neglect Chalice due to family matters.  Then Alan took over and washed down the mud and footprints from the outside.  David was on kitchen duties, providing sandwiches and fruit bread to keep us going.  

Charlie enjoys the sunshine

We saw very few boats moving - perhaps three before we got to the Stoke locks.  There are a few hire boats out, not many, but not really surprising given that it is February - a couple of Alvechurch boats and some 'Canal Club' out of Gayton Marina.

Through Cosgrove lock, then the winding miles of countryside towards Stoke Bruerne.   I walked Charlie along the towpath for a while, then I steered while Alan took a shower.  At the bottom of the Stoke flight we stopped to fill our nearly empty water tank and also to buy some solid fuel off the coal boats - we like to support the canal traders, whenever we can.  Whilst doing all this, a couple of boats came past and up the flight.  Although the boats ahead of us were single handers, they came back and shut gates after going through, and even pulled paddles for us if we weren't yet up at the lock, they were efficient and speedy.
Coming up the Stoke flight

 Crossing the lock

We arrived at Stoke well before dusk, moored up, and I had a shower, and even got a little marking done before we headed off to the Boat Inn for a pint and an excellent meal.

Fenny Stratford to Stoke Bruerne
Miles: 18.3, Locks:8

Total Miles: 32.9, Total Locks:23

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Short Break at Half Term - First Day

Cook's Wharf to Fenny Stratford
(posted by Cath)

Alan got the boat ready on Tuesday afternoon - taking some of the bags, getting the fridge cold, lighting the fire - while I tried to get a few things sorted at home. David had real problems getting himself organised and it was quite late when we finally got on board with all of the other stuff.

We stowed everything away, and I cooked dinner, after which I went to bed, as I was quite tired. I have spent the last week fighting a chest infection, and for the first few days of the half term I needed a lot more sleep than usual.

I fell asleep quickly, Alan came to bed soon after, but was clearly disturbed by an intermittent knocking noise that seemed to be coming from the direction of a boat moored across the canal. Eventually, at some small hour, he got up, got dressed, and went out to find out what the noise was. I became aware of him clambering along the wet gunwale, and as our neighbouring boat is away from its mooring I knew that if he slipped he'd be in the very cold cut. I have to admit that I found myself thinking, "No, please don't fall in, I really don't want to have to leave my nice warm bed."

Well the knocking noise proved to be the fender that normally hangs between us and our neighbouring boat. The fender was just into the water, and any water movements made it bang against the side of our boat - it doesn't usually happen because the other boat is normally there.

We set off soon after nine o'clock, with hot porridge for breakfast. It was a damp morning, the tops of the Chiltern hills hidden in the mist. There are the very first signs of spring appearing, a tiny white-flowered wild flower poking a rosette of leaves through the cracks in the brickwork around the locks; catkins on the alder trees and the hazel bushes; and a tinge to the colour of some of the bare branches as the first buds appear.

Horton Lock

Most of the morning was just damp and misty, but we had occasional periods of drizzle and rain. We headed north, through the Seabrook and Ivinghoe locks, then onward into Leighton Buzzard where we stopped to get some food, and I tried to persuade David to get a pair of jeans in Tesco, as I was not sure that all the pairs he had brought would last through the trip.

Just south of Linslade Manor we saw the Canal World Forum boat Pinmill travelling south - a chance for a quick greeting and a wave, and they headed on towards Aylesbury.

Soulbury, three locks

David at Three Locks

Stoke Hammond Lock
Alan is still recovering from his cataract operation, so I have to do most of the locks - with some help from David.

We finally got to Fenny Stratford at about 5:30, moored up, and had Cottage Pie for dinner, once again I fell asleep early, and slept like a top.

Cook's Wharf to Fenny Stratford
Miles: 14.6, Locks:15

Total Miles: 14.6, Total Locks:15