Tuesday 24th May
I had an excellent crab salad in the Anglers, which in a way, I expected as their food has always been consistently good.
I let go at 10.00 to go down across “The Fields”, as it was know by the old boaters. Eleven locks to Leighton Buzzard and I had forgotten how tricky they can be at first.
Imagine the lock is set full and one gate open to go in.
Take the boat in and the water pressure opens the other gate.
Close the gate behind the boat and cross to close the offending gate.
Meanwhile the gate behind the boat has now opened?’#^&%%$@# etc.
The trick is to close one top gate, walk down to the bottom gate and draw half a paddle, which will cause hydraulic pressure to keep the top gates closed – quad erat demonstrandum!
I met a Wyvern Shipping hire boat on a bend and could see that he was going to keep left and did not know the rules of the road. I remonstrated by waving him across, but I still ended up too close to the hedge with the TV aerial in the water. Fortunately there was no scratched paintwork.
I was considering how to tackle the Pitstone Swing Bridge, although there was a bollard on the offside that I could use, when another boat appeared as if by magic. I spoke to the guy about doing it for me, but he said that his wife could not ‘drive’ the boat and neither of them had ever done a swing bridge before. However, she a came to work it with a little advice from me and so both boats got through one after the other.
Talking of hire boats, I passed by Slapton Wharf, where we hired our first ever wooden narrow boat, Silver Galleon, in 1979 from a company called Autrant Waterway Services, who had their base entirely on the water at that point. The assembled hirers stood around on the lawn in front of the house to be addressed by a man in a navy cap about the technique of going through a lock which held 60,000 gallons of water. Each boat was accompanied by an expert as we all zig zagged down the cut to the next bridge, where the experts alighted and left us to it. Stoke Hammond Three
(Soulbury Three Locks) was to come and being a Bank Holiday Saturday, the lock beams were covered with adults and children. My wife was about to jump off with windlass in hand, saying “What do I do Ray?” when some guy grabs the windlass from her and says “I’ll do this missus.”
As far as I can remember, we didn’t have to do a thing in any of the locks, but it was a baptism of fire with all those gongoozlers watching. So that was when we got hooked on boating. The pub there was pretty dire in those days and for a few years afterwards, but it has been considerably improved and expanded since then.
Slapton Lock and Wharf.
There were no available moorings above Grove Lock, so I went through and moored up for the night with space to spare. Six hours cruising - my longest day so far; I think I might be getting some stamina back at last.
My friends John and Hazel on North Star are still marooned below Buckby Locks, where the whole flight has been closed due to a damaged gate. They have been stuck there since Saturday and today is Tuesday. Work is to begin tomorrow and not expected to open until Thursday at the earliest. Reckon I might just catch them up, but I dread to think of the log jam that will be there to greet me.
I went for a pint in The Grove Lock and decided to have a meal there, which was a good choice. I ordered marinated lamb rump, with potatoes and honey glazed carrots. The meat was cooked pink and to perfection and I ate everything, which is unusual for me. I also succumbed to the sweet temptation and enjoyed Fuller’s ice cream and caramel cheesecake, which was presented with panache and was delicious.
Wednesday 25th May.
I cruised up to Leighton moorings and shopped at Tesco and Aldi, before finding the launderette, which was very well serviced by three ladies and very busy. Chris phoned before I had finished there and had parked at Three Locks to walk back to meet me. We met at Linslade Lock and cruised up through the Jackdaw Pound as far as the moorings at the top of the three locks. We were now in Noddy boat country and passed several on the way; they seemed to know the rules of the road at least; not like the last hire boater on the wrong side. Not much achieved today, except the laundry, but I was so tired that I went to bed at 9pm – how does that work?
Thursday 26th May.
I waited at the top of the locks for another boat, but then, just like buses, two came at once, so no use to me, but shortly after a hire boat appeared with a crew of three guys - just right, so we went through in short order. Well not quite, as they had to close the bottom gates of one lock before setting the next one, but who was I to complain, it was all being done for me! After Stoke Hammond Lock, I went out first, but let them pass so that I could make some coffee. I caught up at Fenny Stratford, with the swing bridge over the shallow lock. Again I went out first, hoping to make Cosgrove by the end of the day, which I did after seven hours. The working day is getting still longer. It was a beautiful sunny day with no wind and made cruising this lock free stretch a real pleasure. Normally, I find the long Milton Keynes pound to be boring, but not today. I moored up near the horse tunnel, which goes beneath the canal at this point. Strangely enough, I remembered this tunnel from many years ago, when on a hire boat and always thought it was on the Oxford Canal. This tunnel leads of course to The Barley Mow!
Ominous looking Horse Tunnel.
Friday 27th May.
Not far to Stoke Bruerne, but seven locks to climb before I get there. Another gorgeous day in prospect with hazy sun and little wind. I passed a few boats, but no one was going the same way as me, so the thought of the locks was rather daunting. Fortunately, I only did the first one and then two volunteers came down after having accompanied a pair of boats on their way to River Lee and then the Woking Festival in August on the Basingstoke Canal. I felt really mollycoddled through these locks, but it makes a pleasant change after sweating up those sixteen from Aylesbury. I passed the revamped Navigation Inn at Thrupp Wharf and would have liked to sample it in its new guise, but time was pressing, so I passed by.
Navigation Inn with smart new verandah.
Kathryn Dodington spotted me on the water point outside The Boat Inn and came over for a chat. I also went into her house for a cup of tea and to catch up on old times. We are hoping to book a table at The Spice of Bruerne for a meal later, as all the boys go to the Mosque in Luton on Fridays until about then.