Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Stantonbury (lost mooring pin)

Sun almost gone at our Monday night mooring at Stantonbury

We awoke to another almost windless day on Monday which was great as we were due to carry on cruising towards Northampton.  Karen ran back to Leighton Buzzard to get the car and I set off on the boat to get to the northern outskirts of Milton Keynes.

As I mentioned the other day, it’s a slow old chug through Milton Keynes with all the liveaboard boaters that now seem to work in the area.  Mind you, there are numerous bridges, both original and modern, that help make the journey more interesting.  One thing we have been noticing is the large number of new widebeams appearing on the waterway and a large proportion seem to have been built by Aintree Boats.

Aintree built our shell, although we had our fit out done by another firm.  Since buying our boat, two of our friends have also bought new narrowboats from Aintree and, judging by the number of the company’s new boats in the water, we should have bought shares a few years ago.

It took about three hours to cruise the seven miles around the eastern edge of Milton Keynes.  I was just about to moor up when Karen and Buddy appeared from the opposite direction.  After her run, Karen had had a few errands and moved the car to Stantonbury, just timing things right as it turned out.  

Our view from our Stantonbury mooring with the northern outpost of Milton Keynes in the distance
Whilst mooring up I dropped a mooring pin into the water; this was the first time I have ever dropped a pin in the water after countless thousands of times we must have moored up.  Saying that, we have dropped countless other things in the cut; most of which we managed to retrieve including a barrel barbecue, an aluminium windlass [twice] (on which I had put a magnetic hose clip for such an eventuality) and other assorted boating hardware.  The largest thing we have lost and weren’t able to retrieve was a bike from our first boat back in 2011.

We lost it at the top entrance to a lock on the River Kennet where the water was far too deep for us to locate it.  I had unwittingly left the boat in reverse gear and whilst preparing to empty the lock, the boat had pushed open a top gate catching one of the bikes which wasn't securely fixed on the bike rack.  The bike just dropped straight down - the whole thing was like some crazy slow motion scene as we just caught the boat in time before it went cruising backwards up the river on its own. 

I suppose I have to admit to also losing another bike, almost exactly three years ago to the day, on the River Severn.  Again, it was on the old boat and we had our bikes on the roof.  For some reason I hadn’t secured them by padlocking them to the roof and, when pulling up to a lock landing an overhanging tree caught one of them and off it went.  There was no way we were going to find that bike as the river water was so deep.

Fortunately I found the dropped pin after not too much time magnet fishing and with not much swearing each time the magnet attached itself to the metal bank piling.

We stayed in for the rest of the day and by the time sundown was approaching the clouds had rolled away and we had beautiful blue skies as in the picture at the top.

First thing on Tuesday Karen took the car into Wendover for an appointment whilst I took Buddy out for a walk.  He was going to be cooped up a lot during the day as we were moving the car to Gayton and meeting friends for lunch.

On our walk we came across the ruins of an old church which I was delighted to see, having not researched the area in advance.  I don’t really understand why, but I seem to have a strange fascination for abandoned ancient churches considering I’m anti-religious.  It’s probably to do with the awesome fact that such beautiful buildings were constructed entirely by hand so many centuries ago. 

All that’s left of the church of St Peter at Stantonbury
The church was built in the 1100s and fell into disuse in the late 1800s. It was the church of the village of Stantonbury which, by 1736 was a settlement of only four houses alongside a large manor house.  The manor house was destroyed by fire a decade or so later and all that remains are the large earthworks of the fishponds and also the outlines of some of the external walls.  The village had declined to the small number of dwelling because the owners of the manor house had enclosed large areas of land and evicted all the villagers apart from a few who worked on the (new) manor-land.

Another view of the remains…

…and one of the dozen or so gravestones that remain
Just as I got back on the boat I heard the distinctive tooting of the fuel boat and Jules & Richard pulled up to top us up with diesel.  When Karen returned, we drove up to Gayton marina near Northampton where we would be leaving the car until we arrive there on the boat for it to be craned onto a lorry.  Our friends Mike & Lesley (Aintree boat owners) had kindly offered to pick us up and run us back to Milton Keynes, but we changed the plans slightly whilst we discussed where to have lunch.

Mutual friends Chris & Sue had just taken delivery of their new boat, also from Aintree, and were cruising to Long Itchington with their , not so small now, puppy Bracken.  We knew they had left Braunston in the morning and guessed that if we headed over that way, we would just catch them going down the three locks at Calcutt.  As we were parking up at Calcutt marina we could just see them in the distance, coming out of the middle lock, 

Chris & Sue on their new pride and joy
After they moored up, we had a good nose around and were very impressed with a lot of the finishing touches and personal designs they had incorporated.  We then adjourned to the Boat at Birdingbury Wharf and had a good leisurely lunch before Mike & Lesley took us back to Milton Keynes.  Buddy was rapt as Sue had a lamb bone for him which his unloving family never give him 😞

On Monday we cruised seven lock-free miles leaving only 16 miles and eight locks before arriving at Gayton.


Monday, 18 March 2019

Fenny Stratford (can’t blame the Great Train Robbers for this)

Heading for Soulbury on Sunday

We had a good journey back down the M1 from Yorkshire on Thursday and were home before it got dark.  We had a surprise when we arrived back at the boat though, spot the difference…

…no, it wasn’t the blue skies nor was it the fact that the wind had died down.  Sadly, our bikes had gone.

Whoever had taken them had undone the restraining ropes to the cover and taken that too.  The ropes were left on the back deck but there was no sign of the bulky bike lock; it had obviously been cut through and probably thrown in the cut.  It looked like they had tried to remove the bike rack too but that lock was clearly too strong.

We always take two or three wheels off the bikes when strapped on the back to avoid them getting damaged by other boats or if we get into difficulty in locks.  We keep them in the cratch, so I immediately went down to see if they had gone too.  Imagine my surprise when I found they were still there – the thieves had stolen two frames, one wheel and a bike cover – must’ve looked strange walking down the towpath with that lot.

Each time we met different neighbours over the next few days we asked if they had seen anything suspicious, but none had.  We reported it to the police and will probably claim on our insurance as a theft rather than a burglary (break-in) doesn’t impact our no claims bonus and neither does it attract an excess payment from us.

The wind was still up on Friday morning as we heard the unusual sound of a boat on the move, heading up from Leighton.  It happened to be a CRT boat pulling two barges which looked quite a feat considering the strong winds.

The towing boat is nearly out of shot but you can see four or five CRT guys standing on the back
We had to pop over to Wendover to pick up a few things that had been delivered to Karen’s mum but first I did some magnet fishing.  Karen had had the brainwave that the thieves may have been so pissed off that there were no wheels on the bikes that they just threw the fames in the cut. 

I had a good fish around but, apart from the usual nuts and bolts etc., found no bike frames.  After putting the magnet and line away I went back on deck to trim my beard.  When I was emptying the beard trimmer the cutting mechanism fell in the water, so I had to get the magnet out a second time.  This time, fortunately, I was successful.

This panda parked next to us in the boaters’ car park tickles us every time we see it
One of the things we picked up from Ann was a new coal bucket; our previous one had developed some rust holes in the base, and we were fed up with constantly clearing up coal dust.  Karen had been in touch with a boat trader called Kay who makes and sells canal arts and crafts from her boat Pea Green (Facebook: Kay's Canal Crafty Arts from nb Pea Green). She had agreed to paint a new bucket for us with chalkhill blues on and we have to say that we are really pleased with it.

Our new coal bucket (picture from Kay, the painter)
After seeing Ann, we went into Aylesbury where we had a few bits and pieces of shopping to do.  On the way we called in to see Judith and have a quick catch up with how arrangements were going for Mum’s memorial ceremony which is being held on Sunday week in Gargrave village hall.

We had other odd jobs to do on Saturday and missed the start of the first rugby match by a couple of hours.  We had thought this might be the case so had made sure we weren’t near radios etc. where we might inadvertently hear scores.  We saw the first match on catch up and in the end watched all three matches on catch up without knowing any of the results in advance – a beauty of staying indoors on the boat πŸ˜‰

The winds died down during Saturday night, so we set off towards Milton Keynes on Sunday morning.  We were expecting to see lots of boats on the move as it was the first day without strong winds for what felt like ages.  As it was, we only saw five and four of them were widebeams.

Setting off on Sunday morning
As usual, it was great to be on the move again and after a mile or so we reached the three locks at Soulbury.

In Soulbury top lock
Not surprisingly the pub by the bottom lock is called the Three Locks and is popular with gongoozlers especially during the summer.  The only people outside on Sunday when we went through were smokers.

Going down the bottom lock outside the pub
We stopped for water after leaving the flight of locks and then slowly made our way to Fenny Stratford on the outskirts of Milton Keynes.  I say slowly because a lot of the way was in and out of gear on tick-over as so many ccers now seem to moor throughout Milton Keynes.   

The lock at Fenny Stratford is one of the very few in the UK that has a swing bridge over the top which clearly involves extra effort.  This time we were lucky as a boater was wheeling a couple of bags of coal across the bridge and offered to operate the bridge whilst another offered to close the gates up after us – very nice, especially as it was suddenly quite blowy and exposed at that point.

The skies darkened as we left the lock and we decided to moor up for the day, not before I got soaked by a hail storm as I hammered the mooring pins home and made the boat safe for the night.

Our mooring for Sunday night at Fenny
Two things we had planned to do before leaving for France, visiting Bletchley Park and taking the boat into Northampton, have obviously gone by the board with the recent turn of events but there’s always other timesπŸ˜ƒ

On Sunday we cruised six miles down five locks.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Lechlade Manor (white horses on the cut)

Yet another windy day on Wednesday so apart from going for a couple of walks we spent it on the boat.  Jules & Richard came by on their fuel boat delivery run up to Stoke Bruerne which was well timed; one of our gas cylinders had run out about an hour after they had left us the previous week. As they were dropping off a new cylinder we topped up with diesel and got a couple more bags of coal too.

We always carry two gas cylinders so we can swap over when one runs out.  Swapping cylinders over is an outside job as they are kept in the gas locker right at the front of the boat.  Consequently, the operation generally has to be done at the most inconvenient time, in the middle of cooking and when it’s dark, snowing, raining or windy or any combination thereof.

With the windy conditions forecast to stay until Sunday at the earliest we changed our plans and decided to stay at Linslade until cruising further north next week.  Heather (Karen’s sister) & Keith were joining us on Sunday and sleeping over so Monday would be an ideal day to go for a cruise after spending a night with us.  We would then drive up to Yorkshire for a few days to see my mum & dad for our last visit before heading to Migennes. 

Mum looking at Lauren & Lewis’s wedding pictures when we last saw her in February
Steve arrived on Thursday afternoon; he had come for a sleepover and also to help (or do!) some jobs on the boat.  During the day I had gone to a village outside Aylesbury where a small business manufactures brass fixings in an agricultural unit.  I picked up some 2mm round headed, countersunk brass screws that I had been unable to track down anywhere else.

The screws put to good use
Steve offered to put the first couple of plaques up to get me going and then I hit on the idea of offering him a beer for every ten plaques.  The inducement seemed to work because in the end he put all 43 up and in a straight line which I doubt I would have done!

When we went to bed something happened that keeps making us chuckle.  When people stay over Buddy comes in to sleep with us rather than spending the night snuggled up next to the stove.  Karen woke Buddy up to move his bed into our bedroom but by the time he got things together the door had almost closed.  He is such a timid boy that he won’t push against a half open door.  His face was a picture as he couldn’t really work out why he had been woken up and then his bed was taken away.

On Friday morning Judith called to say that Mum had passed away in the night.  Thankfully she wasn’t in pain and it was peaceful; she was ready to go and she always said she had had a good life and didn’t need anything more 😊

It looked like being a dry morning, so Steve and I got on with some outside jobs.  First of all we changed the domestic battery bank – now you’ll understand why Steve was visiting; he’s an electrician so wouldn’t let me cock anything up.

Next, we fitted fold up steps at both sides at the front of the boat.  These will be useful when using the French locks as one of us will be climbing onto the roof at the front end when going up the locks.  Steve, of course, had all the gear so we could tap the necessary holes to bolt bolts into.

Steps folded away…
…and ready for action
The batteries we replaced still had plenty of life in them but we replaced them so it would lessen the chances of having battery problems whilst away in France.  Karen and I had decided that we would give the old batteries to someone who needed them in return for doing something for someone else or donating money to charity.  It so happened that a young couple who live on a boat moored behind us were needing to replace theirs and were saving up to buy a new set.  We had got talking when walking our respective dogs past each other’s boats.  They were so pleased and happy to take the batteries, so we were pleased and happy they went to a good home.

On Saturday morning we went for a walk around the meadows that seem to surround Leighton Buzzard and then spent the rest of the day indoors, making sure we watched the rugby during the afternoon.

The wind got up again during the night and by Sunday morning it felt like we were on the sea as white horses were forming on the water.  Luckily, we were tied with nappy pins onto the Armco as we wouldn’t have felt safe leaving the boat for a few days on stakes whilst we went up to Yorkshire to help my siblings with the arrangements for Mum.

White horses – not a sight we often see on the cut
We arrived at Gargrave just in time to watch the rugby with Dad.  The change in the weather was unbelievable; it wasn’t particularly cold when we left Linslade but by the time we reached Skipton the car thermometer was showing 1.5 degrees.  Judith & Nigel, who were also staying in Gargrave and had made a sterling effort in organising things for Mum with my young brother Richard, said it had been snowing and hailing on and off all day. 

The last few days have obviously seen us all being busy organising things and the wild weather hasn’t let up.  The River Aire that runs through the village is beginning to rise so there is no way of getting across using the stepping stones at either end of the village.

The river is lapping against the back door of the house by the bridge

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Lechlade Manor (and urban myths)

Wow!  Sunday was a really windy day, so it wasn’t surprising we didn’t see any boats on the move all day.  Judith & Nigel invited us over for lunch and later in the afternoon Sophie & Yanos popped in to see us on the boat.  They had been up to Milton Keynes for the day and were on their way back from Reading. 

I’d forgotten to mention the other day that Colin (who we met at the Grove for drinks on Saturday evening) was born in a place called Bowdon which is outside Altrincham.  I bring this up because Karen was born there too and in the same maternity home – small world!

It was still windy on Monday, so we stayed put at Grove for the day.  I was sorting out one of our lockers at the front of the boat and came across our bridge plaques.  These are brass plaques that are cast in the shape of bridge numbers.  They generally depict canals, rivers and arms but they are also made for touristy locations on the system like lock flights, tunnels, aqueducts and cruising rings.  

Over the years we have collected the plaques just for the canals and rivers we have been on and used to have them screwed to the back doors of our old boat.

Our plaque collection
It has taken 2 ½ years for us to decide where to put them on the new boat and we have finally decided to put them inside this time, running along at gunwale height around the living areas in the order we first went on each canal.  We feel it will add more colour and cosiness 😊 We have also realised we have a few of the more recent ones missing, such as the Leeds & Liverpool canal, so quickly put in an order for them.

We awoke on Tuesday to no wind and the sun was out.  We had a lot to do during the day and needed to go to Birmingham and were also meeting friends near Brackley in the evening.  The trouble was that we also had a load of the stuff in the car that needed transferring to the boat.  As it was heavy, the only place locally, where we could do the transfer was in Leighton Buzzard where you can moor right next to the car park at Tesco.

 Setting off on Tuesday morning from where we had been moored opposite Grove lock marina
We set off for a cruise to Leighton at eight which is early for us these days.  After we had gone down Grove lock, Karen walked back to get the car to move it to Tesco where I would meet her after topping up with water on the way.

Going down Grove lock by the Grove pub with Buddy enjoying his breakfast

Waving goodbye to Karen & Buddy as I left the lock heading for Leighton

The water point in Leighton is right on a bend and if there is a broadbeam taking on water it can be quite tricky to negotiate and get through the bridge at the other end of the water point.

Heading for the water point on the right
Karen & Buddy got back to the boat before the water tank was full.  We dumped our rubbish at the boaters’ refuse point and then moved onto Tesco once the tank was full.  Considering the refuse point is in the middle of town and unlocked we were pleasantly surprised how tidy it was compared with most we visit.  If the compounds are not locked then it means anyone can go in and dump any sort of rubbish which soon builds up to an unsightly mess giving boaters a bad name which is, usually, undeserved.

At Tesco we used our trolley to transfer four large bags of dog food and four new batteries onto the boat.  We now have enough dog food to last us until we pop back to the UK for a weekend at the end of June.  We have also bitten the bullet and bought new leisure batteries; the current ones work but as they have been unintentionally caned a few times we have to run the engine to top them up more than we really want to.  E.g. on one occasion an alternator belt snapped when we were in the Wigan flight with the washing machine on; it was a while before we realised the damage we were doing as we couldn’t hear the alarm.  Anyway, it does mean we shouldn’t have any battery issues when we are away in France.

After leaving Tesco we headed for Leighton lock but not before passing the three dozen boats strung out at the hire boat base.  It’s one of those places where you hope a broadbeam isn’t coming the other way as the boats are breasted up leaving little room and you can’t see past them before you get halfway through.  We were fortunate and didn’t meet a boat and were soon going down Leighton lock.

The hire boat base
Again, after going through the lock, Karen and Buddy walked back to get the car and moved it to Linslade a couple of miles to the north of Leighton where we had decided to moor for the next few days.

After leaving them I passed the Globe pub which always has a lot of ccers moored alongside as there is good parking in a nearby lane.  The boating guides mention that this point is near where the Great Train Robbery occurred, and I have seen it written that the gang did a lot of their planning in the pub. 

Passing the Globe
Looking into it on the internet it appears that the robbery happened at Bridego bridge which is about six miles away to the other side of Leighton.  Some of the resources must be wrong showing that you can’t believe everything you read.

I was mooring up as Karen & Buddy were walking down the towpath after parking up the car again.  We left for Birmingham pretty well straight away where we took some stuff to our storage unit and also picked up a few items that we realised we needed.

Our new mooring at Linslade Manor
On the way home we met our Stratford friends, Ileen & Jo, for a brilliant meal at the Red Lion in Evenley.  It really was a lovely pub overlooking the green of a pretty village near Brackley.  It was great to catch up with our friends and exchange all our news as we hadn’t seen them since we left the area last April.

So, over the last three days we have cruised three miles down two locks.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Grove (battened down)

Our mooring at Slapton was pretty open so not really kingfisher land but we had a friendly heron fishing opposite the boat a lot of the time.

You can’t really see it until you see the reflection!
On Friday morning Karen & Buddy ran back to Marsworth to get the car and move it to a place called Grove just south of Leighton Buzzard.  Meanwhile I set off to move the boat to Grove to meet them; the weather back to normal now after the warm sun at the end of February.

Grey skies and the fuller-headed daffs beginning to get too heavy
I only had one lock to go down, Church lock, and had a quick look around to see where Karen could park the car.  There was plenty of room in the lane so I sent her a message where to go and carried on until I could somewhere to moor.

Church lock is named after the old church next to the lock.  It is now a private residence and we both think it would be a brilliant place to live with added interest of the odd gravestone in the garden.

Church lock house

Explanatory sign outside
I found it a little difficult to moor as many of the stone blocks along the bank had slipped into the water but in the end I found a spot between Church lock and Grove lock.  This was ideal as we were meeting Colin & Liz for drinks at the Grove pub by Grove lock in the evening.

Moored halfway between Church & Grove locks on Friday
We spent some time in the afternoon getting one of last jobs completed – planning where we will cruise when we get to France in three weeks.  I’m pleased to say that I think we’ve now ticked that item of the to do list.

We have decided that our first major cruise for the first two or three months will be to explore some of the waterways of Burgundy (and why not explore some of the wines too πŸ˜„).  We have planned a sort of circular route of 665km through 400 locks and a few tunnels, swing bridges and aqueducts too.

Our planned first cruise
We will travel in an anticlockwise direction, down the River Yonne to Auxerre where we join the Canal du Nivernais to Decize.  We then head for Digoin on the Canal Lateral Γ  la Loire and then head east along the Canal du Centre to reach the River SaΓ΄ne where we head north for the last leg – the Canal de Bourgogne when we will be back at Migennes where we started (HOME on the map above). 

The trip could potentially be done in six weeks or so, but we expect to take three months, but, who knows, anything could happen.

On Saturday we went to see Ann to do a few jobs and she provided us with a brilliant roast for lunch.  We’re not used to eating large meals at lunchtime so felt quite lethargic during the afternoon.  Anyway, when we got back to the boat, it seemed that one or more of the stone blocks from the banking was under the boat and every so often we could feel the bottom grinding on it, so we decided to move it further down towards Grove lock.

That was easier said than done as it was so windy and every time we tried to move off we were blown into the bank again.  We made it in the end with Karen walking along the towpath using the bargepole to keep the front well out into the water.  We ended up moored opposite the marina there but at least we were in a more sheltered position which will be just as well if the stronger winds do arrive later on Sunday.

Our Saturday night mooring
In the evening we met up with Colin & Liz in the pub at Grove lock.  Once upon a time it was probably a really good country pub, but it now seems to have gone the ways of many others and is what is called a foody pub.  Saying that there did at least have a few tables and chairs for casual eaters or drinkers like us.

In all we moved two miles down one lock over the last couple of days.