Aylesbury (a long weekend in Wales)

We stayed in Reading on Thursday night after celebrating Sophie’s graduation with a Lebanese meal in the evening.  Matthew was flying over from Norway for Lauren’s wedding in South Wales and we had arranged to pick him up from Reading station after lunch on the Friday.

Lauren, my beautiful 28-year-old daughter
Unfortunately, following misunderstandings about the Heathrow/Reading shuttle coach, Matthew was an hour late, but we still made it down to South Wales before it was too dark.  We had been a bit concerned about finding our Airbnb as we knew it was in a remote location on an unlit private road where it wasn’t obvious which properties were which.

As most of the children were staying with us for the weekend, we had hired a manor house, so we could all be together.  At first, we turned up at a large stone building which actually turned out to be the gatehouse to the manor and not the manor house itself!  We found the right place in the end and were soon settled in with some good fires roaring away.

Our family weekend retreat
Lauren & Lewis had hired St Tewdrics in Chepstow for the weekend to hold their wedding and it was a brilliant choice.  The house is owned and run by Geraint Thomas and his wife and they have done a wonderful job converting the house to a wedding venue.  It overlooks the River Severn and we were reminded of our abortive attempt to get up the river on our boat from Bristol to Sharpness a few summers ago.

On Friday evening the girls from the family and the bridesmaids had dinner at St Tewdrics while we boys all went out for a few drinks and a meal at a pub in Chepstow.

The wedding went off without a hitch on the Saturday and it didn’t matter that it hardly stopped raining all day.  As it was a winter wedding, Sophie, Jo and Karen had knitted shawls for the bridesmaids. Sophie did a great job organising the yarn and the patterns and ensuring they were produced on time and with the same tension.

The shawls ready for the bridesmaids after the ceremony
One proud father

The happy couple
The siblings table - most of our children made it
It was great to meet up with lots of people we haven’t seen for a while and especially good to spend time with my oldest friends (as in friendship length), John and Miranda.

Not sure what we were doing but it was late in the evening – with John and Miranda
Karen and I stayed in St Tewdrics on the Saturday night and it was strange knowing our children were staying back at the Airbnb without us.  As Lauren & Lewis had exclusive access to the venue, we could let Buddy stay in our bedroom during the ceremony and we were able to take him out for the odd walk around the grounds every so often during the rest of the day.

Buddy dressed for the day
Lauren & Lewis hosted breakfast for the family on Sunday morning and most of the children left for their respective homes during the day.  Poor Matthew had a nightmare of a journey back to Norway as his flight from Cardiff to Amsterdam was delayed by three hours and he ended up missing the following connections.  He had to stay overnight in Amsterdam and then catch three more planes and a ferry before getting home 24 hours late   

On Sunday evening, Lauren & Lewis took us and Lewis’s parents, Richard and Kim, out for a lovely Italian meal on Cardiff Bay before we retired to an Airbnb nearby.  We were spending a couple of nights in Cardiff before heading home and had booked an Airbnb near the rugby stadium.

I had said that the wedding day went without a hitch, but I had forgotten that during the speeches I had received a message saying that the Airbnb host had cancelled our booking.  This was the first time in what is now almost 30 Airbnbs that we have stayed in that this has happened.  After the speeches I had managed to get on the internet and find an alternative house to stay in.  It turned out to be really nice and close to the city centre, so we were quite happy if slightly disgruntled that we were only offered £10 as compensation for the last-minute cancellation.

We were feeling shattered on Monday and I was really impressed Karen still went for a run around Bute Park and along part of the Taff Way.  I took it easier and just walked Buddy around the local area a few times during the day.

Crossing the Taff with the stadium in the background on one of our walks
Cardiff has a fair selection of Victorian post boxes still in use including this disused one that is being engulfed by a tree!

Sophie & Yanos had flown to Berlin early on Monday morning for a few days break from academia.  They couldn't get into their Airbnb until early afternoon so went for lunch in a local bar.  During lunch they got a message that their Airbnb had suddenly been cancelled too!  They were fortunate to find somewhere else in the same location for the same price so it worked out OK for them like it did for us.

We will probably meet up with Lauren & Lewis for a while on Tuesday morning before heading back home.

Aylesbury (getting ready for Lauren’s big weekend)

A very happy Sophie walking up to receive her PhD on Thursday

A big advantage of mooring right outside Waitrose is that we can wander over and get free coffees whenever we want one.  I know we have to buy something to get a free cup of coffee but it's easy to buy one thing at a time when we're so close! We have been taking our china mugs with us and have only just realised that we are meant to use cups with lids which I assume is a health & safety thing.  Still, no one stops us, and it definitely tastes better from a proper mug. 

Another advantage is that Judith & Nigel live just around the corner so are able to pop into the boat to see us for coffee and cake every so often.  Judith & Nigel and a group of their friends meet in a coffee shop in Aylesbury every morning.  The group regularly take walks around the Aylesbury area where one of them takes the lead and explains points of interest whether they be geographical, historical, architectural, natural or some other topic that takes the leader's fancy.  We think this is a great idea as it helps spread knowledge and there is nothing better that being taught by someone who is enthusiastic about their subject.

My middle daughter, Lauren, is marrying Lewis at the weekend so Karen and I popped into a hairdresser on Tuesday morning to have our hair tidied up.  What with Sophie’s graduation on Thursday and the wedding we’ve got some good family times coming up over the next few days. 

On Wednesday I joined the ‘coffee shop’ tour where Peter led the group out to the deserted medieval settlements of Quarrendon which are a couple of miles to the west of Aylesbury.  We didn't both go as Buddy wasn't well so Karen stayed on the boat to look after him. 

On the way we walked through Aylesbury old town and Julie explained the history of some of the old buildings including the original grammar school.  The brick wall outside the school was covered in marks where the children used to sharpen their slate pencils which they used to write on their slates.

Marks where schoolchildren sharpened their slate pencils
Quarrendon was really interesting and consists of two deserted village sites.  The first site was believed to have inhabited from around the sixth century and, in the medieval period moved to a more suitable location practically next to the original site.

Aerial view of the first settlement (from Buckinghamshire Conservation Trust)
It was fascinating as the layouts of the villages in terms of streets and building plots can still be made out. Between the two settlements was a large Elizabethan manor house which, in itself, was also interesting.  The house was built by Henry Lee, the founder of Aylesbury grammar school and a respected figure in Queen Elizabeth’s court.  As part of the manor house he built elaborate water gardens surrounded by high walkways which can still be walked along today. 

A further feature of the site are earthworks from the Civil War which were used during the Battle of Aylesbury in 1642.

Looking up one of the streets of the second settlement to the Civil War earthworks
The whole area, covering 25 acres, is now protected and being looked after by the Buckinghamshire Conservation Trust.  Clearly, Peter explained far more than I have covered here but if you're ever in the area then it's well worth paying a visit.

The name Quarrendon is derived from the Old English, Cweorndun, meaning ‘hill where mill stones were found’ (mill stones are also called querns). We have always thought that millstones were made from millstone grit which is generally found in the hill ranges like the Pennines so it was odd to find this derivation in a relatively flat landscape where millstone grit doesn’t feature.

We were leaving for Sophie’s graduation on Thursday morning when we found out that CRT were finishing the works on lock 16 a couple of days early.  This means boats can now leave the basin and we know that at least two of them will go whilst we are away for the next few days.  It’ll be interesting to see if they are replaced by other boaters by the time we return.

Sophie’s doctorate was entitled, “Representation of Contemporary Feminist Protest in Germany and the UK” and was the result of three years hard work following receiving her Masters in German Studies.  After the graduation 14 of us celebrated with a good meal in a local Lebanese restaurant.
I can’t resist including this happy picture 😊
By the way, Buddy is now nearly recovered having had gastroenteritis and therefore not eating anything for three days.  He must have found something dodgy on the towpath but a visit to the local vet for anti-vomiting injections etc. seems to have sorted him out in time for the wedding 😉

Aylesbury (proud of my wife)

The unusually named lock which is currently closed in the centre of Aylesbury

We stayed in Gargrave from Tuesday to Thursday, so we could see my mum and dad.  We also took advantage of Judith & Nigel who were staying in Yorkshire for the week and met up for dinner with them on Tuesday evening.

We also bit the bullet and took Buddy to the vets in Skipton for a blood titre test; this will prove whether or not he has rabies antibodies in his blood.  I mentioned before that rabies injections fail in 10% cases, hence the blood test (which wouldn’t be required if the UK was remaining in the EU).

We will get the result in a week or two and then find out if we need to fork out for another rabies injection followed by yet another blood test a month later.  It all reminds me of the 1990s skiing joke where whatever you did, from buying a lift pass through hiring skis to buying a round of drinks you would say goodbye to £100.

With Aylesbury being equidistant from the M1 and M6 we had a choice which route to take when driving back to the boat on Thursday.  Of course, we chose the wrong motorway and were held up for an hour as a lorry had overturned and shed its load of pallets near Wigan.

When we got home, we had a wander up the towpath to see how the work was progressing at the lock just outside the basin.  It was given the name Hills & Partridges as Messers Hills & Partridge were the owners of a water driven flour mill by the lock that was demolished at the end of the last century.  The water wheel was removed during WWI and was replaced by gas driven engines.

New bottom lock gates installed

The old lock gates ready to be taken away
The lock has now been closed for a week so it has been lovely and quiet with no boats on the move because they can’t get in or out of the basin.  Mind you, the pontoons are all full and will obviously stay full until next week at the earliest which is when the lock is due to reopen.

Steve came for a sleepover on Thursday night on his way up to Yorkshire for the weekend.  We took advantage of his electrical skills and he installed a couple of devices behind two of the lights in the lounge.  We have four LED ceiling lights in the lounge, two either side of the boat, and we have always wished we had had them on separate switches, so we could have one side on without the other.  I had recently bought two devices that are now hidden in the ceiling but, in effect, make the metal surround to the lights an on/off switch.  A really simple option compared with having to rewire and add a new switch in the wall.

Other than Karen going on the Wendover Park Run on Saturday morning we took it easy over the weekend.  My sore throat and earache hadn’t cleared up and we wanted to make sure I was fully recovered before Lauren & Lewis’s wedding next weekend.  The Park Run was really well attended as it was an anniversary event and many visitors turned up from other towns.  I have to admit to feeling rather proud as Karen was first in her gender age group 😊

Liz, who runs the trip boat in the basin, came around for lunch on Saturday and Karen’s mum, Ann, came around for lunch on Sunday so it’s been quite an entertaining weekend.

We’re enjoying being in the basin even though we are moored up with other boats.  The only drawback is the wind; the high buildings around the basin seem to channel it right along the pontoons making the boat rock even if it’s not particularly windy elsewhere.

Gargrave (but not by boat)

Monday was an early start as we had to be at the Barbican in London by nine for Catherine’s master’s graduation.  OK, I know commuters do it most days and many get to London well before nine, but we had to get Buddy to the dog sitter in Thame first, and we’re retired.

Karen’s mum, Ann, picked us up from the basin at seven and drove us to Thame and, after dropping Buddy off, we drove to the station at Haddenham.

Apart from initially going to the wrong address, and Karen being offered a seat on the tube for the first time in her life, we had an uneventful journey and met up with a happy Catherine just before the ceremony.

Catherine before receiving her masters in Portuguese & Spanish conference interpreting
For some reason we didn’t get a picture of her with her proud mum but at least we got one with her proud step dad 😉

Proof I own a suit
After the ceremony we walked down to Smithfield market and had a really good lunch at an Italian restaurant called Apulia.  Yes, we saw a couple of VR boxes on the way, but sadly they were ones we had seen before.

After saying goodbye to Catherine, we made our way back to Marylebone, passing Dorset Fields just outside the station which I hadn’t realised was the original Lords cricket field.

Dorset Fields in Dorset Square

Commemorative & informative (to me) plaques
We picked Buddy up from the dog minder and he appeared to have had a wonderful time, so we would be happy to leave him there again if the need arises.

Tuesday morning saw us off to London again, this time with Buddy but not with Ann.  We were on our way up to Yorkshire to visit my parents and sister and pick up the car which we will need when we are on holiday over Christmas.

Fortunately, it wasn’t such an early start and we had a quick look at the lock which is now closed and stopping us leaving Aylesbury for the next few weeks.

Entrance barred at the town end of the lock
A large generator and pump were already in place ready to drain the water out of the lock once the stanking planks are in place.

Lock now fenced off
At the top end of the lock, work boats had assembled with the works paraphernalia and new lock gates:

The first leg of the journey to Yorkshire was a train to Marylebone.  Today we caught a train from Aylesbury rather than Haddenham and the station is only a ten-minute walk from where we are moored.

The only spare seats for the three of us were in a quiet coach and I always end up laughing in these as Karen whispers but in a normal voice volume

We walked from Marylebone to Kings Cross to catch a train to Leeds.  The train was packed making it feel like a Friday evening rather than early afternoon on a Tuesday.  It was so busy that people were standing all the way to Doncaster and the only space for Buddy was in the aisle which is incredibly impractical on intercity trains.  There seems to be constant traffic to the loos, the buffet car and general walking about.  Then of course the buffet trolley doesn’t help as it is as wide as an aisle and Buddy had to get under our and our neighbours’ feet every time it went past.  Luckily the girls we were each sitting next to were both OK with dogs and found the whole experience funny and felt sorry for us, especially when Buddy farted.  

We bought our tickets to Yorkshire a couple of months ago, so they cost just over £20 each; the tickets just to London yesterday had cost £45 each!

Talking about our neighbours laughing at/with us reminds me that at one point Karen, who was knitting, couldn’t find the end of a new ball of wall.  Despite both of us trying it took ages to find it and kept the girls amused for a while.

We took Buddy for a little walk around Leeds before catching yet another packed train, this time to Gargrave where we stayed at my parents' house for the night. 

Aylesbury (cruising in paddy fields)

Just what is Karen doing?
It was another early start on Saturday as we wanted to get all the way down the Aylesbury arm before nightfall.  Rain was forecast for most of the day and we weren’t disappointed as we set off 😊

Leaving our Marsworth mooring in the rain on Saturday morning
Cruising seven miles down 16 narrow locks should normally be done in three to four hours but not so on the Aylesbury arm.  We know from our past experience and recent experience of others that it is generally very shallow and hence passage is extremely slow.  This is why we wanted to get on the move before eight in the morning.

I started cruising while Karen stayed in getting our Saturday BLTs ready.  By the time I had got down to Marsworth junction, turned onto the arm and moored up to do the first lock, breakfast was ready. 

In the first lock of the day with the Grand Union main line crossing behind us
The first lock is a staircase of two which gave us ample time to eat under the shelter of a bridge while waiting for the locks to be ready.  We remember the arm as being very rural and quiet and we’re sure it still is. The trouble on Saturday was that we could see very little because of the driving rain.  What we did notice was that every so often little groups of houses or apartments had been built by the canal side and by the time we got to Aylesbury, whole estates had sprung up.

We were actually doing rather well, having gone down the first nine locks in under two hours, when everything started going wrong.  First of all, the pound below the ninth lock was extremely low but still had enough water in so we could creep forwards albeit incredibly slowly.

Lack of water in the pound below the ninth lock (with new apartments that weren’t there last time)
A lock or two later we came up behind a guy who was having difficulty with his boat and was on his way to Jem’s boatyard below the lock to get it fixed.  It took him an age to negotiate into the lock and then was held up by large amounts of vegetation that he and Karen seemed to take forever to hook out.

Oops – what’s happened to our boat?
I was mooring up behind him and was just about to get off and hold the boat with a line when the wind gusted through a gap in the hedge.  It took the front right away as can be seen in the picture above.  To make matters worse there was only one bollard to hold the boat fast and the other guy was already tied to it.  I struggled for a while and finally got the boat back into the side and moved into his spot once he got into the lock.

We were expecting to meet Maffi at some point coming the other way on his boat Milly.  We knew he had been in Aylesbury basin for a while and was leaving on Saturday before the arm is closed on Monday.  Oh yes, that’s another thing.  Only lock 16 (the last lock before the basin) was going to be closed for maintenance from Monday but we received an email on Friday explaining that because of low pounds and flooding (!) the whole arm will be closed while lock 16 is worked on.

As we progressed, we were really surprised we hadn’t bumped into Maffi and after lock 12 we discovered a possible reason; the pound was far too low to risk trying to go in it.

Pound below lock 12
We were really surprised as locks 12 and 13 had been closed for a few weeks for maintenance and only re-opened on Thursday.  I called the CRT emergency line and while we waited for the local team to appear, we let water through the lock to raise the levels.  It took a long time and a fair amount of poling (see picture of Karen at the top 😊) but we finally got along the pound and into the next lock just as the CRT guys appeared.

They explained that a top gate paddle should be left up on lock 13 otherwise the pound drains.  It seems that the notice explaining this had been vandalised and destroyed.  We couldn’t quite work out why a top paddle should be left open and they didn’t know either.

Anyway, they saw us through and stayed behind to get the pound back to normal.  They did say that two more pounds further on had been very low too, but they had sorted those out earlier in the morning.

After lock 13 we went through a long straight stretch that we call the paddy fields 😊

The paddy fields
Approaching the next lock I could see a boat waiting to go down and realised it was Maffi but thought it couldn’t be as he was going the wrong way.  We moored up and it was him; he had left in the morning but had turned around when he reached the very low pound.  The three of us helped each other down the last few locks and finally made it to the basin after seven long and wet hours.

The rain had stopped, and it started to brighten up when got to Aylesbury basin
We pulled into the pontoons outside Waitrose and moored on the spot Liz uses for her trip boat.  It was OK as we had arranged with Liz that we could use her spot.  She runs trips from the basin for visitors three locks up the arm and back again and also has her own full-size boat in the basin.

Moored with Waitrose behind the picture and Liz’s boat next to us
The whole basin had had a makeover since we were here four years ago: the pontoons weren’t in place; the campus building wasn’t even started and the red building on the far side was all boarded up.  It was the old local tax office and was about to be converted to flats; coincidentally, we ended up buying one and letting it out to help fund our travels.  We both agreed it was a bit strange mooring opposite our property 😉

It might be a bit dangerous mooring outside Waitrose for a few weeks as the temptation could be too much.  Soon after mooring up Karen popped in to get some things we didn’t need, and it wasn’t long until I went in (in my slippers 😊) to get some olives and other nibbles to snack on.

Sunday was a non-cruising day and the first of quite a few to come as from Monday the arm is closed for two weeks so we can’t go anywhere.  We just spent the day pottering around and reacquainting ourselves with the area.

Lovely sunny Sunday morning – we’re the boat furthest away 
Even though it was sunny it was very windy and with the stupidly spaced mooring rings we weren’t very secure.  The rings are far too far apart, and we have to have very long front and back lines which doesn’t tend to keep the boat taught to the side.  Consequently, the wind makes the boat move against the side which really disconcerts Buddy.  I gave in in the end and tied a centre line to a ring in the middle which has made us more stable.

Mooring with a centre line should only be done at temporary moorings like waiting for locks or bridges.  Keeping a centre line on in other situations makes the boat roll when other boats pass and can capsize the boat if the pound drains.  We won’t get passing boats as the canal is closed and we are at the end anyway and it’s very unlikely the pound will drain as it’s the bottom pound.

Walking around the rest of the basin later we saw a stretch of permanent moorings and they had the same mooring ring spacing problem.  All the boats had also used centre lines so I didn’t feel so bad 😉

Marsworth (what is society coming to?)

Thursday was a wipe out as far as continuing our journey was concerned. We awoke to strong winds which then steadily increased during the morning. We resigned ourselves to staying put and losing a day out of our schedule which meant we would now arrive in Aylesbury on Sunday.

We now have no more contingency as, if we don’t make it by Sunday evening, we won’t be able to get to the basin as the final lock on the arm closes on Monday morning for some maintenance works.  If we end up missing the deadline then we’ll hang around the Marsworth area until after Christmas and then come down to Aylesbury.

I have to admit that I was quite glad we didn’t move as I have had a niggling earache and sore throat for a few days and they were worse on Thursday.  A day’s rest was probably a blessing in disguise.

Apart from taking Buddy out first thing, I stayed indoors all day and Karen gave Buddy his walks in the morning and afternoon.  At least we got a lot of admin and other jobs done during the day including transferring most of the funds, we need for cruising in France next year, into Euros. We cannot see the exchange rate improving before we go to France and, if anything, it will probably get worse.

We left just before 7.30 on Friday morning, hoping to make up some of our lost time.  The winds had abated and it promised to be a sunny day as there were few clouds in the sky.  As we left early, Karen took Buddy for his pre-breakfast walk whilst I set off.

Catching the sunrise for a change
As with a lot of the canal around Milton Keynes there are decent cycle paths running parallel with the towpath.  This means the towpath is generally a lot quieter than normal commuter routes as cyclists, runners and dog walkers tend to use the cycle path instead of the towpath which is often muddy.  When we cast off, Karen sorted out the front lines as usual whilst I looked after the rear.  I saw a commuter cyclist in high-viz lycra heading towards us on the towpath and not the cycle path.  Unbelievably he wasn’t slowing down and rang his bell once as he approached. 

Karen was bending over taking the mooring chain out of the piling so hadn’t heard his ding on the bell.  I shouted a warning to her and she moved out of the way as he came haring past.  He shouted. ”For fuck’s sake” and as he came past me I shouted that he should be on the cycle path and he just stuck his fingers up and carried on.  That’s the sort of behaviour that makes us wonder just what is society coming to nowadays?

Not a nice way to start a day’s cruising

I mentioned a couple of days ago that Water Eaton is the last part of Milton Keynes that the canal passes through, and once we were past all the moored boats, we were out in open country.  The canal is quite wide and deep most of the way to Leighton Buzzard, so we were able to get a move on.

Leaving Water Eaton early on Friday
It was still well before 8 when we were approaching Stoke Hammond lock and to our surprise a boat was coming out.  We (nor they) had expected to see another boat so early on a winter’s morning so it was nice to be able to drive straight into a set lock (and nice for them not to have to close it up).

Waiting for a boat to come out of Stoke Hammond lock
After five locks we were going through Leighton Buzzard.  The canal runs through the town and has handy moorings alongside a large Tesco superstore where we have stopped off on our way through before but not this time as we will do our weekly food shop when we get to Aylesbury.

We noticed how many more boats were moored in the area than when we last came through four years ago.  We had heard the London ‘effect’ has reached Hemel Hempstead with seemingly miles of moored boats. Trains into Euston from Leighton take just over 30 minutes so it’s an easy commute, so maybe it’s reaching further north now?

A few more locks brought us to Slapton which is about ½ mile from the where the Great Train robbery occurred. A boat was in the lock at Slapton and he waited for us to catch up, so we could go up together.  In the end we went up half a dozen locks with Ian and had a good old natter all the way.  He has lived on his boat for 12 years and with a handicapped wife is a single-hander unless he has visitors; probably a contributory factor to his constant talking to us even when walking away to open a lock or get on the boat 😉

As we wanted to get as far as possible during the day, we had lunch on the move – a delicious leek, onion and potato soup that Karen had made when we were wind-locked on Thursday.

Lovely view of the Chilterns meant we were nearly at our destination
We left Ian at Ivinghoe and continued on our own up the Seabrook flight.

Waiting at the Seabrook bottom lock with the sun still out
We had a pit stop at Pitstone to get a pump out and then decided to go up the first two locks on the Marsworth flight.  These were the last two broad locks of the trip from Yorkshire, so we had an added incentive to complete them today.

At the final lock of the day
Lovely remote cottage at the last lock  made more attractive with no vehicular access
The remaining 16 locks of the current mission are all narrow locks on the Aylesbury arm and we both heaved a big sigh of relief when we moored up after the lock of the day 😊

Moored at Marsworth for Friday night (with a solar light on already)
As soon as we came indoors, the skies opened, and it started raining – we couldn’t have timed it better 😊 We cruised continuously for nine hours (apart from the 15-minute pit stop) during the day and covered 13 miles up 16 broad locks.  We were shattered so we had dinner somewhat earlier than usual.

We should easily get down to Aylesbury on Saturday now as we only have 6 miles and 16 narrow locks to go through.