Monday, 2 May 2016

An Expected Journey - Northwards.

April 2016

Over the last month we have made our way north from Uxbridge; stopping at places that we have not visited before and also at places where we have such nice memories of previous visits.
We have been down a couple of arms that we had promised ourselves that we would get around to exploring and met up with so many lovely people – some of whom we have met before and known for quite a while and some who we have met for the very first time.

At present we are moored up in Rugby but that will not be for too long as we will need to be underway again.

The fishermen (should that read fisherpeople, although we have only seen men with their rods in hand) have been extremely pleasant and very happy – perhaps a sign of the improvement in the weather – a bit of sun on your back will do that to you.

The cyclists have improved in their manners and slowing down – maybe that has something to do with my refusal to jump out of their way quickly and they then have to slow right down – but still we are getting more co-operation with them in sharing the towpath.

The walkers are all back out again in their usual gear and setup – it appears that there must be some code of dress and code of necessary equipment than one must have and carry and be seen with.

Lastly the boaters are all starting to emerge from the winter hibernation that occurs for those who inhabit marinas and/or land-based abodes.
The likelihood of meeting a boat at a bridge during Febraury or March is almost non-existant, but come April-time and you need to be checking through the bridge-hole each and everytime.

Sharing of double-locks is now back in vogue or at least there are enough boats around for it to happen; and the chance to leave a gate or gates open for approaching boats is now more likely than before.

Yes we are emerging into the cruising season and April is just like a hire-boat change-over day; one day they are not there, the next they have appeared from the hedge-rows en-masse.

We called in at Berkhampstead for a couple of days – mooring spots galore – and spring rain to match – but we had always told ourselves that we should try and see a local football match – that we did – on a cold Tuesday night we saw the South Midlands Premier League battle between 4th placed Hertford Town and 5th placed Berkhampstead.
Diane did the honours at the gate and managed to get my OAP discount – a smirk on her face as she was pleased to indicate to the gate man that I was now old .
The match was a very competitive match with the home side coming out on top 2-1.
Diane had a stroke of luck with an earlier find of £10 at a lock prior to us mooring up and for her trouble it paid our way into the match.
Gee - they almost look like real teams - Hertford on the left and Berko on the right

Previous travels have taken us through Cowroast without mooring up, so this lovely open area had us for a night – and such a nice quiet place to stop – we really should have made it two nights at least, but our need to carry on overtook the desire to stay.

Sometimes when something special happens, it is as though there is such a thing as fate, and so with our decision to just spend the one night at Cowroast, the cruise the following morning – very early start at about 6:30 – we encountered more Kingfishers in one 3 mile stretch along the Tring summit level than we had seen in total in all of our travels – 10 of the bright blue thunderbolts were darting in and out and there were 2 pairs flitting around together.
What a great way to start the day.

The Aylesbury Arm had beckoned to us for a fair while now and we were not about to just cruise past for another time, so it was back onto some narrow locks for a few days as Diane steered the boat into the top lock.

Apart from a mile stretch where the canal bottom was encroaching on the water surface and we had some slow going, the journey was wonderful; beautiful scenery and a lovely basin at the end with pontoon moorings for 48 hours and 7-day moorings just before.
Coming into the Aylesbury basin - the 7-day moorings on the left and the pontoons
with 48hr moorings at the end on the right

A Waitrose supermarket right there meant that Diane would get her free coffee each day.
The township is very pleasant to wander around and enjoy; be sure to visit The Kings Head and see the story of the history of the pub.
Our pontoon mooring had access to water right there as well as bins for rubbish; across the way the new sanitary station was opened for use just a day or so after we had to leave.
A stop at Wilstone on the way back for Sunday lunch at The Half Moon was good advise acted upon – but you do need to book.

An overnight stop at Slapton did not give us any reason to want to do it again – the pub was closed when we ventured into the village mid-afternoon and some drainage of the pound overnight left us leaning quite a lot and a bit more heaving in the morning allowed us to get off the now shallow side.

One place that we have always stopped at previously was the The Grove Lock public house at Grove Lock was cancelled in preference to an overnight stop to check out The Globe Inn, which was a little further on past Leighton Buzzard and Leighton Lock.
The pub was lovely and we would be glad to stop again – but for those who need TV coverage, then you may be disappointed; we were not so critical on this count.
Early mornings in spring are simply magical...

...a bit of mist and a bit of sun and a clear sky

After good days, of which we had had so many since appearing north of the M25 it is reasonable to expect that somewhere along the way there might be a bad one about to happen – but not in this case.

We were pleasantly cruising along; slow past the moored boats; and who do we find but Gary off nb Inca, so we quickly moored up behind and the kettle was on; chatting away for an hour or more until Carolyn returned with Hamish after their walk.
The day was already very sunny and warm but these guys brightened it up even more – can’t wait to catch up with you two again and soon.
Who's a bit of a cheeky boy there Gary?

All good things must end and so we were off again and onto the next lock to where Gary had followed us to show off his skills on operating the lock – sorry mate, but you will need a bit more practice!
Sorry Gary, "feet too close together; elbow not at the right angle and your thumbs,
whatever were you thinking" - Craig Revel-Horwood
Along further we encountered Soulbury Locks – WARNING!!! – if you are at these locks early in the morning you will find at least one of the pounds almost dry – as we did – we had been through this before, but it wasn’t long before we were on our way again and then moored up at Fenny Stratford.
This little fellow was interested in us filling the water tank at the bottom
of the Solubury-3

This heron hung around for a while as well...

...before getting bored

A shopping trip to IKEA was on the agenda of the social secretary and as her bag man I was summoned along – to do what? – carry the bags of course!
There was a further reason for stopping here – Diane had her prescriptions sent to the friendly Boots store here and we collected these the following day.

The journey around Milton Keynes can be done one of two ways – quickly, like an endurance course and get it done and out of the way; or slowly and enjoy it – we chose the latter and stopped at Giffard Park where we had a lovely couple of days – the pub was showing all of the football, the Guinness was lovely, we even had a relatively nice Chinese as well.
We did our touristy walking and found the Medieval Vollage of Great Linford; had a very nice lunch and a pint in the pub there (The Nags Head) and, of course, the football was on.
Indalo Man - all the way from Mojacar - spotted on a house whilst we were
taking a walk
The old manor house - still around and occupied

We pushed on the following day and made it to Yardley Gobian – again we had never moored there – it is now marked with a great big – DO IT AGAIN – in the Nicholsons – so lovely and quiet – just so peaceful.
Not misty, but a beautiful spring sunrise
From there it was through familiar locks again – Stoke Bruerne for one night and then a further night just to the north of Blisworth and then a night just short of Weedon Bec and a chance to visit the renovated pub The Narrow Boat – nice enough but they are looking to attract a more up-market clientele – we sadly missed the boat on that count; but there were lovely views over the canal and countryside past there – and it was just plain nice sitting in the sun with a Guinness in hand.

We paired up with a single-hander to do the Buckby flight; the boats were tied together and Diane took over steering for the last two locks which were quite tricky and she failed to leave any paint on the lock gates or lock walls – another expert display of her helmsmanship (or maybe helmswomanship).

We moored just short of the tunnel and had an early start the following day – managing to do the tunnel and the six locks and be moored up in Braunston within 2 hours – with a little help from a hire boat crew who seemed to be in shock at how efficiently a boat (or rather boats) could move through the locks – just part of their training.

A gathering of boaters was a-coming, well it really had to be – Maffi was already there; Sue and Vic (nb No Problem) were there;we had no sooner moored up when Cathy and Martin (nb Moriarty) appeared; the following day Sue and Andy (nb Festina Lente) moored up and lastly but very importantly for us, Bev and Roly (nb Klara) were there in person as well.
Just another boaters meeting - not once did we mention batteries or toilets
From left - Maffie, me, Martin, Cathy, Diane, Sue, Andy, Sue and Vic
photo courtesy of Andy Gicquel (nb Festina Lente)
Over the time that we were there we shared drinks, meals, laughs and plenty of good-hearted boating chatter.
The quote goes something like “there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”, but there is really is nothing so wonderfull lovely as catching up with friends and fellow boaters.
On board Ferndale with cuppas all round - Diane suffers from short arms and
is too close to the camera

Andy has a bigger one

But all good things must come to an intermission – we needed to carry on a bit further northwards to Rugby and everyone else – including Maffi – had other places that they needed to be or had things that needed to be done.

Diane had a doctors appointment in Watford and we thought that getting a train down would be the most efficient way – until we saw the cost of hiring a car (from Enterprise) for the weekend –actually cheaper (ignoring fuel costs) so we did that.
In addition, I had had a chat with Steve Vaughan (Willow Wren Training) about a VHF Radio Licence course – “yes” he said – “next Saturday” – the day after our Watford trip – “oh and here is the book that you need to read before then”

The Watford trip went well.

The training course went well, if you completely ignore the worry and angst that I had all week trying to understand it all – by the end of the day it was over and I have a new licence; now to buy a radio and get onto the Thames again.

On the subject of hire cars: in my last blog I recalled some of the problems that we had experienced when hiring from Europcar (in Spain) – I will still advise anyone against hiring from them (based on our experience).
We received a phone call from the people here in England to advise that they had not been able to get any evidence from the Spanish people from Europcar and they would be refunding all of the additional charges made against us – this has now happened – there was profuse apologies, but nothing, absolutely nothing, will make up for their manners; lack of service and understanding, and complete apathy as to our problem with their company.

The credit card is healthier, but then again it should not have been anything other than that – if you get the impression that I do not like them, then you would be correct.

Happiness is ... Guinness and twisties ... and a full refund

One last thing – If you are looking for a boat to buy and live-aboard; even if not planning on living on it all of the time, then get yourself along to see this one – it is well worth your while and you will be assured that Vic and Sue have done a great job on this boat and it runs and works as well as they will advise you about.
Someone should buy it and buy it bloody quickly!! Check it out at Apollo Duck 

nb No Problem in full flight across The Wash 

95 Miles, 117 Locks, 4 Tunnels, 3 Swing Bridges
YTD: 195 Miles (314 km) , 156 Locks, 4 Tunnels, 3 Swing Bridges

Total: 3990 Miles (6421 km), 2855 Locks, 114 Tunnels, 45 Lift Bridges, 170 Swing Bridges

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