Thanks for the Memories

3rd to 9th Jun – continuing our journey along the Grand Union.

You left us at the bottom of Slapton Locks at the end of last week. It wasn’t a bad spot and we decided we’d stay on Monday as Paul had a busy week ahead. I amused myself by pottering and surfing. The view up to Ivinghoe Beacon was beautiful so it was no hardship. We had visited on foot a few years back, in our caravanning days. The photo below really does not do it justice.

We met a delightful little Border Terrier called Ginger, living on a widebeam (Handbags & Gladrags) just up the cut from us, She immediately took to the boys and they to her and had lovely games running up and down the towpath and on and off her boat. Like us, their owners are firm Border Terrier fans so we got on very well. I’d have very happily taken her with us!

We planned to leave at lunchtime on Tuesday, but just as I put the tiller arm on, it started spitting which soon developed into rain, and it didn’t stop until mid-evening. It hadn’t originally been forecast although an update had been issued when we checked. Disappointing, but no point getting wet unless we had a deadline, which we didn’t.

Just as I was serving our evening meal, we had a quick visit from someone who belongs to the Electric Narrowboat forum we host on Facebook. We had seen the boat go by and noted that it was electric, but assumed they had carried on with their journey. It was nice of them to call by and make themselves known.

A check on the forecast for Wednesday morning showed full sun from 06:00, so we thought we’d take full advantage of that! Alarms were set and we arose at about 06:30. It was chilly but sunny and we crept away from our mooring, armed with a coffee to wake us up.

I have found that if I cruise with the speed controller at the spot where it just “bites”, I can pass moored boats without disturbing their mooring ropes at all. And it’s a perfect speed for times such as this, where Paul was walking ahead with the boys to set the lock, which was pretty close by.

There had been quite a lot of traffic the previous day, but whoever had last used the three locks in the Seabrook flight to lock down, had left the paddles open – just a crack, on every single lock. It’s not always easy to spot when they are like that, but luckily I noticed the first one as we started filling it and Paul checked on the other two locks. The final obstacle was a well-maintained swingbridge. We pottered on, passing Pitstone Wharf Marina, and moored on the first bit of decent Armco we encountered, which was immediately after Dunstable and District Boat Club. Not too close to the railway line and otherwise very quiet.

We were, by now, pretty close to Marsworth Junction – known to commercial boaters of old as “Maffers” – just a short hop and a couple of locks and we’ll be there. It’s where the Aylesbury Arm veers off, down 16 locks – a fall of around 95 ft/31m – to the town itself. The canal is just 10 kms long and was opened in 1814. It came close to closure in the 60s, in common with many canals. Luckily the efforts of the local enthusiasts saved it and we are very much looking forward to going down. It must be 25 or 30 years since our last trip down. Interestingly, it’s a narrow canal, which will make a refreshing change from the GU behemoths!

I have a great memory of Marsworth, out on Sam Gunter with Dad and Lynne one Easter. We’d just finished breakfast and there were a few scraps of bread left, which I chucked out of the side hatch for the ducks and ducklings. As I walked away a heard a great schlooping noise and got a glimpse of something underwater. My initial thought was that a pike had taken a duckling. But when I looked again I saw a massive carp. I mean huge. And he (or she) wasn’t alone. We spent ages feeding them. It was pretty wondrous and the thrill of it lives with me to this day.

As were sitting on our mooring last night, two ladies went by on their paddle boards – with their dogs on board. I really can’t imagine either of ours sitting still long enough to take them along! Not that paddle-boarding has much appeal to me, if I’m honest. It seems like the kind of thing you do once and get over!

We pulled another early morning stunt on Thursday, cruising the short distance up to Marsworth village, just above Bridge 130. This took us up two locks – the 37th and 38th on the GU Main Line since we left Braunston. I saw an odd thing in the middle of the field, next to the top lock – it looked like a ventilation shaft for a tunnel. Although I am surely not the first to wonder about it, I could find very little info about it, other than on a canal forum which said “The “ventilation shaft”  in the middle of a field on the offside near lock 37 is part of the North Railway feeder”. So – that’s that cleared up!

The old lock cottage is still inhabited, although I imagine they no longer use the outside loo! Nice that it’s been kept, but it could do with a lick of paint! I wonder if there is a nail with torn up newspaper in there?

When we arrived at Marsworth, there was not much in the way of moorings, and certainly not as close to the bridge as we would have liked. But at least there was a space! We have noticed that the water is very clear here and quite weedy. I used the time until Paul finished work to finish my latest Hook, LIne and Tinker embroidery. Another nautical themed one.

We have a grocery delivery here tomorrow morning, before doing domestics at the Junction – which is no longer a CRT yard, but a fancy housing estate, before venturing onto the Aylesbury Arm. We tried recreating our carp feeding experience but no joy, sadly. But we were visited by a pair of proud parent swans with their brood of 10 cygnets. They had every right to be proud! We went off to sleep that night with the comforting sound of All Saints Church clock chiming the hours, quarters and halves.

The Friday morning delivery went to plan and we set off to the Junction for domestics. It was a slow filler (water) and the new sanitary station could have done with a bit more signage (toilet point) but we managed. The new residences at the old yard are very smart. According to CRT, the yard was ripe for redevelopment as it was “an underused post-war concrete batching plant (whatever that is!) and waterways depot”. It seems sad that few of the old buildings were retained, but it does look nice and I would happily live in one – if only I could afford it! Have a look|||! And just 37 minutes to Euston by train.

As we left the yard to turn right into the Aylesbury Arm, we met a working boat head on (not literally!) also bound that way. And her crew were waiting with the lock ready so we, of course, let them go first. This meant we’d be following them down and having to refill every lock. They were very decent about it though, and after they had locked down, they popped back and opened the paddles to refill the lock for us. That’s what good boaters do.

The first lock(s) is a staircase – always a little workout for the brain, getting the water in the right place. The locks on the arm are, essentially in two clumps and we decided not to go all the way down today, as the first half is so delightfully rural and it would soon get all urban on us.

The arm is very weedy – it looks like long green strings of candy floss – so progress was slower than usual. As there was no-one else about, we had lunch in Lock 9 and then decided we’d look for a nice spot to moor for the night. The banks were pretty overgrown on this stretch, thus deterring other boats from mooring. but I spotted a bit that looked as if might just do. Paul would have to do one of his “giant leaps” – as perfected on the Thames – and then we’d have to get the gangplank out, so that the boys could be easily got on and off. It was the perfect spot, though, and we were highly unlikely to be joined by any other boats. There were great views, too, and best of all, no road roar – just the sound of a peacock wailing in the distance. Top spot Kay – well executed Paul!

Shortly after arriving, we were pestered by a very big Hornet. Quite the biggest we had ever seen! I took the dogs into the bedroom (we didn’t want them snapping at it, as they do with flies, and ending up with a nasty sting. At least – that’s my excuse). Paul encouraged it outside and we thought that was the end of it.

Paul went off to walk the boys and I was sitting typing when I heard that same loud buzzing noise and in he flew again – like a long lost friend – through a window hopper. I decamped to the bedroom and rang Paul. Luckily he was on his way back. He left the boys on the towpath and once again invited the Horrid Hornet to leave again. This time for good. Vile creature.

We left our lovely quiet spot at around 10.30 on Saturday, easily managing to get off the shallow mud that we were sat on all night. It was a bit chilly but turned out to be one of those coat on/coat off days again. I wonder when summer will finally arrive?

We had to descend a total of five locks and travel about 2.25 miles to our destination that evening. But it was an action packed cruise. At one point, the canal is very reedy and narrow and a bankside willow made getting through without scratching your boat quite a challenge. Out came Paul’s trusty loppers and we soon had a large pile of lopped off branches on our stern deck seating area. We also did a little more gardening near bridge 10 and placed the results of our handiwork in a safe place on the bank that would not obstruct the footpath or get blown back into the canal.

Among the flora and fauna we spotted on our cruise down the arm, was a beautiful Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii), numerous damselflies – mainly the turquoise Banded Demoiselles (Calopteryx splendens) and a couple of Emperor Dragonflies (Anax imperator) – all very difficult to catch a picture of when on the wing. We also saw a Cormorant. You see increasing numbers inland these days. I have always remembered Christopher Isherwood’s nonsense poem on the subject of Cormorants which I learned as kid. Probably memorable because it contained the naughty word ” shag”

The common cormorant or shag
Lays eggs inside a paper bag.
The reason you will see, no doubt,
It is to keep the lightning out.
But what these unobservant birds
Have never noticed is that herds
Of wandering bears may come with buns,
And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.

Progress was slow, with very weedy water and we used the time to spot other potential moorings spots for our trip back up next week. As we were going through the last lock we met a couple with two little girls – I’d estimate 7 or 8? I asked whether they would like a ride on the boat in the lock and they nearly burst with excitement. I said they could bring their Mum with them and on they hopped. They were very well behaved and so, once they’d been through the lock, I asked if they’d like to get off or stay on until the next bridge. You can guess the response! Dad stayed on shore and videoed, while they told me their life history. They were very excited to tell their friends at school about their adventure on Monday, bless them. They were very appreciative at the end of the ride and so were Mum and Dad. We’d made some new friends!

We arrived at our destination for the day – the Aylesbury Canal Society’s “Circus Field Basin”. The Society’s aim – they were formed in 1971 – is to promote the use of the Aylesbury Arm and ensure that this lovely little waterway remains open. They provide a warm welcome and up tp 2 weeks free mooring for visiting boaters, who can also avail themselves of their well equipped showers, laundry and Elsan facilities. The clubhouse is very impressive and they also have a dry and wet dock. This would do very nicely for the night! Manoeuvring in was pretty tricky and – not for the first time – we were glad to have a bow-thruster. But we were soon tied up and settled in.

It was a quieter than expected night and we had a bit of a lie-in and then had breakfast and lazed about until about 11:30. We were off down to Aylesbury Basin! If we thought getting in was a bit tricky, it was probably worse getting out. Long pontoons with room for 4 boats moored in a linear fashion – pretty tight! But Paul managed it very well. We swapped over and he jumped off to close the bridge at the entrance to the Marina. There was a fisherman directly opposite the Marina so I had to avoid him and turn hard right to pick Paul up. The fisherman complimented me on my boat handling skills (I couldn’t help but agree) and asked me to chop the weed up a bit. I obliged – indeed I didn’t have much choice – and then pulled in to pick Paul up.

As we made our way down the cut to the first of two locks, we encountered another very overgrown bush – this time on the side opposite the towpath. Out came the loppers again and we left it looking much better and far less constricted. We met a boat at the first lock and they helped us through. The final lock was over-topping quite impressively. This occurs when there is a lot of water coming down the flight – it means that there is plenty of water, although I expect it will be a drought within the week!

We moored in the basin which is overlooked by a very handy Waitrose. We had a jolly tasty lunch, including some of my favourite pickled Borretane Onions, courtesy of them! Just near the basin is a bronze statue of Ronnie Barker – born in Bedford – who began his acting career in Aylesbury Rep in 1948. A great tribute to a great comedian. The statue overlooks the new (2010) Aylesbury Waterside Theatre – we have tickets to see a show there in January. I doubt we will arrive by boat!

And that, my friends, is another week – the fifth of this summer cruise – over. We haven’t actually travelled very far this week, but we’ve thoroughly enjoyed revisiting more old haunts. Next week will see us heading back up the Aylesbury Arm and thence on the mainline in the direction of Berkhamsted and beyond – inching ever closer to the metropolis!

3rd Jun to 9th Jun923

2 Replies to “Thanks for the Memories”

  1. Lovely blog of your latest cruise. The Aylesbury Soc Marina is delightful – we had a CRT meeting there last year for south east collies awards. I’m so glad that you get your loppers out – I thought I was the only one who did things like that!

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