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Archive for June 13th, 2008

The Odyssey – Summer 2008 Day 9

Posted by indigodream on 13 June, 2008

Soulbury Three Locks – Stoke Bruerne below Lock 15

There was torrential rain overnight – just enough for the furious drumming of raindrops on the roof to wake us before we went back to sleep in the comfortable knowledge that we were snug and warm inside! The rain carried on into the morning so we just sat and watched telly until the sun came out – sheer luxury. We were very lucky with the weather – once we started cruising we only had one torrential shower and that was when we had moored up for water so we were able to shelter! It’s been a bit chilly but we’re well stocked with clothes for all weathers.

What struck me today was the sheer number of Welsh boats on this stretch of canal – we passed Ysbryd Rhydd (free spirit), Taid (grandad in gog – that’s north welsh to the uninitiated!), and Bendigedig (hard to translate – the nearest I can think of is Glorious – maybe my relatives can help me out!), as well as at least three boats flying the welsh flag.

We shared a couple of locks with nb Kairos today (piloted vary ably by Jan and Jonathan) – we’ve been playing hopscotch with them up the canal but this was the first time we’d shared locks. They were very good company and I’ll look forward to seeing them again.

Whispering birches in Milton KeynesToday’s stretch of canal skirted around Milton Keynes – it’s much more pleasant that you’d imagine given how Milton Keynes is so lambasted in the media. All the way up from Fenny Stratford the canal was flanked by neat and beautiful gardens obviously lovingly tended by their owners. Totally different character to the countryside but still a very pleasant cruise. Fenny Stratford (just south of Milton Keynes) has the silliest lock ever at just 1′ 1″ – hardly worth the bother but apparently it’s there to ease pressure on the embankment at Cosgrove.

While I remember, there won’t be so many photos today as the camera ran out of power! We’ll be back in action tomorrow!

Note: Decent looking mooring by some parkland by Bridge 90B

Note: Useful water and rubbish point by Bridge 78 but don’t bother with the ‘supermarket’ marked on the canal maps – it’s a one-stop with a poor range of stock. The pub nearby smelled appetising though!

Part of a mural at Wolverton - restored in 2005 - tremendous!We stopped at Wolverton (Bridge 71A) to visit yet another Tesco close to the canal – we didn’t need much but we stopped anyway – we were fascinated by the change to the area. Last time we came through the place was quite run down but in the last 2 years the developers have been busy – the towpath has been improved and new mooring rings put in; the old warehouses are being converted to housing and there’s a brand new housing development going in opposite – it will be very smart when it’s done. The main development to Tesco is that it now has a Starbucks coffee bar – we set off with two lush caramel latte’s and all was well with the world. Richard had a slice of blueberry cheesecake – a proper creamy baked cheesecake so he had a bigger smile than normal on the boat!

We passed over two aqueducts today – one over a dual carriageway and the other over the Great Ouse River. We waved at the cars whizzing by below – one actually waved back but the others seemed oblivious to the fact that there was a great narrowboat suspended above them! The latter aqueduct was a typical iron trough (reminiscent of the famous Pontcysyllte aqueduct in North Wales) so on one side there’s just a 4″ bar between the boat and the drop – dogs very firmly locked inside!

Aqueduct over the roadTrough aqueduct over the river

Of note in Cosgrove was a sympathetic and lovely office/housing development called ‘The Old Brewery’ – a hint at its previous use presumably. Just after this was bridge 65 – an oustanding stone bridge made of beautifully warm textured sandstone and carved with gothic/romantic decorations.

Past Cosgrove and we were back in the countryside – a different character again – fewer flowers – more wild and overgrown. Everywhere we looked in the distance there were church towers and spires though there was little sign of the villages attached to them! One distant spire, with ornate flying buttresses, particularly caught our eye – it was visible for miles and seemed to glow when the sunshine broke through – it was a picture postcard scene. We must have seen it from every angle as the canal meandered around. We found out later that is was Hamslope Church. Soon after we noticed the imposing crenellated tower of Grafton Regis Church which was apparently built in the 13th century. I’ve never been a great student of history but it’s hard not to be interested when the landscape provides it in such attractive packages.

We’ve done comparatively few locks today – we reached the low point of the canal and meandered round the valleys until we reached Cosgrove – there the canal starts to climb again towards the second of its three summits.

Blue was grounded for the afternoon for being naughty – he got thoroughly overexcited at one lock when a cat strolled past him on the towpath (luckily we’d seen the cat first and had him firmly by the collar!). The cat must have had a deathwish – it strolled very close to Blue, unaware that Richard was putting all his weight into keeping Blue back. We bundled Blue onto the boat but he was like a coiled spring for the next two hours – up on deck, alert and watching out for new prey. When we let him out at Cosgrove Lock he just ran straight off the towpath and up the road at top speed (a very quiet track down to the canal cottages mercifully). He was just too hightly strung to be let out so he was confined to the boat until we moored an hour or so later – there was much whining and complaining!

Less than ladylike LouIt all came right though as our mooring (which we’ve visited before) is near to a very good dog walk with lots of rabbits so he and Lou had a long and exciting run to get rid of their pent-up energy (well, Blue’s energy to be precise – Lou was showing no signs of having excess energy – see photo!). Last time we were here we ate at the Boat which was a bit rough and ready but does allow dogs in the bar and did plain solid pub food. This time we decided to try the Navigation Inn – this was a much posher pub with better menu though dogs were only allowed in the garden which was fine (just warm enough for us to eat outside but we missed a trick in not sitting at a table with a heater!). We met another greyhound lover (she’d left hers at home) who gave Blue and Lou a generous fuss – they were in heaven! Add to that the four sausages they ate between them and you have the perfect recipe for doggie contentment.

All in all we had a great evening BUT to top it all we saw a barn owl hunting in the field by the canal. I saw a very distinctive bird with pale fawn plumage and oddly blunt head – it took me a minute to work our what it was. What an amazing thing – I was surprised by its wingspan – it was much bigger than I thought.


Arch failure

Richard the engineer was fascinated by the arch failure on this bridge. Maybe the large crack explains why we drove under it so fast!!!!

Different types of canal bridge

Meanwhile, Sue was struck by the juxtaposition of the blocky modern road bridge, the traditional red brick canal bridge and the pipe bridge.

Note on pipe bridges: They could contain anything from sewage to fresh drinking water to chemicals from a processing plant – pass under them quickly and if you have to look up then keep your mouth closed (in case of drips)!

The last photo is of the ‘drains’ off the canal coming up to Stoke Bruerne – most were built in the 1930s and we were really impressed that they took so much care to make them so attractive.

Brick arches at Stoke Bruerne

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The Odyssey – Summer 2008 Day 8

Posted by indigodream on 13 June, 2008

Marsworth Junction to Soulbury Three locks (past bottom lock)

I think we’re finally getting over our ‘no holiday for 6 months’ tiredness as we both woke refreshed at 8am. We left our mooring at 9am (earliest so far) though the move had a certain urgency to it – we ran out of water! Not a big deal as we’d moored opposite a water point to fill up this morning but it’s a tremendous motivator if you know that the loo won’t work until you’ve visited the water point!

Practical Points:

When the water tank is running dry then the water pump makes a different noise – listen out for it if you haven’t filled up for a few days.

There’s no need to fill the tank every day but do keep an eye on consumption. We’ve left it 4 days but that was a bit tight, as we’d been having four showers a day between us in the hot weather! Talking to other boaters some have meters fitted which they are very happy with. Richard is very tempted but it will need a bit of a change in the position of the pump.

Depending on local water pressure, an empty tank takes a minimum of 30 minutes to fill.

Although the water tank was empty the toilet tank was full so we stopped for a pump-out at Pitstone wharf. There’s a chandlery here as well but their pump-out machine was a bit feeble. If you don’t know what a pump out is then here goes: We have a Tecma Macerator Toilet. Great bit of kit, works well. good support from Aquafax. The toilet pumps waste into a big stainless steel tank that we have inside our engine compartment – most boats have their tank under the bed or dinette but as we have an extra long back deck we could move plumbing bits out of the main living space. When the tank fills you need to find a pump out machine which normally requires a token from a shop or a BW pump out card. Timing is everything so first read the instructions on the machine, open up the pump out point, unravel the big hose and put the business end into the pump out point. Put your token or card into the machine, press the start button and open up the handle on the business end – normally a big red handle. Once you see through the sight glass that flow is stopping, close the handle and hit pause on the machine as you should have time to flush your tank. Take the hose out and pour some water into your tank – don’t use your drinking water hose unless you can keep it well away from the hole. We aim for a minimum of 2 minutes flow, ideally 5 minutes if we know the machine. Put the hose back in and pump out again by hitting start or whatever the instructions tell you to do. Once your tank is empty suck in a bit of canal water to clean the end of the pump out hose. Add your chosen toilet chemical – we use a green alternative but “Blue” is most people’s choice. [1]

It is a very strange arrangement at Pitstone Wharf as you moor up against another boat and drag the pump out hose across their boat. As we turned the nozzle down towards the hole a lot of mess came out. Handle seemed a bit incomplete so awkward to use. Granted we have a tank the size of a small boat but this is the first machine we have encountered that could not fully pump out our tank before time ran out, hence no doubt the mess inside the tube.

carpPitstone Wharf is on the edge of a large winding hole which is absolutely full of huge carp. Someone had thrown some bread in the water and the fish were right on the surface gulping it down noisily. Some were the full metre long though a local BW man said that they get bigger!

We had an interesting trip through the locks this morning as we caught up with a boat that had been hired by a consultancy specialising in team building. They run 3-day narrowboat-based teambulding courses. We shared locks with one of their boats – a gathering of RBS Business Managers from the NE were apparently on a timed team task so their mission was to get through the locks as fast as possible. This meant that we had a huge crew at each lock with some of the team running between locks to get the next one ready. Richard enjoyed the pace and the company – he was ahead of the game because he could cycle between locks and so was a valuable additional member of the team! I supplied them with a few slices of bread for their lunch (they’d run out) and generally kept up with their boat. The crew did tend to get carried away – at one point they tried to close the locks gate before the boat was in and it wasn’t unusual for them to open paddles before the lock gates were shut (much shouting ensued – no harm done). They tried to beat Richard at closing gates without Richard even noticing but being mean Richard never told them the secret (push right at the end of the balance beam). Their task was to get to the pub at Grove by 2.30pm and they just made it!

leaving the rolling hills behindAfter that we were by ourselves – I was relieved as I’d caught a little of the urge to speed from the team build and had to remind myself that I was on holiday! We passed through some pretty countryside today – a different character to the Aylesbury Arm – not so ‘prim and proper’. We left the Chilterns behind and they made for an attractive rolling backdrop to our trip.

On the wildlife front I noticed that the towpaths had more meadow flowers than previously – red clover, buttercups, red campion and one very pretty flower which I think is Square-stemmed Willowherb. I also spotted a marsh mallow! In one spot there were warning signs on the towpath flanking a large leaved plant – “Giant Hogweed Do not touch”. I can’t remember what the Giant Hogweed does to you if you do touch it but it must be pretty nasty to warrant a warning sign!

Hitch-hikerWe had relatively few locks to do in the afternoon as the canal meandered round the contours. We largely had the canal to ourselves (bliss!) apart from four mad canoeists. One of them hitched a lift with us – apparently it was their first day of canoeing (possibly ever) and they were getting weary!

We came though the locks so fast with the teambuilders that we passed our intended mooring point (The Globe pub by bridge 111) far too early to stop so we carried on through Soulbury Three Locks and moored just below them. We ate in the ‘Three Locks’ pub – a plain and slightly shabby place but the food was really good – plain pub grub but very well done and very cheap all in a friendly environment. Note: dogs are allowed into the Thee Locks pub.


In future pass through the three locks and cruise round the corner for a quieter mooring further from the road.

[1] Did I not warn you a few days ago not to get a narrowboater started on the subject of toilets!

Big dutch barge

When you’re only seen narrowboats for a few days it comes a shock to see a giant dutch barge suddenly looming round a corner!

A heron poised for the kill!

We could take photos of heron all day – there are that many! But here’s one watching very avidly for a fish – it’s not a pose we often catch so we thought we’d share it.

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