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The Odyssey 2009: Day 57

Posted by indigodream on 18 October, 2009

Thursday 8th and Friday 9th October

Fenny Stratford to Pitstone Wharf

Thursday….

We made a supreme effort to travel up to the boat on Thursday night after work – I don’t think we left home until 8pm but at least we then had the benefit of empty motorways. As expected, Indigo Dream had been fine on her moorings – there’s a nice sense of community among the boaters in Fenny Stratford so we guessed she’d be safe. We managed to park on a bit of tarmac off the road just by Bridge 94 – it leads to the lane behind the towpath, but the lane is all blocked off for cars – shame! We loaded the dogs and our stuff onto the boat then, uncharacteristically, Richard suggested that we go to Tesco so that we’d be set up for the weekend.

There’s a convenient Tesco in nearby Bletchley – 5 minutes by car. It anyone’s still wondering why Tesco should open 24-hours, well, it’s for people like us! It must have been pushing 11pm and there we were wandering round the shelves, being kept awake by the false daylight of the store’s bright lights. There was a good amount of stock on the shelves, and, of course, no queues at the checkouts!

We got back to the boat, but our personal batteries were finally flat – we loaded the fridge stuff onto the boat and left the rest in the car for the morning. We had a very quiet night on the moorings though I think we’d have slept through just about anything after our busy evening.

Friday….

Pleasant canalside developments on the outskirts of Fenny Stratford

Pleasant canalside developments on the outskirts of Fenny Stratford

We woke up feeling full of virtue after having tackled the tedium of the shopping last night. The dogs were in good spirits and Indigo Dream was gleaming in the sunshine – we were set for a good weekend’s cruising. Richard also met another greyhound (Jet Ranger, only raced once but was looking very well) when he took the dogs for their morning walk. The towpath and lane are popular dog walking routes – plenty of opportunities for Lou to bark. One man passing by with a labrador asked whether our dogs were male, as his dog doesn’t like other male dogs and can be a bit ‘in yer face’. When they came past, Lou went to prove that she can take any dog on in the ‘in yer face’ stakes, making the labrador’s owner think that she was the boy – he complemented her on ‘protecting his girl’ i.e. Blue. Poor old Blue!

Richard had a sociable time on the towpath – one boating woman offered him a radiator (she’s doing up her boat); he politely declined. It set me to wondering what a predatory woman on the towpath could use to lure a middle-aged boater at this time of year – maybe pile of cherrywood logs to sweeten your stove……the mind boggles (well, mine does!). With my brain idling away, I was surprised to see a duck stretching up from the water to pick blackberries; I’ve also spotted them eating the abundant crab apples along the towpath – I didn’t realise that ducks ate fruit in that way.

Bridge 98A - bit big for a footbridge

Bridge 98A - bit big for a footbridge

We set off mid-morning but we didn’t get very far before we came to Fenny Lock and swingbridge. With only a 1 foot rise, I could have single-handed here,but Richard gallantly came along to do all the hard work.

Note: You’ll need your BW key to operate the swingbridge

The dogs had a rummage, it was a beautiful morning and we had the canal to ourselves – sweet. Blue got tempted by the path leading off towards the railway and disappeared into the undergrowth for 10 minutes. Luckily for him we decided to stop on the right just after the lock to fill with water or he’d have come back to find the boat gone! There’s a useful service point here – as well as a water point with decent water pressure, there’s an elsan disposal and rubbish bins.

With the 2 dogs safely on board and me supervising the hose pipe, Richard went off on his bike to find a parking place near to Bletchley train station; as we found out last week, there are more likely to be weekend trains to Bletchley than to Fenny Stratford. He took his bike and would cycle back to meet me before the next lock.

Autumn laves - the boat in the far background is trying to paint his roof - no chance (unless he wants a natural leaf pattern!)

Autumn laves - the boat in the far background is trying to paint his roof - no chance (unless he wants a natural leaf pattern!)

Our strategy for moving the boat and doing the car shuffle relies on there being a goodly distance between locks, but there’d be very little chance of that this weekend. The stretch from here to Cowley Peachey is heavily locked but the gap between Fenny lock and Stoke Hammond lock was just enough for Richard to sort the car out – we’d pick it up at the end of the weekend.

With the water tank full, I headed off along the canal, enjoying the wonderful atmosphere of this crisp autumn morning. There is some very sympathetic modern housing on the way out of Fenny Stratford, with blocks of flats enclosing a neat mooring basin, bordered by a lift-bridge which carries the towpath over the ‘junction’. The moorings are conveniently close to a winding hole – it seemed like a very desirable spot.

Richard caught up with me by bridge 98A, which I was surprised to find was only a footbridge; this is one bridge that won’t be wobbling – it’s massively constructed from blue and red brick!

Stoke Hammond Lock - beautifully maintained

Stoke Hammond Lock - beautifully maintained

Willowbridge Marina was a hive of activity with boaters taking advantage of the fine weather to catch up with their painting; conditions were perfect, except for one thing, the local trees were throwing down a confetti of leaves which kept sticking to the wet paint. There was an edge of desperation here which made us glad that we’d touched up our paintwork in the spring (though then the wet paint attracted insects – there’s always something……).

I’ve said before that the weather can have a profound effect on how I feel about a given waterway. I confess that we’re both falling in love with the Grand Union again; I’d forgotten how wonderful it is – there’s a sense of space, of having room to breathe – this is astounding considering that we were passing through London commuter territory.

Note: Our Nicholson’s does not show Bridge 102 which caused us some confusion but it’s hard to get lost on a straight canal!

Lovely view from Stoke Hammond lock - there's a very grand castellated house in the distance....

Lovely view from Stoke Hammond lock - there's a very grand castellated house in the distance....

The River Ouzel runs alongside the canal here, reminiscent of the close relationship between the river Cherwell and the South Oxford canal. It’s a particularly pretty stretch of water, topped off by the very attractive Stock Hammond lock with it’s double-arched stone bridge and immaculate canalside flowerbeds. The flowerbeds are sponsored by Wyvern Shipping Co. but are looked after by local residents – thanks, it’s much appreciated. The dogs had a fine rummage here – it’s a peaceful spot, the only noise was the chattering of sparrows flocking at the generous bird-feeders in the lock cottage garden.

Our admiration for Wyvern Shipping Co.’s altruism in sponsoring the flowerbeds was slightly blunted when we saw how they’d moored their hireboats at their base near Leighton Buzzard. They were moored 3 then 4 abreast, eventually narrowing the canal to a single lane. We didn’t have any hassle getting through, but this is a broad canal. We met a 14’ wide hotel boat a little further on – when we asked the skipper how he got past the hire base he replied “I just shove them out of the way”  – fair game I reckon!

Pleasant views....

Pleasant views....

It was slow going through Leighton Buzzard – it’s a popular mooring spot. But at least it gave us time to admire the canalside Tesco and its fine moorings for shoppers; they don’t allow overnight mooring but with 24-hour trading I wondered whether a silver-tongued boater could get away with it…..

Though it’s slow through the town, the canal soon got back to its rural isolation. Just past Bridge 115A the rural scene was completed by a moored boat with a cage full of hens scratching away on the towpath. They looked very happy chickens – so they should be – as well as their nice day cage they had their own deluxe overnight accommodation on the boat’s back deck.

We were unimpressed when our new Nicholson’s also failed to show the large footbridge between 115A and 115B. It’s a stately structure which soars over the canal and quite a distance over the fields around – it looked like a typical floodplain bridge though I can’t imagine the canal bursting its banks. We didn’t stop but I reckon there’s top dog-rummaging around here, with lush meadows around the canal.

The restored pub at Soulbury - I wonder what it's like now, and do they allow dogs? We quite liked it back when it was an old 'spit 'n sawdust' establishment!

The restored pub at Soulbury - I wonder what it's like now, and do they allow dogs? We quite liked it back when it was an old 'spit 'n sawdust' establishment!

A little further on we were pleased to see what looked like a new boatyard and chandlery being set up. It looks a bit higgledy-piggledy at the moment but the buildings have eye-catching murals and painted signage. We’ll stop there when they’ve established their visitor moorings.

It’s locks all the way on the Grand Union – most are rural so that the dogs could have a good rummage. There were very few boats on the move so we had the locks to ourselves. Horton Lock was characterised by large flocks of birds. There were crows and seagulls, but mainly there were starlings – hundreds of them, perching so thickly that the powerlines looked like feather boas draping the naked wooden poles. The birds took flight as they heard the boat’s engine and we were treated to a spectacular display of a wheeling ball of birds, supple as smoke.

As we cruised along, my eye was constantly drawn to the hills nearby, except they’re not that close, but in the clear air with the canal turning round them gently they look close enough to touch. The carved chalk lion is a distinctive feature – know as the ‘Whipsnade Lion’ (presumably linked with the zoo) and carved in the 1930’s.

The water levels were a bit odd today – some of the pounds on the Ivinghoe flight were low, maybe almost 2’ below normal; yet others were fine. The advantage of the Grand Union is that even with 2′ of water missing there was still plenty left for us to pass between locks without grounding. There’s a very curious cottage by lock 35 – it’s very narrow (front to back) – for a house, that is, with

The hire fleet's home....

The hire fleet's home....

one-third of the width taken up by a chimney breast – I wondered what it was like inside. The modern residents have sensibly added a ground floor extension, otherwise only thin people could live there!

The canal becomes increasingly beautiful as it falls through the Ivinghoe Locks. The locks up to Pitstone Wharf are particularly scenic – surrounded by wide green swards and dense hedgerows, giving each lock the feel of a secret garden; add the westering sun and the whole place seemed quite magical. Amazingly, Blue and Lou were still up for a bit of rummaging – they’ve had a busy day.

We passed by Pitstone Wharf, noting that a new boat painting business (Carnzu) has moved in. They have an attractively painted narrowboat moored by the entrance – a perfect advertisment for their business.

Fine footbridge - not mentioned in our Nicholson's but it leads to some good dog-walking fields!

Fine footbridge - not mentioned in our Nicholson's but it leads to some good dog-walking fields!

By now it was getting late and the clouds were just starting to crowd in. I know it happens every year, but the nights are really drawing in quickly now. We moored up just past Bridge 126 – I was quite proud of my mooring as I managed to pop Indigo Dream (60′) into a 65′ space without disturbing the fishermen at either end. Blue came off for a last rummage – he’d spotted a gap in the fence so he could have a run around the ploughed field adjacent to the canal. He wasn’t out for long – he often runs just for the sake of it, even though he’s really too tired to move! The fishermen made a big fuss of him – they couldn’t believe how big Blue was – greyhounds look so small on the track. As we were chatting to the fishermen, another boater walked down the towpath with a cat in a basket – horrors! But I needn’t have worried; a cat in a basket is not in any danger and our dogs were too tired to bother anyway. The cat was on the boat moored next to ours so we worked out a rough schedule for dog-walking and peace reigned supreme.

The local recommended the Olde Swan pub in Cheddington village, at least half a mile’s walk away, but we were too tired and went to the Duke of Wellington pub just over the bridge. This proved to be a bit of a mistake – the sign on the pub door “No dogs or muddy boots” suggested that they’d really missed the point of a canalside pub. My meal was quite revolting – overcooked and watery apart from the pastry on the so-called pie which was pale and raw. Richard’s meal was ok so maybe it’s a case of ordering the right thing. It’s a shame really, the pub is warm and atmospheric and Richard says the beer was good; we might have stayed there all evening but without the dogs and with no prospect of a decent dessert we went back on board as soon as we’d finished eating.

The dogs declined a last walk – they bounded onto the deck to greet us then hastily got back to their beds. We weren’t long behind them…..

Photoblog:

Flock of sparrows - they're not so scare around here.....

Flock of sparrows - they're not so scare around here.....

The Globe Inn by bridge 111 - a fine place to stop for an evening....

The Globe Inn by bridge 111 - a fine place to stop for an evening....

Blue having a quick kip between locks....

Blue having a quick kip between locks....

Lou doesn't need any excuses for a snooze....

Lou doesn't need any excuses for a snooze....

This is the boat that keeps chickens - smart, eh? Oh, the chickens are on the back deck of the longer boat, they don't have the smaller boat to themselves, well, I don't think they do :-)

This is the boat that keeps chickens - smart, eh? Oh, the chickens are on the back deck of the longer boat, they don't have the smaller boat to themselves, well, I don't think they do 🙂

You won't miss this boat shop.....

You won't miss this boat shop for lack of signage.....

The accuracy of this pub sign tickled me - that's exactly how the bottom gate leaks!

The accuracy of this pub sign tickled me - that's exactly how the bottom gate leaks!

Another new marina under construction aboce Grove Lock; we've passed a fair few 'coming soon' marinas on this year's odyssey.

Another new marina under construction aboce Grove Lock; we've passed a fair few 'coming soon' marinas on this year's odyssey.

Fragrant herbs at Slapton Lock - there's a sign here inviting boaters to help themselves (but also to leave some for others!) - isn't that a nice touch...

Fragrant herbs at Slapton Lock - there's a sign here inviting boaters to help themselves (but also to leave some for others!) - isn't that a nice touch...

Smithy - liter1lly! This boat has a forge and an anvil onboard along with some pretty amazing ironwork...

Smithy - literally! This boat has a forge and an anvil onboard along with some pretty amazing ironwork...

Chalk lion on the distant hills - I wonder who carved it and why...

Chalk lion on the distant hills - I wonder who carved it and why...

These double arched bridges are so evocative

These double arched bridges are so evocative

Many of the lock cottages are dated - interesting....

Many of the lock cottages are dated - interesting....

The locks are dated as well; the lock is 1862 and the associated cottage is 1914 - a later addition or a rebuild? Who knows?

The locks are dated as well; the lock is 1862 and the associated cottage is 1914 - a later addition or a rebuild? Who knows?

Feathered power lines!

Feathered power lines!

The green green grass of home...

The green green grass of home...

2 Responses to “The Odyssey 2009: Day 57”

  1. Lesley said

    Why are you and Richard sleeping in the dog beds then?
    Lesley

  2. indigodream said

    Ha Ha, I’ll have to be more precise, though I do sometimes cuddle up on the sofa with Lou if I want a lie-in.

    Of course, I could argue that the dogs have much more comfortable beds than us what with the sheepskins, pillows and duvets. They’ve just perked up, thinking that we might try a swap then (they’re not allowed on our bed at home or on the boat) – dream on doggies!

    Oh, they’re not allowed on our beds because they’re just too big – we’ve not moral objections to dogs on beds……

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