Friday, 5 December 2014

Aylesbury in November

So here we are in Aylesbury.  We are moored on a pontoon right in front of the brand new clubhouse. The pontoons are fixed, not floating, and the water levels fluctuate a little, so we leave the lines slacker than we would usually.  There are no passing boats to create a wash, so we don’t move much, except in high winds.  Canal and River Trust are trying to make improvements to raise the water level, but so far we have not noticed a difference, and we cannot open our side doors as they come up against the pontoon.  As this is winter we don’t need them open much, but occasionally it would be useful to load things on or off the boat (e.g. full cassettes).

Lift bridge into the basin

We arrived on Friday 31st October, and, as it was Halloween, the good people of Aylesbury decided to let off some fireworks. There were several locations, and although they were all a good way off, the sounds seemed to reflect off the clubhouse and reverberate all around our boat.  Hugo disappeared under our duvet, as he is not keen to celebrate in this way.

Our mooring and the clubhouse

The following night being the weekend, the good people of Aylesbury decided to let off some fireworks. And then again on Sunday night.  On Monday night, as it was only two days before 5th November, the good people of Aylesbury decided to let off some fireworks.  We had fireworks every night for ten consecutive nights!!!  By the end, Hugo must have thought that this was normal life in Aylesbury.  One night, at 10pm, when we all thought the last firework in the land had finally died, he at last went outside for some fresh air. There was a huge explosion, which seemed as though it was just above the boat.  Hugo shot inside as though someone was trying to kill him!  The poor cat was shaking with fear.

We bought our Honda Jazz on the day after we arrived (Saturday) and we collected it on the Wednesday.  We are very pleased with it as it does everything we need.  It is a 1400 engine, so it doesn’t have lots of power when starting off, but the cruise control is excellent, and it is comfortable.  For the first time ever we now have a satnav.  The postcode for the Canal Society premises is new, and it doesn’t register on the satnav, but we have marked it as “home” now, so we can get back easily. The car colour is a sort of greyish-brown, which means that we don’t have to wash it so often!

We have been out and about exploring a little. We have seen a bit more of the Wendover Arm, and we saw Matt Baker and the rickshaw challenge passing through for Children in Need.

Wendover Arm

Rickshaw Challenge

Aylesbury Canal Society is a charity originally set up to preserve the line of the Aylesbury Arm, and in particular, the basin at the end of the canal. Now they have moved a mile out to the edge of town, and there is a small marina for around 40 boats, and this huge clubhouse, paid for by the local council, so that the town centre can be re-developed. Because of the number of boats moored there it is run a bit like a boat club, with many jobs being done by volunteers from among the resident boaters. 

Frosty morning

Wishing to contribute to the work, Hazel has learned how the cleaning works, and has joined the cleaning team. Toilets, showers, kitchens, lounge areas, and stairs all receive attention. James took on the painting of red warning lines on the concrete floor of the workshop.  This is a long building large enough to house a full-length narrowboat, and, using a winch, the boats are hauled up a ramp on a trolley. When they are inside, a hoist takes the weight, and the trolley is let down the ramp again.  The red warning lines are to denote where the legs of the hoist should be.  James has line painting on his CV, as he once painted white lines on the runway at Alice Springs airport.

James had had a bad back for the last six weeks of boating, from pushing the heavy lock gates on the Leicester section of the Grand Union, followed by the Buckby locks.  He had found a physiotherapist called Don Gatherer, who came with good credentials – official physio for Team GB at the 2012 Olympics, the England rugby team and a few others.  He made an appointment for our first Thursday, and drove there using our new satnav (How exciting is that?).  He had a 30-minute session with what Don called a microwave, followed by a spine wrench that might have looked good in a wrestling ring.

The following day (Friday) James spent several hours sweeping the dust off the concrete in the workshop, and laying down masking tape.  By the end of the day he could hardly walk and was popping ibuprofen.  Amazingly, on the Saturday, he was much better, and spent another few hours on his hands and knees, painting the first coat of paint.  On the Sunday afternoon he put down the second and final coat. 


After our three-day trip to Suffolk, he went for a second physio appointment, had another back wrench and was told not to come back. He had been fine since.

The trip to Suffolk was to catch up with Maggie and Clive, and pick up all our post.  We managed to fit in a visit to Minsmere, where we saw a Great White Egret (a first for us). We once again just missed a bittern, and we have still never seen any bearded tits, although they were present.  James did manage to glimpse a possible otter for almost as long as half a second, before it disappeared under water.  This is his third possible sighting, and if you add them all up together, they last for about 1.2 seconds in total.  Hopefully, one day, we’ll have a good lingering view.

Mossy trees at Minsmere

The following Saturday we travelled to Nottingham for the BCF AGM. On the way we called in to Milton Keynes to collect Tim and Tracey, plus guide dog Oakley, plus Tim’s guitar.  It was a little cramped but we managed to squeeze everyone in.  The AGM as usual was an excellent time of fellowship and worship, as well as the business part.

Worship time at the BCF AGM

On our second Sunday, we decided to visit the Salvation Army, which is in easy walking distance from the marina.  Although we had a warm welcome, it is not for us. The style of worship was old fashioned, and the uniforms and titles seemed a bit irrelevant. It was all a bit of a different culture.  However, it was good to meet a man called Malcolm, who was the person who started the Waterways Chaplaincy and we know several of the chaplains.

Salvation Army

We discovered that there is sometimes a coffee morning in the clubhouse here.  This will be a good way to meet and get to know people a little better.  The only snag is that it is on Sunday mornings at 11am.  This clashes with most churches, and we decided that we should be at the coffee mornings with our new neighbours rather than sitting in a church receiving teaching and enjoying worship.

A day or two later, we were walking out of the marina, and James was wearing his Boaters Christian Fellowship fleece.  One of the guys working on the landscaping came and made contact, telling us that he went to a small church called The Ark.  James tried to look it up online. All he found was a community forum where someone had put out a warning along the lines of: “Someone brought us some food and said they were from the Ark church. I have contacted the police, and I suggest you all be on your guard as they are acting very suspiciously.”

Hazel was by the gate the following day and saw the chap again, who introduced her to his mother who was visiting briefly.  She found out that the Ark meet in a gym not far away, and their meetings are at 8am and 4pm!  So on the Sunday we went to the coffee morning and met many of the resident boaters. Then we went to the Ark, and found a small group of around 25 people, from mixed racial backgrounds, who were enthusiastically praising God, and sharing their testimonies.  It seems they are mostly new Christians, and some have come out of a lifestyle of drugs, crime, alcohol, bad language or promiscuity.  We were the oldest people there.

We made a visit to Weybridge where we had various routine doctors and dentist appointments. We took the opportunity to spend time with friends Graham and Sheila, and to visit our Barnabas group where we were warmly welcomed.

We also went to a social event at Byfleet Boat Club, where we heard a talk by Tony Davis about cruising the French canals.

On the Saturday we had the Aylesbury Canal Society (ACS) AGM.  This was the first major use of the facilities. James was one of three serving behind the bar.  It brought back memories of working occasional evenings in the Vic at Oxshott in the early seventies.

We returned to the Ark on the Sunday, where we were made very welcome once more.  We are still unsure where we should be church wise.

We had our boat engine serviced by a recommended chap called Ed Boden, who seemed to do a good job.  He also got our immersion heater working, so we now have hot water without having to run the engine or switch on the central heating.  All it needed was to press the reset button! To be fair this button is very tiny and not obvious.

It was good to have a visit from cousin Mary from Birmingham, Alabama, accompanied by her sister Sue, and Sue’s husband Mike. They were passing through on the way to Suffolk. They would have stayed overnight if we had had the space. We can accommodate two guests, but no more.

Mary, Mike, Sue, Hazel, James

We have also sorted out a coal and gas supplier who delivers to ACS, and we took a delivery of four bags of Homefire Ovals. As this is our first winter, we are trying out different types of coal and are still open on the subject.  Some burn quicker than others, some produce a lot of ash, and some stay in (i.e. keep alight overnight) better than others.

We have now discovered that the Sunday morning social at ACS is only an occasional event, about once a month.  This means that we can try some other churches, so on the last Sunday of November we visited Bourton Community Church. They meet in a school quite close by, so we tipped up there and received a great welcome.  It is very informal, although it is an Anglican church plant. The worship was excellent, and the message was very good.  We were asked to imagine what it would have been like for Mary to receive the news that she was going to have a baby.  We also tried to identify with Mary’s parents, and Joseph, when they received the news.

In the evening we returned for an hour of worship, led by Jack who sang and played guitar, accompanied by some singers and some percussion. It was a very good time, and the first time they had had such an evening.  The church also runs a café called More, which is located in a row of local shops.  We are very likely to return to this church in two weeks time.

We have discovered the visitor’s book for boats that make it down the Aylesbury Arm.  We have found our entry from 1999 when we came on Lystra, and the following two entries are boaters we now know well: David and Jane on Jack Merrick (Now on Rowan) followed by David and Carole on Ichthus (now on Days of Elijah). We have all changed our boats since.

Visitors book

Next week we will be at Weybridge Methodist Church, on the morning following the Byfleet Boat Club Christmas party, and an overnight stay at a local pub.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Leighton Buzzard to Aylesbury

Monday 27th October

Leighton Buzzard to Slapton

 Moored at Leighton Buzzard 

Water art?

A warm sunny day.  First of all we visited Tesco to stock up for the week. The next shop for us will be in Aylesbury.  James’ back was particularly painful when walking today. He has been having trouble for about a month.

Returning to the boat, we discovered that Kookaburra had already gone. 

The first lock was Grove Lock, which was half full, or rather half empty, as presumably Kookaburra had left it full, and leakage had drained some water out.

Approach to Grove Lock

Above Grove Lock we called in at the Marina for some gas. Thankfully they had the 6kg size.  £24 seemed expensive, but we needed it.

The only other lock was Church Lock, which needed emptying.  We picked a sunny place to moor, shortly before Slapton Lock, because Hazel had done some washing.

Moored at Slapton

Amazing weather for the end of October.   A hire boat went past us very late when it was practically dark.

2 locks, 4 miles, 1hr55

Tuesday 28th October

Slapton to Marsworth

Morning at Slapton

Everything was very wet from dew this morning.  James got up earlier than necessary because the clocks changed at the weekend, and our bodies haven’t caught up yet.  He walked up to the lock to check where the water point was.

Last night’s hire boat had moored on the lock bollards, and was just setting off into the lock.  It was the first one they had done on their own, without sharing the lock, and James gave them some tips about which paddles to use first.  As they reached the top, another boat came in view at the bottom, and James suggested to the hire boat crew that they wait at the next lock for them.

It took a while to dry off the pram hood.  There had been no rain but everything was soaked with dew.  Two other boats went past while we were doing this.

When we finally set off (0955) there was no other boat to share with.  We paused at the water point above the lock, hoping another boat would come along, but none did.

By the time we got going again (1055) the sun was shining and it was warm.

Horton Lock was against us (expected).  We looked for the Whipsnade Lion all along this stretch, but we couldn’t see it.

Horton Wharf

Between the two Ivinghoe Locks

Autumn Leaves

Berries in profusion

After the two Ivinghoe Locks, and the first of the three Seagrove Locks, we met our first boat of the day.  The rest of the locks were then in our favour.  As we left Seagrove Lock 36, a guy on a bike shouted to us to leave the gate open, and he would open the swing bridge for us.  As we passed him he explained that there was a pair of working boats coming.

By Pitstone Wharf there are two fairly blind bends under bridges, and so we went warily under the first, and spotted the bows of the working boat coming towards the second bridge. We tucked in to the side to let them pass. It was Brighton and Nuneaton, The Narrowboat Trust pair, and we spotted a familiar figure at the helm of the butty. It was Ray, from Stronghold. It’s the third time we have seen him this year.

Nuneaton and Brighton, with Ray at the helm

A little further along we saw Eternity moored up. This boat used to be in Byfleet Boat Club, and Boaters Christian Fellowship.

We also passed Knot Normal, and the guy on board shouted that Henry was further on down, at Harefield.  We are not going that far until next year.

At Marsworth Locks, there was a boat coming down in the top lock, and the bottom lock was in our favour, so we crossed over in the middle between the two locks.  We moored just before bridge 130 on some rings.

Marsworth Locks

Another gloriously sunny day, but forecast wet tomorrow.

9 locks, 3 miles, 3hr10

Wednesday 29th October


We rose this morning to find Hugo curled up on James’ clothes, with both the cat and the clothes very damp.  He had evidently fallen in again!

We went for a wander around Marsworth, and spotted Miss Molly returning from their visit to Berkhamsted with Taverners CC. We called in at the Red Lion, a very pleasant pub with no piped music, no TV screens, and no fruit machines.  Good cider and a simple menu with good food means we will return at some point.

Red Lion at Marsworth

We discovered that the largest and best-located pub, the White Lion, is closed due to a dispute between the landlord and the brewery.  The landlord also runs the Anchor, which is a freehouse and apparently popular.

We had a coffee in the Bluebell Café, which has always looked closed from the canal, which is why we have never visited before.  We sent them an email afterwards to tell them.

We wandered back in the light rain.

We discovered that there is a 60’s show on tomorrow in Aylesbury, with Herman’s Hermits and the Swinging Blue Jeans among others.  We may try and get in on the door.

No boating today

Thursday 30th October

Marsworth to Aylesbury

It was a beautiful sunny day as we set off.  Our first pause was at the facilities block and we were at the top of the Aylesbury Arm by 0930.  The 16 locks are narrow, so you cannot share. The first two locks, a staircase, were in our favour, as were the next two. 

 Lock 1, Aylesbury Arm

After that, most of the locks had been left empty, with a paddle up on the bottom gates, as requested by signs on the lock beams.  The design of the lock gates means that you cannot step across from one side to the other as you can on the Oxford or Coventry Canals, so James used a long boat hook to push open or pull shut the opposite bottom gate.

The canal was fairly shallow in places, and going was slow.  Locks 14 and 15 had security locks, and in number 15 we found someone else’s key, with a Calcutt Boats fob.  There was a boat going down in front of us, so we collected the key and took it with us.  Number 16 did not require a key.  As we approached the basin, two boats were coming the other way. The second one was Jacob, and they were the ones the key belonged to.

Passing Aylesbury Canal Society

We moored on a pontoon in the basin surrounded by building work.  Adjacent was the new Waitrose, then the new theatre, then on the third, a building site.   There were only two rings on the pontoon, designed for 70ft boats.  We just about managed, but it would not be very good for a shorter, say 40ft, boat.  There was a “security” gate, but the lock was not the usual boaters key, but something else.  The gate was unlocked.  The railings at the sides were insufficient to stop people getting round, even when the gate was locked, so what the plans are for these moorings we are not sure.

Moored in Aylesbury Town Basin

We went first to the theatre box office and purchased two seats for the 60’s concert, which was mostly full.  We then went to find WH Smiths, and bought a car buyer’s guide, and two Ordnance Survey maps for Aylesbury, before returning to the boat.

At about 6pm we went to the Wetherspoons pub opposite the theatre for a meal, but it was packed and there were no tables. Everyone had had the same idea.  We went round the corner, and had a lovely meal at Wagamama’s instead.

The concert was good fun. First on was the Ivy League, who had excellent harmonies. Then came Union Gap UK, also good, but the words were not so distinct.  They were joined by Dave Berry who was very entertaining.

After the interval we had the Swinging Blue Jeans, followed by Herman’s Hermits.

They were all good, but they were mostly not the original people.  The original drummer for Herman’s Hermits was there, but the Swinging Blue Jeans had no original members. The band names have continued over the years, with changes of personnel from time to time, and the repertoire stays much the same.

16 locks, 7 miles, 5hr30

Friday 31st October

Another warm day

We went to explore the shops, and found the tourist information centre after following signs round in circles and eventually asking at the museum.  We were served by a very helpful lady who gave us bus timetables, maps, and suggestions about car sales places.  This was to be her last day, so we timed it well.

We had a look round the market, before visiting the library to look at local papers.  These were kept in the research centre, which was up a steep flight of stairs.  James’ back was playing up so we asked if there was a lift.  To our surprise, there was, but it was not public.  A helpful lady escorted us through staff offices to the lift, and then, up one floor, she escorted us from the lift to the research centre.  There we found that the Bucks Herald was the best for adverts, but even then there were only three of four pages.

We managed to find a way out without using stairs, through a shopping centre.

We walked back towards the boat and had lunch in Waitrose before buying a few essentials, including a Bucks Herald.

The only other boat on the pontoons was one called Mollie, and we met Tim and Margaret, who are also booked into the Aylesbury Canal Society, but they want to stay in the centre as long as they can.

Development around the old town basin

We moved to the facilities block, where we met Richard, another boater who is on Clayhanger. He has a long term mooring permit to stay on the rings, which say “Service mooring only”.

High Bridge

Further up, by the second lock, we met Jimmy, a fisherman with a very strong Scottish accent.  He had caught a few tiny perch and a crayfish.  So it might be worth getting the traps out!

We arrived at the ACS basin, and tied to the bollards on the outside, with difficulty, as a CRT workboat was moored right in the middle.  We went to find out where we were meant to be mooring, which is right outside the clubhouse, in front of the wet dock.  Someone kindly lifted the lift bridge for us, and we demonstrated our boat handling skills as we reversed into the space. 

Into the ACS basin

We had a tour of the premises with Bryan.  There is a lot of work still going on, particularly outside, with tarmac paths being laid, and grass to be sown.

2 locks, 1 mile, 1 lift bridge, 1hr15

Saturday 1st November

We went to find the bus stop (5 minutes walk), and discovered a One-Stop shop, a chemist, and a Salvation Army church.  We took the bus to Northwest Aylesbury where the car salesrooms are.

We looked at several cars, and our initial budget more than doubled as we realised that to get reasonable comfort we would need something a bit more recent.  We looked at a Honda Jazz (a bit cramped), then a Ford Fusion (too low for James to sit in), then a Nissan Quasquai (a possibility)

We then had lunch at a pub (Table table).

Then we found the Honda sales room, where we saw a more modern Honda Jazz, which was comfortable, had cruise control and Satnav. We took it for a test drive, and bought it.  Delivery on Wednesday.  We had a lift back to the boat.

Our Honda Jazz

No boating today

Sunday 2nd November

We had ordered a taxi for 10am, and it was there waiting for us when we arrived at the gates.  He wasn’t sure where Southcourt Baptist Church was, but he found it at the third attempt, and with the help of our map.

We had a good welcome and we met the worship leader, and the person who organises the home groups.  The worship was good, and the talk was excellent. Jim Graham was the speaker, from Goldhill Baptist Church. His son is David, the pastor, who has been seriously ill, and is recovering from pneumonia at present.

Although the church seems to have everything, we are not sure that we can contribute anything to what is already happening.  It may be better to test the waters at the Salvation Army, which is very close to the canal basin.

Southcourt Baptist Church

We walked back over a long footbridge across the railway, and had lunch at Noodle Nation – very nice.

The buses for our routes were not running on Sundays, so we walked slowly back to the boat, about a mile.

We have discovered that the only time that people get together socially in the basin is on Sunday mornings, so if we decide we need to be at church on Sunday mornings, we will miss out on opportunities to get to know people. There is a dilemma.

No boating today.

So here we are in the basin in Aylesbury until the end of March, by which time the maintenance on the locks should be finished.  We will not be posting a daily blog, as we are not travelling.  We will put up some thoughts and news from time to time. Watch this space.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Milton Keynes to Leighton Buzzard

Monday 20th October

Bridge 75 to Campbell Park, Milton Keynes

This morning there was a heavy dew, and a pleasant sunrise.

Dawn over Milton Keynes

It was a lovely sunny day by the time we left our mooring, and cruised the short distance first East to the facilities at Giffard Park, bridge 78, then South through autumn colours to Campbell park, bridge 81, where we found a mooring on the off side. There used to be several visitor moorings here, but the council decided to use most of them as permanent moorings, leaving just one visitor mooring.

Autumn colours on a sumac tree in Milton Keynes

Then we had a pleasant half hour walk through Campbell Park to MK centre.

We bought a winter duvet and a small dustbin (for our ash) in John Lewis, using farewell vouchers from our Barnabas group.  We also had lunch at Nando’s, using a voucher from the church.

The bin we will use to collect our ash

The shopping centre is very big and we had walked a lot, so we took a bus back to Campbell Park.

Hugo had another cat spat with a small black cat from the next boat.  This was a wide beam on a winter mooring, and we guess the other cat had the territory, so we kept Hugo inside.  It was windy and wet anyway.

0 locks, 3 miles, 1hr10

Tuesday 21st October

Campbell Park

Very windy – the remains of Hurricane Gonzalo

We took a bus into MK to buy a few bits and pieces. We discovered that Waitrose, marked on all the maps, had closed down a few years ago. In its place had been an ice rink, but this had also closed down.  We found the “Chinese supermarket” marked on Google Earth, but this was no bigger than the average Mace or Londis store.  Thankfully they had the Thai Green Curry paste we had been searching for.

The open-air market was functioning, and we bought some fruit and cheese.  We bought our milk from M&S, and had lunch at Chopstix noodle bar before catching a bus back to Campbell Park.

We discovered that our life ring was missing.  Whether it had blown off or been lifted off we don’t know.  James had a look for it in the canal downwind but couldn’t see it.

Still very windy.  Occasional horizontal rain.

Wind on the water

 Water effects

More effects. Is this art?

No boating today

Wednesday 22nd October

Campbell Park to Water Eaton

Our mooring at Campbell Park

There were lots of boats moving this morning as the wind had died down.  We continued our journey south through Milton Keynes suburbs.   There was a boat in front of us, and as it went under a bridge we could see another boat coming the other way. We slowed and paused to let them through, as they were closer to the bridge than we were.  They must have spotted us very late, because, just as they reached the bridge they suddenly slammed the boat into reverse, losing their steerage, and the boat went diagonally across the canal.  When they had sorted themselves out, we beckoned them on, as we hadn’t moved and were still waiting for them.

This little escapade slowed us down sufficiently for the boat in front to decide to use Fenny Stratford Lock on his own, and he had started on his way down without waiting for us.  We needed to use the lock bollards, and there were two fishermen sitting there on chairs.  In 12 miles of Milton Keynes towpath there is only one lock and one set of lock bollards, and they decide to fish just there!  We apologised to them as we pulled in, and as they moved their equipment out of the way they were saying things to one another such as “There’s always one, isn’t there?”.

Fishermen on lock bollards

The lock has a swing bridge over the top, which gets swung every time a boat uses the lock, probably thirty times a day.  There is just one building on the East side of the lock, and a car has to go over perhaps four times.  Would it not be more sensible for the swing bridge to be left in favour of the boat traffic, which is far more frequent than vehicle traffic?

Fenny Stratford Lock and swing bridge

After the lock and swing bridge we used the facilities, where the dustbins were overflowing.  We moored just before bridge 98 at Water Eaton.  Hazel had done the washing and we wanted to hang it out while the sun was shining.

A fuel barge named Ascot came past and we hailed him to buy another three bags of coal.

We had a chat with a lady dog walker about BCF and churches, as she wasn’t happy with the local Anglican church, which was Anglo-catholic. We showed her our church directory, and suggested one or two alternative possibilities.

We were getting low on cat litter, which we usually buy from Sainsbury’s, and James searched online for the nearest branch. He discovered that there was one at Bletchley, not far away.

We think that Hugo had a mouse in the night.

1 lock, 5 miles, 1 swing bridge, 1 mouse, 2hr25

Thursday 23rd October

Water Eaton to Stoke Hammond

The story of the bus routes

We had decided to catch a bus to Bletchley and we had picked up a map of bus routes from the bus station in Milton Keynes.  We worked out that if we crossed bridge 98 and walked a short way there would be a bus stop where we could catch bus no 5, 19 or 70.

When we reached the spot we couldn’t find the bus stop, so we walked to a junction where we thought they would turn left, into the road marked on the map as Queensway.  This turned out to be named Water Eaton Road. As we did so, a number 5, followed by a number 19, went past and turned right at the junction, into Manor Road.  Thinking our map must be out of date, we walked on past the junction to a bus stop we could see in Manor Road.  Looking back, we then saw another bus, turning left at the junction into Water Eaton Road!  We had now missed three buses.  We retraced our steps and waited at the stop in Water Eaton Road. The only bus number shown at the stop was number 6!

Three buses went past in the other direction.  All were number 6, except the last one which had number 6 on the front, and number 5 on the back! In the words of Pete and Dud, “This could confuse a stupid person!” At last a bus came along going in our direction, a number 6.  We checked that it was going to Bletchley Bus station and thankfully took our seats.

Later, with a close examination of Google earth, and comparing it with the bus route map, we discovered that bridge 98 was not marked on the bus map, and the only bridge shown was number 97, although it was not identified with a bridge number.  We had therefore crossed bridge 98 in the belief that it was the bridge shown on the bus map, which it wasn’t.  It explains why the roads were named differently, the bus stop was missing, and the bus routes were different.

Anyway, that’s enough about buses!!!

We went to Wilko and Sainsbury’s, where we found the cat litter. We had a drink in a café, and caught a number 6 back to Water Eaton.

We moved on, pausing at Willowbridge Marina to visit their chandlery, which didn’t have anything we wanted. We set off again, and caught up with a boat at Stoke Hammond Lock.  We shared the lock with them.  The boat had L-plates on the front, and the lady at the helm was very new to it.

Stoke Hammond Lock

We stopped soon after, as far from the railway as possible, where we had lovely views of farmland.

Hugo went exploring and soon returned with a recently expired mouse as a gift.

We have concluded that the coal we bought at Crick Marina is awful stuff.  It gives off a choking smell, and produces lots of ash.  It is called Briteheat.  The only thing it is good at is staying in overnight.  Thankfully we have nearly finished the second bag.

In the night, James had to go outside on the towpath to breathe some fresh air, as he felt as though he had been down a coalmine.  Hugo seemed to think that this was for his benefit, and he scampered up and down, and hid in the grass.  It is not hard for a grey cat to hide in the dark.

1 lock, 2 miles, 1 mouse, 1hr10.

Friday 24th October

Stoke Hammond

We had a moorhen peering in the window today. Moorhens are usually shy birds, but no one had told this one how to behave.

Our visiting moorhen

The rain was not as bad as forecast, so late morning we set off on foot to explore Stoke Hammond. It doesn’t have much: a pub, two churches and a village shop – cum - post office. There were some pretty thatched cottages, and one or two large houses. The pub didn’t look very nice – full of gaming machines, pool tables and big screen TVs, so our plans for a pleasant lunch in the village local did not materialise.  We were hoping to have Hammond eggs! J  Get it?

Neither of the churches were open (Methodist and Anglican), but we bought some smoked pork from the shop.  We returned to the boat just before the rain started.

Stoke Hammond Church

Paella on board

No boating today

Saturday 25th October

A boat went past very fast at 7.30am, making our boat surge at its moorings. Someone later said they had left all the gates open and paddles up on the three locks.

The pram hood was very wet from rain on the outside, and condensation on the inside and mopping it up was like having another shower.

Several boats went past in our direction, and this surprised us, as the waterway had generally been quiet.  As we reached the bottom of Soulbury Three Locks, there were boats going up and one waiting, so we joined Miss Molly. It turned out that the boats were from Taverners Cruising Club, just north of Cosgrove.

In every lock there was one boat coming down, mostly Wyvern hire boats from Leighton Buzzard.  They hadn’t been told much about how to negotiate the locks. “Do we shut the gates now?” one of them asked, after his boat was safely in the lock. “Yes” we said.

Soulbury Three Locks with Miss Molly, meeting a hire boat coming down

Thankfully the sun had come out and it was a lovely autumn day.

We left the top lock first, before Miss Molly, and we soon found ourselves leaving them behind as we cruised in the sunshine through Great Train Robbery territory and past the Globe Inn.  We slowed down to let Miss Molly catch us up.  As we approached Leighton Lock, Ascot, the fuel barge, pulled out behind us, as though to join us in the lock.  Two Taverners CC boats were already in the lock going up, so we tied on to the lock bollards.  Miss Molly came into view, and we suggested they share with Ascot, so that they could join their friends in Leighton Buzzard, where they were all stopping for lunch. No boats were coming down this time, so we reset the lock after they had gone through.

Fuel Barge Ascot sharing Leighton Lock with Miss Molly

Moorings in Leighton Buzzard are not very sensibly organised.  Coming in from the north there is a long line of moorings for “permit holders only” first, many of which are unoccupied.  Then there is space for about five boats on two-hour shopping moorings. Taverners CC were all tied up there. Finally there are two spaces for 14 days, but they are right next to the road bridge and Tesco car park. 

After using the facilities just south of the bridge, we moved to the towpath beyond, where there are 14 day moorings, but there are no rings or piling, so we had to use mooring spikes in soft grass.  We intend to be here for two nights.

They could do with changing about four boat lengths from permit holders only to 14 days.

Hazel went shopping in Aldi, and came back with a whole fresh chicken, which we roasted for our evening meal. 

We remembered to put the clocks back.

4 locks, 4 miles, 3hr25

Sunday 26th October

Leighton Buzzard

They say you get an extra hour in bed when the clocks change, but although you may understand this in your head, your body clock doesn’t change for several days, and no one had told Hugo.  So we were up an hour earlier than necessary.

Our church choice this morning was New Life Community Church, who meet in a school at the near end of the High Street.  We have been here before, and very much enjoyed the young worship band, whom we later saw at the Mission: Worship conference in Eastbourne.   This time there was no worship group. Apparently they had moved on to university.  Instead we had CDs and videos, and the room was arranged café style with tables.  There was a dedication of a baby girl, and there were about 15 family members visiting because of this.  The service was therefore geared very much as a seeker service with a good gospel message being proclaimed.  We had a warm welcome, and were invited to stay for lunch. James has a cold, which has just started, so we declined.

New Life Community Church at Leighton Buzzard

We visited Homebase, looking for some non-slip treads for the steps down into the galley.  The existing strips are wearing out.  They had nothing suitable.

Lunch on the boat and zzzzz.

Later James trundled the cassette back to the facilities block, and on the way got chatting to the people on Kookaburra.  We have been playing leapfrog since Market Harborough.  We found we had a lot in common. They have let their home in Bristol, and this is their first year as live-aboards. They also have a cat on board.  They are planning to be on the Braunston pound for the winter.  The boat has the previous owners names on the side, R & D Bell.  We wondered whether they came from Kangaroo Island, south of Adelaide, where half the population seem to be called Bell.

Back on Gabriel we had a lovely chicken curry with what was left over from the roast chicken yesterday.

No boating today.

Next week: a slow descent through 11 wide locks to Marsworth and 14 narrow locks to our winter mooring in Aylesbury.  The first job will be to buy a car. The blogs will be less frequent.