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.

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