Sunday, 29 March 2015

Aylesbury to Milton Keynes

Sun 22nd March

Aylesbury - Wilstone

We packed a few more things to make the boat ready, including taking down the aerial cable, and putting the hood down, and emptying cassettes.

We made a final visit to “our” church, where we were asked to share what our plans were, and what Canal Ministries was all about.  Some of the leaders prayed with us and we received a warm farewell, with a hope to return in November. We have made some good friends there.

Broughton worship team

We walked back to the boat via the Co-op for some last minute necessities.  We packed away our electrical cable, made ready the helmsman’s box with Nicholson Guide, binoculars, logbook, phone, etc.   We had to move Ajax, which was moored alongside us.  Tim came to move the flat, a floating steel pontoon barge, which was blocking us in.  Annie and some friends came to lift the lift bridge for us, and we were away at 1.25pm.

Leaving our winter home in Aylesbury

The first lock was full of decaying reeds, which made the gates difficult to open.  At the second lock the water was overflowing both the top and bottom gates.  On the Aylesbury Arm, the bottom lock gates don’t have a plank sticking out to walk on. Instead you walk on top of the gates to cross.  This means that when one of the gates is open, the gap is too wide to step from one gate to the other, so you have to walk round the lock.

Through the reeds

Plenty of water in the canal


We met a family at another lock, and we gave out the first “How Do Locks Work?” leaflet of the season.

We moored for the night on visitor mooring rings at Wilstone, as we had planned.

Moored at Wilstone

Wilstone footbridge

We had a good wildlife day. First James spotted a large amount of frogspawn among the reeds at the side of the canal.  Then we heard and then saw a skylark.  Two kingfishers flew overhead.  Then in the evening at Wilstone, James was shining his torch along a badger path we had seen earlier, and saw two large yellow eyes in the distance.  

We visited the Half Moon pub, which is delightful, and had some Addlestone’s cider.  They don’t serve food on Sunday or Monday evenings, so we ate on board.

James set up his new wildlife camera, with a view of the towpath, to see what turns up.

6 locks, 4 miles, I lift bridge

Mon 23rd March

Wilstone - Marsworth

James had a bit of a disturbed night, getting up at 1am to look for Hugo, as he thought he had heard some fighting.  Hugo was nowhere to be found, but the stars were beautiful and there was no traffic noise.

Hugo appeared at 3am as though nothing had happened. He was probably right. He must have been quite a distance away.

The wildlife camera showed one or two people walking, including James on his Hugo hunt, but no animals.

We re-set the camera to time-lapse mode, and placed it on top of the boat as we set off through the locks.

Many of the locks had notices saying: “Please leave the lock empty”.  After six single locks, the final two are a staircase pair. 

The staircase locks at Marsworth

We moored opposite Marsworth junction, with the intention of visiting the Red Lion in the evening.

We looked at the pictures and discovered that we had taken a series of 10-second videos instead of one continuous video with a photo every two seconds, which had been the intention.  After a further test, we had a series of photos every two seconds. What we want is the photos all joined up to make a video.  Still working on that one.

Three boats went past in the afternoon.

Today’s wildlife highlights: a flock of goldfinches and a grey wagtail.

As we were leaving to go to the Red Lion, we realised that we hadn’t fed Hugo. James went back inside to feed him, while Hazel said she would walk on slowly.  After locking up the boat for second time, James set off in pursuit.  Hazel was nowhere to be seen. The towpath crossed over a bridge, and there was a good view from the top. No Hazel.  Further along the towpath there was another bridge back over the canal, and the pub was up the road a short distance.  Inside – no Hazel.

Phone call to Hazel, and we both say at the same time “Where are you?”.  “I am at the Red Lion”.  “Oh, I am at the Angler’s Retreat”.  So Hazel had gone to the wrong pub, in the opposite direction.  However, the Red Lion was not serving food, so it was James who made the double journey to join Hazel at the Angler’s Retreat.  We both enjoyed an excellent pizza (Monday nights only), whilst overlooked by an African Grey parrot called Rosie.


When we were back on board we heard a knock on the boat.  Sarah from a boat called Pug came to say she had closed our back door to stop her cat going inside our boat. She also suggested keeping the cats apart to avoid a fight, as she couldn’t afford the vets bills! We said we would keep Hugo in after 11pm. He had been out all afternoon anyway.

8 locks, 1 mile.

Tue 24th March

Marsworth - Slapton

We decided to keep Hugo in, and we moved the boat across to the facilities where we emptied cassettes and filled the water tank. The rest of the site has been sold to developers and there are homes being built where the old British Waterways depot used to be.

We moved on to the next bridge to get rid of rubbish in the bin provided. James kept the boat steady while Hazel went ashore – there are no rings or bollards here. A robin came to keep him company.

A wild visitor

It was a glorious spring day and there were lots of flowers everywhere. The first two locks at Marsworth were empty, so we had to fill them first.  There was a large buzzard circling overhead, being mobbed by rooks.

At the swing bridge at Pitstone we had a good view of a mink, who was stalking some ducks. We know there are quite a number around, but we seldom see them, so it was thrill to spot this one, even though we have mixed feelings about them. They are the main reason why water voles are in decline.

Swing bridge (mink at bottom right)

Violets at Seabrook Locks

We moved on through the three Seabrook Locks, where there were violets in profusion. Again the locks were all against us.  We met a boat coming the other way, and the first Ivinghoe lock was in our favour.  The second one was not. There was a boat just coming in from the other direction.  It turned out that he was going to Aylesbury. He also told us that there was a boat in front of us, which explained why the locks were all against us.

Between Horton and Slapton locks we looked for the Whipsnade lion carved in chalk on the side of the hill.  We found it, but it was very indistinct. It probably has grass or weeds growing where it is usually white.

Leaving Slapton Lock, there was a boat waiting to come up, so finally we could leave a lock with the gates open.  We moored soon after, and enjoyed a lovely sunny evening.

9 locks, 4 miles, 1 swing bridge.

Wed 25th March

Much colder

We did not have so much to do today.  The first lock, Church Lock was almost full, so we just had to top it up.  A few years ago James went to visit the church adjacent to this lock, to find out the service times, only to find that it was now a private house, complete with gravestones in the garden.

The next lock was Grove Lock, and a boat had just left, leaving the gates open for us. As we approached Leighton Buzzard we spotted two muntjac deer in a meadow.

We moored up just South of the road bridge, and had lunch in the Swan, a Wetherspoons pub. Sadly they had no guest ciders.

We pottered round some shops, and bought a small pair of bellows before visiting Aldi and Tesco for a few bits.

We saw a beautiful mandarin duck on the way back to the boat.

Mandarin Duck

In the evening we went out again, this time to the Black Lion, where we discovered they had a range of still ciders available. They had an arrangement where we could order six thirds of a pint.  The verdict: Gwatkin Golden Valley Scrumpy from Herefordshire was excellent.

Cider choices

The cider wasn’t the reason we were there: It was the last Wednesday of the month, which means there was an acoustic session taking place.  We don’t often co-incide with a monthly event like this so we were pleased to be there.

We were in the bar area, near the entrance door, and there was a lot of background chatter which made it difficult to project the words of songs.  However, we ended up singing seven songs, and it was good fun. Four separate ladies with guitars, three separate guys with guitars, one fiddle player, and us.

2 locks, 3 miles

Thu 26th March

The forecast rain arrived in the small hours and continued off and on until lunchtime.  We were able to catch up with a few emails and other admin chores.  Our voices were somewhat strained after last night’s singing.

We had a quick lunch on board and Hazel had a last minute visit to Tesco while James filled the water tank and emptied a cassette.

Leighton Lock was against us and all was quiet on the waterway.  We negotiated the tortuous route along the Ouzel valley, with high winds making progress slower than usual.  We saw a green woodpecker at one point.

Half a mile from the three locks at Soulbury we met a boat going the other way, and they shouted “We’ve left the locks in your favour!”  They had, but leakage from the bottom gates meant that they were only three quarter full, so they had to be topped up again.  The three locks took us just on 30 minutes – not bad.   The only other boat we saw moving all day was one which came into view at the bottom of the locks, turned round and went out of sight again.

The usual moorings at Stoke Hammond were fairly full with several dogs in evidence, so we moored a little further along, just past the site of the swing bridge. By then there was glorious sunshine, but still a high wind.

Unfortunately there was no phone signal, so we couldn’t make our promised call to Julie, Hazel’s Dad’s neighbour in Southampton.

4 locks, 4 miles

Fri 27th March

The day didn’t start very well.  James got our of bed and almost fell over because the boat was tilting over at an angle.  It seems that the water level had dropped in the night.  Our bed is across the boat, so it was our feet that had been lowered. If our bed had been along the length of the boat one of us might have rolled out.

In addition to that, our fire had gone out, so before doing anything about the sloping boat, he had to get rid of the ash that had choked the fire, relay the coals and start it again. It was a chilly morning so this was a priority.

James unhitched the mooring lines and tried to push the boat out into deeper water. The bows went out, but the stern was stuck fast.  A man with a dog went past and said the water levels often drop here.

Look no ropes

James walked to the next lock, and the pump was working, bringing water up from the pound below, gradually raising the water levels once more. He walked back to the boat and put it in reverse with a bit of welly, and thankfully the stern moved slowly out into deeper water. 

Stoke Hammond Lock with back pumping

We travelled down to the lock where we tied up and had breakfast while we carefully filled the lock trying not to lower the pound again too quickly.  While we there, two CRT maintenance men arrived, and they were wielding one of those tools like a bent garden fork to clear some weed from the sluices. They said it was called a drag, although further north they call it a keb.  They also said that the last boat coming up the lock had left the top gates open, and the bottom gates leak, which is why the level had dropped.

A drag rake or keb

After this we had a lovely morning, with pleasant sunshine. We saw a red kite and heard a woodpecker as we made our way into Milton Keynes.

Fenny Stratford Lock was against us, so we had to fill it.  It is not very deep – about 6 inches.  We also had to swing the swing bridge open, and swing it shut again afterwards.  As the road only goes to two buildings on the East side of the canal, why can we not just leave the bridge open for the many boats that pass this way each day, particularly in the summer? There are probably not more than four car journeys across each day.

 Fenny Stratford Lock

There were no more locks and we had an easy cruise, mooring up at Campbell Park, within sight of Gulliver’s Land theme park.

We caught a bus into the centre, and had a further walk to Maplins to exchange a faulty part for our TV aerial. Very impressed with the can do attitude.

We bought an extra pillow in Range for Hazel. We noticed that everything ended in 99p; even items valued at several hundred pounds were e.g. £499.99 instead of £500. They must think their customers are stupid idiots if they think a penny will make a difference.  The same applies to petrol prices at the pumps, which all end in .9 of a pence.  If I were Prime Minister I would introduce a law to make pricing sensible.  Bah! Humbug!  A Victor Meldrew moment.

We walked a long way in the shopping centre and had a meal at Pizza Express (a work of art) before taking the bus back to Campbell Park.

The Pizza Express pizza

2 locks, 7 miles, 1 swing bridge.

Sat 28th March

We set off early this morning as there was rain forecast later and we wanted to be in Wolverton for church the next morning.

We had no locks to deal with, and the only brief stop was at Giffard Park to dispose of a bag of rubbish.

We moored shortly after the Grafton Street Aqueduct.  A few minutes later the rain started. So we timed it well.

Tomorrow there is rain forecast for the whole day, so we are unlikely to move the boat.  We plan to walk to King’s Church to see how they are getting on with their new location in the centre of the community.

0 locks, 5 miles

Next week: Stoke Bruerne, Braunston and Napton.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Our last week in Aylesbury and a trip to Suffolk

On Sunday 15th we were back at Broughton Church for the morning service.  We had a lady called Ruth from Tear Fund, and she spoke about the feeding of the five thousand. She was full of enthusiasm. Because we had another appointment I was not able to share Tear Fund experiences with her.  Several people gave their condolences to Hazel.

Back at the canal basin we were late for Jane and Alex’s cream tea but they were still there so we sat down to enjoy a scone with them.

On the Tuesday we drove to Suffolk where we had a very enjoyable time with Maggie and Clive. 

Part of the reason for the visit was to leave our car there for the summer. We had bought a car cover from Halfords, and we parked the car just inside their gates, disconnected the battery, and arranged this cover, which only just fitted. It was just as well that we had bought a larger size than they had suggested.

James was able to arrange SORN (Statutory Off Road Notification) online. For some reason the effective date was fixed by the computer at 1st March, although by then it was 17th March, and we were expecting to make it effective from 1st April. We will return in November and re-tax the car, and drive it back to Aylesbury.

The following day was Clive’s birthday, and we had offered to take them both out for a meal.  Clive chose the Bell at Middleton, a very unspoilt country pub, where we had a very pleasant meal.

 The Bell at Middleton

From there we moved on to Minsmere, where we timed it well to spot a bittern from the Island Mere Hide.  We saw Marsh Harriers as well as a range of ducks and other water birds. Sadly we have never seen a bearded tit although they have been present. A little egret was quite close by, and it was vibrating one of its feet to stir up small creatures from the marsh bed.

Muntjac deer at Minsmere

Little Egret

On the Thursday we loaded all our bags into Clive’s car for the journey to Ipswich to pick up a hire car.  On the way we had time for a light lunch at the pub in Walberswick, which was delightful.

We were due to collect the car from Thrifty Car Hire at 2pm.  We are used to hiring from Enterprise who only need to see a valid driving licence. Thrifty wanted a lot more.  Living on a narrow boat we don’t have utility bills. However, we did have a letter from the Pension service, another from the tax office, plus letters from RCR and CRT (two boating organisations). We also had one from Nationwide bank plus a bus pass and a driving licence.  Thrifty wanted a bank statement from the bank whose card we were going to use. As all our banking arrangements are online we don’t have statements.  We couldn’t get online to access the accounts as we had left some vital information behind on the boat. We offered to pay cash but they wouldn’t accept cash. It was a very stressful 45 minutes, before they agreed to waive their rules as they could see we were genuine customers.  James should have read the small print!

The drive back was uneventful, and we were in plenty of time to see the theatre production of “The curious incident of the dog in the night time”. It was excellent, and the stage management was superb.

On Friday we did a lot of shopping before returning the car, initially to the wrong place – they had moved since our confirmation was produced.  It was strange taking the bus back to the boat, knowing that we were now carless.  Our coal and gas had arrived at the basin, and James put some on the roof pallet in preparation for cruising.

The Saturday was work party day in the canal basin.  Hazel painted the walls in the bar / kitchen area upstairs. James strung a line of marker buoys together, swept out the pump-out cupboard, and helped Hazel with the painting.  In the evening there was a fish and chip supper and a quiz. Our final evening in Aylesbury.

Next week: We start the summer season’s boating by heading up the Grand Union.

Southampton for a family event

Hazel’s Dad Arthur had had an apparent stroke early in the last week of February. Hazel and her brother Phil persuaded him to go into hospital for tests.  On the Tuesday the transport failed to arrive to take him in, so he missed his appointment and rescheduled it for Friday.

When Friday came, he was duly taken in for tests as planned, and was returned to his home late in the afternoon. He was too tired and weak to get up the stairs, and his neighbours settled him into his arm chair for the night. In the morning (Saturday) they called in and found him lying on the floor in the lounge where he had fallen.

Our daughter Amanda happened to be in Southampton and went with him to the hospital in an ambulance, staying with him most of the day. X-rays indicated no broken bones, but he was kept in for observation. We planned to go and visit him the following day (Sunday) after church.

On Sunday morning at about 4.30am he showed signs of deterioration, and the doctors phoned Amanda first and then ourselves at about 5am. We left Aylesbury at 5.30am and were in the hospital in Southampton at 7.15am. He had passed away at about 6.45am, peacefully, with Amanda holding his hand.

Although it has been a sad occasion there are several things for which we give thanks.
1        For his neighbours, Julie and Brian, who for several years have helped him by mowing his lawn, doing his shopping, and calling in daily to see if he was OK. Without them, we would not have felt so free to travel like we do on the canal system.
2        For Amanda and the fact that she was in Southampton, and that it was Saturday and Sunday when she was needed, which did not clash with work commitments. (She was in York earlier in the week).
3        For the timing. In three weeks time we would have been travelling up the Grand Union Canal, having left our car in storage for the summer. A few weeks later we are involved in missions in Derbyshire and Staffordshire. As it was, we could leave our boat safely on the mooring in Aylesbury, and drive to Southampton to do all the necessary work clearing up his effects and returning the property to the council. James is one of the executors.
4        Similarly in a few weeks time Phil and Cyndi would have been busy with receiving guests at their gites in France.
5        He never wanted to go into a nursing home or have a long illness and he was spared both those things.

On Sunday afternoon we returned to Aylesbury, packed a few things, and told a few people. On Monday we loaded things into the car, including Hugo, our cat, who hates travelling in the car, and went down to Southampton.

We did the rounds of medical reports from the hospital, appointments with funeral directors, banks, council housing department, registrars, house clearance people etc etc. Anyone who has had to do this will know what it is like.

When Phil and Cyndi moved to France, Arthur had asked James to be an executor, and everyone thought that was the case. However, Arthur had not re-made his will to say so, and Phil and Cyndi were still the named executors.  Certain things therefore had to wait until Phil came over from France.

Thankfully everything was sorted out and the funeral was arranged for Thursday 12th March.  The house clearance was also arranged for the next day.

On the middle Saturday Hazel and I decided to have a break and we went by ferry to the Isle of Wight and visited Osborne House. Beautiful spring weather and a very relaxing day. Queen Victoria’s private beach was a special place. We also had a good view of P & O cruise liner Oceana plus the new Britannia, which was in port awaiting a naming ceremony by the Queen before the maiden voyage.

Red Funnel

At Osborne House

 Osborne House

 The closest we got to a red squirrel

The beach at Osborne House



On the Sunday we visited City Life Church. They are linked to Pioneer and they knew John and Christine Noble.  They meet in what used to be the Methodist Church in Bassett where Hazel was a member of the Girls Life Brigade in her youth.

Phil arrived from France on the Monday, and we had another visit to the bank, where they were able to close the account and transfer the funds to Phil. Thankfully the affairs were very straightforward.

By the end of Tuesday we felt we had done all we could in the house, so we returned to Aylesbury with Hugo for two nights on the boat.  On Wednesday we seemed to sleep most of the time.

On Thursday we drove down to Southampton once more for the funeral, where 19 people assembled to say their farewells, including two of Arthur’s first cousins whom we had never met. They had seen it in the local paper.

We had a finger buffet lunch at the Ox in North Baddisley, followed by a return to the house in Dunkirk Road where most people found an item or two to have as a keepsake.  We handed the keys to Owen, the chap who was to clear the house.

Hazel and I had booked two nights at the Premier Inn on West Quay, and we went with Phil to a tapas restaurant, where we ordered too many dishes and couldn’t finish the meal.  The following morning we couldn’t do justice to the eat-as-much-as-you-like excellent buffet breakfast.

Back at the house Owen was in full swing, breaking up the furniture he couldn’t re-use, which upset our daughter Amanda.  Phil left for France, leaving us to settle up with Owen later on.  We had lunch with Amanda, and returned at 4pm as agreed with Owen.  He was not there and the job was nowhere near finished, so we had to call him.  We explained once again that we were going back to Aylesbury and we needed to hand in the keys to the council. He said he would call us when it was finished.

After a memory lane tour of Bassett and a pub meal, we returned to the Premier Inn to watch Comic Relief and have an early night.

We had a phone call at 8am from Owen to say the job was finished, so we got up, had another excellent breakfast and met him at the house.  Apparently he had been working until 1am, disturbing the neighbours in the process.  We paid him his money, collected the keys and delivered them to the housing department in Shirley, before taking a scenic route back to Aylesbury, without going on any fast roads or motorways.

This is the end of an era.  With the passing of Arthur, we have become the older generation.


One of his favourite pictures – a Halifax bomber

 A mossy detail from the garden

In a week’s time we set off on our summer cruising programme, so the timing has been perfect.  Lots of primroses and daffodils are now out, as well as some early blackthorn. We have seen rooks on nests in the trees. Spring is here.