Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Moist meandering through Milton Keynes

Cosgrove to Peartree Bridge: 8 miles
           “Big raincoat day,” the Captain declared this morning.  To put on heavy waterproof jackets (and rain hats) after weeks of cruising in sunshine felt, well, odd!  The rain came in different strengths - light rain, drenching rain, misty rain, varying its intensity frequently. From time to time the Captain deployed the big umbrella (to protect the engine room, of course!)
           After a rural start the arrival among the new apartments at Wolverton seemed rather sudden. These stylish buildings,
not there in 1999 (the last year of Cleddau’s Bletchley mooring) but definitely sighted during a trip down the GU in 2011, still surprise.  Smart high density living overlooking the canal – and now (an innovation since 2011?) a splendid figure has been installed. Is this Olympic inspired? Then, opposite in a rusted metal is another figure, this suggesting a railways link...
A Google search has revealed that they were installed in 2012, one referring to a velodrome that used to be nearby and the other to Wolverton’s railway town past.
           Just beyond the footbridge is an extensive wall mural: trains, trains, trains– with a few other historic modes of transport thrown in!          
          On the green watery corridor goes, interrupted only by bridges old,
relatively new and very modern.
            The Milton Keynes Corporation landscaped the burgeoning city beautifully: often there are children’s playgrounds,
there are sculptures, there are tall mature trees and flowering shrubs.
Pathways are well sign posted, seats are positioned on the towpath and calm well-tended parkland is easy on the eye.
Broadbeam boats become more frequent, some being smart homes,
others a dream umrealised.
            It was in the Willen Park area that the Captain had to mount a rescue operation – two of the three mooring pins of a boat had become loose and the boat was swinging across the canal.
While a coot coolly explored the towpath
and Boatwif hung onto Cleddau’s centre line the Captain deployed boathook and mallet to re-secure what seemed a wall of boat blocking the cut..
              On Bridge 82 is an important notice,
a reminder of the continuing efforts of the Bedford and Milton Keynes Waterway Trust to construct a new broad canal between the two towns – as was being planned two hundred years ago in 1811. Read the Trust’s website  for the latest updates on this major project and on the launching of the new community boat on the Great Ouse at Bedford.
             On past green open spaces, past housing of different styles to the Milton Keynes Marina at Peartree Bridge.
To arrive at this marina as a visitor requires a degree of athleticism. There is a short (about fifteen feet) length of pontoon at right angles to the marina office. The pontoon (who knows why) is an island, the nearer end about four feet away from the land side. Slowly a boat has to be brought in, avoiding collision with the self-hire trip boat on one side and a moored newly painted boat on another. The bow must creep forward until a crew member can lasso a rope around a wobbly little bollard and then clambering  off (in Cleddau’s case), rope in hand, a sloping prow... all very easy for an Olympic gymnast or a person with long legs..
              Now Cleddau is tied up once again in Milton Keynes, enjoying some well-earned R&R after her venture onto the northern reaches of the Shropshire Union Canal at Chester and Ellesmere Port and her navigation of the Droitwich Canals. Plans have yet to be laid as to when the return to the Macc will start.  Just keep a lookout for an email or for a mainly red boat with a Welsh looking name and a Tudor rose on a canal near you...
           Captain's stats: since departure in May - 303 miles, 364 locks and 9 waterways

Monday, 29 July 2013

A cruise in two (unequal) parts

Stoke Bruerne to Cosgrove: 7 miles, 8 locks, 1 aqueduct    
           Onwards, further south to Milton Keynes - not for the shopping, not for the concrete cows, not for a roundabout counting exercise, but to moor the boat for a few days. First to leave pretty Stoke Bruerne..
            Just as Cleddau reached the top lock this morning a lady emerged from one of the cottages. “Are you Kathryn?” Boatwif ventured. “I read your blog.” And so it was – a good chat covering houses and moorings and boats and boaters (and even 2CVs) ensued over the next few minutes...
             There was no lock sharing as Cleddau descended the flight of 7 locks, although there was plenty of upcoming boat traffic.
Stoke Bruerne is a hugely popular area and obviously great pride is taken in the local environment.  Efforts are made to persuade dog walkers to behave responsibly by this
and this.
Towards the lower end of the flight there are some side ponds, no longer in use as water saving reservoirs for the locks, but there is a positive invitation to investigate wildlife.
 Attractive murals created by local children and students ten years ago come as a surprise feature beneath a bridge.
Sturdy weirs are fairly frequent on the long pound below Stoke Bruerne
– a reminder of the shock of coming across sunken boats, trapped debris and flooded fields in the aftermath of the Easter 1998 floods, floods  that were so devastating in Northamptonshire.
               Was it because it was Monday morning that the next few miles were so pleasant? There was no road traffic noise, no train service noise and little boat movement.  Birdsong accompanied the boat in its unhurried progress towards Cosgrove.  There are open views to the right and to the left, in the fields were closely shorn sheep, horses (one in a horse blanket) and cattle,
differing in colour from Cheshire’s black and whites - and there was also a large colony of Canada geese.
          On the northern end of Cosgrove is Bridge 65, the exceptionally graceful Solomon’s Bridge, built in the 1790s in Gothic style.
There was an easy mooring just beyond it – a good place to be in the gathering thunderstorm. Blackening clouds above the church
– and rainwater on the windows!
              Cosgrove Park is a huge static and touring caravan park – with a shop. “It has everything, everything!” emphasised another boater. ”Even tent pegs!” Not needing tent pegs but in search of some lemons and equipped with rucksack, umbrellas and waterproofs an expedition was mounted. Success!
               The clouds were clearing, the sun began to feel steadier and so a move on from under the dark trees mooring was called for. One lock more, a few hundred yards further and a cruise over the Iron Trunk Aqueduct above the river Great Ouse
brought Cleddau to the very boundary of Milton Keynes. Close by is the newly restored aqueduct, modelled on the Pontcysyllte cast iron one. Below is the narrow horse tunnel
– and if you brave the cows there’s a grassy lock
to mark where the canal’s temporary course had once been.               Two boat pics from today: one amusing,(short fella)
one topical!
Tomorrow: last 8 mile stretch to Milton Keynes Marina.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Summer Sunday at Stoke Bruerne

Nether Heyford to Stoke Bruerne: 10 miles, 1 tunnel
           Congrats to Senior Sis who overnight emailed a correct identification of the pretty flag shown yesterday. (See below for details).
           Last night’s storms brought an air change and today has been bright and breezy, with one brief afternoon shower. It was a pleasant enough cruise towards Gayton Junction, the main features being  sheep in the fields, the railway line, the curving course of the canal and a fair number of other boats either moored in marinas or alongside.  En route an old ship’s lifeboat was passed
– and Tegg’s Nose!
At Gayton Junction
there was a moment of realisation. Here the 17 narrow locks of the Rothersthorpe Flight lead down (under the M1 near Junction 15A) to Northampton, onto the River Nene and on to the Middle Levels and even out to the Wash. Today’s mission, however, was to continue on the Grand Union to nearby Blisworth, and on through the third longest navigable canal tunnel...        
           Waterproofs  - CHECKED
          Side hatch doors closed -CHECKED
          Back hatch spotlight – CHECKED
          Cratch lights on – CHECKED
           Internal lights on – CHECKED
           Outdoor adventure nearby (the boy on a swing,
a family trying to clamber over a fallen tree)
was left behind as Cleddau plunged into the 3,076 yards (2,813m) of broad tunnel.
It is high - and frequently wet. Streams drain in to it at various points and water drips (sometimes cascades) down from the air ventilation shafts. Four boats approached and passed without incident. Cleddau emerged at the Stoke Bruerne end about twenty five minutes later
– to a phalanx of cameras. “Could you reverse back and do it again?” joked one photographer.
                 Despite this being a honeypot site a mooring was easily found. Visitors patrol past on the towpath on their way to the blacksmith’s forge
and the tunnel mouth. Questions are asked: engine type, fuel costs, heating arrangements, canal routes... and so on. Little trip boats potter past regularly; a longer trip boat does less frequent through the tunnel return trips. Behind the towpath is a short woodland walk where observant eyes might spot a fox
or even two deer...

          There’s a buzz further along outside the Waterways Museum
and waterside cafe. Gongoozlers, some there for the afternoon it seems in their own deckchairs,
ogle and even assist any boats reaching the last (or the first) of the seven locks. The Old Chapel has been re-launched as Topiary, selling designer gifts and delicious ice-creams. The pubs are busy and beside the second lock a family group of twelve shared a picnic happily.
            To last night’s puzzles: the Captain uses small go-kart tyres as fenders when mooring up against hard edges. At Warwick a rope frayed and a tyre was lost! Solution: attach a U clamp (Midland Chandlers) to the tyre for the rope – so at least the rope shouldn’t fray again!
             As to the flag, yes, Senior Sis, it is the flag of one of the Netherland’s 12 provinces, Friesland.
(No prizes were offered so no need to lurk expectantly by the letterbox!) However, Senior Sis and other Pembrokeshire readers, there was a Monkton Moment* this morning:
            “Oh, Cleddau,” (pronounced correctly, Cleth –i) said the man on a Sea Otter, “did you name it yourself? I’m from Carmarthen!” (Pity the boater from Swansea yesterday who didn’t have the remotest clue...)
Captain's Postscript:
Three flypasts today : a Dragon Rapide and an Avro Anson in close formation, a Chimpmunk and the Red Arrows.
(Tomorrow: down Stoke Bruerne Locks to Cosgrove and the northern end of Milton Keynes)

Saturday, 27 July 2013

A couple of puzzles

Near Norton Junction to  Nether Heyford:  6.75 miles, 7 locks
            It’s been a hot day again, though here in Northamptonshire a mooring was secured about four hours before the storm. Now the rain is in full rage, with thunder and lightning regularly crashing and flashing...
Somehow sunset tonight is unlikely to be as spectacular as last night’s!

           It was a smart turn right at Norton Junction this morning
and about an hour’s pause for servicing before finally the top lock was entered.
Ahead were two working boats breasted together,
cruising the network delivering coal.  It became a leapfrog operation as before lock 2 a displaced rudder on the butty (the unmotorised vessel) needed some engineering adjustment with use of block and tackle.  Later at Weedon Bec the motor appeared towing the butty on a long length of rope.
“Much quieter here on the back,” said a crewman, as the butty noiselessly floated past.              
                 Down the seven heavy Buckby locks Cleddau came, sharing the last two with another boat. The ears had to atune to an increasingly noisy transit: the fast Virgin trains, the M1 motorway – and a nearby go-kart track (where Lewis Hamilton started his career, so a rather inebriated motor fan explained yesterday afternoon).
               “Back in the south,” the Captain soon grumbled. The Grand Union is deep and fairly wide – but it is busy! At the bottom lock there were boats queuing for the locks, boats queuing for fuel, boats lining the towpath moored up. The canal meanders on, the trains still close, the motorway a little further away. Loud reggae music drifted from one moored boat, a small group of appreciators lounging and smoking something nearby on the towpath.
The Captain, analytical as ever, arrives at conclusions:  there are  more grey beards on the back decks, a response to “Hello” or Good morning” is often “You al-right?”, people are less likely to offer help at locks and, worst of all, boaters speed.  It seems private owners are as guilty of speeding past moored boats as hirers. At a bridge hole  this afternoon an oncoming boat left little space for Cleddau to get through: “Haven’t you got a bow thruster then?” asked the helmsman as the Captain executed a slick 'handbrake turn', avoiding both the oncoming boat and the one moored nearby. The arrival through the bridge hole of the following boat, however, was marked by passengers fleeing its front deck and a CRASH into the moored up boat...
There had been a pause at Weedon Bec – a gallop down the 47 steps from the canal to the village,
and although the Tudor Greengrocer was already closed the One Stop wasn’t – and there are some delightful buildings here,
many made from deep bronze coloured local stone.
              Time to moor up, ahead of the threatened rain.  Position the fenders: why is the Captain so pleased with this?

              Another puzzle: this flag was displayed on the stern of a boat at Braunston yesterday.
Which area of Europe does it represent? Answers to both tomorrow...

Tomorrow: past Gayton Junction, through the Blisworth Tunnel to or below Stoke Bruerne