A short walk for Murk before bundling him into the brightly lit boat as we disappeared into Crick tunnel. At 1397m long it’s not as long as Harecastle or Blisworth so it didn’t feel completely other world like. Amazed not to pass anyone as the water leading to the tunnel entrance had been crazy busy. Out the other side and into Crick festival territory, just a month late. Last June we walked the same stretch of towpath completely bamboozled by the whole boat thing, random signs with peculiar mooring rules, peeking through windows and seeing people watching tv – a whole world we’d never experienced down South.
Moored and headed into Crick for the Co-op, so stocked up on the way back the bags for life wanted to give up the ghost. A waterstop followed by an afternoon of beautiful countryside, passed Yelvertoft Marina, a lovely retro and uncomplicated feel about the place. Continued for a couple of miles before mooring opposite field of cows. Dry and warm and smelling like summer.
Heavy rain, so for the first part of today we wiped our hand across the condensation and waved at drenched boaters. By lunch cupboards were cleaned, bread baked and engine stuff done.
Rain radar finally promised a gap so we untied, moved on round the bend and joined the queue for Watford locks. A flight of seven with a staircase of four running up the middle. First time we’ve ever properly queued for locks and our first single locks since unleashing though Isis onto red boards back in April. All whole Kennet and Avon, River Wey and lower Grand Union of double locks has been muscle-building, we can practically open these gates with a couple of fingers.
So a fair bit of waiting and a lot of talking meant we didn’t emerge from the top lock until late afternoon, by which time it was raining again. Moored for a little more engine work. Thought we’d found a butchers, getting SO boring we actually phoned ahead to find Saturday opening hours only be told the number is no longer recognised, that’s no then. All Around Me managed to offer up ‘Heart of England Co-operative Society’, sounds exciting, nope just a Co-op, conformed by the massive funeral deal banner on the website. Hope they have trolleys.
Moved up to Whilton Marina where we stocked up on exciting things like oil, paint, light bulbs and filters. The boat is beginning transformation to a dazzling LED palace, with an astonishing 34 lights, and our current halogen bulbs using 10 times as much energy as their replacements we’ll have the power to shine out for miles around. Filled with diesel and pumped out – a self-serve, with clear inspection chamber – our favourite, genuinely do like that. All sorted, we began Whilton locks with a couple we were moored next to in Ellesmere last Autumn. Turned right, down the Leicester Branch. Moored at Watford Gap Services and walked over the link bridge to meet up with Mummy, treading carefully to get back through the lorry park and onto the boat for coconut cake, it didn’t have quite the same appeal as Guildford Meadow but always lovely to catch up. Over the bridge again, bound for Sussex Mummy rejoined the 80mph gang and we wandered into the services, due to lack of food we might enjoy some fine dining tonight… Gourmet Burger or maybe even Maccy D:( Closest butchers: 7 locks, 5 miles and a tunnel, and the forecast is heavy rain.
Moved the boat a little way along and moored in a down pour, opposite a sorry looking field of cut hay.
So many boats about, see one and then wait for the other. Never far from the M1 at the moment. Surprised to see Reckless, star of ‘The Boat That Guy Built’, hardly seems any time ago we watched the series every Sunday and figured there might be more potential in narrowboating than we’d previously thought. Currently moored near Furnace Wharf…managed to peer in the port hole as we passed, the William Morris wallpaper is still hanging.
With the canal so busy we figured there might be a queue for the water point, delighted to find it empty, finally, after nine months we came up with a plan to halve the time of a tank fill.
A troublesome dodgy looking packet of sausages has sat in the back of the fridge for the last week. Unfortunately, after leaving the canal twice today in search of something more edible, we had to eat them. Dinner was described as queasy, yum.
Woken by an eager early mover. By the time we were up and ready to go a boat had appeared from the bottom lock – the joy of lock hanging. Helped through the first lock by a very diligent volunteer, soon out and left to our own devices…up and moored just below Stoke Bruerne before eleven. Walked into the heart, an idyllic step back in time. Lunch back at the boat then off for the Canal Museum experience – rock and roll. And we loved it, best £4.75 spent up the Grand Union so far: audio guide, artefacts, information pack, gift shop, cinematic experience for one all crammed into the old corn mill providing fantastic views over the locks.
Up through the final of the seven locks, suddenly we were part of the bustle people come to see. Just ten minutes later seemed to be out most people’s walking range, there wasn’t a soul about as we plunged into Blisworth Tunnel. By 1795 the canal
from Braunston had reached Blisworth on the north side of the hill, five years later the canal from London reached the south side. The canal either had to go over or under the stubborn high hill stood in between. In 1805 Blisworth Tunnel opened. No towpath ever ran through, meaning boats had to be legged the entire 1.75 miles, before steam powered tugs came along introducing the problem of fumes.
Wide enough for two-way traffic a spot of light in the distance steadily grew brighter, a boat headed our way. Blinded by the light, we heard shouts from the oncoming crew…an unreasurring countdown to possible impact for their guy on the tiller, nice. Focussed on staying tight to the wall for our part, the boats passed in a sudden burst of activity, before mist and darkness returned.
Brilliant fun, loved every minute of the trip, the cratch was a particularly curious place to be, silence away from the engine.
Hot outside we carried on before mooring with fields all around, daylight seemingly lasting forever there was still time to wash the boat.
Set off through the remainder of Milton Keynes. Soon perched 60ft high on top of the Cosgrove aqueduct, looking down on the River Ouse and out for miles around. Known as the ‘Iron Trunk’ it was built in 1811, the cast iron trough aqueduct replaced a failed brick structure. Pulled in on a lockside waterpoint at Cosgrove, causing maximum chaos when a mass of boats arrived. Stopped for lunch above the lock, quick trip to the park market, where we found genuine fresh rolls, yipeeee. On again, wound though some beautiful Northamptonshire countryside, moored at the bottom of Stoke Bruerne locks.
Begrudgingly left Bletchley. Prior to our web research we’d figured a Bletchley Park visit would be interesting. Scrolling through the gumf, tickets weighed in at £15, yikes really? That’s budget denting. Clicked on. To justify the hefty £15 price tag Nick reckoned there would need to be heart thumping, spine tingling, stomach churning rides (?!) – nope not a ride in sight. From information gleaned there are basically a few Nissan huts and some very dodgy looking manikins, perhaps we’re not the clientele they’re trying to attract – passed that one by.
Just a few minutes of travelling before the outskirts of Milton Keynes had closed in on us. Unbelievably windy and pretty cold, quite a few boats about, everyone having to keep a certain amount of speed on in order to stay straight. There’s not so much to say about Milton Keynes that hasn’t been said before, the winding canal smashes the uniformity. Felt as though we spent the entire day looping round, then somehow back round the same section; like riding the lazy rapids of Jurrasic Park River Adventure, eagerly awaiting the main event…for six hours.
An evening stop at Leighton Buzzard Tesco stop saw us leave with a well stocked boat this morning. Hatch flung back, Nick was straight into ‘mode social’, he’s like a wind up bunny these days. Pouring down with rain, have decided that for summertime shorts are best no matter what the weather as legs are kind of waterproof. A set of three locks then down through one of the double bridges built in readiness for expansion to dual carriageway canals, before the railway put a stop to that idea.
Pulled in at Willowbridge marina, very happy to find a chandlery selling useful boat stuff rather than Veuve Clicquot and captain hats found on the Thames. Mission was to remove a sheered bolt and replace it with a new not sheered one, the job escalated, many many bolts had to be removed in order to clear the sheered half, spanners were lost to the water etc but it’s done. Milton Keynes is just round the corner…
Headed off in the drizzle, past farm yards and fields peppered with bales of haylage. Shared the second lock before stopping for a water top up. Back into real narrowboat country now, not a cruiser in sight. Tied up outside Grove Lock, shut The Murkster away and set off in search of Bridego Bridge, used in the Great Train Robbery. The rocket science idea of covering the green signal with a box, replacing it with a battery operated red light paid off, the train stopped, it was then moved along to Bridego Bridge where swag bags were lowered into waiting Landrovers. Wing mirrors flying past us at 80mph it wasn’t too long before the camera flashed away. Attempted a short cut back to the canal, scrambled down through wire and grot before ducking under a bridge, surprised to find two people about to get busy with cans of spray paint. ‘You got the wrong bridge’, they called after us. Yeh right. Back at the boat we googled and sure enough we had twenty photos of some random railway bridge.
Now irrationally determined to find Bridego Bridge we set off, amongst the lorries, in the other direction. A mile and a half later we stood looking at bridge 127. Quiet today, quite bonkers to think of all the action that took place, and soon after games of Monopoly played with real money, followed by the discovery of a finger print on a bottle of ketchup…lives reinvented with fake passports and Parisian plastic surgeons, lived out in brilliantly shady places like Rio, Acapulco and Las Vegas.
Turned out from the Wendover Arm, back onto the main line and into Marsworth top lock. Helped all the way down the flight by a great volunteer who attacked the locks like a man possessed, seeing us through in no time. Got talking to a lovely couple at the bottom who are thinking of living life on the water, they were subjected to the boat tour. Pulled up for a water fill by the currently closed Aylesbury Arm. Lazy boaters in abundance today with gates left open and paddles up, thankfully every one was for us, making light work of the afternoon. Talking to a guy at one lock when I realised he was on one of the only other two boats we set foot on before buying ours. Stopped just short of Linslade having read our Nicholson. Tied up next to fields full of sheep, with views over the Chilterns, snifter hour was spent feeding enormous fish while the hazy sky grew pink. Another night without a fire or central heating, the summer essential is the midge screens, we forgot them a couple of evenings ago and paid the price; not so sure about the fan that sits motionless at the bottom of the bed…think it’s day’s are numbered.