Sunday, 26 January 2014

The past is another country

Spectacular rainbow near Ivinghoe
And one that is rapidly disappearing in the mists of time. This entry, then, is one intended to try and clear those mists in my own head before a complete and irreversible fog descends. (Since I haven't posted since early November I doubt anyone out there will be still following our snail-like progress through winter so this is a just a brief memo to brain on where we are now and how we got here.)
Let's work backwards - it's easier to try and fill in the mental gaps that way. We're are now in Milton Keynes and have been for virtually a week. Getting here was a slow dawdle up the Grand Union, with various breaks for family visits, after we finally left London where we had been pottering between Paddington Basin, Kensal Green and Greenford becoming steadily disenchanted with the squalor and mess along large parts of the Paddington Arm of the canal.
Modelling my smart 'onesy'
In Uxbridge I tried with only partial success to cure a persistent fuel leak from the JP's fuel filter before we finally left the cityscape for the countryside, wandering past Denham, spending a couple of days in Watford, then the edge of Hemel
Hempstead - a sprawling old new-town looking very scruffy around parts by the canal - before reaching Berkhamsted, which is exactly the opposite: a compact and extremely affluent commuter belt town, full of boutique shops and up-market restaurants. All the same, the canal which was once a big part of the place's prosperity is still embraced with some decent pubs and tidy towpaths.
Canalside Christmas lights in Berkhamsted
There are a lot of locks on the climb out of London but by Cowroast we had gone through 45 and were at the summit of the canal. And not once did we find ourselves sharing one of the locks with another boat - so few boats seem to travel at all in the winter months.
We found  wide locks on our own a trial in our little boat, Star, but in the 55ft Harry we were untroubled - a bit more boat length and a lot more experience in working paddles to keep the boat pinned to the side in the filling locks made the difference.
Slightly nervously we left the boat moored over Christmas and New Year at the end of the summit level, at the top of the Marsworth locks. Fortunately all was well on our return - except it was bloody cold inside and took a good day or two to warm up properly.
Winter cruising on an empty Grand Union
In bright winter sunshine we spent a couple of days walking round the Marsworth reservoirs that feed the canal before moving on - downhill now - and turning into the narrowbeam Aylesbury Arm. The Arm was shut for most of last year because of a lock collapse. It's a lock right alongside the gigantic £150m new Arla milk processing plant. Seemingly the earthworks for the building of the plant and the collapse of the lock are unconnected. Hmmm.
Last time we did this 17-locks each way trip it was to moor at the Aylesbury Canal Society's moorings at the terminus of the Arm. Since then their site has been sold for redevelopment and the Society now has a very smart new home on the edge of town - and still welcomes visitors. It's a state of the art place with a clubhouse and dry docks being built and impressive moorings. We liked the place (and the super-friendly members) so much we joined the Society.
The giant Arla dairy plant by the Aylesbury Arm
Back on the main line the next port of call was Leighton Buzzard, after a one-day stop near Ivinghoe. A curious place is LB: there's a useful canalside Tesco and even more useful Aldi if you don't like Tesco prices but the general sprawl is unappealing. Walk into the small town centre and you discover a completely different LB - a bourgeois little High Street of niche shops like ice cream makers, chocolatiers, specialist bakers and boutiques. No recession here, then.
Finally, via overnights at  Soulbury and Stoke Hammond we did the long drag into Milton Keynes where we are now, on the edge of Campbell Park and just beyond the start of the proposed Bedford-Milton Keynes Waterway.

1 comment:

  1. We're planning a trip down the Aylesbury arm in April, so a few details, please. Are there visitor moorings outside the new society basin, or do you have to go in? And did you go right to the end, and if so what's the situation there at the moment? Many thanks.