Sunday, 9 February 2014

Storm dodging

The waterlogged towpath at Braunston
We have spent the last few days in a largely successful game of dodge-the-storms, moving up from just south of Bugbrooke to Braunston where we are now moored.
We set off on Thursday from our back of beyond mooring and stopped at Bugbrooke for lunch and - I hoped - a foray to the village shop for this rural stretch of the Grand Union is bereft of anything resembling a town.
Bugbrooke is quite a sizeable village of pretty honey coloured stone cottages but the village shop is more dead than alive and we came out with our shopping list largely unticked.
Soon it was raining and our lunch stop became an all-day stop. With provisions running low what better excuse then than to nip across the canal for dinner at The Wharf - a modern-ish pub (or 'bar-restaurant' as it calls itself).
It's a big boozer but cosier than you'd expect inside. The menu wasn't overly encouraging though with a worryingly pretentious sprinkling of 'jus' and 'bed of' as well as some courses that sounded decidedly the weird side of innovative - like a steak and ale pie with the ingredients in tortilla wraps rather than good old pastry.
And when the main courses arrived on square plates – gawd how our hearts sank! Especially with Vicky's rib of beef and mash served in a Lego tower of ingredients and my pork belly sitting amid stripes of yellow and red.
BUT, but they actually tasted bloody good. We swallowed the food and with it our preconceptions. It was damned decent fare.
Unlike last night's meal at The Plough in Braunston which, sadly, was desperate. A sorry, dried up looking piece of lasagne and a burger - big and wholesome but desperately overcooked. The chips were chunky and good though. And the beer was fine. After the rugby watching crowd left we found ourselves alone in the bar until an hour or more later the place started to come to life again. But this is a village pub which is clearly struggling. Sad to see.
In between the two dinners we went up the seven Buckby locks - still as heavy and awkwardly spaced for the lockwheeler (me!) then through the Braunston Tunnel, completely dry inside in contrast to Blisworth, and down the six Braunston locks. The towpath most of the way varying from simply muddy to utterly waterlogged and flooded. Brian the dog point blank refused to walk on it a couple of times. I think he fears for his undercarriage in the mud and water.
Tomorrow, weather permitting, it's a gentle jaunt up to Rugby.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Whatever the weather

We get cabin fever when we've hung around too long in one place so a couple of days ago we decided that, damn the weather, we'd head off north from Milton Keynes.
We had a new plan - I like a plan - and that was to get through Buckby Locks before they shut for maintenance, then Braunston and up the North Oxford to Rugby. The only thing against us was the weather.
Yesterday, despite the forecasters tales of woe, was delightful - bitingly cold in the wind but bright, sunny. A perfect winter's day. We looped round the edge of Milton Keynes then through Wolverton where the old railway sheds that were cloaked in scaffolding when we were last here have re-appeared all redeveloped while retaining their original structures in an award winning £65m scheme, with blocks of modern flats built opposite.
Apparently Wolverton was the world's first railway town and the works were there because it was mid-distance between London and Birmingham. A rather sorry for itself looking and vegetation shrouded cast iron canal bridge was the original line into the works and built by Robert Stephenson. It's Grade II* listed - and deserves to be better kept than it is.
At Cosgrove the canal travels on an aqueduct over the River Great Ouse and the extent of the river flooding in all directions made us gasp.
Last night we moored at the foot of the seven Stoke Bruerne locks and listened to dire warnings of storm force winds and heavy rain. Well the winds were about this morning but where was the rain? Eventually we decided to chance it and went up the locks teamed with another madcap boater. They really were on a mission – aiming to reach Chester by the 17th. Of February.
Stoke Bruerne was shut (museum and cafe that is) so we pressed on through the Blisworth Tunnel. And still the rain hadn't fallen. In the end I got wetter in the tunnel than outside - huge quantities of water were cascading down from the tunnel ventilation shafts as well as pouring in through drainage holes in the walls.
Tonight the rain has finally reached us and the winds are fiercer still, rattling the doors and windows. But we are safely moored up somewhere in the countryside just short of Bugbrooke.
It's been quite a couple of days!