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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Monday 24th November.

Slapton to Below Seabrook Locks, near Cheddington, 2.3 miles and 5 locks
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With the wintry weather being so unpredictable at the moment, to wake up to a dry, grey morning was pretty acceptable. We had heard rain thumping on the back cabin roof during the early hours, so we were both expecting it to be a wet start to the day. Having crawled out of a nice warm bed, I got both of the fires going after they had been dampened down overnight. A few twigs soon got them both springing back into life and once more the cabin was nice and warm. Having done all the usual morning things, we were ready to set off from our mooring at 9.45am. The breeze was already getting up and the sky was darkening overhead, so we had to hope that it would not pour down.
The first lock of the day was Slapton Lock (7’1”) and with no one around to share it with we were on our own once more. We did encounter a Wyvern hire boat at the top, but he was taking on water. A long this stretch of the Grand Union Canal, are some stunning views across the Chilterns and Dunstable Downs. On Dunstable Downs you get a fabulous view of the Whipsnade White Lion, which at the moment is looking a little grey, probably due to all the wet weather we have been having.The lion was cut in 1935 and is over 480ft long. It is certainly very impressive looking even from the canal. He looks like he is the protector of the Downs. You can also see Ivinghoe Beacon. As we headed onward towards the Ivinghoe Locks, we were really aware of the wind increasing in speed, with wide open spaces to the locks Hadar was certainly getting blown around. Having opened the gates to the first of the Ivinghoe Locks, another boat was coming down to the lock; at first I did not recognise the boat or its owners. I got chatting to the lady who had come to work the paddles with me, along with a very friendly Spaniel, who thought I was now his best friend because I kept throwing his stick for him to chase. As the boat drew up on the lock bollards it soon became clear that it was N.B Nobby. We had seen the boat before in passing but had never had the chance to chat to Ian and Allison, so it was lovely to be able to introduce ourselves to each other. We sold them some coal and spent a while chatting on the towpath about our boats and their old engines.N.B Nobby is a beautiful looking boat built by Barry Hawkins and it is clear it is their pride and joy. Like us Ian and Allison are continual cruisers and are heading for Braunston for Christmas. We will no doubt see them again near Braunston for Christmas, when we make tracks back. Now as many boaters know, when you meet up with other boaters and get chatting, you always pass on any news. Allison asked where we were heading for and I told her the Aylesbury Arm. She very kindly informed me that there was a stoppage at Lock 7 from the 17th November till the 5th December, so that has now changed our plans of going up the arm, not that we have any hard and fast plans. As continuous cruisers it never pays to make to many plans. So having spent some time nattering we said our goodbyes and wished each other well before leaving for the locks once more. We decided that after the first of the Seabrook treble locks we would stop for lunch as it was 12.15pm. Having moored up, it was plain to see that the weather was beginning to close in and the wind was getting ever stronger, so we made the decision not to go any further today, after all we are in no hurry to be anywhere. Keith also wanted to check online about the lock stoppage on the Aylesbury Arm, which proved to be correct, so we will not be going up to Aylesbury this trip, many thanks to Allison for the information. The thought is that we will now go up to Marsworth Junction, wind and take a very slow meander back to Braunston for Christmas, but nothing is set in concrete, so we shall see.

Tuesday 25th November.

Below Seabrook Locks to Below Marsworth Locks.


It is a month now until Christmas, what a dreadful thought huh?
How many of you are actually ready early for the festive season?
We have absolutely no plans whatsoever for Christmas, the only thing we do know is that we will be heading for the Oxford Canal. All’s we have bought so far is the duck for Christmas dinner, so it shows how ready we are. To be honest Christmas is so over rated; it is all about spending lots of money and over eating. Somewhere the meaning of Christmas has got lost in the translation, and therefore holds very little excitement for us these days. Ok enough about Christmas.
Paddy and I stepped off the boat to a bright, crisp frosty morning, it was really bracing in a wonderful way. So we walked up past the second of the Seabrook locks, Paddy enjoyed a nice run off of the lead, whilst I just enjoyed the fresh, clear air that a frost always brings with it. Once back on the boat we had porridge and a cuppa, before getting ready to set off at 9.55am. The second of the Seabrook Locks was ready for us with one of the gates already open to welcome Hadar into its chamber. Now due to a heavy frost, it was a little slippery under foot, so care had to be taken when shutting the heavy gates.The Grand Union Canal Locks are really magnificent locks, even if at times the gates can prove difficult to open and shut. Of course the work is made much easier if you are sharing with another boat, but we had not had that luxury since arriving on the Grand Union.Keith and I manage as we have a pretty good system for working the locks, so with us both doing our jobs, it takes us no time at all. Having left the Seabrook treble, I saw a boat was coming in the opposite direction, through the swing bridge, so I left the lock gate open for them and walked on up to the swing bridge. After the swing bridge we got flagged down by a boat wanting coal, so we pulled in to unloaded 5 bags of Taybrite for them. Just as we were sorting things out Sid and Doreen on N.B Elidir came past heading in the same direction as us, so we agreed to share the locks up to Marsworth Junction, where we would both be using the sanitary station and winding. This was our first opportunity to share locks with anyone on this trip which was great. On the approach to the first lock, we noticed something floating in the canal; it turned out to be a deer, which was very sad. Doreen worked the first lock whilst I went ahead to set the second.Doreen and I enjoyed a good natter whilst doing the locks, and discovered that we had actually seen each other earlier in the year, either on the Grand Union or the Thames, neither of us could remember which one it was. You see so many boats and meet so many people sometimes it is hard to remember. On leaving the second of the locks, there is a lovely lock cottage dating back to 1909.Just the sort of place I would love to live if I did not live on the water. It has some stunning views across the valley, where you could watch the seasons change. Both boats left the lock and we were both heading for the Marsworth sanitary station, they needed water and we needed to empty the loo cassettes and get rid of rubbish, so we agreed that we would pull in first, whilst they winded and then we would swap places, but when we got to the sanitary station there was already a boat moored up taking on water. It was Steve and Maggie on N.B Zygnema. We first met them in Paddington Basin back in May, so it was wonderful to catch up with them again. We managed to pull in, in front of them, and got chatting after we had done the jobs we had stopped for. Steve and Maggie bought some coal off of us as they reckoned we were £1.50 cheaper than the marina they had bought from before, which is a lot of money when you are buying six bags at a time. Having caught up on all their news, N.B Elidir had winded and was ready to come in for water, so Keith cast off and took Hadar down to the winding point, whilst I continued to chat with Maggie. Once they were filled with water, they were on their way and we left Sid and Doreen to fill up. We headed back to the Marsworth pair and stopped at the first of the pair, to wait for Sid and Doreen so we could share the locks back down, but after half an hour and lunch we thought they must have decided to stop for lunch themselves, so carried on down the pair of locks and moored up for the rest of the day. With the engine turned off, we were able to get out of our winter clothing. I then stoked the fires, washed down the gunwales, brushed the mats and hung out the mog and dogs bedding before settling down to a coffee. Not long after Sid and Doreen on N.B Elidir came past going back to their winter mooring. We will surely see them again on our way back to Braunston. The day has been a perfect one; we had great weather, good company and a few laughs along the way that is a perfect day in anyone’s book.

Wednesday 26th November.

Marsworth Locks to North of Leighton Lock, near the Globe Inn. 8.7 miles 10 locks
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A dull, overcast day with practically no wind was the best the day could offer, but we made up for it with a lovely days cruising. I will not bore you with all the details of the trip. But we did do a couple of the locks with N.B Faraday, who we had met a couple of days previous, when they flagged us down for coal. You really need to cruise the Grand Union Canal to appreciate its stunning beauty even at this time of the year. Like many boaters we get asked so many questions about life on the water, but today I got asked one that was a first for me. The question by a gentleman walking the towpath with his dog was “Don’t you get fed up with looking at the same old fields, trees and with the weather”. I looked at him a little stunned and said “How could anyone get fed up with, the stunning beauty of this canal or any other canal for that matter”. After he went on his way, it got me thinking about what he had said and there is nothing that would change what Keith and I have right now. Every day we see something new. I would have loved him to see the sights we saw today. Not only did we see the stunning scenery, we watched as a Heron perched on the handrail at Horton Lock, it did not attempt to fly off even as Keith bought Hadar in to the Lock, when it did move it only flew a yard or two to the wall of the bridge, watching us all the time. I bet he has never seen that. We saw a squirrel whilst moored outside of Tesco at Leighton Buzzard, a couple of Kingfishers on route, but the best sighting of the day was the Muntjac deer from our overnight mooring near the Globe Inn on the outskirts of Linslade. Keith spotted it first in a field opposite our boat and called me out to look, and there it was walking across an open field. Sadly the photograph is not very clear, the camera found it hard to focus in the fading light.
This is the first sighting we have had of a Muntjac so were pretty excited. I shall be listening out for its distinctive bark later on. So having seen all of that and having met some nice people along the way, how on earth could we get bored?
Before we stopped for the night, we did stop off in Leighton Buzzard, as I need to go to Argos to buy a new pair of earrings. A few days ago I lost one of mine and therefore needed a replacement pair. I don’t know about anyone else who wears earrings, but I feel undressed without mine. I have been wearing earrings since I was 9 years old. I am not one for continually changing my earrings, I buy one pair and wear them until I either lose them or they break, then I buy another pair. But it has felt odd without them in.
Once we had moored up for the night we took a walk down to the Globe Inn to see what their menu had to offer, and to book a table for dinner. Keith remembers the Globe Inn from his early days on the canal, when it still had stabling for the boatman’s horse; these days that stabling has been made a part of the Inn.

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