Thursday, 23 October 2014

A Great Autumn Day.

Warm but overcast, today’s journey was excellent and we made very good progress.

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Our first delight was this beautiful lock keepers cottage at Leighton Lock with, what looks like, all original features.

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Wonderful wide open spaces  between Grove and Church Locks as we head away from Leighton Buzzard.

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At Slapton Lock there’s a “boater’s herb garden” behind the seat if you need the odd sprig of something – kindly kept by the people in the lock cottage we presume.

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Further on and we saw the flattest fields you could imagine.  Fields of turf as far as we could see, all mown to perfection.

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We’ve used this picture before but it’s just a perfect ‘chocolate box’ canal picture (airbrush out the nasty blue boat though!)

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For fourteen of today’s nineteen locks we teamed up with a lovely couple, Miriam and Eddie on nb “My Precious”.  A good contender in the competition for the shiniest boat!

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Here’s Miriam and Eddie with two of their friends who arrived to help us up the Marsworth flight of 7 locks.

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After scaling the Marsworth flight, and arriving on the Tring Summit a lot earlier than expected (thanks to Miriam, Eddie and friends), we had the wonderful surprise of meeting friends and fellow bloggers Jaq and Les on nb “Valerie”.  It was great to see them both looking so good and after a quick catch-up chat we were back on our way ……..  

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…….. through the the lovely autumn coloured Tring Cutting.

P1070605We’ve moored at bridge 29 next to Tring railway station for the night as Doug needs to catch a train in the morning to collect the car.  With a lot of leaves now off the trees the cutting isn’t as dark as it could be.  With the thick carpet of leaves on the ground it’s even more important to use the day-glo pin covers to stop anybody going “A over T”!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Hurricane!–what hurricane?

It was difficult to believe that only yesterday we were being buffeted by the remains of a hurricane – today it was bright sunshine, warm and not even a breeze.

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Within five hundreds yards from last night’s mooring we passed over the Ouse Aqueduct with only the low, narrow edge of the iron trough to stop us joining the River Ouse 30 feet below.  The aqueduct was constructed in 1881 and was the forth attempt at bridging the river. 

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From aqueduct to viaduct, on the outskirts of Milton Keynes we crossed over Grafton Street, now a  busy dual carriageway. It must be very strange for drivers to see a narrow boat in the air. 

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It’s difficult to portray Milton Keynes in a few photos – from the canal it’s green and pleasant, especially on such a lovely autumn day.

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An unsuspecting James in a ‘trance’, just managing to keep the sun from his eyes, is about to enjoy a custard tart and a mug of coffee.

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James was rudely awakened from his trance by the approach of  “Valhalla”, an awesome looking wide beam, very stealth-like and cleverly designed, the front is low and crouching ……

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…… and the rear is huge and threatening and the engine sounds like it should be powering a Sherman tank!  We last saw this boat earlier this year in Abingdon on the River Thames.

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Milton Keynes is peppered with lovely old buildings sitting a little uncomfortably next to modern constructions. Next to this  idyllic setting is the massive bridge taking the A5 over the canal.

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Out of a very pleasant Milton Keynes (which seems to go on forever!) we were soon going up in the world in Fenny Stratford Lock (by all of 18 inches!).  It has a swing bridge over the middle of it  just to add a touch of interest.

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The only thing between us now and our desired moorings for the night near Old Linslade was the Soulbury Three Locks.  The lower pound is known to overflow and flood the pub if we boaters don’t fill and empty the locks correctly. Needless to say the pub stayed dry on this occasion!

We’ve now safely moored up, as desired, on the wonderfully named  three mile long Jackdaw Pound near Old Linslade, the sunshine we’ve had for most of the day has now changed to a light drizzle so it’s another cosy night by the fire.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

We meet “our” hurricane again!

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On Monday morning we left our blissful mooring on the Buckby lock flight and continued to the bottom of the flight in lovely bright sunshine.

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The M1 follows the canal for a good mile and a half around the Buckby locks and beyond but it was a hollow pleasure to look across and know that we were travelling infinitely faster than the stand still traffic.

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After passing through Weedon Bec and the pretty little hamlet of Flore Lane we got to Bugbrooke where fellow bloggers Yvonne and Roger on nb “Fizzical Attraction” were moored.  We’re sorry it was only a quick ‘hello’ as we had another boat on our heals. (we also forgot to mention previously that we had another quick ‘hello’ with a fellow bloggers nb Ewn ha Cul at Braunston the other day).

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Junctions on canals don’t come along that often and, even though deserted, Gayton Junction added a little extra ‘something’ to the journey.

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Another highlight along this stretch of canal is the handsome Blisworth Mill. Some very nice cottages have been built on the opposite side and are well in keeping with the area.

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The blue brick entrance to Blisworth’s 3076 yard tunnel heralds another bit of excitement on our journey.  Having seen just a handful of boats all day we met three of them inside the tunnel!  

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On the other side of a very wet Blisworth tunnel we arrived in Stoke Bruerne where we made the rapid decision to do the Stoke flight of 7 locks before mooring up at the bottom.  After a nice walk back up the flight in the evening we had a pint in The Boat Inn (very unwelcoming barman!) and then a superb meal in the “Spice of Bruerne” Indian restaurant opposite. (20 year old Kaiser, one of the waiters, is a real hoot!)

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Today our old hurricane friend from the Atlantic last week caught up with us again.  We stayed on our moorings until 12:30 as the winds were too strong for comfort but then decided to try our luck along the lockless 6 1/2 miles to Cosgrove.  Doug did a bit of walking while James “crabbed” his way along the less protected stretches of water.

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Captions welcome!

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The view across the fields at Cosgrove belies the windy conditions.  Getting through the lock was a matter of precise timing – Doug jumped off and ran ahead to set the lock while James took it as gently as the wind would allow, only to arrive at the precise moment Doug opened the gate. Lucky!  Being pinned against the lock landing by the wind wasn’t a pleasant thought. 

We’re now moored between the lock and the River Ouse Aqueduct with the wind still blowing hard.  We’ve walked into Wolverton and back for some supplies and are now back on “Chance” cosy and warm for the night.  A very good day all told.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Back to smaller things.

With a 36 hour turn around at home we left on Saturday evening and got to “Chance” in Brinklow marina at 10 pm.  It was a strange feeling to think that only a week ago we were in Canada!  

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At 8:30 this morning we were wending our way towards Braunston.  The top lock at Hilmorton was our last single lock of the year.  Taking a month out of our canal cruising to go ocean cruising has delayed us somewhat.  The intention was to enjoy the delights of the Oxford canal and the River Thames again this year but, with other commitments, we’ve changed the plan to the Grand Union and avoiding the chance of the Thames misbehaving itself this late in the season.

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We really didn’t expect the amount of traffic we encountered today –  even during the summer it wasn’t as busy.  

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The sunshine was glorious, which probably accounts for the number of boats around – although this picture gives a rather different view.

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Although we had sunshine in excess the strong wind got very tiresome.  The major works at the entrance to Braunston marina was supposed to be “coned off” by white buoys but they had been blown all over the canal and looked a bit like a canoe slalom!

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We joined forces with a delightful couple going up through the Braunston lock flight – sadly we can’t remember their names or the name of the boat!

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Once through the Braunston tunnel and out of the trees it’s always novel to look across the fields and see the Leicester Arm of the GU (and the moored boats) approaching from the left to meet up at Norton Junction.

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Before calling it a day we decided to tackle the top lock of the Buckby flight – the weather was so good there were people sitting outside the New Inn next to the lock.  After a nine hour journey today we moored up at 5 o’ clock in the pound below the lock, lit the stove, put on the dinner and hunkered down for the night.  A great day!

Friday, 17 October 2014

We Survived!

On Wednesday, after the fuss and bother of a mere hurricane, we were at last allowed outside on the decks…….

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…… the rear deck had been tidied and all the sun loungers had been restacked.  The swimming pool had been emptied before the storm for safety reasons of course ……..

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…… but there were signs all around that we’d been ravaged by natures awesome power.  Just outside this picture the blue panelling had been stripped off the walls.

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But, typically British, at a time like this we had a cup of tea and some chocolate cake.  This was the regular “chocoholics tea party”, with every conceivable chocolate-based confection you could think of.  Velroy, one of our favourite waiters, is keen to increase our weight even further!

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This is Jose another very kind and friendly crew member.

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On Wednesday evening, Michael, one of the “4tunes” (the incredibly talented quartet of singers on board to entertain us) had his birthday.  As normal, the whole restaurant, and all the available waiters, gathered to sing “Happy Birthday”. 

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Also on Wednesday evening we had the “Chef’s Parade”.  The one chance we get to show our gratitude to these wonderful people (and they move quite fast too!)

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Later still, with full bellies, the “crème de la crème” (Bill & Jill, Andrew & Chris, Paul & Sandra, bubbly Jess from the Art Gallery, James, Lyne and Jim, and in the front: Ben, also from the Art Gallery.  In the background are Old Uncle Tom Cobbly and All waiting for the very last performance of this particular troop of Headliners – and a fabulous performance it was too.

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After the show we were able to meet up with four of the Headliners before they went off to relax.  Jay (dancer), Scott and James (singer/dancers) and Luke. 

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We have a soft spot for entertainments officer Abbie, who scrubs up quite well from her daytime activities!

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If we’re not seeing a show during the evening we usually visit the Crow’s Nest bar, at the front of the ship, where our friend (and bar steward) Dolreich and his boss Hemant look after us very well.

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The “creme de la creme” (we do do things separately sometimes!) often take part in the Syndicate Quiz in the Crow’s Nest, where Dolreich bosses us about and tends to our every need (and where we never win! )

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Our last drink together before docking in Southampton on Friday morning – and we’re not going to name everyone again!

Well, we’ve had 25 nights of glorious fun and adventure.  We’ve travelled some 7500 miles through fair weather and foul and we’d do it all again tomorrow (but we’re not). Friday morning our very obliging  neighbour Nigel picked us up from the cruise terminal and we were in doors and unpacking by 09:30. Can’t be bad.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Lull before the Storm.

Life on board, as we traverse the Atlantic Ocean, goes on apace with much socialising, wining and dining.

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We are regularly treated to a champagne reception by Whitewall galleries – this one is for a promotion of the artist Fabien Perez and the collectors of his work.

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Jess, the bubbly and wonderful art specialist, is never happier than when she’s ‘entertaining’ her customers.

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During sea days we get the opportunity (and the time to prepare) to dine in the appropriate way.  Here we are again, the cream at the top of the passenger list, Paul, Sandra, Bill, James, Andrew, Chris, Doug and Jill. 

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On the same evening, with our bellies full, on the way to the theatre for another amazing show, Headliners performing “Killer Queen”.  It’s a real pity that we can’t make any form of recording of the theatre performances because they really are of West End quality.

On Sunday evening our luck with the weather ran out and the ship began negotiating some really bad sea conditions.

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By Monday morning we were experiencing hurricane force winds (force 12) directly onto the port side …….

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……. with very heavy seas.  Moving about the ship wasn’t impossible but sitting or lying down was the preferred option!  The Crow’s Nest bar, at the front of the ship, was a bit like an Alton Towers ride and not for the faint-hearted and the guest speaker in the theatre had to give her talk sitting down (with her glass of water sliding around in front of her!).

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By Tuesday afternoon the winds had died down to force 4 but the heavy swell was causing the ship to roll quite dramatically, even with the stabilisers deployed.

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Nevertheless, life aboard is still good with everything to be glad about.  Talk about waiting for a bus then two come along – it’s the same with waiters! (Only joking – these wonderful people are at our side at a moments notice)  This is Roland, Hemant and, of course, our friend Dolreich in the Crow’s Nest bar.