Chasing Dragons in Beds and Bucks

Friday 19th – Satrurday 20th August

“Two boat trips in two days!” exclaimed the Cheshire One, as she stood on Cleddau on Saturday morning.  Bound for a day out and a night on board “Grampy’s boat” she was ready for more adventure. Indeed, in her words, one adventure plus another adventure equals an expedition…

We had signed up for a Chasing Dragons Friday morning activity at a local Country Park in Bedfordshire. While Boatwif is not an enthusiast of cardboard rolls, tissue paper and glue model-making sessions, she was willing to see one through… Instead a guided walk ensued. Out into the sensory garden we toddled, a gaggle of young children, assorted parents, carers, escorts and a leader.  Not DRAGONS but dragonflies we were to study. Picture clues and simple text answers provided much information. Did you know that dragonflies were much larger in dinosaur times or that they had two sets of wings or that they can fly backwards and forwards and hover like helicopters…? Keen eyes spotted sometimes a single, sometimes a pair mating on the wing, zooming across the sunny paths and reed-edged ponds. The walk slowly progressed, interrupted periodically by more “dragons”, ladybirds, the sound of grasshoppers, the sighting of demoiselles* and even the deft capturing of a tiny frog by Techno Son-in-Law. On we all went, far out into the meadow, where, comfortably seated on rugs and blankets, the story of why there are so many dragonflies was told. Then came the craft moment: a few twists of two pipe cleaners, a pair of eyes and a set of wings and voila! A takeaway dragonfly!

There is a place nearby famed for its riverside setting, where last year Cleddau had twice moored up for crew refreshments. For the Cheshire One the major attraction is its large bouncy castle…  After some serious bouncing we lunched in the sun right beside the river.  Little electric hire boats were tied up close by. “Would you like to go in a boat Granny?” It is wrong to tell an untruth and Boatwif’s eyes would have betrayed her.

 In minutes it was organised:  three lifejackets, a briefing on engine handling, then we were off upstream. We glided away, twisting and tacking, getting the feel of the boat. Dragonflies and demoiselles were here too! Then a half mile out a problem, the tiller somehow becoming disconnected from the head. An unforeseen adventure… we turned back, held head and tiller together, reported the fault, swapped to another craft. Off we zoomed again: sheep shaded themselves under trees on the riverbank; a fish jumped out of the water alongside the boat; dragonflies flew low overhead, two landing as if to lay eggs.  More demoiselles; more dragonflies. A kingfisher flashed across the water. A pair of swans and their five cygnets swam inquisitively towards the little boat. No sign of the otter pair and no human sightings either, just the occasional voice or bicycle bell could be heard from the nearby riverbank path. On a warm afternoon what could be better than an enchanting voyage along the serene Great Ouse, three generations in one tiny boat, all taking a turn at the tiller.

Saturday morning dawned and Cleddau‘s crew of five assembled at Milton Keynes marina. Just four very sharp right angled turns and we would be out on the broad Grand Union. Cheshire Mum, not a fan of tight corners or potential crises, buried her head first in the fridge, then in a newspaper. For once wind did not affect play and a smooth exit from the marina was made. This was a first Grand Union cruise for the Cheshire Three. Front deck observations could be made on other boats, the condition of the tree-lined towpath, the well proportioned old red brick bridges of the 1800’s, the wide modern concrete bridges of the twentieth century… We came to Fenny Stratford Lock. Out swarmed the crew. Eagerly the Cheshire One opened a lock gate, pushed the footbridge out of boats’ way, closed a lock gate. This was her work. The water drains in and out here almost imperceptibly, just a 13 inch height difference. On we went. Next the Stoke Hammond Lock. Here was a completely different view: floral arrangements adorned the bridge footings, the lock side, the fencing. The lock is seriously deep, the gates bigger. Still the Cheshire One played her part. Back on the boat for another twenty minutes and then we arrived at the Soulbury Three. Crew were landed, despite a hire boat moored on the lock landing stage, and again the Cheshire One gritted her teeth (even the extremely loose centre bottom one) and put her shoulder to the gates!  Once safely above the locks lunch was created for the hungry,hard-pressed crew. After about half an hour, and without much drama, the boat was turned, Cheshire Mum remaining below while Boatwif delivered her own peculiar semaphore to the Captain from the front deck.

Down the Soulbury Three – by now the Cheshire One was jigging under headphones, Techno Son-in-Law was i/c throttle and tiller, the Captain and Cheshire Mum at work with the windlasses. The boat descended and progressed onward, the jigger still jigging… Then back at Fenny Stratford Lock the urge to do the bridge overcame her on board distractions. Techno Son-in-Law was waiting there, wet from the rain, having walked the three miles or so between Stoke Hammond and Fenny Stratford locks, spotting en route yet more dragonflies and demoiselles. A heron posed time and time again upon the towpath, languidly taking off just as Cleddau‘s bow was within a metre or two. Moored nearby, quietly,  was nb Pendragon, a name which apparently means Head or Chief Dragon. We crept by, thankful that she was  no fire- breathing monster**.

Mooring up in the marina proved a trickier operation than the earlier departure, gusts of wind putting Cleddau absolutely where we did not wish her to be… Overall, though, it was a great day afloat in Bucks, and not too bad a night for the adventurous Cheshire Three who stayed on board – despite the ducks and dragons.

 

*demoiselles, properly banded demoiselles, are a species of damselflies http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Banded_Demoiselle

   

** Back in Beds a local butcher is selling Welsh Dragon sausages, made of pork, leek and chilli, delicious for diners liking fiery breath!

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