Crab apples, a combine harvester, a celebration (plus two Monkton Moments*)

Friday 2nd– Saturday 3rd September

Milton Keynes Marina to below Marsworth Locks, 21 miles, 17 locks

The plums were picked, the hedges trimmed, the indoors and outdoors plants watered – and we were set to go. Ten minutes after the planned departure time Cleddau crept out of the Milton Keynes Marina. To depart at anything more than the slowest of a snail’s pace would have done grave damage to other boats, as well as to our own. Those four sharp right hand turns were executed with care, watched by several of the friendly residential boaters. Some wondered why Cleddau was heading south to then go home to the north west – and one suggested “doing it properly, going down to the Thames and back up the South Oxford…” But, at present, we’re sticking with our plan, to Aylesbury first and then turn north.

The first three or so hours of our route we have often cruised in recent weeks with groups of friends and neighbours. Stray leaves are now dropping onto the water. Near Bletchley crab apples jostled on overhanging branches, the towpath below littered with the small round fruit.  A combine harvester throbbed methodically across a field, clouds of dry dust billowing behind it. Nb Harvest Time seemed well–named indeed.

There are five locks between Milton Keynes and Linslade, the first night stop. First Fenny Stratford (the 13 inch water difference plus push footbridge lock). At Stoke Hammond Lock (and at the Soulbury Three) the Captain insisted Boatwif managed the boat while he operated the paddles and gates. How out of practice one can get at throwing ropes and keeping straight in a lock… The first of twelve hire boats came down the flight towards us. The crew was mature of age, but young in their enthusiastic approach: wield a windlass, wind anything you see, both ends of a lock will do… The Captain groaned at their ineptitude, but sighed with relief at their (eventual) safe passage through the middle lock.

Hot and tired, in dire need of refreshment, by late afternoon the Cleddau crew had arrived in front of the florally-enhanced Globe pub and squeezed into a mooring space. The skipper of our relief crew has long maintained there is an underwater magnet here which drags Cleddau alongside. A youth was sitting cross-legged right on the concrete edging, reserving, it later transpired, a mooring space for a boat coming from the opposite direction. But the magnet worked – and we managed to moor. Once tied up we dealt with the heat exhaustion via tea and boat cake, not birthday cake, and then dealt with the birthday via front deck Pimm’s No 1 and a fine restaurant meal.

Too replete on Saturday morning for an early breakfast we set off without, passing a man taking his cat for a walk and a curious boat, nb Alice, which has a detachable front bow to allow for travel through short locks…  At Leighton Buzzard the local canoe club was undergoing serious training, sprinting past the boats, spray from the paddles showering the windows. A little later we found ourselves among them again; the trainer shrilled commands from her bike on the towpath, the canoes manoeuvred and swirled around our twenty ton craft, their operators more confident they could avoid us than we were to avoid them… At Grove Lock a single-hander was coming down. Here was an all too-knowing man, who encroached upon personal space in an intimidating way, whose crew had jumped ship – and who had just realised that the boat he had bought to take to Billing Aquadrome at Northampton was, at ten feet wide, too big to pass down the seven feet wide Northampton locks… His method of getting through a lock was, well somewhat unorthodox.

On Cleddau toiled: uphill all the way, at first the views of the Chilterns hazy.  As the afternoon wore on visibility improved, the breeze sharpened and we gazed across at the Whipsnade Lion, at Ivinghoe Beacon and the Ridgeway route. A mooring just below Marsworth Locks with fine views westwards across hills and copses was chosen. Time to reflect on our first couple of days back afloat: the ever-changing scenery and the snatched conversations, including two good reviews of the River Weaver… there is lots to look forward to.

*Monkton Moments:

1. Friday: “Cleddau? River in Wales? I used to work at Saundersfoot”.

2. Saturday: “Cleddau, Burton, my mother used to live there, we hired a trip boat at Neyland to go upriver to Lawrenny for my parents’ Golden Wedding.”

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