Speed Check

Friday, 11th March
    Faster than waddling ducks, slower than spinning cyclists or earnest joggers we walked at an average of 2.7 mph between two particular pubs.   Not that either of us is particularly a pub frequenter but these establishments are landmarks along a once, for us, quite local stretch of the Grand Union. The reason? The Captain had a new toy (correction – gadget) to try out. For the walk Boatwif was equipped with tissues and throat sweets, the Captain with a basic GPS. His efforts to confirm Cleddau‘s speed (if that be the right word) of travel last season had been thwarted by a car GPS system which loves 70mph but doesn’t Do Accuracy at merely 4 or 3 or fewer miles per hour.  So, with the GPS a recent acquisition at a bargain price, we bowled out to Three Locks at Soulbury (average speed 31.4mph) and walked southwards towards Leighton Buzzard. 
    Just as we turned onto the towpath under the bridge by the Top Lock around the corner cruised a boat, a Gayton hire boat. “The locks are all empty, against you,” the Captain informed the windlass-bearing crew.  “Doesn’t matter, we did them on our way up, we’ll manage them on our way down,” replied a voice from the front deck.  Disappointment – we were deprived it seemed of opportunity to help with the locks and to get our backs into those huge Grand Union gates.
    Off we set, into bright sunlight, soon passing a fine widebeam boat moored up against the towpath. “3.2mph average,” breathed the Captain. We were walking well and soon, at Bridge 108, came across other walkers, heading in the opposite direction. Large rucksacks were on the ground and hands were feeding chocolate bars into the mouths of three strapping young men. 
    “Where are you walking to?” enquired the Captain.
    “To Birmingham,” came the heavily accented (French?) reply.  “We started from Hemel Hempstead.”
    Relieved to be going nowhere so far we continued our walk. 
    The mobile phone rang; we continued walking, now at 2.5mph. If only another boat were coming our way so that we could match walking and cruising pace…  A couple more boats were moored up beside the towpath and always near bridges.  One, guarded by a couple of swans, flew a fine (and very new) Welsh Dragon from the stern. Occasionally the sweet sounds of birdsong were overwhelmed by a shrieking train. Above the canal, on the offside, runs the West Coast Glasgow – Euston railway line.  Never do I pass along this way without reflecting on that August 1963 night when the Great Train Robbery was carried out a little further south: audacious robbers seized  £2.6 million from a Post Office train. The country was deeply shocked and still to this day media references are made to those infamous and now elderly robbers.
    Then after a few bends and turns the canal arrives at a sort of wharf. Several boats were tied up to metal rings and a bit further along stood our destination, the place our Frequent Relief Captain, one-time navigator (see entry Trains, Gasometers, Boats and Bikes, Tuesday 15th February) firmly claims has an underwater magnet that attracts steel narrow boats and lures boaters inside to drink its excellent ales.  This was the Globe pub, provider of great food and, according to the Captain today, good beer.
     Sustained, we turned to retrace our steps, periodically checking our speed, glad to spot violets beside the path and occasional buds on the hedging. Along the way we passed a fishing party, encamped near a Luton Angling Club sign. They were engrossed, but why on a term-time Friday were there three school-age lads? Then, fifty minutes after leaving the Globe we were back at the Three Locks.  No sign of boats, only empty locks. We walked down to the bottom lock, crossed the gates, holding not windlasses but walking poles. Then a strange reminder: there on the front of the now refurbished Grand Union pub was a sign, and an image of a narrow boat, very similar to the rather unusual boat profile of Cleddau.   And it was right here sometime in the 1990s (the Relief Captain and First Mate were witnesses) that the boat had been photographed by the would-be painter of the pub sign.
        Boatwif drove home, the Captain in the passenger seat clutching his toy. “25mph,” he warned as we passed through Stoke Hammond.  If only we could be back on our boat, cruising this way again, a three mile an hour cruise through the Buckinghamshire hills would be fine just now…

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