Cheerio to the Chilterns

Marsworth to Linslade, 9.5 miles, 12 locks

            Maybe it was because all the windows were closed up that it seemed as if the winds were finally dropping overnight. At daybreak the wildly swinging main tree branches had reduced their movements to merely a dance in the upper foliage. By normal standards today would have seemed a windy day, but after yesterday this was a day possible for cruising, as opposed to one when cruising would have been insane. From our mooring position yesterday one particular tree trunk, wildly bending and twisting could be seen. Not far along this morning a fallen tree all but blocked the towpath.

 At one of the Seabrook Locks a British Waterways worker bemoaned having to work on the cut yesterday. He and his workmate were conveying the structural engineer on inspection on a work barge only 6” deep in the water and powered by an 8 horse power outboard engine.  “Some experience!” he called it. There was a useful exchange of waterways news, some known, some not. A fish rescue is being planned (at the cost of about £100,000) from a reservoir which feeds the Oxford Canal so that it can then be pumped dry to feed the canal… The water stocks on the Southern Grand Union will be critical within three or four weeks. We shall be watching the Midlands water situation closely: restrictions at Hillmorton (3 locks near Rugby) and at Atherstone (11 locks in Warwickshire) mean there may be some juggling of our start and stop times to avoid being held up for large sections of a day…

So it was farewell to the Chilterns today, a landscape favourite for Boatwif. You cannot help but gaze across at this vast green lung area, those steep slopes, the chalk paths apparent in some places and the superb hilltops for kite-flying, for demonstrating model aircraft and for glider flying. The canal loses about a hundred feet in height between Marsworth and Leighton Buzzard, the locks coming pretty frequently so crew work their passage in these parts. (It was more than two hours after the morning’s departure that the breakfast washing up was done!) The lock gates are always heavy and the paddle gear often seems very stiff. From wide open views across hill and grassland we dropped down to the old sandpits that surround Leighton Buzzard.

Below are a few unrelated observations from today:

Top frustration: following the boater cruising single-handed whose air-cooled engine (an engine apparently designed for a dumper truck) overheated at any speed above 1mph…

Top surprise: a naked boat! At a small boatyard below Grove Lock (outside Leighton Buzzard) a boat had been completely sandblasted back to its bare metal.

Top shock: the boat rage of a less than sober skipper of a wooden Broads boat who refused to reduce the volume of his music-blaring radio which was perched on the top of the boat’s cabin.

 Top contrast: the newly built brick apartments on the edge of Leighton Buzzard, very different from the small white lock cottages at Slapton and several other locks.

Top laugh: a youth on a passing boat was volunteered to help Boatwif push back a very heavy swing bridge. From a narrow boat roof he did an impressive and very stylish leap onto the towpath, from where he gazed across at the slice of water between him and the bridge, “Eer, wrong side,” he observed. Determined that the press-ganged helper should be gallant the helmsman expended much black smoke and effort to deliver the youth onto the bridge so that he could lend his muscle to the task!

 So where is Cleddau tonight? That magnet at the Globe worked again! We are about an hour from the Soulbury Three and will aim for the northern end of Milton Keynes tomorrow.

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