Distance, scenery – and some gongoozling

Sunday, 3rd April, 2011

My sisters have no need to crave hills and elevation: one drives to work alongside Cromarty Firth and gazes straight across to Ben Wyvis (3,433ft), one walks daily through her village, gazing up at the Brecon Beacons, Pen-y-Fan (2,906ft), and one, in clear conditions, can espy the Preseli Mountains (1,759ft summit )  – or cycle to the hilly Pembrokeshire Coast Path. But Boatwif, the Bedfordshire-based sister, has to utilise fuel and car-wheels to gain a truly wide view…

On Mothering Sunday the Captain appeared bedside with tray, a mug of tea, some cards and some very dainty flowers. Boatwif, not usually a risk-taker, played a Mother’s Day Privilege card. The Captain, since being persuaded some twenty years ago to drive to the sea (Dunwich, Suffolk, about three hours away) can be irrationally suspicious of Boatwif’s bright ideas. But this he fell for – and off we set for Ivinghoe Beacon (757 ft), south and then west, in the Chilterns.

Equipped with wind proofs and picnic lunch we walked across the open chalky downs (for “downs” read “ups”) and pulled ourselves upwards to the Beacon viewpoint. On an opposite ridge the Whipsnade chalk lion was prominent. Gliders soared in the sky, released by tow-tugs from the London Gliding Club. We gazed in all directions, across ridges and valleys, hillsides and woodland, picking out an old airfield, disused aerials, church spires, Mentmore Towers, slivers of roads and footpath tracks. While snapping away merrily with my camera the Captain issued advice. “Stop wasting shots.” But why, when the camera is a digital one? “You’re wasting noughts and ones,” he hissed. He’d used the term “ergs” some time last summer to make his point – criticism dressed up in techno speak is rarely welcome!

Refreshed by a mug of flask tea we pressed on, losing height, out of the wind now. Towards us came families, dog-walkers, runners and a square-built young man, spotted earlier running up the roadway, large pack on his back. Here he came, ploughing along at steady fast pace.

“Morning. You in training for something?” enquired the Captain.

“Yes”, was the reply, but he was anxious not to stop. We paused. Then, pounding away from us, came some more: “Afghanistan.”

In this tranquil terrain he trains for war. Admire his courage.

We strolled on, across the open valley bottom and began the climb back up to the car park. The gentle sound of newborn lambs and skylarks kept us company, the changing light and shadow across the ridges providing visual gratification. Then a picnic lunch at the top, a feast of a view spread out in front of us.

To come this far and not seek out some nearby boats…? Down to the Grand Union we drove, past the Tring Reservoirs to park at the bottom of the Marsworth Flight. Up past the seven locks we walked, recalling Cleddau‘s last trip this way (October 1999). At the top we peered along the Wendover Arm and into the Bulbourne Dry Dock where an adapted butty lurked high and dry within.  Back down the locks then we trailed, now on the opposite bank, gaining broad views across the reservoirs, Canada geese delivering a low and noisy flypast as we walked. 

At the bottom faint memories stirred our curiosity. Just a few hundred yards further on is the Aylesbury Arm, the top two locks a staircase, from which the narrow canal plunges downhill to the friendly duck-filled Aylesbury Basin. And only a little bit further on lay nb Retirement with No Problem, a boat famous in our minds. Sue and Vic, continuous cruisers since 2002, have kept us enthralled via their blog. How to survive in the ice, how to acquire a census form, where to buy the cheapest diesel, where to shop on the Nene and Ouse, all there on   http://noproblem.org.uk/blog/.  And it wasn’t long before conversation turned back to that old favourite, composting loos….  Stranded currently, they await delivery and fitting of a replacement gearbox. We wish them well and will continue to read their regular blog bulletins.

Home via a cross-country route. The hedgerows were ablaze with blossom, daffodil clumps yellow flashes in the verges. We crossed the canal at Slapton: another distant memory stirred. Here, when going through the locks once, a mother was explaining to a young son that the bulrushes growing in the now redundant sideponds were like those used to make the basket for Moses.

Determined not to be wistful this week over our Cleddau-less state a sighting reported by Techno Son-in-Law on Saturday afternoon has offered cheer. He, the Cheshire One and Cheshire Mum had walked to Bollington from Macclesfield to reclaim Ketchup. (See https://boatwif.co.uk/2010_09_01_archive.html, Friday 10th September, Puddles, Paddles – and Persistence).  At Kerridge they passed Cleddau, back in the water, her bottom blacked, and Expert Engineer in action in the engine room. Roll on soon some distant views across the Goyt Valley from the Upper Peak Canal





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