Tuesday 6th September, below lock 4, Aylesbury Arm to Marsworth, Grand Union, 4 locks, 0.5 miles by boat, 5 miles on foot

To need to crawl up a slope in order to get out of bed means either that the crawler has a severe headache – or that the bed is not level… this was the case this morning. Overnight water levels in the short pound between locks 5 and 4 had dropped, and so Cleddau was aground on mud on the towpath side, just afloat on the offside. Armed with a windlass the Captain sauntered off round the corner to the lock ahead and eased more water into the pound until the boat gently floated free.

Winds howled overhead, buffeting boats and bodies relentlessly. There is no joy in boating in such conditions. With no deadlines to meet (yet) we plotted an escape from the shallow Aylesbury Arm up onto the Grand Union, intending to secure the first sheltered mooring past Marsworth Junction. In an hour the day’s cruising was done, from untying on one canal, through four locks, to retying on another!

At Marsworth Top Lock British Waterways staff were preparing to run water down the hill to Aylesbury. But what to do during a day which started aground but which now saw us grounded from boating? Behind lies the Marsworth Flight of 7 locks, the last uphill water before the descent to London and the Thames. They make for a pleasant walk, one taken last April. (see And at the bottom is a friendly little tearoom.  Booted and spurred, waterproof clad and with walking poles extended, we set off along the towpath and up the flight.  Nothing moved; no boaters were merrily using the locks, just wavelets peaking and troughing in the cut.  We strolled, damply, to the top, crossed the top lock gate at Bulbourne Workshops and glanced down the Wendover Arm. Notices declared it was navigable for 1.5 miles: why not walk along and take a look…

This canal arm is narrow, entirely rural for the first mile, sheltered by tall hedges and trees, some already showing some autumn colour. There were sloes, plums, rose hips, elderberries and conkers but no sign of human activity. Then after a road bridge appeared an enormous flour mill. On the canal went, twisting and bending.  Do boats ever come on this canal? Then an end of garden mooring appeared; then a little boat and before the end of the Arm were four more narrow boats. The end is obviously the end, and beyond lies just a dried out overgrown ditch. The Wendover Arm is a restoration triumph, as the bridge plaques attest.

Mapless we gambled on a different route back, plunging down a valley through woods to Tringford Reservoir and then Startop’s End Reservoir. Off the dam walls  we were back at canal level – and outside Bluebells. A pot of tea and an open sandwich seemed suitable refreshment after the sometimes wet and always wild walk.

Somehow there are no plans to cook tonight!

(Tomorrow: downhill, towards the Soulbury Three).

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