Sunday 3rd July, Stantonbury Park, MK to Stoke Hammond, 11 miles, 1 lock
With no need to rush anywhere today it was a slow start. By the time Cleddau was ready to leave her mooring a convoy of four other boats had passed. It is Sunday: regular weekenders, long distance boaters, weekend hirers, Leighton Buzzard holiday boats, day boats, double width boats – and a chap in an inflatable dinghy rowing his children to the pub at Fenny Lock – all were out to play. In short, travel was slow, but not that it mattered. Much of the Grand Union through Milton Keynes passes through miles and miles of well-tended public space: tall plane trees, wide cycle paths, parks, play areas, finely mown grass areas, lakes. Floral edges announce Campbell Park and the screams and yells of childish delight may well have been coming from the Go Ape Tree Adventure Zone at Willen Park. Not only are the parks well groomed, so also are the swans, their cygnets and the pair of horses being exercised along a path. Cyclists dominate the towpath, but occasionally family fishing parties include small girls and young mothers. An unexpected conclusion reached is that this seems to be an area enthusiastic about solar power, both on properties and on boats.
Somewhere, towards the centre of Milton Keynes, a notice on a bridge (Bridge 82?) announces where the junction of the new Bedford – MK Waterway will be. At Peartree Bridge drivers can take the road route from the south up to the shopping centre (MK Centre). Hereabouts is the MK Marina, the entrance area rather scruffier than other parts of the canal. May this not be an indicator of the how the marina is operated… We cruised past, ready for one last night of towpath mooring.
At Fenny Stratford crew memories were revived: this area was Cleddau’s home territory between 1996 and 1999. We had remembered the small drop (13”) of the Fenny Stratford lock, but forgotten the pedestrian swing bridge across it. There is much new building along the canal in Bletchley. But the canal side boatyard at Willowbridge is as busy as ever. To the south the land begins to rise and there are glimpses of the steeply wooded slopes around Aspley Guise and Little Brickhill. Soon the canal heads on towards Stoke Hammond, the environment becoming steadily more rural. As we crept towards the turning point, about a hundred or so metres before the Stoke Hammond lock, a steady drum beat could be heard. The volume grew louder: guitars, vocals. Round the corner just by a fine full-size Dutch barge a garden party was in full swing with live musicians, gazebos, seating. People were drifting about with drinks or seated in clusters. Slowly Cleddau was winded round to face back towards the city while the lyrics hung in the air: “… lazy on a summer’s afternoon…”
Moored up what else was there to do but pluck some mint and pour a couple of Pimm’s!