Friday, 29 March 2013

Hooray for C&RT volunteers.

What's going on? Shook myself from the arms of Morpheus and crawled forth from beneath the duvet this morning, peered between the curtains and Lo!

Not only was there a quarter inch of ice on the canal but it had had the temerity to snow on top of it.
Things improved when Jill produced a wonderful kippered herring for my breakfast and while I was indulging  two boats came past. An open track heading south.
We were soon through Stoke Hammond lock and at the Soulbury Three we were whisked through by some absolutely brilliant volunteers. I was so busy keeping the boat steady against water flows and the wind that the camera got neglected. Above the locks there was virtually no ice so we made good time towards Leyton Buzzard/Linslade.

Bridge 112, Nicholsons describes it as a swingbridge, fixed open. I can go with that description, well and truly fixed.
At Leighton Buzzard the visitor moorings were virtually full with boats, many of which appeared to be, to use a naval expression, grounded on their own beef bones. We kept going and have moored below Grove lock. We may be here for a day or two, old friends have their boat in the marina here, I feel a possible excess coming on.

Watch this space...............

Thursday, 28 March 2013

It's a long trip through Milton Keynes.

Yesterday we set off, ignoring the icicles festooning the lock gates and the snow that still lay in the fields. We made it as far as Thrupp Wharf before we decided we were cold enough and packed up.
Pleased to be moving again the sight of a bit of cat ice this morning was not enough to put us off and we were soon at Cosgrove with it's amazing bridge.

I imagine that, like most fancy bridges over canals, it was built to keep the local land owner sweet but nobody seems to have a definitive answer.
On Cosgrove wharf, just above the lock I noticed, embedded in the concrete,

the remains of a set of narrow gauge rails. Investigation reveals that they are the remains of a tramway that ran for about eight hundred yards from Cosgrove gravel pit and carried the gravel to the wharf for loading into boats. It's motive power was a Simplex locomotive, possibly ex military from W.W.I. It was in use until 1962.

Opposite the wharf the Buckingham branch appears to go off into the distance but, alas, trade had finished
on the branch in the 1930's and in 1944 a "temporary" dam was built at the first bridge to prevent water loss from the main line. There is now an active restoration in progress.
Below the lock the ice thickened up but not enough to impede our travels.

Over the Great Ouse and

you arrive in Milton Keynes.

At Wolverton we stopped opposite the old L&NWR carriage works for a quick trip to Tescos.

Sculpture celebrating the old works. Is that a McConnel Bloomer it's holding?
What is it about Milton Keynes? The canal through is one of the more pleasant urban transits, very little rubbish in the water and virtually no graffiti, so why do I worry every time we go through?

Fenny Stratford lock with it's swing bridge over the chamber only has a rise of one foot one inch,

but watching Jill wrestle with the bridge added some entertainment.
The lock marks the end of the Milton Keynes conurbation so as soon as we found a decent spot we moored. It's been a long old day, can't remember the last time we were on the move for six hours in one day.
None too warm either.
Leighton Buzzard tomorrow?

Watch this space..............

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Towcester. Pronounced, "Toaster".

Decision taken, tomorrow we move no matter what. Unless............
But today it was out bus pass and onto the number 86 to Towcester. Another town which had never impinged onto my consciousness, apart from the fact that it has a racecourse.

The first thing that you notice is that the A5, Watling Street goes straight through the town centre.  In Roman times Towcester was known as Lactodurum (Thank you Wikipedia, I am a shameless plagiarist but I do like to give credit where it is due.) and I'm sure that in those days the main street was busy with chariots.

There's a rather splendid Town Hall fronting onto what was the market place, now a car park, and behind it is St. Lawrence's church. As usual we had to have a nose around.

I've never been one for the grand architectural features and as far as perpendicular or decorated styles go I admit to being a bit lost but I do love the smaller details.

These are rather more sophisticated than the two at Stoke Bruerne and being inside have not suffered the ravages of the weather, but they have the same sense of fun, is the chap in the top picture cheering on the other fellow, who could be up to almost anything, playing bowls? Or something more nefarious? They face each other across the arch of a side chapel.

Nearby, a scratch or mass dial, a simple sun dial, obviously a reused stone, it must have come from outside at some time.
Just under the second grotesque is a medieval wall painting,

a reminder that pre reformation the inside of the church would have been glowing with decorative pictures of religious subjects.

Ecclesiastical re-cycling. at some time they took down a Jacobean gallery that ran across the north end of the church, waste good carvings? Not likely, voila! A new pulpit and pew backs.
More graffiti, sorry.

The tomb of Archdeacon Sponne, died 1448 had attracted a few incisions.

Nothing very exceptional but on the side,

these look like mason's marks but normally, on a high status tomb, they would be hidden, not on display, intriguing.

On the arch of the north door, badly weathered, who carved an image of a waffle?

I'm sure it's a town worth a bit more exploring but being fed up with Watling Street's incessant traffic and being half frozen we caught the next chariot   bus back to Stoke Bruerne.
For general interest, there is a nice butchers. It's in the half timbered building in the last picture. Plus a couple of Co-op supermarkets and it's only ten minutes by bus.

Watch this space..............

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Snowy Sunday.

Still at Stoke Bruerne, still snowing.

Sometimes one forgets the obvious, this morning I neglected to whack the cratch cover before unzipping and throwing it back: result? What felt like half a ton of snow straight down the back of  the neck, and I hadn't even had the morning cuppa.

A passing moorhen gave me the sort of look that said, "I don't know what you're moaning about, try a day with your backside in the water".

When I cast my mind back to my childhood (And that's a long throw), we had at least two or three weeks of snow every winter but I never got a day off school, the buses and trains ran, not on time of course but they never were in those days, and life carried on. Do snow chains for cars no longer exist? We've had a brief warm interlude since the 1970's and now we're back to normal, cold winters and wet summers. We can still enjoy the national pastime of moaning about the weather. I always remember an old farmer who told me that, "Britain doesn't have a climate, it just has weather".

Watch this space...........

Saturday, 23 March 2013

A letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Dear Sir,
Will you please check your ecclesiastical calendar and assure me that next weekend is Easter and not Christmas,
Yours faithfully, etc.

This was the view from the boat of Stoke Bruerne church this morning, winter back with a vengeance.
Yesterday we walked up into the village, the church was locked but on the south porch we found some rather intriguing graffiti,

it was somewhat enigmatic, this appears to be fingers, if you look carefully you can see a representation of the nails, (I think).

Any ideas?

We've seen similar scratchings in other churches, they look almost runic but what is the point of the holes drilled into the stone? I just wish someone would write a definitive book on church graffiti!

By the north door there are a couple of wonderful medieval faces. I wonder who they were?


Today. You couldn't make it up.
We walked over to the museum this morning, it was closed, presumably the staff couldn't get in because of the snow.

The crocuses were looking a bit sad as was

one of the local inhabitants, he reckoned it was too cold for nest building and his missus was giving him hell.

There were still boats on the move though, I wish them luck because there is no way I'm venturing across

lock gates in these conditions.

Watch this space...........

Thursday, 21 March 2013

A really wet tunnel.

We left our rural mooring, between bridges thirty three and thirty four on the Grand Union, at about nine thirty this morning. Another cold start and as we travelled the wind started to get up making it feel even colder. Our intention was to stop at Stoke Bruerne, looking at tomorrow's weather forecast we really don't want to be on the move.

By the time we passed Gayton Junction and the Northampton Arm (Maybe next year?) the wind chill was really starting to bite, but we pressed on.

 At Blisworth Tunnel Boats they were reversing the green boat into the wet dock, caught me on the hop and hovering without the wind blowing us into the moored boats was a bit of a challenge.
The building in the background is Blisworth Mill, a flour mill built in 1879 by Joseph Westley, it was subsequently bought by the local co-op who, in the nineteen thirties, sold it to the G.U.C.Co. who converted it to a warehouse, causing much local unemployment. During W.W.II it was used as a food store but is now converted into flats.
Blisworth's main claim to fame is, of course, the tunnel,

Started in 1793 but three years later there was a major collapse caused, apparently, by quicksand. Fourteen of the navvies were killed. As a stop gap a tramway was laid over the hill and goods had to be transshipped from boat to tramway, hauled over the hill and loaded onto another boat. A second attempt at digging was more successful and in 1805 the present tunnel opened to traffic. It has been reported by some that, at the point where the original tunnel would have crossed the line of the new one, they saw two tunnels with ghostly navvies still digging the old tunnel by candlelight. Hmmm?
The tunnel never had a towpath so all boats had to be legged through, the professional leggers at Blisworth were in the habit of threatening boat's crews who did not employ them and so, in 1827, the leggers were registered and issued with a brass armlet for identification and it was probably at that time the shelters

at either end of the tunnel were built for them to wait in while they awaited the arrival of the next boat.
Blisworth has always been a wet tunnel but today it surpassed itself,

water cascaded in solid jets from the roof and walls.

By the time we got to the other end we were well glad that we have decent waterproofs.
The tunnel was closed for four years in the 1980's for repairs, re-opening in 1984. A lengthy section was relined with concrete rings,

one of which is on display outside the southern portal.
Having traversed Stoke Bruerne we are now moored below the second lock of the flight.

Watch this space.............