When you live on a boat you get used to fielding a few basic questions. Some of these are as simple as "can you stand up in there?" (a genuine question) but one of the more practical ones is "how do you do your food shopping?". Conveniently, some supermarkets (especially Tesco on the Grand Union) are canal-side so sometimes it's dead easy - like on the way out of Aylesbury.
The next blog will explain that no, you don't empty the toilet into the canal......
Rejoining the Grand Union mainline at Bulbourne Junction, we turned left and headed northwards. From Pitstone we shared locks with nb Daisy Chain, enjoying views of the Dunstable Downs as the weather gradually cleared up.
We stopped on the outskirts of Leighton Buzzard and indulged Victoria's obsession with the film Buster (don't ask) by cycling to Bridego Bridge - better known as the scene of the Great Train Robbery.
The next day we moved on through Leighton Buzzard (home to another canal-side Tesco) and onwards through a really pretty stretch of the Grand Union, following the River Ouzel.
We waited at the top of Soulbury three locks for a boat coming up, then took our turn heading down. This can be a really busy spot with a pub right by the locks so plenty of onlookers if you make a mess of the locks. Fortunately it was quiet for us and we had a smooth run down the locks.
From there, we had just one lock on the way into Milton Keynes. Being a 'new town', Milton Keynes was built around the canal but makes good use of it as a greenway and the cruise through MK is much nicer than you might expect. We had been recommended some good moorings by Geoff from nb Bottom of Arden and agree with his choice of Great Linford as a good stopping point - thanks Geoff!
We got the bikes out and explored MK using the excellent cycle tracks which go all over the town - definitely the best way to get around here.
After a brief shopping stop in Wolverton (possibly not a great place to moor overnight) we crossed the Cosgrove Iron Trunk aqueduct which carries the canal...
...over the river Great Ouse
If you explore underneath the aqueduct you can see the line of the old locks which used to drop the canal down to the level of the river, which it crossed on the level (when the river wasn't in flood at least) before climbing back up the other side. Looking at the height you'd have to lose and then regain, I'm glad they built the aqueduct!
We moored in Cosgrove just in time for a quick visit from our friends Mike & Aileen from nb Quaintrelle who we met on the K&A last year. They were passing the area by car but we hope to meet up again later in the year.
We left Cosgrove the next day behind a little day-hire boat, leaving the village under the beautiful Soloman's bridge.
Shortly before the Stoke Bruerne locks the day boat pulled over to let us past and as we carried on we heard a lot of comotion behind - it turned out one of the men on the day boat had fallen in. The table full of beers as we passed may have had something to do with it...
We had a decent run up the Stoke Bruerne flight, assisted by some great volunteers.
The boat we were sharing with stopped part way up so we had no problem doing as the volunteer lock keepers asked and waited in the top lock for another boat to catch us up.
This displeased somebody waiting to come down, even though it is generally accepted that sharing locks is a good idea to save water. Never mind, you can't please everybody and when you're boating, what's the rush?
We had a great curry at Spice of Bruerne that night before carrying on northwards through Blisworth Tunnel the next morning. This tunnel has plenty of headroom so Middlewich Duck was allowed to stay on the roof to see where we were going.
After a brief stop at Gayton Junction to empty the toilet (no, not into the canal)
we carried on towards Weedon, passing model-village scenery where the train and canal run close together.
Strangely Weedon was about the only busy place on this part of the GU but we moored just outside the village and had a ride to a local garden centre to replace our rather poorly-looking herbs.
The next day we climbed the Buckby flight of locks, sharing with a stag party who, to put it nicely, were glad we knew how to work a lock.... They apparently had been given virtually no instruction by the hire company, having to crowd around a tiny TV for a 20 minute DVD crash course on everything to do with boating! They were then let loose in 20 tons of carnage-in-the-making! They were a nice bunch of lads and mostly reasonably sober and we made it to the top with no problems.
Conveniently, the stag made it out of bed just as we left the last lock (apparently suffering from sea-sickness) and we said goodbye to them as they headed for Braunston. We turned right at Norton Junction and stopped for the night just onto the Leicester Line of the GU.
The next day we arrived at Watford locks (just behind Watford Gap services if you're ever stuck in traffic on the M1 and fancy a break!) and took our place in a queue of boats heading up.
We haven't been this way on Pas Meche before but we did go to Market Harborough and back on a hire boat six years ago, which is when we came up with the ridiculous idea of living on a narrowboat. Our nieces came with us for part of that trip and we were reminiscing about Rosa having a mood as we went up Watford locks. She's much older and (probably) less stroppy now but back then she flicked baked beans at Dave in anger and it has never been forgotten. Rosa, this photo is for you:
Although we were working then so I think they were Heinz, even worse!
Back to boating - Watford is a bit of a bottleneck but once you're in the main staircase of four locks it's a quick and easy climb to the top. The flight uses side ponds so as long as you get the paddles in the right order it's a doddle. White then red you'll be dead, red then white you'll be alright.
After a night stop in Crick we carried on the next day and detoured down the Welford Arm, which is only about a mile and a half long with one small but pretty lock.
There's plenty of mooring at the end of the Arm but the winding hole is pretty tight, especially when there's a boat moored in it! We think it had just come out of the dry dock but I doubt a 70' boat would've made it round as we only had a couple of feet to spare.
Today we've come back to Welford Junction and carried on up to Foxton. We had a bit of a hold up before Husbands Bosworth tunnel as there was a tree down across the canal. After a hire boat in front of us had pruned it a bit (partly with their boat hook and partly with their prop by the sound of things as they came through the obstruction!) we made it through the narrow gap.
We're moored tonight at the top of the Foxton flight - 10 locks arranged in two staircases of five. There used to be an inclined plane here too and we've spent an hour or so looking round the remains of it.
We also went to the museum which has a good exhibition about the boat lift but had to make our excuses when this crazy boat woman offered us tea.
Tomorrow we'll go down the locks and head to Market Harborough, before turning back to continue northwards as we're due to meet Dave's parents on nb Leo in the next few days.