A Weekend around South Milton Keynes

Being busy with lots of other social occasions (significant birthdays and wedding anniversaries) and holidays not on Albert, we hadn’t been boating for some time. To rectify this we went south from Yardley Gobion towards Leighton Buzzard for a long-awaited long weekend. The last time we went this way was about this time last year on our Thames-based holiday.

It is amazing how things change in short time. The proposed marina at Cosgrove is now coming on rapidly with the contractors digging furiously and currently piling the supports for the landing stages. The owners appear to be calling it Thrupp Marina. In local terms this is correct since the Navigation Inn and the Taverner’s Cruising Club are based at Thrupp Wharf. Thrupp comes from the nearby village of Castlethorpe across the Tove valley which locals call Thrupp (a corruption of the latter part of the village name). However, I can imagine boaters from distance away becoming very confused with the village of a similar name on the Oxford Canal!

The New Thrupp Marina

Going through Wolverton we were also very impressed with the new housing on the site of the former Railway works. This is the former home of the Royal Train. Wolverton Park, as the development is called, is now occupied (in part) and proudly boasts some interesting vertical wind turbines. It was pleasing to see boats on the mooring rings by the development.

New housing in Wolverton

Our journey southwards on Saturday was very pleasant and it was made more enjoyable by picking up our friends Keith and Sue Weatherhead from Willen Park in Milton Keynes. Keith has often remarked to Steve that they hadn’t been boating on the canal. We entertained them for lunch by Bridge 81 and then had a pleasant trip in very good weather down to one of our local favourite mooring spots just below Stoke Hammond lock.

On Sunday we went up Stoke Hammond lock and, after passing through a fishing match, we went on to the Three Locks at Soulbury. Just below the lock we passed motor Nuffield and butty Raymond returning north after Saturday’s canal festival at Linslade. Steve Miles was acting a lock wheeler. Their crew remarked that the pound above the lock was shallow and later we found out that it was indeed.

The eponymous inn alongside the Three Locks (as Pearson calls it) is no longer eponymous. The pub has undergone a well-needed facelift but they appear to have decided that a name change is also in order and called it the Grand Union at The Three Locks. They have also gone decidedly upmarket. The prices don’t appear to us to be reasonable for a waterside pub. Let’s hope that one day the old name will return, just as with the Black Horse at Great Linford which for some time was called the Proud Perch! Lets also hope they see sense on their pricing.

The former Three Locks Inn

We had intended to wind in the flight in the pound just above the second of the three locks, but the amount of through traffic put us off. As result we went on and chose to wind by Old Linslade bridge. The shallow pound made it “challenging” and we had to make two attempts. On the return journey we stopped off at Willowbridge Marina for some oil and then finally stopped overnight at Simpson. Steve likes to carry out oil changes with hot oil so he spent Sunday evening carrying out an engine service (oil + filter). Overnight it poured with rain.

On Monday we rose late and travelled in sunshine to Cosgrove. There was much less boat traffic throughout Monday and many of the moorings that were full going south were now empty. We discovered Nuffield and Raymond moored up at Cosgrove and also saw NB Miss Matty (of Cranford) moored up on the off. Last summer we spent some time with Miss Matty on the Regents Canal. At that time they were moored on the Slough Arm.

Motor Nuffield and Butty Raymond at Cosgrove

NB Miss Matty

After a thunderstorm over lunch we went through Cosgrove Lock and came home to Yardley. It was our intention to pick up fuel from Baxter’s at Yardley Wharf but they had just run out! Evidently their weekend had also been busy with boats. We did, however, manage a long awaited pump-out. Tomorrow Steve will change the fuel filters and fix a dripping tap!

It was good to get rid of the cob-webs from Albert, figuratively and literally!

Rude Place Names and Victorian Class Warfare on the Thames

In my never ending search for “vintage” books on boating I recently purchased a copy of Time on the Thames by Eric de Maré. It was published in 1952 and, like his The Canals of England; it was published by the Architectural Press. It includes some delightful and artistic monochrome photographs and is a good read. It is largely a description of the Thames from its estuary to its source. Some of descriptions are familiar, and a lot of the history should be familiar because it is covered elsewhere, but two quirky aspects immediately caught my attention.

The first aspect was the caption that accompanies the photograph of Wittenham Clumps. This is the spinney that tops the Sinodun Hills just above Days Lock. When boating near here we particularly enjoy mooring near the lock and walking up the hills to enjoy the fabulous view from the top. The last time we boated along this stretch, in 2003, Channel 4’s Timeteam were carrying out an excavation on an Iron Age fort at the top of the hills. What caught my attention in the book were the names quoted by the author for the hills. Evidently they are, or were, called the Berkshire Bubs or Mother Dunch’s Buttocks. De Maré thought the reasons for the name are long forgotten. Although I don’t know who Mother Dunch was, I would have thought that the anatomical references in both names are quite obvious!

The second aspect that caught my attention was a quotation that de Maré used from a parliamentary Select Committee in 1884. Evidently a certain Sir Gilbert Augustus Clayton East did not object to the public using the river but he did object to the “type” of person. To quote:

“My complaint is not of the public coming to use the river, but the class who come.”

“I have often wanted to know whether these people were naturally savages; or whether they become savage when they come to the river.”

“There are two classes of roughs on the river; one class belongs to the London ‘Arry’, the other is a superior class … yet these are the people who do as much, if not more damage, than the others. They real river roughs offend by their appearance, their language and their deeds.”

Sir Gilbert went on to complain about the “real river roughs” not having shorts that reached their knees, wearing sleeveless jerseys, and yet being accompanied by women!

De Maré thought, quite rightly, that this attitude hardly accorded with the spirit of the Magna Carta, signed at Runnymede. He reported that the Select Committee did not agree with him – thank goodness for that!.

Knoydart Holiday, Scotland

We haven’t done much boating in Albert recently because we have been busy on other “projects”, notably gardening.

One of these was a great holiday in Scotland away from it all in late May. We had a week on Knoydart, a Hebridian peninsular on the mainland which is so remote you can only get there boat. Knoydart lies between Lochs Nevis and Hourn and faces the Isle of Skye. The peninsula is not connected by road to the rest of mainland Britain and boasts the most remote pub on mainland Britain, The Old Forge.

Knoydart has had a difficult history since the Highland Clearances, but for the last ten years the estate has been run by its residents (about 100 in total) through the Knoydart Foundation . As part of the celebrations of the tenth anniversary of the foundation we spent a marvellous evening at Inverie listening to Ian McEwan reading from his forthcoming book.

We stayed the week in the Stone Lodges at Doune as a party of eight. The owners of the lodges are friends of Juliet and Mike Peet, who have been boating with us on Albert, and they had been to Doune before. We travelled to Mallaig by car and got picked up by boat in the pouring rain. The wildlife was spectacular, with red deer, otters, seals, dolphins and plenty of birdlife. The food at Doune was a major part of the holiday. All ingredients brought in by boat! The seafood, all caught locally, was particularly memorable and the venison, from the estate, was delicious.

We did a lot of hill walking, which we won’t report on, but here are some images of boating.

Travelling to Doune in the rain!

Doune looking towards the Isle of Skye

Waiting for Gripper II at Doune Harbour

Maggie steering GripperII

Looking towards Inverie

Loch Nevis

Gripper departing from Carnousie landing stage. Maggie off to Mallaig to collect prawns.

A prawn feast at Doune!

Sunset over the Cullins from Doune

Mallaig Harbour

We will long remember this holiday and this wonderful wilderness.