Milton Keynes Sojourn

With the glorious weather, and a gap in our busy schedule as grandparents, we took a short trip through Milton Keynes over the weekend returning to Yardley Gobion on Monday.

The weather was a little overcast on Saturday but the cloud soon burnt off and by Sunday the heatwave had really set in. The trip south on Saturday was characterised by hire boats coming north and day boats behaving erratically. At one point, near Gifford Park, it got interesting at a bridge hole. We went through the bridge with no sign of a boat coming north but were soon greeted by a hire boat rapidly coming north. The over confident steerer promptly lost control as he put the boat into reverse. Maggie who was steering indicated to a day boat closely following us that there was a problem ahead but her advice went totally unheeded and the two boats then came together right under the bridge. They took some time to sort themselves out - after that the day boat decided to proceed with more caution. 

Day boats at New Bradwell

Several sections in Milton Keynes are being dredged (hooray) but the disposal of material is interesting. Land & Water, who are the contractors have constructed containment areas to take the sludge. In some cases this just replaces banks that have washed away, but in some places, notably near Wolverton where there is a defined edge to the canal it appears the original channel width has been reduced.


Membrane and supports

With several wide beams mooring nearby for long periods that can make navigation a bit difficult.

Tight squeeze near Wolverton

Having negotiate Fenny Stratford Lock and Swing Bridge we finally stopped for the night just above Stoke Hammond Lock - one of our favourite moorings.

The next day saw us go south and turn around to head back north for Yardley. There are few convenient winding holes along this section of the Grand Union so we went up the Three Locks at Solebury. We accompanied a hire boat from Weedon who was out for a week. Discussing their plans, as you do, we discovered that the hirer had advised not mooring in Milton Keynes on the grounds of safety!!! I couldn't believe this advice. We have boated through Milton Keynes for many years and moored up in a variety of locations and never had any problems. Indeed we don't recall anyone ever reporting problems. It could be that there may have been some isolated incident that we are unaware of that prompted this advice, but a quick search of Canal World Discussion Forum will show that the consensus among boaters is that Milton Keynes is a safe area for boating and mooring.
"Jackdaw" pound

Above the Three Locks is "jackdaw pound". We have moored up in the pound but when travelling through last time we found it very shallow. There were carrying out dredging at the time and suspected that they had dropped the water levels. Certainly this time the level was good and were were able to wind Albert in the wide near the Old Linslade bridge without any difficulty.   

The trip to and from Old Linslade was made interesting by the large angling match going on. It was a case of "dead slow and go down the centre". We had a chat to some of the competitors and one caught a sizable fish just as we passed.  He was quite pleased because he hadn't had much luck until then. 

Fishing competition

The journey back north was punctuated by a stop at Stoke Hammond for lunch - we just had to listen to England beat Panama to reach the last sixteen of the World Cup.

Quiet bridges in Milton Keynes

That evening we moored up at Great Linford, which is in the north of Milton Keynes and managed to find a spot on the Parks Trust visitor moorings. They are usually busy but being Sunday evening the area was quiet. We had a delightful evening visiting the newly refurbished Nags Head for a drink and then enjoying the evening sun on board.  

Nags Head, Great Linford

Moonlight over the park, Great Linford

The next morning, Monday, we strolled around the parkland at Great Linford enjoying the morning sunshine.

Pond Great Linford

Manor House, Great Linford

Visitor Moorings Great Linford

We made our way back through Wolverton and Cosgrove to Yardley Gobion where we took on fuel and had a pump-out - we know how to have fun! Baxter's Boatyard had just fitted a new cover to their poly-tunnel that covers the dry dock. It looked smart. A great short trip.

Wharf, Yardley Gobion

Mysterious Sunbathing Herons

I have noted herons quite a few times in my posts. In particular, in 2009 I reported how I thought they were getting more bold and less afraid of boats passing. However, on Sunday when returning from a short trip through Milton Keynes and travelling north, I noticed behaviour by a couple of herons that was simply mystifying.

It has been pretty warm recently with official temperatures in the high twenties and temperatures measured on the boat in the low thirties. Passing through the area just north of Campbell Park, Milton Keynes, Maggie pointed out a cormorant drying its wings. Shortly afterwards, I looked over towards the towpath ahead and saw a heron with its wings in a very strange pose. I have seen herons using their wings to avoid the reflections when fishing but this bird was on the bank looking south towards the late afternoon sun with its wings extended forming a parabolic shape. It was as if it was trying to collect solar energy and warm its wings. The only problem is the weather was hot!

First "Sunbathing" Heron

Just to confirm the behaviour, just around the corner I passed another heron that was adopting the same unusual pose.

Second "Sunbathing" Heron 

It appears, from a web-search, that others have seen this behaviour in herons all over the world (Brazil, Africa and USA). It appears it may not be associated not with "sunbathing" or "wing drying", although these terms are used, but possibly cooling or thermo-regulation with some birds also seen to be gulping air.  (Not in this case). A similar image featuring a blue heron in Texas was published on a science blog a few years back and it provoked some interesting discussion about the reasons for the odd pose. Some have even termed it "bird yoga"

I suppose the pose could be for a mix of reasons, but whatever the reasons it is unusual and interesting to see with two birds relatively close to each other and on the same day. 

Flying Scotsman

Black Five 45212 and Flying Scotsman

No the title is not an error - Flying Scotsman is tucked in behind the Black Five.

Flying Scotsman was being double-headed on a special on its way north today from London Victoria to Carnforth. The Black Five made spotting her a little difficult but the event was improved by the the sound of a two-cylinder and a three-cylinder working together - they made an interesting rhythm. In the photo the train is passing Ashton in Northants which is not far from Stoke Bruerne. As all Scotsman events the crowds were out even at this rural location.

Waiting for the train

Limehouse and Thames Tideway without Albert

Last week we stayed in Limehouse with our Aussie visitors John & Di and travelled up and down the Tideway by Clipper. Its a very convenient and fast mode of transport in London and, although not the cheapest, it does afford wonderful views. It's a great way to experience the heart of our capital.

We managed to travel upstream to Tate Britain and downstream to Greenwich where we had visited the Cutty Sark and the National Maritime Museum.

Staying in Limehouse Basin we had a good view of the arrivals and departures through the lock. It wasn't busy, and the 24 hour moorings we usually unoccupied, but a variety of boats came and went as the tide conditions changed and the lock became available.

Converted Lifeboat arriving from the Limehouse Cut

Heading for the Lee Navigation

Yacht arrives 

Limehouse at Night

Passing Parliament in comfort

Beneath the Cutty Sark's Hull (cafe)

Cutty Sark


Tower Bridge at Night

We also visited The Grapes in Limehouse where Sir Ian McKellen is own of the oweners. It is a treat not to be missed. The Antony Gormley Statue was standing in deep water this time. On our last visit in 2016 it was low tide.

Another Time XVI by Antony Gormley

It was good to revisit some of the places we visited in 2016 on our last cruise through London and also back in 2008 when we took Albert out onto the Tideway. The boating was a bit more tame this time!

Bank Holiday trip to Great Linford

On May 28th we took our friends from Queensland, John and Diane Harden on a short trip to Great Linford. They were staying in England for a couple of weeks and wanted to see the canals again. John reckoned that this was his fourth boating trip with us. We can certainly count three on Albert and I think John also came for a trip on on our first boat. 

The day started misty and damped but the weather improved as the day wore on. We had booked a lunch at The Black Horse at Great Linford. They did us proud with the food and service being good.



Approaching Cosgrove

John and Maggie operating Cosgrove Lock

Crossing the River Ouse via the Iron Trunk

Woods near Wolverton

Black House Great Linford

At the pub on a busy Bank Holiday

Photos courtesy of John Harden (mostly).

Over and Under the Hill with the Ramblers

We have been busy over the last couple of weeks entertaining our friends from Brisbane so posting has been difficult.

In an effort to catch up I will start with the event at Stoke Bruerne on June 2nd. It was another Over and Under the Hill event which includes a trip through Blisworth Tunnel by boat and a guided walk over the hill. My role as a CRT volunteer was to guide the walk. This time the event was part of an event organised by The Ramblers. There were two trips through the tunnel on NB Indian Chief, so bigger groups could accommodated. Heritage Walks around the village were also incorporated. It was part of the 2018 Walkabout Festival.

The event came very soon after the new CRT branding. I got a new blue polo shirt with the new logo and "Making life better by water" across my back and Stoke Bruerne was full on new blue signs. 

Blue is the new black!

I won't join in the debate about the re-branding exercise, the chat rooms can deal with that. I did however meet Richard Parry who stepped off Indian Chief just as I reached Blisworth with the first group of walkers.

Ramblers in Blisworth Tunnel aboard NB Indian Chief

Richard Parry visiting CRT facilities at Stoke Bruerne with the new branding in evidence

The event generated a lot of interest and the walkers appeared to enjoy both the walk and the cruise. A number stayed on until the afternoon for Heritage Walks. They were also entertained by a Morris side, not the more familiar Rose and Castle side from Stoke Bruerne - they were away performing in France, but the Crosskey Clog from Peterborough.

Crosskey Clog outside The Canal Museum

Locomotive with Tom Rolt Connections

On Sunday we had a special day on the Severn Valley Railway celebrating the 70th birthday of Mike Corbett a friend who was involved in the recent restoration of the Flying Scotsman. This involved a leisurely lunch onboard a train pulled by a Great Western 0-6-0 pannier tank. Having lived in Cardiff during the last days of steam, these little engines are very familiar to me since they even carried me to school.

GWR 0-6-0 pannier tank 7714 on the Severn Valley Railway at Kidderminster

The engine on duty to pull our train was 7714. It looked smart in its British Railways black livery, but I was particularly struck by the shiny brass plate on its frame. The plate indicated that the loco was built in 1930 by Kerr, Stuart & Co Ltd., of Stoke-on-Trent. This rang bells with me since I knew that Tom Rolt had been apprentice at Kerr Stuart and his uncle Kyrle Willans was chief development engineer. Willans was at that time also the owner of Cressy the boat Rolt was later to own and make famous in his book Narrow Boat. 

Makers plate

The next stage was to check the chronology to see if 7714 was being built when Rolt was working for Kerr Stuart. A quick check of Rolt's autobiography Landscape with Machines revealed that he was indeed working at the Stoke factory in 1930. Rolt reports that "twenty-five new six-coupled pannier tanks were being built for the Great Western Railway" and points out that the paint shop were not happy with the specification in the contract set by GWR and that it caused "head-shaking".

So there we have it - a preserved locomotive built in the Kerr Stuart factory (California Works) whilst Tom Rolt was serving his apprenticeship. I am sure given Rolt's connections with both railway preservation and canals, he would have been pleased.

GWR 2-8-0 locomotive 2857 crossing the Victoria Bridge over the River Severn near Arley
(courtesy Mike Corbett)

What a shame the River Severn is not navigable up this way. However, it is still possible to navigate under the Severn Valley Railway on the Staffs & Worcestershire Canal near Kidderminster where the railway crosses via the Falling Sands viaduct.

The Falling Sands viaduct
Falling Sands Viaduct 
(courtesy Severn Valley Railway)

Cosgrove for an Oil Change

I like to get the sump on the Ruston nice and warm when changing the oil and often carry out changes of an evening when cruising. On our last trip up the Ashby there were a few things to sort out following the boat painting and bathroom refurb so I never got around to changing the oil. With yesterday being a sunny warm day we decided to take a trip to Cosgrove to change the oil and do few other jobs.

A quiet Sunday in Cosgrove

It was quiet on the canal with only the occasional boat passing, mostly hire craft from Wyvern Shipping or Alvechurch.

Cans and Rag Mop on the Roof

After changing the oil using the brass hand pump attached to the engine, I cleaned out the sump below and replaced the oil-absorbent pads. It was a very messy job made worse by a recent diesel leak. The pipework from the twin fuel filters to the injector pumps has numerous copper washer seals and one joint had an intermittent leak. I manage to realign the filter and replace the washers and that appears to have solved the problem. The sump now looks respectable which is more than can be said for my overalls.


I went for a walk today as part of my local walking group. The group has been walking once a month for over a decade and visits areas of Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. We occasionally go further afield. Since I organise some of the routes we have visited canals and even sometimes Albert when on a cruise.

Today we didn't go near a canal and yet the walk had a canal theme threading through it. We walked around the Ashridge estate, close to Berkhamsted, and enjoyed the woods which were carpeted in bluebells. The weather, unlike yesterday, was sunny and we had clear blue skies throughout the morning.

The walk started and ended with lunch at the Bridgewater Arms in Little Gaddesden. We have walked from this popular pub a few times. The inn is, of course, named after Francis Egerton, Third Duke of Bridgewater who owned the Ashridge Estate. The "Canal Duke" is commemorated not only in the name of the pub but his first canal is now commemorated on the wall of the inn with a mural.

Mural commemorating the Bridgewater Canal

However, the most significant memorial to the Duke lies on the other side of the estate overlooking Aldbury. It is the Bridgewater Monument which credits him as being the "Father of the Inland Navigation".

The Bridgwater Monument

The monument lies close to the Brownlow cafe which this morning was very busy with walkers, dog walkers and cyclists, all enjoying the weather.

There's lot to enjoy on the estate but today the pi├Ęce de r├ęsistance was the bluebells. They were truly magnificent, particularly in Dockey Wood.

Bluebells in Dockey Wood

I wondered about access to this area from the Grand Union Canal. You can just see Cowroast from one of the vantage points on the estate but a walk to the the Bridgewater Arms from the canal is a healthy 4.5 miles and with a 300 ft climb. It's about half that to the Bridgewater Monument but that would still include the climb. Maybe one of these days we might come through Berkhamsted and feel enthusiastic(?). Today's walk was just around the 6 mile mark but with only a modest change in elevation. 

Getting to the Bridgewater Arms from Cowroast