Week 1 – Crick to Stoke Hammond

4th July – Independence Day! We had untethered from the twin umbilicals of electricity shoreline and constant water on tap, cast off from our berth at the marina we have occupied for just over a year and set out into the big, wide world as Continuous Cruisers of no fixed mooring.

Slightly fake news, really, as we only managed to get 5 miles and as far as the next pub. It is a bit like when your 6-year old leaves you a note saying they have run away from home and then you find them two streets away, outside the nearest sweet shop, having already spent all of the 37 pence they had saved up to support them in their new life and wondering what exactly was wrong with home anyway?

So far we refused to be perturbed by the noticeable increase in cloud cover now that we are out on the cut. Hopefully, the next week or so will see us breaking new ground (or waters) and really getting into our new lifestyle. We need to hurry up, our next trip back south is only 3 weeks away!

Nearly one week in, hot & sunny all the way – good news and bad news. The living is definitely easy when everything but the canal is dry plus it’s a great excuse for not doing almost anything you don’t want to, simply because it is too hot to think or move. On the other hand, once it is knocking 30°C, the inside of a steel boat becomes almost as uncomfortable as it is at freezing point. At least in the winter you can turn on the central heating and crank up the stove. It isn’t really viable to install air conditioning or run electric fans in a narrowboat.

We are heading down the Grand Union, generally towards the Thames, with a view to turning right when we get there and going back up the Oxford Canal. Obviously, we will need a holiday by then so we are booked in to Cropredy Marina in September so that we can head off and spend a week in Devon.

So far, after a short hop to meet Mike Fielding & Lesley Fielding at the New Inn at Buckby Wharf and swapping tales of boat builders & house builders, very much variants of the same species, we carried on down the seven locks there to moor up near Nether Heyford. By Friday night we had passed through the Blisworth Tunnel and Stoke Bruerne, with The Canal Museum and moored up in the pound just before the third of the seven Stoke Bruerne locks. Very peaceful until the local camera club came past and started taking photos of our washing hanging out to dry.

Saturday took us as far as Cosgrove, where we moored up and went for a walk across the aqueduct and followed the Great Ouse through the nature reserves there before turning alongside the railway embankment and returning to the village across wide open fields of standing crops. It was very pleasant but so hot that even that little jaunt of less than 5 miles left us exhausted and in need of a trip through the horse tunnel under the canal to visit the Barley Mow. A nice pub, bigger than it looked from the other side but suffering from the aftermath of crowds watching the football match there, with a lot of clearing up needing to be done.

Our target for Sunday was to pass through the single lock at Cosgrove and head down to moor at Milton Keynes, just a short walk from the centre. With no car and having been away from civilisation for a couple of days there were lots of things we had thought of that we “needed” so for us MK now stood for Mekka, as a place where you could click and collect almost anything. When we arrived we had to moor in the glare of the sun on the towpath side. We awoke on Monday to find the visitor moorings on the “off” side completely vacated. We shimmied across to moor there for slightly easier access to the town. Then we headed off on a kind of treasure hunt, rushing around on foot in a place built solely for cars, to find the Amazon Locker, Lakeland, Halfords, B&Q and various other establishments scattered widely across the vast concrete grid, collecting a wide variety of “prizes” cached in their storerooms. Having successfully completed that mission, finding ourselves heavily burdened and quite near the station, we weakened and took a taxi back to the boat, now handily moored by the car park, for a spot of lunch.

We had decided that we would seek refuge in the dark, air-conditioned cinema in the afternoon so we walked back to the centre and watched ‘Swimming With Men’ starring Rob Brydon. A very predictable mid-life crisis film, sort of ‘Full Monty’ meets ‘Cool Runnings’. However, it really came alive as they met at the airport halfway through and became very funny indeed. Not a classic but I’d recommend it. The aircon also worked well and by the time we came out to get a meal it was fresher altogether. Sitting at the tables outside the restaurant it was almost cool enough to want some sort of extra layer. As we left to walk back to the boat, despite having had only one glass of wine, Sue tripped on a paving stone and went down quite heavily so it was a slow limp back to the boat for an evening with the first aid kit.

On Tuesday we had planned to go only as far as Fenny Stratford as we wanted to visit Bletchley Park from there on Wednesday morning. That gave us the chance to moor near Milton Keynes hospital and get Sue’s knee checked out at their Urgent Care Centre. By the time we had walked up to the huge Hospital complex and been mis-directed three times we had covered most of it and the knee was almost healed. Only an hour or so wait here, so not as bad as it might be and good news that there was nothing broken, just severe bruising and swelling. Still it makes it very difficult for Sue to jump on and off the boat although I did my best to encourage her on the way to Fenny Stratford.

Wednesday dawned and we were up early as we had to catch the train to Bletchley. Strike two for Public Transport as the train was cancelled with no alternative for an hour. Walking from Fenny Stratford to Bletchley Park wasn’t far but a slow process for someone with a gammy leg and not exactly a pleasant stroll. Fenny Stratford high street consists of all kinds of businesses, many of them plumbing & heating related, with quite a few pubs and not a single convenience store, grocery or newsagent. There is no visible distinction as cross into Bletchley, which seems to have been poorly served by random phases of post war development. You would think it had been badly bombed, which I have heard used as an excuse for Croydon but we are led to believe that Bletchley Park was so secret that it never became a target for the Luftwaffe. The museum was interesting though. Very good at evoking the big picture of the Park’s importance to the war effort, the sheer scale of the task they had, the chaos at the beginning and the monumental efforts of those involved throughout. Not so good on any specific more detailed narrative though. Huge amount to see so we only really scratched the surface, luckily your entrance fee buys a season ticket for a year so we will go back one day.

They did manage to lay on a train to take us back to Fenny Stratford after lunch as the sun came out again. We had time to pass through the single lock and swing bridge in Fenny Stratford and head out of the Milton Keynes development area to moor just north of Stoke Hammond lock, break out the beer and barbecue and watch the sun go down. Even out here we could just hear the cries of triumph and despair from some distant gathering watching England’s footballers crash and burn under the weight of hope and expectation piled upon them in the last few days. Tomorrow the excitement is all about Tesco’s after a week of consuming the supplies we had on board.

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Posted in Cruises, Long Haul, South Downs.

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