Gayton to Aylesbury

This journey was to take 2 weekends. The aim was to get Midnight Star to her new mooring at the Circus Field Basin before I started a new block of work on 23rd of August.

Friday 13th August 2021

We traveled to Gayton in the evening, put the boat on charge on the landline and ventured out to The Greyhound for a drink. It was the nearest pub, busy but not full, and very pleasant as we sat in the garden for an hour. Returning to the boat I tried to make a simple meal of Spagetti Carbona, but cooking on LPG was my excuse for the eggs turning to omelette.

Saturday was warm and we said goodbye to the marina at 10:10 – happy with our stay and to come back in the future. The first obstacle was Blisworh Tunnel. Our Tunnel light was LED, and I worried about it blinding oncoming boats so I sat at the front to aim it upwards when we got close. We crossed over with five boat. We had traveled through this tunnel quite a lot in the past, but had to get the hang of steering in it again. It’s a bit eerie, but at least to can see the other end as a pinprick of light from the moment you enter because it’s straight, unlike Brauston, if my memory serves me correctly. The passage took from 11:10 to 11:55, after which we moored and Stoke Bruerne for a spot on lunch and a poke around the Canal Museum.

We entered the Top Lock at 1pm, with a pair of Weed hire boats in front and an efficient crew to share with. The 7 locks took until 2:50pm – I occasionally went forward to set a lock ahead because the hirers were not being very efficient.

A very slow section ensured, as we had to endure a national fishing event – 400 anglers between here and bridge 64. There were a couple of things that made this most unpleasant section – slow boats ahead, but being tailgated and finally overtaken by our previous lock companions who then got stuck behind the boat in front. Shouted at incomprehensibly by just one angler, apparently for not being in the very centre of the channel (despite having to negotiate a bend and moored boats) his mate joined in with serious abuse. The other 398 anglers were fine though.

When we reached Cosgrove, all the other boats stopped. The overtaking boat was still unfurling ropes as we passed. There was a queue for Cosgrove Lock as a widebeam was towing a wooden cruiser. We left the lock at 5:40 with their help and they let us past.

Cosgrove Aqueduct

The next two hours involved no locks, but there are a lot of moored boat as you approach Milton Keynes. At 19:32 we moored near bridge 75, just a short walk from The Black Horse, where I toasted the fishermen before returning to the boat for some Charlie Bingham’s curry and Nan bread and a good night’s sleep.

Sunday 15th August

Today was a bit wet, with dry spells. The journey through a lock free Milton Keynes was pleasant and uneventful, with a big new development at Campbell’s Wharf providing some interest, and proof that developers are turning to face the canal rather than building with their backs to it. After three hours we stopped for lunch at 12:45, just after Fenny Lock.

The afternoon was uneventful until we reached Soulbury Three Locks, where a comedy sketch awaited. The locks were set against us and boats appeared to be coming down, but the hold up was a chap trying to single hand two boats, one of which was un-powered, down the locks. He was being followed by three more boats who seemed to offer lots of advice, but very little practical help. Three Locks has a pub beside lock 25 and it was thick with onlookers.

The Three Locks

Once the delay was sorted out, we shared locks with a boater called Dermot who was booked into Aylesbury Basin for the Winter and with the help of a few people we cleared them quickly. The next landmark was passing The Globe, where I spotted a boater I knew from a pub in Berko. A Floating Market was packing up, and we remembered the pub as being the location of a dinner on our first boating holiday ever with our Daughter on a Wyvern Shipping boat.

At Leighton Buzzard we moored up opposite the aforementioned hire company’s mooring, in a handy gap just a few feet bigger than the boat – out first smug moment at choosing a boat of this size. Securing the boat, we walked to Leighton Buzzard Station and then home by train after a successful weekend, but a bit apprehensive about leaving the boat.

Monday saw me return to Gayton by rail and taxi to collect my car, and later in the week I visited the boat to check everything was OK. While there I took some measurements for improvements we intended to make. On the Friday I visited Circus Field to leave my car and return by bus – a round trip of about 90 minutes, because there are no buses on a Sunday.

Saturday 21st August

We arrived by train at Leighton Buzzard quite early, as we wanted to do some shopping before we set off. Leighton has an interesting Saturday Market in the Town Square, and we stocked up on fruit, bread, cheese and pasties. Setting off at 11am, we negotiated 2 Locks before stopping for a spot of lunch at 1:30pm and then 5 more locks before mooring above Seabrook locks at 5:50pm. We found a quiet spot that was within walking distance of Cheddington. We had frequented The Old Swan in the past, and as it was still open (unlike a number of pubs form the past) we wanted to pay a visit. With it looking recently refurbished and no virus restrictions in place we spent a very pleasant hour or more in the bar and would have stayed for food if we hadn’t pledged to eat more on board. A good night’s sleep after all the exercise followed.

Sunday 22nd August

Another fine day, but we didn’t set off until 10:45, where our first obstacle was a swing bridge, followed by the two Marsworth Locks, where a 70 foot boat turned round in the pound between the locks – not marked as a winding hole, but a useful bit of information for the future.

The next stop was the entrance to the Aylesbury Arm, guarded by the only staircase lock on the main line of the GU. It’s only three gates, and 7 foot beam, but you need to follow the instructions if you aren’t going to make a fool of yourself. The gates were leaky, and indeed they are due to be replaced in November 2021, trapping us on the arm for two months.

We entered the lock at 12. The start of the arm is very rural, looking over open fields to the distant housing estates. The locks come thick and fast so it’s hardly worth getting back on board for the person doing the locking, at some points. Pulling over for lunch for an hour, the locks started to become more spaced out on journey down into the Vale. After Lock 13 the weed along the shallow sides started to started to encroach on the channel, and the boat slowed. Although the prop didn’t seem to get fouled, the front of the boat began to collect a “moustache” of weed, which we dragged off and added to the piles already on the lockside.

The ACS basin is between locks 14 and 15 and we entered it and were moored up by 5:45pm – a journey of nearly five hours, with very little traffic. This is going to be a regular trip for us even if it’s just a weekend jaunt. It probably can be done in less time, particularity with the lure of the Red Lion at Marsworth at the top of the arm.

So what did we learn? The boat handles well, is very comfortable to sleep in and usefully short for mooring (and costs) without being too cramped for two people. The batteries definitely need changing, the gas locker needs working on and the exterior requires a complete repaint. I’ve a few other concerns as well, but nothing to cause sleepless nights just yet.