Tuesday 10 October 2023

Milton Keynes

Today's Canal : Grand Union

We set off in good time this morning, with the bright sunshine burning off the last of the early mist.

The first lock today was Church Lock (now named by CaRT as Grove Church). The small church alongside the lock - hence the name - was closed some while ago and has been sympathetically converted into a private house.

As Mike was preparing Grove Lock, Andrew spotted that the small marina office had bags of solid fuel and so Christine went in to buy just the one bag. The weather is expected to turn much more seasonal in the next couple of days, perhaps even tomorrow, so we may well want to light the stove in the evenings.

The lock has a popular pub alongside, although just a few customers (having coffee?) this early in the day.

Immediately below the lock is a winding hole. As we were waiting for the lock to empty a boat arrived from the north to turn around. Fortunately the steerer was obviously quite skilled as he made it around although it was quite difficult as a very large wide beam had moored right opposite!

Just before we reached Leighton Buzzard we passed the first of three places that look as if they were once loading wharves. The first one has some remnants of narrow gauge rail track along the edge. We have seen these before but not discovered anything about them. This time our research revealed a little about them. In the 19C, the land to the west of the town was the site of several quarries producing high quality sand. The canal was a major means of transporting the sand to wider markets. The arrival in 1848 of a line from Dunstable to join the West Coast Main Line nearby allowed a rapid expansion and soared further in the First World War as imported supplies were restricted. Wartime rules allowed it to be carried on the local roads to the rail and canal loading places, causing considerable damage. After the war the quarry companies were told that hey would have to pay for future repairs and so they built a network of narrow gauge tracks instead, with one running down to the canal. The lines can be seen on older editions of OS Maps.

This network continued in use until 1969 and then a group of rail enthusiasts gained permission to operate a small narrow gauge service, mainly as a Preservation Society and it continues to entertain visitors to this day.

This former rail bridge is now a local footpath and previously we had assumed it linked at one time with the narrow gauge railway. We now know that this was then Dunstable standard gauge line as mentioned above. In fact the narrow gauge lines kept entirely, so far as we can see from old maps, to the east of the canal.

We had originally intended to visit a large Tesco alongside the canal in the town but when we reviewed the list we decided that shopping was not need today. (Note, the site on which the supermarket is built was once a car factory making the famous Morgan sports cars)

This boat has rather splendid artwork all along the side of its cabin.

As we passed the Wyvern Shipping Company base we spotted at least three boats that we hired way back before we bought Take Five - including Poppy that was our home for six weeks on what we called our Canal 40 trip.

We arrived at the top of Soulbury Three Locks at 12:03 and were greeted by two volunteers who helped us down the flight.

In the middle of the flight is the Pumphouse, built in 1838 but renovated in 2019. It still houses pumps (now electric) that return water from below the flight that is used to bring boats up and down the flight.

We exited the bottom of the three locks at 12:27, a remarkably quick transit thanks to having the volunteer help in addition to ourselves.

This meant that we had time to go through Stoke Hammond Lock before lunch. Here, as at Soulbury, the name board is surround by a well maintained flower bed. In the background can just be seen another pumphouse, this time covering just the one lock.

In the afternoon we continued northwards, first passing through Fenny Stratford. A modern apartment development alongside Watling Street still regains as a feature the former Fenny Basin. As far as we can discover this was mainly used in the transport of coal. It is shown on the earliest map we can find online but is neither named nor described. But it is attractive.

The very shallow Fenny Lock has a swing bridge across the middle, serving just the cottage on the opposite side. Unfortunately anyone wanting to use it has to wait until boats have passed through or walk over the gates.

We were now on the long level pound all the wat through Milton Keynes. There are innumerable bridges - ranging from the older and picturesque to the large stark concrete structures that carry the main grid roads for which Milton Keynes is well known.

Cloud cover gradually became more extensive and the temperature dropped very quickly.

One of the more recent developments is the Campbell Wharf sets of apartments, some still being completed. Alas, the set of pontoons to the front looked good on the original architect's plans buy no-one seem to have worked out how to use them!

Immediately opposite, however, the Parks Trust has developed a marina with 111 berths and a dramatic footbridge across the canal. It was opened in 2019.

We went just a little further to Campbell :park where we pulled onto a designated Visitor Mooring for the night.

15.4 Miles - 8 Locks

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