Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Meandering through Milton Keynes

A lot of people are very dismissive about Milton Keynes, the huge, sprawling new town 45 miles north of London in the Bucks countryside.
I can understand why. Most of the “villages” that go to make up the city, are hidden behind tree-lined dual-carriageways and boulevards, and all these roads look the same, resulting is a fairly bland landscape. Designed, very much with the motorist in mind, and constantly expanding, it is now boasts nearly a quarter of a million inhabitants and I see no sign of it not getting bigger.
But come through the city by boat, especially on a sunny weekend, as we have just enjoyed, and it looks and feels completely different. In fact you would be hard pressed to know you were cutting though a major city. You see very little housing and it’s a very tranquil passage. The towpaths are clean and tidy and there is little graffiti.
We moored at Cosgrove, a small village to the north of the city on Wednesday evening and caught a bus in the following day to do some shopping in John Lewis and Waitrose, which we had delivered later that evening and which worked very well.
We moored, almost opposite the village pub, but to get to it you had to walk through “the horse tunnel”, pictured here.
The Horse Tunnel at Cosgrove

Built in the shape of a horses backside, this is where the tow path changed sides, and the horses that pulled the boats 200 years ago would have to walk through here. It was a bit low for me (especially after a few pints).
The following day we did the short cruise through Wolverton to the Black Horse. Wolverton was the home of the “Royal Train” and had a locomotive works. It’s history is recorded on the wall mural, which is a bit of a landmark.
Part of the huge "Railway" wall approaching Wolverton

The weather was great throughout the weekend into Monday and Tuesday and we have had a lot of fun. We met up with one of our oldest chums, Laura, on Friday night, but what we didn’t know, until quite late, was that two of our other oldest pals Fern and Martin were coming to visit and staying for the weekend. We had so much fun. I rarely stopped laughing all weekend. I’ve known Martin since junior school days, and our paths don’t cross that often these days, but it was wonderful to see them again.
Martin’s a bit like me - he can pick up most instruments and get a tune out of it, so it wasn’t surprising that he joined Laura and me at a ukulele workshop on Saturday morning and picked it up very quickly.

With my pals Laura and Martin. Could this be the genesis of
The Friern Barnet Ukulele Society?

It’s a good eight-miles through Milton Keynes on the Grand Union as the watercourse circles the northern part of the city before turning south and cutting through its centre before it emerges at Bletchley and Fenny Stratford, and leaves the city behind.
By Saturday night we had arrived at The Plough at Simpson (didn’t go in - not that keen on Charles Wells beers) and it’s where we stayed the rest of the weekend. Martin had proved to be a first-class helmsman, so I sat beside him and watched the world go past and the girls did similarly on comfy chairs in the cratch cover.
Sunday was spent getting ready and then experiencing Mr Murray’s performance at Wimbledon. I am not much of a tennis fan, unlike the other three on the boat. We had a big picnic tea to celebrate, with lots of shellfish, smoked salmon, and the like. It was yummy.
Martin at the helm somewhere in Milton Keynes. (Not a concrete cow in sight!)

But our trip down memory lane was not quite complete. We reprised it on Monday evening in London’s Park Lane, where we met our Canadian friends, Vaughn and Lori, who were in London on a “Land Rover” trip, and also, to attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace on Thursday with a concert afterwards. Jammy, or what.
Vaughn assures me he has his curtsey all sorted. We met them at the Four Seasons opposite the Hilton. Martin and Fern came to and Vaughn’s cousin Roger, and we went into Shepherds Market for a meal in a French restaurant. Beats Wetherspoons!
Shepherd's Market pub, Mayfair
Roger, Vaughn, Lori, Fern, Pat and me

So now its just Pat and me, and we meandered south and into Leighton Buzzard today - around a seven-mile journey. Might not sound much to any landlubbers reading this, but that’s a fair old cruise in a boat. And boy was it hot. Though I am not complaining and am not going to go on about the heat. I like it, but it was intense.
And finally, we were sad to hear that one of our cats passed away a few days ago. Ernie had been with us around five years before we moved onto the boat. He was already in late middle-age when we gave him a home, and he was a particular favourite of our tenants Liz and Simon. He was very much “The Cat’s Whiskers” as far as they were concerned.
One of Ernie's favourite sun spots

He passed away in the sunshine in next doors garden. They buried him in the part of the garden where all our vast menagerie over the years, have been laid to rest. So we just have Molly alive now, who just keeps on going. Pat would like to  bring her on to the boat, but I think she is in the best place, where she is comfortable and feels secure.
Anyway, tune in next week for another thrilling instalment.

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