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Tuesday May 11th 2010 - Tring Summit

Well here we are five days on and we still don't know who the Prime Minister is going to be!  What a shambles!!!  We managed to stay up until 3.30am by which time we were no wiser than we had been when they informed us of the exit polls!  So we went to bed expecting to wake up to the news that we had a new government - no such luck!  Anyway, enough of politics - its got boring now!

We did have a bit of a lie in the next morning and then we finally set off and had a lovely cruise through Milton Keynes.  It really is quite amazing to be cruising along a beautiful leafy corridor even though you are passing through a huge town.  Of course the canal was there long before the town was built - we never spotted the concrete cows that Milton Keynes used to be famous for!!! 

We were aiming to get to Willowbridge Marina as we needed a pump-out.  This was a familiar spot for us as it is where we had left Lady Arwen for two weeks back in December 2008 when we went to spend Christmas with Vicki and Gareth.  After we had done the necessaries we set off again and continued on down to a nice little mooring just short of the Stoke Hammond Lock.  It was a lovely spot and there were so many birds singing in the trees and flitting up and down - gorgeous!   Clive seems to have been waking up really early lately, so whilst I am dead to the world he has been bird spotting!  He saw all sorts of birds the next morning and by the time I got up he had been on the internet and logged all his sightings on the British Waterways Wildlife Survey. 

I finally dragged myself out of bed (after Clive had brought me a cuppa!) and as soon as we had eaten breakfast we set off once more.  Within a very short time we arrived at the first lock of the day, Stoke Hammond, then on to the three Soulbury Locks.  Following these locks there is a lovely long pound (stretch of water between locks) called Jackdaw Pound.  It was really pretty along here we spotted several herons and also passed a field absolutely full of rabbits!  We passed a canalside pub called The Globe, which looked very busy as it was a sunny Sunday afternoon and there were two or three holiday boats moored up there.  Next came the Leighton Lock.   Whilst I was opening the paddles and chatting to a couple with a little boy Clive was chatting to two chaps who had been walking along the towpath.  Soon after we left the lock we saw these two guys again and one of them waved to us and shouted across "any chance of a lift?"  It turns out they were on one of the holiday boats back at The Globe but one of the guys was having to go home early and his car was at the Wyvern Boat Hire place a little further up the canal.  When they had set off walking they didn't realise that there wasn't a bridge until much further up the canal!  Needless to say we were happy to give them a lift so Richard and Ronnie hopped on board - they were very grateful.  Richard actually hales from Australia but has been really enjoying the boating holiday, in fact he is really trying to persuade his girlfriend that it would be a good idea to buy a boat and live on board - I'd second that!

A few minutes after we had dropped the guys off at Wyvern we arrived at a big Tesco store right next to the canal.  We knew it was there because we had stopped there on our way up the Grand Union last year.  Although we knew it would now be closed, it being after 4pm on a Sunday, we stopped anyway so that Clive could nip to the cash dispenser and also to the petrol station to see if they had any charcoal so that we could christen our barbecue.  They did have some so we now have a bag stowed in the cratch ready for a nice day and a good mooring so that we can have our very first barby since we set off!

We couldn't stay on the Tesco moorings as they are purely for passing shoppers and you can only moor for two hours max.  So we continued on for a little while longer until we were out of the built up area.  We arrived in a lovely spot and it wasn't long before we were moored up.  Each time we set off in the morning we have to first take down the pram hood cover, then we moor up in the evenings we put it back up again, we are getting quite good at it now.  Apart from the fact that I nearly dropped a very important component in the canal!  If Clive hadn't had lightening reactions we would have lost it!  It has now been secured to the boat with a piece of string, which doesn't look very pretty but does the job!  

Monday morning dawned bright and sunny but there was a real nip in the air.  As long as the sun was shining it was nice and warm but as soon as it dipped behind a cloud it was perishing!  Clive was just dismantling the pram hood when our neighbour from the boat moored behind us came down and asked if they could come up the locks with us - he said yes straight away, it's always better to share the big double locks with another boat, it saves water and halves the work - brilliant!

The other boat was called Chelsea and our lock-mates were, believe it or not, Clive and Riki!  Yes another Clive - it got quite confusing at times when either myself or Riki yelled an instruction to our significant other and they both answered!   Clive and Riki also have a ship's cat called Harriet!  She is a lovely little black cat with four white feet and she is totally at home on their boat.  As soon as they moor up she leaps off the boat and explores the towpath but she doesn't stray very far.

There was a lock almost immediately after we set off and it was the first of eight!  The countryside that we were travelling through was really lovely and over in the distance we could see the rise of the Dunstable Downs.  I suddenly spotted something a bit unusual over on these hills and dived for the camera. 

The Chalk Lion of Whipsnade

Its not often you see white lions roaming amongst the English downs!  I have to add at this point that Riki put me to shame - she can steer the boat and when she got tired of doing the locks she swapped over with her Clive, she drove the boat into the locks and let Clive do the hard work on the locks - I was actually quite envious for once, my left knee is giving me a lot of trouble at the moment and is really quite painful, doing the locks is not helping it at all!  We carried on up the locks and finally came to the last one.  However it wasn't the last obstacle, there was also a swing bridge to negotiate.   Clive (the other one) and I did this together and then hopped back on board our respective boats.  A few minutes later we arrived at our destination, Cook's Wharf!

Last year whilst we were on the River Nene on our way back to Cambridgeshire we met up with two lovely ladies aboard a dinky little boat called Marge.  The two ladies were Alison and Laura and they had someone very special on board with them - Jaffa, the Caique!  A Caique is a kind of parrot.  I was very taken indeed with Jaffa and for some reason he was also very taken with me!  Anyway, when we had finally said goodbye to Marge and her crew we swapped contact information and Laura and Alison told us that they lived on the Grand Union Canal at Cooks Wharf and that if ever we were passing that way we must call in and see them.  Therefore a few days ago I sent them an email to let them know we were heading their way and they repeated their invitation saying we must pay them a visit.   So we were delighted to moor up right opposite their gorgeous house - we knew it was the right place because Marge was moored at the bottom of the garden!

Marge's Des Res

We got settled in, had some tea and got washed and changed and then the phone rang - it was Laura!  She said she had been standing at the bottom of the garden waving and shouting coo-ee and we hadn't paid any attention whatsoever - she thought we were out!  We had both been engrossed playing computer games and hadn't seen nor heard her - oh dear!  We said we would be over shortly.  So we quickly got ready, grabbed the torch, a bottle of wine and a packet of Jaffa Cakes, which Clive thought would be a great present for them(!) and set off to the bridge across the canal and we were soon at their front door.  The house is called The Cedar House, for obvious reasons, its built of cedar and it is absolutely beautiful.  They have lived in this gorgeous spot for ten years and did a lot of the work on the house themselves.  It really is a stunning property and we said it ought to have featured on the TV programme "Grand Designs".  They also have the most incredible view over the surrounding countryside.  I took the following photograph in the morning as it was too dark when we were actually in the house.  It only gives you an idea of of how beautiful it is.

Stunning view!

It was great to see Laura and Alison again but I was absolutely delighted to reaquaint myself with Jaffa - he really is a wonderful bird, apart from being very pretty, having the most incredible coloured feathers, he is just so fascinating and funny.  He seemed to be as pleased to see me as I him and insisted on sitting on me whilst he investigated all my jewellery, especially my earrings!  In the end I had to take them off, he wouldn't leave them alone.  However it wasn't only my jewellery he was interested in, it was also my wine!  He is evidently a bit of a tippler and is quite happy to take a wee dram of whisky or a nice drop of wine and he definitely had his eye on mine!  Eventually it was just too much for him and he climbed onto my glass, dipped his beak in and took a quick slurp!  He did this several times, even though Alison removed him he kept coming back, he was most definitely a typsy Caique by the end of the evening!

Typsy Caique!

Jaffa isn't the only bird who lives at Cedar House.  There are also several ducks and a pair of swans who have chosen the garden to raise their broods but there is also a cockerell called Harry!  Laura went and fetched him so that we could have a look at him - we had heard him earlier in the afternoon when he was crowing in the garden!  He is also quite an amazing bird - I have never seen such a hairdo in my life!

Harry's hairdo!

Eventually Laura said that it was really past Jaffa's bedtime Alison came and dragged him kicking and screaming off my wine glass and tried to put him in his cage but he was having none of it!  He flew straight out of the cage before the door could be shut and landed on me!  I had managed to down the last of my wine before he got back though!  Laura informed us that normally he likes cuddles before he goes to bed and suggested that I just hold my hand flat to see what he would do, to my surprise he lay down on my hand and as I gently tickled under his chin he closed his eyes - how amazing!  Eventually he did let Laura take him from me and she put him in his cage, then put the cover on and said goodnight.  A short while later Laura pulled the cover aside and showed us where he sleeps, not on a perch like budgies do but in a furry, purple tunnel, lying down!  All we could see were his tail feathers peeping out of one end.

Soon it was time for us to say goodnight too - Laura and Alison both have to go to work tomorrow and we have nine big locks ahead of us!  However we will be coming back up this way in a few weeks time on our way back from the Thames and all being well we will get to pay them another visit.  Just before we left I had asked Alison where the next supermarket was as there were a few bits and pieces we needed - Clive asked me what we were short of and I said "wine for a start"!  Alison was horrified, "you can't possibly head off on a narrowboat without any wine - here have one of ours"!  I tried to refuse but she insisted, she wouldn't hear of a wineless narrowboat going anywhere!  I have said it before, you really do meet some lovely people on the cut!

We were up bright and early this morning.  We had arranged with Clive and Riki that we would continue with them through the next lot of locks and they had suggested we head off around 10.00am.  Before we set off I had two little errands to run, one was to deliver a book to Laura and Alison, "Narrow Margins" the book written by Marie Brown whom we had met back in East Anglia in the summer which I had promised to lend them and also to post a card as there was a post box just up the road from Cedar House.  Once that was done we were ready to set off.

As planned we paired up with Chelsea once again and the day passed very quickly really.  I kept saying Good Morning to various people we passed on the towpath and eventually one replied "its Good Afternoon actually"!  I asked what time it was - 12.40pm!  Good heavens, we missed elevenses!!  Finally we reached the top of the flight and moored up for a bite of lunch then we set off again and passed through the Tring Cutting following in Chelsea's wake.

Following Chelsea

Just as we were approaching the end of the cutting we saw Chelsea suddenly braking hard, water churning everywhere as she tried to stop!  We wondered what on Earth was going on then we saw a skiff with two girls in it right in front of the boat!  The oars are fixed and couldn't be lifted out of the water, they were taking up two thirds of the canal!  Finally they managed to manoeuvre themselves over to the bank so that Chelsea could get passed and then it was our turn.  A hundred yards further and it all happened again, this time with two more skiffs!  It was absolutely ridiculous, there were no signs on the towpath giving any warning that there were small craft using the waterway, it was a very dangerous situation.  You can't just stop a narrowboat in its tracks, its a bit like an oil tanker!  They were all very lucky that disaster was averted by some nifty boatmanship from both Clives!

We finally arrived at the visitor moorings and secured both boats, one behind the other.  At this point Harriet, the ship's cat, leapt straight off Chelsea onto the towpath and came and said hello to us!  Riki then asked us if we would like to come aboard for supper this evening - we're having curry, she said!  Oooh! curry, curry, curry!  We said yes and thank you very much indeed - she asked to to come round at 7.00pm.  So we are out again tonight, dirty stop outs aren't we!  You see what I mean - you meet some lovely folk on the canal!

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