You might say, what’s the point of a blog that simply records a journey of just five miles? Because that’s how far we’ve travelled today, from our idyllic spot overlooking Crockwell Farm, to our current mooring which looks out on the steeple of the church of St Peter and St Paul, the parish church of Weedon Bec. It would take you five minutes or less in your Audi 6 on the M1, and you’d be able to record nothing at all of note.
Travelling by narrowboat is different.
These of some of the features worth recording about our journey today:
We skipped merrily past the junction of the Grand Union Canal (GUC) (Leicester Arm) and the GUC (Birmingham Arm): both rich in history.
We passed four cast-iron mileposts on the way, each of them sporting the acronym, G.J.C. Co. This is a reference to the previous incarnation of this canal – as the Grand Junction Canal, which ran from London to Braunston. It was bought up and amalgamated with the canals between Braunston and Birmingham, thus linking England’s two premier cities. But this happened only in 1929, and although there were grand plans to use the canal to transport goods during the war, sadly it had, to use an apt figure, missed the boat. Rail by then was the undisputed king of transportation.
We stopped at a farm stall – the Canal Turn Farm Shop – and, overwhelmed with the range and quality of its meats and vegetables, went on a modest spending spree that will keep us in provisions, we reckon, for four or five days. (When your fridge boasts a capacity of 50 litres, and your pantry consists of a single cupboard that has to house your – rapidly diminishing – stock of wines and whiskies, you can’t plan for much more than four or five days, tops.)
We descended the Buckby Locks – and bought a Buckby bucket decorated with the famous Buckby roses, long a feature of narrowboat culture. We got stuck in the last lock because of a superabundance of water flowing down the flight, over the lock gates and into the lock,
preventing Trish, and a number of other boaters, waiting to come up the flight, from opening the gates to release Patience into the placid waters below.
The waters might have been placid, but the air certainly wasn’t. To the right of us, a railway line going from god knows where to heaven help us; and to the left, within a couple of hundred metres, across a blazing field of rape (or adultery, as a deeply embarrassed maiden aunt once likened it to) the M1, England’s main north-south motorway. The noise from the motorway isn’t so much a roar, as a… monstrous susurration, an unnaturally loud whisper of continuous sound, with the occasional buzzing of a motorbike weaving its way through traffic at high speed.
And yet, between us and the motorway, an avenue of crab apples, wild cherry and hawthorn, all in various phases of their blossoming cycle, and on the right, woods of sycamore and oak, with the occasional chestnut with its great drooping leaves, and perky candelabras of flowerets.
I was suffering from the after-effects of the one-day cold that had laid Trish out last week, and as the afternoon gathered itself about us, and cooler breezes worked their way between my scarf and throat, we decided to call it a day. We were at that point entering the outskirts of Weedon Bec. We’ve been this way before, and so sought out a mooring that we remembered.
The canal at this point traverses an embankment, high above the village on either side. The mooring lies next to the Church of St Peter and St Paul, on a level with the Norman (I think) bell tower, which you can see through the upper branches of the sycamores growing on the embankment. To get to the old village, you climb down a twisting flight of steps. A moment ago I heard a child climbing them and chanting out the number as he went: “Forty four, forty five, forty six… forty seven!”
So here we are, snug against the canalside, looking out upon a village made famous (in a very limited, historical way) by the government’s decision in the early 1800s, to create a bolthole here for King George the Third, in the event that that scoundrel Napoleon successfully invaded the emerald isle.
Fortunately, he didn’t.