(All photographs can be viewed at a larger size by
clicking on the image)
London and February do not conjure up pictures of spring - or do they? Mentally
we had prepared ourselves for the worst: grey, rainy, snow blizzards, extreme
cold, icy towpaths and a boat layered in white. Instead we got - flowers! Mother
nature decided to deprive us of our winter misery and the month was filled with
daffodils, tulips, gorgeous pink camellia bushes, lilies, buttercups and tiny
irises. The average temperature has been 50 degrees Fahrenheit with highs in the
60s and lows in the 40s. Thus far the only cold snap has been around the holidays
when the canal did freeze for a few days. Reports are coming in now from the news
that this was a remarkably warm winter, possibly an effect from the global warming
Oo-La-La was moved from her winter mooring in Camden Lock to Little Venice
for the last two weeks in London. It was good to have a change of scene and look
forward to cruising again. After several "Goodbye parties," first, at
the Princess of Wales Pub in Primrose Hill. Frank Wilson and the Royalties a hot
New Orleans style jazz band, they play every Thursday night. Sunday the party
continued with the P.O.W Sunday Roast Band along with regulars Dee and John. Later
that night we met Rene Goodman at Clancy's Pub in Holloway featuring one of our
favourite Irish bands, Six Mile Walk. Can this girl play the fiddle! Clair is
the hottest player we have ever heard; the guys aren't too bad either. Of all
of the places we visited in London these are the best for music and food, stop
by if you get a chance. We love London but it's good to get moving again.
We headed off north on the Grand Union Canal under cool sunny skies to begin
our 2002 cruising year with lots of anticipation and excitement. Originally the
idea was to travel back over the Thames to Reading where we'd catch the Kennet
and Avon Canal to Bath and Bristol. But we learned that there is a lock stoppage
on the Thames until March 29th. Also a 'fast water' warning that sounded ominous.
So the alternative route was taken and we headed up the Grand Union toward Braunston
where the Oxford Canal intersects and goes back south to the Thames, circling
the lock stoppage in question.
Winter cruising on the canals is not very popular. That means that previously
crowded sections are wide open and there are no queues to go into the locks. There
are 'canalholics' usually single handers who constantly cruise and some of them
are characters. We locked through Berkhamstead with "PapaFlora" a retired
gent cruising for some 15 years with three dogs on his 35-foot boat. He is also
a dedicated fisherman and said that his wife of some three dozen years left him
because of it. He has seven daughters and 18 grandchildren but it was apparent
that his heart was in cruising with his dogs more than anything.
Winter vistas are made more interesting by the lack of leaves on the trees.
Expansive views of rolling farmland and towns appeared where before we had seen
a verdant cover. Cerulean blue sky over huge swaths of green grass makes springtime
seem ever so near - or is it? We were deceived.
we approached Winkwell Swing Bridge the sky became deeply grey and heavy after
a morning of light sun showers and brilliant sunshine. Temperature dropped 15
degrees and we swaddled our necks in scarves. Just in time. The storm came without
warning as hail the size of ball bearings pelted us and covered the spring setting
in white very quickly. A strong wind blinded us and the hail was quite painful
on any bare skin so our faces were covered. Rob resembled a bandito with his broad
brimmed rain hat. It was over in 20 minutes and within an hour the sun was shining
again, this time with rainbows. We pulled over and decided to moor for the day.
What a day.
The strong winds continued for the next couple of days as we battled to keep
the boat in the canal center and not hit the bank unexpectedly. Finally we pulled
over in Marsworth because the wind was just too strong to tempt any longer. A
look at the map revealed Aylesbury Arm, an extra narrow 6-½ mile canal
to the 13th century town of Aylesbury. We decided to explore it when the weather
Which it did the following day. Although still windy, this small off shoot
of a canal is one of the narrowest on the system and the type that our boat is
built for. Only seven feet wide in some spots, the locks are also tiny and have
space for one boat at a time. The bridges are very small and we often held our
breath as the boat literally squeaked by, protected from scrapes by mere centimetre's
and our hands pushing off. There are sixteen locks but they fill quickly and we
were through the entire arm in 4 ½ hours feeling a good physical workout
was had by both, better than a week in the gym. Canal working muscles that were
dormant all winter are waking up and it feels good.
Aylesbury is the county seat for Buckinghamshire, about 60 miles north of London.
Quaint centuries old town squares surround the 15th century church. Originally
this was a market town of some importance and King Henry VIII wooed Ann Boleyn
at the Kings Head pub. The town must have been quite eminent to have a canal all
its own. It took 20 years for an arm built from the Grand Union at Marsworth to
actually reach Aylesbury in 1814. Successful for over 100 years it almost disappeared
due to railway competition in the early 1900s; it was saved by an early hire boat
operation in the town basin and the efforts of the Aylesbury Canal Society. The
society was formed in 1972 and is still quite active today. A newsletter is published
and they have many social events. It is one of the few spots where we were actively
welcomed by a community of narrowboat owners who helped us with the usual questions
of where to obtain fuel and get the best pub grub. We plan to spend several days
here before we exercise our way up the Arm again and back onto the Grand Union.
This February will always be important in our hearts as Rob's Dad, Robert "Bob"
O'Neill, Sr. passed away on the 21st . He was 85. We celebrate his life as we
mourn his departure and he is missed. Our thoughts are with Mom (Betty) and our
family as we travel. He was always Rob's inspiration to travel and his love for
boats was infectious. From an early age Rob remembers stories of the Bob-n-Bet,
the fictitious "One of these days...." family boat business in which all the kids
would be mates and he was the fearless Captain. This boat would change from deep-sea
fisher, to lobster boat or a shrimper. The basic story line: good times for all
and plenty of free seafood while roaming the seven seas. His favourite trick to
keep the story alive was to wake Rob with the urgent call," Come on! The
boat's leaving, are you coming fishing or staying home?" As a little kid
Rob would jump out of bed dazed trying to remember what he needed only to realise
it was just time to go to school. We will always think of him finally at the helm
on the boat of his dreams.
.....on to March 2002