top of page
  • halkidikiskipper

Urban sprawl without a soul?

As I write this we're moored up at Simpson, which for chums reading this who are not local, is a canal village on the south side of Milton Keynes. We spent all of yesterday afternoon travelling through Milton Keynes, now unquestionably an urban sprawl which I'm sure some will argue has no soul. I would argue that if Milton Keynes has a soul then it's on the Grand Union Canal which is teeming with history, life and community. Canal folk look after each other, strangers say hello, they even stop to have a chat. Yesterday on the boat we probably spoke to more strangers than we have in the last 2 years living in the urban sprawl. But before I get onto Milton Keynes there's a couple of interesting stories as you leave Cosgrove.

You leave Cosgrove through Cosgrove lock, passing the now disused Buckingham canal arm (which for local chums is a really nice walk that ends up at Stony Stratford). Cosgrove lock was our first solo lock, which I'm pleased to say I have little to report about.

As you leave Cosgrove on the canal you pass a caravan park gathered around lakes, which were formed, like many of the lakes in this area, from Sand and Gravel pits. The ones at Cosgrove were mainly used in the construction of the M1, however they do pre-date that as can be seen from the narrow gauge railway tracks, just north of Cosgrove lock, which were used to to transport the sand and gravel to waiting barges. The production of sand and gravel for the M1 peaked at 50 lorries a day, all of which crossed the ornate bridge 65 (in yesterday's blog). This traffic caused significant damage to bridge 65 which had to be strengthened and pretty much re-built to the extent that a temporary Bailey bridge was needed whilst the work was done.

Just past the caravan park the canal crosses Great River Ouse, which is the lowest point on the canal between Tring and Braunston. When the canal was built there were 9 locks, 5 to get down to the river Ouse and 4 back up the other side. You can still see the remains of those locks today. When the river was deep and fast flowing crossing it must have been pretty perilous with horse drawn barges. So Willian Jessop was commissioned to build a three pillar brick aqueduct which was opened in 1805. However the bridge failed and collapsed in 1806. In William Jessop's defence this was pretty early on in canal construction for this kind of engineering project. Benjamin Bevan was commissioned to have a second go, and by now cast iron trough aqueducts were starting to be built elsewhere. Benjamin finished the current bridge in 1811, which is still going strong today. The bridge is impressive, as you can see from the piccie below. Surprisingly crossing it on a narrowboat is less unnerving than waking across the the path by the canal.

And a couple of piccies of us crossing, me scared of heights, keeping the boat away from the edge and me in my happy place after we've crossed.

After Cosgrove the journey through Milton Keynes took longer than you'd think, firstly because Milton Keynes is big place but also because of canal boat etiquette. It's polite when passing other boats that you slow down, personally I put the engine in tick over which probably means 2 mph. The idea is of course you don't disturb the boats you're passing with your wash, rocking them all over the place, spilling their cups of tea, gin & tonic or make it harder for them to light their Ganga Spliff. But, seriously, it is the polite thing to do, however given that Milton Keynes is pretty much wall to wall moored boats it does extend your journey time considerably.

There's lots of points of interest as you pass through Milton Keynes. Wolverton train works which opened in 1836 and was a key part of early railway infrastructure. Great Linford Park with a history that dates back to Saxon times. The brick kilns which are one of the few surviving of many that could have been found around Milton Keynes, there because of the abundance of clay. More recently canal public art has become a feature of the canal in Milton Keynes largely though the Gyosei Art Trail, including an iron shire horse and a dragonfly made from shopping trolleys.

For me though the canal in Milton Keynes is surrounded by echoes of what was there before , what permeates the canal as you pass through are the canal villages, Great Linford, Woolstone, Woughton on the Green and Simpson, these somehow distance you from the urban sprawl.

Not sure where we'll end up today, south through Fenny Stratford for sure, let's see! One more piccie of us filling up with water which is a re-construction of an earlier happy day at the same place on the canal with our chums, Larry and Mariette on their wide beam boat.

More soon.

37 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page