damsel flies lace and narrow escapes

Cruising weather is here so, ironically, I have time to fill you in on the Damsel flies, lace making and emigration as promised last year. Late last summer I took the boat along the Aylesbury arm of the Grand Union Canal. Pretty much as soon as the folk of Aylesbury realised that a new canal (GU) was to be built a mere six miles away they wanted a bit of the action. Aylesbury was among other things a lace making town and they saw to potential for the vast decrease in cost of goods, like coal, that canals brought and hence increase in trade and industry.

In some ways it seems that not much has moved on in that it took 17 years of negotiation to agree the route and only 3 years to complete (in 1815). Much of the concern was where was the water to come from. Because the junction of the canals is at the highest point for the Aylesbury arm it would naturally take precious water from the GU. That itself ran through a high point at Tring and there are several man made reservoirs dedicated to keeping it topped up. Incidentally these are well used now for recreational purposes and bird watching.


The canal is a narrow canal, with high reeds and some very weedy stretches. It goes right into the centre of Aylesbury ending after three locks that drop through the back streets. Unfortunately the terminus is a bit commercialised with a Waitrose and Premier Inn dominating the pool, but that is progress I suppose. The museum provides an insight into the lace making “industry” as it was. Originally a truly cottage industry with women sat around outside of their homes making lace on their laps. They would use dozens or even hundreds of threaded bobbins at a time following the intricate patterns to make the lace, until someone invented a lace making machine. The industrial revolution hit employment in many areas and Aylesbury was no exception. So the canal, designed to bring trade in, was also used as a transport route by the many who emigrated looking for a better life. More progress.

The main church was tucked away in what would have been the original town centre with many interesting old buildings. It provided quiet spiritual sustenance and, at the back of the nave, physical sustenance in the way of coffee and cake. That’s the progress that I like.

At every reed bed and weed patch along the canal iridescent blue damsel flies could be seen flitting about in the sun. The boat provided a great floating grand stand for photographing them laying eggs, with the males gently pushing the females’ tails through the water tension at the surface.


There is quite a range of names for narrow boats. Many are named after the life style the owners hope for, e.g. 3rd Time Lucky, or Narrow Escape, to cryptic interpretations of owners names, e.g. Euston 73 belongs to Sue and Tony. Traditionally working boats tended to have bold names, Warrior, Australia, Victoria, Pirate. A listing can be found by using this link http://canalplan.org.uk/boats/.

The boat name that sprang to mind as I came through the last lock leaving the Aylesbury arm was Narrow Escape, or rather a variety of it. Looking at the lock beam, just above the water, can be seen a marrow, just about high and dry. How on earth it got there I can not imagine. Did it jump over board, was it cast away for being too ripe, did it do a runner from some canal side allotment? Anyway I decided that as it was brave enough to tackle the inland waterways it should be endowed with a suitable name, and now think of it as Marrow Escape.

Check out that marrow

Check out that marrow

Oh and why is it that I have the time to update the blog on a glorious cruising day? Reading a book that is what did it. Dangerous pastime is reading a book. I spent a couple of easy days, solo moving the boat, some work on plumbing in the loft, a fast uphill bike ride, a couple of drives, a bit of this and that and all fine. So rather than an evening out I treated myself to a quiet evening reading a Alistair MacLean novel. And when I came to move ..ouch! A torn muscle. I’m going to stick to boating in future, its less physical. Well I’ll give it a few days then I’m back on the boat.

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