The locks at Marsworth, combined with the nature reserves, canal reservoirs and of course the pubs make for a busy and attractive day out for many, and a favourite overnight stop for boaters. However it a relief to leave it all behind along with the junction with the Aylesbury arm which gradually descends to that ancient lace making town.
But there are times when boating alone does raise some anticipation, and this stretch gives rise to such a time. As the canal passes down through a few locks one can spot the Whipsnade Park chalk lion on the hillside, a sure sign that one is approaching Pitstone and with it the swing bridge.
If one didn’t know differently one would have to say these were designed by some sadist in an office who really did not like bargees, especially those who travel alone. And it is not only me, only this week I asked a professional boat mover how he handled them. His face grew serious and down cast. He eyed me from below bushy eyebrows in silence for a moment then said purposefully, “with some difficulty”, then changed the subject.
So many families and other groups see these as a bit of a novelty, open and close them and go on their way. So what’s the issue?
Well, I guess to keep the tow path clear for the towing horses the bridges are operated from the off side, whilst the mooring points are on the tow path side. That is OK if the single hander can walk on water (it doesn’t work for me, I’ve tried). If you are lucky there is one bollard on the off side to which you can tie one end of the boat. You can guarantee that the hedge is overgrown, with thorny things of course, and that the wind in blowing away from that bank. So you stop the boat just short of the bridge, shimmy along the outside with a rope to the front where you jump off, if you have not already been snatched off by the thorny hedge.
Then tie up and heave the bridge out of the way. Reverse the shimmy and drive through and tie the back of the boat to a bollard, if you are lucky or to the bridge and get ready to close the bridge.
Meanwhile another boat appears with a family, waving and saying thank you who go happily on their way which starts a) your boat to moving diagonally across the cut and b) your blood pressure rising as you think unkind thoughts about them for not realising your difficulty.
Then you close the bridge while shoving the upteen tons of boat out of the way, gather your wits and through gritted teeth say thanks to the walker who has just turned up on the farm track and says ”I would have done that for you.”
Well it is all part of the fun, I suppose.