Saturday, 31 August 2013

Cafe, bilge, painting, CaRT... Oh and Stan (pt 2)

Opposite the Wharf in is a great place to people watch. The pub has a private mooring for patrons about 110 feet long. A boater moors in the middle monopolising the space. Selfish bugger. An older but very smart boat tries to moor behind, he gets about half of his boat on the mooring and half overhangs a private garden. He has pissed me off even more than the selfish git behind him.

Older boat, newly blacked, recently painted, nice pots of flowers, well dressed owners and guests, no CaRT license. They disembark to the pub. Its not a cheap branded pub, it looks a nice place. Their table is opposite our boat, pints of beer for the men bottle of wine for the ladies, very nice. Their food arrives. As I said the pub is not cheap, £20 for sirloin steak, £14.50 for gammon, rolls and panini from £7 to £9.50. It's got to have been £60+ for their quick lunch. My license costs £80 per month, enough for steak and wine at the wharf and a buffet night at the Indian up the cut in Weedon. I get online and report them for license evasion to CaRT using their license checker.

I am usually a bit more chilled about that kind of thing but CaRT are upsetting a lot of boaters with their recent changes. They inherited a problem from the old British Waterways of boaters staying on moorings longer than they should, often labelled 'continuous moorers'. Their solution was to start changing the maximum stay from, in some cases 14 days to add little as 24 hours. They sited complaints from boaters and hire company operators. Several well organised people made requests under the freedom of information act to see how many and the nature of these complaints. There were none. Are these people working at CaRT actually thick or what? They presume that live aboard boaters are the lowest of the low and fail to consider that many are ex doctors, barristers, psychologists and campaigners. 

On our way north we had intended to spend a week in and around the Stoke Bruerne area as we didn't have time to stop on the way down to London. Unfortunately we didn't have time to stop on the way back up either because we were headed to Blisworth for their canal festival. There was a lot we would have wanted to see in this historic canal side village. Great walking area, pubs, a well recommended Indian restaurant, canal side museum and a working blacksmiths that I was hoping to make me a traditional hook for the end of one of my boat poles. It is a popular, busy area that has a high turnover of visiting boats but no particular problems with 'continuous moorers'. It looks unlikely that we will ever visit the area as CaRT has changed the area to 48hr moorings. Insufficient time in my view to be a visitor. 

We are not just popping by on our holiday boat we are moving our home so as well as all the attractions that we want to see there are the usual jobs that need doing within that 48hrs as well. Keeping the boat clean, checking the engine oil/water and the other regular maintenance jobs all takes time. 48hrs just isn't long enough. FaceBookers have just said (on the hundreds of posts over the last few months) 'moor further out on the 14 day spaces and walk in', and in fairness that is what we had intended doing. North of the new 48hr moorings is Blisworth tunnel then boat yard and village so there is nowhere within a couple of miles to moor to the north, south of Stoke Bruerne the 48hr moorings stretches (bar one disabled space and two 7day spaces) about quarter of a mile south of the locks giving over all, and including the tunnel, a length of over four miles where time is prohibitively restricted as the solution to a problem that does not exist. Outside of these visitor mooring areas bankside maintenance is negligible. Collapsed banks, plant life reaching above the boats and undredged moorings force many onto visitor moorings where they can stay for their 48hrs or face the overstay charge/fine of £25 per night. According to their literature 'bills unpaid within 28 days will lead to legal action and a section 8 notice being issued to the county courts to leave the waterway'.

This is meant to be one of three trial areas in the south before roll out nationally. I have heard that other areas have also been changed and have written to CaRT via FB asking for a list of areas that have changed as it really will affect where we decide to cruise. In the mean time my money will no doubt go to other pubs and restaurants in other villages and I may even find another blacksmith on my travels, but Stoke Bruern won't be getting any of my money.

Whilst CaRT have paid and volunteer staff knocking on boaters windows letting them know how long they have before the mooring ranger comes back to issue the fine (and yes I feel it is a fine as CaRT charge considerably less in their own marinas which have full facilities) a little further down the Grand Union canal is a sunk boat moored in a very dangerous place on a lock landing opposite a boat yard. Irene blogged (here) about it recently and I let her know that it was there in May. Jo commented that it was there in February. Surely this should be a CaRT priority. Irene travels on a little further and has a potentially fatal incident in a disrepaired lock. At the other end of the country Bruce (see the pics here) is gagging on the stench of rubbish uncollected. There are lots of angry boaters, some traveling to Stoke Bruerne to protest.  Some, feeling that their chosen way of life, to continuously cruise, is now under threat are making headway to start the Association of Continuous Cruisers (ACC). Of course we will be members and if we ever stop CC'ing become associate members.

Oh and in other news, I made a quick bum perch for the back of the boat, removable so we can still use the back for eating all fresco :-)

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Cafe, bilge, painting, CaRT... Oh and Stan (pt 1)

I like Bugbrooke. It's a quintessential Northamptonshire village full of honey coloured old houses and a community spirit where every one knows everyone else. In the doctors (regular prescription time) locals are greeted by their first name, the rest of us greeted with courtesy and friendship. We were also made to feel at home again for our second visit to the community cafe.

We arrived a little later than our breakfast visit in May and found the cafe busying up with holidaying parents and child minding grandparents bringing rugrats to a breakfast play date, luckily with the beautiful weather they all decided to head for the outside tables. Ron had been out breakfasting with his daughters and visiting granddaughters. It was Ron's 90th Birthday, he returned my salute with a smile and said out the corner of his mouth 'I think it's going to be a long day'. His obligatory oversized badge pulled down the lapel of his now oversized blazer. He took it all in good spirits, realising, I think that the day was as much for his family as it was for him.

Church opposite the community cafe

Apart from the reason of supporting the community you should visit the cafe on your way through because of the great food at minimal prices. I treated myself to a second steaming mug of tea for 60p. A fry up for Deb, scrambled egg bacon and toast for me and plenty of tea all for about £6! Back at the boat I get on with the polishing. The T-cutting was finished so just half a side to polish up. Everyone that passes stops to chat, at times I was having conversations on the towpath and canal simultaneously. I met the mum/mum-in-law of the owners of Hayford Fields marina. 'I went out on my daughters boat last week, lovely weather, she married a local farmer and they built the marina'. Mum of marina owner used to live in Gayton 'born and bred', but moved to Bugbrooke because it was so much busier. Apart from the doctors and community cafe, it has a pub and a post office...oh and a bus stop.

A couple few miles up the cut is a wood yard (who would have thought I would have walked a six mile round trip to look at some off cuts of wood?). A proper job one where they cut logs into planks and machine them down into the size you want. No soft wood here it's all the hard stuff. I rummage through their off cuts bins and buy some ash, oak, mahogany, sapele and a small piece of zabrano  along with a length of beech for a little woodwork project. The off cuts are a bargain at £2 per kg. The length of beech and other cut woods are charged as points of a cubic metre ranging from about £1400 to £5700. So if you've ever wondered how much a cubic metre of mahogany costs (no, me neither) it's about £2496. If you are ever approaching Nether Heyford and wonder what the Victorian manor house is up above the railway on the left, now you know because that's where the wood yard is, alongside a farm shop, apple orchard, livery, and seller of logs as part of the Jesus Army commune. They also own a couple of very nice cottages at the bottom of the hill (I scrumped some apples so Deb could make an apple and blackberry crumble) and what looks like an old art Deco cinema in Northampton (there's money in that old religion malarkey you know).

Coal yard on the way to wood yard - that would do us for winter
Whilst we were close to Northampton Deb arranged an updated hearing test. Her Otoscleroisis won't improve. The results indicate further damage to the cochlear. An operation to replace (or sometimes install a micro prosthetic piston in) the staple works to a greater extent and is an inevitability but hearing aids programmed to the correct frequencies (base sound go first, so I have to talk high pitched first thing in the morning) can help a little. We were shown a great selection for a mere £240 per month on a payment scheme. Next stop NHS. Just for info the bus trip was £11.20 for us both, it was about three miles away. We enjoyed a pizza at pizza express using tesco vouchers before heading back to LJ.

We were moored in front of Dylan's dad. He used to run a trip boat from the wharf, and had a restaurant boat too! He's a cheery chap, he knocks on the boat and tells me that tomorrow he will be making a bit of noise with his power tools. He needs to route out a rectangle on Dylan's bench for a plaque, not brass but a painted ceramic canal scene. Dylan died in hospital when he was 27, Dylan's dad moors up here for a couple of weeks when he can to remember the good old times. If you take a stroll to the cafe have a rest on Dylan's bench...

Monday, 26 August 2013

Who's the blog for anyway...

Its been about a week since I've written a blog. The reason being that not an awful lot has been going on. Don't get me wrong, we've been enjoying ourselves, pretty good weather, loads of jobs being done, spending as little money as possible. Most people write their blog as a little convenient diary of their time afloat for themselves and a few family and friends. But what happens when loads of other people start reading it as well, there becomes a sort of duty of care to make the blog interesting and informative. 

So when nothing very interesting goes on I'm less likely to write to save the boredom of the other hundred or so readers that are likely to click today expecting photos and accounts of our journey. The problem is that I'm going to be reading this in thirty years time wondering what was going on this week.

There are three things that have and will continue to dictate the slow speed of our continuous cruise. Firstly money. We're on a tight budget, we have a monthly allowance for diesel and engine servicing that restricts us to about fifteen engine hours per average week, and that is for any moving, generation or cooking. It gives us about eight or nine moving hours that we try to split into two. The first week of August we used the engine for twenty six hours so we had to cut back a bit for a couple of weeks. 

The second thing is any imminent plans. Over the next three weeks we are going to Poole to visit Jess, so need to be close to somewhere to hire a car; expecting guests so need to be close to parking, pub and somewhere suitable for a short cruise; and we have finally booked LJ on to be blacked on September the eighteenth, and its only about ten miles and thirteen locks away. So even if we had more diesel money that would all need to be taken into account. 

Lastly the reason d'ĂȘtre for our journey to a certain extent is to see some of the UK at snails pace and we are only going to see it if we get off the cut and find it. So be warned in advance, the next blog will be about the cafe we had breakfast in, oil in the bilge, where I'm up to with polishing and painting what people are saying about CaRT on FB, weather or not Stan will end up being an only child, and probably what we've had for dinner. I can't promise excitement but at least I'll be able to remember what we were doing when I read back in thirty years time. 

Tuesday, 20 August 2013



Monday 5th August
Went back into Milton Keynes and the market.

Tuesday 6th August
Stayed at Milton Keynes

Wednesday 7th August
Milton Keynes - Bottom Lock, Stoke Bruerne
13.5 miles and 1 lock

The aqueduct at Cosgrove

Thursday 8th August
Bottom Lock, Stoke Bruerne - Gayton
4.75 miles, 7 locks and 1 tunnel

Entrance to Blisworth Tunnel

Looking up an air shaft in the tunnel

Another air shaft

Friday 9th August
Had a visit from Mum, we walked down to Gayton Junction and did some gongoozling, watching the new hire boats leaving Gayton Marina and coming to the junction, it always seemed when a boat got to the junction the wind picked up making the turn challenging, it was interesting seeing the different ways people got around this.

Moored in Gayton

Saturday 10th August
Off to Blisworth festival today, it was free entry and well organised. 

Enjoying tea and cake in the church

Sunday 11th August 
James has been busy polishing LJ and finishing off the varnishing the front doors, he gave the side doors another coat too. 


Monday 12th August 
Stayed at Gayton.

Tuesday 13th August
Gayton - Bugbrooke
3.5 miles and 0 locks

Opposite The Wharf in Bugbrooke

Wednesday 14th - Sunday 18th August
Stayed at Bugbrooke. James has been busy varnishing and polishing LJ. We've had a couple of strolls into Bugbrooke village itself and to the little local shop to get essentials. On Saturday we took a Tesco delivery as supplies were getting low and it is miles to anywhere with a supermarket. I went out for a walk across the railway bridge and the miles of farmland to Pattishall Church and then followed the stream all the way back to the canal near LJ.

Miles of Northamptonshire countryside

I even managed to get a sheep to pose for me

The remains of an ancient clapper bridge over the stream

Cruising - 21.75
Locks - 8
Tunnels - 1

Cruising - 275
Locks - 180
Tunnels - 4
Bridges - 6

Thursday, 15 August 2013


We left for the bottom lock early doors, well early for us at the moment at just after seven. All the locks were against us but the sun was out, the wind low and it was looking like it was going to be a fine day again.
First Lock of The Day

Approaching Stoke Bruerne we passed all the boats that had passed us the evening before most of whom, no doubt, were soon to be off and head for the top lock and then the Blisworth tunnel. In the pound for the top lock us early morning travellers were causing a bit of a hold up. 

We had shared the penultimate lock with father and son team Simon and Robert on board a Wyvern hire boat. Dad Simon was steering and Robert doing a great job with the heavy lock gates. Once up into the top pound there were two more boats waiting to go up and one on their way down. 

The boat on its way down was another Wyvern, glad to see them having a good rental season. In with the little hire boat was an even smaller GRP cruiser, they were taking a time exiting the lock and we had to do a bit of shuffling around. The two narrowboat in front were still not going into the lock, that was because there were more plastic boats coming out, three altogether and all being hauled by rope. I think if I was the hire boat I would have let them go down the rest of the flight on their own.

As Blisworth was to be Simon and Roberts first tunnel we volunteered to go through first, it was still only about 8.15 so I wasn't expecting many, if any, other boats coming through. It was a fairly dry passage until about three quarters of the way through then we had a bit of a shower! Deb even had a go steering so I could take a couple of pics from the front. My photo session was cut short though as Deb headed for the tunnel wall. 

Atmospheric in Blizzy Tunnel

Yes Simon we could hear you singing

Simon and Robert heading back to port
Blisworth was getting ready for the festival at the weekend and all the moorings were either taken or reserved. We plodded past the moored boats and left our locking partners at Gayton junction where they winded and headed back to the tunnel and a couple of long days cruising to get back to Wyvern. At least our mooring at Gayton would make it easy for Deb's mum to get to us the next day, and the wide towpath means that I would be able to get on with a couple of boaty jobs that I was itching to do.  

We walked the mile or so back in to Blizzy for the festival late Saturday morning. Blisworth festival isn't really like any others I've been to, its like a hybrid between a good old canal show full of trade boats, and a village fate with a bit of car boot sale and country show thrown in for good measure. It sounds like its a bit of a mess but it works and it was brilliant, and busy.

Money for new rope

The trade boats looked like they were having a good trading day and there were a few marquee'd stalls canal side as well. Walking up through the village we saw pavement side bric a brac stalls and an excellent mini second hand market in the back of someones lovely garden. The church opposite had a campanology display in the churchyard, and the church itself was opened as a cafe! It was quite novel to be sitting in the pews with a slice of cake and a mug of tea.
Even though she had to stand on a box to reach she was really good, deffo had the rhythm. 

Deb a bit bemused by tea in the pews. 

Lots of Brasso there

The steam engine owner also had a car or two

Behind the church lies the beautiful Blisworth manor house that had opened its gardens to stalls, craft displays of fencing and wood turning and a small petting farm area.

Lots of nice houses

View across the village

One of the display sheep looked a bit warm, I think it was a black Leicester long wool that apparently was rarer than a panda, shame that the next stall along was selling sheepskin rugs. We treated ourselves to a rare breed scotch egg and back over the canal a pint in the mobile bar within the grounds of the Blisworth tunnel boat yard.

Rasta Ram

Turner at work
The band, the beer tent and the area where parents get kids to do embarrassing poses

The last area to look around was the show field at the top of the hill. There were more stalls and displays as well as a little camping area for the oldies.

Nice pair

Old Renault

These were actually cafe's - what a great idea
We sat in the warm afternoon sun watching the dog show. As I sat thinking about the festival I thought how it was all very 'Vicar of Dibley' the whole village made a great effort. Definitely one to come back to.

'Do we have a winner?'
'No, YES we have a winner!'

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Big Sky Tonight in Gayton...

MK towards Blizzy..

After our few days at Milton Keynes it was time to pull pins and head towards Blisworth. Not that the pins took much pulling as every boat that passed must have read our minds and went by at full throttle snatching the mooring pins out at every opportunity. How thoughtful. 

It was nice weather and as we were aiming to get to Blisworth by the weekend we were hoping to find a mooring spot close to the bottom of the Stoke Bruerne flight. It was a fairly busy stretch of canal but everyone was being sensible and we followed a pair of very competent Black Prince hirers. Whilst on the move I had my first pot of crab apples simmering away, ready to strain and reduce into pectin for setting my strawberry jam. Shop bought apple pectin is about £10 per litre which bumps the price up quite a bit. 

Along the way boughs were bending with the weight of this years crop of crab apples, I'll have to think up a few more uses of this precious free commodity. The journey to Cosgrove was pleasant but not particularly noteworthy. Crossing the Great Ouse aqueduct brought us to our first lock in a while and a queue of moored and drifting boats waiting to lock up, good job its only a shallow one. Deb went off ahead to help other boat crews recycle the lock until it was our turn. The problem slowing everyone down in front was their reluctance to move up to the small lock landing rather than loiter in the visitors mooring section, and the fact that none of the crews behind were going up to the lock and help. By the time we were through with our locking partners there were no crews waiting and no boats on the lock landing but still five boats a few hundred yards back. Maybe they had become over reliant on the volunteer lockies.

One of my favorite urban art pieces

This must be about the most photographed bridge on the GU

Can you spot the gongoozler just below Cosgrove lock

All seeing, all knowing - 'one day the world WILL be mine'

We pressed on faster than I usually would to avoid getting caught up with the boats from behind. The stretch I was hoping to moor at (about half a mile of good bank side before the locks) was full so we continued on to the water point(s). I'm not sure if these spaces are not visitor points as well, its the only stretch I've seen so far with more than a couple of taps. I think there were six. The Cosgrove lock loiterers soon caught up and we were causing a bit of chaos as it was unclear as to who was watering and who was waiting for the lock. 

By later evening there were just two of us moored up. Us and a charity boat full of delinquents (children of a less fortunate disposition I think they are called). They were watering and I was please when they overflowed their tank and hoses were put away and ropes were uncoiled from bollards. Thank goodness for that. Ropes were retied, shit! The buggers are staying. 

One lad, Nelson, was a real little shit. A perfect artist at causing trouble, skirting around the flack and then reappearing at the back of the huddle in all innocence to watch. He really did need dangling from his ankles into the canal until he had seen the error of his ways. I had chosen the concrete bank side to finish T-cutting the starboard side of the cabin, we had done about a third down in Berko but it badly needed finishing off.

Smurff hands, back in Berko

From my vantage point I was able to observe the interaction amongst the pack and the three (male skipper, and two women) carers, probation officers, youth workers, jailer, fellow delinquents - I'm not quite sure what they were. Attenborough would have had a field day! Some of the group were probably nice kids but when you let them mix with the likes of Nelson (apprentice of Satan) you know that the shit will always hit the fan. So which of the three were supervising, surprise surprise none. Skipper was glued to the phone about two hundred yards away, and the two women only had time for each others droll conversation. When one of them popped her head far enough out of the huddle to enquire of the splinter group of delinquents as to who was next on tea duty she realised that the stones they were throwing were getting closer and closer to the privately moored boats on the other side. 

Several bouts of 'don't throw stones', 'I wasn't throwing stones' were contested. Team Nelson won every one. He was consistent. If being a little shit were an Olympic event I don't think the other countries would even bother entering. 

The puddle of slime drifted away from their boat, stagnated in the fifty yards between them and us, and then carried on to just past my rear deck. I was displeased. I was hungry, my back ached, I was in postdrome migraine mode and bored of polishing. At least one of the three wise persons will reel them in now as they were a good few hundred yards form base. No, the elder delinquents were still in their huddles. I'll give it a mo then gladly go and tell them how to do their jobs. 

The stone throwing started again. No intent to hit the boats but Nelson was trying his best to harass one of the quieter girls who had a serous phone addiction, she had spent the whole three hours so far with it glued to her ear, 'they can't tell me what to do, they're not my muvvers' seemed to repeat on a loop. A lone coote swam over to see what the fuss was about. These usually shy birds seem to get more tame the further south you go and are nearly as greedy as the ducks, just a lot more thick. He soon became target practice. 


'PUT THE BLOODY STONES DOWN AND BUGGER OFF' oh dear I can feel the F's and C's rising with the spittle on my throat, straining to join the vocabulary of my tirade. Nelson does what Nelson does, skirts to the back and waits like a Jackal. The huddle aboard The narrowboat is broken, skipper wanders over. 'Stop throwing stones, how many times have I asked you to stop throwing stones'


'NOW PISS OFF BACK TO YOUR OWN BOAT!' - they leave before skipper arrives. A chorus of 'it wasn't me' nearly drowns out one guilty looking girls 'it was me' before the girl with the phone surgically attached to her ear mumbles past 'you're not my favver anyway, you can't tell me what to do'. They are ushered back aboard by the useless twins saying 'see you're upsetting people now'. 

Useless, lazy and ineffective. No, not the kids, the people who will probably spend the rest of the year glorifying themselves for 'making a difference in our society'. 

Get a big hammer and return phone/ear girls phone/ear back to the base material it was made from, dangle Nelson in the canal from his hightops until he sees reason, and split the two useless twins up and give them a few kids each to engage with, give them some tasks and maybe even promote a bit of competition. Social work or youth volunteering isn't easy but if you either don't want to do it or aren't any good at doing it then don't do it.

The calm of the morning after...

...about 6.30ish

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Milton Keynes

I knew Milton Keynes was a 'new town', but I didn't really know what to expect and I have been surprised. I'm still trying to decide if I like it or not.

Milton Keynes is slightly older than I thought, it was formally designated a new town in January 1967 I thought it was about 10 years later than that.

Seeing it from the canal we have passed very little in the way of housing or industrial it is mostly green with parks and trees, which makes for a very pleasant journey through. We stopped off just before Campbell Park and had a lovely stretch of the canal all to ourselves, but just around the corner there are plenty of other boats so not completely isolated. The towpath here doesn't seem to be used much as there is a fantastic foot/cycle path between the avenue of poplar trees which run along the canal.

A pleasant stroll through the avenue of poplars heading for the centre
I can see you - the umbrella gave it away

The original plan for Milton Keynes was that no building should be taller than the tallest tree, however that seemed to have changed in 2006 as The Hub was built and has fourteen stories as it was felt that Milton Keynes needed 'landmark buildings' 

Map of Milton Keynes

The town itself is made up of grid squares, with each square having its own name. There are three main boulevards which form the basis of the central area's grid. The major roads are approximately 1 km intervals and run horizontally and vertically and all these roads have numbers preceded by either H or V. Roundabouts were built at all the intersections as it was thought they were the most efficient way of dealing with large amounts of traffic. The major roads are all dual carriageways with the remainder being single but with grassed areas the whole length so that they could be made dual if needed. The edges of each grid square have been landscaped and densely planted. As of 2006 the urban area of Milton Keynes has 20 million trees. However the one thing the roads are all missing is pavements but there are no need as the footpaths and cycle routes are all separate to the roads and cross either above or under them. On our mile walk to the centre from the canal we didn't use one road, although we crossed over and under a couple, it was a very pleasant walk through Campbell Park and arriving at a very airport looking building, which turned out to be the town centre.

Passing an outside stage in Campbell Park

View from the top

You can see for miles

The light pyramid 
Approaching the centre
We entered the town centre by the massive John Lewis shop and passed by an inside woodland with floor to ceiling windows and loads of seating, we were then into the centre proper with shops as far as you could see both sides. It soon became apparent to us that the centre design was the same as the roads, there are two main aisles with smaller ones to the sides joining them up and each side having many exits out to the parking areas. After just getting over all the indoor trees and plants we came across the beach, well I was just speechless and just stood looking at the scene before me not quite believing what I was seeing. James bought me back to reality by saying "now surely that deserves a photo, doesn't it!" On we plodded, stopping off in McDonalds to get a milkshake James spotted an outdoor area with seating, when we got out there we realised it wasn't just an outdoor seating area but you could have a game of Jurassic Park crazy golf whilst there. 

One of many indoor tree areas
The beach, complete with helter skelter 
This giant deck chair had a notice saying max 3 adults or 5 children
Crazy golf

We continued on through the rest of the shops, down one side, to the end where you go outside and then there is another smaller indoor area with more shops. We guessed this may be an extension of the main shopping area. In the centre of this indoor area was an outside space with a very sad looking, but just alive, tree with the concrete cows of Milton Keynes. Good job they're painted black and white as otherwise they look nothing like cows.

There are signs of life on the tree

We thought surely there must be an outside town centre or High Street or something, James had mentioned there were no estate agents, they must be out there somewhere! We did walk down a little further and came across a few in what I think is the business centre. By this time it started to rain so we headed back inside and down the other main aisle. We also came across a large market area just outside the main shopping centre. 

Just the other side of the canal, in the opposite direction to the centre is Willen Lake where there are sailing boats, kayaks and pedalos for hire at very reasonable rates. There is also a large park area for older kids built to look like a three storey fort complete with high wires. There is another park for the smaller children with all the usual play equipment. 

Kids kayak course
Also sailing going on

And pedalos available to hire
So Milton Keynes is excellent for shopping whatever the weather and also it is all on one level so no lifts or stairs to contend with. It certainly lacks character and interesting buildings that you would normally get in a high street. There are plenty of parks and green areas and it is great for walking or cycling. It would be interesting to see the residential areas, as apart from a few rows of houses we passed on the canal we haven't seen any sign of housing, which seems surprising as we have walk/cycled the mile or so into the centre and also getting on for the same distance the other side of the canal to the lake, not passing one house.