Tag Archives: Beer

Apsley to Droitwich: Day 5 & 6

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On our way Day 5

This was to be the last day of our trip from Apsley to Droitwich, but a body found in the canal ahead delayed the arrival at Droitwich Spa Marina. No one was sure where the incident occurred. There were varying accounts. And no one was sure if the canal was open yet. When our friends Tony and Deb showed up late the next morning, we decided to push on anyway. It was another great weather day. We were under way by 11am, not our usual 5:30am start, which meant when we did 10 hours on Day 5, we only would have 4 hours left the following day, adding up to the normal 14 hour day we had done up until now. You do the math.

Tony headed back home. He would meet us later at the next flight of locks….The Tardebigge locks, 30 in all, 2.25 miles long and descending 220 feet. The only reason The Hatton Flight is more famous is because more people use it. The Tardebigge Flight is on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, while the Hatton Flight is on the Grand Union Canal. The latter also has double locks while the former is all single locks.

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Solihull

The Tardebigge flight was designed by one man. The Lapworth Flight that we had just completed were all independent designs. The designers put out a tender to many companies to construct one lock on the flight, hence the different shaped locks (all still single) and a mix of lock gates and paddle lifts. One was eventually chosen and so there is a semblance of cohesion along the way. At the time of day we had completed the Lapworth Flight, I was so tired they all looked the same to me. Stone, wood and water. Start low, end high.

And now another new day. On to the Tardebigge flight, through Solihull, a southern district of Birmingham, along the North Stratford Canal, through the Brandwood Tunnel (352 yards long, 0.2 miles….not very long), up to a left turn at King’s Norton Junction on to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, through 2 more tunnels and down to the Tardebigge Flight. From the top of the Lapworth Flight to Tardebigge, we had to travel north, then west and finally south. Nothing on the Cut is straight forward. You go where the canals were cut to get to your destination. Sometimes you even loop back on yourself. We have those farmers and landowners from the 1700s and 1800s to thank for the shape of the Cut.

This day’s trip was going to take us 10 hours. Ought to have been 13 and a half, but we did Tardebigge in 1/3 the time (a record time apparently…ought to be 6 and a half hours and we did it in 2hrs 15 mins) required because it was late, just after 6:30pm when we arrived at the first lock and nearly 9pm when we got to the bottom. It was another hot day and there were 21 miles to cover and those 30 locks at the end of the journey. Would we just moor up before tackling the Tardebigge Flight or go for it? Tony made up our minds. He’d be there waiting. We were going for it.

Clear cruising on Day 5. We passed the place where the body had been found. We learned later that it had been a young woman with epilepsy who must have had a seizure and fallen in the canal off a bridge. Very sad. It took place in Solihull, the south end of Birmingham. Lots of hired boats on the Cut this day, some seasoned and more than a few who had no idea how to handle a boat.

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Approaching the Guillotine lock.

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Leaving the Guillotine Lock

We were following one hire boat for a while. It would slow to a crawl then suddenly accelerate and take off like a bat-out-of-hell (as much as a boat could fly), slowing to a crawl again and so on. Very frustrating. Playing silly buggers. We came to a sharp bend that turned right, into a narrow because trees hung out over the canal on the left. Then the canal cut to the left just as sharply on a bend past the hanging trees.

There was a pub on the right, on the bend. It looked for a moment like the hired boat was going to moor alongside the pub. I thought, great, I’ll just slip by him. He changed his mind and started pulling out, forcing me to veer left, just as a boat rounded the bend coming toward us. Don’t ask me how I threaded the needle, but with help from navigator Deb and best friend support, we avoided disaster. When the water cleared, we were back behind the hire boat that decided to moor up on the next stretch. We were glad to be on our own again.

Lots of pubs along this route. But the one we were interested in was waiting at the bottom of the Tardebigge Flight. We passed through the Brandwood Tunnel, all the while remaining on the North Stratford canal. Eventually, we arrived at the King’s Norton Junction where the North Stratford meets the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. We were finally heading south. Little did I know that there were still 2 tunnels before the Tardebigge locks.

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Entering the Brandwood Tunnel

The first one, well let’s just say it was like walking under a waterfall. A cold shower like none of the other tunnels we encountered. I was soaked at the end of it. And this, the Shortwood Tunnel, was 610 yards long. That’s over a 3rd of a mile of water pouring down on me. And no soap. The second tunnel was the Tardebigge, because it comes just before the locks. It is 580 yards long and is relatively dry….relatively.

The big test came at the end of the day. So many locks and daylight waned. Tony was there and organised the ladies, the three working as a well-oiled machine, lock after lock. We sneaked by one chap who we thought might hold us up, but for some reason, between locks, he had tied up his boat and gone off somewhere. We dodged ahead of him and never looked back, except to take photos. We reached the bottom lock, moored for the night, exhausted after the hot and long day, even though it was only 10 hours….only?

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One of the Tardebigge locks

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On our way down the Tardebigge locks

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Tony and Bestie operate one of the Tardebigge locks.

On the other side of the towpath was the sister pub to the one we had gone to the night before. This one was the Queen’s Head pub.The problem? We were too late for food. It was Sunday and they stopped serving food at 7:30. What did that matter really? The beer was flowing and the crisps and peanuts were plentiful. And guess who we ran into? The guys who had turned back at the Lapworth Flight to take the Birmingham route. They had arrived only and hour before us. It was much further the route they had taken. We all laughed. And we drank. Only 4 hours to Droitwich, so we relaxed and staggered back to the boat.

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Moored beside The Queen’s Head at the bottom of the Tardebigge locks

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Moored at the bottom of the Tardebigge locks.

The next morning we set off, but a little later than usual. We had to cover 4 miles and negotiate 15 more locks, turning off the Worcester & Birmingham Canal to the rather short Droitwich spur which had 3 of the strangest locks we had encountered. After all those very long days, this one seemed like a doddle. So much so that we had 2 chaps work those last 3 locks for us. They had to fill some pound off to the right of the lock, then empty it so the next lock would have plenty of water. 2 volunteers are here every day in the summer from 11am to 4pm, helping boaters through these locks.

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Deb and Bestie working one of the last few locks.

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Going down in one of the locks just before the marina with help from 2 chaps.

It was the only time my best friend allowed me to get off the boat, to watch the proceedings. Quite an impressive way to save water. It takes longer to get through a lock, but we didn’t mind. The marina was in sight and our journey to an end. Out of the last lock, ahead a short distance, turn right through a narrow gap and into our new marina.

I moored alongside a cement dock to fill the thirsty boat with diesel and we went into the marina office to sign in and get our place. I went back to the boat, untied and headed to our new berth, on the north side of the marina. Back in, tie up, engine off. Home.

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Our new home at Droitwich Spa Marina in Worcestershire (like the sauce).

 

Canada at 150

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Not sure how to go about this. Sitting on my boat in a marina, thousands of miles and an ocean away from my old home, thinking about its birthday. 150 years old is not old when it comes to the age of countries. Canada was populated long before Vikings and then European settlers came along, but only became a nation in 1867 when Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec), known as the Canadas, joined with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to become a Confederation. After that, the other provinces and territories joined in. The last to become part of Canada was Newfoundland in 1949.

And that’s the history lesson for today. I wasn’t born in Canada. My birth took place near Hampton Court in the outer reaches of London in 1951. We emigrated to Canada in July of 1955. In 1967, Canada’s Centennial year, my dad, mum, brother and I became Canadian citizens. I had just assumed we were all citizens already. Nope. Had to join. I was 16 years old. And we went to Expo ’67 that same summer. As far as I was concerned, I would be Canadian and remain in Canada for the rest of my days.

Didn’t work out that way. In the 1980s I lived for 5 years in France and then in 2006, I moved lock, stock and barrel to England and have been here ever since. When people ask me why I moved from all that space in Canada to cramped England….the accent gives me away….I say, I love it here. Always been a dream to live again in the country of my birth. I love the history of the place too, the good, the bad and the ugly. I got a university degree in British history back in 1980….after a number of years studying at night. Every inch of this country is teeming in rich stories from history.

My first visit back to England from Canada was in 1973 when I was 22 years old. Met all my cousins and aunts and uncles and my nans, had my first drink (Newcastle Brown Ale), visited all the sites around London and ate lots of fish and chips. I loved it. So quaint. Small houses joined together in a row, large palaces, double-decker buses and home to most of my favourite bands. I went on a trip with one of my cousins to the south coast and up to York. I was sad to leave then, but vowed I’d be back.

Meanwhile, in Canada, my favourite sports teams were losing and I had to find a job. I got married, had kids and became a preacher like my dad. My favourite places to go in Canada were the mountains in the west and cottage country in Ontario, my home province. I’ve camped in the Rockies, travelled through them for business and skied at Whistler. In Ontario, I spent summers near the water at Sauble Beach on Lake Huron and at cottages on some of the lakes in Haliburton and the Muskokas, as well as the lake district in Eastern Ontario, especially around Bon Echo, along Lake Superior and always Algonquin Park. When I left the ministry, I enjoyed playing music with friends.

Canada has so much to offer if you love the outdoors, because there’s plenty of it. I have told some of my British friends when they ask me why I would leave Canada for here, I said that Canada is big, but it’s boring. Depends what you’re looking for. The grass, as they say, seems greener elsewhere than where you are. Canada was a great home for many years, 51 to be exact. So, for 1/3 of Canada’s history, I was a part of it. Not bad. If I’m honest, the best part of living there was raising my kids. I am proud of all of them.

You can look over the 150 years of Canadian history and pick holes in a lot of bad decisions made by its leaders. That’s the same everywhere. The treatment of its First Nation Peoples has been nothing short of atrocious. Federalism has worked to some extent, but if you travel around the country, there are discrepancies in how certain regions are treated by the Federal government. The folk in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, can be pretty stupid sometimes when it comes to fair play for all the provinces and the 3 territories. And often, Canadians, like Brits can be too focused on making money than living and caring about their neighbours. But, as I say, every nation still has those problems even after thousands of years of recorded history.

So, wherever I go, I try to be a part of what is going on in that place. It’s really all any of us can do. Fit in and care about those around you….unless they’re arseholes (assholes). You can find those everywhere in any country. I’ve met a few over here let me tell you. And I had my share of running into them in my old country. Come to think of it, I have probably been one at various times in my life in all 3 countries.

And so, here I am, far away, missing the party to celebrate Canada’s 150th. I just found out there is a party in Trafalgar Square today after it had been cancelled the last 2 years. I discovered it by chance when I was looking for information on 150th celebrations around the world. It was on the Canadian High Commissioner’s Blog. She said the theme this year was ‘Bring a Brit.’ My best friend is a Brit….but then so am I by definition. Anyway, she’s outside the boat doing some gardening with our neighbour Mimz. I went out and said, “Hey, guess what.” “What?” she replies. “I just read that they were having a party in Trafalgar Square after all. They say Bring a Brit. Wanna go?” It’s 3pm already. Catch a train at 3:40 to Euston station, Northern Line tube to Charing Cross and a short walk to the Square. The celebrations end at 8pm, so probably time at least for some poutine.

My best friend gives me a look, her hands deep in a pot of soil, ready to plant some needy flowers. “Uh, I don’t think so mate.” And that’s the end of that. I ain’t going alone. It says bring a Brit and last-minute doesn’t work around here. But, for all you in the Square, expat Canucks and your Brit guest, have a good one. I’ll raise a pint on my boat. Oh wait, I’m out of beer. What self-respecting Canadian would be out of beer on Canada day? That would be me.

 

 

2nd Annual Village Idiots Convention

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2nd Annual Village Idiots Convention

What’s in a name? Lots, I think. Especially if you live with a moniker all or most of your life. I’ve had a few over my lifetime. I won’t put most of them in print. My best friend calls me Lazbo. I don’t mind that one. Friends I’ve had and have, have had and have monikers. Can’t remember them for the most part. There was a guy called Mouse I seem to recall. One of my favourite films is The Sandlot. I love the monikers the young lads who play baseball in their local park give each other. Everyone has to have one.

Every culture has them. Some characteristic of a person screams out a name, complimentary or derogatory, that depicts the person’s personality. It may also be a name an individual takes on for him or herself, usually after a fictitious character or a hero of the past. “I am Sparticus” comes to mind as one. But that’s more a joke than anything.

People change their names for all sorts of reasons. I had a friend in Canada whose last name was Greedy. He had it changed to Grady. Showbiz folk are notorious for taking on different names. John Wayne’s first name is really Marion. I would have changed that too. Michael Keaton was born Michael Douglas. That change makes sense too. Michael Caine is really Maurice Micklewhite, which would probably work today. Elton John is Reginald Kenneth Dwight. Ben Kingsley is Krishna Pandit Bhanji. Woody Allen was born Allen Konigsburg and Bruno Mars was born Peter Gene Hernandez. My favourite is the one taken by one of my music heroes, Elvis Costello. He was born Declan Patrick McManus.

Monikers are something else entirely….nicknames given to friends and family members. When Madonna was younger, she was known as Little Nonnie. Brad Pitt is Pitt Bull to his friends. Al Capone was known as Scarface, but never to his face. His friends called him Snorky. I wouldn’t have. When I went to high school in Canada, I had two friends who were known as Vic The Wop and Steve The Greek. You can guess why and they never minded.

Another old high school mate was visiting England recently. He came to see his daughter who lives over here. Then he visited our boat. Wanted to see what made this lifestyle of mine so attractive. He was born Jim Pitkin. But I have always known him as Virgil Scott. We distinguish ourselves from the herd by giving ourselves the moniker of 2 Village Idiots. We met up in London last year for the 1st Annual Village Idiots Convention. This was the second annual event.

The convention involves drinkng beer and making frequent visits to the loo. We are old Village Idiots you see. A village from our own warped imaginations. We have both seen and experienced enough in our lives to know that only true idiots can survive the nonsense going on around us. And we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Well, I don’t anyway.

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2nd Annual Village Idiots Convention at Apsley, Hertfordshire.

Virgil came by his name from a band he fronted back in our high school days, ‘The Innocence of Virgil Scott’. I think he, or one of the other members of the band, told me long ago that the band name came from a book or a poem. The closest reference I can find is Scott’s long poem about Virgil called ‘The Innocence’. Who knows? The band later shortened the name to ‘The Innocence’ because, I suppose, Jimbo had taken on the name Virgil Scott.

Since high school, Virgil has had a long and mad adventure in the music industry in Canada, working with some of the top people in the business. After high school, he improved his singing voice by taking vocal lessons from a professional voice coach and going to college in a music program noted for putting out some of the best in Canada. Virgil has written songs, jingles and the like and is known for his love of the old Motown music. I once played sax in a band that was the Toronto equivelent to the Dublin Commitments story. I love Motown too. We share that love, Virgil and me.

We took different paths after high school. Virgil did some theatre, studied music and then went into the music business. I went into business, then became a missionary and then a preacher. When I woke up from that nightmare at age 53, I went back into music (and writing). Now I am about to busk and he says he’s retiring. “Tired of lugging everything from gig to gig,” he says. He’ll continue to play small venues now and again, but that’s it. And he is always looking out for that next great act to promote.

Virgil was one of the cool guys in high school who hung around with the cool crowd. I hung around with the jocks even though I wasn’t one. I did play a season of football (the American type Canadian style) but I was rubbish. I studied music in high school too and that was my connection with Virgil. We’ve kept in touch in recnt years on Facebook and at a couple of high school reunions we’ve attended.

I’m not sure how we got going with the village idiot stuff. It began at a funeral we attended for another high school mate a few years ago. And it stuck. Others have tried to join but it is an exclusive club, if you can call it that. During this visit, Virgil regaled my best friend and me with tales old and new, all with the aplomb and colour of a sports commentator and always entertaining.

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Virgil relaxing on our boat.

I think Virgil was impressed with my living conditions. He even said as much. He was very comfortable on our sofa and stayed quite a while longer than he had first expected. He’ll be back next October to visit his daughter and preside over the 3rd Annual Village Idiots Convention. Not sure where we’ll be with the boat by then, but we’ll meet up somewhere, have a brew or two and reminisce. And, while I’m on the subject, here’s to village idiots everywhere.

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Virgil alongside the Glad Victor.

Suds Along The Cut

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One of the advantages of coming back to live in England is the pubs. Although they are closing down at an alarming rate all over Britain, the ones along the canals thrive. No wonder. Thirsty boaters must have our watering holes. And many of them have evolved to become fine eating establishments too. Suds, by the way, are what North Americans call Beer. Sometimes. There’s even a brewing company over there that makes the brand ‘Suds Beer’.

Quite a number of pubs have survived because they have been bought up by conglomerates like JD Wetherspoon, Enterprise Inns, Crown Carveries, Harvesters and so on. Cheaper meals make up for ridiculously high beer and wine prices. Children are welcome and the occasional pet can be found cowering under a table.

Along our stretch of the Grand Union Canal, there are nearly 200 pubs and Inns still serving boaters and gongoozlers alike. Locals and holidayers frequent them as well. Most are maintained rather well I must say. And I love the names. You get your typical Red Lions, The Rose and Something or others and Boat Inns. Then you get The Old Bookbinder, The Folly Inn, The Merrie Monk, The Ye Olde Reindeer, The Bear on the Barge, The Bald Buzzard Ale House, Kizzie’s Waterside Bistro, the wildly non PC The Black Boy and….well, that’ll do. Oh, and The Malt Shovel. Why not.

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The Boat Inn, Stoke Bruerne, on The Grand Union Canal

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The Boat Inn, Thrupp, on the Oxford Canal

The stretch of the Grand Union canal I did with my neighbour Eddie, features 15 pubs either right by the canal or within a short walk from it. Six of those are right by the water from Berkhamsted to where my marina is situated and one just down by Nash Mills, a short walk from my boat and down one of the greenest parts of the local towpath.

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The cut near Nash Mills, a stone’s throw from our marina

It’s a wonder we boaters stay so fit, trim and sober. And if you believe that, I have to believe you don’t know boaters. Our boater friends Deb and Tony, currently moored up in Cropredy….where the Fairport Convention holds its annual music festival….put us onto SADS (Safe Arrival DrinkS) at the end of a boating venture or just any old time. Temptations galore. Who could resist? Not me. I see a pub and I just have to go in. Suds of any description is my weekness (among others). I have even learned to like Bitter, warm beer to North Americans. Ales, for the most part, must never be served cold. Loses the flavour of the ale. Not the done thing.

Anyway, enough about my proclivities. The subject here is the watering holes along the cut. We walked to The Fishery to have lunch. This establishment has been here since 1905. Added too as well. A back patio and added room for more restaurant seating shows how popular things have become. The Fishery is now owned by the Harvester group but is one of its upscale dining/drinking pubs.

Down the cut from us, in Nash Mils, a 10 minute walk, is Ye Olde Red Lion. Another oldie, as the name says. You have to move off the towpath beside the Nash Mills lock, through an opening in the hedges, through a gate that has no real purpose but looks quaint and across a well kept lawn to the pub. If you believe in magic, the scene beyond the hedges lining the towpath is like walking into a Rupert book. If you don’t know who Rupert is, I pity you. All my kids know and my eldest daughter has all the Rupert Annuals going back to her birth in 1984. We’ve never eaten at Ye Olde Red Lion, but their ales are a winner.

 

Closer to home, across what one writer termed the swirly whirly white metal bridge, is The Paper Mill. This pub was built more recently on the site of….wait for it….an old paper mill, which originally was a flour mill. John Dickinson was a 19th century stationer who invented the first continuous paper making process. The first envelope with a gummed closing was made here….just beyond our marina. In the 20th century, the red and black books and notebooks came from here as well as the Lion Brand of paper products. If any of you remember Lady Bird books….yup, the paper came from here. The whole thing was sold in 1999 and in 2005 a French company took over the reigns.

Many of the old buldings were demolished. A few remain. The pub reminds us of what used to be. The food and drink are expensive, but the atmosphere is wonderful. They also feature craft beers. I guess you could say this is our local.

The oldest pub within walking distance, if you like a long trek, is The Three Horseshoes near Winkwell. That’s the furthest spot we walked to with Eddie on the photo shoot. Eddie reads these Blogs, so I won’t mention the Kingfisher that still eludes him. He’s sensitive about that. Eddie walked on after the swing bridge at Winkwell. The rest of us crossed the bridge and had a drink at The Three Horseshoes. It has been there since 1535, before the canal even. A beautiful spot inside and out.

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The Tickety Boo passes The Three Horseshoes near Winkwell

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The Three Horseshoes (1535)

The Rising Sun is in Berkhamsted, just down the canal from The Boat, which is the photo at the head of this Blog. I am going to try to walk there one day….one day. But the sign outside the pub excited my neighbour Eddie when we headed that way a few weeks ago on our way to Cowroast (where another pub is situated). The reason for the excitement was a sign posted outside the pub. It read, “Free Beer Inside”. Two thirsty boaters, we were overcome with the promise of free beer. We’d worked nearly 20 locks and needed a drink.

As the boat approached the next lock, we thought we’d moor up and sample the freebies. I jumped off the boat when Eddie pulled over to the side and held the boat with the centre rope while Eddie made sure the boat was secure. It wasn’t until we got close to the pub that we noticed the fine print on the sign….”Free House, Great Beer, Welcome Inside”. A come on. Didn’t work. We moved on.

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