Tag Archives: Droitwich Spa

Home Sweet Home

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At last. Settled. Our new home. Same old house (narrowboat) but a new location. Droitwich Spa Marina in Worcestershire. We’ve been here now for just over 2 months. Getting to know the area. But at the moment, as I write this, we have been off the boat and away more than here on the boat. Let me explain.

You see, my best friend has a new art studio (she paints acrylicly). It just happens to be in this neck of the woods and was a long drive from Apsley, where we were moored previously. Now it’s only a 40 minute drive. And, we’re out in the country, surrounded by lots of natural foliage and occasional whiffs of manure.

The marina is part of a working farm near the town of Droitwich Spa. This field, near the canal, kept flooding, so the farmers thought…hmmm, next to the canal. Boaters need a place to moor. Let’s build a marina on this useless piece of farmland. And a good job they made of it too. Complete with a boaters’ lounge. Comfortable space to relax with free TV and everything. There is also a block for toilets and showers…even a bath in one of the rooms. I think we’ll stay.

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The offices and diesel jetty at Droitwich Spa Marina from the canal.

My favourite place is the boaters’ lounge, the top floor of the marina offices and small shop that sells everything from milk to mooring pins. The upstairs lounge has comfortable seating, is carpeted, has a balcony and a TV. A sideboard provides us with free coffee and tea and a sink. I go there to use the free wi-fi and do some writing. Rarely do people come in. But when they do, I get to meet some interesting folk, then they get on with their stuff and I continue with mine.

One day, a family came in…dad, grandparents and two little girls. They all had ice cream. We said our hellos and they went over the other side of the room, licking and slurping away. I was typing away when I sensed a presence. I looked up and there was a small girl offering me a some of her ice cream. I thanked her but politely declined. Boaters are a friendly bunch.

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Boaters’ Lounge looking out to marina.

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Boaters’ Lounge with the coffee and tea bar.

The chap who runs the marina is Nick, the farmer’s son-in-law. He is everywhere at once. I think he has been cloned. He fixes this. He moves that. He is in his enormous tractor hauling a narrowboat to be blacked (read through back Blogs), he’s cutting grass and he is in the office administrating. There is a staff of competent people who do most of the office work. Nice group they are too. Very pleasant. Very helpful. Nick orchestrates all of it, and is off to do 10 more things at once.

Everything we need for boating is available here. Diesel, pump-out for those who have built-in shitters, boat equipment in a small chandlery, gas for cooking and heating, coal or wood for our stoves, water and electrics. I mentioned a toilet block with showers, an elsan point (to empty our shitters) and an enclosed space to get rid of our rubbish. All of the jettys are long and stable. But they are quite narrow. You must have your wits about you when walking the length. Don’t want to fall in the water…again.

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The Glad Victor moored at Droitwich Spa Marina (north end), long, narrow jetty and no boats either side.

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Droiwich Spa Marina from the south end. Shower block to the right of the tree.

The marina is only a mile from town, a good walk and great exercise along the towpath. It spills out onto a park and the main shopping area of town, replete with many pubs and a train station. We walk in, buy our supplies for the day and walk back. It has been very hot here since May. On one trip into Droitwich Spa, I complained that I was hot and tired. “Oh, stop your moaning you baby,” says my best friend. “I’ll get you an ice cream if you behave.” Result.

When we arrived at the marina, there were no boats on either side of us. We loved the space around. Open the windows, look out at the water and breathe. But then they began to arrive. No, not other boaters. Ducks, coots, swans and an unidentified fowl that half quacks and half squeaks. With no boats on either side of us, they can jump up on the jetty and poke their beaks in our window, looking for munchies. On the other side of the boat, the water is wider. That’s when the male swan, a grumpy bugger, sticks his long neck up to the open window and hisses and snaps at anyone who walks by inside the boat. Bring on the other boats.

Our old marina had space for a little over 60 boats. Droitwich Spa Marina has 238 moorings. Lots more people and goings on. We’ve met some of our neighbours. Good bunch so far. One chap even helped my best friend carry groceries back to the boat from the car. He is a hulking sort of chap with a very little dog. It takes all types. We have a couple from Australia who come to England to cruise the canals. One of the boats beside us is used for trips out only. Nice couple own it. We have yet to see the other boat on the other side of our jetty. Apparently, they are out all summer long.

We do have our resident curmudgeon. He is several boats away and grunts when we greet him. So, we stopped with the greetings. One day as he passed, we said nothing but he still grunted. Not sure what that was supposed to be. And, we have the naked lady. She is alone on her boat. She likes to wear nothing as she sits in her boat. I only know because one day I stopped to look at some baby ducks by her craft and she was sitting naked by her window. I stared in utter amazement until she caught me. I have gone past her boat every time since, eyes down, staring straight ahead.

Lots of fowl babies too. Ducks, coots and finally, cygnets. We are the 4th boat from the northern end of the marina. On our first day at the marina, the end corner was fenced off with orange mesh (Nick’s work of course) protecting a nest with 4 swan eggs. The mother was off doing something we guessed. On our way up the cut we had seen plenty of cygnets and so we thought this hatching was probably late. It was, according to the local boaters.

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Swan on nest and a hint of Nick’s orange netting..

We thought the mum was not being attentive enough. It happens. The usual vultures circled the nest…the heron, the seagulls, various vermin and a fox. Somehow the eggs survived. This charade went on for a couple of weeks. We had to leave the boat one weekend, thinking when we came back the eggs would have finally been destroyed. And they were. All gone we thought. Stupid mum. Then, up the jetty beside us where there is no boat (yet) came a mum, a dad (old grumpy Gus) and 4 cygnets. Relief. All are doing well.

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On The Move

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It was time to say goodbye to Apsley Marina and head north to our new home at Droitwich Spa. We had nearly 3 good years at Apsley with good nighbours and great facilities around us to make living on a boat a little easier. The train station was only minutes away with a short 30 minute trip to the centre of London. Everything we needed to get my best friend to work in the city and for me to write and play music.

My best friend’s art studio was now in Herefordshire. My friend had a music studio in his barn for recording my music and it cost much less to live further north than it did nearer London. Friends of ours lived up that way. They had their boat at Droitwich Spa marina, so we decided to head that way. It would be a long trip…122 miles and 178 locks, but we had help and could manage it. A trip like that usually takes 11 days. We had to do it in 5. Thatmeant long days at the helm.

We said our goodbyes with little fanfare. No fuss after all we had lived through since moving our boat to Apsley. So long to our garden and our good neighbours. We were heading for new adventures and a new home. Once we passed the turn off to Crick where we bought our boat, we would be in new territory. I looked forward to the challenge and seeing new sections of the Cut.

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The Tring Summit on the Grand Union Canal.

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My best friend happy in her work at the locks.

I took photos with my trusty LG Mobile (Cell) phone to give you an idea about everything along the route. I could have taken pics every couple of minutes, there was so much to see. But my poor old phone kept telling me I had no more space. And if you know me, 1 photo of an object is never enough. Because I helmed (drove the boat) the whole way….spelled off occasionally by a good friend who came with us to help with locks….it was difficult to snap and steer.

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The rolling countryside around the canal.

So difficult, in fact, my best friend laid down the 2 second rule. You see, I have a bit of a focus issue. I am like a goldfish. I can concentrate on one thing at a time for a very short moment. If I am helming, all my energy and attention has to be on the driving. If a duck with a new batch of cute, fluffy little ducklings goes by, I watch them until the boat is ready to smash into the canal side. Hence, the 2 second rule. Ducklings for 2 seconds, drive. Lovely house with gardens by the canal, 2 seconds, drive. Inviting pub, drive. Remembering the rule is another thing. Swan with cygnets….best friend, “2 second rule!!!”, drive.

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The 2 second rule in play here. Duck on the ledge of an aquaduct.

When we passed a particularly lovely spot, the friend helping us offered to take the helm while I took photos. She was a great help the whole trip. She is an experienced boater and talked me through numerous tricky situations. “The boat has 3 gears,” she says, “Forward, neutral and reverse. Use them all in a pickle, but use them slowly. You can’t rush your way out of a difficult situation.” “Yes ma’am.” I tend to ram the thing into reverse , then ram it into forward when I sense trouble or become stuck on the bottom. That can be a tad scary on a 20 ton, 60 foot boat on a narrow canal.

Which reminds me. A little info is called for here. The canals do not have an endless supply of water. Apparently, and don’t take my recollections as gospel….my best friend doesn’t….the ground in this country doesn’t drain very well. Though we get our fair share of rain, most of it evaporates before it seeps into the ground. If we have a dry spell of only a week or 2, water reserves dry up and hose pipe bans are put in place.

The CRT (Canal and River Trust) tells us that canal water levels have been going down over the last years due to all kinds of reasons. More boats on the Cut, boaters leaving gate paddles open thus draining water pounds, old locks leaking too much and a lack of rain. They say that within 5 short years unless there is a concerted effort to reverse the trend, there won’t be enough water for travel. That would be disastrous for us boaters to say the least. 15,000 marooned boats.

But now to the brighter side. You could not have picked better weather in May for this move. The 1st day was a little chilly and overcast but stayed dry. Then the sun came out and the rest of the trip was glorious. The best of England spread before us. Some of the most breathtaking scenery anywhere on earth and at only 4 mph, it goes by slowly enough to allow us to appreciate it.

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Das Boat heading toward a lock. is there enough water in the pound? This time there was.

And now for the trip itself….each day’s journey with commentary and photos. 5 days of the best this country can offer. Come on along. You won’t be disappointed and you may even find yourself booking a holiday on a canal boat to see it all. But hurry, you never know when the well will dry up.

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At the helm on the cold 1st day. My best friend and Deb the helper in the background.

 

 

Luxury For Larry?

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Luxury For Larry?

A long, long, long time ago in this galaxy, I had a job that paid good money. I bought a sporty little sports car and when I went on a business trip, I stayed in high-class hotels. The best ever was The Banff Springs Hotel, in, well, Banff, Alberta Canada. Yes, those were the days. I’ve had my share of fleabag hotels too. Availability and roll of the dice can often mean you end up in a guest house or a hotel that is nothing like its advertised opulence.

The various accommodations I have stayed at over the course of my life add up to a smorgasbord of choice from the low to the high. The worst place ever was in the south of Tunisia. The toilet consisted of two planks over a pit. Your business was completed between the planks. Lizards darted about in the pit below. Lovely. And I have stayed in every kind of place in between that and Banff Springs during my time on the planet.

Hotels and Motels are one thing. Accommodations come in all shapes, sizes and types. I’ve stayed in plenty of those, mostly in Canada. Always searching for the best budget accommodation without going for lizards in the toilet or uncomfortable beds. The best sleep I’ve had is in any of the Premier Inns I’ve stayed at around England. You can’t beat their mattresses and pillows. The rest of the place isn’t much, but a good night sleep is a must. For me it is anyway.

Since those heady days of pre-millennium, the choices regarding accommodation have changed considerably. Hotels and motels are old school. Even B&Bs (Bed & Breakfast establishments) are passé. They still exist, of course, and are frequented, especially by the more senior among us. But the trend nowadays is to find an Air B&B or accommodation through another group called Home/Away. There are probably others, but I ain’t that trendy.

I’ve stayed in a few B&Bs in my day….mostly in Britain. One that comes to mind is a place I stayed in back in 1978 in Inverness. I have never met a more crusty, ill-tempered old lady in all my life before that visit or since. Why she was in the business confounds me. She actually told me she merely tolerates people. She and her sister had owned and run the place until her sister died suddenly leaving Miss (a spinster) Fussydrawers to keep the place going. “My sister, the selfish cow, was the outgoing one. She loved people,” she told me at breakfast. “I just had to do the breakfasts and stay out of the way. Then she drops dead and leaves me with the whole thing. I’ve never forgiven her.” I really needed to know that. And no trip adviser back then to register a negative review.

There have been a few Youth Hostels too….during that fateful Tunisian trip. Swore I’d never stay in another one again in my life and I’ve lived up to that promise. The Air B&Bs have been another thing altogether. The best one so far was in Paris a few years ago. Right in the heart of the city a few blocks from the Georges Pompidou Centre. We were in a very small apartment on the top floor (no lift) of a very old, historical house. The price was incredibly cheap for the location. People rent out their homes or part of them to strangers. I’ve stayed at one in Amsterdam, a Dutch comedian’s (an oxymoron if ever there was one) house and one in York.

The problem with Air B&B is that not every participant is reliable. We have booked places where providers never respond. In one case we booked a place in Liverpool at the Albert Dock. The woman replied, said it was available, we asked for details to send payment and never got a reply. Not good business. And a place we got in York (Yorkshire) had mold everywhere. Hit and miss principles apply.

But the most promising accommodation yet was in a place you’d never expect…. Droitwich Spa. Not a household name. And I had never heard of it either until some friends moved their boat to a marina just outside of town. We travelled up there to see them and decided, because they live with 3 dogs on the boat, to stay at a local hotel. And there it was, on the internet….Chateau Impney, at a very good nightly rate too. The name is weird. Impney. Where did that come from?

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Don’t know. It began as Impney Hall back in the late 1800s. A chap named John Corbett built it for his French/Irish wife in the style of a French Chateau, thinking this would make her happy. It didn’t. It turned into a miserable marriage and the good lady moved to one of Corbett’s houses in Ireland. Corbett was the salt magnate of the Spa and made a lot of money. His dad owned and ran a barge (narrowboat) on the canals from Birmingham to London. Enterprising family. In 1925, Impney Hall became a hotel and survived troop devastations and enemy prisoners from WWII. It was re-branded as Chateau Impney in the 1960s. The extensive grounds and gardens were restored near to their former glory as well.

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And having booked online, we didn’t know what to expect. As we drove up the lane toward this magnificent place, we couldn’t believe our luck. We checked in and were told our room was in one of the out-buildings. Nice room, but in a brown-bricked, flat-roofed annex….and no room service. But, breakfast was included and we did get to eat that in the Chateau….basement. Even so, one lady, dressed very smartly asked if her party could move elsewhere when they were seated next to us….wearing our leisure wear. Snooty bitch.

We walked the gardens before we left and headed home to our boat and our normal life. The pretentious Chateau, as ornate and as spectacular as it was, could stay or go as far as I’m concerned. Next time it’s the Premier Inn for me.