Tag Archives: Nature

On The Move


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.


The Tring Summit on the Grand Union Canal.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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



Caribbean Cruise: Part 5, The Finale

Caribbean Cruise: Part 5, The Finale

And about time too. This Blog has been going on for months and needs to conclude. Problem? There are 3 more islands to visit. But as one island is much the same as the next (Aruba notwithstanding), the final 3 shall be handled here with much the sameness. The only difference is St. Vincent, though it is much like St. Lucia except that its claim to fame is providing the Jamaican scenery from Pirates of the Caribbean. So, I guess apart from that, St. Vincent is St. Lucia.

Some might disagree. It’s all a matter of perspective. It’s also a matter of all those hills, or mountains of a sort and bendy, twisty roads and palm trees and banana groves and volcanoes and hot weather. Oh, and very nice, but ubiquitous beaches. The other exception to this is St. Kitts which has mountains but we didn’t drive through them, just around them. St. Kitts also is where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean in this part of the world and you can see the two collide.

And since all of the Caribbean islands were formed from volcanoes spilling land from their tops and sides, it is no wonder that the islands in this part of the world have so many similarities. The third of the last 3 we visited, Antigua, was another beach day. We didn’t see much of the island. The sea was rough and someone said there was a shark sighting. More shell gathering. Not so memorable.


Fryes beach, Antigua.

St. Kitts was another story. Our tour guide made the day. I called him Fancy Danman. He had a very dry sense of humour and loved to tell us at every turn that the British pretty well wiped out the indigenous people of St. Kitts. Never mind that everyone on the bus was British.  No one took the bait. We all acted like the polite British people we used to be. I say we because my family background goes back to William the Conqueror and Border Scots even though most of my life was lived in Canada. Mostly I am polite. I wanted to tell old Fancy Danman to blame the privileged classes of Britain for past misdemeanours, but my best friend gave me one of those looks and I kept quiet. That too is very British unless one is a Football/Soccer Hooligan.


Fancy Danman (aka Rastaman) our guide on St. Kitts.

Most of St. Kitts seems to be for Medical and Veterinary students from everywhere. Then there is the old sugar plantation with a Batik shop that is the real reason we were here. Lovely stuff….not cheap. We didn’t feel guilty because St. Kitts had been spared the worst of Hurricane Irma. We stopped where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea complete with a lady in a shack painting pictures for tourists. I went in and bought one of an island couple in traditional dress.


One of the medical colleges on St. Kitts.


Woman working on Batik.


Batik drying at old sugar plantation on St. Kitts.


Where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea.


The artist’s studio on St. Kitts.


The artist in her ramshackle studio on St. Kitts.

Back on the bus and off to a cliff that overlooked a lava rock beach. Quite a sight. But the best feature of this tourist spot was at the back of our bus. Our driver, not Fancy Danman, had lowered a ledge behind the bus and was supplying us with another very potent rum punch. I kept going back for refills, and though we were supposed to have only one, the driver obliged with a knowing wink. Tourism is thirsty work.

I felt no pain for the rest of the trip. When we got back to Bassetierre, we walked into town to find a bank to replenish our dwindling funds. In the middle of one garden square is the statue of a half-naked island girl. It was commissioned by the British government to stand atop the tall plinth in Trafalgar Square. But it was deemed too risqué for the sensibilities of Victorian England and so Admiral Horatio Nelson won the honoured spot. That’s how Fancy Danman told it anyway. I have been unsuccessful in finding any corroborating evidence to Danman’s story, but he would be the first to say it is a conspiracy of silence.


The clock tower in Bassetierre’s town centre.

So much for politics. On to St. Vincent. Our day began on a catamaran, the reverse of our day on St. Lucia. The sea was rough this day and we bobbed about like a cork. Some people were sick and the rest of us just hung on. We passed all the places used in the filming of Pirates of the Caribbean, including the bay that substituted for Nassau Town (Jamaica) where actor Johnny Depp was said to have been drunk for the entire 3 months of filming here. Apparently, it became impossible for Depp to stay at the resort nearby because of the damage he did to the place and so he was moved to a boat anchored in the bay with his own onboard chef and rowed to the day’s film shoot.


Rainbow from the bow of the catamaran.


Scene used in first Pirates of the Caribbean film.


Lava Beach where I snorkeled.

We anchored at a beach consisting of black lava sand. One of the film’s scenes was filmed here (the one with the big wheel for all those who know the movies) and we were told we could swim or snorkel. Problem is, the trip planners had not said we had a swimming break. I went in any way with mask and snorkel….and not much else (island fever had taken over). Lots of colourful fishies. But the current was strong and at one point I had to crawl up on to the lava beach to catch my breath. Ended up cleaning lava sand from every part of me for the rest of the day.

When I got back on the catamaran, the crew was handing out ….you guessed it….more of that potent rum punch. But before that, those of us who had braved the waves were asked if we would like to sample a special rum. I am a gamer. What I didn’t know was that this rum was 90% proof and I swallowed it all at once. Like lighted gasoline in the throat and belly. Forgot my pain. And washed it out of my system with a few rum punches.

We headed shoreside to the place where lunch was arranged, along with one free drink. But to get there, we ploughed through some of the roughest water yet. By this time, I was feeling no fear or pain and ended up on the bow of the catamaran, holding on to a guy wire, woohooing all the way to shore. No wonder sailors drank rum. Gets you through anything.

Once safely ashore, we had lunch at a restaurant by the water. I ate my chicken something or other and drank my locally brewed Hairoun beer as I watched little sand crabs moving about, disappearing down holes at the slightest sign of danger. They move very quickly. After a stop at another Botanical garden and waterfall, we drove the long, twisting, up and down road to our ship in Kingstown. Then it was off to Barbados and the flight back to cold, wet England.


Enjoying a Hairoun brewski on St. Vincent.


Waterfall at the Botanical Garden on St.Vincent.


Crossing the rickety bridge in the Botanical Garden on St. Vincent.

Ciao Caribbean Cruise. Like a distant memory as I write this. Will I ever go back? Most of me says ‘Been there, done that’ but you never know. If I ever do, it won’t be to Grenada. I’ll probably stick to Majorca….closer and cheaper….so far.


And it’s goodbye from the Caribbean.

Griswold Afloat


It’s no secret. I am a nut for Christmas. My best friend isn’t, but I have a 10 year plan to convert her. And it has been 10 years, so I don’t have long. My Christmas hero is not the baby Jesus or the Christmas angels or a star. And it isn’t even Santy Claus. My Christmas hero is Clark Griswold, another fictional character…. one that I try to emulate at this time of year.

I know there may be one or two of you who don’t know to whom I refer. You’ve never watched National Lampoon’s ‘A Christmas Vacation’. I feel sorry for you. I love Clark’s panache in the Christmas decorating department, especially concerning exterior illumination. Forcing the Power Company of Chicago to go to emergency nuclear power when he turns on the outside lights makes me laugh every time I watch it. And that, of course, is around Christmastime. Never miss it. Even have it on BlueRay.

My years in Canada were the best for Christmas exterior illumination if I’m honest. Most houses there are built for it. And so, over ‘ome, I became the Clark Griswold of my street. My kids gave me that moniker. Young as they were, old dad let them watch this slightly adult film when mum was out. It became the Christmas movie of choice in a youth group I ran in a village in which I was a preacher (my old career). Every year we had a Christmas party and watched old Clark put lights all over the outside of the house. The ‘f’ word is used only once. When we came to it, we all covered our ears and lalalaed until it was said. Since leaving that profession years ago, I have used that word often. Therapeutic.

But, once again, I digress. The next town we lived in had the perfect house for a Griswold special, including two large (but not too large) trees on the front lawn. A porch with an iron railing provided space for pine boughs and lights, while bushes surrounding the porch were bedecked with coloured lights to create that postcard effect. Icicle lights dripped from the eaves and a large, lighted wreath hung over the garage. I could go on, but you get the idea. I Griswolded the place to the max.

Since moving to England, I have curtailed my Griswold activities. It’s still not British to be garrishly Griswoldy at Christmas in most cases. Many homes have no exterior lighting at all. Lots of dark, cold streets. A couple of homes on another street near our house really did Griswold proud, but they were the exception. Like Halloween, decorating outdoors for Christmas has been a slow evolution over here. My first Christmas in London 1o years ago was bleak. News programs mocked what they saw as the American overkill when it came to exterior decorating.

But the more they mocked and showed these Griswold showcases from America, the more young families who no longer had the same anti-American sentiments as their parents had began to follow the American way. More exterior lighting began appearing on homes owned by young families. The shops offered more choices….icicle lights were unknown when I first arrived. Large inflated Santas and Snowmen were popping up all over the place. The whole enterprise has grown steadily over the years I’ve lived here. Now news programs boast of the Griswoldian (my term) homes around the British Isles. Amazing.

Of course my best friend, bless her, was still of the old school and in fact was not a Christmas fan at all when I came over….not a Scrooge mind you, just against the over-commercialisation of the season. For that I can’t blame her. But making the place look festive has been a way of life for me since I was a kid. We never had it in our place much….my folks, being English and all, were old school. You know the stories, they only got an orange at Christmas and so Christmas was understated for ages. Only in later years did my parents put a few lights outside the house. But we’d drive around the neighbourhoods in which we lived and I was smitten. The colours, the Santas, Snowmen and the Nativity scenes made me wish we could be like that.

And so, when I grew up (sort of), my place was going to be festooned with festive fun stuff inside and out. I have even managed to break down my best friend….slightly. Before we left the house for the boat, there were a few more outside lights each year and little trees with lights outside our door. She likes tasteful. I like Griswold Garish. We compromise….until yesterday. But I’ll save that to the end.

The inside of the house we lived in gradually took on the look of a Christmas shop, but the ouside remained less enthralling. Moving to a boat meant we had to scale back on everything. We sold a few things, but, as I say to friends, the big winners from this move were the charity shops. Anyway, we had to give away most of our Christmas decorations, bringing only the absolute best trinkets, including a music box that plays Jingle Bells around a scene where houses are lighted. a horse and sleigh travel down a road and over a bridge with skaters that actually skate on a pond. It’s a big box.


But I wasn’t satisfied. I was going to decorate the outside as well. I bought a large string of coloured lights and ran them along the top of the boat. Then came the small pine boughs with cones and berries. And while my best friend was away for a couple of days at a work retreat, I snuck over to the Home Depot nearby and bought more lights, putting them up before she got back. Sneaky eh? It has been my modus operandi my entire life. I was the first in the marina to illuminate the exterior. My neighbour was next. The harbour master loves it and wants a competition in the marina for the best decorated boat. Bring it on. Griswold is ready.


Towpath Terrors


I like a good, brisk walk. Embracing. Invigorating. Especially out in the country. This time of the year, autumn, is the best for walks I find. Where I used to live, going for a walk meant taking urban streets to the park. Love that park and walking in it, but getting there was boring….avoiding doggy doo on the pavements (sidewalks) and crossing streets with cars on the move everywhere. To get to the country, you have to drive or take a train.

That’s why I love living on the boat with the canals right by. Running alongside the canals is a towpath. They are, or were, an integral part of the canal system in Britain. Before engines were used in the narrow boats, Horses towed the boats along the canals from the side, the towpath. For every foot of canal in Britain, there is a towpath alongside. If I am correct, you can walk from London to Scotland along a towpath. A beautiful walk at any point….even through the major towns and cities.

I live on the Grand Union Canal. I could, if I took the notion, walk the length of it from London to Birmingham, 145 miles. I’ve cruised around 70 miles of it. I can tell you it would make a great walk. Just in my short section of the Grand Union, you can sit quietly while King Fishers fish, otters frolic, swans hiss at you, ducks laugh at you, Canada Geese honk at you, Herons look down on you and even mink play along the banks. Under the water, a variety of fish from barbels, bleak and bream to chub, carp, perch, pike and my favourite, the three-spined stickleback can be caught and released.

On my walks, I meet Chris along the way who comes to fish on his days off to get away from a world that increasingly ‘gets on my tits’ as he describes it. We philosophise and try to set the old world to rights. The man is a gem. He loves the towpath because, he says, ‘everyone is friendly and says hello’ or stops to chat. ‘You find all the good people along here’ he says. ‘No terrorists or baddies, just decent human beings.’ DSCN0477

There is only one group that terrorizes the towpaths. They don’t mean to, but they have, many of them, become a menace of late….the cyclists. Many of them go hell-bent-for-leather along the towpaths with little consideration for the walkers. They sneak up on you at a rate of knots and whiz by without a ring of a bell or an ‘Excuse Me’, expecting the walkers to psychically move aside for them. It’s unnerving. Campaigns have begun, posting signs along the way asking cyclists to slow down at least. So far it has elicited little heed.

But I unwittingly got my own back on one cyclist a while ago. I was on my way back from buying groceries and saw a boat ready to go through one of the locks near our place. We are a friendly and helpful bunch, we boaters, so I called to the chap at the helm, who looked to be alone, if he would like any help opening the lock gates. he said he would. I turned off the path toward the lock when, to my surprise, a cyclist travelling at the speed of light had decided to go around me the way I was turning. There had been no warning of his impending arrival.

Accidents have happened on towpaths between walkers and cyclists. Some of them have been quite catastrophic where human contact is concerned. My encounter had all the hallmarks of just such a disaster. But I will give this particular cyclist accolades for steering adeptness. He missed me. Unfortunately, as he turned his wheel to bypass me, he had nowhere to go but into the canal….which he did. For a brief moment I thought he might fly over the watery expanse, much like the kids ferrying ET to safety. Nope. Right in.

I shall not repeat what the chap in question said to me from his vantage point. Somehow, I was to blame for his unwanted baptism. To the rescue came an even more scathing verbiage from the boater I was about to help. He told the cyclist, in no uncertain terms, that he deserved what he got and was lucky not to have hit me. He said he’d be my witness. The cyclist pulled himself out of the water, then his bike, said nothing, left us both with a look that could kill and sloshed off down the towpath, even faster that ever. He obviously learned nothing.

The boater and I laughed until we cried, then philosophised on the need for cyclists to be more courteous, more thoughtful and perhaps to leave the towpath to the walkers as God intended, even though neither of us believe in God. Anyway, the terror continues. Just yesterday another cyclist flew by me without a word of apology. The next topic for me and Chris next time. Even the fish aren’t safe from cyclists.