Tag Archives: People

The Cotswolds

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The Cotswolds
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Naunton, The Cotswolds.

Ever felt filthy rich when you weren’t? Champagne tastes on a beer budget? That would describe an excursion through The Cotswolds in England. Exorbitant prices in a place from the past. Even their charity shops, in any of the quaint villages throughout the Cotswolds, drip with designer fashion and top brand name trinkets. People who live in the Cotswolds give only the finest things to be sold for charity.

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The Abbey in Cirencester.

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Shops in the High Street in Cirencester.

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Market and main Square in Cirencester.

Besides the expensive nature of the Cotswolds, you cannot find a more oldy-worldy, traditional England anywhere else in…well, England. Much of the rest of the country has moved on in time and space. Not the Cotswolds. Every village reeks of tradition and uniformity. Even when a new building goes up, it has to fit in with the traditional setting. It’s the law of the Cotswolds. Even the myriad sheep that fill the fields throughout the area look oldy worldy. Their bleating is in old English…or, in this case, old English sheepish.

The first thing you notice entering the area known as the Cotswolds (means Sheep Hold on Rolling Hills) are the fields and stone walls dividing and intersecting them. I can’t imagine the amount of work and time it took to build all those stone walls. Teams of peasants digging up stone and piling them on top of each other mile after mile after mile. More than 4,000 miles of stone wall fences. Incredible effort. Most are still intact.

Every scene is glorious and every village perfectly pretty. The same golden-yellow coloured stone for the houses and shops. Quaint and quirky shops that sell everything from antiques to apples. They are big on cider in the Cotswolds. Where there are no sheep, there are apple orchards. You can smell them in the autumn from miles away. I love the ciders they make here. Many flavours and always crisp.

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Chipping Campden. The old market.

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Chipping Campden. Inside the old covered market.

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Chipping Campden. The main drag near the cenotaph.

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Chipping Campden. House front with flora.

My own excursions through the Cotswolds are dependent on other people. I don’t drive in England and my Canadian permit is out-of-date. Thanks to our good friends Deb and Tony…the ones who helped us move to our new marina…we have seen quite a bit of the Cotswolds since arriving. They have both lived in the area for years and know just about every nook and cranny in the region. Good people to know if you want to see everything the Cotswolds have to offer.

Traditionally, the Cotswolds begin at Stratford-upon-Avon in the north and end at Bath in the south. Most of the area is in the County of Gloucestershire. But some spills into Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire. That’s a lot of shires…big territory. Fields, wooded areas and villages. The main centre is Cirencester. Got my hair cut there once, by a guy who spoke not a word to me as he worked on my head. I tried, but…nothing in return. Good haircut though. Took 10 years off my age…or so I was told.

Interesting names of some of the villages. Bibury, Burford, The Slaughters, Stow-on-the-Wold, Bourton-on-the-water, Wotten-under-Edge, Chipping Campden and Chipping Sodbury, Guiting Power and Temple Guiting, Moreton-in-Marsh, Painswick and Broadway…to name a few. each has its own flavour, but all of them are unmistakably Cotswoldian. I have visited some of the above and driven through a few others. The defining feature of each village? A great pub…sometimes several.

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The main drag in Broadway. My daughter and my friend Deb window shopping.

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More window shopping in Broadway.

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An ale in Broadway. It doesn’t get any more English than this.

Bibury is probably the most famous. It features a row of cottages known as Arlington Row that once housed the weavers who worked the local wool. It has become the face of the Cotswolds. People come from all over the world just to have their photo taken near these old cottages. When I visited, bus loads of Japanese tourists were about. They even come here to have their wedding photos taken. I saw three Japanese couples. Apparently, the Emperor Hirohito stayed here once and now it’s like a Japanese shrine. Life is strange.

The historically listed houses along the main drag have had to put signs on their garden gates to keep tourists out of their front gardens. It seems the folk from the Orient thought all of these homes were part of some big museum and botanical gardens…they are lovely. The signs are in Japanese, Korean and Chinese, politely telling all who would think to enter that these are private homes, please keep out.

My youngest daughter, who lives and works in Shanghai, China, came to visit in the summer. We took her on a tour of the Cotswolds. It was a very hot day. We started at Broadway, in the north of the Cotswolds. A beautiful town with a, you guessed it, broad street running through it. Shops of every description on either side, full of quaint and unusual items, along with various cheeses, fruits and teas from hither and yon. A step back in time.

We drove through the usual villages, including Winson, one of my favourites with its very narrow streets, unusual wall shapes and a thatched roof cottage. In Bibury, I took my daughter to see the row of old cottages and she began to look bored. Too much beauty in one day can overwhelm. She told me it wasn’t boredom, just another gorgeous site that seemed to be everywhere. She was wearing out with all the ooing and ahing. Besides, the heat was getting to us.

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A home in Winson.

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Narrow street in Winson.

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Thatched cottage in Winson.

At Bourton-on-the-Water, the stream running through the middle of this most picturesque village was crowded with people trying to stay cool. Groups of young people, dressed like hippies from the 1960s, a couple of them playing guitars, sat on the grass along the stream. Suddenly, a hippy jumped into the middle of the stream and began running through he water, chased by some other hippy friends. History repeats.

On another occasion, I went with Deb and my best friend to Chipping Campden (silent ‘p’), just above Broadway. Lovely old market town with a very long High Street, again with too many shops to mention, even one that sells many different gins from all over. The ladies spent a lot of time in that shop. We had lunch at an old pub up the road…there are so many…and did another walk-about. Everything, even the traffic, moves slowly in these Cotswold towns and villages. The way life used to be.

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Arlington Row in Bibury.

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Arlington Row from the main road in Bibury.

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Listed houses with sign on gate to keep out tourists.

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The old bridge in Bibury.

I’m sure I’ll visit more places soon. There’s the Broadway Tower and more villages to explore. One of my musical heroes lives in the Cotswolds. Steve Winwood runs a charity music night in Northleach each year. I have followed his career since the 1960s. Before the concert began, I saw him standing alone at the back of the church in Northleach where the concert was held. We spoke for an hour about life and music. He told me he had recently turned 70 and thought it may be time to slow down a bit. He certainly lives in the right part of the world to do just that.

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Yours truly at a pub in Bibury. A pint or two on a hot day.

 

 

Tennis Anyone? Anyone?

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Once upon a time, I was a decent tennis player. Once upon a time, I was decent at a lot of things I wouldn’t dare start up again. It gets to the point where you begin forgetting more than what people half my age know. And don’t tell me that it’s like riding a bike, you never really forget. I tried riding a bike a couple of years ago and had forgotten everything. I wibbled, I wobbled, I got off and I walked.

Age has something to do with it. It does for me anyway. It’s not that, at this stage of my life, a little practice would help the memories return…both mental and physical…I just don’t care if they don’t. Too many other things have taken over in my life to push those other things right out of the way. Anything requiring too much physical exertion is out as far as I’m concerned. You know the expression, ‘I’m getting too old for this shit’ ? My mantra.

I have managed to put my considerable mental efforts into writing and physically by keeping myself on top of learning new guitar techniques. Lots of finger exercising. I am not one of those who sees growing older as a time to keep pushing the boundaries to prove I am still young and fit. This happens in part because I drink beer/ale and wine and enjoy good food, desserts and all. The other night a few of us went out to a lovely pub in the middle of nowhere Gloucestershire, The Glasshouse Inn, for a meal, before driving into Wales to see a Blues band. We know the players.

The setting for the Glasshouse is beyond magical…except for those ubiquitous wasps (not English people, the bee)…in a setting where you expect to see faeries at the bottom of the Inn’s garden. The point is, the food is great and the ales are fine. I had ribs, a pint of pale ale and for dessert, Eton Mess. Calories? I know not the meaning of the word. Not when I’m enjoying myself. Off to Monmouth just inside Wales to listen to a set of The No-Parking Blues band. I am a Blues aficionado. My dad got me started when I was a young lad.

Music aside, the point of the above is about being overweight and out of shape. Had I been in charge of human evolution, I would have developed our bodies for eating and drinking anything we like, relaxing, never putting on weight. Such is not the case. When I turned 60, everything I ate seemed to go to my middle. I don’t care about reasons why this happens. It’s just not right. All I know is it happens and the only way to stop from exploding is to cut back on intake and keep on the move. What to do?

You’ve probably all heard about fitbits. They look like watches and track your daily activities, the more expensive ones even telling you how you slept. Not cheap. And very annoying. Everyone has to reach at least 10 thousand steps each day to remain healthy. It even tells you how many calories you’ve used. My best friend wears one. I refuse. I don’t need to spend over £100 to tell me if I’ve had a bad night’s sleep or not been as active as I need to be. Just another way to make money for the big boys while instilling in us another round of stress and anxiety.

My best friend was given a space in an old toll house (17th Century) in Lea, Herefordshire. It’s one of the reasons we moved our boat from Apsley marina in Hertfordshire to Droitwich Spa. From here, we are only a 40 minute drive to the studio. The old toll house is on the property of a dear 85-year-old woman, a retired medical doctor who tells you like it is. She loved the idea of an art studio in the unused toll house. Also on the property is an old tennis court, constructed in 1909, resurfaced once in 1980 and now overgrown with moss and the surrounding bushes. A high fence still surrounds the hard court and the net is in remarkably good shape.

We had been staying with our friends Tony and Deb at their place beside the doctor’s. We had to walk across her driveway to get to the studio. We still had our tennis racquets as did Tony and Deb. We had permission to use the court. The next step, after inspection, was whether it was worth the effort to clean it up before play. The fitbits said, yes. Out we went with scrapers, hoes, shovels, brooms and clippers. It took us 3 days to accomplish the task, but in between, we got in some tennis.

Well, I call it tennis. We played on a court with racquets and balls but none of us, save Tony, had remembered much about playing. We knocked balls far and wide, over the fence, into the apple orchard and into rose bushes we had not yet pruned…a hazard retrieving balls with all those thorns…into the net and sometimes hard into Tony. But we prevailed. We had the bug.

The second day, the lady of the house came out to view the proceedings as we continued to lop off branches and prune bushes. She made her way by Zimmer Frame (Walker) over a little bridge and along the path to the court. She sat awhile just watching, a serious look on her face. I tried to engage her, talking about the moss removal, but she ignored me (nothing really unusual there), staring ahead at the feverous activity taking place with the pruning hook. Tony came over and said to her, “You don’t mind us cutting back a bit, do you?” She replied, “I don’t like anything being cut down in my garden.”

Tony explained that we were just pruning, not cutting anything down. Some of the branches had grown over the court, bending the fence over. He took her on a tour around the inside of the court, revealing the work we had done and how we had basically restored the court to relatively good condition. We all stood waiting for her verdict. Finally, she looked up at Tony and said, “Yes, that’s fine. carry on. Just be careful.”

As she wheeled away back toward her house, I walked up and said to her, “What, you’re not staying to watch the Wimbledon Mixed Doubles final?” She let go a laugh that surprised all of us. And on went the game…well, the ball smashing anyway. Tennis anyone? You may not see it here, but we’re giving it all we’ve got and the fitbits are loving it.

Facebook Killed the Blogger

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Yes, it’s true. My Blogging server warned me that Facebook (FB) would no longer publish anyone’s Blogs as of the 1st of August this year (2018). That was the last straw. My FB page had been hacked several times over the past 6 months, more and more ads were appearing, friends were being censured by FB, they took off the news feed and I have better things to do with my time these days. I know a few FB junkies who are perpetual posters. They must spend hours on the site. I did once upon a time, but no longer.

Social Media gets a lot of press, especially since the Donald came to power. I have a Twitter account but I rarely check it. I had a notice last time I checked that was 6 months old. But at least they publish my Blogs. As does Linkedin. I can’t keep up with it all. Whatsapp, WeChat…I could go on, but why bother? There are so many ways to talk to each other. How did we manage to communicate before all this technology?

For my 67th birthday, my best friend bought me a typewriter. I’ve written a letter to one daughter and am going to write to the second any day now. And then to my son. The only thing I can’t keep up with is where they are living at any given time. One is in Shanghai, China teaching. Another is on the road touring around Canada with one of  her several music personae around and the 3rd lives in Toronto, Canada at various locations according to who he is with and what he is doing at any particular time. I can’t keep up with them, but I try.

I love writing and I love my little Smith-Corona typewriter. I keep a journal…have done since about 1992…I have my Blogs and I have authored a couple of books (published) and am completing my 3rd. The problem with Social Media is that we are limited to a few bites, a few words. I think we miss something if we only read the backs of cereal boxes, adverts on the Underground or labels on food we buy. So many people I’ve met tell me they simply don’t read, either because they are too busy or they just can’t be bothered.

As I get older (and I’m old already according to my kids), I find my tolerance level for most of what goes on in the technological world not only baffles me, it also annoys me. Too much information, most of which does nothing to enhance my wellbeing or my inner peace. I find the more I become engaged with media driven by technology, the more agitated I become. I can’t watch the news without becoming angry. This has as much to do with technological advancements as with content. Information is dispensed in alarmingly rapid bites that serve to fill us with alarm and dread.

I have friends who think the world is collapsing. The evidence? News broadcasts, newspaper articles, adverts, political pronouncements on air (fake news) and TV programs that last for an hour at most, discussing an issue between opposing panelists that has no resolution, no solutions, no constructive outcome, leaving us more confused, more stressed and negative. But something in we humans loves opposing forces going at it in a manner that is quite violent as if a physical fight had broken out. Sometimes it does. Rage is disguised with civil behaviour.

Many of us vie for attention by posting anything that is on our minds at any given time. Look at FB and Twitter. At any given time I can see what you ate for dinner, where you’ve been, who you’re with, what you think about Trump or Ford (new Premier of Ontario), what your state of mind is at any given time, what the weather is doing where you are, your music preferences and dislikes, what illnesses you suffer and what business you promote. Some of it is informative, but I miss sitting face to face with you, laughing for real, crying if needs be and having a pint.

I was supposed to have 396 friends on FB and 760 people following me on Twitter. I only ever heard from about 40 on Fb and I know all of 6 personally on Twitter. Madness. Some say it’s because FB has engineered it that way…which says more than I care to think about at the moment. So many people I’ve known in one capacity or another on FB at least, and I am no closer to them now no matter how many posts we send back and forth. At least publishing my Blogs on FB lets you know what I have been up to in a lifestyle very different to yours. Have you been interested? About 12 out of 396. You want me to hear you. I want you to hear me, but few are listening. My Blogs are longer than a short paragraph or a Meme, a Gif or a joke. Who has time for my thousand words?

But I write because I love it and mostly I do it for me. Anyone reading what I write is a bonus. And so, I came off Facebook…hacked one too many times but let’s not go there…and I’ll find out who cares to read what I’ve written. If you don’t, I won’t be too upset. But please, read something worthwhile. A couple of ‘friends’ on FB would post what books they were reading (you know who you are Claude). That was helpful. My youngest daughter reads a lot. She is always giving me suggestions about what books to read. One of my favourites has been ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye’. A good story and a great read.

My Blogs are going to take on a different thematic direction as well. I’ve done the boat thing to death. I am presently putting together my Blogs on narrowboating into book form. Instead, my Blogs are going to be more about my humorous takes on life. Slices of life. Full circle if you know any of my past. Not as many photos, so you’ll have to read some. I look forward to hearing from you. I value your input. And please look me up if ever you’re ever over here. The pints are on you. Starving artist you see.

Hannah Northedge

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We never met. We had planned to a few times, but nothing worked out. She was terribly busy and I had commitments that kept me on the go. We had one main thing in common. Music. We shared stories about our musical adventures and the kinds of music we loved most. Blues and Soul were our common denominator. She was a woman born too late in time. And time finally ran out.

We met on Facebook, as so many do, 3 years ago. A friend of mine had taken some singing lessons with her and we connected through him. She graciously accepted my friend invitation and off we went. I enjoyed her wit and humour. Her posts were audacious and full of satirical commentary on today’s world. Hannah would love to have lived in an earlier era from the 1930s to the 1960s. She loved the clothing of those days. Vintage clothing shops were her niche.

As was her passion for coffee. Many of her posts were either of her drinking coffee or talking about it. We both love Costa Coffee. Even as a fitness buff, going for walks or a run, she would have a cup of coffee in her hand, videoing the journey and chatting to us about this and that. She loved certain areas of London. Her walks and runs through the park around Crystal Palace were memorable for her love of the place. It was like going on the jaunt with her.

We shared a love of music, the old stuff mostly. The Blues, Motown and Jazz and some of the older, wartime songs. She was over 20 years younger than I am at the moment but she talked as if she was even older than I am. Very youthful and in tremendous shape. She had a way of showing her elegant and sexy self without flaunting it or going over a line. Hannah seemed to me to be as conservative as she was sassy. Such a vivacious personality.

I taught guitar lessons from my garden studio in Kent. She taught vocal lessons. We both had problems with students who refused to pay our fees, hers being considerably more than what I charged. But the principal is the same. Fair price for good services rendered. We bitched about our no-shows and people who took advantage of our good natures, our sense of fair play and all that. Often she mentioned a piece of music that I had either recently played or taught. That would spark another lengthy discussion on Messenger.

Apparently, our Ms. Northedge was a bit of a celebrity. She acted in a film with Elijah Wood and John Hurt, ‘The Oxford Murders’. She sang before the Queen and Tony Blair. She was a trained Classical singer who started up a Blues choir, recruiting local singers to join and enjoy singing classic Blues and Motown tunes. I knew about the choir. She asked me once to come along and try out. But lazy old me never bothered. The rest of her celebrity status, including being a judge on a TV show called ‘Live and Unsigned’, had to do with the gigs she played with her trio at many venues around the country. I knew nothing of this about her. She was, at least to me, never low-key, but down-to-earth as the expression goes and always accessible. It was almost as if she both craved attention and detested it at the same time.

Somewhere along the line, she began talking about an illness that caused her pain and required a complete change in diet. Some may have been privileged to know what it was. She never identified it by name. I imagined it was some form of Crohn’s Disease. She asked advice online from all her followers for things she could eat, recipes for certain foods and later sought advice on how to manage the pain she experienced.

The last year was the worst. She began fretting about her condition and the pain she was in. She said doctors told her she was imagining the illness, but Hannah insisted to us all that it was not in her imagination. She said she needed to have it resolved soon or she would die. Her last posts were a cry for help. She was convinced she was going to die and would anyone please write her story and share it with the world. In one of our chats, she had remembered that I had written 2 books. She said she also enjoyed my Blogs about the boating life. Would I please write her story.

I wasn’t sure at this point if Hannah was losing it or was genuinely ill and undiagnosed. She had a madness to her approach to certain things, like claiming that men followed her, shouting lude and suggestive things to her in public. It all became quite worrying. I was never sure about the mental state of Hannah at times. But I promised her I would tell her story. She gave me the name of her dearest friend, begging me to get hold of the friend if anything happened to her. Then there was silence.

Hannah could do that sometimes. She would come off Facebook and there would be no posts for a time. Then she’d roar back as if it were her fans who had been away. After one of these times, I thought I’d check. I went on her Facebook site and saw that the last Post was the one in which she had more or less said goodbye to all of us. I was reading the many comments added to her post, including mine. People were saying how sorry they were about her being gone. Gone where? Did she leave the country to seek medical help elsewhere?

As I read more comments, things took a sinister turn. I decided to Google her, and there it was. All the newspapers were saying that the female body found at the bottom of the cliffs at Beachy Head was that of Hannah Northedge. I was stunned to say the least. Couldn’t believe it. The articles all said that she had been staying at the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne on the south coast of England. Beachy Head has always been a spot where people go to end their lives. The cliffs are high and there is no barrier at the edge to stop would-be jumpers. The hotel is a couple of miles from the cliffs.

Hannah must have been that desperate to have done such a thing. But, if nothing else, it was as dramatic an exit as her life had been lived. Was it mental illness? Was it a disease the medical profession could not detect? A bit of both? I have no idea. I can only hope her family received some answers to those questions after the fact.

I sent a message to Hannah’s best friend, stating that she had asked me to contact her for information for the book I had promised to write. I have not, to this point, heard back. I have the feeling I never will. As far as I’m concerned, this chapter in my own life is concluded. I wish we had met. We had so much in common. Hannah was a force of nature to be sure. Those who spent time with her knew what an amazing person she was. A great sense of humour and a good heart. She shall be missed.

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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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).

 

Apsley to Droitwich: Day 4

Standard
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Heading out at last on Day 4.

You know the routine by now….all the engine checks etc., and off we go. Except this morning, in the mist when we went to push-off, we were going nowhere. Stuck in the reeds on a shallow bank. Didn’t matter how much power I gave to the prop, forwards or reverse, we didn’t move.

The Cut is just that, land cut into a trough a few centuries ago with a deeper middle and shallower sides. Like a giant, wide V shape. The bottom is mostly very soft silt, dredged infrequently and sporadically, building up at the sides as props churn up the silt, pushing it outwards. Eventually, even the middle silt builds until you have a quagmire of thick, silt soup. Very often, the bottom of my boat drags along silt, pushed through by the prop. If you look behind as you go, clouds of silt bubble up to the surface as you go.

Stuck, but drifting ever closer to that big patch of reeds behind us, Deb has the solution. She’s the old salt on this voyage. “Right,” she announces when all other methods have failed to release us, ” Everyone to the Port side.” Deb and Bestie move along the Port (left) side gunwales and I helm, standing as far left as possible. Deb orders, “Right, now rock the boat and ease the engine forward.” I start singing (quietly) the tune ‘Rock the Boat’ by the Hues Corporation as the craft gently eases out to the middle and off we go….5:40am. Must make up some time.

First stop, a rubbish bin just past one of the Fosse locks, first of the day. Just off to the left is a mysterious looking boat that looks rather sinister. Pirates? Then, just before the bridge, two figures that aren’t exactly pirates loom ominously by the way. On we go. Through Royal Leamington Spa.

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First locks of the day – the Fosse Locks. Candle-shaped lock releases.

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My best friend disposing of the rubbish.

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The mysterious boat

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Strange creatures by the bridge. What did he say?

The city of Leamington Spa was given its Royal status by Queen Victoria for the popularity of the salt spa which is no longer there. The baths are now an art gallery and museum. Leamington became a retirement location. The canal runs through the south of the town and on to next door Warwick. I was disappointed in the lack of development along the canal. So much more could be done. It’s as if there were no canal at all, just a rubbish pit. That part has been cleaned up, but the potential for canalside recreation and business does not seem to have been a priority. It doesn’t appear to be visible at all.

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Royal Leamington Spa

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More Royal Leamington Spa. Garden by the Canal.

Moving on along the canal, we finally reach the Hatton flight of locks, a challenge and a wonder to behold. Fortunately, Deb’s husband Tony joined us to help get us through these 2 miles of 21 locks in a row, which rise (we were going up) 148 feet (45 metres). The locks were widened in the 1930s to accommodate wide working boats or 2 narrowboats. The locks were dubbed ‘The Stairway to Heaven’ by those who worked on the them because by the time they got to the top, their pay awaited just a little further along the canal.

So….up we went, one lock at a time. It was a hot day by now. Half way up the locks we were joined by a family on their boat who had moored along one of the water compounds between the locks. It had been late in the day when they began up the flight and they decided to moor and finish the next day. Lots to see and do on the way up and down….pubs, parks, children’s’ playgrounds, picnic areas, tourist information, cafes and a CRT (Canal and River Trust) hut where Tony stopped on his bike to give the volunteer workers a piece of his mind.

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Beginning of the Hatton Flight of Locks. 21 locks rising 148 feet.

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Moving up the Hatton Flight.

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Looking back at the Hatton Flight. Still some to go.

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Tied to another boat half way up the Hatton Flight.

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Tony giving CRT crew a grilling at the Hatton Flight.

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Nearing the top of the Hatton Flight with a park on the left. Plenty of Gongoozlers (narrowboat watchers).

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One last look back from the top of the Hatton Flight. 21 locks and 148 feet later.

The CRT run the canals, or are supposed to, and have failed to look after the system to make it better for boaters. They have left maintenance of old locks too late, not dredged nearly enough to make the Cut passable, failed to cut foliage and growth along the banks of the Cut, allowing overgrowth to virtually cut the Cut in two in many places. And…the whole organisation is basically mismanaged. They have tried to rebrand themselves and change personnel, but nothing changes. There are lots more gripes, but I have bored you enough.

Tony says if they spent more of their time and our money on the system, rather than on, as he says, voles, moles, water fowl and fish, leaving them to interest groups (there are many), we might have a viable network of usable canals after all. The CRT workers listened politely and even agreed with Tony on many points (Tony does his homework), but said they were powerless to effect change. The 2 bullies at the top of the chain see to that. Their solution? Raise our license fees x4 (already nearly £1000 annually) to get the work done.

OK, now that’s enough of that. Back to the Hatton Flight. The family who joined us half way up the flight, consisted of a man, a woman and their daughter, a precocious 10-year-old who loved to jump all over the place. The husband worked the locks (thus freeing Tony to pontificate) and the wife steered the boat. I tried to get her to follow me closely into the next lock, but she she was too busy trying to control her craft and keep her daughter in check.

We did the next best thing. We tied the front and back of the boats together and I drove both of us from lock to lock. Hard on my engine, but better than the alternative. Up we went until finally we reached heaven. And lovely it was too, to be free again. The engine thanked me for cutting us loose and off we went.

Tony went home. We left him still having his say. More beautiful countryside and then another 90 degree turn on to the Stratford-Upon-Avon Canal. But it was tricky because there was another boat in front of us, taking its time on the turn and then mooring up just under the bridge at the entrance to this arm of the canal.

By now we were extremely tired but decided to push on and do the Lapworth Flight of locks….all single locks and my first. Another climb to the top, 16 locks and then we would push on for another hour. We had earlier decided to moor up before the Lapworth Flight, but Tony called and said we had better continue. He joined us again and off we went, a climb of over 100 feet. Because of the time of day, we were nearly the only boat on the system, everyone else having the good sense to moor up for the night.

We were nearly to the top when another boat approached, coming down the flight. Four men were on board, apparently on their annual boys trip they had been taking for years together. They seemed to be in a bit of a flap. Tony asks, “You’re late coming on the this flight. Where’re you off to?” “We were at the top and heard they found a body in the canal ahead and the police shut down the system” said one of the crew, “so we’re going back down and taking the canal through Birmingham. We have to get this rental boat back.”

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The narrow single locks on the Lapworth Flight of Locks on the Stratford Canal.

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Looking up the Lapworth Flight.

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Looking back on the Lapworth Flight.

Shock. A dead body in the canal? It could take days for the police to sort it out. What to do? Go back too? What if it was open tomorrow? We decided to moor up after the top lock and wait the night. Lovely spot that was known as the Lily Pad. Tony took Deb home for the night so she could have a proper shower and see her children (3 Springer Spaniels). They would return late morning the next day after assessing the situation ahead.

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Another look back on the Lapworth Flight. Nearly at the top.

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Last lock of the day on Lapworth Flight Locks.

Reprieve! We could sleep in. Tony and Deb headed off. Me and my best friend walked back down the lock flight on the towpath to a pub we had heard about to have a meal. It was Saturday evening and a big screen TV in the alfresco setting was showing the FA Cup football (soccer) match between Manchester United and Chelsea FC. It had also been the day Prince Harry and Meghan were married. Big day and all we could think of was food (not really that unusual for me).

Back to the boat after the meal and 2 pints, some down-time and sleep, a nice long one. It was nearly 11am when Tony brought Deb back. No info on whether the canal ahead was open and what had actually happened, except that it was a woman’s body they found. Poor thing. We decided to go ahead. This was supposed to be the last day push to Droitwich Spa Marina. Day 5. The delay was unavoidable. We only hoped the way ahead was clear.

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Moored for the night above the Lapworth Flight.

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Why it’s called the Lily Pad Pond.