Tag Archives: Pubs

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.

 

 

Apsley to Droitwich: Day 1

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Das Boat ready to leave the lock.

And so it began. 5am on Wednesday on a rather cool day in May. We headed out of Apsley Marina, our home for 3 years, and headed north to our new home at Droitwich Spa Marina, near Worcester. A new chapter in our lives. A change of scenery and a challenge to get there. The trip ought to take 11 days. We did it in 5. Madness.

It would not have been possible without the help of our boating friends Deb and Tony. Deb travelled with us the whole way. Tony joined us when we did flights of locks where 20 or more in a row were involved. The plan was to travel 12-14 hour days, moor up, eat, sleep, get up and go. And so long as the boat held together and the engine didn’t  seize or blow up, we would reach Droitwich within 5 days.

The plan for Day 1 was to get to Leighton Buzzard (nothing to do with the winged foul) . And to start us off, there was our good friend and boat neighbour, Eddie, emerging from his boat at 5am to see us off. It was Eddie who greeted us and helped us moor up when we arrived at Apsley Marina 3 years before.

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On our way to Droitwich. Deb and Best Friend pushing the heavy gate open.

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Lock and bridge at Cowroast (not a BBQ).

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Cowroast info board.

Eddie was still in his PJs, not unusual. “Couldn’t sleep,” he said. “Been up since 3am. Thought I’d come and say goodbye.” So, we untied and Eddie opened the lift gate bridge at the entrance of the marina and out I cruised, turning right with the first lock of the day just ahead. Eddie helped with that one too….still in his PJs and bare feet. As I cruised out of the lock, we said our goodbyes, Eddie heading back to his boat in the marina and me heading north.

The route for most of the way on the first day was very familiar. We had travelled it a number of times over the last 2 years, helping other boaters from the marina move their boats to have the bottom blacked (to preserve the hull) or have a new paint job. Apsley has no facilities for such work. You have to go north to Winkwell (nothing to do with ink) or Cowroast (nothing to do with roasting cows) to get work done. My best friend and I usually helped with the locks. On one trip we had walked the entire 8 miles. We can walk more quickly than the boats can travel.

Through Hemel Hempstead, a place we had walked into a number of times to shop, through the swing bridge at Winkwell where you get to stop traffic as your boat passes through. And there’s that lovely pub on the right, the Three Horseshoes, just past the bridge. But, no stopping. On to Berkhamsted with 2 great pubs in a row, The Rising Sun and The Boat (couldn’t get any more obvious) and still no stop. Through Northchurch (can’t tell it from Berkhamsted) and on to Cowroast.

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Open countryside along the way on Day 1.

We finally get to Cowroast, past the marina and on to the Tring Summit, a beautifully wooded stretch of canal with no locks and no pubs until we get to the end of the summit at Tring. The place is actually known as Bulbourne and the pub is The Grand Junction Arms….not an appealing name, but the food is supposed to be good. No time for that. The Anglers Retreat comes next. Not quite canal side, but a short walk. No walking anywhere today.

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Through the heavily wooded Tring Summit.

Too many locks to negotiate, the Marsworth Locks, 6 in a row. We pass 2 branches coming off the Grand Union Canal, The Wendover Arm and the Aylesbury Arm, past another pub, the Red Lion, a stone’s throw from the canal. There are over 600 pubs in England named the Red Lion. You can’t miss them. Through more locks and a swing bridge, known as No. 125, which is an unusual configuration. You have to grab the end and push it along a track to open it.

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Image result for swing bridge 125 grand union canal

Then we come to the Brownlow canal side pub and Inn. It sails by. We pass the Ivinghoe (no knight here) Locks and on to Leighton Buzzard.

The Buzzard part of Leighton has nothing to do with the bird. It’s just a person’s name changed over time, from de Busar to Buzzard….logical, don’t you think? I don’t know how that works, but then I’m not a local. The town also has the dubious distinction of hosting The Great Train Robbery of 1963 just outside of Leighton Buzzard at Bridego Bridge.

And, of course, we pass another pub as we approach the town, The Grove Lock pub. Now it’s becoming a tease. Nothing really memorable as we go through Leighton Buzzard (given the second name to distinguish it from the next door Leighton Bromswold) except maybe a boat yard that offers holiday boats for those who think narrowboating is a jolly.

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Approaching a lock and one of those canal side pubs

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Sharing a lock with another boat. Not a newbie. Saves water.

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Approaching a lock on Day 1.

We ran across a few over the days who thought differently. There are experienced holiday boaters and newbies. The latter are the ones to look out for if we only knew who they were. I think newbies ought to have a marker or flag on the boat letting the rest of us know they are inexperienced. My best friend and I took a 2 full days course to get our helmsman’s licence. First-time renters are given a half hour if that and off they go. Scary thought.

I’m sure there is much to see and do in the Buzzard. I read they have a narrow gauge heritage railway. Being a lover of the old trains, I would want to see that. One day, I guess, when I’m not in a rush. Plus the fact that after being on the go since 5am and it was now nearly 7pm, I really couldn’t have given a %*&@ if the Queen had been canal side waving to us. Better still, someone who mattered to me like Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page.

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The 39th lock of the day.

We moored up just past the town after the Leighton Lock, a lovely countryside spot and not far from the Globe pub. We were too tired to walk there. We had travelled 20 miles, done 39 locks and completed the voyage 2 hours sooner than the trip book says it takes. We had a bite to eat and fell into bed. 5am comes early on the Cut.

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Best friend tying the boat to mooring pin. End of Day 1.

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View across the canal from where we moored at the end of Day 1.

2017!!! WooHoo or BooHoo?

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Holding your breath? Maybe you should. I would but then I’d pass out and it would prove nothing. Not sure whether to dread the year ahead or embrace it in the hope that all will be well. I write this on the 3rd of January, when my youngest daughter turns 26. She has plans. Well, sort of. My little globe trotting traveller wants to see the world (she’s already seen more than I have) and find her place in it. Good plan.

I, on the other hand, have no plan. As Brooks and Dunn put it in their song Hard Workin’ Man, “I’m gettin’ pretty good at barely gettin’ by.” Yup, that says it all for me. But I must add that I’m OK with that. I’ve experienced a few things in my life that tell me where I’m at is just fine. Plans change anyway. I enjoy the unknown from day to day. How about you?

In the greater scheme of things (I love using that phrase), time is a nonsense. Humans quantify time. The universe cares not a whit for our clocks and calendars. It is no more January on Pluto as it is anywhere within the Andromeda Galaxy and beyond. But here, on this tiny rock, among trillions of other planets in the billions of galaxies in the universe, I somehow need to know what day it is, in which month of what year….and the time of day. It rules our lives.

That is why at midnight on the 31st of December, every year, most of the world goes mad ringing in a new year. We as a species are nothing if not tied to our rituals. Huge fireworks displays are set off in all the major capitols of the world, competing with each other to see who can out do the others for the bragging rights to bringing the new year in with the most colourful explosions. We minions blow noise makers, bang pots and pans, let a few fireworks off in our gardens or town squares, drunkenly sing an old Scottish ditty and smooch. Every year, everywhere, the same rituals.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am just as much a creature of habit as the next person. I have my own rituals to get me through the day as do you. Even brushing teeth is a ritual. And we all do it differently. The same goes for New Year’s Eve. Some party, some stay at home and watch the party on the television. Others make resolutions they mean to keep but rarely do. Those who have bad memories of the date try to ignore the rituals. But in the end, even they have write the new year date on whatever document they may have to sign.

I’ve done it all….partying, stood with the community to watch fireworks, watched the whole thing on the tele, gone to sleep before midnight, blown noise makers and have even poo-pooed the whole ritual thing. And the next morning I wake up and the year number has risen by one. I can’t stop it. No one can. As inevitable as a sunrise and a sunset.

Last year my best friend and I stayed in, on the boat, watching a movie….’New Year’s Eve’, not that good even with a cast of A-listers. This year we were going to do the same, but ended up in a pub just along the towpath (though we took a cab there) with our boat neighbours, Eddie and Mimz and a couple from a nearby apartment, Sandy and Graham. My best friend wasn’t feeling the greatest, but we had purchased a ticket and felt we needed to go.

The other two couples are seasoned partiers. Mimz is the most gregarious person I know. She’ll talk to or dance with anyone. And she did. Most of the crowd were young people….well, young to me. Skirts up to the yingyangs, drunk and loud kids. The music was clubby, not my usual playlist. Drinks were spilled, jewellery lost, girl on girl action and a queue at the bar that seemed unending. Everything to make a great party. And there we were, my best friend and I, sitting in a corner on damp wicker chairs we had brought in from the pub’s patio, nursing one drink each and people watching.

Seems the DJ had a different idea as to when the stroke of midnight arrived. All our mobiles (cells) read something else. Mine was at 12:03 when the DJ finally got around to the countdown. Anyway, we all yelled ‘Happy New Year’, as you do, and hugged. We escaped the stranger hugs, being sequestered in a corner as we were. No Scottish ditty this year. Not cool enough for the DJ. Thought he’d be unconventional and non-traditional I suppose. But he still had to acknowledge the shift.

My best friend and I lasted another half hour before excusing ourselves from the others, who were by now partying like there would never be a 2018, and off, down the towpath we went, in the pitch black, to our boat. All we had was my best friend’s mobile (cell) torchlight to show the pathway. The dirt path was slick with a layer of mud and the going was slow, but it was so quiet. A few boats moored along the bank had lights on inside, but not a soul was on the towpath or anywhere to be seen outdoors.

On the other side of the canal were rows of apartment buildings, recently built and looking new, fresh and well kept. A couple of apartments had lights on. Some contained revellers still partying. Then, half way back to our boat, a Christmas light show displayed at one townhouse, on the canal side, not the front, blazed in all its glory out into the dark. Magical. Best light show I’d seen all season, including our own. We stopped to look at it for a time. Such peace all around. A great start to 2017. May it continue forever.

Confession

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Confession

They say it’s good for the soul….confession that is. Time to give it a go. For one whole year my best friend and I have been holed-up in a marina. The boat, the good ship (narrowboat) The Glad Victor, stayed moored in one place, never going anywhere. Continuous cruisers look away.

I took a helmsman course and drove….rather steered….the boat 60+ miles from Crick Marina to Apsley Marina last August (2015), over a period of 5 days, moored the boat along our jetty at Apsley, let our neighbour, Eddie, tie us to the jetty, shut off the engine, plugged into the marina’s electric power source and didn’t move for the entire year.

Serious narrowboaters tut at such nonsense. I was just glad to get there in one piece and relax. We had all the conveniences nearby, including a great pub….albeit expensive, great neighbours and boating community inside the marina with impromptu parties by the boats when the weather cooperates, incredible stories to tell about being out on the cut (the canal) and a parking space for the car.

Besides all that, I kind of lost my nerve after a few months in the marina. I began forgetting what to do when on the move. I stopped thinking about it and just enjoyed the sedentary lifestyle the marina offered. But every time I saw a boat going along the cut, I wanted to be out there….to go different places, see different things and basically do what you’re supposed to do when you own a narrowboat. I mean, having a floating RV is a dream.

Then one fine summer day, my neighbour Eddie says, “Let’s take the boats down to Limehouse Marina for a couple of weeks.” “Great idea Eddie,” says I, “That’s right by the River Thames isn’t it? Tidal and all that?” “Why, yes it is Larry. Is that a problem?” Of course not….not for me anyway. My best friend wasn’t as keen at first. Going out in the boat, naturally, but into the heart of the great city of London? Not so much. And tidal waters to her meant deeper and more unpredictable waters.

Anyway, the idea seemed to die out for a while. We set no dates and had no real plan. But every so often, Eddie would say, “Right, we’ve got to start planning for that trip to Limehouse.” And we’d all say ‘yes’ and that was it for the moment. Until one day in early August when Eddie came by the boat and said, “Right, let’s set some dates for this trip or we’ll never go.” And he was sticking to Limehouse as the destination.

We chose dates, the last week of August and the first week of September and began checking the route. I went into instant panic mode. This meant I had to give the engine a thorough check and try to remember which way to turn the tiller when in reverse. And always take it slow and easy. Had to reread the rules of the cut and all that. There was likely to be a lot of water traffic down there and wouldn’t you know it, we picked the worst two weeks to go. Carnival was on in Notting Hill, right by the canal, and Angel was having a canal festival during our time in the big city. That meant even more water traffic.

If they weren’t deterrent enough, Camden Lock was being closed for major repairs. I think the lock in Camden is the most gongoozled (look it up) lock on the entire canal system. You’re an instant celebrity when you pass through Camden. And we were going to be denied? £200,000 was being spent to put in new lock gates and empty, clean out and repair the bricks inside the lock.

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Work on the Camden Locks

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A closer look at the work on Camden Lock.

Not looking good but we were committed. So, we began to prepare. Lots of little things to remember, not least of which is how much food to take and how many bottles of brew and wine (read Prosecco) to carry along in the hold. Did I mention rum? What good is a sailor without his rum?

Weed hatch check. Oil….check, crank shaft oil….check, engine coolant….check. Taking down the back pram cover (that had me worried)….check. Making sure the water tank was full… check. Enough diesel? 3/4 full. Check. Untie and slip out of the marina without looking like a complete novice and total prat. Fortunately, it all came back….check. And we’re on our way at the amazing pace of 4mph (6.437376 km/hr).

The first two locks come up very quickly. My best friend and Miriam (she of the other boat) handled them with grace, poise and tons of sweat. It was a very hot day when we left the marina. Eddie and I drove the boats into the locks once the gates were opened, Eddie yelling “Paddles!!” to the ladies at every paddle opening oportunity (look up canal lock paddles if you really want to know). Then the way was wide open…except for the other locks that is. There would be 46 locks in all going and coming back.

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Denham Deep Lock and the girls at work….bestie on the left and Miriam works a paddle.

I’m saving the rest of the trip for the next few Blogs. Tales of parades, weeds (and weed), drug dealers, a magician, tangled propellers, duckweed, big fish, a large turtle, 4 drowned motorcycles, nosey people, good food, SADS, ludicrous locks, a gorilla, a crocodile, Amy Whitehouse and so much more. You won’t want to miss any of it. I know I didn’t.

 

Morris Dance-Off

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Whole new worlds open up to you when you meet new people. Some of those worlds are scary. Some are eruditely erudite. Others are downright forgettable. But not the one I’m about to divulge to you. The narrowboat beside my neighbour Eddie’s is named ‘Last Chance’. One, Kevin, is the captain. His good lady, Lesley, does not live aboard but is around most weekends. Boat living isn’t for everyone.

But the duo have something in common beyond anything nautical. They Morris Dance. Kevin got into it because of Lesley. The whole damned thing is so infectious. More on that later. They are part of a Morris dancing troupe known as Wicket Brood and members of a wider umbrella group, Border Morris. More on that later too.

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Kevin with his drum

I had heard vague murmurings of something called Morris Dancing in my years living in Canada. Sounded silly at the time. Someone named Morris coming up with a strange dance involving bells and hankies. That’s what we all thought. Funny how ignorance perpetuates forms of ridicule and torment for what is supposed to simply be a form of legitimate dance. Do we laugh at Billy Elliot? I think not.

Dancers of the Morris don’t seem bothered by what the rest of us think. They’re too busy having a good time, on and off the pitch….um, dance floor, street, park or pub. They practice their dances….many and varied….and socialise like there’s no tomorrow. Great bunch of people, the ones I met.

The history of anything is as complex and often as complicated as my mobile (cell) phone is to me. You get different stories about origins depending on the source. No one knows for sure how it all got started. The best I could scrounge was that the name Morris come from Moorish. So, we have a dance with African roots, possibly from the Moors in Spain, that apparently became popular in Italy and then brought to the courts of England back in the early part of the 15th century. How the dance got into the general population is arguable, but by the mid 17th century, it was quite common….in various forms, but always with bells around the lower part of the leg and sometimes the arms.

Only men danced at first, in troupes of 6-8. In 1600, it is reported that the Shakespearean actor, William Kempe, Morris danced from London to Norwich, a distance of around 116 miles (187kms). Dances were performed mainly at Whitsun (Pentecost) which is the Christian version of May Day. Pagan rituals were often turned into Christian high days to thwart the practice of paganism. It’s not clear who used Morris dancing first on these occasions, Pagans or Christians. That would have been some dance off. Dear old Oliver Cromwell put a stop to Morris dancing during his short tenure, citing it as distinctly Pagan.

Morris Dancing lost some of its popularity and lustre during the Industrial Revolution. The hoi-poloi were probably too exhausted at the end of a long day working in the mines, mills and factories to feel anything like Morris dancing. But a faithful few kept the dance alive. A man called Cecil Sharp saw a dance on Boxing Day 1899 and began collecting some of the tunes he heard. Together with Mary Neal, who had a girls dance troupe, tunes were added to dance and the revival was on.

But women had not been allowed to Morris Dance before this and a group was formed after Mary Neal’s dancers performed called the Morris Federation and eventually an Open Morris group where just about anything goes. The Morris Ring have tried….and still do….to keep Morris dancing traditional in the old sense, male and small troupes. Their influence is seen mainly in the Cotswalds and Oxfordshire. Living in the past…never wise. Things tend to die out more quickly.

Each region in England seems to have its own indigenous style of Morris dancing. North West Morris is more military in tone. Yorkshire and south Durham use both steel and wooden swords in groups of 6-8. Cambridgeshire is famous for its Molly dancing where one male in the troupe dresses as a woman. The Ploughstots of Yorkshire use flags and hankies on Plough Monday. I leave you to look that one up. There is even a Rapper group that has nothing to do with Rap music. From Northumberland and County Durham, they have groups of 5 using short sprung steel swords.

As I said, Kevin and Lesley’s troupe is Border Morris, the border being between England and Wales. They are known for painting their faces black (or any other colour these days) and wearing colourful outfits. They also tend to have a simpler, looser, more vigorous form of dance. Not sure how much of that they’d agree with. You know what it’s like. You research something, write about it and then those that actually do it laugh at the findings. Be that as it may, I think you get the idea that Morris Dancing is a many splendoured thing in a rather small country.

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The Wicket Brood from St. Albans

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The Phoenix Group from Rickmansworth

So, my neighbours told us they were going to dance at our local pub with a Morris troupe from Rickmansworth. They were called Phoenix Morris. One thing I haven’t mentioned is that some groups have a Fool, Beast or a Hobby. Not sure about that last one. It’s usually someone dressed as a fool or an animal or bird who interacts with the crowd. The Ricky group had a beast….or rather a bird….I suppose it was supposed to be a Phoenix, but looked more like a goose.

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First, one group dances, then the other. All the dances are different. The Ricky group had an accordion and two squeeze boxes to play the music. Our troupe (I say our troupe in deference to my neighbours) has everything, even drums. Very cool. The Ricky group has more bells and they used hankies as well as sticks. Our group had sticks. Thick hickory sticks. Knuckles have been rapped. Injuries have occurred. Not for the faint of heart. Old sea shanties and jigs are played, the repertoire is varied. Our guys even did a James Bond themed dance (very loosely).

The Ricky opposition came back with scarves and bells ringing. Very impressive.

They even got me up to dance with them….me and some others in the audience. They showed us a few moves and then had us dance. My version looked more like a lame version of the funky chicken. Of course by this time in the evening I was sozzled. I love the social part of the whole deal and we were, after all, at a pub. It was getting dark by the end of the evening and both troupes danced a last dance together. I leave you with the last Morris Dance of the night…with drunken commentary. You’ll get the idea that I loved the evening’s proceedings. I did. Even if I did embarrass my poor neighbours. And by the way, even though they say the two dance groups are not in competiton, our troupe won the dance off….according to me.

 

 

 

Suds Along The Cut

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

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

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

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

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The Boat Inn, Thrupp, on the Oxford Canal

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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The Tickety Boo passes The Three Horseshoes near Winkwell

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The Three Horseshoes (1535)

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

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

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Sam and The Bay Horse

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I have been known to visit a pub or two during my 10 years in England. It’s no secret to me that if I had my way….and lots of money….I’d buy a pub to run and nurture (not sure which comes first). I have neither business acumen nor do I possess staying power but the dream lives on. One thing, though, that shall never fade is my visiting any and all pubs encountered along my life journey. Some, thus far, have impressed and every so often you come across a pub that looks great from the outside but delivers little within.

The trend these days in England (and I’m sure all over the UK) seems to be to turn old watering holes into family dining restaurants. Big chains grab up failing pubs in prime locations and turn them into cheap eating places. The local is becoming a relic of bygone days. My folks are from Deptford, southeast London, and attended The Rose of Kent, their local. On family visits across the pond, we’d all make our way down Trundleys Road from my nan’s to The Rose to drink, sing, play darts and generally gossip. It fell on hard times in the early part of 2000 and was sold and turned into flats (apartments).

One statistic has between 29-31 pubs a week closing their doors to the public. There were some 48,000 pubs as of the 2nd of January this new year with 4 closing each day. So far, we’ve lost over 30,000 pubs. Some of the reasons have been given already. One other reason may be the ever-changing trends among a diverse population and a youth culture that prefers trendy wine bars to traditional local pubs. So many reasons for the loss of great pubs. The only stat that matters is that once gone, few reopen. Funny that. In North American cities and towns, traditional English pubs are opening because it’s trendy. People want nostalgia and class, not wine and glass.

Although that may not be the last word on what is trendy, you generally find that fads change like the wind. The local pub (or Inn) may have been a staple for centuries in England, but since the 1960s everything has changed often and exponentially. New technologies dictate much of these variations, while a fast-paced life that stands still for no one.

The pubs I have frequented do not all meet the high standards I would impose on them. One of my favourites for the first few years was the Lamb and Flag in Covent Garden. The likes of Samuel Pepys and Charles Dickens raised pints there. But it has become another place that employs eastern European servers (Please do not cry racist here. It’s cultural) who have no clue as to the difference between a regular ale and a bitter ale and everything else that makes an English pub….well, English. The language barrier alone can frustrate even the most patient patron. And they let the place go. The toilets don’t work. The bar is filthy, the prices have gone up and any semblance of local has long left the building.

My next target is The Volunteer on Church Road in Bexleyheath. I walked by the place quite often, admiring the white gleam of its rendered walls and green trim on the old, paned windows. The sign above the door was of a British soldier from the age of Wellington and Napoleon. One day, my best friend and I decided to go in for a pint. Typical of many local pubs in the country (except this one is in the burbs), we were politely served and then ignored. The female proprietor huddled with some of the locals at the other end of the bar, probably gossiping about the newbies who dared say the place was quaint. It was the furtive glances our way as they laughed that gave all that away.

Of all the pubs in England, my favourite has been a little place in a small village near York, England. The Bay Horse is situated in Murton where an uncle of mine lives. My first taste of the Bay Horse was on my first visit to England in 1973. I came up to York with a cousin and Uncle Leo and Aunt Pam took us to their local. Back then, the pub was smaller and at the end of a lane lined with high bushes. That’s how I remembered it. A fire roared in one part of the pub, the furniture was old leather comfortable and the food was incredibly good.

Though I have visited York and Murton several times since, I never got back to The Bay Horse until a few years ago. The place had changed and was nothing like the memory I had of it. The pub had expanded and the village had grown, with new homes leading up too and around the pub. But the inside still held its charm. It was under new management again. Apparently, the pub had changed hands a number of times over the years and had been poorly run. Sad really.

The Bay Horse has been around since 1804 when a John Newbald was the ‘aledraper’. Murton was the centre for training racehorses back then and in the 1820s, the pub was named ‘The Jerry’ after a racehorse that won a big race in York.  In 1840 the new landlord changed the name of the pub to ‘The Horse and Jockey’ and in 1872 he gave it its present name. No one seems to know why.

On this most recent visit, a big For Sale poster sat on the lawn under the Bay Horse sign that stands by the side of the road. The last owner ran off with a local man, leaving the pub high if not dry. Now it’s in the hands of a company that looks after pubs until it decides to either buy it or sell it on. In the case of The Bay Horse, the interim proprietor told me the place was not viable and would probably end up as flats or a shop.

I knew none of this as I walked from my uncle’s house to the pub to find out why the For Sale sign stood on the premises. I entered through the side door and was greeted by a barking, golden lab who was startled by someone actually entering the pub. His name, I discovered, was Sam. It was 2:30pm and not a soul had been in since the place opened at noon. Sam walked over to me, tail wagging, practically begging me to stay. I found a comfortable chair, sat down and Sam took the chair beside me.

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Sam stayed with me for the entire 3 hours that I imbibed, writing in my journal and talking to Sam’s man Matt, the present proprietor. In all those 3 hours, not another soul came in. The outlook is bleak. I found the whole experience very depressing….except for Sam’s company.

The Bay Horse is up for £425,000. So, I went out and bought a lottery ticket worth £50,000,000. My plan is to kidnap Sam, buy the pub, moor our boat in York and find a good chef and barkeeper to run the place. I’ll call it The Lucky Star….not traditional, but catchy. Wot ya fink?

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