Sunday, September 30, 2012

Calshot Castle
Out and About in Hampshire

David and Sheila picked us up this morning and took us out for the day. We drove to Calshot, one of our favourite haunts. Robin and I both love walking out there. I  tend to have a camera attached to my face much of the time. Robin loves watching the ships coming in and out of Southampton.

Although David and Sheila had been to Calshot before, they hadn't been inside the recreation centre. The centre makes use of an aircraft hangar that once housed flying boats.

At one end, there is a cycle track; at the other, children slide down ski hills in inner tubes or on sleds. In the centre, there are climbing walls of various heights, some of which are dizzying. All four of us watched the children playing and started talking about our various grandchildren and how much they would love the place.

When we left the recreation centre, the wind had got up and it was turning cool, so we climbed into the car and set off without any firm destination. Then somebody mentioned Lepe, so off we went toward Lepe, down a road that I think was a new one to all of us. All of a sudden, there was a lighthouse. David had to pull over and let me get out. I managed not to get run over, and I got this shot.

Eventually, we fetched up at the Green Dragon Pub near Cadnam. There, we had a fabulous dinner. Mine was a wild mushroom and asparagus pie, with roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts, turnips (swedes, says Sheila), carrots, and broccoli in side dishes.

Oh, yes, and there was the pecan tart.

Several pounds heavier, we're back at the hotel now, having had a wonderful day.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The New Forest Pub in Ashurst (next to the railway station)
Lyndhurst high street
 Dry land!

It wasn't nearly as stressful as I feared. First thing this morning, we moved down to the boatyard and turned off the engine. Our suitcases appeared immediately, and we began packing. The proprietors called a taxi for us, and before long, we were on our way to Leamington Spa to catch a train. The itineraries that I had found online looked pretty intimidating. Robin ignored them. We took the train from Leamington to Southampton, switched trains, rode to Ashurst (New Forest), then waited a few minutes, outside the pub, for another taxi. This one took us to the door of our hotel (The Crown Manor) in Lyndhurst. The whole operation took about four hours. We've since had a stroll down the high street, bought some fresh fruit for the room, gone downstairs for dinner, and come back to spend the evening lying on a big bed, watching colour television. (Ooooooh.)

That's St. Michael and All Angels church (below), which is just across the high street. I'm rather hoping that they'll be having a big patronal festival tomorrow. Meanwhile, it's lovely to hear the clock chime the hours.

From our hotel room window
At the hotel restaurant, I asked whether they could do something with no meat or dairy. I suggested the linguine with artichoke hearts and lemon cream. If the cream is real cream, I said, just leave it off. I don't know what was in the sauce, but it was delicious, and I ate it along with a green salad. The artichoke hearts were fabulous.

We can't be eating at the hotel every night, though. I've got to do some serious hunting for vegan fare. That reminds me of an old cartoon. I think it was a Far Side. It featured a group of  six (?) cavemen carrying an enormous carrot. The caption read "Early vegetarians returning from the hunt".

Friday, September 28, 2012

Napton windmill

One last night aboard the Monaco

September 28, 2012

I chickened out. I didn’t climb back up to St. Lawrence Church today. I did look at it from a distance, though, when Robin and I walked into the village. We went to the local grocery store and asked after train schedules, bus schedules, taxi companies – because tomorrow we will need to get from here to Lyndhurst, Hampshire, and that is no simple matter. At this point, it appears that we will get a taxi from the boatyard to the high street of  Napton, a bus from there to Leamington, and a train from Leamington to Southampton. We should be able to get a train from Southampton to Lyndhurst. While I have wi-fi at The Bridge, I will try to firm up plans for the far end of the trip.

And speaking of The Bridge, I'm there now, having a glass of lemonade. And while I'm here, I should introduce you to Archie, who is the pub's mascot. He's quiet, but somehow I can't forget about him. That could be because he's staring right at me. I chose my seat for its adjacent electrical outlet, and it wasn't until I turned around that I saw my neighbour. We've come to an understanding.

As usual, just as I’m beginning to feel at home on the boat, it’s time to leave it. I wonder whether there will be a radio in our hotel room, so that I can turn Classic FM on in the morning and leave it on all day, the way I do on the boat. I wonder what I’ll be eating for lunch and dinner. I understand that being a vegan in the New Forest is not easy, unless you like living on chips. This will be a challenge. I’ll bet I can find a salad here and there, and maybe even a veggie pasty. The Manor House will provide a vegan breakfast for me, and they do have a proper restaurant. Perhaps,  if I ask nicely, they’ll prepare vegan dinners for me, too.
Approaching Napton

A little something extra, just for Michael
Meanwhile, life will be about packing and schlepping – and then more schlepping. I’ll report in when we’re safely settled in our hotel room. I hear there’s wi-fi in every room. Woo-hoo!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Braunston bound
Shall we try this again?

It appears that not only did the system eat the post I wrote today, despite my saving it several times, but it also ate yesterday's, and perhaps even more than that.

Or...I will get up tomorrow, go to The Turtle, and find that everything has been magically restored. I'll go with that, for as long as possible.

So in case I don't have much time to get this in, here goes:

We were going to stay in Newbold (Rugby) until tomorrow, but it turned out that we were in a 48-hour spot, so we left this morning, intending to go as far as Braunston. In the end, we went right past Braunston and all the way to Napton, where we will be turning the boat in on Saturday morning. We went past the boatyard and moored up near a pub called The Bridge, handily located at Bridge 111 (Find them on Facebook at Here we've had dinner and I've sworn copiously when my post disappeared.

(On the bright side, the landlady's Ipod has some great stuff on it, including Louis Prima and Keely Smith doing "That Old Black Magic". I've loved listening to the music.

"I've got this itch, you see..."
The day started out sunny and bright and stayed that way until we went through Braunston, when it rained. By the time we got to Napton, the rain had stopped and the sun was shining again. Now I'm sitting at a table overlooking the canal, watching the water's colour change as the sun sets.

Highlight of the day: As I walked up to one of the three locks I had to work today, I saw a volunteer teaching a woman and man how to operate the lock. They opened the gate for us, and the woman told me that this was her birthday present. She leaned close and said to me, "My son said 'Happy birthday. You're going to go and learn how to operate locks.' I'd rather have a nice facial, actually." She looked thrilled when I told her she could go on, and I would close the gate.

Tomorrow, we won't go much of anywhere, except to the next bridge, where we will moor the boat and walk up to the village. I want to visit the windmill again, and St. Lawrence Church. Erin and I climbed up to the church last year, and I want to see whether I can still do it!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Can you hear me now?

It's been so long since we had wi-fi, I think it best to start with Friday's post, then Saturday's, and then today's. Sorry for the silence, but we've somehow found all the wi-fi-free places in England to stop for the night.

Monsoon narrowboat:

September 22, 2012

Today, the rains came. First thing this morning, the sky was grey, but before long, we were motoring along in a steady downpour. Robin was still sick, although he claims to be on the mend. Now I am sick, too, despite copious amounts of Vitamin C. (Who suggested Airborne? Thank you. I'll have a look around, but I suspect it's too late.)

There wasn't much to cheer about, or to write about, either -- except one incident that took place around noon. I looked out the window, then ran back to the stern to point out my find to Robin. "Look at that!" Floating in the canal, in the pouring rain, was a bright yellow sign that " "CAUTION: WET FLOOR!

At that point, apparently, I still had a sense of humour.

Around suppertime, we came to the Atherstone Locks -- eleven of them, all in a row. Someone was coming in the other direction (Oh, bliss. They will have left the locks empty!) so I took the opportunity to ask whether there were a place in Atherstone to do some grocery shopping. Yes, there was. We should moor up after Lock 6 and walk into the village.

So that is what we did. We moored up across the canal from a pub and walked to the Co-op, where we stocked up on food and water. Having stowed our booty, I put my laptop into my backpack, and we walked across the bride to The King's Head for our dinner. It turned out that their wi-fi was broken, the food wasn't very good, and the music blasting from the speakers over our heads was pretty well unbearable -- but on the bright side, there was the pub's mascot, a lovely border collie named Blaisey (I think) who completely charmed us both. Robin sneaked chunks of chicken to her when nobody was looking. (Shhhhhhh)

Dinner over, we trudged back to the boat, hung our wet coats over the rads, and settled in to play cards. The heating system aboard the Monaco is excellent, and I am having cause to be truly grateful for that.

Ah, Currant Bun!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Robin stood beside Lock 5, spread his arms, and cried "Ah, currant bun!", which is to say, "Ah, the sun!"  We have had sunshine all day long. We still have to wear our coats, because it's cold out there, but the rain has stopped. We moored at a canal shop to buy yet another map, and the proprietor told us to expect rain both tomorrow and Monday. Accordingly, we're making plans for a two-day layover. We can get pretty close to Coventry tonight. That would involve another detour, but one with no locks involved. In fact, we've been looking at the big map, and it appears that we have only three more locks to work between here and Napton, the end of our journey!

I am looking forward to seeing Coventry Cathedral, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, the original cathedral having been destroyed by bombs during World War II. I'm told there is a good collection of modern art there.

Here's a truth I have discovered on this trip:  Narrowboating in the rain is no fun at all.

And here is something I found tacked to the wall at Atherstone Lock #1. Please click to enlarge.

Me and Lady Godiva --

We are in Coventry now. Last night, we spent the night about halfway up the Coventry Canal. While we were mooring, I had a text message from David to the effect that he hoped we were safely moored, because Nadine was on the way. I took it that Nadine is a tropical storm (hurricane?) due to hit here, so I was a little nervous during the night. As it turned out, there was no weather at all, to speak of, so we came up to the end of the canal this morning and moored in the canal basin, a rather forlorn dead end to the canal.

The first thing we did was come hunting for Starbucks, and here we are, charging the laptop, catching up on The Turtle, trying not to go deaf from the "music" (quotes intentional) blaring at us from the square outside. That's where Lady Godiva is, and it's a wonder she hasn't galloped away.

Once the laptop is fully charged, we'll head over to the cathedral. I suppose we had better check the weather forecast, too. It wouldn't do to be out in the middle of nowhere if a big storm strikes.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


(Warning: Long post – catching up) September 18, 2012

The day started out cold and windy. I even put a sweater on to go open the first lock. The lock, by the way, came as an awful shock. I woke up at 7:30 – In fact, we all woke up at 7:30, as if an alarm had gone off. We had our coffee and tea and ate our Weetabix, and I cleaned up while the men went through the morning routine out on the stern (checking the oil and such). Then, while they got us underway, I took my book and went back to bed, suddenly weary. I fell asleep, and the next thing I knew, we were bashing up against the bank. I got up to see what was the matter. We were just below a lock, and the wind was so high, it was blowing us sideways. Robin managed to get the boat straightened out, dropped David and me off, and waited while we walked up to empty the lock and open the gate.  When I reached the gate, I saw that there was another boat heading in the same direction, just one lock ahead, so I waved to them and they waited for us. That made the flight of five locks much easier than it would otherwise have been. At the topmost lock, there was a bit of a traffic jam. Two boats were coming in the opposite direction, so we left the lock full and waited for them to come through. There was standing room only, with crew from four different boats fetching up at the paddle controls, everybody trying to be more helpful than everybody else. One of the downward boats was a day cruiser full of young people. An older man, standing on the bank, was issuing orders to them. He turned out to be the owner of the boatyard from which they had rented the boat. It must be worrisome, day after day watching your valuable investment sail away, knowing that the people at the helm have absolutely no idea what they’re doing.
Catherine de Barnes
After that, we aimed for a place called Catherine de Barnes, south of Birmingham. We planned to spend the night there, as it was the last mooring place before Birmingham, but due to a misunderstanding (nobody is quite sure what happened), we floated right on through Catherine de Barnes and found ourselves in a long, gloomy cutting. There was no way to turn around. Consequently, we ended up in the back end of Birmingham, in an official mooring place incongruously tucked in behind a derelict factory. It felt for all the world as if we were sleeping in a doorway somewhere, except that we did have heat. That was especially fortunate in that it started to rain shortly after we tied up. We had already turned the heat on at that point, because the wind was still whipping us, and it was a cold wind indeed. It actually felt as if it might snow, but we didn’t even want to think about that. We have been lucky so far in that it hasn’t rained during the day. I’m almost afraid to write that out loud.
Our port in a storm
When we arrived at our ‘any port in a storm’ sleeping place, we were pleased to see that there were already two other narrowboats moored there. It didn’t seem like the kind of neighbourhood where you would want to be the only weary travelers. We took the one remaining spot. Shortly after we arrived, another narrowboat showed up. Its captain broke the rules by mooring up at the water point, for which we didn’t blame him one bit. Half an hour later, as the sun was going down, boat number five arrived and rafted up against the boat moored at the water point. All of a sudden, we were a village.
Another view of our luxurious mooring
I am writing this when I should really be in bed. I guess I shouldn’t nap during the day. Also, we played rummy again tonight, and I couldn’t do anything right, so I have to stay up and lick my wounds. David will be leaving us tomorrow; we have to find a coach to take him back to Napton, where he left his car. We are sorry to see him go, but we will see him again in a couple of weeks, when we’ve given up the boat and taken up our hotel room in the New Forest.
September 19, 2012
Scenic Birmingham
The morning dawned bright, if still cold, and we were on our way by 8:30. I must say that  the City of Birmingham has a lot to answer for. If they really want to attract tourists to their waterways, I would suggest that someone, at least once in a while, ought to go out and tidy up a bit. Our journey through Birmingham made me think that I now knew what dumpster diving must be like. The canal was full to bursting with plastic bottles and assorted other rubbish – even a deflated soccer ball at one of the locks. The walls surrounding the canal – of course, there were derelict factories on every side – were covered with graffiti, and one of the locks -- #3 in the Garrison Locks – was in such poor condition that I decided that we simply must notify British Waterways. It appears that whoever they have hired to look after that lock has decided he has better things to do. The paddles hadn’t been greased in so long, it was nearly impossible to work them.
What David missed
In spite of all that, we did make it through Birmingham and out the other side. Now it was time for David to be on his way. On one of our inadequate maps, there was a symbol indicating – we thought – that there was a bus station right near Cater’s Bridge in Minworth, so we aimed for that, only to find that there was no way to get from the canal to the road. On one side of the canal, there was a dirt path leading up the bank, ending in a wooden fence. On the other side, a fancier path led to the top, where there was a locked cast iron gate.  Back onto the boat we went, and away we sailed to the next bridge. Nope. At the bridge after that one, we found a pair of canal workers trimming trees. We asked them about the bus station. They said there wasn’t one nearby, as far as they knew, but we should inquire at the pub (here, at last, was street access!), and we could probably get a taxi from there to take us to the bus station in Birmingham. And that’s what we did – or what David did, at any rate. I went up to the pub (called The Boat) with him, and a man there kindly called a taxi for us. The taxi driver confirmed that the closest bus station would be back in central Birmingham. Off went David, and back I went to the Monaco. I called Sheila, David’s wife, to let her know what was going on, and Robin and I set off. No sooner was David gone than the urban blight we had been enduring for the last day gave way to fields full of hay. I felt guilty, somehow, as if it were my fault that David’s last day of narrowboating was such an unpleasant one. We’ll have to make it up to him next year.
We didn’t actually travel far after David left – just to Curdworth, where we moored just south of  a tunnel. Robin went off to explore the neighbourhood and, with any luck, find something for his dinner, while I stayed behind to catch up on The Turtle. We have put the hardest work behind us, with David’s help, so we can relax and slow down a bit now.

p.s. It's now 7:30 in the evening. I'm sitting in a lovely pub called the White Horse, taking advantage of the free wi-fi. Robin and I had dinner here; then he went back to the boat because he's nursing a nasty cold. I finally heard from Sheila just a few minutes ago. Apparently it took David something like six hours to get back to Napton by way of two taxis, a bus, and a whole lot of money. He's now in his car, and it will take him another two hours to get home. Did I say something about guilt?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Much nicer traveling companions

Twenty-One Locks. Yes, Twenty-one.

 Before we got properly underway today, we pulled into a little side canal, where there was a canal shop. We hoped to buy a decent canal map. They didn't have any, and we had to turn around in a winding hole to get out. As we pulled up to the winding hole, whom did we see, but Napoleon, my nemesis from yesterday -- well, his boat, anyway. We beat a hasty retreat, lest he decide to get underway. We could have used a buddy boat today, but not that one.

Well, you know what Burns said about the best laid plans of Turtles and men, right?  We had plans to go to  Stratford – and Robin decided he would like to see Warwick Castle – but somehow we went right through Warwick (that was on our Sunday supermarket search) without going to see the castle, and now it turns out that going to Stratford requires a really, really big detour. I estimate that it would take us two days to get there and another two to get back to the Warwick Ring. I’m thinking maybe we’ll try to get there by coach from somewhere along the route or else leave it for another visit. 

We did climb the Hatton Lock flight today, all twenty-one locks of it, one right after another, slogging, slogging. In fact, we did two of the locks twice, because we had to backtrack, first thing this morning, to get back to the supermarket. So -- TWENTY-THREE LOCKS! At about Lock  #18, David said he had lost the will to live. It was a sad thing to see. He did recover, though, and so did I, when we saw the last lock of the flight behind us, instead of in front of us. We are now (5 p.m. or thereabouts) moving gracefully along a long stretch of lockless canal. We somehow missed the pub where we were planning to stop for dinner, so we’re playing it by ear. It’s England. This is a canal. There will be pubs. Aha! We are in Kingswood Junction. There are bridges, goats, and a public mooring place.  Ah, but is there a pub? There must be, because all of a sudden we’re driving backwards, presumably  toward the public mooring. Ah, yes. We’re right across the bridge from Tom o’ the Wood.


And now we are sitting in comfortable chairs inside Tom o' the Wood, having a drink before dinner.
Tom o' the Wood, Kingswood Junction
It is warm and cozy in here, which feels good after the last hour or two. There's rather a biting wind now, although the day as a whole  was sunny and warm. Yesterday's threat of rain turned out to be without substance, by the way. Oh, no. It did rain -- but not until we were moored and settled in for the night, playing rummy in the saloon.


Dinner is over now. I had a mushroom pizza, without cheese (good), and both the men had Bubble and Squeak which I must say was the most elegant bubble and squeak I have ever seen. It was served in the modern style, everything stacked on everything else, and the top layer was some sort of tomato sauce. I could see a rasher of bacon, and then, when Robin cut into his meal, I saw that there was a fried egg under the tomato sauce. I'll stick with the pizza, I think.

Since we aren't going to Stratford -- or not by boat, anyway -- we will be heading in the general direction of Birmingham. I'm told there aren't any huge flights of locks in the forecast. See me smile.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

David (l) and Robin (r) at the Cape of Good Hope

Jet lag, Schmet lag.

It's Sunday evening --just before 7:00 p.m., and we're sitting in the Cape of Good Hope pub at Warwick. We had planned to buy groceries at Leamington Spa, but by the time we got there, at 4:30, all the supermarkets had closed. We changed plans and headed for Warwick, intending to have a pub dinner. We arrived here at 6:25, and when we approached the pub, we saw a sign advising that their Sunday hours are noon-7:00.  Oops -- but we were just in time to order our dinner.  It really didn't seem like the sort of place that would have wi-fi, so I almost didn't bother asking. I'm glad I did.

To my astonishment, I don't feel jet-lagged anymore. Maybe it's all the exercise I've gotten over the last two days. I certainly couldn't have said that last night -- and didn't. Here is what I wrote then:


September 15, 2012
We landed at Heathrow at ten o’clock in the morning. Brother David met us and whisked us off to Napton, Warwickshire – with a stop along the way at a Tesco supermarket, where we stocked up on the important stuff – like coffee and tea, steak pie and veggie pie.
Two o’clock was the official starting time for our narrowboat rental, and we were there in plenty of time. David will be with us for a few days, so the three of us spent a few minutes calling dibs on our various beds and figuring out where on earth to store things. This boat (the Monaco) is prettier than the other narrowboats we’ve rented – at least the interior is – but it has virtually no storage space. Robin is keeping his clothes in the cupboard under the bathroom sink, and I’ve put mine in a cubbyhole four feet off the floor, behind the foot of our bed. I have to crawl up and stand on the bed to get to my ad hoc dresser. David is using his suitcase as a dresser. It sits on top of the one bed that isn’t in use as a bed. Robin and I left our suitcases in storage at the marina, because if we kept on the boat, we would have to sleep in them.
We went through the paperwork, got our instructions from a man named Steve as to the operation of the Monaco and its peculiarities, and by three o’clock, we were headed out, Stratford-bound. I had rather thought that we would be in Stratford tomorrow, but I’m getting the impression that it’s farther away than either of us realized. It isn’t right on the Warwickshire Ring. Getting there involves a detour, but we have the boat for two weeks, and we could get around the Ring in a week, so we have lots of time to explore.
The best thing about this boat? It has a sliding roof. I’ve had half of it open right now, because I’m too jet-lagged to open the other side, but tomorrow I’m going to sit here with the entire centre section of the 59-foot boat open to the sunshine. Of course, we’ve heard that it will rain tomorrow, but that’s okay. There will be other days.
It’s 5:15 in the afternoon now (9:15 a.m. in our poor, jet-lagged brains) and we have come through three locks. Dinner is in the oven, and we have tied up for the night at Stockton. The brothers have walked across the bridge to a pub called The Boat Inn, to have a pint before dinner. I’ve stayed home to mind the pies.  Already, the flight, the length of it, the soreness of my bum and back from sitting in that airplane’s seat, are all fading from memory. A few minutes ago, I was floating through a narrow channel, reeds pushing up against the side of the boat. Now I’m sitting still, communing with the ducks and the swans. I’m happy.


So, that is how I was feeling at 5:15. We had dinner, cleaned up, and sat down to play cards -- mostly to keep ourselves awake. By 9:30, I was nearly weeping with fatigue, so in spite of the fact that the \music coming from the Boat Inn was extremely loud and of the head bashing kind, I went to bed and fell into a deep sleep. I slept until 3:00 a.m., woke up, told myself sternly that it was far too early to do that, and went back to sleep until 8:30.

Some of our less bossy traveling companions
We were on the move by 9:30, and all went well except that around noon I got thoroughly sick of being bellowed at by strange men, so I told Robin and David that they could handle the lock work themselves, and I retired to the inside of the boat. One of the bellowers, a man who I suspect has no authority or autonomy in his regular work life, mentioned to Robin that he had lost one of his crew members, so Robin told him what I had said. We pulled over and let Napoleon and buddies go on without us. Then I went topside again and resumed my duties.

It's been a long, long day, and I'm tired and sore, but no more than I would expect, given the work I've been doing. I don't feel jet-lagged at all.

I still don't know when we'll get to Stratford, but at least we have a proper canal map now (courtesy of the 24-hour Tesco gas station where we also bought marmalade, baked beans, and paper towels -- the best we could do in the absence of an open supermarket) -- so perhaps we'll be able to figure it out when we look at the map after dinner.

Meanwhile, though, I've had a call from my cousin Kathryn from Oxford. We plan to get together on Wednesday, probably to go to Evensong at Worcester Cathedral.  

We have told David that he can't leave us until at least the day after tomorrow, because tomorrow we have a flight of 21 locks to climb. Oy.
While I'm grateful for this wi-fi connection, I must say that it's mighty slow, and I don't have time to put any more photos up. Trust me, there are a lot of them, and eventually I'll find a way to post them. Meanwhile, have a lovely evening. 

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