Friday, 31 July 2015

Racing to Worcester

Sunday 26th July 2015                             Racing to Worcester!

Morning All

Have you had a drop of rain where you are? We've been dodging the showers all week and the boat's taken on that wet dog aroma that I remember so well from 2012.

We've left the Gloucester and Sharpness canal far behind us and we'll be back on the narrow, shallow Staffs and Worcester Canal by tomorrow evening. We've had two weeks of wide, deep water with few locks and bridges to trouble us. Its one of the few remaining places that still have lock-keepers and bridge-keepers to do all the hard work – the bridges open as you approach and when you enter the big river locks the lock-keeper peers down from on high to make sure you're tied on before they press any buttons.

Tricky looking cute
When I closed the jottings last week, I promised to let you know all about Sharpness – well, I'm afraid there's not a lot to say really. We moored on a grassy bank overlooking the estuary which delighted Tricky, as she was only a short walk away from our friends on the Naga Queen - they do spoil her with bits of steak and other luxuries and she's quickly learnt to associate Pat's voice with food.  Tricky is hard to resist when she looks so cute! But I'm wandering off the subject – I was telling you about Sharpness.  There's not much to say except they do have a terrific view of the Severn estuary. It was raining again as we set off to explore and we huddled under our hoods and brollies and watched the sea rushing in past the Coastguard Station looking very grey and forbidding. We followed the path around the marina, up the lane and past the Dock Workers Social Club (closed), found a tiny shop (open) and followed a footpath in search of the sea lock (no public access). We found an open gate and slipped through to watch a large vessel rising slowly in the lock, it was so slow that we gave up waiting and wandered off. I googled the IMO number from her stern and found out she was a general cargo vessel from Antigua - marvellous what you can find out from Google! The most interesting thing we saw was a strange building in the garden of a house by the shop. The house was called The Bee Hive and the building in progress is an enormous 2 storey shed which will look like a Beehive when it's finished. I wondered if they should just convert a VW camper van – paint it yellow and put a dome on the top – job done!

Concrete boat beached at Purton
Next day, we turned the boat around and started back towards Gloucester. We stopped off at Purton on the way, to visit 'The Final Resting Place' where the banks of the Severn have been reinforced by the hulks of old working boats. On a bright breezy morning, we walked down to the memorial and read the names of the boats marooned on the estuary and looked out at the wide, muddy Severn close by. The concrete hulls have silted up and grass paths lead almost to the waters edge – what a sad ending for those once proud boats. Malc found a few blackberries that looked the right colour for eating but were very sour – I don't want to think about Blackberry Crumble just yet, it reminds me of Autumn and I'm still wanting a bit more summer.

 The mooring fairy was with us on our return journey and we snagged the prime moorings opposite the boatyard in Saul. We were rewarded with ring-side seats for the entertainment next morning. First a man in an inflatable dingy whizzed across to a very large boat just down the tow-path from us. He flung a couple of ropes aboard, waited for them to be hooked up and then took the ends back across the canal. Several strong men appeared and started to haul on the ropes, pulling the large boat across the water towards the boatyard. There was a strong crosswind blowing and I expected to see the boat setting off on a collision course with the swing bridge, towing the husky young men along behind – but, of course, it just glided across like it was on rails and was soon tied up safe and sound ready for work to begin. I hope they change her name while she's out of the water – HMS69 isn't very dignified is it?

With one eye on the weather forecast we hurried back to Gloucester to fit in a visit to the Waterways Museum and the Folk Museum before we make the long journey back up the Severn. Heavy rain was predicted for Friday and Sunday so we thought we'd travel the 29 miles from Gloucester Lock to Diglis Basin in Worcester in one go on Saturday. It proved to a be a very long day! We set off at 8.30, stopped at Lower Lode to water up the boat and de-water the dog and arrived in Diglis Basin at almost 7pm. Phew – what a day! We saw 2 Kingfishers, several herons and some very exciting ripples that might have been made by Nessie herself (probably fish – not quite so exciting!). It's rained on and off all day here so we made the right decision to have a long cruise yesterday. We've had a couple of soggy jaunts into Worcester, it looks very interesting and on a sunny day, I'm sure we would have spent longer exploring. It was good to get in and light the stove to dry off – we were OK, it was Tricky who looked bedraggled and woe begone!

Our hidden gem this week is a little place called 'Peppers' which we stumbled upon down a little side street in Gloucester. We ordered coffee and were directed to the courtyard for it to be served. We're a bit wary of these outside spaces - courtyard can mean ant-infested concrete yard with rusty, warped tables. This was an absolute delight– painted walls with large parasols to keep the seagulls off and a colourful knitted blanket on every chair. A large psychedelic sheep stood in one corner and hand-painted wooden birds decorated the pots of lavender and hebe's.
Peppers courtyard

Psychedelic Sheep

 I tried to go on 'Trip Advisor' to review it and now my Ipad thinks I'm someone else! If you understand that last sentence then you will also understand how frustrating it is to be caught up in the mysteries of the superhighway. Thats all from me for this week - have a lovely week everyone

Love as always

The Floating Chandlers

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

No More Free Samples

Sunday 19th July 2015 

No More Free Samples!

Morning All

This week we've covered a lot of miles with very little effort. After an enforced stay of an extra day on the 'Swan's Neck' mooring, thanks to a strong wind pinning us to the bank, we set off on Tuesday early, before the wind woke up! 

Strencham Lock was set ready for us to go straight in and since then all the locks and bridges have been manned. Its been a very restful week for all of us, nothing to do but enjoy the lovely views and sunny afternoons as we chugged from Tewkesbury down the River Severn to Gloucester. (I won't mention the mornings as they were mostly grey and damp). We spent a night at the Lower Lode Inn, doubled up on their floating pontoon - it's a great mooring but the ramp up to the pub from the pontoon is extremely steep. Tricky and I hauled ourselves up and found a grassy area and some benches under a large willow tree – I got a few strange looks as I hung my wifi dongle on a handy branch and settled down to order Mum's shopping.

The approach to Gloucester Lock is serious – large boards warn boaters to 'Slow Down' 'Keep Left' 'Contact Lock-keeper' – the River Severn can be tidal through here and we've heard some horror stories about this lock. Today the river is calm and placid and the lock gates are open for us to go straight in – I'm glad to get through and moor in the large basin on the other side without any drama's. What a great place to moor – it's like being at the seaside.

The docks have been refurbished and the old working warehouses are now shops, offices and fashionable eating places. Pieces of original dock equipment decorate the old wharves and the old railway lines can still be seen in places. In one corner of the basin there is a working boatyard with a massive wooden sailing boat up on chocks in the dry dock. Tiny men, far below, are working on the massive hull and the smell of tar floats up from a big, bubbling pot of the thick, black, smelly stuff. Further along there are huge holiday boats and a towering red Lightship with a 'For Sale' board planted at the bottom of the gang plank – who will be brave enough to take on all that vast expense of red paint! This is completely different from the kind of boating we are used to – everything from dinky little cruisers and converted fishing boats to Dutch barges and wide-beam narrow boats are collected here and we're all the target of those blooming sea-gulls!!

The city shops are a short stroll away(past the prison) and the Cathedral area is full of Japanese tourists who may well be the same ones we saw in Stratford! I found the Beatrix Potter shop called 'The Tailor of Gloucester' in a little alley by the Cathedral and bought a wooden postcard to send to my Mum. Further on we found a really unusual clock over the watchmakers in Southgate. We were intrigued by the large carved figures so we hung around and waited for it to strike the hour to see what it would do. It was hardly worth the wait – it chimed and the figures moved a bit but I was expecting more - a door to open and something pop out or a drummer boy to appear. I looked it up later and the figures represented an Irish woman, and English man, Old Father Time, a Scotsman and a Welsh woman which sounds like the beginning of a not-very-funny joke – maybe it does something spectacular at midnight – I might have to go back for another try!

I was lured into the indoor market by girl giving away samples of Greek olives and they were so good I went in to buy some. I think the lady doing the selling has missed her vocation – she should have been negotiating with Angela Merkel to get the Greek debt reduced. I came away with a large portion of olives costing twice as much as the those little pots I usually buy from Sainsburys and a large spadeful of hummus to go with it. Carl and Tricky can't bear the stuff so I'll be eating dips for a month!

The Food Festival started on Friday morning – rows of stalls selling pies and pickles, cheese and chocolate as well as jewellery and rather fetching 50's style pinnies. It was a bit too early for Carl and he couldn't really get into the swing of things till we spotted a stall selling warm pies – he cheered up no end when I got him a 'warm bunny' – that's Rabbit Pie if you haven't already guessed! I passed the 'Fuffle' stall twice without being tempted (it's a cross between fudge and truffle) but was lured in by the free sample and I'm now hiding the 'Baileys Fuffle' at the back of the fridge where I can't easily get at it.

Yesterday, we reached Saul Junction and had a ramble into Frampton-Upon-Severn which is famous for having the largest village green in England. We started off at the Boat Inn end and walked along by a beautiful old fashioned cottage with roses and hollyhocks in the front and a grape vine growing in the kitchen garden at the side. We passed by the 'Three Horseshoes' at the other end of the green in favour of a bite to eat in the 'Village Bistro' – it was a 'caff ' really but I'll forgive them the pretentious name as the Pistachio Bakewell was delicious. Tricky was allowed in and lay quietly under the table waiting for a morsel of sausage or bacon to come her way and had a paddle in the village pond to cool off on the way home.

We had yet another grey start this morning and we lingered on the mooring watching a very selfish gin palace type cruiser having a wash and polish on the water point. He was there for several hours and only cleared off when the sun came out and the canal turned from a sulky grey to a lovely sparkling blue. We chugged off and made the most of it before finding this idyllic spot to tie up for the day. It's a little overgrown if I'm honest – Carl had to borrow the shears and a medieval instrument of torture called a hand scythe from our cruising companions on Naga Queen to hack away the undergrowth. We now have a spectacular view towards Wales, and tomorrow we get to Sharpness – I'll tell you all about it next week

Have a lovely week everyone

Love as always

The Floating Chandlers

Monday, 20 July 2015

Tiddle Widdle Island

Sunday 12th July 2015 Tiddle Widdle Island

Morning All

Tiddle Widdle Island is a real place just outside the village of Wyre Piddle and the people who live there must have a great sense of humour to put up with a name like that! It is named after the Piddle Brook which runs through the village, well that's what the book says!

After all the excitement of the trip down to Stratford last week, our travels along the Avon have been very tranquil. The river is quiet and serene and the scenery is quaintly English. Our old friend the Kingfisher made a welcome return but we only caught a glimpse of that scintillating blue before it vanished into the distance - it's ages since we saw the last one, so this made our day.

It was a cool drizzly morning when we left Stratford on Tuesday. We tooted the brass horn as we left the lock, waving to a party of primary school children who lined the bridge over the lock to watch the fun. I'm not sure they found me very entertaining – poor little mites, they looked far too young to be on the 'Shakespeare Trail'.

We turned right out of the lock and chugged along by the park towards Tewksbury, happy to be on the move again in spite of the showers that cross over us from time to time. We soon reached Luddington and claimed the best mooring spot – what luck. The sun came out and shone down hotly on our solar panels and the cabin was in the shade of a weeping willow so stayed nice and cool. Tricky and I set off to explore down a track that led off from the moorings, past the church, to a village of thatched black and white cottages. I walked a little way to the village green, peeping into the gardens along the way. There were luscious roses everywhere and lawns trimmed with daisies, flagged paths leading to front doors surrounded by pots of brightly coloured flowers – a very pretty village. Tricky wasn't impressed and lay down in every available patch of shade until I took pity on her and set off back down the track to the cool, greenness of the riverbank.

We reached Evesham on Thursday and moored right outside a chinese take-away - how convenient. We walked over the bridge into town and found it was full of charity shops - like so many places are these days. The beautiful buildings around the old town told the story of a glorious history and the park, which slopes down to the river, was in full bloom. I saw a naughty dog jump into the fishpond and run amok through the lilies - well, it was a hot day and I don't suppose the fish were too bothered.

One of our favourite places on the Avon is the little town of Pershore, where the visitor moorings are right by the park and Tricky can jump on and off without any help. Which is more than can be said for the silly sheep that went for a swim in the river on Sunday morning. The poor thing couldn't get up the bank and bobbed around in the rushes, bleating. For a fleeting moment I thought I would have to paddle over in the lifebuoy to save it – how ridiculous was that, as if I could just sling a fully grown sheep over my shoulder and throw it ashore! Just when I thought Carl and Malc would have to launch a rescue attempt, we heard an engine strike up and a little cruiser set off across the river. The husband held the boat steady while his wife stood on the bows and prodded the sheep with the blunt end of a boat hook to encourage it to try a bit harder to get up the bank – and we all cheered and clapped when the sheep was safely back with the flock.

Good moorings are limited on the Avon and twice this week we have cosied up next to the 'Naga Queen', fitting our two boats side by side into one space. Today we are on a lashed together on the Swan Neck mooring just below Nafford Lock – Pat and I sat out in our deck chairs on the grassy bank, enjoying the view, while Carl and Malc went through their daily ritual of tuning in the TV. Carl's Omnidirectional aerial has not been performing well of late and finding that our neighbours have 200 channels with an aerial that looks like a brick on a stick is causing a touch of aerial envy.
It's one of the downsides of boating life, you can't always find a shop selling what you want and so you have to cobble something together till you can either get it fixed properly or better still, make such a good job of bodging it that you don't need to buy a new one. Our aerial has been cobbled together so often that it's only the gaffer tape that stops it collapsing completely. We've managed to tune in to BBC once in a while but, to be honest, I think we might have done better with a coat hanger! Is there a Maplins in Tewksbury? We found one in Stratford but they'd sold out of the 'brick on a stick' TV aerial so we bought a new radio instead! We now have a neat DAB radio hooked up on the back deck – it's a fraction of the size of the old 'ghetto blaster' that took up so much room and crackled and fizzed while I was trying to play 'Popmaster' with Ken Bruce. I'm always 'One Year Out' and to be honest sometimes I'm wrong by a decade! If you don't listen to Radio 2 then you wont have a clue what the last bit was all about!

I'm listening to the rain pattering on the roof as I clatter away on the keyboard, the forecast is mixed for the week ahead and we'll be on the River Severn tomorrow, on our way to Gloucester. I'm hoping that we only get showers – we don't want to get caught up in a deluge - I've seen the 2007 flood markers and they're scary!

Have a lovely week everyone

Love as always

The Floating Chandlers