Tuesday, 31 December 2013

New Year's Eve

A rather slow start as we did not have to be at Windsor to collect the girls until after lunch. A few household chores and a walk to the shop for a paper took us until well after noon.

Christine started to bake off the loaf we had bought from Morrisons a few days ago when she discovered that the screws holding the oven in place had come loose. It seems that the holes provided were not really in the best place but when it was installed earlier this year the fitter had not taken extra time to make new holes that would match up against stronger woodwork! So it was out with the tools to fix the problem . . .

We arrived at Windsor and both Jess and Alice were nearly ready to leave - we had a little wait whilst their bags were packed - they are only staying one night this time!

The morning had been very wet and it was still raining as we drove to Windsor so we were not suggesting the walk we once had thought about! We called at Sainsbury in Slough (conquering the missed turnings of previous attempts!) and by then the sky had cleared but it was almost dark.

As a result we headed straight to the boat and unloaded bags. Alice quickly disappeared inside the pages of her latest book by David Walliams whilst Jess was keen to do some baking. With Grandad's help she made some pastry, proving exceptionally skilled at rubbing-in. This was then made into a mixture of mince pies, jam and lemon curd tarts.

By the time they had been cooked and cooled it was rather close to meal time so tasting had to wait. We had all opted for fish and chips from the nearby chippy - although Alice preferred a sausage instead of fish. She was rather taken by the wooden forks for eating the chips straight from the wrappers!

Later, Jess had to make sure that she tried out all three flavours of tarts!

Monday, 30 December 2013

British Museum

Christine spent the day with Joanna and Alice to look for clothes for the latter. They decided to go to the large Westfield shopping centre in West London. They had lunch at Wagamama - Alice's favourite place to eat out.

Although some items were bought it was perhaps not the best of experiences (a pickpocket and a lost car did not help!) and most of the shops are the same as in any out of town shopping mall.

Meanwhile, Mike and Jessica went by train (from Slough) into London to visit the British Museum. It has been promoted on children's television and she was clear about what she wanted to see. 'Orrible 'Istories provided some of the background.

As soon as they arrived they headed for one of the food stalls and just managed to find a place to sit and eat. The new roof makes a very impressive space. The whole museum was very busy indeed so it took some effort to find a way around.

The Mostyn Tompion table clock, made for William and Mary, impressed Jess, with its spectacular ornate decoration and ebony veneer.

However, the main interest was with the Egyptian mummies and the ornate decorated coffins.

Etruscan pottery attracted Jess's eye and she pointed out which was her favourite.

Of course, they took a look at the Parthenon (Elgin) Marbles and the Rosetta Stone (no room to get a photo). By this stage Jess was sufficiently clear about hieroglyphics to understand the stone's importance in working out to read this once forgotten language.

By the time they left the museum it was becoming dark and near the Underground station they could see some of the seasonal lights.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

St Mellitus and Windsor

It was a bright sunny and cloudless sky that greeted us as we awoke. Our plan was to go to church in the morning and then go over to Windsor for a short visit at lunch time to sort out more details of what we are expected to do in the coming week.

We took the opportunity to drive over to Hanwell and to St Mellitus Church from where the new Rector of Wadebridge has just moved. We were not sure whether we would be welcomed or lynched!

Our departure was from the marina was a little delayed as we had not allowed for an iced up windscreen but fortunately we did have some de-icer in the car and the special defrost facility on the air conditioning soon had it sorted.

Inside St Mellitus Church
 We were warmly welcomed - the service was taken by several members of the congregation as no priest was available. As we know in Wadebridge, this is a growing experience during vacancies - we were told afterwards that there are 14 vacancies in the immediate area. In any case, it seems  that this congregation is beginning to discover that such situations are also opportunities and they clearly do not intend to lose the chance for trying new things.

After coffee we set off to drive to Windsor and a mobile call on the way meant that we knew that lunch would be ready and waiting for us when we arrived.

We had a good chance to catch up on family news and to plan (sort of!) the next few days. Well, we do know some of tomorrow and one or two other days but there is plenty of room for new ideas!

Mid afternoon we returned to the boat. We had meant to call at the large Sainsbury supermarket on the edge of Slough but missed a turning and ended up well to the north. Still Tesco just around the corner from the marina did at least stock washing up liquid!

Saturday, 28 December 2013

And so back to the boat

Andrew left early to go on a walk organised by the local LDWA branch and we were on the road well before 10am. It took just over an hour and a half to arrive at Packet Boat Marina where we unloaded the car onto the boat.

We needed bread for lunch so, after a cup of coffee (it had to be instant as we had failed to bring any real coffee with us - now another item on our shopping list) we drove the short distance to Morrisons in Yiewsley.

It was again a bright sunny day with a clear sky and pleasantly warm although the temperature soon dropped as the afternoon came towards its end.

Mike set about fitting the new charging points which he had bought since last on the boat. This involved two trips to the small chandlery by the marina - fortunately they had both items needed and the second visit was just in time as they were about to close. They will not be open again until next Saturday!

One of the points now works properly but the other is only partially successful. It will have to be investigated another time!

Friday, 27 December 2013

Imber and Edington

An even slower start today and we had lunch before setting off on a shorter drive than yesterday, to Imber village in the middle of Salisbury Plain.

At one time, Imber was a typical small farming village - five farms as well as the manor house along with a parish church and even a Baptist Chapel. However, the Plain gradually developed as an important military training area with the War Department gradually buying up much of the land and many of the houses. Apart from Imber, there were very few other dwellings.

As the D Day landings were being planned, the need for a large space for training with the American forces was needed and the whole of the village was compulsory purchased. Although there was originally a possibility that it would be returned after the war, the difficulty in clearing the area from explosive material meant that it remains military property and is still well used for many training exercises.

Imber Church
However, the public, normally excluded, can visit for a few days after Christmas and the Churches Preservation Trust, who look after the church, open it as well.

We parked and walked up to the church which was looking especially well in the sunshine with a cloudless bright blue sky as background.

No Go to Imber Court Farm!
Afterwards we wandered a little further along the road - off road excursions are definitely not advised! - passing the buildings built during the war for training activities. Almost all of the original village buildings have now been demolished although the main house still stands, albeit behind a high wall!

Imber Court

Training Village
We continued on the access road to the far side of the Plain. As we headed back to Devizes, a wrong turning took us through Edington. We spotted a large church and opted to stop and find out more. Turned out to be Edington Priory Church which accounts for its unusual size. Internally, it is divided by a Victorian screen with the chancel area almost a large as most parish churches. When Imber parish was finally closed in the late 1990's, it was combined with Edington parish.

Edington Priory Church
Each year a special music festival is held in the church which draws some of the best church singers and musicians to perfom in the context of liturgies. The church is also used for many other concerts and dramatic productions, including a jazz concert and a Murder Mystery!

Inside Edington Priory Church
The Music Festival decided that they wanted to have a better quality organ and offered a new Harrison and Harrison instrument which is to be installed shortly so that it can be used in the 2014 festival in August. The former organ is to be dismantled and transferred to a music college in Tallin.

Edington Priory
Alongside the church is the former Priory house, long since converted to a private dwelling.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Boxing Day - Stourhead

Boxing Day and the usual slow start! However, we did have plans for going out walking and Andrew suggested driving down to Stourhead, a National Trust property although we could park near King Alfred's Tower and walk for free through the forest estate.

 It was a brilliant day, cloudless and reasonably warm and the car park was quite full but still space for us. We set off down hill with delightful surroundings.

Stourhead ornamental lake panorama
 Eventually we reached the main area closer to the entrance where there are walks around the artificial lake. There are also the usual features of a large estate: grotto, several temples, ornamental bridge and several former lodges and other buildings.

Pantheon from opposite side of lake
We sat overlooking the lake on the steps of the Pantheon (the garden's largest building) for our lunch. Andrew had also packed a thermos with a hot drink.

We continued, passing a small building that opens for hot drinks in the winter, and then through the grotto. After that we came to the collection of houses around the church and pub. In the courtyard, a side of Morris dancers was just completing a session.


On again and we were now heading uphill back to the car park. We first walked through the walled garden and then passed in front of the main house which is closed to visitors in the winter - not that we wanted to go in anyway!

Stourhead Mansion
The mansion, one of the first to be built in the Palladian style was opened in the mid Eighteenth century. It belomged to the Hoare family, wealthy bankers.

The last section followed the Fir Walk, a wide grassed route - part way along we passed a tall obelisk which is also said to indicated the head of the River Stour.

Finally we arrived back at the road and drove back to Devizes.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas Day

We travelled up from Wadebridge on Christmas morning, leaving as soon as we could - well, just after 8:30 seemed early enough after the efforts of the past few days. The motorway was quite clear to begin with but never became as busy as most days.

The promised rain held off, indeed the sun shone for most of the time. We arrived, as expected, just after mid day, at Andrew's house in Devizes.

After refreshment we went for a short walk along the canal, down to the top of the main Caen Hill flight. There seemed to be fewer boats moored than we have seen here before over winter. The main stretch is not marked as Winter Moorings as in previous years. CaRT have been experimenting with Roving Permits this year which give live-aboard boaters a little more freedom as they can move around yet still stay at some places for more than the usual 14 day limit.

Back to the house and soon time to finish preparations for our Christmas dinner - quite a lot of it we brought with us so that there was not much more than veg prep before putting everything on to cook either in the oven, on the hob or in the steamer!

After we had eaten, not much else happened!

Friday, 1 November 2013

Back to Packet Boat for the winter

Today's Canal - Grand Union

The final cruise for this season. It was still relatively mild for the season, grey but mostly dry as we made our way through the remaining four locks back to Packet Boat Marina.

Just above Cowley Lock, in the middle of a long line of permanently moored boats on the offside, we spotted two wooden converted working boats that looked as if the main hulls were approaching the end of their useful life! Later, at the next lock were told a little about the boats by the person who moors next to them and was returning from a short trip to fill up with water.

Apparently, a couple have lived on board for some considerable time - our informant has been there for 12 years and nothing much has changed in that time and the boats have never left their berth. The lady grew up on one of the boats in the days when it was still working. The gentleman still works for CRT.

One of the notable features of navigating on the canal system is the range and variety of people who share the space. At times it is possible to be passing a long line of boats that are seemingly used as homes for people unable to find elsewhere - or those who choose this as a way of life, and then also pass a craft that costs in excess of £100K. Whilst there can be clashes of culture between land based neighbours and permanent liveaboards, there are few occasions when there is comparable conflict between boaters. (Of course there can be occasional tiffs over lock operation or passing another boat too fast, but even these are sufficiently rare that they result in comment when they do occur)

Late morning we arrived at Cowley Peachy Junction and Andrew turned the corner onto the Slough Arm, followed immediately after by the entrance to the marina. Christine had already phoned Maeve, the Marina Supervisor, to find out where our berth was to be and so we could manoeuvre straught into the space. However, we managed to reverse into the wrong one at first as the numbers can only be seen once on the pontoons!

After lunch and a start on clearing up, Mike and Andrew set off to collect Andrew's car from Berkhamsptead returning an hour and a half later with no hold ups (although the M25 a little further ahead from where we left it was closed following a nasty accident)

By coincidence, nb Chance, another fellow blogger, is moored directly opposite us but, although we went to see, there was no-one aboard at the time.

Further cleaning and then a quick trip to the nearby Tesco as we had failed to bring sufficient bottles of wine and tonight is chill con carne.

The quicker members of our blogosphere may just have noticed the lack of pictures in this blog. Apart from the fact that we did not take very many, Mike had already packed the camera in the car before downloading to the laptop. Maybe, if there turn out to be any useful pics, they may be added at a later date! Just don't hold your breath!

5.1 Miles - 4 Locks

Thursday, 31 October 2013


Today's Canal - Grand Union

In sharp contrast with yesterday, the sky today was completely overcast but both dry and not cold. We were a little uncertain where we were aiming for at the end of today as we needed to find somewhere where Joanna could collect Alice late afternoon. She is due to accompany Jess on Trick or Treat visits to their neighbours.

Alice, of course, was straight into her book after breakfast and before long had read even the extra book found on our shelves. Sadly, the only opportunity to find a nearby shop was at Tesco around lunch time and they were totally useless for reading material! At least the iPad proved to be a suitable backup.

Part way through the morning we started to see Lock Distance posts as well as mileposts. We have been more used to seeing them on the Southern Oxford - they were intended to arbitrate between working boats that arrived at a lock at much the same time. The first to pass such a post had the right of way. What is not clear is how this was enforced!

Most of today we were passing lines of moored boats, most of them residential in one form another. Several Visitor Mooring stretches were obviously being occupied in readiness for the new winter mooring scheme, both for a specific location and the roving permits. Sadly, too many of these boats are all too obvious from their condition. The cruiser in this photo is called Greybrooke Tender: assuming this means that it once belonged to a yacht one wonders about its size!

Many of the boats on long term moorings are well entrenched but this one keeps its livestock on board!

We saw more fallen trees today but they had all been attended to so that at least navigation and the towpath were passable. No doubt they will be cleared properly as time permits. This example obstructed perhaps two thirds of the canal width.

Another tree . . .

At Copper Mill Lock, a river runs close to the canal and appeared to be quite full.

Below the lock there is a good view of the former Copper Mill factory after some demolition but no doubt this will soon disappear behind a new development.

A little further a boat named Victoria caught our eye. As well as other related decoration, it also claimed to have been Registered at Balmoral!

In some places the towpath was passable but only with a bit of a clamber.

Mike was walking between locks at this stage, partly to take a closer look at Troy Cut, a former branch to the gravel works.

He also had this chance to take a closeup of a heron that was resting on a towpath bridge.

Christine and Alice walked along the towpath for the final section - Alice took some of it at a run!

Some boats had narrow escape from the trees.

Just above Widewater Lock we opted to pull in for a mooring as this was the only place we could see where there was guaranteed access for Joanna. Although it was alongside a noisy gravel processing site, it fell silent as the sun set. Below the lock it was a longer walk before there was a free mooring space. Joanna and Jess duly arrived before long and did not stay long as Trick or Treat was calling.

7.2 miles - 9 locks

Wednesday, 30 October 2013


Today's Canal - Grand Union

The forecast today was for eight hours of cloud-free sunshine, which indeed is what happened. Initially, it was quite cold and the centreline ropes were quite solid so there must have been just about a frost over night. However, the sun warmed up the atmosphere quickly and we did not to wrap up extra until we moored.

We continued down familiar territory with not many boats on the move although as we approached Hemel a hire boat passed at Fishery Lock and at the next there were two boats ready to come up including the fuel boat we have used before. He even recognised us as from Packet Boat!

OK, so the heron might not actually be called Jack, but it looks nice!

At Winkwell a tree had fallen across part of the lock but at least the other side was clear (sorry about the poor photo)

Happily, Winkwell Swing Bridge was operational - it does seem to have had a number of problems since it was mechanised in this form. Alas, we did not hold up much traffic!

The boat which is sunken on the lock landing below the next lock is still there - it seems that no-one can do anything about this unsightly obstruction.

This sadly deceased 'Christmas' tree has been put to good use - the TV aerial seems to belong to a hut or summer house just through the hedge.

Approaching Hemel. four trees had fallen but fortunately away from the canal - otherwise they would have created a formidable obstruction.

At least these impressive trees survived the storm - according to today's newspaper report, the number of mature trees blown down in this storm is a small fraction of those lost in the Great Storm of 1987. Most of those we have seen fallen along the canal have been quite immature.

The reason for including this picture is that in the last two years when we have come this way at much the same time of the season, we have taken a splendid picture of this tree in its glorious colours. As we approached, all of the trees were still very green and we wondered what this one might be like as there have been reports that autumn is two weeks later this year. However, it has changed colour, unlike most of the others around.

Judging by the number of almost undisturbed con trails, the upper atmosphere must have very little wind today.

At Apsley, whilst we stopped to fill up the water tank and use the sani station, Alice and Christine walked to the nearby Sainsburys supermarket for a new book to read. Although there was not much choice, she did find one about how to tame a dragon - despite having 398 pages, by the time we moored at tea time, it had been read from cover to cover, with just the barest pause for lunch!

At Nash Mills the development has moved to the waterside - Lock Apartments - presumably the final stage.

At Horton Bridge the reported three conifer trees across the canal had been cleared and we hardly noticed where they had been - alongside the Circus Vegas, and American Circus it proudly proclaims - had arrived in town.

We arrived at Lady Capel's Lock earlier than expected but the planned mooring did not look very promising for a TV signal so we opted to continue a little further in the hope of something better. Just around the corner we were frantically waved to a halt by a gang removing one of the fallen trees - they had a rope across the water and did not want our prop to foul it. We had a few minutes wait as they tried unsuccessfully to pull a trunk out of the water.

With no lifting gear and only a motorised chipper to pull with, it was never going to be easy, even with two of them getting into the water to help. Eventually it came alongside the canal edge and we were weaved passed and as we left them they were sawing pieces off the trunk in order to make it easier to lift out!

There was no suitable mooring before we reached the two Cassiobury Locks so we worked through those but even below we had a problem as there was little depth to water beside the towpath. We eventually came alongside behind a number of boats that look as they they are here long term (and hard against the riling) but we could still only pull one end into the side. But will we have a signal after all that effort?

8.5 miles - 19 locks