Monday, 31 March 2014

Into London

Canals Today : Grand Union Main Line and Paddington Branch

Time at last to start the season's cruising! We set off from our mooring just after 9:30 and joined the main line, turning southwards towards Bulls Bridge.

Leaving Packet Boat Marina
The weather was not as kind today as forecast, nor as great as yesterday, but at least it was dry and occasionally reasonably warm although by mid afternoon in was turning somewhat more chilly.

The main road bridge at Yiewsley is having work done on it with a new arch shape attached to one side and anchor points ready on the other side to receive a matching structure. It was unclear as we passed under neath whether this is anything more that decorative.

The trees and shrubs lining the canal were very green, with the occasional splash of white.

Bulls Bridge
We paused at Bulls Bridge where Christine popped to Tesco for a newspaper, milk and bread. Just behind the bridge on the site which was once part of the busy commercial boat activity is now an industrial structure but we could not work out what it does. The once-handsome junction office has been derelict for some years and seems to have been even more gutted than a year ago although a new roof has been added.

Here the Paddington Branch joins the Main Line and, as we had long abandoned the plan to head towards the Thames and the Kennet and Avon as the river levels have still not returned to navigable levels, this is the direction in which we headed.

We saw several birds nesting in strange places but one seems to have worked out that this old sailing barge does not go far these days!

Where has all the plastic come from?
There were occasional new developments to spot but otherwise the journey was quite familiar. With no locks at all today, which should have made good progress. However, there was a very much more substantial amount of floating plastic to contend with, in some places quite dense and right across the canal. We are not sure why this has happened and do not remember anything like it before. A comment from someone on a moored boat suggested that it has recently appeared.

In any event, Mike had four trips down to the weed hatch. On the second occasion the plastic was joined by a old shirt which had twisted itself into a tight rope and needed a new sharp blade to the knife kept for this purpose.

Uxbridge Road Moorings
The towpath has had a lot of work done on in - more people use the canal for walking and cycling than anything else - and at Uxbridge Road moorings a barge was being loaded with more tarmac materials - presumably for a stretch a little further along.

Some parts of the branch into London run through almost rural areas, although some are a bit more deceptive than others. In this case of this wooden footbridge, the Western Way A40 is just around the corner!

Northolt Bohra Mosque
Just after passing a branch of High Line Yachting, we could see Northolt Bohra Mosque alongside the canal. Although we have seen it before, this is the first time we have actually found out anything about it. According to the internet, it belongs to the Bohra form of Shia Islam which originated in the Yemen. It looks a very substantial complex, seating up to 2000 people, according to one source. However, a news report on a visit by Rowan Williams in 2010 described it having a small attendance, around 100.

243 Ealing Road
At Alperton an extensive new housing development - 243 Ealing Road - is well underway, having started since we last came this way.

Even dogs find strange perches . . .

Not noticed this unusual structure at Porta Bello, except that it is on last year's photo of the adjacent bridge! However, that underlines the general experience that however many times one passes along a particular canal, news things always keeping coming to our attention.

We did not stop for lunch as we were making rather slow progress and were concerned about finding a night's mooring. Reports had suggests that towpath moorings might be scarce as CaRT had experimented with a new winter moorings scheme. Indeed, we found this to be so and were becoming quite concerned as we approached Little Venice. Where we moored last year now has No Mooring signs - no obvious reason so perhaps it is another case of difficult neighbours. CaRT and the local councils have been having a hard time in the past year or so, mediating between residents in houses and those on boats.

Just in time - at this stage in the day finding a space in Paddington Basin would be unlikely - we found a gap in the reserved winter moorings section. Since these come to an end tonight, we have moored up, hoping that the previous occupier will not return before dark!

16.4 miles - 0 locks

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Ascot Country Fair Raceday

Mothering Sunday and we had been invited to join with daughter and family for a special outing to Ascot, on the last day of their jump season, also to celebrate Joanna and Jess's birthdays in the next few days. This meeting is an opportunity, especially for more local people, to use the luxurious facilities that are excruciatingly expensive on Royal Ascot days! A table had been booked in the Parade Restaurant on the same level as the Royal Box. We had a direct view over the parade ring.

We drove over to Windsor where they had a taxi booked for 11:45 to take all of us to the racecourse, which dropped us all off close to the main entrance. Soon we were inside and immediately impressed by the scale of the main grandstand.

Parade Ring
Although there was a race at midday, the main session did not start until 2pm so we headed straight to the restaurant where we took up residence for the rest of the day.

Lunch was roast beef - incredibly tender slices - and even the braised cabbage took Mike's fancy (him eating cooked cabbage is almost unknown!)

Viewing from grandstand
By the time we had finished our main course, it was time for the first race which gave us a chance to find out where to view from. Just along from the restaurant on the same level is the section of the grandstand set aside for Parade ticket holders.

Off for the next lap
A huge screen just opposite us showed all the action as the field assembled at the opposite side of the track and soon they were off. All of the races where over a lap in length so they passed us once before coming to the finishing post just where we stood. Sadly we soon discovered that the positions of horses in the running order at the stage when the first came by was absolutely no guide to where they would finish! Adrian's tote bet came well down the order. Not quite sure why Wallace and Grommit joined the winning parade.

Finishing post
Winning Presentation
Back to our table and we enjoyed our dessert - gourmet bread and butter pudding. There was no time to have our coffee before the second race and this time Mike took a reckless £2 punt on the one horse that had never won a previous race - he reckoned that since all the others had at least one win then this horse must come up some time! Well, he was close but even second was no good as it was not a place bet!

Adrian took the girls to see the lamb racing but they did not seem overly impressed. Someone asked how the lambs knew which way to run - well, that's what the dog following behind is for!

After our coffees we walked down to the Plaza Lawns at ground level where there plenty of other activities - the meeting was not called the Country Fair Raceday for nothing! Alice and Jess enjoyed the chance to have close encounters with rabbits, geese, goats and chickens.

Herding ducks
Jess and Mike watched the demonstration of working collies herding, not sheep as there is not enough room, but a flock of ducks. First came the youngest of the three dog who was put through its paces to show how it is trained.

The second dog then took the ducks through the obstacles and into the pen whilst finally the most experienced collie was used to guide the flock around three large groups of members of the audience sat on the grass.

We all joined up to watch a race from the trackside, very different from watching up in the grandstand. Christine placed her bet with one of the individual bookies in the enclosure. She was quietly hopeful when it came passed in second place, closely challenging the leader. Imagine, dear reader, her frustration when it came around the final bend in last place which where it ended up at the finish line!

After Jess and Alice queued and had a go on the challenging and unusual climb up to the inflated slide. After a couple of levels, Alice sussed out the best way to climb but Jess found the larger boys made progress rather difficult and, after reaching about half way, she came back down the way she went up.

Back at our restaurant table we had a cup of tea before it was time for the final race. The card was quite small and only four declared so making a choice was not hard. Mike took a look at the parade ring and picked number 6, pretty much at random. He then went through to the viewing area with Ellie (the ticket was really for her as she could not buy her own!) and then Adrian and Alice joined them.

The Winner!
This time, our runner came through in a strong second place but, as the field went around the far part of of the course we could see one fall well behind the others. Was it ours?

Yes, that does say First
As they came down the final straight, Mike was convinced that our horse was in second but coming to the finish a fading third. It was something close to incredulity that he heard Adrian and Ellie say that we had won! (Mike had mis-read the colours, confusing one red with another . . .)

Don't spend it all at once . . .
Back to the restaurant and Adrian collected the £11.40 winnings for Ellie who was over the moon! As it happened, Mike had picked the outsider.

The family table
Slowly we walked back down to the exit and across to the pick up area where the taxi collected us and so back to Windsor at the end of a wonderful day out - even the weather was kind to us. Thank you! We did not stay more than a few minutes before returning back to the boat and we will be off in the morning - hopefully!

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Valley Garden

As we are invited to join our daughter and family for lunch at Ascot tomorrow, today was taken slowly. Although we woke early, it was quite late before we popped down to Morrisons for our main shop. Most important items were birthday cards for Joanna and Jess!

We returned to the boat for lunch - soup and some tasty bread.

We offered to take the two younger girls out for the afternoon but on the way over to Windsor we called at Iver Boatyard to pick up some stove rope as the sealiing around our stove door glass has perished.

Valley Garden is part of Windsor Great Park and only a few minutes drive away. Bicycle and scooter were stowed in the car and we set off. It was a wonderful, warm and sunny afternoon - we risked not taking our coats with us!

The girls enjoyed the freedom to ride and scoot as well as taken in the delightful scenery. Special signs pointed towards the daffodils which we followed - huge swathes.

We continued down towards Virgina Water and then back around to the Totem Pole. This was created in 1958 to commemorate the founding of British Columbia and stands 100 feet tall. It was carved from a single cedar tree and includes several layers of traditonal decoration.

Although there are no tea rooms in this part of the Great Park there was an ice cream van, doing brisk business. Alice described her particular choice as 'tasty'.

Time then to climb back up to the car park and return home.

Back to the boat

We drove up from Cornwall yesterday - there was fog and rain for most of the way but this cleared as we approached Packet Boat and the afternoon here was very pleasant.

A problem had been identified by the RCR engineer when carrying out the annual service - he noticed excessive oil contamination of the engine coolant. We asked High Line (the boatyard adjoining the moorings) to investigate and we had not heard back yet what were the results. There first look had confirmed the problem and that it could either have been the result of accidental addition of oil in the cooling water, rather than the engine. This was the less expensive outcome but if not then it would be necessary to replace the head gasket, a much more costly solution.

Fortunately, they have concluded that they are 90% sure that it is the simpler problem, they have drained and flushed the system and recommend that we try it out for the next couple of weeks, bring the boat back at the end and they will check and finish the procedure by adding antifreeze. (No sense wasting it if they have to flush out another time)

Before moving the boat far we stopped at the diesel pump to fill our fuel tank - we had let it go down at the end of the last cruise of 2013. We were then able to move back to our mooring and hook up to the supplies once again as we are here until Monday.

After unpacking, stowing and generally sorting out ourselves, we popped to Tesco for milk and a couple of other items - we left our main shop until the next day.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Sunday at the marina

We planned to go to St Matthew's church in Yiewsley where we have been before. It was a beautiful day, cloudless sky and little wind as we walked the 25 minutes to the church.

However, when we reached the front door we were faced with a notice that told us that today's service was to be a joint one at the nearby Methodist church, but at 11:00. This gave us time to pick up rolls for tomorrow' s journey home and also to look in Wilkinsons door a new hosepipe. Yesterday we had found an alarming slimy coating inside our existing hose so decided to ditch it without delay.

There was a good congregation from the Anglicans, Methodists and Baptists. The service was led by the Methodist minister who preached a good, well a constructed sermon including a relevant reference to Indiana Jones!

By the time the service ended and we had returned to Wilkinsons for the hosepipe and then walked back to the boat it was well after 1:30!

After lunch we pottered around with a few small maintenance jobs and with cleaning the boat ready to leave it behind. With the weather as it has been for the last couple of days we are quite sad not to be setting off on a start to the season's cruising. However, the Thames is still not yet open although some sections are now back on yellow boards. Perhaps we will be able to go that way next trip.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Slough Arm

We planned a short trip today just to check out that everything is OK whilst moving - we have been using all the static facilities over the winter.

First, we made another quick trip to Tesco to stock up for the next two days. By just after 11 o/clock we were ready to move off and unhooked the electricity and water, ready to move off. Mike then went to start the engine but there was no movement in the starter at all.

After checking that the battery had a charge and that nothing immediately obvious (like the isolator switch being off) Christine made a call to RCR. They arranged for an engineer to attend once the current job was finished.

Two young men arrived by about 13:45 and, after a quick 'fiddle' with the main connector box which distributes power between the starter and alternator, the engine sprang into life. It responded immediately the starter turned over. The chaps tried starting several times, each OK so they returned to their car.

We quickly prepared to set off but once again there was no life in the starter! A quick phone call brought the two RCR engineers back again. Although we are still not 100% certain, it is possible that an unidentified unconnected lead was to blame, causing a slight shorting. They taped it up and left us once more to set off.

This time we were successful but by now there was not enough time to reach the end of the Slough Arm, but that was the direction in which we headed. It was a wonderfully sunny and warm afternoon.

There are just two intermediate winding holes along the five mile arm and we decided to turn around at the second - we might have managed the whole length and back before dark but it was not certain so better to play safe after the earlier difficulties. (Pictures of bridges just to show what the weather was like!)

Alas, we have to report that although Mike seemed to be making a correct approach and turn into the mooring, a last moment sudden gust of wind took the boat in just the wrong direction and any attempt to correct the alignment just made it worse. (We moor with the stern next to the main pontoon so have to reverse in between the adjacent boats) As a result, he had to reverse right back and make a fresh approach. This time was almost perfect just a little fending off the next door boat was required!

Friday, 14 March 2014

Return to Take Five

We set the alarms for 5:30 (crack of dawn) as our transfer taxi was dues to collect us at 6:30. We only had last minute packing to do and we were outside the apartments a few minutes before the driver came round the corner.

It was a bright blue sunny day as we sped along the motorway arriving at the airport at least ten minutes quicker than the outward trip! No longer sure about speed limits . . .

There was quite a wait after check-in but there was free wi-fi to while away the couple of hours. At least we discovered that not all Cypriot wi-fi is as slow as that at Katzios Apartments!

The flight was uneventful but with an almost completely clear sky we could follow the route, over Greece, up the east coast of Italy, across the Swiss Alps and France. Cloud cover obscured the channel but we again had a good view of the ground as we approached London.

Air traffic congestion meant that we were stacked for around 20 minutes giving at least three good views of the Thames below central London. It was easy to spot places such as the London Eye and Thames barrier as well as the M25 river crossing.

Whilst we waited for the bags to arrive on the carousel, Christine called the taxi company that took us to the airport at the start of the holiday. They recalled the fare! We had a little wait but once picked up were were back at the marina very quickly.

It was a very pleasant afternoon so, apart from a quick foray for milk, we could sit in the sunshine and read. After such a long day we opted for the easy catering and Mike popped to the nearby chippie for our dinner!

Mike also safely downloaded the photos from the camera and set about sorting out some to illustrate the blogs which we published just as text during hour holiday. So, dear reader, if you are interested in the visual record, you will just have to look back over the past ten days!

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Last day in Cyprus

The car was collected earlier than scheduled. Since we could not go far until we had handed it over that was helpful. In addition, we begged a lift up to the village and the lady kindly waited whilst we made ready to go (we had planned this for a bit later and were just taking out time)

Another view of Pissouri Square
As a result we were a little early for coffee and so took a stroll around yet more of the narrow village streets until at least the community coffee shop was open. We sat and read for some time.

Olive Grove

We also opted to have lunch back at the apartment after walking back down. Although this was really an opportunity to use up what ingredients we had left, a couple more potatoes and a small onion were deemed a good idea. We also bought some wire wool to help clean up the pans! When we arrived they looked as if they had not been used but now . . .

The walk down the beach was all downhill, quite steep at first, but the weather was just right and, apart from a few minutes later on, the day remained dry.

As already indicated, lunch comprised almost everything left in the fridge!

The first part of the afternoon turned quite chilly but by about three o'clock it was good enough to take a stroll along the beach in the opposite direction from where we walked some days ago.

At the end it was sheltered and was pleasant enough to sit and be mesmerized by the waves breaking on the beach and over the rocks. Actually, the sea was calmer than on some days.

Our last evening was spent at Limanika, the most upmarket of the local eating places. Although it was a fairly 'international' style of menus it really was excellent. Christine opted for the lamb shank , which melted off the bone, whilst Mike had chicken fillets in a pepper sauce with flavors subsequently described to us as 'fusion'. Whilst we have heard of this style, this may well be the first time to try it. Great!

We even succumbed to desserts which were of excellent quality and style. The tiramisu was quite unlike the shop one from earlier in the week and the cheesecake was to die for.

Sadly we now need an early-ish night as we are being collected at 6:30 in the morning! We should be back at the marina by just after lunch, UK time.

When we are back it will hopefully be possible to add pictures to each of these blogs, but if they are not written up straight away we will forget where we have been!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Last day with car

We planned a trip into the hills below Troodos today but began by, yes dear reader you guessed, starting with coffee in Pissouri Square. At this stage it was pleasantly warm but as we walked back to the car, rain arrived as it did off and on all day.

Kouri's Dam

Our trip began with a run along the motorway towards Limassol where we turned inland along a lesser road to the Kouri's Dam. The structure is a mass concrete dam and should create a substantial reservoir up the valley behind. We had been told that a number of the reservoirs were worringly low and this one certainly was in that class.

We could see the planned water level but at the moment it is way below that. (We did see another later that was a bit fuller)

We continued along the eternally winding roads into the Commanderia region. In Monagri, the village of two monastries said the sign, we followed the directions to our first monastery today - actually today it is a nunnery. A modern building surrounds an old church with some noted icons.

Most well known icon in church
Although there was little information, a nun who seemed not to speak any English, did offer us some Cypriot Delight and a chunk of bread. Although the monastery was isolated, it was far from quiet as many birds created a loud noise as they flew in and out if their nests in the roof.
Monastery Archangel Michael

Back toward s the village and we also stopped at the Monastery Archangel Michael. Again, a small church in the centre was surrounded by more recent buildings.

We called at the winery which advertised tastings of Commanderia, a sweet dessert wine, but as with most places we visited today, they were clearly not expecting visitors. At least we obtained directions to the nearest patrol station in Trimiklini - the gauge was dropping alarmingly! By now it was lunch time and heavier rain arrived. We saw a large car park with a view and pulled in to eat our sandwiches. (With just one other vehicle there we had some difficulty deciding which space to occupy!)
Timos Stavros Church
After lunch we continued to follow winding roads, getting ever further up the mountains. Our next stop was to visit Timios Stavros church, which involved driving down some amazingly narrow streets of this village until we suddenly found the place we were looking for. As we arrived an elderly couple quickly came out to open up and the man - with no English - insisted on showing us all the details.

Prgnant Mary and Elizabeth
 It is a very small building but is full of wall paintings, surviving in various degrees. The most impressive part was the ceiling, especially that in the traditional dome over the centre. Mike had to lie flat on the floor to look up and appreciate it!

Relic of the True Cross
There is also a relic which tradition says is part of the 'True Cross' which St Helena brought to the island in the 4C AD along with a part of the rope used in the crucifixion.

Floor inscriptions

We headed to our furthest planned destination of Agros where they tourist information person had promised us all sorts of interest. Despite great efforts to find anything, it was far from obvious where they might be evening season but today it was resolutely shut.
Amirou Monastery
Heading back down the main road towards Limassol we saw a sign to another monastery - Amirou - and we turned off, through a village and then another narrow road until we arrived. Although there has been a church and some sort of monastery here for centuries, the main building, including a substantial church, Only opened last year and is still not finished. Some considerable money must be being spent.
Amirou Monastery Church

By now most of the afternoon had gone so we continued back down to the motorway and thus back to Pissouri. Before returning to the apartment we picked up ingredients for our meal tonight.