Monday, 13 April 2015

Hampton Court

Today we met with Joanna, Alice and Jess for a day out at Hampton Court. We arrived at their house in Windsor at 9:30 as instructed and shortly afterwards set off to drive to Hampton. As we passed through the village it was interesting to spot places which we had previously seen from the river.

As soon as we arrived and bought our tickets, we made for the information centre where we were able to collect activity sheets. Jess and Alice chose different ones so we split into two groups, but not until the two girls were kitted out with appropriate period clothes!

Jess, accompanied by Joanna and Christine set off on their exploration, which included the Tudor kitchens.

Meanwhile, Mike went with Alice to complete the search of places where ghosts have been reported in the past. Alas, they failed to spot any there today - no doubt the hordes of visitors scared them off!

We all met up at the Tiltyard Tea Rooms where we enjoyed lunch - Alice and Jess opted for a special food bag each whilst the adults had a hot meal.

Immediately after lunch we spent some time in the gardens - firstly taking in the famous Maze. Despite best efforts, we failed to get lost and readily found our way to the centre - and then out by the Quick Exit.

It was such a lovely afternoon we wandered quite slowly through the beautiful gardens. The girls found a tree that was especially good for climbing.

The gardens are very well cared for and are in great condition, despite the fact that this is one of the most visited attractions.

We exchanged information about which parts were the more interesting and after our garden stroll we split into two groups once more, aiming to meet up for one of the Timeplays in the Haunted Gallery at 3:30.

Alice and Mike toured the Tudor kitchens but also went to some of the other parts that they had missed in the morning.

The Timeplay was called Across Five Centuries and told the stories of several people who were or are connected with the palace. Unfortunately, this group was quite new and what we saw was really only a rehearsal (although no-one said so until things started to unravel!)

We did try to find the remaining two Timeplays but they did not appear even though some of the cast could been wandering around, rather lost! By now we were tiring quickly (at least the adults were!) so - as it was by now well after 4.30 - we walked back to the car park which was a little distance away from the main gate.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Back to the marina, sadly

Today's Canals - Grand Union, Paddington Branch and Main Line

A couple of hours was all that it would take us to get back to our mooring at Packet Boat. However, we planned an extensive spring clean of the boat this afternoon, both inside and out. So, really, we should have made a prompt start but we were slow this morning and it was nearly ten o'clock before we were off.

It was a splendid, warm sunny spring day. despite the threat of cloud in the afternoon, it stayed warm until sundown when it turned chilly very quickly.

The Uxbridge Road Visitor Moorings remain a continuing problem from bird feeding people, unlikely to be deterred quickly despite the adverts placed by CRT this last weekend.

Unfortunately we failed to focus the camera in time but this was meant to show the first chicks with their mother we have spotted this year. They looked very young indeed. You, dear reader, will just have to use your imagination!

Spring bulbs seem to survive in the most unlikely places - but how did they get there in the first place?

We turned out at Bull's Bridge where the Paddington Branch joins onto the Main Line. By now we were on really familiar territory - we came this way at the start of this trip but then continued straight down to Brentford from Bull's Bridge.

We were greeted with bright blue sky as we approached Yiewsley High Street bridge (a sign that we are almost home) - still not sure if the decoration is worth it!

All too soon we turned left at Cowley Peachy junction and then right into the marina where we tied up.

After lunch we set about the spring clear. nb Chance was on the next door mooring but it looked as if James and Doug had already left for their next cruise. So we were quite surprised when James emerged to say hello - they had taken their friend back to Stansted Airport at 3 am last night so they felt in need of a lie in! We had several opportunities to catch up - we just missed them as they travelled up the Thames to come back in at Brentford shortly before we set off from Teddington, headed down to Limehouse.

With a short break around five for a quick trip to tesco, we were solidly at it into nearly seven. As well as packing up and Christine giving the inside its usual through clean through before we leave, Mike washed and polished the whole outside. He treated it all to a Bullet cornuba wax final coat.

As the sun was approaching setting time, our neighbours waved farewell - we hadn't realised they were off quite so soon!

Right at the end Mike polished the brass tiller, but we did not have enough polish left to do it properly but he also had a go at one of the roof mushrooms with wet and dry. Although it was not possible to finish the job it looks quite promising. All this to remove a couple of dabs of paint left on it after its visit to Lower Heyford last year!

We also made arrangements to meet up at Windsor tomorrow morning for a visit to Hampton Court Palace.

9.0 miles - 0 locks

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Willow Tree Open Space

Today's Canal - Grand Union Paddington Branch

We began Easter Day by taking the Underground back to Trafalgar Square so that we could join the congregation at St Martin's in the Fields for its main morning service. We were there in good time, just as well as the church was again full, although we gathered from comments at the end that it was an exceptional turn out.

The choir was the same as gave the concert last night and the music made a very positive contribution to the worship, supportive and not there just for its own sake.

Many of the congregation had been given rattles, whistles, drums - anything to make a noise which came into play during the introduction when, after the cry Jesus Christ is Risen, were used to make an extended and merry sound!

The sermon was given by Sam Wells, the vicar, which was a tour de force, extremely well written with strong literacy and philosophical allusions but all very accessible and an inspiring introduction to the meaning of Easter.

Overall, we felt that the church maintains an excellent balance and true to its aim to offer an inclusive welcome to all who come through its doors. Whilst it is a much larger operation than the average parish church, nevertheless it still felt a local community - distinct from the cathedral last week where it seemed as if most people came as individuals not as a living community. Even so, St Martin's has developed a very effective ministry expressed through quality worship and music.

Two personal connections for Mike: his sister went to St Martin's School for Girls in south London, strongly connected to the church where they had an annual expedition for the Founder's Service. Mike's mother taught for several years at Dick Shepherd school, one of the large comprehensives built in the 1950's and 1960's in the forefront of the comprehensive movement. (It was a sister to Tulse Hill comprehensive where Mike's father also taught when it opened and a comprehensive alternative to St Martin's School) Dick Shepherd was an iconic former vicar at St Martin's church. If only education had the same sense of mission and purpose today rather than being pressed, often reluctantly, to pursue narrow goals.

Searching the internet stimulated by these memories reveals that Ken Livingstone was one of the first pupils to enter Tulse Hill and must have been there at the time Mike's father was there. Sadly, both comprehensives have since closed and the sites sold for housing.

As soon as we returned to the boat we set off, but stopped a few minutes later to use the facilities at Little Venice. Unlike our visit here a month or so ago, the number of boats on the move was suddenly much greater.

The journey back towards Bulls Bridge is well familiar and we do not have much to report - at one stage it seemed that we might end up at Packet Boat tonight but by the time we arrived at our favourite mooring spot along this branch, Willow Tree Open Space, we called it a day, leaving us a couple of hours tomorrow.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

British Museum and a Concert

Today's Canal : Paddington Basin

Since we had found a mooring in Paddington Basin last night, we decided that we had enough time to spend a full day here. In the morning we topped up our supplies by walking down Edgware Road to a Waitrose store. This was the nearest 'full size supermarket' - the others are all of the 'local' variety. Although they claim not to have different prices in the local shops, the limited size does seem to mean that they tend not to stock the less expensive items which we might usually see in the larger outlets. Nevertheless, this was a pleasant and well laid out store.

We had lunch back at the boat before setting out for the afternoon and evening. Our first target was the British Museum which Christine has not visited for some time (Mike has taken Jess and Alice here in recent years)

On our arrival we were immediately attracted to one of the first rooms which is used for special displays. At the moment it contains a work Larrakitj by a native Australian Wukun Wanambi who bases his work on ancient tree log coffins but decorates them with thousands of tiny sea mullet shapes.

After this we went into the main central area with its impressive dome that means that this area, once open to the weather, is now a sheltered space where lots of visitors gather. We collected a map of the museum and saw that there is a good series of free gallery talks - each lasts about half an hour and they start every 15 minutes - so one cannot do all of them in one go!

The next available talk was in a gallery devoted to the history of money, from the earliest examples of coins right through the evolution of paper money to a hint of a society where cash is no longer needed. Even in some of the ancient civilisations, although goods were traded in terms of special metals, quite often nothing changed hands and one cabinet contains a part of an ancient tablet which has a series of debts inscribed on it. No chance of them being easily forgotten!

We failed to find the talk on medieval Britain so looked around the displays on our own, but the information panels are sometimes almost as interesting as the artefacts themselves. This particular gallery also highlights the finds from Sutton Hoo including a very special fighting helmet.

Finally we joined a talk an Assyrian culture. A very pleasant volunteer, obviously very knowledgeable in this subject, starting with the huge figures that lined the entrance gates, took us through the clay tablets that were created during the reign of King Ashunasirpal and lined is palace walls. Many of them have an identical inscription in cuneiform, extolling the virtues and achievements of the king.

As with so much political art, key people are depicted in a specific way so that they can be instantly recognised by visitors to the palace. In this case, the king always has a hat, cone shaped but with a flat top. IN some cases he is shown in fighting action (always about to be victorious|!) and sometimes with symbols that reinforce the belief that he derived his authority from the most important gods of that culture.

We left the museum with enough time to have tea and picked out one of the many eating places near Russell Square. It seems that it has only been open a few weeks in this form and the staff were very pleasant and keep to serve us. Christine enjoyed a rather special slice of carrot cake whilst Mike had a crepe.

We made our way to Trafalgar Square where it had been the annual pillow fight day - most of the participants had left but a few were still adding to what must have been a mountain of feathers!

Some performers were still plying their trade to the crowds of visitors.

Earlier we had booked tickets for a 6.30 short concert at St Martin in the Fields given by the church's choir. Although it lasted just over an hour - the church was sold out for the event - the singing was amazing and most intense. The final item was a version of Stabat Mater by Scarlatti. Earlier in the program we heard Allegri's Misreri and a setting of the same text by James MacMillan. From start to finish a wonderful, inspiring, concert.

Fortunately we had prepared our dinner before setting out in the afternoon so it was just a matter of bringing the salads to the table as soon as we returned to the boat!

Friday, 3 April 2015

Paddington (yet again)

Today's Canals : Lee Navigation, Hertford Union, Regents Canal and Grand Union

A late start - for a whole variety of reasons and, despite the fact that we had to moor a little away from the bank, we had a good night's sleep (with extra for some). We did manage to set off by 10 o'clock but at the first bridge Mike popped to a nearby shop that he had just been told about and we had not found on previous visits here. Although he did pick up milk and a Turkish bread (flat) they did not take newspaper tokens so there one and only copy that we wanted was still there after we had left!

It was a grey day throughout but kept dry until just as we were mooring for the night.

We were re-tracing our steps back to the junction with the Hertford Union, the alternative cut across the the Grand Union (Regents Canal). We were not sure what this chap was filming but it looked as if it was this assorted rowing crew.

We were heading to Paddington Basin, more in hope than expectation as all the winter moorings along the way were still very full of those over-staying on their permits, sometime three deep from the bank. However, we knew that we did have enough time if that proved impossible, to continue on out of central London and there were certainly be places to moor after a couple of hours at the most.

Just as we approached the Olympic Stadium - still be worked on to convert it to a permanent use and looking rather misty - we turned right at the junction and immediately began to ascend the three locks on this section.

A Canadian couple watched us through each lock in this flight - their son has now moved to London and lives nearby. They had not seek a lock operated before.

We started to see a proliferation of yellow danger signs (sorry about the photo quality!) which warn boaters not to hammer mooring pins into the ground as high voltage cables run underneath the paving stones of the towpath. Last year a nearly serious accident occurred when someone did just this - boaters had got into the habit of extending the mooring facilities in this manner, especially on stretches with no soft edge.

An unusual sculpture decorates one otherwise anonymous housing estate.

At the end of the long straight we were at the junction with the main line, shortly after which we came to Old Ford Lock. A widebeam boat was already going up but, as only one paddle was working, it took them some time. By the time they had left and we had prepared for our turn another boat arrived and shared the next three locks. They had just left their winter mooring at Victoria Park and were in search of somewhere to hide for the coming weeks! It seems that they, probably along with many of the other boats we have passed, have yet to realise that CRT plan to take a different approach this year and it may be less easy to dodge enforcement.

In some ways sadly, but this graffiti would not have been here when we passed this way last year.

Christine had been wondering how the bridge graffiti painters manage to access the spaces they decorate. Then Mike asked if she could explain how they did this one on the tower block..

The sign here says that the work here is to create some new residential mooring called Blue Bell. This is part of the multi-pronged new London Moorings strategy which combines more rigorous enforcement with investment in new mooring both for residential and visitor boaters. Given the number of long term stayers we have seen it is perhaps doubtful whether the currently insatiable demand for apparently low cost housing will do other than soak up the new moorings and still attract large numbers of those pushing the boundaries of what might be considered Continuous Cruising or simply over-staying on short term moorings not in winter.

Boaters along this stretch do have to get used to being the centre of attention for those with cameras, either mobile phones or those with a 'real' camera. At least she smiled moments later when she realised that I was taking a picture of her takling a picture of us.

We left our companion boat just before Islington tunnel as they needed to fill up with water, but we had a little wait as there were already two boats coming the other way. This gave Mike a chance to chat to a family group and let two very young ones show that they could pull a boat!

Some towpath repairs seriously narrowed the access but several cyclists took one clear look at the sign - and carried on regardless.

We were delayed at St Pancras Lock as it was full, with one top gate open and a large boat apparently waiting to come down. Christine was assured that they would not be long but nothing happened. Then another boat arrived, claiming to be a trip boat but we were not sure how official that is, but the steerer was not brooking any delay as he had a date with customers a bit further down! the delay did mean that we were caught up by another boat - for once a genuine cruiser - who stayed with us to the top level.

Two years ago, the latticework for a former gasholder was re-instated as a landmark - it had been dismantled and taken away for restoration. At first it was quite a sight until new apartment blocks sprang up around it, dwarfing its scale. Now it seems that a building is to be created inside the frame - although the web site is surprising bereft of detail other than a few pictures of the canal in former times.

Much of the outdoor market at Camden Lock has been demolished - we will have to find out what is happening but just above a lot of stalls are crammed into a space that formerly only held a few (as we recall). Although there were some onlookers at the middle lock - once the most popular, there were crowds at the top look to make up for it.

We felt like one of the caged specimens as we passed London Zoo (ZSL) with people looking at us from a hide!

Not much further, after the shorter Maida Vale tunnel we reached Rembrandt Gardens (where nb Waiouru, another blogger on our watch list was moored and we stayed on our last trip) and we turned down the arm to Paddington Basin with diminished hopes (it also started to rain), especially as we came down the first part which was very full with what looked like local boats. Thus it was that we were astounded when rounded to corner to the pontoons and found two good spaces free (and another shorter space). The other main one was occupied by evening. At least we will have the chance to decide whether to visit anywhere in London tomorrow and the first part of Sunday - we really should be starting back on Sunday afternoon if we are to reach Packet Boat by Monday afternoon. We will need a bit of time to tidy up if we are to spend time at Windsor on Tuesday.

9.9 miles - 11 locks