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The Gambia here we come


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After having to cancel our trip to Norway recently while looking after my terminally ill father: culminating in his death at the end of a long and stressful period of our lives; I felt the need to book something. Anything. I didn't want to have to spend time planning a 'proper' adventure, but I did want to go somewhere reasonably exotic. Having contemplated a return to The Gambia a couple of times in recent years (we first visited in 1996), it seemed a perfect destination: hot, sunny, relaxing, comfortable, friendly, excellent bird watching and not too long a flight.

So here we are, in the car on the way to Gatwick for an overnight stay before our early morning flight tomorrow.

Premier Inn at Gatwick Manor

After checking in to the hotel, we crack open a bottle of something alcoholic in the room (we do like to have a little tipple while we are getting ready) before sauntering down for an early dinner. We find there are no vacant tables in the restaurant, but the bar is reasonably empty, so we eat our food there instead.

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With mostly traditional pub dishes on the menu, I choose carefully. It is not that I don't like traditional food, but when I go out to eat I prefer to have dishes that I would not normally have at home.

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Very tasty mushrooms in Stilton and black peppercorn sauce on toasted sour dough bread for starter.

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Battered halloumi and chips. One of my frustrations with classic pub menus is that so much of it is deep fried (why not just simply grill the halloumi rather than adding extra grease and calories?) and most things seem to be served with chips, which I am not overly keen on.

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David, having more of a traditional palate than me, chooses pie and chips for his main course.

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My choux bun with Prosecco strawberries is disappointing. The berries appear to have come out of a tin and there is too much cream for my liking. David fares much better with his apple and sultana crumble with a hint of cinnamon. As usual David asks for custard and ice cream, but unlike most other places we have eaten over the last few years, he get charged extra for one of them.

Almost as soon as we have finished eating, we retire to the room to make sure we get some sleep before tomorrow's early start. Watch this space for further updates from The Gambia.

Posted by Grete Howard 09:36 Archived in England Tagged dinner gatwick gambia premier_inn gatwick_manor the_gambia pub_food halloumi pie_and_chips Comments (2)

Atlanta - London - Bristol

Home, sweet Home


View Fet Gede - Haiti's Day of the Dead 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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After a long overnight flight from Atlanta, we arrive at London Heathrow before 7am, still carrying the wall mask now known as Ram Ram. The customs here in the UK are totally disinterested and we sail through.

Having stayed overnight on our way out in a hotel near Terminal 5 and now arriving back to Terminal 3, we have to use the Heathrow Express Train to get back to the hotel and our car. I think next time we will probably splash out a little more and have the valet parking again where the driver meets us outside the arrival terminal with our car. It would have been especially good this time as we are carrying such a large item.

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From Terminal 3 to the hotel we also have to negotiate the Heathrow Hotel Hoppa shuttle bus, which fortunately is not full.

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Back home, we carefully undress Ram Ram, who thankfully survived the journey in one piece and is now well settled in his forever home along with a couple of his Haitian friends.

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And so ends our adventure to Haiti.

Thank you to Voyages Lumiere for all the ground arrangements in Haiti.

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Posted by Grete Howard 13:19 Archived in England Comments (0)

Home - Gatwick

On our way to yet another trip


View The Undiscovered East (of Europe) - Moldova, Transdniestr & Romania 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I hadn’t originally planned on including this day in my Moldova blog, but as a couple of amusing incidents happened, now that it is time to write it all up, I have changed my mind; so here goes:

In order to avoid an early start and any hassle associated with long distance motorway travel in the UK, we decided to drive up to Gatwick the day before and stay in a hotel. After checking in to the Premier Inn near the airport, we head straight for the outside bar to enjoy a pint of cider (or two) in the warm summer’s evening.

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Also in the beer garden are a table of ‘virgins’ - air stewardesses from a well-known airline. They completely freak out when a few wasps are attracted to their food; screaming, waiving their arms about and running around like demented beings. Their hysteria is complete when the resident cat saunters over to check out their dinner. The girls abandon their table, complete with plates of half-eaten food, and seek safety from the dangerous beasts of Surrey inside the pub. Hmm. This is the calibre of people we have to rely on to be calm, efficient, and business-like in the case of an emergency on a flight?

This is our third visit to Gatwick Manor, and we are not sure whether to be flattered or worried that the restaurant manager still remembers us, especially as it is four years since we last came! We must have made quite an impression.

I often find appetisers are more interesting than entrées on the menu; so like many times before, I choose three starters rather than a first and second course.

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STILTON & PEPPERCORN MUSHROOMS - Sautéed button mushrooms on a garlic toasted muffin with peppercorn & buttermilk sauce. Topped with crumbled Stilton.

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KOREAN-STYLE PULLED CHICKEN dressed in a hot red pepper sauce. Served on noodles with red onion, soya beans and red pepper in a soy, lime & chilli sauce. Finished with sesame seeds and a honey & chipotle dressing...... and ..... CARIBBEAN-STYLE PORK MINI RIBS, slow-cooked and served in a sweet and spiced jerk marinade. Accompanied with cooling kale coleslaw and a jerk barbecue dip.

David is more of a traditionalist, and after his Stilton and peppercorn mushrooms, he has SLOW-COOKED LAMB SHOULDER, cooked for 8 hours and served with mashed potato, buttered seasonal vegetables and a rich red wine sauce.

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For dessert, David predictably chooses the apple and blackberry crumble with custard and ice cream.

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I, on the other hand, go for the cheese plate.

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Having eaten – and drunk – too much, and with the room being way too hot, sleep evades me, and I toss and turn throughout a restless night.

Posted by Grete Howard 05:54 Archived in England Tagged food restaurant airport drink cat pub virgin cider gatwick wasps premier_inn gatwick_manor Comments (2)

Sheffield - Peak District - Bristol

Glorious countryside and a let-down farm

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Peak District National Park

Wanting to make the journey home more than just a drive back, we take a road that cuts through the stunning scenery of Peak District National Park, which became the UK's first national park in 1951.

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This time of year the moors are particularly beautiful, with the flowering heather making entire hillside glow in stunning hues of purple.

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Sandwell Valley Country Park

While I am sure the working 'Victorian farm' is popular with children, as an adult I found it rather disappointing. I was expecting to see a working farm with tools and implements, maybe even workers dressed up in traditional costume. All we get is a small museum to the history of the area, and a few farm animals in a yard.

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Museum

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Hoping to be able to grab a snack or a nice cake, we head for the Tea Shop in the grounds, but the selection is extremely poor and we leave frustrated all round. The best thing about the café is the potted topiary shrubs.

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Just another couple of hours – during which I slept like a baby in the back seat – and we're back home after yet another interesting trip.

Posted by Grete Howard 07:02 Archived in England Comments (1)

Bristol - Sandbach - Bolton

A wee trip to bonnie Scotland

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View A wee trip to Bonnie Scotland with my Dad 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Inspired by a friend's recent Facebook posting, we are making a road trip 'Oop North' and into Scotland with my dad. We are taking it easy, using two days to get up there, stopping a couple of places along the way.

Sandbach Crosses

Our first stop is in Sandbach, Cheshire, where we find two massive Saxon stone crosses, elaborately carved with animals and Biblical scenes including the Nativity of Christ and the Crucifixion.

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The crosses, which date from the 9th century, dominate the cobbled market square of Sandbach, a rather quaint looking town. Originally painted as well as carved, these are among the finest surviving examples of Anglo-Saxon high crosses in the country.

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I always love the way history is such an everyday part of life in these places, surrounded by families having lunch in the local pub, shoppers and workers, none of whom are taking any notice of the ancient monument in their midst.

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Bolton

As we pull up at tonight's hotel outside Bolton, I can immediately see that that it is in a less-than-salubrious area. The drunk, tattoo-covered, shirtless lads on the benches outside the pub give it away; and the family in the courtyard confirms it. Those poor kids stand no chance with pot-smoking, vodka-swilling, foul-mouthed mothers like that. The clientèle inside are not much better. The food is OK, but the service unbelievably slow, despite there being more staff than customers. The entertainment of the evening is watching the staff running around placing buckets under cascades of water seeping through the ceiling from the flooding washing machine in the flat above; a waitress tripping as she approaches a table and emptying the entire contents of a pint glass into the lap of the customer; and another server taking a sip out of a customer's glass before taking it to their table. The only saving grace of this place is that the meal is cheap.

We retire to our room as soon as we have finished eating. The bedroom window, however, is immediately overlooking the courtyard where the loud, raucous, swearing, shouting drinkers and their screaming kids are sitting. Never before have I been so grateful for a sudden thunderstorm. Listening to the pouring rain is far preferable, and I fall into a peaceful sleep.

Posted by Grete Howard 01:46 Archived in England Comments (1)

Returning to Whitchurch

The last incident-filled day of an incident-filled holiday

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View Life in the Slow Lane - Canal Barging with Lyn and Chris 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

The farmer came along this morning (before I was up) and scooped up the calf in the bucket of his tractor and took it away along with the mother. Glad to know it was still OK.

Today is our last full day on the canals - we have to hand over the boat by 9:00 tomorrow morning - so we want to make the most of it by trying to get through all the locks today and moor somewhere within easy reach of the marina so that we don't have to travel too far tomorrow.

We get as far as Baddeley No 2 lock before things start to go wrong. Now that my ankle is a little better, Lyn and I are taking it in turns to open the locks, and this one is mine. I soon notice something is very wrong. The lock gate doesn't open more than a couple of feet; it appears something is jammed under the water line, preventing it from moving. Taking a closer look, I see that the whole mechanism is broken; the cogs having come away from the wheel.

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We try pushing and shoving, poking around with a pole, manipulating and jabbing, but to no avail. The lock is well and truly jammed.

Not being able to find the telephone number for the Canal and River Trust, David phones the marina where we got the boat from. Explaining that the lock is jammed and broken, he asks them to pass the information on to the right people for assistance.

As we wait for someone to turn up and rescue us, the queue of boats waiting to enter through the lock grows rapidly.

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The receptionist at the marina obviously does not speak the same language as David (and the rest of us) does, as his conversation was translated as “The boat has broken down in the lock” to their maintenance guys, who sends an engineer out. Doh. He takes a look at the problem, agrees with us that it is definitely best left to the experts as tampering with it is most likely to make it worse; and promptly calls the Canal and River Trust for us.

In every crowd there is always someone who thinks they know better than everyone else, trying to take over the situation. This time is no different. In fact we have two. One who is all mouth (little man syndrome), giving it all the talk, suggestions, criticism and sarcasm; but is not willing to get his hands dirty to actually do something. Then there is the wannabe sergeant-major. Marching up to the lock with some “authority”, this chap starts trying to free it. Not listening to our claims of “We've tried that”, he goes through every motion we have already attempted. To no avail of course. Then he starts fiddling with the cogs themselves, and instead of fixing it, he messes it up completely, losing the lot down into the machinery. Good one!

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Eventually the maintenance guys from the trust arrive, and asses the situation. They use a pitch fork to try and free the blockage under water, but that doesn't seem to work either. Mr sergeant-major looks on as if to supervise them. Pratt.

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If everyone had just left it well alone, this would have been an easy job for the men, but as it now stands, they have to try and fish the missing cogs out of the insides of the machinery. Not an easy task. The crow bar does not reach, and it takes many, many attempts with a rope to try and hook it around the top of the cogs to bring it up above ground again.

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Not being one to hold back, I ask Mr Sergeant-Major what happened (as if I didn't know), and then suggest that “That's why it is usually better to leave these things to the experts rather than fiddling with it ourselves when we don't know what we are doing and then make it worse” He is not amused and walks off in a huff. Good.

The experts of course, manage to get the missing part back into its rightful place, but the mechanism is still broken.

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However, it does not affect the ability to open the lock gate, and soon we can start getting the boats through, one by one while the men decommission the one paddle.

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As the men are working, a number of boaters and their dogs have gathered to watch what is going on. Bruno decides he wants to play with another dog on the opposite side of the canal, and starts to cross the small “bridge” over the lock (basically just two planks of wood on the lock gates). The other dog has the same idea, and they meet in the middle. Bruno is the first to back off and tries to turn around. Large dog + narrow plank = one wet dog!

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Bruno is no worse off for his little swim, and soon dries off as we make our way – somewhat delayed – along the canal towards Whitchurch.

The rest of the day is totally uneventful, and consists of watching the birds along the bank...

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... or just enjoying the scenery.

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We make it through all the locks with plenty of time to spare, and moor up in our intended place just as a light rain sets in. No chairs on the bank tonight; drinking (and eating) inside instead. We have had a fabulous holiday with great company, beautiful scenery and a few “interesting” incidents.

Posted by Grete Howard 05:01 Archived in England Comments (2)

Another Great Day in Paradise

Time to do a animal midwifery course

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View Life in the Slow Lane - Canal Barging with Lyn and Chris 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Another glorious day out there today, the hottest one so far. Plenty of suntan lotion and not a fleece in sight – that's the way we like it!

At one of the very first locks of the day, I suddenly hear Chris scream my name from the lock-side as I sit in the bow of the boat. The next thing I see is the windlass flying through the air. Fortunately it didn't hit my head or Lyn's camera, it bounced off the side of Ragnar and sunk to the bottom of the lock. Oops.

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Thankfully there is a chandlery store after the next lock, so we only have one lock to negotiate with just a single lock key. As it turns out, there are other boaters there too, so we get some help opening the lock gates.

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The locks here on the Llangollen Canal are much narrower than they were on the Shropshire Union, some of them having literally just an inch to spare each side of the boat – meaning that you have to lift your fenders so that they don't get stuck.

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Compared with last year's boat trip along the river, we haven't seen as many birds this year. I guess there are different fish in the canal to the river, as well as the type of vegetation that grows along the banks.

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Last year herons were the most common variety, whereas this time it has been swallows. They are so quick the way they dart above the surface of the water, twisting and turning as they go. I set myself a challenge at the start of the trip: to photograph one in flight. I have failed miserably. I did catch this one sitting on a fence though.

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Another unusual bird we have seen a few of this time, is the grey wagtail.

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A wren

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Snow geese

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Pied Wagtail

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My main excitement on the bird front, however; is the reed bunting. I haven't seen one for years and never been able to photograph one before.

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Suddenly Captain Dave exclaims: “Giraffe on the hillside”. It might have looked like a giraffe at first (fleeting) glance in silhouette (giving him masses of benefit of the doubt), but it was of course a deer.

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Not just one deer, several. In fact, a whole deer farm. “As you were guys. Excitement over”.

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Today has been the hottest day of the trip so far, and at times it seems even too hot sitting at the front of the boat. We are glad of the shade when we travel under bridges or overhanging trees. So for mooring tonight, we are looking for shade rather than sun!

We find the absolutely perfect spot: shade from some large trees, a great view, far enough away from other boaters to offer some privacy, and the tow-path wide enough to set up the table, chairs and BBQ. It isn't until we have moored up – after Chris yet again manages to do his signature backward somersault as he tries to pull the boat into the bank with a rope that isn't attached the other end – that we realise we have been beaten to this little piece of paradise by thousands of flying ants! Onward we go.

The next place we stop gets the thumbs down by the crew (Lyn and me) as the local farmer is spreading “fertilizer” on his fields adjacent to the canal. Finally we find a suitable area, with shade and cows in the fields both sides of the canal. Very rural and countryfied.

We'd just settled down with a drink when we notice a cow having very recently given birth. The calf is still limp on the ground and she is licking it.

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We watch with fascination as she tries to gently nudge the little fellah into standing up.

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He manages a few unsteady steps before stumbling down and crumbling into a heap on the ground again.

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He receives a lot of attention from his mum in the way of gentle nudging and a lot of cleaning, but the most he can manage is to raise his head up again. Other mothers come and investigate, as if to offer congratulations and advice on the new baby. Nothing. He remains down. After around half an hour of seeing no life whatsoever from the calf, we decide that we should let someone know. Chris goes off to find the farmer, who seems quite unperturbed about the whole thing. He arrives some time later on his quad bike, prods the baby a little and drives over to tell us that all is well and they usually rest like this for ages after being born when the sun is hot.

Still feeling a little distressed about the situation, we keep a close eye on the mother and newborn while we light up the BBQ and grill some sausages and burgers. And have a drink. Or three. Just to calm our nerves you understand.

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Eventually, quite a few Bratwurst (and Captain Morgan) later, the little'un is on his feet and feeding from his mum. Phew. We can sleep well tonight after all.

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Posted by Grete Howard 10:15 Archived in England Comments (1)

Starting our return journey via Chester

A rude awakening

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View Life in the Slow Lane - Canal Barging with Lyn and Chris 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I am fast asleep in the middle of the night when I hear an almighty bang. Sitting upright with a jolt and a shout of “Shit! What was that!”, I put my legs over the edge of the bed, only to find something soft underfoot on the floor. It must have been even more of a rude awakening for David – not only does he fall out of bed while asleep; he also has someone try to step on him while he is down!

Ragnar is a well equipped boat for six people, so has ample room for four plus a large dog. However, space is still very restricted on board, and the two single beds in the stern of the boat are extremely narrow at only 50cm wide. For someone who is used to a 200 cm wide super king sized bed, it can be a trifle challenging to try to turn over. David's mattress leans outward and the shifting of weight during a rotisserie-style manoeuvre in the sleep, meant he toppled over the edge.

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Having travelled on Ragnar two years ago, we were fully aware of the size restrictions, so I came prepared with my inflatable Thermarest mattress this time to try and soften up the bed a little to help my back. It certainly helped me sleep a lot better, without waking up every 20 minutes or so with pins and needles or a backache as I did the previous two trips. The “double” bed at the bow of the boat is if possible even narrower comparatively.

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There is plenty of seating on the boat, although none of it comfortable. The dining area converts to another “double” bed if we so desire, but we chose a six berth to have the extra room – not just for the dog, but because the cabins and separate toilets are at either end of the boat for some privacy.

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There is also room for the crew (Grete & Lyn) to sit at the bow of the boat, watching the world go by as the captains (David and Chris) take it in turns to be in charge of the boat.

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Although Lyn did have a go at steering Ragnar for a while.

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Bruno doesn't like the noise or loud bangs / shaking as the boat hits the side of the locks, so we try and get him off the boat and onto the towpath at the earliest opportunity.

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Going through Northgate Staircase on the way up is nowhere near as intimidating – mostly because this time it's manned by a lock-keeper!

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Some locks are easier to open than others – the gates weigh in excess of a ton!

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Mother Moorhen seem to like our suet pellets (which we brought with us because our garden birds back home refused to eat this particular brand!), which they in turn feed to their young. I have to say that baby moorhen are not attractive – they are scrawny and bald, not at all cute as baby birds should be.

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Chester
While everyone else goes for a walk around Chester, I stay on board reading a magazine in the sunshine as my ankle is complaining loudly after overdoing the walking yesterday.

They come back with black bin-bags and a few other items of necessity (toilet roll, wine, bread and bacon), with David claiming vehemently that he has never been to Chester before. I assure him he has, but it isn't until I show him the photos I took last time we were there (on my Flickr account on line); that he actually believes me.

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A short journey through Chester and its suburbs with some pretty amazing properties along the canal-side, we reach the countryside yet again, with its rabbits, geese and horses; and buzzards soaring above.

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After a hard day's work, Chris and Bruno enjoy a well-deserved snooze in the sun before we light the BBQ. At last a reasonably warm evening. Chris and I are now sporting matching bruises: Chris from hitting his shin with a hammer; me from being pushed into the side of the boat when I asked David for a push ON TO the boat.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:05 Archived in England Comments (0)

Chester Zoo

The animals are not co-operating today

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View Life in the Slow Lane - Canal Barging with Lyn and Chris 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

As I said yesterday, the cooker is not exactly efficient on the boat, but I still manage to make bacon sandwiches for breakfast this morning. I also manage to set off the smoke alarm on the boat.

Today the plan is to take a break from canal boating and visit Chester Zoo, which is a short walk from a mooring point by Bridge 134. Chris stays behind with Bruno, while the three of us set off on foot to get to the animal park. The path goes through the middle of the zoo – although you cannot tell or see any of the beasts from the path unfortunately – to the entrance the other side. With my sprained ankle I am finding it rather painful to walk, but I am determined to get there!

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The zoo is very impressive – beautifully laid out with meandering paths, elevated wooden walkways and large enclosures for the animals.

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The only problem we are finding is that the enclosures are so verdant, to the point of being overgrown, that it is quite hard to spot the animals. As our local zoo in Bristol does not have any of the large animals, these are at the top of our list, such as elephants, giraffe, cheetah, jaguar; but I was also enthralled with the flamingo on her egg and the onager (a new species to us – although it looks suspiciously like a donkey!) All in all, it was a beautiful zoo but the animal spotting – and photography – was somewhat disappointing; as was echoed by a couple of locals we talked to who visit regularly.

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With my ankle feeling extremely sore after four hours of gentle walking – I decide I want to take a taxi back to the boat rather than walk. The Guest Services at the Zoo call a cab for us, but trying to explain to the driver where we want to go proves easier said than done. “Bridge 134 please” “You what? What's the name of the road?” No idea. Eventually, after a lot of explaining, pointing, guessing and a couple of U-turns, we are all singing from the same hymn sheet and the taxi driver finds the road which goes over Bridge 134. Result!

We join Chris and Bruno for a rest stop, watching a couple of guys in army fatigues banging something against the brick built bridge. None of us can work out what on earth they are doing. After a while they walk on over and asks if we have a can opener they can borrow. It turns out they are trying to open a can on sweetcorn (obviously) to bait the fish (of course) so that the fish would hang around for when they bring their rods back after work later (naturally). We not only lend them a can opener but also give them a bunch of suet pellets which the birds don't want.

From Chester we continue along the canal to Ellesmere Port, through some pretty grotty industrial areas where the canal is full of flotsam and rubbish. I miss most of it as I take a nap with my foot on the bed after having overdone the walking this morning.

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Late afternoon sun, dark storm clouds and lovely scenery - just such a shame about the pollution in the water.

For the last couple of days we have all four taken part in the Great Bin-bag Hunt of 2015. We know we packed some, but none of us can find them. I can remember seeing them, as can Chris. Lyn and David deny all knowledge. As the one bag the marina provided us with is now full and beginning to smell, the hunt intensifies. Seeing a retail park near the canal, Lyn and Chris set off on part II of the Bin-bag Hunt. Unsuccessfully as it turns out. David and I meanwhile finally find some swans who actually want our food, although it seems they bite into David's fingers as often as the suet pellets.

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Last year, when we toured the Severn and Avon Rivers, we saw a number of herons, but this year we haven't seen a single one – until today.

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As we pass Bridge 134 again, we see the soldiers in their civilian clothes, sitting on the riverbank, trying to reacquaint themselves with the fish they fed earlier on. Strange hobby. Some fishermen have extremely long rods which stretch right across to the other side of the canal; and they send you looks that could kill as they reluctantly remove it at the very last minute. You'd think that if you fish along a canal you might just expect there to be boats coming along...

We go back to the same place we moored last night and settle down for the night. Chris grabs the rope at the stern to drag the boat in to the edge of the canal, but finds the other end is not attached to the boat and he ends up doing a very spectacular backward somersault into the bushes at the side of the tow- path.

Although the threatened thunderstorm did not materialise this afternoon, it is still too cold to sit outside drinking this evening, so we retire to the "lounge" for the evening.

Posted by Grete Howard 09:31 Archived in England Comments (0)

A 60s day through Northgate Staircase

Flower Power rules!

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View Life in the Slow Lane - Canal Barging with Lyn and Chris 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

This is the third year we have shared a narrow boat holiday with our friends Lyn and Chris; and dressing up for a day has now become a ritual. The first year we were pirates, last year we dressed as sailors and this year we chose a 1960s hippy theme.

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Clothes, wigs, 60s music and posters on the side of the boat – there was no doubt to passing boats and pedestrians that we were having a Flower-Power sort of day as we went about our daily boating tasks.

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On the outskirts of Chester, we encounter “The Mad Duck Woman” who is walking around with three carrier bags full of bird food which she doles out to the birds on the waterways, while talking to herself and anyone else who happens to be within earshot. She has a lot of pent up anger towards the boating community as she tells us the sad story of dubious origin about a swan which became stuck in a lock last week and got squashed between two boats and died.

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Today we have another experience, where the canal goes over a the A5480 road at the Deva Aqueduct.

At Northgate Staircase, the Chester Canal goes under the railway in a series of three interconnected locks. As we approach the locks, a boat is coming out and shouts across to us: “You are lucky, you can go straight in”. Which we do, with no further ado.

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Today's captain is David with Lyn and Chris operating the locks, opening the sluices to let the water out of the top lock for us to go down to the next level. Soon all hell is let loose – there is water everywhere! The middle lock is flooding, spouting out water over the pavement both sides of the locks, down the pedestrian slope and the staircase next to the locks. Chris runs over in a panic: “Dave, there is something terribly wrong...” I shout to the ground crew to close the paddle again, which they duly do. Captain David hands over the reign to Captain Chris and goes off to investigate. He figures out that we should have emptied the bottom two locks before emptying the top one into the middle and the middle lock into the bottom one. It makes perfect sense of course had we stopped to think. In our defence, the previous staircase we encountered had an escape channel to the side, so that when you empty the top lock, the middle lock just overflows naturally to the sides. Not this one, here we flooded the entire area.

The locks here are wide enough for two boats side by side, and we share it with a family of three. The mother-in-law is to one side, taking video of the lock with her iPad. She has to jump to safety as the water flows over the top on the lock gates, over the side of the lock and tries to wash her away down the stairs. We are all very concerned that had there been a frail elderly person, or a young child there, they could easily have been washed into the canal.

You can see the water on the side of the canal in the photo below, even after we lowered the level considerably. The water is still flowing over the top of the gates at this stage.

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Once we have it all figured out, the descent runs smoothly and safely, and calm is restored to the boating community yet again.

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The other boat – whose captain and crew were not very confident or experienced – did ask us if we would be available to help them on the way back up again on the return journey in a couple of days' time. We find out later that the flooding happens regularly - at least once a week – and no-one has ever been washed into the canal as the water is not powerful enough. Apparently it always happens when a boat comes out of the top lock at the same time as the boat travelling downstream goes straight into the lock (as we did) rather than pull up next to the huge sign with the instructions. Oh well, you live and learn.

There is absolutely nothing glamorous about sitting in the front of the barge as it goes into or out of the locks. The bottom is dark and smelly, with slippery, muddy, mouldy sides that attract molluscs which will spit dirty water at you like a fountain stream! The scenery is not that great either.

We travel past Chester itself to secure a place to moor for the night, but find it quite difficult as the aroma from a sewage farm keeps following us. Eventually we settle down for the evening and actually have a proper dinner (spaghetti bolognaise courtesy of Lyn). Although the boat is very well equipped, and has a four burner cooker, the bottled gas is extremely slow so cooking is a bit of a challenge.

Normal drinking service assumes after dinner, followed by a few card games.

Posted by Grete Howard 02:53 Archived in England Comments (0)

Ready, steady, slow!

Tranquillity reigns

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View Life in the Slow Lane - Canal Barging with Lyn and Chris 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

This morning at Wrenbury Mill we have to stop the traffic as the main road crosses the lift bridge. Oh the power!

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In fact, it is not just traffic – Lyn is proud to say she stopped an entire bicycle road race!

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Having packed a huge 3kg tub of wild bird food; I get really excited when we spot a duck with her brood this morning. However, they seem totally disinterested in the food and just swim happily by. Humph!

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The swans with their cygnets are equally oblivious to the "delicious" suet pellets.

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Once we enter the Shropshire Canal, life becomes even more tranquil and serene, with surprising little traffic on the waterways.

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In fact, life is so tranquil and slow that we are no longer moving. Oh dear. Not another call-out for an engineer? No power. Again. Nothing. Frustration reigns. This is getting beyond a joke – surely we can't break down again so soon after having the boat fixed yesterday. After a few curse words, and a bit of pushing and shoving; we realise that we are stuck on a sand bank. Grounded. Captain David puts Ragnar into reverse and eventually manages to free us from our predicament. Phew!

Soon we are on our way again, we a few more lift bridges and locks to negotiate before we moor for the night.

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Some of the locks are really quite deep – claustrophobically so – and the sides are very damp and mucky. As I found out when I try to lean out to take a photo and touch the lock walls with my elbow. Yuck!

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It has been a "fleece on – fleece off – fleece on – fleece off" kind of day, and there is still a cool wind so we try to find somewhere to stop for the night with shelter from the wind but in the sun for a bit of warmth.

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For the second evening running, we get too piddled – and to full up – on drinks and snacks to be bothered to cook dinner. This cannot go on!

Posted by Grete Howard 07:15 Archived in England Comments (0)

Life in the slow lane

A week on board a narrowboat called Ragnar

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View Life in the Slow Lane - Canal Barging with Lyn and Chris 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

For the next seven nights, Ragnar will be home for the five of us: Captains David and Chris with deckhands Grete and Lyn; plus Bruno, the Deputy Dawg; as we travel slowly along the Llangollen and Shropshire canals from Whitchurch to Chester and back.

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Picking the boat up is smooth and painless, and as soon as we manage to load our mountain(s) of stuff, we are on our way.

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Our stuff (minus clothes) before we left home. The others have about the same amount again...

As the boat is facing the opposite direction to the one we want to travel, our first task is to find somewhere to turn the boat around. At 57ft, the boat is not exactly easy to manoeuvre, especially as the canals are generally no wide than 30ft. Fortunately, there are a number of turning circles – otherwise known as winding holes in boating speak – where there is enough room to turn your narrow-boat.

To say the the captain of the boat in front of us is inexperienced is a grave understatement – he has obviously just picked the boat up from the marina like we did. Unlike the roads in the UK, on the canals you drive on the right. Well, most people do; this guy is all over the place, and eventually he gets stuck in the reeds on the left hand side of the canal, just before the winding point. Not sure whether he is trying to turn the boat around completely or just totally messing up a right turn, we decide to overtake him and get our own boat facing the correct direction. Captain David makes a smooth turn but our passage is now completely blocked by the wayward boat which is diagonally across the canal. Chris jumps off to try and hold our craft in place while the other captain sorts himself off. There is quite a strong wind today, and both boats are fighting against it. Chris pulls hard on the rope to try and haul Ragnar to the side of the canal, walking backwards across the tow path that follows the length of the canal.

The tow path is much used by joggers, fishermen, dogwalkers as well as people from the boats; and usually everyone gets by with a little mutual respect. Not so with this afternoon's jogger. Maybe it isn't obvious to her that there is a 60ft boat across the canal in front of us? Maybe it isn't obvious to her that there is a strong wind today? Maybe it isn't obvious to her that Chris is trying desperately to pull the boat to the side of the canal? Maybe it is too much for her to wait until everyone has their crafts under control? Whatever her problem is, she voices it loudly and then impatiently tries to climb under the rope. Oh well, you can't please all the people all the time...

Our next “obstacle” is a lifting bridge. We have just a couple of these little bridges on this trip, as well as a total of 66 locks to negotiate. It does not help that I managed to sprain the navicular in my ankle (as well as tear my facia which causes plantar faciitis) less than a week before we left home, so a lot of the hard work is down to Lyn today (and very probably for the next few days).

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Before we even reach the first set of locks, the engine starts whimpering and we lose power. Nothing. No forward, no reverse, no power. We manage to drift into the bank and tie up while the captains look at the engine. No sign of life. We ring the boat yard who promise to send an engineer out. Getting someone out to help you can be quite a problem as a) you are never quite sure exactly where you are, b)the nearest road may be some distance from where we are for the engineer to reach the boat from where he can park his car, and c) not knowing what is wrong with the boat engine, he may not have spares, or even be able to repair it. Not a good start to the holiday.

The repair man arrives reasonably quickly, and assesses the situation. The problem is down to a very dead hydraulic seal. He has a spare one in the van, and manages to eventually get us going again. As long as we can get to the Grindley Brook Staircase (a series of three locks joined together) before the lock keeper goes home for the day, we'll be OK.

No problem. We get there with plenty of time to spare.

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The “cheerful” lock keeper comments that helping boaters these days is becoming more and more like “care in the community”. I later find myself understanding what he means as we encounter a man with a terribly irritating laugh like the comedian Paul Whitehouse in one of his roles; who is travelling an extremely talkative woman.

The rest of the afternoon goes by uneventfully, and as the sun is going down we pick our spot to moor for the night. We set out the table and chairs on the tow path, chatting to passers by and enjoying a drink or two (or three or four). Before we know it, time has passed and we are beyond trying to cook dinner, having snacked on crisps and nuts all evening.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:53 Archived in England Comments (2)

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