ROGER'S WEB SITE - NARROWBOAT BLOG - SUMMER 2009 Journal

JOURNAL of THE VOYAGE of BASIL the KING, SUMMER 2009.

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June 10th. We are due to arrive in the UK on June 28th and leave Mercia Marina a few days later. We have to prep the boat for cruising, buy provisions and check everything is working properly before we can leave. This year we are not trying a large "ring" navigation, so our cruising plans are more flexible. We are hoping to go to a Piper Boat Club lunch in Crick (near Rugby) on July 11th. After that, we will just pootle round the North Eastern waterways until mid-August. We are expecting a full crew of visitors, including Jan and Grant from Phoenix (they came last year), Rick from Washington (Barb's nephew), Liza from Bury St. Edmunds and my brother Michael and his wife, Angela. I will be posting a journal and pictures on this page about once a week, so stay tuned!

June 29th

We have arrived in sunny (yes, really) old England. We had a smooth, though exhausting, trip over from Phoenix. BA288 left late but arrived on time. We had great seats right up the front - 2 on the right side. It was bumpy as the weather was bad over the Rockies, and again on the approach to London where we were stacked up over Luton for 15 minutes, circling through the developing thunder clouds. Great bit of 'real flying', though, culminating in amazing views of the Thames, Regent's Park and the Houses of Parliament from a much greater height than we saw them all last year aboard Basil.

A great surprise was that Michael, my brother, met us at the airport unexpectedly. It's a long drive from his place so we were honored, amazed and delighted to see the young lad. He took us to the National/Europcar car rental place at Heathrow, where we waited in line for over an hour for a car - there's gotta be a better system! Then the 2.5 hour drive north to Derby. By the time we collapsed into bed in the hotel we had been up for 31 hours.

So- we slept for 12 hours and then went to visit Basil. He seems fine except for the 10,000,000 spiders which were using him as a free hotel. Also, the electrical shore power kept cutting out for reasons I have yet to work out. We made a start on cleaning him up, checking him out and moving the spiders to new premises. We have new next-door neighbors, a fiftyish lady live-aboard, Kat and her dog Pooch, on a somewhat run-down 60-footer (see pic on right). She seems quite pleasant, works in various cleaning jobs and has her son on board - temporarily, she hopes.

Mercia Marina is much improved. The roads are in, the grass is growing, the tea room and stores are open. Barb checked out the showers and laundry and pronounced them "very nice". Robert Neff, the manager, was pleased to see us. He seemed a little stressed out by the continuous demands of the job, so we hope he doesn't leave.

Everyone is sweltering in the 'heat wave' here. The papers are full of dire warnings about heat stroke and dehydration while we, of course, just find it quite pleasantly warm. It's 37c in Phoenix, tee hee, and 27 here.

July 2nd

We have been very busy fixing up Basil ready to cruise, so not much time to write. the weather remains sunny and hot, even for us, it reached 30C yesterday and an even hotter day is predicted for today.

Wildlife AmbulanceWe did take some time off yesterday to visit the Warwickshire Animal Sanctuary in Nuneaton where we met the famous greyhound Jasmine who greets and cares for abandoned and injured animals of all types as they arrive. Jasmine's full story can be read on their web site. We met some amazing animals including Bramble, the deer, who Jasmine first adopted, and several completely tame foxes. I took lots of pictures - see right.

ROAD SIGNRoad Sign

CANAL SIGNTrent &
                                  Mersey Milepost


July 3rd

Gloomy ViewOur plans to leave this morning have been thwarted by torrential rain, lightning and thunder. The temp has plummeted into the teens (about 65F). The power went out for a while but we were OK, of course, as we don't rely on shore power. It's supposed to improve later but then the Wimbledon men's semis are on - what to do, that is the question?



Mercia
                              Marina

BASIL BASKS in the SUN at MERCIA MARINA

Kat's BoatKAT's BOAT



JasmineJASMINE

BrambleBRAMBLE

Ferret2Ferret2
FERRETS

FoxesFOXES

Blackbird chicks
BLACKBIRD CHICKS


July 5th

After
the thunder on July 3rd., the weather cleared and the sun came out, so we left the Marina after watching the Wimbledon Men's Semifinals and turned left on to the Trent and Mersey canal towards Shardlow. It was a gorgeous evening and we cruised on almost until sunset.

On July 4th, we raised the American flag and Barb put on her "Proud To Be an American" T-Shirt and agreed to a rare photograph on the back of the boat in spite of the lack of makeup. We stopped at the Clock Warehouse in Shardlow for lunch. Barb again posed unexpectedly for a photo op. Good food but somewhat pricey.

Independence DayLunch at ShardlowShardlow
                    Warehouse
Narrowboats


The Trent at
                    SawleyAfter lunch we motored on down to Sawley where the canal runs into the mighty (by English standards) River Trent. This is an exciting confluence of three rivers and two canals and Basil got very excited to have several feet of water under his keel. I ordered Scotty in the engine room to increase the revolutions to 2400 and the deck boards shuddered as Basil sprang downriver like a kitten. After a while, we turned right on to the River Soar. I last visited the Soar 30 years ago and it has not changed much over the years. There are a lot more moored boats but the river still winds around the countryside, taking its time to get nowhere much. The banks are lined with willows and oak (the elms all felled by Dutch Elm disease) and the margins are swimming with water lilies and wildlife. The weather has been holding out magnificently. We have been having mostly sunshine and no rain at all to speak of.

Ratcliffe
                    Power Station

We moored next to one of the world's largest power stations at Ratcliffe-on-Soar for the night. The eight massive cooling towers dominate the skyline for miles around, but they make no noise to spoil the tranquility of the river, although the transmission lines that radiate for miles around do spoil the views all the way down to Loughborough. After the tranquility of the northern river, Loughborough is an obnoxious return to civilization. We hurried through the old industrial buildings and seedy housing and out the other side to Loughborough Marsh where we tied up to watch the longest Wimbledon final on record. Meanwhile, cyclists and walkers hurried past on the towpath and young girls swam naked past our boat (yes, really, I have not been smoking). I was so astonished I forgot to take any pictures.



July 9th


Several days of enormous contrasts since I last wrote. First of all, we went through Leicester in the pouring rain. Surely one of the most depressing  events in my 40 years of canal cruising. The factories are all closed, their windows blown out by vandals, the environs daubed with graffiti. The water full of rubbish and dead rotting fish. The locks all heavy and sodden. The rain swished down for most of the day. Once out of the industrial north of town things got a little better and we sailed past the spanking new Leicester City Football Club stadium, resplendent in light blue. We did a marathon day that day, 8 hours cruising, Barb did 16 big heavy locks, all set against us, and we finally moored at Kilby Bridge, safely out of the Leicester horror show and back in the country. What a relief! Took on water, pumped the toilet tank and collapsed gratefully back into bed.

Now we are in relative Nirvana. Some of the best cruising in the country, winding through the remotest countryside with sweeping views of hill and dale. Enough for a bit of lyrical waxing. In one day, we did two long tunnels and the Foxton staircase locks, one of the 7 wonders of the English waterway system. Ten locks climb steeply up a Leicestershire hillside, an amazing feat of engineering at the time. They are arranged in two staircases of 5 each, with a passing pound between sets. They are called "staircase locks" because the bottom gate of one lock forms the top gate of the next. At the top - 25 miles of lock free cruising through cow filled fields and nary a human in site, apart from the occasional boater coming the other way. I crashed into a tree avoiding one such boat when we met unexpectedly under a bridge, but no damage done. We ventured up the tiny arm to the village of Welford, where we are now moored for the night. On to Crick tomorrow for a Piper Boat Club lunch on Saturday.

Foxton Locks

FOXTON LOCKS
Foxton Top Lock
FOXTON TOP LOCK



Leicester
LEICESTER FACTORY

Moon
MOON OVER THE SOAR

July 12

We continued our journey south, stopping for lunch in a beautiful wooded glade. We have been relaxing here in Crick for a couple of days after the marathon (for us) journey down the River Soar and the Leicester Branch of the Grand Union. On Saturday, we attended a Piper Boat Club lunch at Edwards restaurant which is right by the canal in an old warehouse building at Crick Wharf. The food was excellent - one of the best meals we have had in a long time. It was nice to meet Piper owners, there's a sort of instant camaraderie which often starts with talk of marine toilets and batteries, the two main bugaboos of boaters. Only two couples of the 18 people present came by boat, the rest by car. After lunch we were treated to a video of a Piper boat cruising in Holland.

Our friend Liza from Bury St. Edmunds joined us on Friday night for the weekend. She and Barb have known each other for about 35 years and she is great fun. Also, Joy and Brian, two friends we made two years ago at Ventnor Farm Marina, came to see us unexpectedly. They left Ventnor at the same time as us and their boat Milligan's Mist is moored here at Crick. We all had a boozy evening aboard Basil. All in all it's been a very unusual social weekend.

We have accumulated a ton of dirty laundry since we left and Barb does not like to use the on-board dryer. She was complaining about this at the lunch and Bob Wayment and his wife Janet, who live nearby, offered to take the whole lot home and wash it! This is just one example, albeit a big one, of the amazing spirit of cooperation and help that we have found among boaters. The Wayments came staggering back at about 7 p.m., late for a dinner date, with a pile of slightly damp washing. At the sight of this, Joy and Brian offered to take it back to their marina and dry it, which they duly did - in the pouring rain at 10:30 p.m. after the drinks party aboard Basil. We recovered it this morning. We were humbled and grateful after this experience and are now free to sally forth in clean underwear for adventures new. I'm probably going to need regular changes of underwear.

This morning (Sunday) we went on a short cruise with Liza aboard, through Crick tunnel (1,500 yards) and to the top of Watford locks where we winded (turned the boat) and returned to Crick ready to head north to Market Harborough tomorrow. Liza left us in the afternoon and it's suddenly very quiet here after all that social activity.

We received word today that Marni, our cat, is doing fine with Mary and Moe, her summer family. If you send me a photo, Mary, I'll insert it right here...

Here she is... Thanks, M&M!

  Marni

Lunch
                            Spot RURAL LUNCH SPOT

Liza
LIZA

Crick
                          Wharf
CRICK WHARF
Barb and
                          Liza
BARBARA and LIZA

Edwards
                          Restaurant, Crick
EDWARDS RESTAURANT, CRICK


Web
MORNING WEB

Country
                            Mooring
COUNTRY MOORING

Foxton Bottom Lock
FOXTON BOTTOM LOCK

Working Boat
RESTORED WORKING NARROWBOAT

Union
                            Wharf
UNION WHARF, MARKET HARBOROUGH
July 16

We are heading north again from Crick, retracing our steps at a much slower pace. The first night we moored on the towpath in a peaceful country setting between two bridges and went looking for "the long-abandoned village of Elkington", a quote from our guide book. Far from a ghost town, it was very much inhabited though there are only about five houses in the village and no shop or pub. Later, I crossed the other bridge and found a very spooky wood, where I was able to do a two-minute remake of the Blair Witch Project with my camcorder. The other side of the wood I found some abandoned buildings totally in keeping with the mood of the wood and the looming black clouds above.

The weather is very unsettled. A continuous chain of cold fronts are flowing in from the Atlantic, bearing heavy showers. We have become pretty adept at dodging them so far and, in between, there are sunny periods. I have only had to stand on the back of the boat with the rain pounding down a few times. It's not really cold, 60-70F mostly.

The next night we moored above Foxton Locks which, as described above, is one of the wonders of the waterways. We walked over to the site of the old inclined plane which was a boat lift consisting of two tanks, connected by cables and pulleys. Each tank was big enough to hold two narrowboats. The tanks rolled on railway tracks and counterbalanced each other. As one tank descended, the other tank rose. The original lift only operated for about 11 years from 1900. The terminal basins have been restored (in 2006-2008) and it is hoped to get the whole lift working again. When I was last here about 35 years ago the area was so overgrown that we could not find any evidence of the boat lift. Also, the locks were in pretty bad shape then. Some of the side ponds (water saving ponds) were not working at all. Now the whole lock setting is pristine and crowded with tourists who come to watch the boats go through and visit the new museum and the two pubs, tea rooms and cafes.

On July 15th after the morning rain had subsided, I roused the crew from her slumber and forced her to go and work the locks. There was much whining and grumpiness to do with being "freezing cold", etc. In the end she worked the whole flight herself AND assisted others down the 10 locks. She was much warmer, slimmer, proud and a lot happier by the time we exited the bottom lock. We had lunch in the Black Horse in Foxton village as a reward.

In the late afternoon we cruised the 5.5 mile arm to Market Harborough, another beautiful stretch of water more like a river than a canal. The fringes of the channel are dotted with flowering water lilies and swimming with moorhens and their tiny chicks. The canal hugs the side of a hill for much of the way, so there are occasional dramatic views through the hedgerows as you drift past. On the approach to the town there are several grand houses with vast lawns sweeping down to the water's edge. We moored in the old basin with a number of other boats. They have full facilities here including electrical hook-ups for 5.50 a night* - a good deal. We are going to stay here for three days to take a break, stock up and meet Rick, Barb's nephew, who is coming from the States tonight and arriving here by train on Saturday. As I write, Barb is in town shopping at Sainsbury's, Tesco's and Boots.

* Normally, we don't have to pay for moorings. There are free 48-hour moorings here as well, but it's worth paying when we are in a place for several days as we get continuous electricity, hot water, etc., without having to run the engine to charge our batteries.

July 21

We enjoyed our few days in Market Harborough. It is a pleasant market town with lots of  tiny shops. One of them was packed with goodies for the boat - we bought a knife sharpener, a Le Creuset casserole, a cute miniature dustbin and lots of other stuff. In town there was a market with lots of fresh fruit, local produce and cheeses and a fishmonger...
Fish shop

Back on the boat, we watched with amusement as the new hirers arrived and were instructed in the art of canal cruising. I said to one instructor "I could do with some training when you've finished with them". He laughed, "You wouldn't want to hear the old rubbish we tell them, mate!". He was training a boatful of young ladies who told us they weren't going to let him off the boat. A fate worse than death.

Rick duly arrived on the 18th at 4:05  p.m., his train precisely on time.  It was a lovely evening and we  motored back up the arm to Foxton again and rejoined the Grand Union Leicester section.

The next day was good cruising weather so we went through Saddington Tunnel and all the way to Kilby Bridge, reputedly the last "safe" mooring before Leicester. The following day was also fine, so we moored on secure moorings at Castle Park, Leicester, right in the center of this bustling, cosmopolitan city. The vandals of Leicester are feared by boaters, hence all the precautions. We never had any trouble but the town does seem to be full of dangerous dudes whose bulging biceps are covered with graffiti. We looked around town and ate in a mediocre pub.

As predicted, the weather today was awful. We hung out in Leicester until the rain subsided and then set off downstream on the River Soar, whereupon the rain came down in buckets. We did a short hop through four locks and four miles to Birstall. At Belgrave lock, the flood board was almost in the red, signaling a high river. Also, Rick slipped on the lock side while jumping off the boat and almost fell in the lock. Had he done so, he would have been seriously injured as I was steering hard in to the lock side to let another boat in. The conditions were atrociously slippery and wet.

However, Basil and Roger thoroughly enjoyed speeding down the flooding river on the current and we moored in Birstall by the White Horse pub to wait out the weather until tomorrow. A British Waterways lengthman quizzed me about the river conditions as they were considering the closure of the navigation. Rick and Barb went shopping and we are all going out for an Indian meal tonight.
Fish
                          board
FISHMONGER BOARD

Foxton Churchyard
FOXTON CHURCHYARD at DUSK


Sunset
SUNSET AT KILBY BRIDGE


Plankman
"PLANKMAN" STATUE, UNION WHARF

Hirers
A GIGGLE of HIRERS under INSTRUCTION

Rick
                          and Barb
RICK ARRIVES

Flowers
FLOWER BEDECKED BOAT at KILBY BRIDGE

Leicester
St. MARY'S, LEICESTER


Birstall
BIRSTALL MOORING

Trent
TYPICAL TRENT REACH

Hazleford
HAZLEFORD

Hazleford Weir
HAZELFORD WEIR
Jul 26

The Indian restaurant in Birstall was very good. We walked around the lakes near the river and climbed up a mound to inspect the life-size replica of a woolly mammoth. The lakes were full of swans, Canada geese and other wildfowl. The next day we cruised up the remaining, and most scenic, section of the Soar to its mouth and then we turned right on to the River Trent. After a short canal section, Cranfleet Cut, the river opens up to become a wide and desolate river. Villages are few, and tend to be set back off the flood plain. The river is flowing fast after the summer rains and we made brisk progress downstream - about 6 mph - faster than our usual canal speed of about 3. No doubt it will be much slower upstream on our return in August unless we get lucky and have a prolonged dry spell.

NottinghamAfter Cranfleet lock, the locks are all huge and mechanized. We had to operate Beeston Lock ourselves but after that there were keepers in attendance. At Beeston, the navigation enters another canal section which took us through the suburbs and right into the town center of Nottingham where we locked down into the Trent again and moored outside City Hall (right). We were next to Trent Bridge, home of Nottingham Forest football club and the Trent Bridge Cricket ground. The bridge itself is an impressive multi-arched Victorian structure.

The town was a little disappointing. Rick and I walked into town to buy his advance purchase rail ticket for his return to London. Later we had mediocre fish and chips in a pub right by the bridge. It was rated a 2 on the Raven scale of fish and chip excellence. The next morning I was awoken before 6 by a huge thump on the side of the boat. I thought another boat had hit us but there was no engine noise or shouting. I sprang out of bed and looked out of the window to see a tide of Canada geese swarming down the steps towards our boat and into the river. Right outside the window, a goose was wedged between the quay and Basil and a dog was ripping bits of its wing off. A gruesome start to the day.

For the next couple of days we motored down the wild and scenic river. Huge cumulus clouds hung in the sky but we were lucky and dodged the rain for the most part. The currents caught me unawares on a couple of occasions, I'm not used to steering in big rivers. One night we moored at Hazleford Lock which is situated on a lovely island populated by birds and hundreds of rabbits. It's only accessible by boat or locked footbridge and so we were free to roam the area with only the company of a few other boaters and the lockkeeper, who left to go home at about 6 p.m. He no longer lives in the adjacent lock cottage which is let out by British Waterways for 100 a week.

On Saturday morning we had a short journey to Newark and we are now moored on pontoons below Town Lock and the bridge, which cannot be widened because it is a national monument. Newark is a thriving little town with numerous shops, a busy market, a large and ancient church and numerous restaurants. Rick and I had a '6' fish n' chips for lunch, so at least he experienced a reasonable version of the British gastronomical delight before he left. His train to London was canceled so I hung around the station with him until he got his ticket sorted out. He caught a train only twelve minutes later, but I suspect it was a slow ride to London.

Barb and I are alone again. It was sad to say goodbye to Rick. He was excellent company and really enjoyed himself.  Last night we ate in Zizzi, an Italian restaurant near the river. Excellent food, washed down with a little too much Chianti. This afternoon we went to a free jazz concert in Castle Park until the looming rain clouds drove us back to Basil...
We will stay here in Newark for a while before we head out to catch the tide downriver to Torksey and Lincoln.


Newark
                            Bridge
NEWARK BRIDGE FROM THE CASTLE

July 29

We are marooned in Torksey by heavy, unrelenting rain and by my toe. I stubbed a little toe last night and it looks like a black and blue chipolata and I can hardly walk. Boo, hoo. So we are living on a diet of snacks and bad TV (Murder She Wrote, Monk, Ruth Rendell Mysteries etc.) while the rain pounds incessantly on the roof. It's so cold I had to light the stove.

Yesterday, in much nicer weather, we finally tore ourselves away from Newark and ventured down to Cromwell Lock, the last of the mighty Trent locks, where we waited 40 minutes for the tide on the advice of the keeper. The tidal river is even more desolate than ever as it winds through water meadows and summer farmland under vast skies. The tide, though large at 7ft,  was quite placid and we cruised serenely on alone. The only excitement was meeting Battlestone, a 600 ton gravel barge, forging upstream towards us. The lockkeeper at Cromwell had warned us and told me to listen on our marine radio for instructions. As it happened, we met on a safe part of the river and no special maneuvers were required. It was great to see commercial traffic, so little of it remains.

By the time we reached Torksey the tide was running fast and Basil's stern was grabbed by the flow as I turned into the lock cut. With a little power and a lot of rudder, he righted himself and we recovered our aplomb. We had covered 22 miles and three locks in under 5 hours, an amazing speed for a narrowboat.

Torksey is a lovely place with tranquil moorings and a very old and interesting double-chambered lock with many gates to protect Lincoln from floods. There is a restaurant and a pub, lots of moored boats but few boaters. No pictures so far because of the rain, but I hope to add some later.

Newark
                        Castle
NEWARK CASTLE

Barb at
                            the Helm
BARB at the HELM


Newark
                        Bridge
NEWARK BRIDGE and CASTLE

Battlestone
MEETING BATTLESTONE

Torksey Lock
ENTERING TORKSEY LOCK


Lincoln
                        Mooring
DUSK at LINCOLN

Lincoln
                          Cathedral Close
LINCOLN CATHEDRAL CLOSE

Glory
                          Hole
HIGH BRIDGE, LINCOLN

Lincoln
ALTAR, LINCOLN CATHEDRAL

lincoln
                          2
CATHEDRAL HILL, LINCOLN

River
                          Witham
RIVER WITHAM

Torksey Lock GearAug 3

The next day, the weather cleared at Torksey and we were able to have a look round. The lock is very different and has some interesting old operating gear (right). Then we went on down the Fossdyke to Saxilby. The Fossdyke is the oldest operating navigation in Britain, having been built by the Romans in about 770 AD. The Romans built canals ruler straight, as they did with roads,  and the Fossdyke heads towards Lincoln in a series of long straight reaches dwindling to the horizon. The country is wild and open and the wind hits heavy on the borderline, to coin a phrase. Only this border is not Mr. Dylan's but that between the Shires of Northampton and Lincoln. The Fossdyke has fallen into disuse several times during its long history but it is now as good as ever, though unfortunately only traversed by pleasure craft like ours.

At Saxilby we took a day off and went by train to look at the Chesterfield canal, which we had hoped to visit by boat this year but do not have time. We walked along it for three miles to the next train station. It is as scenic as billed, with lots of immaculately kept narrow locks, some in staircases of two and three.

Stained Glass

The next stop was Lincoln. This is a hidden gem of a city. A thriving metropolis, alive with cafe life surrounds Brayford Pool, a large basin packed with boats. We moored alongside the University and explored the town. The literal highlight is the cathedral which stands atop a steep hill and can be seen from the river for ten miles in each direction. With three towers and numerous flying buttresses it is a very impressive building. I'm not into churches, by and large, but this took my breath away. It's way more stunning than Canterbury. Inside, it's even grander if anything and we joined a tour guide to explore the interior. She called it a "Gothic Pile". It is full of beautiful stained glass windows (detail on right).

We sailed under High Bridge, commonly known as the "Glory Hole", which is the last remaining bridge in England with buildings on it. The old London Bridge looked like this until it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. The bridge is very long and narrow and is impassable in times of flood, so traffic lights have been installed to warn boaters of strong currents. I have yearned to navigate this bridge since I was first captivated by a picture of it in High School geography class, so it was a big thrill for me to steer Basil under it. It was such a thrill that I turned round and did it twice more, just for fun.

The River Witham flows into Brayford Pool and out through the Glory Hole and it is this river that has transported us down to the old port of Boston. The Witham is wide, deep and remote with only one lock. We stopped overnight by a pub and made the 31 miles in two days of easy cruising. There is lots of wildlife to spot and the river looked wonderful today under wide blue skies speckled with little fluffy clouds.

At first sight, Boston is a very strange city. The poor part of town seems to be on the south bank of the river. The streets here are nothing but winding alleys and many of the buildings are shuttered and empty. Half the population seems to be speaking an Eastern European language, possibly Polish or Serbo-Croat. The station is very run down with weeds growing up between the rails. The air is full of the smell of the sea and the cry of gulls.

On the north bank stands the Boston Stump, officially St. Botolph's Church, another imposing religious building. Next to that is the Market Place and some more expensive shops. The north bank is obviously the better part of town. I was not expecting to see many similarities between Boston, Lincs and Boston, Mass, but actually there are. Many of the buildings reminded me of some of the older buildings in New England and there is an air about the place... Probably just my imagination. There are an enormous number of seedy pubs inhabited by very rough looking chaps. The only difference is that they are mostly Polish, not Irish.


All these impressions are based on about two hours of observation so I apologize to the people of Boston for such a snap judgment and hope they change my mind. The boating fraternity here are as helpful as ever and showed us how to tie Basil up so he won't be swept away when the keeper opens the Grand Sluice. This apparently happens every low tide when they flush the river out to sea to remove weed and sediment.

We are here for a couple of days while we wait for Jan and Grant, guests from Phoenix, to join us for 11 days. My toe is still painful and swollen but it's pink again so I think I'll live. Unfortunately, Barb and I have now caught colds or the Swine Flu or something. The latter is rampant here, so I hope it's not that.

Aug 7
Yesterday, the boater's third-worst nightmare occurred. The first would be sinking, the second engine failure and the third - TOILET FAILURE! It stopped flushing in the morning during peak usage and we were stuck in the middle of nowhere without a loo. We stopped at a friendly caravan park and they let us use their loos which was a huge relief all round. My first thought was that the holding tank was full. The gauge was only reading 3/10 but it's very unreliable. So as soon as we arrived in Lincoln last night we made straight for the pump-out machine only to find it was out of order. I pulled out our self pump-out kit, which has never been used, and ran the hose out to the chemical toilet disposal hut. Grant and I took turns pumping. Barb and Jan unkinked the hose and directed the stream of unmentionable stuff down the disposal. A steady rain had begun to fall and I was running close to exhaustion. Then a British Waterways employee told me to stop and a big argument ensued. I pointed out that the Elsan disposal did not have a sign saying "unsuitable for self pump-out units" as many do and I was only having to do this because their pump-out machine was inoperable. Finally, they took my boat registration and name and said I will be reported.

By then, we had pumped out several litres of gunge. We cleaned out the pump by pumping canal water through it and Barb tried to flush the toilet - no luck. I was swearing and cursing and close to despair as we backed Basil up to the overnight moorings. Barb called Pipers (Basil's  builder) and Andy said it was most likely blocked, given the symptoms. He led me through the unblocking process which involved unscrewing the loo from the floor and moving it out from the wall as far as it goes, which is about 6 inches. Then I had to wrestle off a pipe connected to the non-return valve. Andy did not warn me that about a pint of effluent would spurt out at this point. I was gagging as I worked in the confined space and removed the offending gunk from the valve. It was the most disgusting thing I've ever had to do. I washed my hands at least ten times afterward and they still stank of sh**.

But - it worked. We have a toilet again and I was the hero of the evening. We staggered off to the William IV in the rain and had fish and chips. Jan and Grant rated them a 7.5 on the Raven scale - not bad. It rained all night but it's holding off for them this morning as they go to look at the cathedral.

When we stopped last night there was a little water in the engine bilge and quite a lot by this morning. I cannot find out where it's coming from. The prop shaft seal seems OK and it's very unusual for rainwater to collect there. So our troubles may not be over. In addition, Barb's cold has taken a sudden turn for the worse and my toe is still huge.

I was a little harsh about Boston. The natives are very friendly, even the non English speakers, and they are very proud of their town. Here are some pictures:


Jan and Grant
JAN and GRANT


Boston
                      Approach
BOSTON through BASIL's WINDOW

Boston Mooring
BOSTON MOORING
Rog in
                        Boston
ROG in BOSTON
Boston
                      Dusk
THE STUMP at DUSK

Aug 11

We continue to backtrack upstream on the River Trent. The weather has been good for the most part and we had a lovely ride up the tideway from Torksey to Cromwell Lock, where we moored in a beautiful setting on the lock island within sound of the huge weir. The next day we returned to Newark and I went to the casualty department of Newark Hospital to have my toe X-rayed. The doc pronounced it broken. Here's a picture, but don't click on this link if you are of a sensitive nature!  Even Barb was impressed with the NHS - they saw us quite quickly and were very professional and pleasant. No forms to fill in, no insurance required and no fees. We did have to wait a long time while they made a CD of the X-rays to take to Nottingham Medical Centre. They insisted I should attend a fracture clinic there on Thursday morning. Here's a link to the X-rays for the medically curious.

Last night Grant, our resident Cordon-Bleu chef, prepared for our delectation his excellent pasta and mushrooms con spinach and we ate it with gusto. Tonight he is doing Baked Salmon with dill sauce (he is growing the dill on Basil's bow), accompanied with baked potato and broccoli. We are thinking of applying for a Michelin star and renting Basil out to gourmands.

Last night we moored at Hazleford lock, a private lock island infested with rabbits and other wild life. We stopped here with Rick and liked it so much we paid a return visit.  The weather was absolutely spiffy today as we cruised along what is, arguably, the most scenic section of the Trent. Tree covered sandstone cliffs tower over the east bank and the wide river is full of water fowl. Now we are  on a peaceful mooring above Stoke lock. I had some trouble berthing Basil as the pull from the weir is so strong.

Cromwell
                          Weir
CROMWELL WEIR

Aug 16
Lincoln Cathedral
LINCOLN CATHEDRAL FROM THE WITHAM

Tom
                            Hall
TOM HALL

Bye
GOODBYE to JAN and GRANT at BURTON-UPON-TRENT

From Stoke Lock (pictured through a glass darkly, right) we continued to meander up the River Trent. The wide river gives way to the Nottingham/Beeston canal through the old city of Nottingham. The market square was bustling with people, a carnival and a modern streetcar (tram) line. Jan & Grant visited the Castle, home of Robin Hood's old enemies, while I had my toe attended to. Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham is the biggest hospital either of us had ever seen, and it took longer to find the fracture clinic than it did riding the bus up from town. There was a bureaucratic hold-up as they were expecting an American and were shocked to discover I am British. I still had to promise to pay 74 before they would see me as I am no longer eligible for "free" health care in Britain.

Finally, we made it to the clinic where we were seen by two doctors - one of whom was an immensely supercilious snot trailing a bunch of medical students. The other one disappeared to look at my x-rays and returned to say that my toe will be swollen and painful for months, keep off it as much as possible, etc. They strapped it again and sent me on my way.

After that we did some fairly major cruising days up to the head of navigation on the Trent and on to Shardlow on the Trent and Mersey canal. We snagged the most coveted mooring in town in the Clock Warehouse basin. 2 more days on the T&M saw us back on our home mooring in Willington for Jan and Grant's last night aboard. Tom Hall, a friend's father, came by car to visit us. We all went out to Nadee, our favourite local Indian restaurant, to eat.

Barb has heard that her 93 year-old Dad has been in hospital with severe anemia. He was only in for a couple of days but it caused him intense confusion. Sheldon, Dad's brother-in-law, bore the brunt of it as there was no immediate family there for transport, hand-holding, etc. We have been very worried about him, but fortunately my brother-in-law John is there with him now to help out.

We took Jan and Grant to Burton-on-Trent this morning, said a sad goodbye,  and sent them on their way to London and the BA flight to Phoenix tomorrow. We will moor up at our home base now until the end of August, so I am suspending the blog until then.
Stoke Lock
STOKE LOCK

Clock
                            Warehouse
THE CLOCK WAREHOUSE AT SHARDLOW

Shardlow Bridge
BRIDGE AT SHARDLOW

Sept 2

Joe and
                          AngelaThere's been an unnerving change of fortune since I last wrote. We went down by train to Woodchurch, Kent, the ancestral homeland of the maternal branch of the family, to visit my brother Michael and his wife Angela for a few days. We also went to my sister Angela's surprise pre-birthday party in Deal. Deal is a somewhat forlorn seaside town along the coast from Dover. Angela was duly surprised as a multitude of her friends and family from all over Europe descended on the Clarendon Hotel on the seafront to pay homage and to endow her trip to New York on her actual birthday in October. She is pictured (left) dancing with Joe, who organized the party with his wife Jill and Jonathan and Alison, Angela's kids.

After the party and several memorable meals out with Mike & Ange, they drove us back up to Derby and spent a long weekend with us on the boat. We cruised along the Trent & Mersey canal to Fradley Junction, which normally would have been a leisurely two day cruise but it took us hours and hours of extra time because of the bank holiday weekend traffic. There were queues of up to six boats at most of the locks. We had hoped to walk round some of the villages and nature reserves along the way but, in the event, the only village we really got to know was Alrewas where we stopped overnight on the way back from Fradley.
The Crown,
                            Alrewas
ANGE, BARB and MIKE enter the Crown, Alrewas

By this time, Barb was not feeling at all well. She had been suffering from internal pains and general lassitude for several days and when we were almost home she broke out in a rash on one side which she self-diagnosed as shingles. When we got back to Mercia marina my brother took us to the NHS clinic in Derby where they confirmed B's diagnosis. There's not much to be done, they said, except to rest and take painkillers. B is in a lot of pain and her rash is very extensive. I wanted to take pictures of her torso for the blog but she objected on the grounds that it would be ghoulish and weird. So now we are holed up on Basil until she gets better. The weather has also deteriorated - "a glimpse of Autumn", the forecasters call it - so it's doom and gloom all round. Actually, I am quite worried about her as her immune system is obviously compromised. She has had two back-to-back terrible colds and a persistent cough and now the shingles. At least we are comfortably ensconced in the marina and not on some epic voyage. She cannot bear to wear normal clothes let alone work locks, etc.
party 2
CAROLYN, MICHAEL and ANGELA

Party 1
BARB and my brother NIGEL

Alrewas
BRIDGE and GARDEN in ALREWAS

Sept 9

Dr. Fairweather from Willington came out to Basil last Friday evening to examine Barb. She said she has a serious case of shingles but "not the worst I've ever seen". She prescribed Codeine, Amitriptyline and an antibiotic (to prevent any skin infection from developing) and charged us 100 ($160) for the visit. She said it was too late for antivirals to be effective. Since then Barb has been sleeping a lot but the pain is somewhat controlled.

Aside from caring for Barb, I have been using the time to explore the local area on foot. On one walk I went to Repton, the ancient capital of Mercia. Mercia was at one time the largest of the old Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, extending from the Humber in the north to the coast of Kent in the south and to the sea in the east and the fringes of Wales in the west. It was eventually diminished by the increasing power of the Wessex kings from the west and by Danish raiding parties (the Vikings) from the sea.

Repton is now a surprisingly sophisticated village in the heart of working class Derbyshire. It sports a couple of "gastro-pubs" (horrible term - sounds like a disease), Chinese and Indian restaurants and many old buildings. The public school, one of the oldest in Britain, dominates. Repton is a fine walk from Willington over the River Trent which is crossed by a classic stone arched bridge. This was a toll bridge from 1835-1898 until the locals rebelled against the exorbitant charges (A shilling for a horse and carriage plus a penny for each passenger) and bought out the owners.

I spent a pleasant few hours there taking pictures, eating substandard fish and chips from the chipper and drinking a pint of Marstons Pedigree in the Bulls Head. I brought back a menu for "Shingles Woman", as friend Jodi called her, to stimulate her interest in recovery, food, and rambling.

Willington Bridge
WILLINGTON BRIDGE

Repton Thatched Cottages
THATCHED COTTAGES at REPTON

Bulls Head
CONVIVIAL ATMOSPHERE in the BULL's HEAD

Gate
                            at Repton
GATEWAY to REPTON SCHOOL

Cottage detail
HALF-TIMBERED COTTAGE

Sept 23
York
                        Minster
YORK MINSTER

Been very lax in the blog department recently. We are now finishing up a three day trip to Norwich, where we lived 30 years ago. What changes! Apart from some of the street and district names, we recognized nothing. We did find one of the two houses we lived in but there was no trace of the other - the Wooden House in Horning. We drove right past it without even realizing we were there. Horning is still a pretty little village but the Broads, an area of lakes and rivers inaccessible from the main waterway network, is overrun with tourists.

We also had a three day visit to York, by train this time. A lovely compact city surrounded by intact medieval city walls which we hope to visit again, preferably by boat. Tomorrow we return to Basil for a final clean-up before returning to the US on the 27th. Basil already looks pretty smart as he was in dry dock over the weekend having his bottom blacked. There was a horrible bang like a gunshot as the dock emptied but we have not found anything wrong and he was afloat when we left, at least.

Our excursions have been somewhat curtailed by Barb's continuing shingles pain which prevent her from walking very far. The rash is clearing up nicely but she still has nerve pain and pain where her clothes rub.

Lack of time means this is a short entry and it will be my last. I will flesh out the York and Norwich descriptions when I get home.







York City
                        Wall
CITY WALL, YORK

York
                        Roofs and Minster
YORK ROOFTOPS and MINSTER

York
                        Minster
YORK MINSTER

Minster Interior
MINSTER MEMORIAL

York
                          Street
YORK STREET

Horsey
                          Beach
HORSEY BEACH, NORFOLK

Cow Tower
COW TOWER, NORWICH

Tudor Pots
TUDOR CHIMNEY POTS, NORWICH
November 1st, 2009- Final Entry

We are back in Phoenix now after a very relaxing summer compared with previous years, though some of the relaxation was forced by illness and injury. Our two final excursions to York and Norwich were delightful. The British Isles were basking in an Indian Summer until the day we left, so that helped.

Siege
                        SignYork is constrained completely by the old city wall which, thanks to the diligence of various occupiers from the Royalists of the Civil War (left) to subsequent City Councils, is completely intact. The wall was temporarily breached by the upstart North Eastern Railway Company in 1840 when they demolished a section to build the first York station within the walls. A huge station with 13 platforms was built in 1877, safely outside the wall, and is still in use today.

This encirclement makes the City very amenable to visitors, trapping all the sights and shopping streets within an easily walkable area. York Minster lords it on a hill over the town and the River Ouse meanders attractively thorough the town center. It seemed a very livable City and the population were happy and helpful. Of course, the sun was out.

We roamed the walls and the streets, visited the Minster and ate in pubs and restaurants. Barb got her hair cut. The Minster is very grand, though I still rate Lincoln cathedral higher in terms of grandeur. We wandered along the river and boarded a tourist boat for a view from the water. Apparently, we can't get away from boats. Our bed-and-breakfast lodgings were overpriced and over restricted, but that was the only blot on an otherwise great visit. We hope to come back next year by boat.

I spent almost a whole day in the National Railway Museum, reputedly the largest in the world. The famous "Flying Scotsman" locomotive is disassembled in the workshop for a major rebuild and they have the world steam record holder Mallard on display. An interesting side note here - American locomotives may have gone faster than Mallard but we'll never know, because there was a law in the US restricting train speeds to less than 100 mph. Any admission that they went faster would have resulted in legal action. Sadly, US railroads have lagged in the speed stakes ever since. The NRM also has a Japanese Shinkansen high speed train on display. Though donated free by the Japanese government, getting it to the museum was a feat of engineering in itself because of the much wider profile of the Japanese rail system. The track is the same size, but the width of the carriages much greater. I asked why they didn't bring it by water up the Ouse but they knew not.

There are hundreds of other locos and carriages on show. A succession of Royal trains and a reproduction of the world's first 'modern' loco, the Rocket. Of interest to me is the Winston Churchill which showed up one day in 1960 to haul my train to school. This was when British Rail were converting to electric in the South East and we had many old main-line express haulers appear on our short journey from Ashford to Canterbury. We schoolboys were in awe of the clanking and snorting and giant connecting rods and it is equally impressive in the museum 50 years later, though eerily silent. Five years after my brief encounter it was pressed into service to pull the funeral train of the great man himself. There's a fine account on the web of that last steam-hauled funeral train by the fireman, Jim Lester. Firemen were skinny men - Mallard devoured a ton of coal an hour at full speed, all of it shovelled by hand from the tender to the firebox.

We lived in Norwich in the mid seventies for about two years and this trip was a rediscovery in many ways. We drove out to Horning where we used to live in a creaky old house, the Wooden House, on Hoveton Little Broad (Blackhorse Broad). The house was falling apart when we lived there and it has now been demolished. The Black Horse pub at the top of the dirt road to our house is also closed and without that landmark we were unable to find any evidence of where we lived. We did find our house at 68 Violet Road, Norwich which was the first house that Barbara and I purchased together.

In many ways my job at BBC Norwich was the best I ever had. The BBC has now moved to a swanky new site in Norwich City Centre. We were treated to a tour. Much has changed but, to my amazement, the old Calrec audio board, which was installed while I was there and which I loved to operate, is still at work in the main TV studio.

Pie
                        & PeasNorwich is almost unrecognizable, whether through redevelopment or my poor memory, I cannot tell. Probably a combination of both. There is a thriving market, of which I have no memory. Some of the old shops remain and Captain America's restaurant, a favorite haunt, is still there. Even the faded menu in the glass case downstairs looked original, except for the prices. Tatler's, just outside the Cathedral gate, where we used to dine on special occasions, is also still running and serving up game dishes. We walked along the river to Cow Tower. I remember the tower but the river walk was a charming surprise. The whole town was bustling and full of cheery people (but the sun was out). We bought lunch off market stalls - fish and chips (8/10 Raven scale) for Barb and chicken pie smothered with mushy peas (above) and laced with mint sauce for me. Delicious!

We stayed in the Georgian House Hotel, a converted manor house by the look of it, within easy walking distance of the City center. The room was huge by English standards and very comfortable. The restaurant was average, so we ate elsewhere on subsequent nights. The hotel is fairly expensive but worth it.

Mason's
                        Arms Menu
YORK PUB MENU...
Piggies
..and CLIENTELE

Winston Churchill
NATIONAL RAILWAY MUSEUM - BULLEID PACIFIC WINSTON CHURCHILL

Stephenson's Rocket
NRM- contemporary drawing of Stephenson's ROCKET

Rocket Detail
NRM- ROCKET DETAIL

York Cafe
YORK CAFE

Norwich Cathedral
NORWICH CATHEDRAL
So, in summary, it was a very relaxing and enjoyable trip this year. The weather was better and we set no targets for difficult ring navigations but instead decided where to go "on the fly". There were the usual bumps in the road - loo nightmares, broken toe and, worst of all, Barb's shingles. Narrowboating is not for the fainthearted! We look forward to being back next year.
Goodbye

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