This year we are not planning to cruise much but just use Basil as a base from which to explore other things. We may go on a short two-week cruise, depending on the weather, how we feel and if we have visitors. We have trips to Kent and Devon planned, a self-drive tour of the Scottish Highlands following the 'North Coast 500' route and a trip to Portugal including a cruise up the River Douro.

We will be arriving in the UK on June 25th. Stay tuned....

June 28th

We have arrived safely in the UK and are fighting the time change. We got upgraded to First Class on British Airways so we were pampered passengers. Somewhat marred by having to wait at Heathrow on the tarmac for an hour until a gate became available.

Worse jet lag than usual, for some reason. We can't get to sleep until 2 or 3 a.m. then we sleep until 10. As a result we are behind schedule and we booked an extra night tonight in the hotel to catch up. Basil boat is in generally good condition except the shower won't shut off completely and he is absolutely filthy outside, covered in soot and mildew from the long wet English winter. Have not looked at the engine yet. The solar panels kept the batteries charged all winter with no problem. The weather has been good up to now but rain is forecast for later today and tomorrow.

The infamous vote for Britain to leave the European Union occurred the day before we left, so all the news channels are in furor 24/7. The politicians are mostly hiding and resigning. Both parties are disintegrating and it's quite clear that none of them have a plan for what to do next. The pound and the stock market are tanking. Normally we spend pounds here but we have switched to using a US credit card mostly because it's so much cheaper. I just watched Nigel Farage (leader of the nationalist UKip party) gloating before the European Parliament to howls of disgust and derision. A Scottish MEP pleaded that Scotland voted to stay in and "Scotland is an international, inclusive, environmental country and we do not want to leave the Union.." to cheers from the other MEPs. He said he is proud to be Scottish and proud to be European.

No photos yet but here's a live webcam shot of the marina:
Mercia live
July 5th
Not much of interest to report so far. After a week of dismal weather we had a couple of days of mixed sun and clouds so were able to go out for a walk in this verdant land. I turned our rental car in yesterday and I was treated to stunning views of the Trent Valley on the bus back from Burton. Huge and ancient oaks set in green pastures along the river. It looked like a scene from a tourist brochure. Pastoral England still delivers in the sun. Barb was not with me but she has become somewhat jaded about this. She hates the climate, the toothless bent-over grannies and the little houses she once thought quaint are now just 'old'. Boating life suits her no more and she does not want to return next year.

We had a memorable evening with a friend and his Chinese companion who is living here doing research on sealed buildings at Nottingham University. We were very impressed with Ken. Meeting young people like him always gives me great hope for the future. I feel the same way when I meet the altruistic students at Arizona State University's Engineering College. Ken also cycles to raise funds for children's brain tumour research. We ate at Masa, a swanky restaurant in an old Wesleyan chapel in Derby. Good food, good company.

It took me three days to clean Basil up. The engine started up right away after I dewinterized it. We had the Webasto heater serviced and it worked much better. Even the heated towel rail in the bathroom, which has never worked, sprang into life. Only our shower is dead, Triton are coming to fix the mixer on Thursday.

The sun just made a guest appearance so I must join Barb for a ramble...
Rainbow Over Mercia
Basil Cleaned Up
Damselfly on Basil's Bank
July 7th
                    DemiseSome excitement at last, though in a form neither expected nor welcomed. Liza, our friend from Bury St. Edmunds arrived yesterday and after an evening at the Boardwalk we returned to the boat. I went to bed at 10 while Barb and Liza continued catching up on old times. Sometime later I was awakened by Mike, our next door neighbour, shouting my name. He had heard a cry and a splash and found Liza in the water behind our boat next to the rudder (photo left). She was incoherent and not even trying to get out. Mike and I attempted to pull her out but we were not strong enough. Danny, another nearby moorer (and young and strong), fetched a ladder and we got her out that way. I called 999 while Barb got her out of her wet clothes and loaned her a robe. Liza had a huge lump on the back of her head and one on her left cheekbone. The ambulance finally arrived after what seemed like an eternity and took her to the Royal Derby Hospital. I followed by car with Terry, one of the Mercia volunteer first aiders. I stayed at the busy A&E (ER) until 2:30 a.m. when a nurse arrived. I was sure that Liza would be kept in overnight but they released her sometime before 4 a.m. She got a taxi back to the marina and texted and called us but we were asleep and did not hear the phone. She was unable to get through the security gate so stayed in her car until about 6:30 a.m. when somebody let her in.

Nobody saw the actual incident but we think she was intoxicated and walked off the back of the boat instead of the side on her way to the loo. The gap from the stern to the jetty is much wider than the side exit. Today she is sore all over, nauseous, and her left eye is practically closed up. She has no memory of anything after dinner. She was supposed to drive back to Bury today but she'll be here at least another day. She is constantly apologizing and beating herself up about her stupidity but we have since learned that falling in is not an unusual event. It could have been much worse and, if Mike had not heard her, possibly fatal. Also a big lesson on the dangers of the demon drink.

July 9th
Bonus entry today as it is peeing with rain and we are confined to the boat, which is cozy and warm as the rain beats on the roof. More about the weather later. Liza was much better yesterday. She looked made up for Halloween but the swelling had subsided and she felt much better. I was dying to take her photo but I was vetoed by a chorus of howls from the ladies. We are all on the wagon now as a result of this scare.
Liza Before the Accident (at the Boardwalk)
Mercia Trip Boat on the Trent & Mersey Canal

Rare Blue Sky
Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day but what did we do? We spent all afternoon indoors watching the Wimbledon men's semifinals. We were gutted (to use a British expression) by Federer's demise and felt really sorry for him at his press conference as he seemed so down in the dumps. Murray cruised through in a boring match, so it's going to be a Murray / Raonic final on Sunday. The media storm about Brexit has abated and for once the BBC showed American news of the police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota and the sniper response in Dallas.

Barbara is constantly venting about the weather and adding it to her list of reasons why she's not coming back next year. To me it's a typical English summer, albeit wetter than usual. The weather doesn't affect me much. Of course I'm happier if it's sunny, but I like the continual changes as bands of rain move across the country. It's not cold to me but Barb has the heating on every morning as she is cold. I don't know what we're going to do next year. I like it here and I like living on the boat even in the marina but Barb hates it. I'm sure we'll work it out as we have always tackled these big issues over 38 years of marriage but this is a tough one.

Morning Deluge
Praying for
Barb Praying for Sun
(Actually, she's exercising)

                          and Cover
Even the Ducks are Sheltering
July 21

We had a very busy 10 days so have not had much time for this diary.

Barb's prayers worked as Britain has been bathed in a 'heat wave' with temperatures reaching 90F/33C with high humidity. It finally broke yesterday with thunderstorms and today is much more pleasant and still warm.

On Sunday, July 10th, the marina hosted a classic car show with beautifully restored cars including a 1957 Triumph TR2 (right). I used to drive a TR3 and a TR3A in my youth.

On July 12th we rented a car and drove down to Kent to visit my family. One of the most hair-raising drives of my life as the M25 London Orbital, always one of the hairiest and most congested motorways in the world, was socked in by driving rain and near zero visibility. We stayed in Woodchurch, where I grew up, with my brother Michael and his wife Angela. They still live in the house where my Mum and Dad lived after they retired.

Townland Cottage
where I lived until I was ten or so
Green Hedges (right half of house above)
where I lived until I left home
Pilgrim House
where my Mum & Dad retired to and
where Michael & Angela live now
The Church of All Saints
Mum & Dad's Grave Marker

Windmill Restored by the
Woodchurch Windmill Society
The Bonny Cravat Pub
conveniently opposite the church
.. and next door, The Six Bells
Hendon House, reputedly the oldest in the village
The Village Green

Michael at the Village Pump   >>
once the main source of water for       
those without a well.      
                          on the Green
Barb on the Village Green
 Mick & Ange drove us to the White Cliffs of Dover where we walked along the chalk downs that form the cliffs from Dover Castle to the North Foreland lighthouse. The air was so clear that we could see the coast of France, 20 miles across the English Channel (La Manche to the French), and a constant parade of ferries shuttled cars, trucks and people to and from the Continent. The Channel Tunnel has not ruined the ferry traffic as was once predicted but it has brought the cost down. About one in two of our fellow walkers were speaking French. No doubt they were over for the day having spent a couple of euros for the ferry fare.

Dover Castle
                          at Dover
Mick & Ange on the White Cliffs
The North Foreland Lighthouse
Another day we drove to Herne Bay for a family reunion and to meet my niece Alison's newly adopted kids. I am unable to publish photos of them, unfortunately, because their biological parents may see them and try to track them down. They are very cute, though! The party was held at Alistair and Liz's estate in Herne.
New Dad Phil at Work
                          with child
My Nephew Josh with Anonymous Child
Late Afternoon at the Marina

Now we are back at Mercia Marina. As usual, there are boat problems. Currently we have no shower. The makers of the shower mixer, Triton, have been twice to fix it but it still won't flow. My new theory is that the filters on the input are blocked so I am trying to get a fitter to look at it. I tried, but the access is so difficult I gave up. Fortunately, we are right next to a shower block here but we cannot cruise. Next week we are off to Devon to stay in Sidmouth and visit friends Peter and Jane who came on the boat last year. More after that..

August 3rd

Our visit to Sidmouth coincided with the start of the school holidays, a mistake we are unlikely to repeat. The drive down was murder, exceeded only by the medieval torture of the drive back. Although almost all of the journey was on Motorways (Freeways) we were stuck in stop-start traffic queues almost all the way. A journey which should have taken less than four hours took more than six. I have formerly vented about too many cars for the tiny rural roads that were built for horse and trap, now it appears there are too many for modern freeway systems. Blame it on the pesky schoolchildren.

Once installed in the comfortable Sidmouth Harbour Hotel, a four star establishment with a view of the sea over a few rooftops, we began to relax and enjoy ourselves. Being British, the hotel had a few little quirks. Our room was brand new but the shower controls interfered with each other, there were no make-up / shaving lights beside the mirror, turning on the desk lamp involved crawling under the desk to find the switch, the room safe (which broke twice) could easily be stolen by a one-armed midget -  and on and on. The service in the restaurant was at the smarmy end of unctuous and mostly ineffective. When the food finally came it was acceptable. The room was very comfortable, though, and we slept like marmots in winter with gentle sea breezes twitching the curtains. Daily we awoke to the crying of seagulls overhead.
Sidmouth is a Flower Town
-These are in the Connaught Gardens
More Flowers at the Clock Tower
- - and My Personal Flower
On the first day after arrival we met our friends Jane and Peter, who live inland just over an hour away. Peter organised a fairly gentle walk from Weston along the coastal path over the cliffs and down to Branscombe. Jane wasn't feeling too great so she accompanied us for a little way and then drove to Branscombe to pick us up. These days, my ankles are arthritic and I cannot do the major hikes that I used to, so I was grateful for the respite. At Branscombe, after some minor confusion over where to meet, we had an alfresco lunch in the Mason's Arms. Then we drove to an Iron Age hill fort, Blackbury Camp, set in beautiful wooded country above the River Coly drainage far below. Peter broke out a tailgate tea (hot tea, cake and flapjacks) and then we drove back to Weston to pick up our car and then on to the Swan in Sidmouth for an excellent and fairly priced dinner. We all had grilled or lightly battered fish with veg or salads.
  Overlooking Branscombe
With Peter & Jane at the Mason's Arms
Tailgate Tea
Next day we drove to Peter and Jane's farmhouse with its stunning views over the Devonian landscape and collection of fine art by Peter and his students. After high school, I went the science and engineering route and Peter veered to art. We lost touch for many years but I am glad that we have reconnected as Peter and Jane share our enthusiasm for learning and interest in everything from politics and geology to art. They voted to remain in the European Union unlike the majority of the population of Devon.

Their cat, Rascal, totally lived up to his name and showed off his acrobatic abilities, following us around the farm as we inspected the sheep, the geese, the chickens and Jane's comprehensive veggy garden. Peter showed us the solar panels that power the house and the septic system which he dug by hand.  I had to lay down just thinking about all that work! After dinner and after the geese were herded into their barn for the night, we drove back along the impossibly narrow but traffic-free lanes to Sidmouth, arriving after 10 p.m. The days are closing in now and it was dark by then.
Rascal Living up to His Name
Poppy Flower in the Garden
Jane Herding Geese

We spent our final day in Sidmouth on our own and we hiked up Salcombe Hill, a tough climb up a cliff to the east of town, where we had spectacular views over the surrounding seascape. A further hike inland led us through pleasant woodland and back into town down a muddy trail. Later I noticed a major landslip off Salcombe Cliff which must have happened the same day (see photos). We splurged for dinner and ate at Neil's, an upmarket fish restaurant with excellent food. Barb had Prawn and Crab bisque to start, I had Crispy Beer-Battered Goujons of Brixham Gurnard. For main course I had Brixham Hake with a crab and coriander crust. Barb had Grilled Cornish Sardines. In spite of the somewhat overwrought and pretentious descriptions, the food was delicious. We made friends with the next table and wobbled off to our hotel in the gathering dusk. The annual Folk Festival was just beginning and Barb watched a merry troupe of Morris dancers in the Market Square while I returned to Neil's to collect my camera which I had left there by mistake (more of that later).
Climbing Salcombe Hill
Sidmouth Bay
Sidmouth Bay from Salcombe Hill

Sidmouth Promenade
Sidmouth Promenade
Day 1 - No Landslide
Day 4 - Landslide
Low Tide
Low Tide at Sidmouth
Neils 1
In Neil's Restaurant
Neils 2
Also in Neil's

Morris Dancers
Morris Dancers
After the long drive home to the boat the weather has deteriorated somewhat but it's not too bad - showers, sunny intervals and very windy. We took a day trip to Chesterfield by bus to see the town and the disconnected bit of the Chesterfield canal. You may remember that we cruised up the Chesterfield last year to the present head of navigation at the collapsed Norwood tunnel. The section from the other end of the tunnel has been mostly restored into the town and to the confluence with the River Rother. It is hoped that the Rother will form a link to the Sheffield Navigation in the future and thus open up a new circular cruising route or 'ring'. Much work to be done by the Chesterfield Trust (we are members).
Chesterfield High Street
The Crooked Spire of Chesterfield Church
Bridge One
The end of the Restored Section of the
Chesterfield Canal now disconnected but,
eventually (I hope in my lifetime) it will be
once again connected to the network.
Back on the marina I had a fit - no camera! I called everywhere that we had been - the Chesterfield Visitor Centre, the restaurant where we ate, the bus company. I was beside myself with angst. All the Devon photos!  The best camera I have owned! Boo Hoo! Barb was convinced I'd get it back and by a miracle the bus company called back next day and said we had left it on the bus from Chesterfield and they had it. Thank you, God! I gave the driver who handed it in a reward. Another Roger brain fart. I hope there will be no more this summer, but don't count on it.
Back on the Marina
On the Marina 7:35 p.m. August 5th.
(Photo by Robert Neff)
August 20th

We are back from a wonderful tour of the far north of Scotland following the North Coast 500 route from Inverness. We travelled across to the west coast then followed a tortuous route over twisting single track roads to Ullapool. From here the route took us to Cape Wrath and along the north coast to John O' Groats before turning south and following the scenic east coast route back to Inverness. Our trip was organized by McKinlay Kidd and they did an excellent job, with one or two minor caveats. In general we got the best rooms in all of the hotels, which is unusual for a journey organized by a travel company.

At the outset I must say that the Scots do not live up to their stereotype of dour tightwads. The Scots we met were all fun loving adventurous people with a great sense of humor. Not once did we have to show a credit card or any form of ID before running up large drink and dinner bills at every hotel. As a race they seem mostly taller, thinner and fitter than the English, though that could be because we were in the Highlands for the whole trip.

On August 8th we travelled by train from Derby to Inverness, changing at Edinburgh and Perth, a journey of about 6 1/2 hours. The train to Edinburgh on CrossCountry Trains was comfortable and smooth, though meal service was terminated unexpectedly at York. The Scotrail services from Edinburgh were a little rickety and uncomfortable, mostly on single track lines, but the grandeur of the scenery compensated mightily. Just outside Edinburgh we crossed the Forth Bridge, one of the great engineering achievements of the Victorian era and still standing strong.

In Inverness we stayed at the Moyness House, an upmarket B&B within easy walking distance of the town centre. We ate at the Mustard Seed restaurant and explored part of the town alongside the fast flowing River Ness.
On Train
On the Scotrail Train
On train 2
Stop at Aviemore

Inverness at Dusk
Inverness at Dusk
Next day I picked up a Ford Focus at the rental car agency and we embarked on the longest and hardest day's drive of the trip. We drove right across country to the other coast, crossing the Moray Firth and over the mountains on good roads to Lochcarron. Here, the fun really began as we drove on winding mountain single-track roads to Applecross and up the west coast to Fearnmore. We often screeched to a halt at passing places or backed up to allow oncoming traffic to pass. The sheer unprotected drops to valley or ocean and the itinerant sheep and cattle made for exciting driving. I haven't had so much fun in a car for many a moon. The weather was cloudy which added to the drama of the Highland scenery.
Strome Castle
The Ruins of Strome Castle (Above and Left)

Poppy Gallery at Lochcarron
Hazard 1
Hazards of the Road -- Sheep ...
... Highland Cattle ...
Hazard 3
... and Baby Highland Cattle
It was late afternoon when we arrived at Sheildaig on Loch Torridon where we stayed in the Hotel Tigh an Eilean overlooking the loch. This was one of two favourite hotels on the trip. Friendly staff, a really excellent restaurant serving locally sourced food, and oozing with character. Our room was old but comfortable except for the lack of a stand-up shower. I saw a sea eagle swooping on some gulls who promptly ganged up on it and chased it off.

Shieldag Hotel
Tigh an Eilean Hotel

Ancient Phone Box >>
Still Working! >>

Phone Box
PB Interior
We stayed here two nights. The manager is a part-time Arizonan. She stays in Tucson every January when the hotel is closed. Next day, August 10th, the heavens opened and the rain sluiced down for two days straight. In spite of that, we went for a long hike along the peninsular next to Shieldaig. Our raingear failed and we got thoroughly soaked but we enjoyed the experience in a heroic sort of way. Nonetheless, we were pleased to get back to the hotel, stash our gear in the drying room, and enjoy another excellent meal of baked hake and fresh local salmon. We ate so much smoked and fresh fish that we thought we'd end up growing fins by the time we got back to Inverness. The smoked salmon was noticeably better than any we have had in England or the USA.
Wet Lady
Wet Hiker
Shieldag from Our Hike
Fellow Hikers
We also took the tiny road to the hamlet of Diabeg. It was too wet to leave the car but the gloomy scenery and hairy driving were unbeatable. On the way I hit a water-filled pothole so hard that it sounded like it had removed the front suspension. It is a testament to Ford that the car was undamaged and drove perfectly thereafter.

GairlochNext day we continued north, still on a mostly single-track road, through Torridan, Kinlochewe and Poolewe to Ullapool. We stopped at Gairloch (left) which has a tiny harbour offering whale watching and fishing trips (all cancelled because of the weather). The mountains were a hazy spectre in the distance and the lochs disappeared into a sea of mist and rain. It was all very Lord of the Rings and I expected the Eye of the Tower of Sauron to appear at any minute.

We also stopped at the Corrieshalloc Gorge and viewed the waterfalls below from the suspension bridge. From there it was an easy drive to the relative urbanity of Ullapool and the Ceilidh Place Hotel. The hotel (pronounced kay-ley, meaning social event or party) is a combination hotel, bunkhouse, cafe, musical venue and an eclectic bookstore.  I bought a copy of Bill Bryson's 'The Road to Little Dribbling' which kept me amused until the end of the trip. Barb bought 'The Guest Cat'  by Takashi Hiraide.

Corrieshalloc Gorge
MacBrayne Ferry from Stornoway
entering Ullapool

(except panorama)
Old House
Old House in Ullapool
Ullapool Panorama
Bay ViewOn August 13th our journey continued to the north along a mixture of highway and single-track roads to Durness where we turned east to traverse the north coast almost to Thurso. The scenery changed dramatically from the mist shrouded mountains and forests of the west coast to rolling hills stripped of most vegetation. Almost a desert, it was reminiscent of parts of Southern Arizona, though with a completely different climate. The weather began to clear and we were rewarded with clear views of the Orkney Islands far over the Pentland Firth. We stopped to admire the coast (right) and at Cocoa Mountain at Balnakiel, a famous chocolatier, whose customers include Prince Charles and Yoko Ono. It was formed in 2006 by a gay couple, Paul Maden and James Findlay, who were almost forced out in 2013 by homophobic harassment and shouts of "..English queers".
Busy Scene at Cocoa Mountain
Chocolates on Display

Misty View
Misty View on the North Coast
We arrived at our next hotel, the old manor Forss House, set in acres of woodland with a tumbling salmon river flowing through the grounds. It quickly became one of the two favourite hotels of the trip. Run by Anne, a genuine Scottish eccentric in her eighties, it had a Basil Fawlty feel to it. In fact one of the customers said "Just like Fawlty Towers" after a mix-up in the bar, to which Anne replied "I do my best to emulate them." She could get a bit tetchy at times - we wanted to share a dinner table with another guest we had befriended and Anne snapped "would be nice to know ahead of time." However, the famous chef produced gourmet food, the room was huge and comfortable and the grounds exquisite, so we forgave Anne her little quirks. Barb wanted to interview her on video but she said "No way!".

Next morning, I looked out of our window and saw a gent in a tweed jacket festooned with little pockets, plus-fours, river boots and a tartan cap climbing into an antique car. Next to him, loading a huge net and fly rods into a 4X4, was a young flunkey (the Gillie, maybe?).  I thought I had been wafted back in time to 1909.
The Forss House Hotel
Forss Falls
A Waterfall in the Grounds
Bridge over the River
(labelled 'unsafe' but we used it anyway)
                          LighthouseWhile staying at the Forss House for two nights, we drove along the coast to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on the UK mainland. Most people think that's John O' Groats but it ain't so. There were a few people hanging around watching the impressive display of seabirds floating over the cliffs, but it was nothing like the tourist Mecca of John O' Groats. There is an impressive lighthouse and foghorn (right), now automated.

We also visited the Castle of Mey, the last summer home of the Queen Mother and the only home she owned personally. She discovered it and bought it in 1952 on a visit to a friend in Scotland and while mourning the death of her husband, King George VI. It was in a dreadful state but she restored it by 1955 and it became her favourite retreat. After her last summer there when she was 101, she bequeathed it to a Trust in perpetuity. Prince Charles still stays there sometimes (he had just left the Sunday prior to our visit) but he has to pay rent to the Trust. We were given a fascinating tour of the castle, along with another couple, by a very knowledgeable and interesting guide. The castle is just as she left it and there are lots of photos of the Royals on family outings and of the Queen Mother in various poses in the rooms and gardens. She loved to be outdoors and lunches were almost always picnic expeditions to some local beauty spot. There is a guest book signed 'Lilibet' (the Queen's nickname), Charles, Andrew, etc., etc. The family would usually arrive on the Royal Yacht Britannia which docked in nearby Scrabster. I'm not a staunch Royalist but I did admire the Queen Mother and I was mightily impressed by this glimpse of her life. Well worth the £9.75 senior entry fee. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed inside the castle.
Castle of Mey
The Castle of Mey
Mey Garden
The Walled Garden
Barb in
Barb in Queenly Pose
On August 15th we completed the north coast section and drove through Thurso to John O' Groats and down the east coast to Dornoch. All the roads from now on were wide and of good quality but still featuring steep hills and hairpin bends. We came across a huge articulated lorry (truck) stuck on one such, fortunately going in the other direction. The A99 and A9 road from Wick to Inverness deserves to be listed as one of the great coastal routes in the world, alongside Route 1 up the west coast of the USA and the Dalmation coast of Croatia. There are sweeping views over the North Sea and sandy beaches proliferate. There are few tourists because of the climate but we were blessed with blue skies and bright sunshine all the way.
Doing the Tourist Thing

John O' Groats Ferry

Tiny Harbour off the A9

Scottish Banks Print their own Money >>
(also grudgingly accepted in England)     
The 'hotel' in Dornoch, Quail 2, was a disappointment. It is a small B&B with 3 small rooms. The owners were friendly and helpful but the facilities are not up to the standard of the other hotels. Which reminds me to whine about British toilets. Although the modern toilet was invented in Britain it seems mostly unchanged since. Other countries have moved on to silent self-closing seats and lids and rapid evacuation with low water usage, but the average British toilet clanks and heaves while failing to unload the contents. The one in Dornoch also featured my pet peeve - a seat that won't stay up on its own. Thomas Crapper must be turning in his urn.

There's not much to do in Dornoch apart from toilet wrestling and a good beach. We ate a forgettable meal in the Dornoch Castle Hotel where other diners praised the rooms therein.

Next day we completed the circuit by driving back to Inverness. We took a detour via Loch Ness to see the monster. All the lochside attractions were seething with tourists so we tarried not. We had a very nice lunch in the splendid Loch Ness Country House Hotel, which we discovered by accident, brooding over a valley off the main road. We split a sandwich and were glad we did. It was HUUUGE! At Inverness I turned in the car, with 620 extra miles on its odometer, and we rested again in the Moyness House hotel. We did a long walk along to the Caledonian Canal and down to the river Ness and back into town. Finally we splurged on dinner at Inverness's finest restaurant Rocpool.
Dornoch Beach
Loch Ness
Loch Ness
Lunch Stop at the Loch Ness Country House

On August 17th we returned to the Marina by train and taxi and here we are in the rain and wind again. The weather is supposed to clear next week so maybe we'll be able to do a bit of cruising.

The Caledonian Canal
Perth Station
Perth Station
September 2nd
We have managed to cruise for a few days in mostly fine weather, up the Trent and Mersey to Alrewas, a classic canal village which we have often visited. We went for walks, explored the little church at Wychnor and ate one night in the Crown (not so hot - Barb ordered a 'spicy bean burger' which came as a potato cake and was promptly returned). Here are some photos:
First night
First Night in the Sticks
Peaceful Pound on the Trent and Mersey

Our Preferred Mooring at Alrewas
Wychnor Church
My Favourite River - the Trent at Alrewas
BurtonOn the way back, we moored in Burton-Upon-Trent (left) to attend a Sunday lunch birthday party in the Brewery Tap. Our friend and fellow Mercia moorer, John Harman, turned 70 and his wife Nancy arranged a huge surprise party for him (below). Nancy is on the left foreground and John is talking to her. Unfortunately, due to a mix-up in the time, we missed the surprise bit but apparently John was duly gobsmacked. Nancy also writes a journal about life on the waterways.

Now we are back in the marina preparing for a three week trip to London (4 days), Lisbon (4 days), a one week cruise up the River Douro to Porto and then a couple of days in Santiago de Compostelo, Spain. More news about that after our return on Sept 22nd.

Sept 23rd

Back aboard Basil after a 3-week jaunt to London, Portugal, Spain and London again. It will take me awhile to sort through the hundreds of photos I took, so I will be doing so over the course of the next few days. There will be minimal verbiage and maximal pictures.

First - London. I have combined our two visits into one photo essay. During the first four day trip we met up with some of my family and went for a long walk along the river with them to the Chelsea Physic Garden. We went to see Kenneth Branagh in The Entertainer and to a performance of Shakespeare's Macbeth at the Globe Theatre on the South Bank of the Thames. We also toured the Rolling Stones exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery.

Nigel and Barb decided      
to combine faces for a while >>

Loo Sign
Messy but Expensive Street

(except sign above)
The Carter Gang - Michael & Angela, Barbara,
Josh & Amber, Sandra and Nigel in the
Chelsea Physic Garden
3 Bros
We Three Brothers in the Cooper's Arms,
a Chelsea Young's Pub

                          Square Tube
Sloane Rangers at Sloane Square
Josh is Nigel's son (my nephew) and we met his new girlfriend, Amber, for the first time.

Globe Panorama
The Globe Theatre is a careful reconstruction of the original Globe where Shakespeare wrote and performed.
The privately-owned brainchild of American actor Sam Wanamaker, it was completed after his death.
Tickets to the floor (the original 'mosh pit'?) cost a penny in the original, £5 today.
There were no toilets in the original and people had to pay again to get back in, so most punters peed on the floor.

On the second shorter visit we went (with Amber again) to the Victoria and Albert museum for You Say You Want a Revolution, a Sixties exhibition. We rode the London Eye, a giant ferris wheel on the South Bank, and went to a Georgia O'Keeffe exhibition at the Tate Modern.
Amber and Barb in Front of the London Eye
In the
Barb in the Eye
Thames at Night
The Thames by Night
Eye View
Houses of Parliament and Westminster
Bridge from the Eye
St. Paul's Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge
Chatham Railway
The Coat of Arms of the London, Chatham
and Dover Railway on Blackfriars Bridge.


View of Lisbon from Across the Tagus

We spent four days in Lisbon and, although the city has its charms, we were more impressed with Porto. Lisbon is a big dirty city with a massive graffiti problem. On arrival, our pilot pulled off an exemplary crosswind landing (I complimented him) and the wind was an intermittent problem while were were there. Anyway, Porto came later, so this impression of Lisbon comes with the benefit of hindsight and we did enjoy our time there. We stayed in a very swanky five star hotel, the Hotel Tivoli Lisboa and had the best meal in Lisbon on the first night at the hotel's brasserie. Unusual for a hotel restaurant. Generally, we were underwhelmed by Portuguese grub.

Lisbon was devastated by a massive earthquake in 1775 which resulted in new building codes. There are few high-rise buidings and many new buildings are contructed with reinforced concrete frames. Many old masonry buildings remain and there is still the potential for major earthquake damage.

Viking (the tour company) provided a walking tour of the city and a bus tour while we were there, the rest of the time we were on our own. We took a train to the ancient town of Sintra which was seething with other tourists. Here are some photos:

Guide Marlene tells how Saint Anthony found her
a potential husband (somewhat tongue-in-cheek)
Typical Street. Cobblestones and Painted Houses

Avenue de Liberdade
(across from the Hotel Tivoli)
The Streets in the Old Town are Lined
with Little Shops
Jewish Quarter
The Old Jewish Quarter
(Portugal has a mixed history with Jews. Many
were expelled or forced to convert during the
Inquisition but many were saved in WWII
because Portugal was a neutral zone)
Old Funicular. Made in Birmingham and
Still Going Strong
Church Interior (Sorry, we saw so many
I can't remember which this was)
Church detail
Detail in Chapel of Church

Belem Tower
The Belém Tower
Monastery Cloisters
Jerónimos Monastery Cloisters
Cloisters Detail
Cloisters Detail
Sintra Train
Boarding a Train for the Ride to Sintra
The National Palace of Sintra
Moorish Influence in Sintra
Tigris Bridge
Bridge Over the Tagus
(Built to the design of the Golden Gate bridge by the same architect.
A railroad deck was added below - a testament to the strength of the design, I hope.)

During the transfer from Lisbon to Porto, a journey of about 6 hours by coach, we stopped in Coimbra, a beautiful hill town and home of Portugal's oldest and finest University. Founded in Lisbon in 1290, it moved to Coimbra in 1308. It inhabits beautiful old and new buildings in the town, houses one of the oldest libraries in the world (the Joanine) and is in the top echelon of global universities along with Oxford and Harvard.
Coimbra University
One of the University Squares
Symmetry in Tile
(tiles like these adorn walls all over Portugal -
more evidence of Moorish influence)
The Organ Loft in the São Miguel Chapel
Once in Porto we embarked on our River boat, the Viking Hemming. Captain Carolina then took us for a short night cruise to the mouth of the river Douro and back to our mooring. Porto is a spectacular city by night or day and we would like to spend more time there.
Porto by Night 1
Approaching The Ponto Luis I
Porto by Night 2
The Quays are Lined with Cafes and Shops
Porto by Night 3
Another in a Series of Magnificent Bridges
Over the Douro in Porto
Next day, we had the choice of an organized group tour of Porto or to do it on our own. We chose the latter. The morning dawned misty as we rode the Gaia cable car right from the dock to the upper level of  the Luis I Bridge. The vertiginous pedestrian deck is shared by trains (somewhat alarmingly) and offers wonderful views of the city from high above.
Cable Car
The Gaia Cable Car
Barb on Bridge
On the Luis I Bridge, 146 feet above the Douro

View of Porto and the Douro from the Bridge
R & B on Bridge
High Above the Town
Port Boats
Port Boats in Dock.
Every company (Taylor's, Sandeman, etc.)
has one of these little show boats.
Outdoor Life
A Charming City Bustling with Outdoor Life
The advantage of crossing the upper deck of the bridge is that we ended up at about the same level as the Cathedral, an imposing edifice that tops the town. We also visited the main rail station before winding our way down through narrow streets to the river again. We explored the picturesque waterfront before crossing the bridge again at the lower level. This deck has a narrow footpath adjacent to a road full of Portuguese drivers which I found even more alarming than the trains. Back to the Hemming for lunch and a 2 p.m. cast-off for our Douro River Cruise.
The Altar and Choir of the Cathedral
Rail Station
Ornately Tiled Interior of the Rail Station
Porto Waterfront

The next six days were spent navigating this beautiful river as far as the border with Spain and back. The river is magnificent and becomes more dramatic as it climbs through canyons reminiscent of the Colorado gorge. The lower reaches are lined with Quintas (large estates of multiple vineyards) bearing the name boards of famous vintners. Cute little villages cling precariously to steep slopes, stepping down to quays by the river. Everywhere the landscape is wrested from nature by man - whole hillsides sculpted by hard graft and hand tools into terraces tumbling down in rows of sun-kissed vines.

In the higher gorge, nature returns. Sparse vegetation struggles on the dry earth. There are few houses. Only the little railway continues to snake alongside the river as evidence of civilization. Vultures and eagles swoop overhead. Wildcats, roe deer and wild boar roam the land, apparently, but all we saw were a few griffin vultures and some goats.

In stark contrast to all this man-made and natural beauty are the giant modern works that form the five locks and dams that allow navigation. They appear as huge concrete monoliths in the distance, morphing into flood gates and giant lock entrances as we approach. The locks are truly gigantic, the largest I have ever seen. They have lifts of 46/115/84/109 and 72 feet respectively. A large lock for Basil the King would have a lift of 14 feet by comparison! The view from the top of one of these locks to the river far below is a sight to behold. A variety of huge guillotine, radial and mitre gates control the entrances to these edifices. Some of the guillotine gates descend into the lock to open, a technique I have not seen before. All the locks are 12 metres (46 feet) wide and about 300 feet long. Hemming was built to fit with about a foot to spare each side. Captain Carolina nudged all but one. I can relate.

Portugal is a relatively poor country, so how did it afford these giant works and the blasting of a channel through solid rock that enabled navigation? Just for the benefit of a few tourists? There is no commercial traffic to speak of, and only 12 large Riverboats like ours ply the Douro. It must have cost billions of euros. I was unable to find a complete answer but the dams generate a lot of hydro electricity and the European Union paid for most of the construction, I understand. The hydro plants generate about 3,300 Gigawatts per year. Portugal generates 80% of its power with renewable energy, a staggering achievement compared to other developed economies. On hot sunny days the figure is 100%.

There were several discussions with our guides about Brexit and their feeling about the European Union. On the plus side, the EU has brought enormous advantages in terms of infrastructure which was very evident in the quality of roads, railways and bridges - far superior to those in the UK or USA. On the other hand they resent how little power they have in governing the Union, and the petty regulations that emanate from Brussels. In years of plenty, Portuguese farmers have been forced to burn crops and destroy tons of tomatoes so as not to exceed EU quotas. The Portuguese are generally very pro-British. In 1373 England and Portugal signed the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance, the oldest alliance in the world still in force.  So they have some sympathy with the Brexit conundrum. Anti EU politics exist in Portugal, but not as strongly as in the UK.

Well, after promising to keep the verbiage in check I have succumbed to a bout of verbal diarrhea, so forthwith back to the photos:
The Douro Flanked by Vineyards
Castel Rodrigo
Castelo Rodrigo (see below)
Sinagoga Sign
See below (not enlargeable).
We visited Castelo Rodrigo (above and top center), an ancient medieval fortress city which now has few permanent inhabitants. Plenty of tourists, though! Synagogue Street (top right) marks the location of an old Jewish Synagogue where Jews were forced to convert to "New Christians" during the Inquisition. The Portuguese Inquisition was relatively benign compared with the Spanish version, however, and the Jews retained a lot of their customs and religious rites in spite of the name change. Their heirs are now accepted as Jews and are welcomed in Israel.
Moored at Barca D'Alva
Quinta (Estate)
Typical View from Our Cabin
Giant Sandeman

Alongside Viking Torgil at Pinhao
Approaching a Lock
Lock Approach
Squeeze In!
Lock Interior
Inside a Cavernous Douro Lock
Pinhao Station
Pinhao Rail Station
(On the Douro Line, see below)
Station Tiles
Station Tile Murals Tell the Story of Pinhao
Top of Lock
View from the Top of a Lock

A little railway line accompanies the river all the way from Porto to the last lock at Pocino. It used to go all the way to Salamanca in Spain where it connected to the main line to Paris. Alas, the Spanish section was closed in the 1980s, leaving several small towns on both sides of the border with no rail service and derelict stations. The plaque on the left commemorates the station at Barca D'Alva but I couldn't find the station. The track is still in good condition and there are plans to restore it and promote the line as a tourist attraction. Meanwhile, a rickety diesel service plies the single track from Porto to Pocino every couple of hours.

The line is a small miracle of railroad engineering. It clings to the edge of the river, crossing tributaries on beautiful bridges and viaducts and plunging into short tunnels here and there. I don't know if it was ever featured on "Great Railway Journeys of the World" but it should have been. It is another way to see the beauty of the 'River of Gold' at a fraction of the cost of a river cruise. We resolved to come back and do so one day, preferably before the line is 'tweeified' for tourists.

Rail 1
Rail 2
< The Douro Line >
Rail 3
On September 15th we took a day tour from Barca D'Alva where the boat was moored to Salamanca in Spain. The scenery changed radically as we crossed the border. The farms and vineyards were replaced by wild scrublands. This area of Spain is a National Park and so is relatively wild. We saw intermittent glimpses of the disused railway on the way. Salamanca is a UNESCO world heritage site, and deservedly so. Beautiful medieval buildings line quaint narrow streets. We visited the cathedral, filled with yet more priceless treasures. Sickening for a church that supposedly serves some of the world's poorest people.

Salamanca is not just for tourists, there is a thriving local economy and culture. Filigree silver jewelry, earthenware and wickerwork are crafted using old-fashioned methods. Very thinly sliced cured ham (jamon) is a local delicacy. There are hundreds of varieties and we tried some at lunch.
Salamanca Cathedral
Salamanca Cathedral
Transept Roof
Intricate Wooden Carvings in the Choir Stalls
The Altar
Street Scene

Cristina, Our Guide, with Flamenco Guitarist
One of Many Jamon Stalls in the Market
Fish Stall
Octopus, Anyone?
At Barca D'Alva, the Hemming turned around and hared back to Porto, stopping only at Pinhao for one night. We had a chance to visit the wheelhouse and talk to Captain Carolina about the ship. Some people were surprised, not by the fact that she's a woman but because she is so young. For my geeky readers, click here for a description of the propulsion system. There are two of these Z-Drives on the stern and one on the bow.
Captain Carolina at the Helm
('scuse the window reflection)
Last Night in the Lounge
Last Lock
Approaching the Last Lock

Sadly, our cruise was over but a few of us (8 actually) booked a land excursion to the pilgrimage destination of Santiago, Spain. We said goodbye to our shipmates, some of whom had become friends already, and disembarked on Sunday morning, Sept 18th.

On the coach journey to Santiago de Compostela we stopped in the Portuguese town of Braga and visited the Sanctuary Bom Jesus, a pilgrimage site dating from 1373. An impressive staircase descends a steep hill from the Sanctuary. It is lined with chapels and statues depicting Christian events and people. For those not up to the climb, the staircase is flanked by a water operated funicular - supposedly the only one still in operation. I remember riding on one in Folkestone when I was a kid but I don't know if it's still there.
From the Coach We Saw Occasional Views
of Atlantic Harbours and Bays
View of Braga from the Sanctuary
Impreesive Staircase of Statuary
The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte

(except scale)

...And then we traveled on to SANTIAGO
Braga Street
Braga Street Scene

Braga Garden
Park Dedicated to Saint Barbara I
(SBII was with me, of course)

Old Avery Scale  >
in the Sanctuary    
(not enlargeable)    
Santiago de Compostela is the capital of Galicia, a region of northern Spain. Pilgrims have flocked here since the 9th Century to kneel at the tomb of Saint James. Pilgrims traditionally travel on foot on the Way of Saint James (Camino de Santiago) which is actually many alternative ways of 100 miles or longer. Pilgrims come by the hundreds in all shapes, sizes and ages. We could have sat in the main square for hours and watched them flock in. Because of them (and us tourists) there is a thriving social scene in the town. The cathedral, where lies St. James, is ornate even by Catholic standards. The town is a maze of little cobbled streets, churches, cafes, shops and shrines. We did our own walking tour. We stayed in the 'NH Collection' hotel on the University campus, a modern and rather austere hotel presumably aimed at the well-heeled Pilgrim.
Santiago Street
Another Band of Happy, Tired Pilgrims
Ground Zero
'Ground Zero' for Pilgrims
The End of the Camino de Santiago

Detail of the Ornate Cathedral
In the foreground is the huge thurible, or incense
burner, which swings across the nave on a rope.
Pilgrim's Rest.A Thriving Cafe in Town
Night in Santiago
Santiago by Night
And so our travels, and this journal, come to an end. "Thank God", I hear you moan. We are now (Sept 29th) on the marina, packing our bags and winterizing Basil for our departure on Sunday, October 2nd. The nights are drawing in and a cold wind whips through the shrouds (or would, if we had any). Barbara is glad and I am sad, but all good things must end. Here are a few parting pics:
Basil Boat 2
In Willington We Found Another Basil Boat

And, finally, as Rick has said "no Roger Blog is
complete without a swan photo", here are
TWO of them (below and right).
Swans at Nadee
Swan Family Outside Nadee
Beautifully Turned Out Working Narrowboats,
also moored at Willington

Black Swan
Black Swan in Santiago
(Could this be the one that left Mercia?)
Heron Fishing Next to Basil yesterday
(He/she caught two, but you will have to wait
for the forthcoming video to see the action.)