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This year we are not planning to cruise much again. We have rented a lodge for July and August at Mercia Marina where Basil is based. We have a self-drive tour of the West Coast of Ireland planned by McKinlay Kidd, the same company that provided the 'North Coast 500' trip that we enjoyed so much last year. We are also spending most of September in Italy for our fortieth wedding anniversary, first to Rome, then aboard an Oceania Adriatic cruise and finally a week in Correzola, near Venice. We will be in my ancestral home of Woodchurch for a week and spend a few days in London as usual. Who knows, we might even manage a few days canal cruising...

June 28th
Our Chariot Awaits in 115 deg F

Smooth, direct 9. 5 hour flight over by BA 747 which arrived early. They are operating two 747s a day on Tue, Thu and Fri for a couple of months and mostly filling them both according to BA staff. Huge queue for Immigration at Heathrow which we were able to avoid as we used the UK/EU line which was empty. We drove immediately up to Derby in a rented Hyundai i30 diesel. Very nice car. After Oxford it began to rain and then rained continuously for two days. What a welcome! We checked into a grotty room in the Premier Inn, Derby West but were too tired to negotiate for better. At least it was near the front door and thus convenient for dragging in our ten tons of luggage. Barb slept well, me not so much.

June 30th

Next day we moved into our rented "Nordic" lodge at Mercia Marina. The lodge is really nice and lifted our spirits enormously in spite of the rain. Basil boat looks resplendent in his new livery and is immaculate inside as we had him cleaned professionally while we were away.
Oak Lodge
Oak Lodge - Home for the Next Two Months
Oak Lodge Lounge

New Basil
Basil's New Paint Job
Grenfell TowerThe news here is still dominated by Brexit and by the Grenfell Tower fire disaster. The blackened hulk of the tower stands as a macabre monument to social inequality as it looms over Kensington, one of the richest boroughs in the country. It lacked fire suppression, fire alarms or escape stairs. It was recently clad in shiny panels, apparently to improve the aesthetics for the well-heeled neighbours. The panels contained a core of flammable insulation which conducted the fire upwards in a huge column of flame that engulfed the building, cracking the windows, bursting into apartments and incinerating people within. The fire started in a Whirlpool (Hotpoint) refrigerator with a cheap plastic back. Most countries mandate metal backs. The Alcan cladding is also banned in most places, or only allowed up to a couple of storeys, and is only fractionally cheaper than the fire-retardant alternative. Apparently the low-income diverse residents of the tower have complained for years about fire safety and shoddy remodelling.

The government response has been less than stellar. Prime Minister Theresa May paid a carefully orchestrated visit which protected her from actually meeting any of the residents. Now an unempathetic, toffee-nosed judge has been appointed to conduct an inquiry into the cause of the fire which is already obvious to anyone with a brain. This will take months and probably will not assign blame or criminal responsibility for what is a serious criminal breach by the Kensington and Chelsea Council who own the building. Over a hundred other tower blocks have been identified with similar construction.

I have never been so embarrassed by my native country since I left here in 1981. I have tried to be an ambassador, even defending the National Health and the Monarchy in my time but Grenfell Tower takes the cake. I give up. The rising tide of mediocrity, social injustice, wealth inequality, Brexit and prejudice have shut my mouth. I hope the Tower is kept just as it is - a grisly monument and a reminder to Kensington of how the other half live or, in this case, die.

July 4th


Independence Day! I certainly feel independent. Stateless, even. What with the Child King ruling the USA and the Terrified Rabbit in charge of the UK, I'll just have to settle for Global Citizen. Off my soap box, we have been having an unusually hard time getting over the 8 hour time difference. Lots of sleepless nights. There are many problems with the boat as usual. One water pump not working and at least 8 problems to do with the repaint. On the plus side, we really like our lodge and the weather, after the initial two days of rain, has been great.

Barb is exercising as I write, using the video I made of her ex-trainer Stacey. It plays fine on a European DVD player.

I'll leave you with a few photos taken in the marina yesterday. The bear (left) is part of a kiddies adventure trail - they walk round looking for various objects - a fairy, a butterfly, a mouse, etc.
Field of Wildflowers
Unusual Butty
Butty CU
Trad Ropework on Butty Stern

July 7th
We are off to Ireland tomorrow so this will probably be the last diary entry before July 21st when we return.

FanIn a previous journal I panned antediluvian British Bogs (toilets). The bogs in Oak Lodge work well, but we have another bathroom oddity here - automatic extractor fans. These are supposed to react to humidity and turn on accordingly. Unfortunately, there are two reasons to turn on a bathroom fan and only one of them involves humidity. So even if these worked they would be useless for aroma extraction. As it is, one of them runs almost continuously and the other is burned out. A typical example of untested and ill considered British technology. The Jaguar Car Company used to be adept at this sort of thing before, in a delicious irony,  they were taken over by Tata Motors, an Indian company.

My nephew Jon used to tell a convoluted joke about how, when he was a little kid, he loved tractors. When he grew up he lost interest in them, so he became an "ex-tractor fan". I am an ex-extractor fan fan.

Cock InnThe remaining time in the lodge has been uneventful. The weather has been pleasant, knocking 85 degrees yesterday at Wimbledon. We have been for walks along the canal and around the marina. We went out with our friend Robert, whom we last saw in Bali, to the Cock Inn (left) for a pleasant dinner. No tittering or menu selection jokes, please!

The boat painters  never showed up to fix some lingering problems despite repeated e-mails and phone calls. A fitter will be fixing our dead water pump while we are away.

The owner of Oak Lodge has amassed a
splendid art collection. Here are a few
examples that I really like.


July 23rd

We are back in the lodge after a memorable 12-day drive following the Wild Atlantic Way up the west coast of Ireland. This meticulously signposted route follows the coast from the Head of Kinsale in the south up to Derry in the north. Similar to the North Coast 500 route in the Highlands of Scotland, which we drove last year, it is a tourist route through quaint seaports, villages and some of the finest coastal scenery in the world. The roads were fun, narrow in places and always bumpy, but never crowded. We covered the northern half of the route from Clifden, near Galway, to Rathmullen on Lough Swilly. The itinerary was designed by McKinlay Kidd, a small agency that specializes in Scottish and Irish vacations, and a grand job they did, to be sure. The hotels we stayed in covered the spectrum from downright quirky to positively opulent. All are lo
cally owned.

On 8th July we flew from Birmingham BHX to Dublin crammed into an ATR72 turboprop. Supposedly we had "economy plus" seating but my knees were rammed into the spine of the guy in front of me. BHX is worse than some third-world airports, teeming with drunken yobbos packed into large sheds laughingly called 'terminals'. Fortunately the misery was short and Dublin airport is modern and pleasant, though equally busy. We picked up our Hertz rental car, a Nissan Qashqai (which I dubbed the Cashcow), and set off into Dublin town and our hotel for the night, the Pembroke Townhouse.
Pembroke House
Pembroke Townhouse
Searsons, and Our First Taste of Guinness
The Grand Canal

Just around the corner was Searsons, a fine old Dublin pub/restaurant where we sampled our first taste of Guinness and Irish Whiskey (Tullamore Dew) and had the first of many excellent meals. The food was one of the most pleasant surprises of the trip. I was expecting stews, pies and potatoes but everywhere we were treated to gourmet meals, perfectly cooked and presented. The fish dishes, in particular, were excellent - I have never eaten so much fish.

Next day we drove clean across country to the west coast, mostly on fine motorways (freeways), through Galway to Clifden, on the coast of Connemara. There we wound our way up Sky Road, a single-track lane, to find the Dolphin Beach House perched above a little bay. Barbara instantly bonded with the manager, Clodagh, who is young enough to be her daughter but shares the same loony outlook on life. They were riotous together.
Dolphin Beach House
The Dolphin Beach House

Clodagh (delighted by Robert Kidd's description
of her in our travel instructions)
Clodagh & Barb
Barbara and Clodagh


Sea Cave, a short walk from the hotel

Highland Sheep, common here and in
Scotland where they are suited to the
rugged terrain
Connemara Park
Hiking in Connemara National Park, a short
drive away
Irish Pony
Old Irish Breed of Cows, not so common now

We spent two nights with Clodagh, one of the highlights of our trip. She cooked great breakfasts and a simple but delicious meal on the first night. She does not cook every night so we went to a local pub for a meal the next night.

On July 11th we continued along the Wild Atlantic Way up hill and down dale. We stopped at numerous overlooks and took a long walk along the cliffs near Louisburgh. It was a long day and our GPS (SatNav) led us astray somewhat, so it took us awhile to find Enniscoe House, our next hotel, buried deep in the country on the shores of Lough Conn, south of Ballina. There were few guests and the mood was monastic. Everyone spoke in hushed tones, a far cry from the carnival atmosphere of the Dolphin Beach House.
Enniscoe is run by a spry old lady, Susan Kellett, and her middle-aged son. The house has been in Susan's family since the 1600's. It would make a good location for a Hitchcock movie and, fortunately for me, Barb was afraid to shower alone. Not. But you get the idea. Not to malign Susan, who is really friendly and is an excellent cook. We dined splendidly both nights.
Enniscoe House
Enniscoe House
The Lounge
A Princess in her Boudoir

Painting in our Room. What is the Story Here?
Is it rape, or is she about to cut off the hand
of her attacker? Or is it Opera?
Ornate Front Door Knocker
adds to the Gothic Drama

Antique Front Door Lock

Lough Conn

During our stay at Enniscoe House we drove into Ballina, the nearest town, where a Heritage Festival was in full swing. On some posters it was billed as a "Salmon Festival". Whatever, the streets were closed off and teeming with revelers. There was a traction engine in full steam, an excellent country rock band playing on the main stage and Irish folk musicians on small stages elsewhere. It was a real family day out (right). There were a few quirky things like the Ballina Cowboys (far right). There were numerous food stalls and we chose one selling hot smoked mackerel and potato wedges for lunch. We went in a pub to sample a half pint of Guinness and watched Andy Murray lose at Center Court, Wimbledon.  Our disappointment was later alleviated by the Swiss gent, Roger Federer, winning the final.
Ballina Fair
Ballina Cowboys
Next day, July 13th, we drove on up the coast to County Sligo and Coopershill House in Riverstown. On the way we walked across the strand to Omey Island, which is only accessible 2 hours before and 2 hours after low tide. Another day of fine scenery in a bracing but warm breeze.
Misty View
Castle Gate and Sheep
                      Island walk
Walking to Omey Island
Coopershill House is another fine mansion set in an active sprawling estate. The current owners, Simon O'Hara and his wife Christina, entertained us and cooked for us while somehow having time to manage the estate and look after their kids. A friendly family who have owned the estate for 7 generations. The atmosphere was quite different from Enniscoe. Everyone was chatting away in the lounge and over excellent dinners, swapping stories of our lives and travels.
Coopershill House

Coopershill Breakfast


Ancient Bath and...
..the "Control Panel"
Rosses Point
Rosses Point Lighthouse from
the Old Watchouse
The "Metal Man" at Rosses Point has guided
sailors into Sligo Harbour since 1821
A Troupe of Irish Guard Veterans with their
Irish Wolfhound Mascots at Lissadell House
Llamas at Lissadell House
On the way to our next hotel we stopped at Rosses Point and Lissadell House (above), among others. We arrived at Castle Murray House in County Donegal as the skies were darkening and rain threatened. The hotel has a remote, maritime feel to it as it stands overlooking St. John's Point and the ruins of Castle Murray on the shore. I walked (or rather, stumbled) over to the castle in the gathering dusk. Cows rumbled at me and lurched off as I approached. All the floodlights were pointing inland instead of at the old castle walls. I assumed this was the work of the local youth. I found this odd, since the usual trappings of antisocial youth - graffiti, vandalism, petty crime - are missing in rural Ireland. None of the bedrooms in the hotels we stayed in had locks. I repositioned the lights and stumbled back to report to our landlady. She laughed and thanked me for 'the maintenance' but said it was the cows wot dunnit, kicking the lights with their hooves.

Castle Murray House used to be a full service hotel but has now fallen on harder times. It is run as a guest house by a young couple with extra help at breakfast. However, the hotel and rooms are well maintained and clean and the location is superb. There are plenty of opportunities for dinner in nearby Killybegs, including the Fleet Inn where we ate in the bar. They also have a fine restaurant which specializes in fresh seafood. Killybegs has a fine harbour, full of gleaming boats and the surrounding coastline is beautiful (photos below).
Castle Murray ruins
Castle Murray ruins
Immaculate Boats in Killybegs Harbour
Ba Fhionntra (Fintragh Bay)
Slieve League
Slieve League Cliffs rise to a staggering
1,972 feet above sea level
Sherpa Sheep at Slieve League

Glacier Valley
Glaciated Valley
The Coast at Portnoo Harbor
                      An Bhuna Bhig
Ce An Bhuna Bhig (Bunbeg Harbour)
Typical road Hazard
Sea ViewOn we drove to our final hotel on the Wild Atlantic Way, Rathmullen House. This was another great highlight of the trip. The hotel is set in extensive grounds alongside Lough Swilly. The food and service is superb and would rate alongside the finest hotels in the world, but the place has a relaxed and totally unpretentious air, typical of Ireland and the Irish. In addition to gourmet dining in the main restaurant, the Tap Room (literally a dive bar) offers fine pizzas. The food is all locally sourced, much of it from the Rathmullen gardens.

To cap it all, we had three days of Mediterranean weather - blue skies, sunshine, not a cloud in the skies. The locals were out in force on the beaches. Also, we were treated to an open-air production of Dickens Great Expectations by the Chapterhouse Players on the Rathmullen lawns. It was a memorable stay. We decided that Rathmullen and the Dolphin Beach House were our two favourite hotels, for quite different reasons, and we will come back to both.
Rathmullen House
Rathmullen House
Rathmullen House Bedroom
Dinner View
Great Expectations on the Lawn

Lough Swilly Shore
Finally, on July 19th, we drove across Northern Ireland and back down the N1 to Dublin for a last night in the Pembroke Townhouse before flying back to Birmingham next day. In Dublin, we revisited Searsons for dinner.
Searsons Again
Beautifully Restored and Maintained Gents
Old Aer Lingus DC3 on the Runway at Dublin
as we await takeoff to Birmingham in a
modern Aer Lingus A320
One final anecdote at the end of a memorable trip. I had bought two advance tickets for the 20:15 train from Birmingham New Street to Willington via Derby for the princely sum of 5. Barb wanted me to hire a car instead as she could not see us lugging our luggage through 3 station changes and up the road from Willington to Mercia Marina. I stopped at Europcar to see if I could extend an existing reservation but it would have been prohibitively expensive (about 1,000). So, in a grim mood, we boarded a packed train from the airport to New Street. There, our luck was in, as we found a train leaving for Willington direct in ten minutes. There was no room in standard class so we went into First Class prepared to pay up. The conductor had a speech impediment but eventually explained that he had no ticket machine. He not only let us use our illegal tickets for another train (he never looked hard at the tickets) but also upgraded us to First for free! I called ahead for a taxi and we completed the journey in comfort for 11.

July 28th
I completed the Irish Journal today. We are now in my ancestral home of Woodchurch, staying with my bro Michael and Angela, his wife. More of this later, but to sum up our trip up The Wild Atlantic Way - we found the Irish people on the coast to be exceedingly friendly and happy people. Northern Ireland was really run down by comparison. We never saw a police car until we were in Northern Ireland. I sensed no antipathy to the English, though that might be because I travel with an American :-)

Aug 2nd
Family time! We spent a week in Kent, visiting my brothers and family. Then on the way home we stopped off for a night in Berkhamsted to visit my nephew Jon, his wife Katie and their new baby Esme. I am not much into babies, as you know, but Esme is by far the cutest example I ever met. My sister Ange also appeared for awhile with Alison, Jon's sister, and her kids Teagan and Thomas. We avoided the M1 motorway on the way home to Mercia Marina and drove through the heart of England, stopping at Stoke Bruerne for lunch in the Navigation Inn. Photos below:
Barb & Mick
Barb and Mick at Hythe
Little Bro
Me and My Little Bro (now 60!)
Oast Houses at Sissinghurst Castle
(Formerly used for drying hops)
                      & Josh
Amber and Josh (my nephew) arriving at
Canterbury West station after a hard day's
work (they claim) in London
Josh &
Josh, Amber, Barb and Nigel (my bro)
in Canterbury

Ladies Line Up at the Kashmir Indian
Restaurant. L-R Maisie (Amber's friend),
Amber, Sandra (Nigel's Wife) and Angela
(Michael's Wife)
Esme &
Barb Meets Esme for the First Time
(Katie, Esme's Mum, in background)
Esme &
Love at First Sight
Big &
Big Feet and Little Feet

Jon & Katie's Cat, Chicken >>

Thatched House
Thatched House in Stoke Bruerne

Old Working Boat Sculptor (left)
and Maker's Plate (above)
Boat Inn
The Boat Inn, Stoke Bruerne

Stoke is one of the most iconic villages
on the canal system.
Horse Art
Barb and "Horse"
Bee at Work outside Oak Lodge
Double Rainbow over the Lodge

The weather has been pretty dismal since our
return on July 31st.
Aug 14th
Plenty to do, but not much to write about over the last couple of weeks. Even James Boswell would've been stumped. We have been relaxing in the lodge, catching up with friends, etc. Mick and Ange left today after spending a long weekend with us, which was lovely. The weather continues very gloomy. Yesterday was fine for a change so we took Basil out for his first jaunt in his new livery. I managed to scratch it up, of course. A few photos below:
See No Evil
Hear, Speak, See No Evil
In the Boardwalk Restaurant
Basil Waits to Enter Stenson Lock
End It All
Finally, the Weather Got to Me

Aug 23rd
As a reader commented in the Guardian today, I do not understand all the fuss about a two-minute solar eclipse in the US yesterday. We have not seen the sun, moon or any other celestial body for six weeks!

I have just returned from a four day single-handed boat trip up to Alrewas and back. I wanted to see if I was capable of handling the boat and doing all the locks by myself, now that my partner of 40 years and First Mate has abandoned ship. In spite of my disintegrating arthritic ankles and a bad knee, I did fine. I had a lot of help from other boaters who, seeing I was on my own, insisted on doing practically everything. I think I only had to operate two of the twelve locks completely by myself. Plus, I met some really nice people.  In general I cruised for 3-4 hours in the morning, then moored up for the rest of the day and night and explored the local area on foot. Two of the nights were spent in Alrewas, one of my favourite canal villages, where the River Trent joins the canal for awhile and creates a beautiful riparian habitat to walk or cruise through.

The weather was gloomy (what's new?) but I managed to avoid most of the torrential rain and only got a good soaking once. I experienced a brutal thunderstorm (rain, hail, lightning) one afternoon from the safety of Basil's cozy cabin.

The nights were a bit lonely. One night I was shocked awake by a narrow boat blasting past at full bore at 1 a.m. I ate dinner aboard every night as the pub/restaurants are not very attractive to a single diner. I did invite some friends, Mick and Cathy, aboard for an extended happy hour on Friday evening. They were moored next to me in Alrewas by chance. Other than that, and meeting people at locks, I was alone, but I was generally quite pleased with my own company and the freedom to do anything I wanted at any time. I decided single-handed boating will be fine for short periods.
Pleasant Town Mooring in Burton-upon-Trent
Carved Bench, somewhat faded since our
last visit in 2011

Birds Congregating on Dead Tree
William IV
George &
Alrewas Sports Three Pubs
William IV (left), George & Dragon (above)
and the Crown (right)
Much Photographed Cottage in Alrewas
Produce, Pickles and an Honesty Box outside
('Cottage Industry'?)
Alrewas Weir. The River Trent Exits the Canal
River Section
Alrewas River Section (above and right)
River Section
View of Needwood Forest from Final Mooring
It's going to be very hard to give up canal boating when I have to. There's nothing that so totally engages me. It is the ideal amalgum of a little engineering (I love to fix things), being outdoors in nature in all weathers, and skillful navigation. Perfectly steering a 60 foot, 17 ton boat is elusive - as soon as I think I've got it right something will occur to humiliate me. But perfection is in the striving. I am never more relaxed and engaged than when I stand on Basil's stern in all weathers, meeting all challenges.

Jon & AngeAfter I got back, my sister, Angela, and her son Jon came to visit us on Monday (photo right).

Next, we are off to Rome via London on Sunday 27th. After two days in Rome we embark on a 12 day Oceania cruise round the Adriatic, ending in Venice. We have rented an apartment 20 miles from Venice for a week, and return to London on Sept 18th. I hope to write from Italy, but may not be able to.

Footnote: This is the 150th anniversary of the shipping forecast which is intoned nightly on the BBC just before midnight GMT by some of the most mellifluous voices on the planet. The delivery is deliberately dry and slow so that it may be understood by windswept sailors around these islands and as far away as Iceland and the Bay of Biscay.

In 1859 the Royal Charter storm off Anglesey killed 472 seafarers on the steam clipper Royal Charter and hundreds more on 130 other ships. Admiral Fitzroy, formerly Captain of the Beagle, Charles Darwin's famous ship, coined the word 'forecast' and developed the early shipping forecast. He was ridiculed for his ideas, impoverished by the effort and committed suicide in 1865.  His forecasts stopped but resumed in 1867 after public pressure. The forecast initially used signs, was later published in newspapers, then transmitted to ships by telegraph operators and finally adopted by BBC radio in 1925.

A recent attempt to abandon radio delivery was met by a huge outcry from insomniacs everywhere who are either lulled off to sleep or transported to exotic places like the Hebrides, Faroes, Fastnet, or Shannon as the forecast poetically navigates the waters around Britain.

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