Friday, 4 October 2019

Parrindi travels 2019 Part 4

After Sharron left to return home to Ruffy we left lovely Chester to continue our journey. It started to rain so we moored up again outside the Cheshire Cat Hotel just south of Chester.

Next day we decided to go to the famous Chester Zoo. It was still school holidays so lots of visitors were there. It’s a lovely zoo with very large natural enclosures for each species of animal. We especially liked the young rhinoceros which was running round and round his mum in their paddock. Must happen often because she had that ‘oh no - not again’ look on her face! Went through the bat building where it’s very dark with bats flying all over the place. One lady freaked out and nearly fainted when a bat came too close to her head so she had to be helped out by the attendant. We went on the monorail that gave a good overview of the whole zoo.

Prehistoric animals on display

Chester Rail monorail

Back on the boat we travelled back along the lovely Shropshire Canal to the historic town of Nantwich where we spent a few days relaxing. Caught up with Bob again before we moved off to the Middlewich Canal which connects the Shropshire Canal with the Trent & Mersey Canal. This area still produces lots of salt and we went past a few factories where it was being processed.

Original grocers in Nantwich

We caught a train to Manchester and then another to the seaside holiday venue of Blackpool.  This place has been on Terry’s wish-list every year we have been visiting the UK.   We had booked two nights at the Savoy Hotel, a huge Edwardian hotel  which, in its heyday, would have been quite opulent. But - like most of Blackpool it’s sadly in need of updating.   There are about 5 miles of beachfront with 3 piers that all have heaps of slot machines, dodgems & merry-go- rounds, fairy floss & fast food stalls. etc etc.     Have never seen so many tattooed people with mohawk & other gobstopper hairstyles!  

Bacon bap (roll) wedding breakfast!

Contributing to Blackpool's economy

We went up the famous 518 feet tall Blackpool Tower completed in 1894 and our entry ticket included a 4D film (where we were sprayed with water) then up to the top of the Tower which gave a terrific view all over Blackpool.  The floor was made of glass which was a bit scary looking down.  We then went down to the 2nd floor to the stunning Blackpool Tower Ballroom where two huge Wurlitzer organs played for the dancers whizzing around the ballroom.  We spent nearly three hours there as the music was so good and it was interesting watching the dancers, including some very professional pairs who were practicing their steps.

We stayed a couple of nights at Middlewich where we had the boat heater serviced then started up ‘heartbreak hill’ (think it should have been called ‘backbreaker hill’) before we reached Kidsgrove and the entrance to the Harecastle Tunnel. Designed by Thomas Telford, the Tunnel which was finished in 1827, took 14 years to build (only using picks & shovels of course). It’s not wide enough to have a towpath so in the beginning before boats had motors they had to be ‘legged’ through. This was where a plank of wood was laid across the bows – and fellows lying across it pulled the boat along by literally walking on the walls. Pretty tough work in the pitch black of the Tunnel!

This was the third time for us through the 1.5 mile Harecastle that takes 40 minutes to travel along so it was not as intimidating as the first time we went through in 2012.  
We didn’t manage to see the tunnel ghost (a headless woman) and although there are a few spots where the tunnel leaks it wasn’t as wet as when we came out the east side into pouring rain. We only went a short distance to moor up overnight at Westport Lakes on the outskirts of Stoke-on-Trent. When the rain stopped we found it was a lovely park with many water-birds on the large lake and lots of walkers enjoying the scenery.

Old chemist advertising

Next day we moved the short distance to Stoke and moored up in front of the Toby Carvery where we had moored up a couple of times in previous years. Still showery weather so after doing the Stoke township we caught a bus to Leek, a quaint historic market town which was very big back in the silk manufacturing and embroidery days.

We moved the boat to the Stoke Marina where we were leaving it while we went to Portugal for 10 days. Caught the train from Stoke to Manchester where we were to catch the 6.30 pm plane to Portugal. It took off all right but half an hour later the pilot announced there was a problem so we would be returning to Manchester. We were flying really low above the ground and went over the desolated moors where the plane suddenly tipped sideways. Thought “this is it” but the pilot managed to get us back to Manchester where we had a fast bumpy landing. We were escorted by fire trucks and emergency vehicles past all the terminals until we were out in the open. We sat there for an hour or so while mechanics came and went then the passengers were bussed back to the terminal.

We were eventually loaded back on the plane after midnight and took off about 12.30 a.m. There were, however, some people who decided not to attempt the flight again (not helped by the friendly hostess who said “the plane’s probably alright to fly now”!). The pilot informed the passengers that the problem had been a height sensor’s input into the plane’s computer. We had let Sooz know what was happening so at midnight she booked us into a Lisbon city hotel and arranged for a car to meet us at the airport that had to remain open until we landed. It was just as well as we didn’t arrive into Lisbon until 3.30 a.m. which was far too late for the B&B man where we were actually booked in to meet us with the front door key.

Next morning we made our way to our B&B that was a lovely apartment in Lapa, a suburb of Lisbon. It’s an incredible city built on seven hills. Our place was at the top of a steep hill with a view over the River Tejo which is so wide it looks more like a large harbour. All the footpaths are paved with cobblestones and we quickly found out that some are really slippery. The roads are also paved with larger black cobblestones - think it might be to help cars grip on the steep hills. There was a little narrow-gauge tramway near our apartment that we caught into one of the many squares in the town where we were able to top-up some travel cards that a stranger in the street had given us.

We took a ride on ‘The Hillside Tram’ that went up and down most of the hills through incredibly tight streets. In some places the pedestrians have to step into doorways as the tram goes past as the streets are so narrow. Lisbon is a very attractive city with many of the buildings either painted bright colours or with beautiful tiled fronts. Sooz and Ten had said that most people in Portugal could speak English but we found this was not the case so we found it hard-going asking for directions or trying to choose food from menus written only in Portuguese. They drive on the other side of the road too so we had trouble adjusting to that as well.

'Our street'

We caught a tourist tram to Belem, a nearby beach suburb where we saw the Church at the Jeronimos Monastery where we waited in a long queue to get in. Also visited the Maritime Museum next door that was interesting with lots of displays about the early explorers. 

When we arrived in Belem we noticed the ‘famous’ cake shop that sells Portuguese (custard) tarts. As well the shop has a 400-seat restaurant that only serves these pastries. The queue went right around the corner so we decided not to wait. Later that night after we had dinner we noticed that there were only a dozen or so people waiting so we ended up buying half a dozen tarts to sample. The shop makes 25,000 tarts each day! We decided that they were actually too fresh and not as nice as the ones we had at a different cafe at lunch time.

The famous Portugese tart shop

Sooz, Ten and the girls had been staying for 2 weeks of the ‘big’ school holidays at a country house in north Portugal with London friends but they met our train from Lisbon in the town of Sintra. We went to the lovely airbnb house they had rented in nearby Colares. The swimming pool was an instant hit with the girls, as the weather was really quite hot. There are lots of surf beaches in the area but it’s the Atlantic Ocean and apparently the water is freezing! Rita (Ten’s Mum) flew in from London but there was plenty of room in the house, even coping with a ‘sleepover’ with the 3 children of Georgia and Michael, long-time friends of Sooz who now live in Portugal, adding to the numbers.

We all went to the Qinta da Regaleita Castle in Sintra which had an amazing garden full of statues on many levels with a 60 feet well which led down to underground caverns and waterfalls.

We flew out of Lisbon on Saturday afternoon back to Manchester airport via Dublin. Sooz etc were driving back to London because they had Desmond the dog so it was a 20-hour drive home for them.

Next day we met Jeni (who we know from our alpaca show days) at the Stoke station. She had been on a tour of Cornwall and wanted a ‘narrowboat experience’ with us. We set out and immediately had 4 locks to go through so she certainly had to learn quickly. 

Next morning we visited the Wedgwood Museum. The visit goes through the factory area where the famous pottery is made. Incredible to see the artists painting - the work is so fine that some of their brushes seem to have only a couple of hairs. One man was painting a dinner plate that takes him 7 days to complete and retails for over £1400. Talking to some of the workers it was sad to learn that they are losing their jobs before Christmas as most of the Wedgwood pottery is now made in Malaysia, as this is more economical. This has already happened to a number of the other famous potteries in Stoke. We had lunch at the Wedgwood Cafe and then managed to buy a Wedgwood teapot at the ‘seconds shop’ that doesn’t drip!

Joshua Wedgwood

Moved off and moored up at Stone which is a busy market town. 

Next day we travelled to Great Haywood where we visited the National Trust property -Shugborough Hall. There was interesting display about the two brothers who originally built the mansion back in the 1600s. Following the death of the 4th Earl of Lichfield in 1960, the estate passed to the National Trust in lieu of death duties. It was immediately leased to the Staffordshire County Council who managed and maintained it on behalf of the National Trust, with Lord Lichfield paying a nominal rent for a large 35 room apartment upstairs at the Hall until his death in 2005. The Lord, who was quite a famous photographer, was a first cousin of the Queen and the apartment is filled with Royal family photos and photos of other notable people - many attending his famous lavish parties at the Hall. His successor, the 6th Earl, decided to relinquish the lease of the apartment, severing the family's direct links with the estate. In 2016 the Staffordshire County Council handed the estate back to the National Trust with 49 years remaining on its lease.

This was the servants quarters

The washing machines

We travelled along the Trent and Mersey Canal with a few locks to operate and then through a couple of canal junctions until we reached the Coventry Canal. Had overnight stops at Rugeley, Tamworth and Nuneaton along the way. One afternoon we were mooring up at one spot when the old fellow opposite invited us to moor on his side of the canal in front of his house. Within a couple of minutes Eric had invited us in to meet his wife Doreen and have a cup of tea with them. They were a lovely couple that have been married 62 years and Eric has been twice President of the IWA (Inland Waterways Association). They gave us some home-grown tomatoes, blackberries and apples out of their garden and next morning when we were saying our goodbyes Doreen handed us two lace-work plates which are traditional narrowboat ware.

Eric and Doreen

Australia has just won the Ashes!

We stopped at Hawkesbury Junction for a traditional Sunday roast at the Greyhound Pub and then continued on to moor up at the Coventry Basin. 

Next day started out drizzly but we walked into town to see the Lady Godiva statue and also the amusing Peeping Tom who peers out every hour as the clock strikes. We then went to St Mary’s Guildhall which is one of the finest surviving medieval guildhalls in England. It was first built in the 1340s for the merchant guild of St. Mary, then enlarged between 1394 and 1414 and extensively embellished at the end of the fifteenth century. It was the headquarters for the mayor and city leaders until the early twentieth century, when Coventry's present Council House was built. Important visitors have included Mary, Queen of Scots and good old Bill Shakespeare.

In the Great Hall, the Coventry Tapestry manufactured around 1500 is recognised as one of the rarest and most important examples in the country. It’s 9 metres wide and 3 metres high and depicts the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. This magnificent artwork dominates the north wall of the Great Hall, and displays both the skill of its Flemish weavers, and the wealth of the city of Coventry at the end of the fifteenth century.

We then went to the Coventry Cathedral, (St Michael's Church) which was largely constructed between the late 14th century and early 15th century. It was one of the largest parish churches in England. This Cathedral now stands ruined, bombed almost to destruction during the Coventry Blitz of 14 November 1940 by the German Luftwaffe. Only the tower, spire, and part of the outer walls survived. The spire rises to 90 metres and is the tallest structure in the city. It’s also the third tallest cathedral spire in England, with only Salisbury and Norwich cathedrals higher.  
The Queen consecrated the current St Michael’s Cathedral, built next to the remains of the old cathedral in 1962. It’s a magnificent building with immense stained glass windows and one of the largest tapestries in the world behind the altar.

We found the medieval Spon Street but felt that the ancient buildings were not represented well with LED lighting festooned over the front of them and inappropriate signage.    Thought it spoilt the whole effect of the ancient buildings.

Jeni, who ended up working 37 locks on her voyage with us, left next morning by train for a one-night stopover in London before flying back to Melbourne.

We backtracked up the Coventry Canal to Marston Junction and then onto the Ashby Canal. This canal was originally planned to meet up with the Trent & Mersey Canal but this didn’t happen. We made it to Market Bosworth which is near the Battle of Bosworth Field which was the last big battle of the War of the Roses fought in 1485. King Richard III, the last King of the House of York, was killed in the battle.

A Battlefield Line heritage train ride was advertised at Market Bosworth but it turned out to be a 1957 diesel train which we caught for the 10 minute ride to the Shackerstone Station which had a museum, Victorian tea room, souvenir shop, loco shed and some very rusty rolling stock. We then boarded the train to Shenton, another very old station then back to Market Bosworth. Apparently the heritage steam train costs £700 to run so it’s only used at the weekends when there are more passengers to make it worthwhile.

We returned back down the 10 Foxton Locks flight to our marina where we packed up the boat. On the last afternoon Terry did a quick patch-up paint job on a few places as we thought we had booked the boat in to be painted next April but somehow got that wrong and we have to wait until April 2021.

We went down to London on the train where we were ‘babysitters’ for Olive and Iris over the weekend while Sooz and Ten flew to Ukraine for a friend’s wedding. Olive, now in Grade 6 had been away on a school camp for 3 nights where they slept in tents and had to do their own cooking. Said it was “so much fun” but she’s in the Cubs and so it was not so daunting for her as for some of her classmates who had never done anything like that before.

On the last Thursday in London we visited Buckingham Palace, including the Royal Mews where the horses used by the Palace guards are stabled. Some of the Royal carriages were on display, including the magnificent 4 ton gold coronation coach.  We also went to the Queen’s Gallery where currently many of Leonardo daVinci’s sketches are on show. Never realised that as well as being a great artist he was also an astronomer, designer (drawings show a helicopter he designed), weapon designer and he also dissected human and animal bodies so he could get the muscles and joints as true to life as possible.

We then went into the Buckingham Palace Staterooms which are currently focussed on the work Queen Victoria and Prince Albert put into enlarging and modernising the Palace to make it a family home. They did have 9 children! The 19 staterooms rooms are absolutely breathtaking with so much gold leaf, huge chandeliers, artworks and furniture on display. Thought Liz and Phil might invite us in for a cuppa but apparently they were up in Scotland. Maybe next time.....

Afternoon tea at Buckingham Palace

So our journey for 2019 is over. Seems ages since we started out in May. Highlights this year were the Llangollen Canal in Wales with its Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the music Eistedford at Llangollen and our visit to Portugal. All up we have travelled on 8 canals, worked 280 locks, gone under countless bridges, met some lovely people, had visits from our London family, Sharron and Jeni (thank you to all of them for helping with the locks during their stays) and had reasonably good weather.

We spent a couple of nights in Brunei to break the long flight on the way back home. Weather there is tropical with temperatures in the 30s - even at night - so it was a quiet restful break as we had seen the few touristy things in Brunei on previous stays.

Now home and back into the agarden that, of course, is bursting forth with the spring growth of weeds.

Til next year..........