Monday, 22 July 2013

Half way through

Monday 22 July

Well we spent quite a while in Stratford-on-Avon which is probably our favourite spot so far.  We were moored up on the Stratford Canal - right between two pubs but it was very quiet and with a Marks & Spencers on the main street right at our back door it was a perfect spot.  To add to this we had one of the few shady moorings which was handy as it was really really hot.

                      Moored up at Stratford - Shakespeare's Theatre just past the bridge.

Tourists everywhere - narrowboats are quite a novelty and I'm sure we feature in photos going all over the world.   We  became very cultural - going to two plays - one being Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing (but set in the present day) and another play A Mad World  My Master written in the 1650s but set in the 1950s. This was at the very old Swan Theatre with the actors appearing from all over the place during the play which was very crude and lewd but extremely funny and very well performed.

                       Shakespeare's grand house right in the heart of the main street of Stratford

                                                            Hope not!!

On the Saturday and Sunday there was a 'River Festival' on the banks of the Avon River.  We have never seen so many people in one place crammed into the park enjoying the music provided by different groups playing in the bandstand over the two days.  Much bare skin on show by the Brits which was a  pillarbox red shade by the end of a very hot sunny weekend!  The event ended with an illuminated boat show up and down the river then fireworks enjoyed by the crowd on the river banks.  Estimated 40,000 people were at the Festival.

                                                   Decorated narrowboats at festival

Caught a local bus to Anne Hathaway's cottage which she grew up in before marrying Bill 
 Shakespeare back in the 1600s.   We had been there before back in 1994 and nothing much had changed (no ..... the kitchen and bathroom hadn't been renovated since we were last there!).  Very pretty cottage garden and veggie patch surrounding the cottage.

                                                       Anne Hathaway's Cottage at Stratford

On Wednesday we caught the train down to London (2-1/2 hours) for Olive's 4th birthday.   On Thursday we went to her end-of-year concert at her play school.    The school has a few different groups and Olive's group did 'Under the Sea' which was surprisingly good seeing they were only 4 year olds who will be starting primary school in September after the Summer holidays.

                                            The birthday girl in the backyard on the day of her big day.

   'Under the Sea' concert

                                                                Iris - a Picasso in the making!

Sooz and Ten had arranged tickets on Friday for us to go to the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show which is the largest flower show in Europe with 32 ACRES of flower displays, garden ornaments, equipment, gazebos etc etc.   Took a couple of trains to get there and then a walk along the Thames with 1000s of other people.   Spectacular displays - the flower colours and sizes are just amazing.

                                                  Spectacular flower displays at Hampton  Court

Saturday - another hot day- was Olive's party in a nearby park (which was more like a wood with lots of shady trees and winding paths).  It was left to the local community by a rich fellow many years ago and residents have to pay £8 a year to get a key for access.   Over 25 children (and their parents attended) and of course the children loved being able to run around out of sight.   Tendaka had organised a treasure  hunt with lots of clues hidden in the trees which was a great hit also.                             

Birthday Cake in the park

On Sunday we caught the train back to Stratford and early Monday morning left to head down the Avon River towards Gloucester.   Had quite an audience standing on the bridge watching us go through the lock onto the river.   

        Leaving Stratford - going past the Shakespeare Theatre Company building

Cruising down the river which is a bit wider than the canals in most places in perfect weather was superb.   Still some locks to go through while the river goes down weirs on the side of the locks.   

At one lock a young couple with a baby in a pram were watching me struggle to close the gate after the boat had gone through.   "Wouldya loke a 'elping 'an luv? she asked then proceeded to tell her fellow (who was built like he spent most of his time working out in the gym) to "go  'elp the lady'.  He came down and waved me aside - leant on the gate and then said 'sh##%%'.    After he had pushed for a while and gone red in the face he said "Geez - they ain't 'alf 'eavy ain't are they!"   Made me feel really good - having done so many already.

We've stopped overnight at the villages of Bidford-on-Avon, Evesham and Pershore and are now at Tewkesbury.   Each village has something special to offer.   Went to The Regal Cinema at Evesham - saw The  Great Gatsby which was a bit of a disappointment but the Cinema was a work of art. Done in art deco style - downstairs it was tables for 2 or 4  with a bar at the back so you could have a drink or a platter to nibble on while watching the film.  Upstairs it was 'loveseats for 2' and then some normal single seats. Quite an experience.  (Sort of similar to the Ruffy Hall!)

Lots of black and white cottages leaning at odd angles along every street - it's incredible that they are 100s of years old and haven't fallen over.   Also there's amazing displays of  vibrant coloured flowers baskets and planters in every town.

                   Just one of the many bridges on the Avon River - some built by the Romans.

                                         Some of the window traffic passing by at Bidfod-on-Avon

                                                       The welcoming party at Pershore

        Moored opposite the weir at Evesham - 100s of ducks, Canadian geese  and swans

Just come back from seeing Tewkesbury Abbey - a huge church built in the 1100s - just beautiful with the choir practising to add to the occasion.   

There is so much to see here at Tewkesbury that we will probably spend a couple of nights here before setting out for Gloucester, now travelling on the Severn River.  

                                        Moored up at Tewkesbury on the Severn River.

Just heard the forecast and it looks like the hot weather is continuing this week with just a few thunderstorms predicted.     Life's good!!

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

More than 4 weeks now

Hi everyone.         

We moved on up the Leicester Canal with the weather staying quite fine and warm.   Went through the Crick Tunnel, 1528 yards long - had so much water dripping down from the roof that we ended up looking like drowned rats by the time we got through. 
                     This is a 2-way tunnel - quite a squeeze when you meet an oncoming boat!

 After passing down the amazing Foxton Locks which were manned by volunteers on most of eight locks we  moored up in a lovely marina at the centre of Market Harborough which turned out to be quite a large town with lots little shops as well as the usual large Tesco, Sainsbury and Morrison stores.  Got caught up in a local festival parade on Saturday morning - large transport vehicles with local groups all dressed up on the back.   Huge crowds -such a large population everywhere over here.
                                                   Parrindi -  Right in the heart of Market Harborough

After spending a couple of nights there we moved on towards Leicester.   The locks on this stretch were all double - taking two narrowboats side by side - so it was good to meet up with some other boaters which meant working the locks was only half the work.   

Arrived into Leicester and moored up at the Castle Gardens right in the city centre.  Very  secure - the garden gates were locked at night as well as the gate onto the pontoon where we were moored.    Leicester is buzzing because 'King Richard III has been found in a city car park'.   We had visions of a fellow wearing a crown leaning up against a mini minor eating a Big Mac!   But was a skeleton which was dug up and DNA  tests have revealed that it probably was the good King Richard.  Banners and touristy promotions all over the city to see the remains, burial site, cathedral etc.    Only trouble seems to be that York is laying claim to the remains and wants them sent there so they can be buried with his Queen.

                                             On the River Soar, arriving into Leicester City

Spent 4 days in Leicester - a very interesting city although it was not recommended as a place to visit.  It  has lots of Roman ruins, old Tudor buildings as  well as the 'golden mile' which has the biggest Indian population outside India.  Most of them seem to be in the business of selling  saris or owning jewellery shops (with quite expensive gold jewellery!).   Block after block of these shops - all selling the same stuff.   Leicester also had a market which was reputed to be the largest undercover market in Europe.   Bit disappointing though - we're probably spoilt by our own Victoria Market.

Back tracking down the Leiceister Canal we went through  41 locks on our own which was a bit heavy going.  Even the Foxton Locks was light on volunteers - must have picked the wrong day to travel.   Seems like it is a local picnic spot with lots of sightseers and school groups hanging around.   The 10 staircase locks (all joined together) go 75 feet  up or down depending on which way you're heading -  quite an engineering feat.   There are also the remnants of the inclined plane which actually winched boats up/down the hill in the 1900s but this was found to be uneconomical and it closed after only 10 years so the locks remain the way to go.

                                                Half-way up the Foxton Locks staircase.

Called back at our marina overnight and then headed south towards Warwick/Stratford-on Avon.  Weather turned foul while we were going through the 6 locks coming into Braunston  (reminded us of the wet weather we had last year).  Stayed 3 nights at Braunston ( moored up next to a lovely couple - he was 85 and she 82 but ever so sprightly) because the weather was a bit poor, then moved on to Leamington Spa - a very upmarket town which we visited last year.   

Travelling further south along the Grand Union Canal we spent 4 nights at a marina within walking distance to Warwick - lovely market town overlooked by its very impressive castle which we visited along with 1000s of school kids.   It's the end of the school year next week so they must all be travelling around the country.   The castle is now owned by Madame Tussard's waxworks from London.  The living quarters (huge) were all set up for a Royal weekend visiting party with very lifelike models in each room.  Bit spooky but really well done.

                                                           Typical Warwick street

Also had dinner with Jo and Ginny and their two children - they were the people who sold us our new  Broadford house.  They are now living at Kenilworth near Warwick.  Jo was transferred from Ford in Australia to Jaguar's huge set-up nearby which is working flat out to supply Range Rovers and Jaguars to China.  After dinner they took us for a walk around the township and then to the nearby Kenilworth Castle, a huge place commenced in the 12th century and added to over the centuries.  Sadly it's in a ruined state now but is still open to the public.

Leaving  Warwick the next day we faced the Haddon Locks.   Twenty one locks rising up  150 feet in just 2 miles!!   We waited for a while until another boat came along so we could 'pair up' going through the locks but it still took us about 3 hours to get through.   Turned out our companion boat was an old traditional boat having a 'chug-chug' type engine with a smokey chimney so it was a long trip in a foggy haze for the 'captain'.   Up towards the last few locks there were also a couple of Waterways volunteers so they helped open the paddles and gates too.   Up at the top lock where there was a little cafe there was lots of 'gongoozlers' (which is the name given to the bystanders who come along to look at the boat-people struggling to wind up the paddles and open the gates).  They  usually offer lots of suggestions on how it should be done BUT no-one really offers to help!!

                         The bridges and locks are getting tighter - if that's possible! 

This canal, the Stratford, is a bit low on water and we have  managed to get stuck on the bottom mud a few times - interesting!! - out come the long poles and with lots of pushing and persuasion we have been able to get going again.

    Up on the Edstone Aqueduct - 28 feet high x 475 ft long  on 13 brick piers this crosses a road,
      major train line and fields.  

After spending a night recovering after the Haddon locks we set out again towards Stratford and THIRTY SIX locks and two days later we have arrived to moor up right in the Stratford town centre.  This place must be on the Tourist Bus list as the place to be.  So many school groups, Japanese and European bus tourists!   We even spoke to a group of Australians who are doing a whirlwind tour of the UK by bus.

                                                     Shakespeare's birthplace at Stratford

We hope to stay here until after Saturday when there is a big boat festival being held so that should bring even more tourists here!

Weather is being quite kind - the locals are out in shorts (but it's not hot enough for us yet).