Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Brighton-in-the-Dales, 21 & 22 September 2007

Matlock Bath bridgeFurther to our first Fuji Finepix f10 failing, we found that our follow-up Fuji Finepix f30 failed in a frustrating familiar fashion; fabricating fuzzy figments in the frame meaning we had to make-do with miniscule megapixel montages from the miserable lens of my Motorola mobile

We returned to our favorite area of the Derbyshire Dales, for a late summer weekend and spent the day in the area around Matlock and Matlock Bath.

Petrified toast-rack and friendsMatlock Bath was a spa town in Victorian days and is now a very attractive tourist destination. We did an interesting tour of the old Victorian health spa, now an aquarium, with a very healthy group of carp swimming in their 20-degree spa water; and, apart from the interesting hologram display, the other interesting display was a collection of items under a shower of spa water, which resulted in them being "petrified" in a mineral coating.

Stylish styleThe town is just like a British seaside resort with wall-to-wall fish and chip shops, amusement arcades and other fast food outlets and the obligatory 'rock' shops. Fish and chips seems somehow rational at the sea-side but in the middle of the Derbyshire Dales they all seemed a little out of place.

BonsalMatlock is a larger town a little further north. It too is a picturesque town, and we did a 10-mile walk from here along the 'Limestone Way', passing through two extremely picturesque limestone towns.

Ship-in-a-bottleAfter a tasty pub meal in Matlock, we returned to Matlock Bath, for their annual Venetian Illuminations. The whole town is covered in coloured lights, but the special event is a parade of illuminated boats, which are rowed along the river Derwent. Ambulance with it's lights onThe winner this year was an ambulance boat, entered, not surprisingly, by the local St Johns. It reminded us of our childhood in NZ's Hawkes Bay, where the annual blossom festival had a similar feel of civic pride and family fun day out. We could not work out where 'Venetian' came into it all. The plastic injection-moulded boats they were mounted on were anything but Venetian.

The DalesWe can't visit the Peak District without a trip to our favourite cheese factory shop in Hartington. On Sunday, before we stocked up with cheese (you can freeze their Wensleydale and Stiltons), we did a 7-mile loop walk starting from the town. Tissington trailThis area has a great selection of dales, and the walk was an excellent mix of level disused railway cuttings (Tissington Trail) and limestone outcrops in four different Dales: Peak scenery at it's best. Unfortunately the weather was not at it's best, but at least it didn't rain.

Half sizeFollowing this, we stepped back in time by visiting the Cromford Steam Rally. There were steam engines of all different sizes and all different purposes: stationary steam engines; steam trucks and cars; traction engines, Full sizefull size and models; steamrollers and a steam powered merry-go-round. It also took our minds back to country shows of our childhoods, with their displays of farm equipment etc. A parade of classic car was an added bonus.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

London Open House weekend - 15 September 2007

Royal Courts of JusticeThe London Open House Weekend is a favourite of ours: every year we learn more about the city and it's history in buildings.

We started the day (after dropping Bradley & Susan at the train - see last weeks entry) at the Royal Courts of Justice. The building looks like a cathedral, and we understand the architect always wanted to design a cathedral so made the most of this opportunity. Water wheelThe entrance hall is spectacular, and we were able to have good look around at various rooms. The courtrooms were particularly interesting, and we happened to visit at the right time, when a mock court session was about to begin in one of the many courtrooms, and for the first time, were chosen for jury duty.

Samuel JohnsonDr Samuel Johnson has always fascinated us, particularly for his quote, The dictionary"Sir, when a man is tired of London he is tired of life ..."

We were able to look around his house: all rooms were open, including the room at the top of the house, where he wrote his dictionary.

GuildhallOn to the Guildhall, from where walking tours were departing. The George & VultureWhile we waited for the tour to start, we joined a tour of the Guildhall Art Gallery. In the basement is a large excavation of the original Roman Forum in Londonium; an excellent display, using lights to create the figures and distant stadium.

BBC TV StudiosBBC Media Centre

Quite a different "theatre" awaited us on Sunday when we visited the BBC Television Studios in White City. We saw a studio, a dressing room, the Blue Peter Garden and the news centre. Prior to that we had visited the BBC Media Centre in a newish eco-friendly building in the White City complex.

Race start boxOn into Hammersmith where we checked out Linden House: home of the Sons of the Thames Rowing Club and the Corinthian Sailing Club. Since it was such a beautiful day, we set off to the Barnes rail bridge, across the river and back down the other side.

BarnesThe walking tour of alleyways of London was interesting and took us around small streets we've never discovered. All street names reflect the original purpose of the streets.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

A "Splendid" time was had by all. - 31 Aug to 7 Sept 2007

Ready to cast-off (B)Some twelve months ago, plans were initiated for a family reunion: the date agreed finally rolled round as the family flew in from NZ and the US. The Kiwis - Alan, Sarah, Janine & Dave arrived late Thursday night (30th) and Bradley & Susan arrived before mid-day on Friday. Although the schedule for the day was Canal wareplanned in great detail to ensure the overseas arrivals all made it to the destination at the right time, the logistics seemed to change by the minute through the day: we had planned to take 5 people by car and 3 by train, but after considering the amount of luggage piling up, all 6 young folk took the train.

The lads learn about the engineWhen we first arrived at the boat-yard it was buzzing with people loading boats, having their lessons and setting off. We unloaded the car and set off for the supermarket and station for the first train arrivals; back to the boat to unload the provisions, then back to the station for the last of the train arrivals; then back to the boat for the final time and our introduction to narrow boating: by this time the boat-yard was deserted, just one last lonely craft waiting for its crew.

The Captain and First Mate (B)The crew - Alan & Sarah

The fine ship Splendid

The crew - Janine & DaveThe crew - Bradley & Susan

The instructor took us through the boat telling us all we needed to know; then up through the first lock before leaving us to set off on our holiday. At last, the fine vessel Splendid was all ours. A mile or so along the canal was The Globe and it was time to moor and eat. Pub meals every night - yumAlthough we had spent most of the day getting ourselves to the boat and only achieved an hour on the water, we rewarded for our efforts by a great meal at The Globe

Not far along the canal from The Globe we arrived at the Soulbury Three Locks which, if you have no contra-flow traffic, as we did early Saturday morning, you can set up so that the next lock is ready and Best heron shot of the trip (J)open as you exit the one above. After flooding the first lock, a boat moored nearby indicated they wanted to share the lock with us so we waited for them to cast off and join us. This meant that they were our companions through the Three Locks and the next lock as well, Stoke Hammond. The next lock, Fenny Stratford near Bletchley, is the shallowest lock on the Grand Union Canal and it dropped us just 33cm to the lowest point on our trip. From here there is 11 miles of cruising without a lock.

Bradwell WindmillBradwell Windmill (D)

Our intention was to visit Milton Keynes centre on the way past but found, when we stopped to reconnoitre, that we were making such good progress that we had gone well past and were at Great Linford. After stopping for lunch we had a walk around the village and set off again for a short distance before stopping to look at the Bradwell Windmill and the aqueduct over a road. Road aqueductNot much further along was the second aqueduct, this time over the River Great Ouse. River aqueduct (B)This is the second aqueduct to be constructed at this spot, the first collapsing in 1808, just three years after completion. The current aqueduct has provided much better value for money as it was completed in 1811 and is still going strong.
Janine at the tiller Murray minding the bow

Susan leaves a lockAlan in control

Shortly after the aqueduct is the Cosgrove Lock and then another 6 miles of canal to the foot of the Stoke Bruene flight. We figured that we could make it there before dinner but did not have time to traverse the flight in the available daylight. Mooring at the bottom gave us a 20-minute walk to The Navigation where we enjoyed another great meal.

The swans were always hungryHard at work relaxing

Another early morning start meant we had the locks to ourselves and could set them up in advance to facilitate a quick traverse. Once at the top Leaving Blisworth tunnelwe moored to enable us to look around Stoke Bruene's very attractive wharf area. It was too early for the Museum to be open so we decide to press on to the next challenge, the Blisworth Tunnel. At 2795m, this is the longest navigable tunnel in Britain and it is quite unsettling to pilot a boat through the darkness. Even though you may be quite adept at keeping a 62ft craft in a straight line in daylight, it takes some time to recalibrate the brain and achieve the same result in a tunnel. When passing an on-coming narrow boat, judging the distance (as it approaches) and width (as it passes) really tests the pilot. Pole sitters (SG)Two narrow boats at 7ft each passing in a 16ft tunnel leaves 8 inches each for the gaps between the walls and the boats and the between the boats: all very tricky when the lighting is a spotlight on the front of your boat (50ft away) and a spotlight on the on-coming boat (shining in your eyes.)

Canasta was popularTwenty-seven minutes later we emerged in to a tranquil wooded cutting and then passed our first junction, the canal up to Northampton. Eight miles further on we moored at Weedon Bec, which markets itself as "the heart of England", being the geographical centre of the country. Pressing on, we climbed another 7 locks and passed another junction, this time heading for Leicester, before entering Bradley opening a gate paddle (SG)the Braunston Tunnel. Adding to the difficulties of tunnel navigation, this one has a kink at one end and walls that meander in and out creating pinch-points where passing would appear to be impossible. Now at the highest point on our trip, the next 7 locks took us down to Braunston where we moored for the night and enjoyed another memorable meal at The Mill House.
Dave on winding dutyLeaky lock gates

Passing The NavigationConfusing all with our flags

As we left the boat-yard so late on Friday, our instructor opined that we might not make it to Braunston; but we did, in two unhurried 10-hour days. However, it was now time to attempt a new manoeuvre, Braunston Marina (B)turning a 62ft boat around in a confined space. There are winding holes (pronounced win-ding, not wine-ding) at irregular locations along the canal and since Braunston is a canal junction, with the Oxford Canal joining, I naively assumed it would be an easy place to do a "three-point-turn". Unfortunately, unlike the previous two junctions A cow reflecting on lifewe had passed, at this junction there is a triangular "traffic island" in the location where I supposed I could make the manoeuvre easily. Immediately before the junction is a winding hole but there were boats moored along one side, significantly reducing the turning space. With the stern jammed hard against one bank and the bow touching the other, there was not a lot one could do. Fortunately Alan had stayed on board while the others explored Braunston marina and he was able to pull the bow around far enough for the stern to come away and allow manoeuvring to continue.

Stoke BrueneThe return trip was much the same as on the way there except that we arranged our arrival at Stoke Bruene to be during opening hours for the National Canal Museum and we all enjoyed perusing the displays. It was a very leisurely day as our intended destination was the Barley Mow pub at Cosgrove. The tunnel to the Barley MowThe pub is accessed by a tunnel under the canal that was originally built as a means of getting the barge-towing horses from the tow-path to the stables at the pub. I have no idea why a tunnel was built when there is a perfectly serviceable bridge a few metres away.

The aim of the day's cruising was to put us within easy cruising distance of Milton Keynes so that we could have time to explore on the following day. While the family was thinking about dragging themselves out of their berths Mum and Dad were off at Tesco in Wolverton, replenishing the supplies. Solomon's Ornamental BridgeAt Milton Keynes we set off for AirKix to try some indoor flying. Unfortunately they were fully booked for the day and the earliest available time slot was 1 p.m. the next day. This threw our plans out of kilter as we had intended to be down at Bletchley Park the next morning.

Sarah & Janine on the paddlesAfter much research into bus and train timetables and much discussion we thought we had a workable plan and cruised on down to Woughton on the Green where we enjoyed another memorable meal at Ye Olde Swan. Having moved on down the canal, the plans also moved and Bletchley was canned in favour of the Aerial Extreme adventure ropes course, back at our last mooring location. This presented another logistical problem but fortunately, there were winding holes in convenient locations, a few metres ahead of us and a few metres away from our last mooring location in Milton Keynes.
Approaching Stoke Bruene (B)Overflowing lock (B)

Soulbury Three Locks (B)Stoke Bruene (B)

So, it was time to try the "three-point-turn" again, only it was more like a 7-point-turn. One really gets an appreciation of how long a 62ft narrow boat is when it is at right angles to the canal.

Susan on the high ropes (B)Bradley on the high ropes

Bradley and Susan went off to sign themselves up for the rope course and the rest of us wandered along later to watch. After lunch, the intrepid flyers left early for their induction and the rest followed on later. Bradley, Susan, Alan, Sarah and Murray all flew with varying degrees of success and finesse. The overall conclusion was that women were better than men! Murray flyingSarah flying
Back at Three LocksBack on the boat it was 'full steam ahead' to make our final overnight destination, back at The Globe. We arrived just in time for our booking and were not disappointed on our return visit, as the meals were, once again, excellent.

Along with the other 11 Wyvern boats that were moored near The Globe we set off in the morning to return 'Splendid' to the boatyard by 9 a.m. The crew again