Friday, 30 December 2011

Cold Expectations

Friday 30th December 2011

PART 1 (of 2)

‘Twas on Boxing Day, after a family walk of a couple of hours up in Lyme Park*, that certain Boat Stuff was off-loaded onto Cleddau, she neatly tied up at her Higher Poynton moorings.

Somehow, amid all the excitement of remembering presents and party wear for the Macclesfield Christmas, loaded into the car too were several additional items: hot water bottles, gaiters, snow mittens, ultra-thick pyjamas and a few stray Christmas decorations, all  just in case the Cleddau crew did feel up to a winter cruise. Mindful of last December’s ice age, options to cruise or not to cruise were left wide open. Farewells were bid on Tuesday morning to the Cheshire Three. It was a mild and dry day as we queued patiently for Tesco to open at 9am. Once stocked up with food for a siege afloat we drove fifteen minutes further on to the boat.

How cold she felt...  The long reverse to the water point was negotiated, watched warily by the towpath anglers, all equipped with bleeping floats on the end of their fishing lines. (Christmas presents from Santa?) Within an hour we were watered, restocked with coal and anti-freeze and then the fire could be lit, the radiators (all seven) turned on, the hatches closed and heating could commence! Soon a pair of Christmas stars, a pine cone and a bauble adorned the curtain poles, while a short strand of fairy lights, a wreath and a miniature tree gave a festive feel to the front end of the boat.

Wednesday dawned bright and dry: there had been no need for the ultra-thick pyjamas – nor the hot water bottles.  Sub-tropical temperatures had been quickly achieved; not even at the end of the bed had there been hostile cold spots. Few other boats were moving along the canal though runners jogged and walkers strode along the muddy towpath. The hedges were thinner than seen before, tree branches barer. To the northwest the tower blocks and steeples of Manchester were visible and plane after plane in swift succession descended to the airport.

 A sharp right at Marple Junction, off the Macclesfield and onto the Upper Peak Forest Canal. We turned south towards New Mills and Whaley Bridge, Bugsworth Basins the destination. There was high cloud and a sharp wind but the views across the Goyt Valley are glorious, in whatever season. Kinder Scout skulked in the distance. Odd farms speckle the nearer hillsides, occasional terraces of workers’ cottages are ribbon strands on the far side of the valley. Just before the second lift bridge at Wood End, cold to the core, the crew pulled in and moored up overnight. A warm night on board was had, punctuated though by torrential rains and windy gusts.

Due consideration was given on Thursday morning to crew clothing: an extra fleece here, a warmer scarf there – and the snow mittens for Boatwif’s fingers! In rain, light, then steady, then heavy, then torrential, and in blustery squalls we crept on past the Meltis factory at New Mills, past the pretty moorings at Furness Vale and on to Bugsworth. Last Easter we had jostled to find a mooring among the sixty odd boats of the North Cheshire Cruising Club: now just two unattended boats rocked on long-term moorings. The wind ripped along the channel, the boat bucking, it seemed, on the rippling waves!  We chose our space, in the upper basin just below the Navigation Inn, in shelter, we thought. Later came calamity.  A crash and a bang... the chimney coolie hat had blown off.   In retrieving and securing it with chain and padlocks the Captain, aided by a head torch, lost his specs. Try hunting in lashing rain and absolute darkness for a near invisible item which could have plunged to the bottom of the canal. Found they were, upturned, caught neatly on the gunwale.

Surrounded by hills and the sharp stone sides of the mooring basins TV reception is unobtainable. Yet via dongle gadgetry and BBC iplayer the Captain has permitted the season’s highlight. Two episodes viewed so far, one to go, Boatwif’s cold expectations transformed by Great Expectations...

That brings us to Friday. Too wet and wild for hill walking – so why not take a trip on a train? See Part 2 in a couple of days’ time to find out where to.

And for any readers this side of 2012, enjoy your New Year celebrations and our very best wishes for 2012.


*Lyme Park, the country estate of the Legh family, was gifted in the 1930s to the good folk of Stockport. Later it became a National Trust property, its lake gaining fame in the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice.  Remember Darcy’s swim...?

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Take only pictures, leave only footprints

Wednesday 30th November

Take only pictures, leave only footprints are the words on notices at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. The 2,000 acre reserve is about ten miles north of San Diego and bound on the west by the coast and on the inland north and east by lagoons and marsh areas. Famed as being one of only two places where the Torrey pines grow the area has a diversity of wildflowers, sage scrub and cacti.  The Captain and Boatwif love it! Trails criss-cross the reserve from the lodge visitor centre at about 300 feet elevation, around the slopes, canyons, cliffs and bluffs down to beach level.

 Even on a Wednesday morning, initially in a light sea fog, plenty of other people were there: Californian stick women power-walked or jogged past. Fitness fans from the elderly to those in their twenties ran up and down the uneven and often steep paths.  From an overlook (UK: viewpoint) we gazed a long way down at where two freeways meet. Three office buildings stand looking towards lagoon and ocean. Which one is Cal Son’s workplace, we wondered. We started out for Yucca Point, passing twisted pines, ungainly cacti, wind eroded rocks. Far below on the beach a solitary runner splashed through the water, while three surfers floated, watching and waiting for the right sort of wave. Time after time lines of pelicans streamed out to the waves, skimming the crests, as if demonstrating to the surfers how to catch a ride. Waves broke over the square island of rock (Flat Rock). Once before at low tide we had waded out to it. The sandstone cliffs are far from stable, erosion by wind and water wearing away at the sandy bluffs. “My, this has changed,” exclaimed a jogger, as we stood later on about twenty feet above the beach, a sign nearby describing the severe cliff fall of four years ago.

We took the longer route back, crossing a group of earnest Japanese women coming towards us. “Aah, very healthy, look!” exclaimed one, indicating our hiking poles. Up we climbed, the trail twisting and turning. A tiny humming bird sang from a sage bush before darting away. Then out to a perch above more badlands, tall thin ridges of sandstone bereft of vegetation, the rock rippled and indented from the winds. We crept back to the main path, emerging at a corner of the Torrey Pines golf course, home of the US Open a few years ago. How bizarre: here the greens are smooth, evenly green, well-watered. The clunk of club against ball had no appeal – far preferable was the sound of seabirds wheeling, waves crashing on the narrow beach and the haunting blast from the Amtrack trains as they sped below, along the valley, to the city.

It was a good walk, perhaps of about five miles – enough to justify a last stop on Highway 101 at the old railway halt, the Pannikin, for lunch. From there to a supermarket to pick up a stick of bread to fulfil Cal Gal’s request: Grampy’s garlic bread. There huge inflatable turkeys indicated that this is still Holiday Season!

Thursday 1st December

            December: “Freddie’s here, he’s come!” shouted Cal Guy Snr. Overnight the Elf on the Shelf had arrived, his job to give a nightly behaviour report to Santa... the first doors were opened on the Advent calendars before school and then it was time for farewells.

Before heading for the airport on Thursday evening we had time for a few more tourist hours in San Diego. First to Balboa Park, a huge area, home to seventeen museums, theatres, the zoo, the naval hospital, miles of trails, gardens  – and the largest outdoor organ in the world. It was obvious that preparations were in hand for some event – but what? Over the course of about four hours we heard much about “December Nights”, a two day festival of food, drink, performance, entertainment... 300,000 people attended last year. We walked up from the car park, pausing to marvel at a most enormous Christmas tree structure on the stage of the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. “Would you like to see inside it?” enquired a short gentleman in shorts and with a shaggy beard.  He introduced himself as Pastor of the Del Cerro Baptist Church in La Mesa. As he spoke a hidden organist was practising: snatches of well-known carols drifted across the auditorium. Here three public performances will re-enact the Christmas story to thousands of people, aided by a choir of a hundred adults, fifty children and a cast of costumed actors (hence the beard).  The Christmas Story Tree, with its 15,000 lights, slides open on metal runners to reveal the Bethlehem scene. Except for the scale of it all it is what occurs up and down the UK. But political correctness in the US has marginalised the “Christmas” word in public, and not to everyone’s agreement. During a long wander around the colourful Spanish Village of Art Studios several artists complained about this aspect of government regulation. Then, after lunch at the Japanese Teahouse, it was back to the car for the last port of call.

Down to Seaport Village, a collection of tourist trap shops designed to suggest a waterside village of the 1800s. Boats galore nestled alongside the waterfront, overlooked by the stylish hotels which surround the International Convention Center. Across the harbour are anchored the US naval carriers. A police harbour patrol boat buzzed past towards the iconic Coronado Bridge. A brigg under sail approached. An open motor launch cruised past, on the bow two folk coaxing a porpoise to surface by feeding it fish. The afternoon drew on and the sun dipped fast.

Sixteen days earlier in an aircraft we had chased the sunset to San Diego; now, many pictures and footsteps later, within hours of take-off we watched a glowing pink globe slide down into the Pacific, signalling the end of another wonderful Southern California visit.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

A trip into wine country

Monday 28th - Tuesday 29th November

Drinkers of Californian wines will have heard of Napa Valley, an area about five hundred miles north of Cal Son’s home. Nearer is Temecula, an inland valley about thirty miles north and a bit east of San Marcos.  Last visited about seven years ago the idea of a drive up there took hold.

The route (US pronunciation “rout”) was via Freeway 78 heading east, then Interstate 15 heading north into Riverside County. The four-lane Interstate 15 cuts through what looks like back country. Fewer trees, great sandstone boulders littering the sharp hillsides, just the very occasional house perched on a terraced piece of ground.  There were signs for the Pechanga Indian Reservation (Pechanga meaning place where the water drips); now, though not seen, the Reservation has a casino resort.  The road trip took under an hour and soon we were back at Calloway Winery. Overlooking valley slopes and distant hills it is one of about twenty wineries, many of which offer tours, tastings and events various. (The term wineries is far more common then vineyards here). Memories had stirred of a long ago super-couth lunch at Calloway.  There is construction going on currently but the restaurant is as glorious as remembered. Large tables; a constant supply of iced water; fans overhead; shades at the windows when needed – and a menu which suggests a recommended wine for each dish. Lunch is served between 11am and 4pm so our arrival early afternoon caused no difficulty. The meal: delicious; the waiter: attentive; the wine: divine.

We returned to the freeway via the Old Town. It has that onetime Gold Rush / is it Disney? /we love tourists” look about it. Parking was easy – but as we opened the car doors we were hit by two blasts, one of the mid-eighties temperature (local women in strappy tops and shorts), the other of sound. From lamp-post mounted speakers came Jingle Bells, then Rudolph, then Silent Night. Shoppers can buy “outrageously feminine attire”, gifts, Temecula olive oil, model trains, antiques, collectables... And it was in the Antiques Faire (think the large antique place in Olney or the one in Hungerford) that I spotted the only remotely boat-related item for this blog – an ornamental “litehouse”, priced $9.95.

We drove out of town, the Mexicans swinging “CASH 4 GOLD” placards by the roadside gone now. The sun was lowering, the hills and ridges seemed even more stark. You realise how very developed the coastal areas are, how built up are the immediate inland valleys – but that undeveloped country is largely uncultivated, untamed, just wild. 

* Boatwif glanced at her watch at one point: 2.40pm. Back in the UK in pre-retirement days this would have been ten minutes into lesson 5. Glee - or guilt - as she gazed out over the huge expanse of vines and the surrounding hillsides...

Postscript from Cal Guy Jnr

It is noisy on Tuesday mornings. I like it. The garbage trucks come. They go down the street and then back up on my side. The first truck has a big arm. It picks up the grey bin and empties it. That is the trash. Then the next truck comes. The man gets out to lift the black bin up. That bin has garden stuff. Then the next truck comes. It has an arm and it lifts the blue bin. That bin has recyclables in it. We could still hear the trucks today so I made Granny look for them lower down in the neighbourhood. We went in my red push car. We saw the last truck. It was hot so I wore Granny’s white hat. Then we went to the park again.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Boys and toys

Friday 25th – Sunday 27th November

Last Sunday the Captain and Boatwif watched as Cal Guy Jnr fell irrevocably in love with trains. That was at Poway. (See On Monday the older brother escorted the Captain and Boatwif from Cal State University to Escondido on the Sprinter (light railway) – just two stops away, the purpose being a bookstore visit. Waiting for us at the top of the ramp at Escondido overlooking the station (US: transit center) were Cal Son and Cal Guy Jnr. What a good view there was of the two coach train we had ridden on and of the other double-engined train. Cal Guy Jnr jumped and jiggled as the hooter sounded and the shorter train drew out. Infatuation!

            Next day Cal Son came up with a project: the train table was to be reinstated to its original purpose. Clear off surplus toys, find the wooden rails, fasten together a loop with an incline, add a siding, locate the right battery operated trains, attach some magnetic trucks – and start! What joy; what excitement! Cal Guy Jnr leapt in the air, purred with pleasure, verbalising Californian toddlerspeak nineteen to the dozen... this was a project well worth doing.

            Two days later, while Cal Mom was preparing Thanksgiving Dinner, another project was started: create a route for the electric trains.  Track was laid out from under the bed, across the bedroom, under the door and across the landing to a complex four-way junction. Much testing and track cleaning had to happen – but Cal Guy Jnr, refreshed from his nap, was enthralled – and did not interfere with the proceedings. He has since surveyed the layout and watched Cal Guy Snr’s inspection of points and assembling of trucks and locos, still his face lit up with awe and wonder...

            Friday, though, saw a serious “Boys and toys” event when the Captain and Cal Guy Snr spent four or more hours aboard USS Midway, the 1940’s aircraft carrier which last saw action in Gulf War 1. So many highlights: eager questions answered, aircraft to sit in, an audio headset to help the tour, but the most impressive place seems to have been the huge engine room (one of four)  - and the job aspired to? Why, that of flight controller!

            And now the marathon Boys Event is under way. There were signs yesterday: a huge sparkly gold bow ribbon attached to a tree at the first address inside the gate; further along there were two tall and slender conifers bedecked in coloured lights. Around the estate all day Dads have laboured with wires and cables and extension blocks because now is “Holiday Season”, time for candy canes and reindeer to decorate the house fronts and lights to be festooned along the roof line. With two long poles taped together – and a fair amount of perseverance - Cal Son and the Captain have attached strings of LED lights to the eaves. A polar bear stands guard at the door, lit Santa faces line the drive while reindeer graze on the front grass. (Cal Guy Snr has confided that he doesn’t think Santa will have difficulty in identifying his house!)

            What other toys for boys? A flying hobby shop visit was made – as is customary – to buy a couple more chuck gliders and two small train accessories for the wooden train set (as much for Boatwif as Cal Guy Jnr.) But the boys haven’t had it entirely their own way: Cal Gal developed and practised a routine of five tricks to perform at the park, is a keen Charades for Kids player, had a ball with clay and bubbles, and also made a sea urchin and a redpot monster out of recyclable plastics at the San Diego New Children’s Museum on Friday. There was a special bookstore run for her on Sunday – and she enjoyed the Happy Feet 2 movie at the cinema (though big brother and the Captain opted for The Muppets)..

            Back to school and work tomorrow – back to serious graft after all the playing with toys!