Friday, 29 April 2011

From waterbus to waterhogs...

Wednesday 27th April

Contracted to care for the Cheshire One during the remainder of the Easter break we drove her south on Tuesday, she our back seat driver.

Wednesday dawned: time for trains, inter-city and underground, and a liaison at Camden Town tube station for a Girls and Grannies Day. Excitedly the two girls (ages 5 and 7), both bird-watcher daughters, and the two Grannies (ages unrecorded) made their way to Camden Lock, boarded a waterbus – and arrived at London Zoo.

The boat ride to the zoo is short, all of fifteen minutes. Just as the boat pulls away from its mooring a mock castellated building comes into view: Pirate Castle. Surely not pirates here in the heart of the capital city? Then a large barge, a permanently moored structure, an impressive-looking Chinese structure on top of it, appears. Next are some fine-looking houses, many with smart garden terraces.

The boat drew in opposite the Snowdon Aviary. We disembarked right onto zoo property. Seven year old Derby Lass proudly proclaimed that she had been here before ("but in my Mummy's tummy").  Fascinating though the first areas were (Rainforest Life and Into Africa) frustration mounted when maps, information and sign-posting were seemingly non-existent. Tip: find the pedestrian tunnel (but that isn't easy).

No elephants ("not in city zoos, any more"), no penguins (their area being refurbished) but there was plenty of other wildlife. The girls gazed at the giraffes, gawped at the gorillas (and even saw the October-born baby), ogled at the beautiful okapis, listened to, but did not spot any lions. Derby Lass proved the best tiger-spotter and both girls vied with each other to find the vipers and lizards, tortoises and spiders. The internal exhibition areas seemed the more rewarding as there was so much to see, all clearly labelled, whereas the outdoor enclosures provided great hiding places for their inhabitants.  Best of all, though, was the Animals in Action Show. A skunk, a burrowing owl, a harrier hawk and two macaws demonstrated natural behaviour. Head-skimming flypasts and acrobatic tricks proved hugely enjoyable.

A scuttle back to the canal to catch the 4.30 boat. Legs were tired, little feet beginning to hurt. Onto the floating bus we clambered, back towards Camden Market, the wafting food smells tempting for less time-starved travellers.  Girls and grannies clung together, jostled their way through the crowds and clambered onto the packed escalator down, down to the Northern Line just before 5pm.  Only two stops for Boatwif and the Cheshire One to St Pancras, further to London Bridge for the Sussex contingent.

We climbed onto a 1730 first stop Bedford train. Ten minutes out a thoughtful Cheshire One exclaimed "But Granny, we didn't see the Queen!"

Messing about on a boat

Thursday 21st - Monday 25th April

  Messing about on a boat gives an impression perhaps of those Three Men in a Boat, struggling to complete a camping boat trip on the Thames, or of punters poling their way past any number of Oxbridge colleges.  Well, camping no, poling yes – and a great deal of mess – and messing about.

    We had arrived on the boat early on the Thursday afternoon of the Easter weekend. It was glorious weather and boat owners at the moorings were variously sunning themselves, polishing their brasses or towpath talking.  While the Captain joined in the towpath talk Boatwif went caving, down in the "Historic Quarter", the un-renovated area at the back, underneath the dark and dusty bed. What finds!  A lifejacket once found on a beachcombing expedition, a piece of metal possibly intended as an extra BBQ grill, a pair of long lost pillows – and two foam seat cushions, in brown nylon tie-on covers, probably once part of our LYS 830E Volkswagen camper van. (It is of slight concern to realise that the registration plate of a vehicle owned in the late 1970s is still recalled, but the exact combination of letters on a present vehicle can escape the mind...!)  Yet again trips were made to the local waste centres, but at last, despite Henry (the Vacuum Cleaner) twice going into a long and deep sulk, much of the muck of ages and the sawdust of recent months was swept away.

    Next day, Good Friday, dawned warm and slightly hazy.  Cleddau was inched out of her mooring and her bow pointed north. Off up the Macclesfield we chugged, bound for the High Peak Canal. Within five minutes of departure the Captain called for the new gadget:  "We're doing 2.8 mph," he pronounced, gazing at the handheld GPS screen, "now 2.5, ooh, now ..." and so on, as the boat continued up the cut. The walker doing a steady pace out walked us, then paused for refreshment. She caught up with us. "You're walking at 3.5 miles per hour," was the information (unsolicited) issued from the back deck.  But by the time we had negotiated our way past moored boats and trip boats at the canal junction she was well ahead – and positioned herself comfortably ready to hail our slothful pace about a half hour later.

    At High Lane there was (Pembrokeshire readers will know what is meant) a Monkton Moment. Coming towards us through a bridge hole was a maroon coloured boat, its skipper on the back in full voice. "Ooh, Cled-dow (sic), from South Wales you are. There were two ferry boats, the Cleddow Queen and Cleddow King, Pembroke Dock they were. Now there's a bridge...")  And the Captain, who has much to contribute on this subject, struggled to get even a syllable in, let alone heard – and the boats passed, parted and cruised away from each other. 

    The High Peak Canal overlooks the Goyt Valley and far into the Dark Peak area (for description see blog entry Sunday September 26th, 2010). On this rather hazy day the outlines of the hills were apparent, although not sharply defined. The canal was busy with boaters and canoeists: of the four bridges to be worked only one fell to us. We turned left to head into Bugsworth Basin, intending to moor in our favourite secretive spot and quietly tidy and wash the boat. On one previous occasion there were eight boats moored around the basins and arms, but often it has been only one or two others. Surprise then to cruise straight into the Easter Meet of the North Cheshire Cruising Club. By Sunday 70 boats had crammed themselves into Bugsworth! Deckchairs were arranged outside the boats, flags and bunting added further colour to the scene, a marquee was the Cruising Club's HQ and venue for the evening jollities. And on Saturday afternoon entertainment was provided by big boys with small boats, competing with their radio controls over circuits of the middle arm, boats and ducks vying for the same stretch of water.

     Our attempts to moor had been hampered by lack of space and shallow water: hence the first of three long pole incidents.  When moored the Captain deemed that the boat mess (external) needed to be cleared. Cleddau's rich colours had paled under layers of thick dust and, in some places, sticky tree substances.  So efforts with water, a bucket, chamois leather, windolene and several dusters eventually enhanced the boat's appearance.  Before departure the Captain had specially "customised" cardboard window blinds. Now inside critical measurements were taken of the windows and the cupboard interiors. On the To Do List: internal storage solutions to be sought and blinds and curtains to be sourced. If not a flight trial or a test drive this was a check-out cruise. Plan A for grocery storage didn't work as a double-door cupboard would provide easier access; Plan B threw up another potential problem, the area perhaps too warm from the fridge and hob above.  So, after onboard consultation with Cheshire Mum, a Plan C has been devised.

    When not measuring or boat washing or towpath-talking little wanders of the surroundings were taken. The Captain strides down the towpath, greeting all with a hearty "Good morning." Most folk respond in kind, although one or more looked startled, as if they should know this chap, but couldn't quite place the face.  Up in Buxworth village a blackboard advertised plans for Royal Wedding community celebrations and the church notice board provided details of an early Easter morning service.

    The Cheshire Three were on board on Monday to escort us back to our moorings. First, however, a little diversion onto new waters. The Peak Canal terminates some half mile further along, at Whaley Bridge. Here the Cromford and High Peak Railway delivered limestone to the transhipment shed for onward transport by water. Beside that last stretch of the High Peak Canal we have walked and we have driven, but not cruised. So from the junction of Bugsworth Basin Cleddau was turned left, onto unfamiliar waters – there to meet a pirate ship, equipped with tall flag padding straight towards us! Perhaps it was the sunny day that dissuaded the ferocious pirates from making a hostile landing upon our craft...

    Tied up back on the pontoon by mid-afternoon there was time for more towpath chat. It had been a scenic and a useful cruise. What's more, the Cheshire One, taller now than last year, has checked out the dinette for bounceability, supervised the steering from the back deck – and fished and rowed again with her pink fishing net.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Trains - and boats - and trains ...

Thursday 14th April to Monday 18th April

Cal Son and Techno Son-in-Law had conspired between them to ensure the Cleddau crew kept a vow made in spring 2000: to make a return visit to Berlin. They had provided some flight funds, a Lonely Planet guide book and a three hour DVD documentary presented by Matt Frei. Then had begun some persistent nagging: "When are you going to Berlin?"   In March the Captain picked up the guide book, disappeared from view and later announced: "All booked – we're going by train."

First train was the 0630 from Bedford to St Pancras, cram-packed with commuters. We were squished in the lobby, an Australian family, inbound from Perth only four days previously, attached themselves to us. Not the glorious roofline or soaring brickwork at St Pancras impressed the Australian teenager, just the enormous Olympic rings. "Oh, cool," she breathed. We scuttled together downstairs, passed through airline type check-in procedures and sat as a three generational family until our Brussels train was ready for boarding.

The train whizzed through Kent, was through the Channel Tunnel in 21 minutes and made a first stop at Lille. Visual differences? Flatter countryside, distinctive cap shapes of the platform staff, slender church spires and italicised road signs. The grey and black concrete of Brussels railway station was enlivened by spring posters, motifs and flower displays; Cologne and Berlin stations too displayed visual witty floral displays. For efficiency and service the German trains score most highly; we cruised smoothly at 250 kph (as shown on the carriage electronic screen) and were brought complimentary chocolates and hand wipes. It was 10pm local time when, four trains and fifteen hours after leaving home, the Cleddau crew fell through the Berlin hotel doors; after a battle with a hi-tech door locking system they fell too into their room – and slept...

Fuelled on Friday by a substantial breakfast and some directions we headed off to Die Post, and as on Monday morning in Macclesfield, queued ... Once Easter cards had been dispatched to California we wandered, recreating parts of a walking tour taken eleven years before: along the very stylish Kurfürstendamm, prime shopping street, past the Berlin Zoo, out past the Diplomatic Quarter (where lots of flags and a protest encampment marked out the Syrian Embassy), strolling along park side avenues, just glad to be walking and not sitting! Berlin is a city of many parts and many pasts. There was the impressive (19th century) Victory Memorial, centre of a traffic roundabout now, and the wide avenue which leads past the enormous hulk of the Soviet War Memorial. From behind it a PA system relayed an urgent speech-delivering voice. Then some chanting drifted on the air.  Along the quiet avenue police vehicles gathered. Further on, at the Brandenburg Gate and round the Reichstag (Parliament building), crush barriers were plentiful, green uniformed and riot police very visible. Meanwhile student tour groups swarmed around, visitors of all nations jostling to gaze at and photograph the iconic Brandenburg Gate.

We strolled away from potential trouble, down the glorious Unter den Linden avenue, fine embassies, museums and universities facing each other across the boulevard. Then we arrived near Bebel Platz, three sights near here to be revisited. The first was the Käthe Kollwitz sculpture of the mother and her dead soldier son. Secondly, the pavement plaque and view below of the empty library shelves, site of the 1933 book burnings. Thirdly, in a corner of the square is the copper-domed Roman Catholic Cathedral (nickname: the Tea Cup) rebuilt in the Soviet era and furnished in modernist brutal style.

It was time then for the Captain to utilise his navigation skills. Via visual reference (the River Spree) and city maps two further quests were accomplished: the location of an appropriate river boat trip and the acquisition of cross city transit tickets. Along the way eine kleine Beer was had, with a light lunch (spinach tart on tomato soup) - and a near engagement with the police flashing lights.

On Saturday morning Boatwif and the Captain set off early, along the freshly washed streets, heading for the S-Bahn to reach the 10am boat trip. Tickets bought we surveyed the boat, empty of other trippers as yet and moored right opposite the Bertolt Brecht Theatre. A strident contingent of Spanish ladies arrived to share the upper deck with us until driven below later by the keening wind. Boats of all kinds ply the river and canals of Berlin, dozens of trip boats, working barges, sleek and glitzy water-borne bling palaces, weekend plastic boats. Somehow they make way for each other at the many bridges and the 300 feet long locks accommodate all-comers at once. We cruised past museums and domes, spires and buildings (new, old, rebuilt in folksy style, ultra-modern). These last shapes had sprouted up behind and opposite remnants of the infamous Berlin Wall.  Especially on a bright spring day the eyes feel assaulted by shimmering glass, acute angles and the ever present street art or graffiti which adorns so much of the capital's wall space. The boat continued on past the Reichstag, past seven white crosses, memorials of those who'd lost their lives swimming to freedom from the eastern side, past the Federal Chancellery (nickname:" the washing machine"), past beach areas and government buildings, on down to the baroque Charlottenburg Palace.

A stroll around the formal grounds of the palace restored warmth to chilled limbs; then, courtesy of the U-Bahn the next destination was Alexanderplatz, a hubbub of shops, markets, bier fests and outdoor social space.  Here the Soviet regime had installed a prestigious 368 metres high TV tower. Now, once you've queued for your ticket and waited for your time slot you can queue for the turnstile so as to queue for the lifts! Then, whoosh, up it goes in 40 seconds and the view is immense, 360 degrees out to the horizon across this flat city. Airfields, historic buildings, the waterways, tower blocks, trains and trolley buses all viewed from above as if part of a painstakingly perfect German model!

Berlin now is a cosmopolitan and vibrant city. But its twentieth century past is not far from discovery. A visit on Sunday to Die Neue Synagogue provided insight into the Jewish experiences of the 30s and 40s, the artefacts and practices of the Jewish religion and more city-wide broad views from the rooftop golden dome. Back then towards the river (and a bit more boat watching) for a morning coffee before another delve into the recent past. Ever wondered what a Trabant feels like to sit in? (Answer: cramped and uncomfortable). Ever wondered how the East Germans taught their children?  (Answer: used pictures of tanks to learn counting and model grenades for ball-catching practice). The DDR Museum uses hands-on exhibits so you can feel the ersatz coffee beans and touch the synthetic textiles.  Much worse, behind an actual smokescreen the much nastier side of life behind the Wall is revealed.

One last place to go, a return trip to Potsdamer Platz. The Berlin population was happily on the move on the underground trains on Sunday afternoon. Eleven years ago this huge area was desolate, apart from huge clouds of dust, some cranes and a few hoardings offering promises of a spanking new commercial district.  Here in a barren area the Wall had brutally divided west from east, but although pavement markings and a section of wall record it, around the square have sprung up glistening towers and prestigious office suites. A grassy bank in one corner permits sitting and relaxation, although not much else.

 So how to summarise Berlin... a great place for food, fun, sights, visual treats of all sorts, efficiency, cleanliness, cyclists, integrated transport  – and boat trips. (One tip though, do as Boatwif did, wear comfy "boat boots" for the walking…)


BedfordLondonBrusselsCologneBerlin and return.

STATS:          Total distance travelled:                                           1200 miles

                        Trains to and from Berlin:                                         8

                        Surface & underground train trips:                          8

                        Taxi trips                                                                    4

                        Boat trips                                                                   1         

                        Locks                                                                          2         

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Back on our boat for a brew …

    Four carloads of boat stuff, three barge poles beside me, two trips to the rubbish dump ... and one little Cleddau cruise on the Macclesfield Canal!

    A sudden shout midway through  Friday evening from the Captain; he was seated, as is his wont, in a comfy chair in front of the computer in the study, watching the world – and watching the world go by.  "It's finished, the boat, it's finished, look," he exclaimed, gesticulating at the computer screen.  On it was a message, fresh from the fingers of Expert Engineer: in essence, central heating installed, floor laid, boat hoovered: Cleddau was ready to leave!

    Now would the Captain and Boatwif let a simple thing like a regular Saturday morning appointment, a nearly three hour drive north and an imminent train trip across Europe stand in their way? Of course not. The list compiled last October of the whereabouts of all the Boat Stuff was eagerly sought. Loft and garage were raided; bulky shapes were pulled out from beneath the spare beds.  Then late on Sunday afternoon, we headed north, car piled high with galley equipment, sundry items associated with the sparklingly clean composting loo, curtains and cushions  - but not yet the bedding.

    Before arrival at the boat on Monday morning two duties befell us. First, delivery of the Cheshire One to school. Non-stop chatter all the way, but once on the playground the earnest business of skipping practice had to be addressed: forwards both feet, forwards alternating feet, on the run, backwards, varying speed, then, piece de resistance, both feet skipping fast, with head turned to the right to deliver a string of school-related information to the previously uninformed grandparents.  Duty two involved a Post Office queue, initially outside the building (it was, after all, before the witching hour of 9am) and then another inside.  But being matey Macclesfield the queuing was enlivened at one point by a "Come on Edna, 'urry up, we 'aven't got all day."

    Duties done we drove out to the boatyard to be greeted by Expert Engineer frantically fitting the last satin finish switches. The car, piled high, was unloaded.  Chaos reigned inside – and outside it rained too.  A brew was called for, but all the mugs and teapots were as yet unretrieved from the Techno Son-in-Law's garage.  Then, from the dark recesses of the wardrobe was pulled first a kettle – and then a set of plastic Tupperware mugs and a plastic thermal teapot (vintage late 1970's, survivors of those campervan days).  Refreshed, the Captain departed for the Macc garage. Two car loads on Monday, a further one on Tuesday. New spaces had to be identified, all crockery, glass and cooking items washed free of their newsprint wrappings. Hard work it was but for a purpose!  And joy! The windlasses slot neatly into the cabin steps; rarely used bunting, the display chimney, the towpath director chairs, the ashbin and more infrequently used essentials all slot out of sight under the front deck.  Return trips to the garage were punctuated by trips to the dump: all those carefully gathered cardboard boxes and acres of newspaper wrapping were now unloved and unneeded.

    Guilty I know I am at always asking folk for their "best bit". Yet the Captain and I are unanimous, both delighted at .... the colourings of the bathroom floor! But the modern central heating, the sleek gas hob and the panelled cabin lining score highly too. Downsides? The very grubby and cluttered rear cabin of the boat.  Not touched as part of the renovations it has accumulated, however, a fair amount of dust and a remarkable quantity of unidentifiable bits and pieces – to be sorted on the next trip up north.

    So, at 1.40pm on Tuesday, we squeezed our way round in front of Kerridge Dry Dock and headed north, a two hour Spring cruise back to our mooring, a mere five and a half months (and a couple of ice ages) since last we'd passed this way.

    As for the four bags of gravel – after our last Boat Works (significant increase in battery capacity and power) the boat was wildly out of trim. Solution? Re-balance it by adding more ballast - so bags and bags of gravel were purchased from a Newbury DIY store. The gravel now is redundant, well-placed paving slabs and superior design mean Cleddau is at last in trim and floating level. Pity Expert Engineer and Team don't accept gravel as payment!

    Thank you Wayne, Tim and all at Bourne Boat Builders. ( )

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Distance, scenery - and some gongoozling

Sunday, 3rd April, 2011

My sisters have no need to crave hills and elevation: one drives to work alongside Cromarty Firth and gazes straight across to Ben Wyvis (3,433ft), one walks daily through her village, gazing up at the Brecon Beacons, Pen-y-Fan (2,906ft), and one, in clear conditions, can espy the Preseli Mountains (1,759ft summit )  – or cycle to the hilly Pembrokeshire Coast Path. But Boatwif, the Bedfordshire-based sister, has to utilise fuel and car-wheels to gain a truly wide view...

On Mothering Sunday the Captain appeared bedside with tray, a mug of tea, some cards and some very dainty flowers. Boatwif, not usually a risk-taker, played a Mother's Day Privilege card. The Captain, since being persuaded some twenty years ago to drive to the sea (Dunwich, Suffolk, about three hours away) can be irrationally suspicious of Boatwif's bright ideas. But this he fell for - and off we set for Ivinghoe Beacon (757 ft), south and then west, in the Chilterns.

Equipped with wind proofs and picnic lunch we walked across the open chalky downs (for "downs" read "ups") and pulled ourselves upwards to the Beacon viewpoint. On an opposite ridge the Whipsnade chalk lion was prominent. Gliders soared in the sky, released by tow-tugs from the London Gliding Club. We gazed in all directions, across ridges and valleys, hillsides and woodland, picking out an old airfield, disused aerials, church spires, Mentmore Towers, slivers of roads and footpath tracks. While snapping away merrily with my camera the Captain issued advice. "Stop wasting shots." But why, when the camera is a digital one? "You're wasting noughts and ones," he hissed. He'd used the term "ergs" some time last summer to make his point - criticism dressed up in techno speak is rarely welcome!

Refreshed by a mug of flask tea we pressed on, losing height, out of the wind now. Towards us came families, dog-walkers, runners and a square-built young man, spotted earlier running up the roadway, large pack on his back. Here he came, ploughing along at steady fast pace.

"Morning. You in training for something?" enquired the Captain.

"Yes", was the reply, but he was anxious not to stop. We paused. Then, pounding away from us, came some more: "Afghanistan."

In this tranquil terrain he trains for war. Admire his courage.

We strolled on, across the open valley bottom and began the climb back up to the car park. The gentle sound of newborn lambs and skylarks kept us company, the changing light and shadow across the ridges providing visual gratification. Then a picnic lunch at the top, a feast of a view spread out in front of us.

To come this far and not seek out some nearby boats...? Down to the Grand Union we drove, past the Tring Reservoirs to park at the bottom of the Marsworth Flight. Up past the seven locks we walked, recalling Cleddau's last trip this way (October 1999). At the top we peered along the Wendover Arm and into the Bulbourne Dry Dock where an adapted butty lurked high and dry within.  Back down the locks then we trailed, now on the opposite bank, gaining broad views across the reservoirs, Canada geese delivering a low and noisy flypast as we walked. 

At the bottom faint memories stirred our curiosity. Just a few hundred yards further on is the Aylesbury Arm, the top two locks a staircase, from which the narrow canal plunges downhill to the friendly duck-filled Aylesbury Basin. And only a little bit further on lay nb Retirement with No Problem, a boat famous in our minds. Sue and Vic, continuous cruisers since 2002, have kept us enthralled via their blog. How to survive in the ice, how to acquire a census form, where to buy the cheapest diesel, where to shop on the Nene and Ouse, all there on  And it wasn't long before conversation turned back to that old favourite, composting loos….  Stranded currently, they await delivery and fitting of a replacement gearbox. We wish them well and will continue to read their regular blog bulletins.

Home via a cross-country route. The hedgerows were ablaze with blossom, daffodil clumps yellow flashes in the verges. We crossed the canal at Slapton: another distant memory stirred. Here, when going through the locks once, a mother was explaining to a young son that the bulrushes growing in the now redundant sideponds were like those used to make the basket for Moses.

Determined not to be wistful this week over our Cleddau-less state a sighting reported by Techno Son-in-Law on Saturday afternoon has offered cheer. He, the Cheshire One and Cheshire Mum had walked to Bollington from Macclesfield to reclaim Ketchup. (See, Friday 10th September, Puddles, Paddles – and Persistence).  At Kerridge they passed Cleddau, back in the water, her bottom blacked, and Expert Engineer in action in the engine room. Roll on soon some distant views across the Goyt Valley from the Upper Peak Canal...