Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Back on the Cut

Well, after 7 months doing “other things” this winter, we got aboard “Chance” again on Friday, and eagerly looking forward to the joys of the canals for the next few months.

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As we left Barby marina, where “Chance” had been in storage (and had faired extremely well, we were pleased to say), the freedom of the canal ahead of us took over straight away and we were off!

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There’s something about the rolling English countryside, especially from a canal, which words can’t adequately describe. 

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Its a small world on the cut and it wasn’t long, as we headed towards Braunston, before we passed someone we knew. It was lovely to see Steve and Denise on nb “Riverside Escape” again.

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It’s a marvellous approach to Braunston with it’s church spire standing proud above the tree line.

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We were lucky to find a boat leaving just as we arrived in Braunston. It’s always a popular and busy place, especially on a sunny Saturday.

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Our reason for heading straight to Braunston was to meet up with our dear friends Pauline and Neil on nb “Waterlily”.

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Being the undisputed “Cup Cake Queen of the Canals” Pauline had made a superb sponge cake which we enjoyed together over a cup of coffee. And yes, this picture does show us drinking Champagne!

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In the evening we all walked up into the village a had a very good meal at The Plough. Neil, Doug, Pauline and James.

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On Sunday morning Neil and Pauline left, (we shall see them again very soon) while we stayed in Braunston to await the arrival of …………

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………… friends Allison and Dave (with their friends Teresa and Gary) on nb “Free Spirit”. Of course, there was more Champagne to be enjoyed – this time courtesy of Teresa and Gary. Here we are in the sunshine – Teresa, Allison, Gary, James and Dave.

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As the The Boat House was right opposite our mooring we all took the short walk for, a surprisingly good, Sunday lunch together.

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Then it was back to “Chance” for both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages before Teresa and Gary had to take their leave. It was very nice to meet you both.

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After a nice post Sunday lunch snooze we joined Allison and Dave aboard “Free Spirit” for a bit of an evening ‘party’ (complete with glitter ball no less!). However, the party was to be cut short when James, returning from “Chance” with a tray of wine, nibbles and cheese, decided to take a swim in the canal! Luckily Allison heard, what she thought was, an uncharacteristic noise and came out of the boat to find James doing the breast stroke in the dark! Raising the alarm by saying “James has fallen in the canal” she was joined by Dave, which left Doug enjoying the wine and the music and thinking it was all just a joke! Anyway, James’ life was saved by Dave and Alison and ………

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……. the next morning there was the muddy evidence, all over the newly scrubbed dodger, of James’ scrabble to get out of the water ………

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…… together with all the wet clothing. Happily, the tray, dishes, cheese and one bottle of white wine were all retrieved. The only things lost were a half bottle of red wine and James’ dignity!

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Well, it was a night to remember we have to say! and the next morning we said goodbye, with grateful thanks, to Dave and Allison as we set off in different directions. We had a good run up through Braunston locks and then the tunnel and, after turning onto the Leicester Arm of the Grand Union, we soon arrived at the Watford lock flight.

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Some of gates of the Watford staircase locks seem to need some attention. We had washing out drying on the front deck here but all was well, it survived!

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It’s always a pleasure doing the Watford locks and, apart from the noise from the M1 and the Watford Gap services on the other side of the hedge, it’s a very pleasant surrounding.

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After Watford the Crick Tunnel was soon upon us and on the other side we found temporary moorings alongside the other boats preparing for the impending Crick Boat Show next weekend.

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It wasn’t long before we found friends Del and Al (nb “Dewent6”) with their friends Sian and Mark at the The Wheatsheaf in Crick village. There was a lot of catching up to do and much noise being made while doing so! Alison, Doug, Sian, Mark and Del – another great evening had by all.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Six Counties in Six Days

Since stepping onto terra firma in Southampton on May 5th we’ve been busy catching up with family and friends. Our travels have taken us to London, Devon, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Hampshire.

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Our first pleasure was to to take up an invitation to join friends Andrew and Frances for Frances’ birthday bash in The Fox at Hanwell on the banks of the Grand Union canal. That day (and sadly we could not have joined them) members and friends of the St Pancras Cruising Club took their narrow boats for the annual jaunt on the tidal Thames from Limehouse basin to Margaretness and back up through the City to Brentford and onto the Grand Union canal. A trip we’ve had the pleasure of making with them before. Here are some of the “crew” that day – all enjoying and celebrating Frances’ birthday. Frances, in green, next to Doug and Andrew sitting rear, right. It was a tremendous joy to be part of the evening.

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From London we had a day at home (the washing and ironing has to be done sometime!) then we were on our way to Devon to see James and Clare and their “cool kids” Flossy and Jonny. We met in India in February and this was our first opportunity to meet up again. We enjoyed a lovely home-cooked Indian meal (made with spices brought from India) in their home where we stayed for the night.

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With Jonny and Flossy bundled off to school, the next morning saw us being taken by James to Dartmouth for a woodland walk above the delightful setting of St Perox church ………

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……….. and Dartmouth Castle.

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Above the castle on the high land known as Gallants Bower spring was definitely in full bloom.

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The views from the top out to sea were limited by the mists but splendid all the same.

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On the way down there were bluebells all the way.

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At the castle tea rooms (stretching the imagination a bit) we were joined by Clare for a very tasty bacon butty (James had a egg butty – it wasn’t on the menu but they would make this an exception!). We weren’t in the car park – just on the edge of it! All great fun.

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Saying a reluctant farewell to James and Clare we made our way to the ferry to cross the River Dart. A panoramic pic of this very pretty estuary was a must before we descended to river level.

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The ferry has been upgraded since we were last in Dartmouth – it’s now much bigger with posh blue ropes which it uses to haul itself across the river. We were heading for the east side of the river to make our way along the coast to ………..

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…… Budleigh Salterton. We spent many happy years living in this unique seaside town. The beach has the most unusual flat, and very colourful, pebbles. This is the view from Steamer Steps towards Otter Head and the mouth of the River Otter.

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The pretty town is a hotch potch of splendid little cottages (and much larger houses!) ……..

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…….. and the high street has a lot of nice individual shops and, sadly, rather too many charity shops these days!

We popped in to see as many friends and old neighbours as we could over the two days we spent there ……….

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……. but the high light was spending time with Doug’s parents, Derek and Vilma – especially as it was Vilma’s birthday! We had an excellent celebratory birthday dinner, at the Royal Beacon Hotel on Exmouth seafront.

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Leaving Devon we headed to Trowbridge in Wiltshire to look in on some dear friends - Bex and Craig. Bex has a made a remarkable two year recovery from something which nearly claimed her life and we were delighted to visit her at home this time where she’s now making good progress with walking. We have huge admiration for her and it was lovely to sit in the garden and drink beer with her and Craig.

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Our next port of call was in Gloucestershire to be with daughter Vicki and partner Ian (and their amazingly photogenic dog Ernie) for the weekend. Across the fields from their home is the River Thames and the Trout Inn at St John’s Lock. As the weather was so nice the walk just had to be done.

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Next to the Trout Inn the water was flowing fast over the weir, hence the many “red boards” along the river’s length.

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Even though the river was running fast the lock environment is usually peaceful and the pretty St John’s Lock is no exception.

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Walking back across the fields Lechlade and the church spire is real ‘chocolate-box’ stuff.

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After the visit to the pub there was time for Doug and Ernie to relax on the lawn in the sunshine before daughter Frances and her partner Kel came over to join us for a BBQ.

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In the Saturday evening sunshine the family was complete – Frances, Ian, Vicki, Doug and Kel.P1090002

Leaving Vicki and Ian’s on Sunday we made a short detour to Little Coxwell near Faringdon in Oxfordshire to see James’ birthplace and the flowering cherry tree planted in memory of his parents.

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And, of course, it was only right to visit the village church of St Mary to visit the family grave.

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Facebook is a marvellous thing sometimes and, on our journey back home, we discovered that “boaty” friends Richard and Linda on their narrow boat (“Mary H”) were having lunch at the Cunning Man on the Kennet and Avon canal. We really had to call in and surprise them! and a lovely time we had with them too. Thanks Linda and Richard for the coffee on “Mary H” afterwards.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Azores – with an added bonus!

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We recently took a break from our regular dining and joined Alan and Kim for a meal in the ship’s Ocean Grill – very nice! 

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On Sunday our last call of the cruise was in the charming port of Ponta Delgada in the Azores. As soon as we left the ship we were straight into the spotlessly presented town and, although a little cloudy (par for the course in the Azores!) it was warm and dry.

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The added bonus for our day ashore was that there was to be a grand parade to mark the Festival of the Holy Cross and the town was out in force to decorate the streets with flowers.

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It was marvellous to watch how quickly the centre of the roads were transformed with flowers and greenery.

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It was almost like watching carpet layers – when the wooden formers were taken away the final touches were made by patting and spaying with water to make things perfect.

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It was amazing to see so many people working, all knowing exactly what they had to do and no one getting in anyone’s way.

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The decoration was to mark the route of the procession later in the day and it was incredible to think that there was nothing there first thing in the morning!

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To brighten up some of plane walls the street art can be quite stunning. Together with the intricate tessellated pavement patterns and cobbles streets the whole place is a delight to walk around. 

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Many of the balconies and shop fronts are also beautifully decorated.

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Where there was no street decoration the stunning architecture could really be appreciated ………

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………. and. looking upwards, things just got even better.

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As the time went on the open spaces and squares started to buzz with people (including the 2000 or so passengers and crew from “Arcadia”) all anticipating the parade in the afternoon.

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Some of the religious and municipal buildings were decorated with lights which must have looked quite spectacular had we been allowed to stay into the evening. 

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There’s a chap in a red checked shirt who keeps cropping up in these pics!

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Apart from mooching around and enjoying the flowers and the increasingly exciting atmosphere we were also trying to find our favourite café for some food, drink (and Wifi !) – and here it is! Doesn’t look much but inside the young proprietors, the décor and the food are wonderful. It’s a little gem.

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Having spent some considerable time in the café we popped across the street to the wonderful cheese and wine shop. Impossible to leave without buying something we bought a whole cheese and a bottle of very tempting Honey Liqueur. 

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“Our street” – the one with “our café” in it, was now fully decorated and filling up with people …….

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….. and so was the square at the lower end. Interestingly, people were using fold-up cardboard seats (like large supermarket wine carriers) – we thought that was a brilliant new idea but maybe we’re behind the times!

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Another marvellous moment was being able to catch up with our friend Joe who is lucky to live in this beautiful part of the world and who came over from Pico Island for the festival and to meet up with us. So, it was quickly back to “our café” for a drink and a chat with Joe before ……….

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…… the kilometre long (yes – a kilometre!) procession came our way. By the way, only the banner carrier walked on the flowers!

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It was a very long and slow procession and, due to our lovely and lively chat with Joe, we were, if not very careful, going to be late for the 5 o’clock deadline for boarding the ship! Joe’s advice was to go with the procession (and not against it) and try and overtake it where we could!

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Of course, we made it back to the ship, took part in the last sale-away party of the cruise and watched the lovely islands of the Azores pass into the distance behind us.

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Our entertainments team have worked very hard during this, our longest cruise ever! Here they are – Sarah, Emma, Christopher, Grace, Adam and DJ James. 

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In the enormous crowd on the rear deck Doug managed to find Kim who he likes having his photo taken with as she makes him look so tall!

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There wasn’t much room on the rear pool deck as we enjoyed the Great British Sail-Away.

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During the early evening Tuesday we had a Farewell cocktail party headed by Captain Trevor Lane. A ‘valued member of the ship’s company’ who we’ve had the pleasure of getting to know in the last few weeks is the Bars Manager who goes by the fabulous and memorable name of Ghandi Raj. A great guy who’s always around the ship making sure all his bars are being run correctly (a hard taskmaster in other words!)

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Another two lovely people at the party, who Doug insists on standing next to as often as possible, are Kim and Cinny – ‘nuf said!

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And, as usual on the penultimate evening, we had the traditional parade of the chefs.

Well, “Arcadia” has travelled a total of 40,878 nautical miles on this 2016 World Cruise and, having spent the last 50 nights aboard, we’ve covered 16,980 of those miles with her. Now leaving the Azores behind us we have three sea days ahead before reaching Southampton and, by the time this blog is published, we’ll probably have arrived home! We’ve circumnavigated the entire planet in one go! Flying to Hong Kong to board “Arcadia” we then went on to visit Beijing (China), Jeju-Do Island and Busan (South Korea), Nagasaki and Osaka (Japan), we crossed the International Dateline on April 2nd, then onto Oahu and Hilo (Honolulu), San Francisco, San Diego, Huatulco (Mexico), transited the Panama Canal, then Oranjestad (Aruba), Philipsburg on the Caribbean island of St Maarten and finally Ponta Delgada in the Azores.  We’ve crossed two oceans and passed through the narrowest transcontinental gap on the planet! Miraculously, we’ve had no rough seas with the waters being almost as calm as a mill pond for most of the time. It’s been a journey which has given us some overwhelming experiences, we’ve made new friends on board and been able to meet up with friends in various countries along the way (what a total joy!).

We now look forward to quickly meeting up with more friends and family on our return to the UK before boarding our own “vessel” for the joy of England’s canals during the summer months ahead.