Wednesday, May 20, 2009

England Part 6

Tewkesbury. After a rocky start, we were ready to explore the town... except there didn't seem to be a whole lot to see. The high street could be walked in five minutes or less and the surrounding streets that we tried out were devoid of anything of interest. I didn't mind, however as all I really wanted to see was the Abbey. I have an obsession with old buildings and the older and more majestic they are, the better. Tewkesbury Abbey did not disappoint. Preparations were under way for Easter Celebrations so the church was a hive of activity making sureptitious picture taking almost impossible.
We wandered the aisles, poking our noses in little nooks and crannies, running our hands over centuries old tombs. A chantry chapel drew me in, with unique detailing on the ceiling. As I stepped back to take it all in, my foot came down on 4 inches of empty air. There was some staggering backwards, some flailing of arms in a desperate attempt to stop the inevitable. I found myself flat on my back on the stone floor of Tewkesbury Abbey with a bruised elbow and ego. Yay me!
After righting myself , we made our way to the exits and walked back to the boat, keeping our eyes peeled for a restaurant or pub to eat dinner at. The selection was not ideal; a choice of "2 meals for 9.99" form the English Equivalent of Dennys or an outrageously pricey dinner in a tiny (and way more upscale than us) cafe. We settled on greasy fish and chips wrapped in paper from the local fish shop.

I just have to note that this was my first fish and chips of the trip, but I think it was Rob's 6th.
The next morning, we wandered back into town in the hopes of picking up a few groceries for the road (or should I say river). Somehow, culinary gold was struck. A local butcher shop AND a local greengrocer were open and we picked up a beautiful pork shoulder roast and some good looking produce before hurrying back to the boat so we could lock out of the Avon onto the Severn. A gaggle of eager power boaters, one other narrowboat crew and Rob and I were all clustered around the lock keepers shack in the hopes of being the first through. Somehow, the narrowboats won the lock lottery and we were sent down together.

The morning was clear and calm, sun shining. A short waterway lead from the last lock on the Avon to the junction with the Severn. The view of Mythe Bridge as we swung out wide on the river to avoid the sandbar was breathtaking.

This day rated as one of the most idyllic yet as we cruised calmly up the Severn taking in the sun, the wide calm water, the fresh air. I could hear birds singing, fish jumping. Once in a while, a boat would pass us going the other way, but we were largely on our own. This was also the day that I truly enjoyed driving the boat the most.
WE ate lunch on the run again and reached the first lock on the river sometime around 2, maybe 3. The gates were huge and incredibly daunting, the lock keeper's shouted instructions almost impossible to understand, but we made it up without incident. From there it was a few hundred yards to the bottom lock of the Worcester and Birmingham canal, the one we had started on 11 or 12 days earlier.
We locked up without incident, tied up near Diglis Basin and headed for the cathedral (see previous mention of obsession).
Worcester Cathedral was even more majestic than Tewkesbury and I managed to avoid any embarrassing incidents.

There was one small problem. I had done no research on the layout of Worcester, it was a Saturday afternoon and we had no idea where to find a grocery/liquor store. I got the pork shoulder roast started low and slow, with some onions, bay and Strongbow, left Rob in charge and set out. After roughly 30 minutes of walking, I found a Tesco Express. It would have to do. In hindsight, I should have done a little more sightseeing/tourist shopping, but I had no idea what day it was....
Dinner was oh so good (I heart British Pork)
Rob and I needed some exercise after that so we set off for a walk along the Severn to take in the amazing sunset.....

Next time: The bells! The Bells! Plus some dead rats. Also, taking our time drinking, some more drinking and Stoke Prior again.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

England Part 5

Rob and I said our goodbyes to Louise and Lorna and headed through the bottom lock and onto the river for the last time. The weather was a little overcast, with spotty drizzle, but we were in good spirits. The very first river lock was less than five minutes from Stratford and as we approached, I realised that we were dealing with a whole new thing here. First, the weirs. The weirs divert the flow of the river so that the lock doesn't disrupt the normal flow of the river. They are large, and fast moving and all the guidebooks say that the current can suck you in if you aren't careful... Great, one more thing for me to stress about (needlessly). My favourite is when the weirs are not marked. Here is a picture that I did not take...

Then there are the river locks. These are twice as wide as the canal locks, allowing the wider river barges to navigate or for two narrowboats to go down together. Twice as wide means twice as challenging when there are just two of you. It also means that the gates were a heck of a lot heavier to open and close... Another picture I did not take..

Despite the challenges, we survived the first lock without any issues and I gradually relaxed into enjoying the river. I even sucked up the courage to try navigating the boat and I realised it was actually a lot easier to deal with on the river.

There are not a lot of places to stop along the river Avon, so we pushed through, eating a sandwich of VERY mature cheddar and ham on the go and drinking copious amounts of hot tea and coffee. Around 4pm, we passed through our first ever manned lock at Evesham. The lock divided the Upper and Lower Avon Navigation Trusts and the lockkeeper was a wealth of information (also, it was so nice not to have to deal with trying to man the lock by ourselves...) We were concerned about finding a secure spot to stop for the night and the lock keeper said we could go for another 2 or 3 hours to tie up in the one spot that was in the middle of nowhere or we could stop just around the bend in the river at Evesham. We opted for Evesham, worried that we might not be able to make the next stopping point before dark.
Evesham was a market town, but in the late afternoons watery light, it was a little depressing, evidence of economic woes everywhere (so many vacant shops). We walked for a good 20 minutes trying to find a pub for dinner. On the verge of giving up and returning to the boat for a dinner of soup and sandwiches, we finally found a place - the Royal Oak Inn. They weren't serving dinner yet, but we had a few beverages while we waited.
Rob had (surprise) fish and chips while I settled on local sausages and mash. OMG, the best sausages and gravy I have ever hed. Perfectly seasoned, perfect texture, abundance of gravy and good mash. Rob was so jealous, even though his fish and chips were the best ones he had enjoyed so far.

We stumbled back to the boat and enjoyed an evening of crib before tucking in early so we could get up early and make the final push to Tewkesbury.
We were under way with the dinner. THe day was even more dreary than the previous one and the locks seemed more challenging. We encountered a diamond shaped (!) lock that was a real challenge for us and the nerves were starting to fray. Rob stumbled on the roof of the boat, trying to jumb out at another lock and help me. I tried to push the boat off as I leapt on and almost got my leg caught between the wall and the boat railing. We were trying to reach Tewkesbury before nightfall, so it was another lunch on the go, this time a hot beef stew I had prepared the night before. It was cold, windy, the sky was heavy with threatening rain showers...

We reached the last lock before Tewkesbury (still at least an hour out) and there was a traffic jam of power boats ahead of us, then the exit of the lock was super awkward and we almost got stuck trying to get out. More fraying of nerves...
The threatening clouds made good on their promise and it started to rain as King John's bridge came into view. We had finally reached Tewkesbury, the end of the navigable portion of the River Avon. Just through the bridge was the lock that led out onto the River Severn, so we quickly attempted to tie up. Yeah attempted. The spot was just not quite the right size for our boat and we couldn't get both ends secured properly. The rain was starting to really come down and because 54ft and an engine seperated Rob and I, we were having communication issues. For the first time, we found ourselves snapping at each other. There were a few angry tears from me and we finally got the boat secured. Inside, out of the rain, we sank into our respective chairs, maintaining the angry silence for about 30 seconds before we started laughing hysterically at the ridiculousness of it all. Oh, and the rain stopped once we were inside...
We dried off, cleaned up, paid the lockkeeper our very small moorage fee for the night and headed out to explore Tewkesbury.
Next time, falling for the Abbey, Fish and chips, the River Severn and arriving in Worcester....

Monday, May 18, 2009

England Part 4

It has been a while since I updated on England. Life is busy, I have been enjoying my patio garden, books and the gym in my downtime and the computer just seemed to take a lower priority. But its a cloudy holiday Monday, I am in my PJs and intend to stay there for the rest of the day and I have some spare time....

Right, where were we? Oh yes, Stratford upon Avon. The morning of April 7th, Rob and I took the boat through the bottom lock of the Stratford Canal and out onto the River Avon so we could fill up with water. We actually toyed with tying up on the river bank for the night, but the sheer width of the river made me nervous, so we opted to return to the Stratford Basin and tie up at the public docks for the next two nights. There was a lot of construction going on, but it was still bearable...
Anyway, safely tied up, we ventured out for some grocery shopping and then some sightseeing. Rob was amazed by the town.
"it looks like a movie set." he said to me. "I can't believe that this is all real..." That was the payoff for me. I knew Rob had been skeptical of my obsession with seeing the history of England, but once he experienced it for himself, he was hooked. HE even said it would be neat to go to Italy or maybe Greece just to see the history of those countries in person. (Yesss!!)

We walked to the train station where we met Lorna and Louise, my friends from high school. They had come down to spend a couple nights with us on the boat and I was so excited to see them.
Heading back to the boat was all about catching up on each others lives for the last couple years. We dropped their bags and then went to find lunch. We ended up at a pub that made us wait 30 minutes before we were allowed to place our order for food!
After lunch, we wandered some more stopping at Marks and Spencers for an easy dinner of pizza and salad.
After dinner, Louise, Lorna and I went to a few pubs for a few drinks before crashing far too early. The sleeping didn't last long for me as a storm blew in and I spent the night peering out the window every 15 minutes to see what the strange noises were, if we were sinking or if the dock had detached itself from land and we were free floating in the Stratford Basin. What can I say, I can be a bit of a worrier. Of course everything was fine...
The next day, April 8th, was my 30th birthday. I was treated to some sparkly gifts from my friends and then we took the boat back on to the river for more water and a very short cruise

before we walked out of town to Anne Hathaway's Cottage, looked at the outside and walked back to town. (We saw the inside the last time we were there, about 15 years ago). Lunch in the sun, more sightseeing then back to the boat to commence celebrations. Rob prepared an amazing dinner of lamb shanks, minty potatoes and purple sprouting.

Another walk was decided on after the meal as we were too full to do the Champagne (50% off at M&S) and trifle justice. It was a beautiful evening and the riverfront around Stratford was so idyllic. Much laughter was enjoyed over the brass rubbing center (don't ask).

Trifle, chocolates, Champagne.. it was all so decadent and over the top. It felt strange to turn 30, but I am glad I did it in style and was able to celebrate it with friends.

Next time...down the river, dealing with scary new locks, the best pub meal ever and reaching Tewkesbury (and very nearly reaching our breaking points)

Oh and Rob got me a little surprise for my birthday (the trip was the main gift). A little shoe to add to my collection....