Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Even more about our canal trip!

As I mentioned in the last blog, with Philip driving John got to relax and sit up front for the first time ever in our 4 canal boat adventures - which also gave me the opportunity to sit up front with John for the first time, also!

This was kind of a slow day, retracing our "footsteps"  (I only know one Person who would have had footsteps on the water, but I couldn't think of any other word!) back to our starting point to continue on to Bath.  Let me explain that a little.  On most canal boat trips, you rent your boat for seven days which usually is not enough time to go around a canal "ring".  You have to go 3.5 days in one direction and then turn around and come back to bring the boat back to the starting point.  It's not like renting a car and having another placeyou can drop it off when you're done.  You have to return it to your starting point.  On this trip we decided to go 1.5 days east to Devizes and the 16 lock flight called Caen Hill I've mentioned before and then return to our starting point and proceed west to the city of Bath.  So we are now on our 3rd day and we have a good deal of time to relax.  Bath is only 8 miles away and at 4 mph top speed, that's only two hours of cruising.  We've got three days left and we want to spend one day in Bath and since we have to turn in the boat by 9 AM on the last day, that day really doesn't count at all.  So one day in Bath, one day cruising up the river and then back toward the marina.  We're in good shape!

(I love John's photography and I think this is a magnificent shot of an incredible tree we saw along the way.  Sometimes you just have to look up to see God's beauty.)

The British Waterways prints and sells guidebooks for all the canals in England.  These books give a detailed map of the canal, where each lock is located, mile marks so you can judge the distances and where the tunnels and winding (turning) holes are located.  In addition, there is a description of the canal and its surroundings at each town.  It looks like they use the Ordinance Survey maps because each street and building, tiny as they be, are indicated on the maps.  They also describe the waterside and town pubs that are within walking distance which is how we decided that we wanted to walk into the town of Limpley Stoke to go to the Hop Pole.  To quote the guide, "Moor at Limpley Stoke Bridge, walk down to the railway bridge and turn left to find this popular traditional oak-panelled pub, featured in the film "Remains of the Day".  The building is at least 400 years old, originally the monks' wine lodge - it is now famous for its Hop Pole pies.  Real ale."  That mentioned "real ale" is critical!!

And so we climbed the hill to find the Hop Pole.  The interior of the pub is everything that you would expect, dark small rooms, low ceilings, paneling, lots of atmosphere, but we chose to sit outside where it was cool and we could look over the hills across the canal. 

We started talking to the couple sitting at the table next to us and who knows why or how but we ended up talking about race horses.  That led to him (never did get their names) telling us that if early the next morning we would walk up the hill from the canal and take the first left turn, we would come to a race track and we could watch the horses train.  Well, that sounded like a new adventure so early the next morning, John and I started up the hill.  Couldn't get Ellen and Philip interested so we went alone, camera in hand, of course.

Complaining all the way up the hill that we had gone too far, I just knew we had missed it.  John kept assuring and insisting we were going the right way, but even he suggested we turn right down a lane and look across the hills to see if we could spot something.  No, we couldn't so we returned to the main road and kept climbing.  Finally, we came to a break in the stone wall on our left and saw what appeared to be a race track.  It was blocked by a white van so we went around it and stood stood in front of it for awhile waiting for something to happen but since nothing did, we continued on up the hill feeling a bit more hopeful about seeing some excitement.  We came to a driveway on the left with old stone pillars on either side so we turned and walked up that for awhile until we saw a beautiful house up on the hill and some horses in the fields.

The track ran alongside this house so we figured they must be connected.  Trespassing all the way, I'm sure, we continued up the drive until we saw about 8 horses but none were saddled nor could we see any human activity.  I guess we had been gone about an hour now and we thought that if these were the horses that were going to run, it was going to take some time to gather them, get them saddled, etc. and we might as well return to the boat.  As we were starting back down the hill, I said to John "Wouldn't it be funny if we would suddenly hear galumpaty, galumpaty, galumpaty (isn't that what horses sound like when they run??) on the other side of the wall?"  I no more said that than we heard galumpaty, galumpaty, galumpaty on the other side of the wall and I broke into a run to the van where we might see them and sure enough, here came a couple of horses tearing down the track.  Sure was a beautiful sight.  We decided to wait and see if any more might come along, hopeful because there was now a man standing up near the driveway where we had been before and all the riders had stopped to talk to him.  We figured as long as he was there, something else was going to happen!  Sure enough, about 5 minutes later here comes another group of horses.

I guess they didn't like our being there because the first rider, a woman, shouted at us as she went by "Would you go away, please!"  Very politely, of course.  I mean, we are in Britain.  So of course, we lingered only another moment or two and then left, having felt like we had quite accomplished our goal.

When we got to the boat and told Ellen and Philip our tale, Philip suggested that they could possibly have thought that we were spies for other horse owners who also raced.   Apparently, that kind of thing goes on in this very competitive and expensive sport.  That and a lot of gambling. 

One of our destinations this trip was the pumping station built in the 1800's to pump water from the Avon River into the canal.  This pumping station has a water wheel that is HUGE - and it's made out of wood.  If you are like me and can consider a wooden wheel beautiful, this one was a gem.  Volunteers now maintain the pumping station which is no longer functioning except once a week for tourists.  All the pumping of the water and the filling of the canals is controlled electronically.  Unfortunately, we only have two pictures at this site.  One is a closeup of part of the beautiful wheel and also the gears which are huge and I suppose to someone also beautiful in their own right.  I thought we didn't get one of the wheel, but....

...after looking at the two pictures which are so small in the thumbnail collection, I realized that John did not fail me!  He did get a picture of part of the wheel.  It filled an area about the size of a triple garage and twice as high!

After leaving the pumping station, we went on to our destination - the city of Bath, but due to the larger than normal number of boats - probably due to the fact that we were all stuck on one side of the Caen Hill flight because of the damage to one of the locks - we couldn't find a spot to moor and had to find a winding hole to turn around and go back about a mile to moor.

The Kennett Avon canal is reportedly the prettiest canal in England but I have to say that I was very disappointed.  There are three reasons for my point of view.  The main reason is that the sides of the canal are not maintained the way the other canals we have traveled are kept.  The British Waterways has let the sides of the Kennett Avon deteriorate to the point that the weeds are very high and thick on the edges and you cannot judge where the side of the canal is when you moor. This can be very dangerous when you are trying to get out of the boat to tie up.  If you don't know where the canal edge is then you don't know where the solid ground is and you have to jump off the boat onto solid ground or you go in the drink!  Not a pleasant thought because all the canals are only about 4' deep and filthy.  All the gray water from all the canal boats goes directly into the canal.  Not your bathroom waste, of course, but kitchen water, bathtub water, bath sink water all goes into the canal.  And then, of course, you have all the ducks and swans, and their waste does go in!  No controlling that.  The other canals we have traveled have metal siding along the canal sides which support the edges of the canals and keep the weeds from growing into the water.  It also makes it easier to mow right up to the canal edge.  Every canal boat has a plank that lays on top of the roof.   You can see it in this shot.

In all our boating trips, this was the only time we had to "walk the plank"  so that we could get off the boat safely.

The second reason is because the bushes and growth on the towpath side and the other side as well have grown up so high that it completely blocks the view of the scenery and you have to stand up on the outside seats to see the countryside.  That was a major disappointment.

 And the third reason is that I have never seen so many derelict boats in one canal.  Perhaps it is because the Kennett Avon is not a ring canal.  You go one way and then you go back.  Of course, how do you remove a 10 ton boat from a narrow canal that doesn't have a road alongside for a crane?  And if it is displaying a current registration you can't remove it anyway, even if you could!

There were some though that were very creative, this one being my favorite.  It looks like something a Hobbit would live in.  Click on the picture so you can see the carvings up close.

As I mentioned, we had to turn around and go back a mile or two to find a place to moor for the night.  That meant  that we got to go through this charming tunnel twice in about an hour.  We ended up mooring within walking distance of a grocery store and that was good. 

We had a wonderful show of hot air balloons that afternoon.

This one looks pretty low here - and it was - but it did manage to increase its height and miss the trees!

That evening John and I went for a walk back to another intriguing pub, another George Inn.  We only walked through it having eaten on the boat so we will enjoy it on the way back.  We also walked to the church across the driveway, not an exciting one (we're so spoiled) so no pictures!

The next day we headed for Bath with our fingers crossed that there would be a mooring spot across from the city near the weir and Pultney Bridge.  Coming into Bath,  you have to navigate the second deepest lock in England - 19 feet.  It had me a bit unnerved in preparation for this trip but it turned out to not be that bad, just a lot more work.  You have to be careful while the water rushes in because all of a sudden the force of the water pushes your boat sideways across the lock to bang into the other side.  It was suggested to us by an experienced boating couple that we possibly have another boat in the lock with us, which we didn't, so we wouldn't get banged around so much. When we came out of the lock, we had to take a "sharp" turn to the right to get to the mooring spot near the weir.

Luck was with us and we were able to park there right alongside the watering point which was very handy.  (Watering points on the canal are the locations where you stop and fill up your water tank every day, especially with four people on board.  If you run out of water, that's no fun at all.)  The view here is so pretty.  You are down from the bridge as you can see here and across from the Abbey which you can't see but we could!  It's a five minute walk to the Abbey and the Roman Baths which are across the bridge and into the square, so you are right in the middle of all the activity.

 We arrived in Bath fairly early in the day - around noon, I recall - and everyone had a different agenda.  Philip and Ellen wanted to stay on the boat, which I will admit was tempting because it was so relaxing.
 Sorry, Ellen, you're back there behind the wild flowers we picked a few days before, but you're there and enjoying the reading hour.

John wanted to roam a bit and go back to the Old Green Tree pub we had visited with Ginger and Bill

and I wanted to go to the Assembly Rooms.  I couldn't get in when we were here before because they were setting up for some sort of reception and all you could do is peek in the rooms.  They had a troll in the hall who wouldn't even let you get close to the rooms' doorways, so it was really less than a peek.  I was pretty determined to get in and as you will see, I did!!  Even though they were setting up for another reception.

It's fun to have visited a city in England and go back and feel like you know where you are going and where the major landmarks are, so it wasn't hard to find the Assembly Rooms.  It also helped that there were signs along the way!   This is one of my favorite streets on the way to the Rooms.  Turn left at the top and right at the end of that street and there they are.

When we were here about a month before, we took a walking tour.  Some of you might remember that episode.  It's dated May 23rd on the blog index page.  One of the places we were taken on that tour was at the end of that left turn off this street and in front of a Georgian town house right near the entrance to the Assembly Rooms.  The front door of this house is decorated with wrought iron fencing whose purpose is to enclose the entrance to the lower quarters where you would have the kitchens, servants etc.  The tour guide pointed out a winch that rotated out over the basement entrance and out over the front entrance walk.  The lady of the house's sedan chair was stored in that area under the front door stairs.  The winch's purpose was to hook onto the top of the sedan chair, lift it out of the basement's entrance and up onto the front walk.  The lady would enter it, her footman would lift it, and off she would go to her destinations.  Upon return, of course, the sedan would be lifted and lowered down to be stored under the stairs once again.   Ah, the luxury of modern travel.

The Assembly Rooms are off one of the three spokes out of the Circus,  that grand circle of buildings that is one of Bath's most famous landmarks.  Believe it or not, we don't have any pictures of it even though we ate at The Circus Cafe off one of the spokes twice with Ginger and Bill, and their B&B was off another spoke and once at the Cafe with Ellen and Philip.  However, there is a wonderful website where you can scan the whole Circus.  It is:  (You might have to cut and paste that.)  After checking that out, scroll down to the bottom of the page for a spectacular aerial view.  Look closely at the left hand spoke where the buildings stop, unlike the other two, and you can see the Assembly Room building at the left edge of the picture, the townhouses behind it where the lady with the sedan chair lived and if you look closely, the B&B that Ginger and Bill were in - the shorter building at the end of that side of the Circus on the far side of the street right alongside the Assembly Room courtyard.  (Whew! Long sentence!) Prime real estate!!

When you walk into the Assembly Rooms building, you are greeted by a receptionist who directs you down the hall.  At the end of the hall, maybe 30 feet long, the hall splits into 3 rooms.  The one on your far left is the ballroom and the largest with five of the most magnificent chandeliers you will ever see.  They are about 250 years old and were taken apart and hidden during WWII.  Good thing since the Rooms were bombed.  The ballroom is a soft blue with a touch of green in it and all the trim and cornice adornments are a soft, creamy white.  The large Octagon Room is at the end of the hall, painted a sunny yellow and has some very valuable portraits in it.  The Card Room where the men  used to play - guess what? -cards is now a cafe tastefully painted in a soft green and the Tea Room which is on your far right is kind of a pinkish color.  I have found another most engaging website that will give you a virtual tour through these magnificent rooms and you will see more than I did while visiting.  Go to and click on "Assembly Rooms" in the upper tool bar.  Then click on "View the Assembly Rooms tour" and enjoy! It's truly amazing.

I went to the Rooms the second time we were in Bath because they were setting up for a reception in the Ballroom the first time and the troll at the door would not even let me peek inside!  When I arrived this time, they were also setting up for a reception and had a tape barrier across the main door but I went in anyway.  I figured all they could do was throw me out and they did!  But at least I got to go in and look for awhile before they figured out that I didn't belong there.

We met Ellen and Philip at The Circus Cafe for dinner enjoying a sidewalk table until it started to rain and then moving inside, so we got the best of both worlds and a progressive dinner.  Upon leaving, we entered the Circle where we went and stood in the middle amongst the trees that were never supposed to have been there and clapped three times!  That's fun because it echoes, a little treat that I'm sure few no about.  Back to the boat for a good night's sleep.  Or was that the night John fell out of his bed?

The following day was our last and we decided that since we had the time we would keep going in the direction we came which would take us down the Avon River.  We were no longer in the canal, in fact it turns into the river just as we approach Bath.   It felt quite different boating down a wide river rather than a narrow canal and since we were still in the city we passed a number of interesting buildings and warehouses.
This plan also helped us get back into the deep lock. 

Because we had to be at the marina the next day at 9 AM and we wanted to find a mooring spot near there, we decided after an  hour to turn around and head back.  This gave us the "opportunity" to go through the deep lock again and having done it just the day before, the anxiety wasn't as bad.  "The anxiety is worth than the reality" is one of my favorite phrases.  It gets me through some scary stuff as it did this here.  Actually, this time it was kind of fun.

The areas in the picture where there is foliage are actually the doors that will swing shut behind us after we get far enough into the lock.  Looks pretty, doesn't it?  Almost like approaching a waterfall.  When the paddles are raised in the locks by the gears we turn, the water will rush in, fill it up and we will exit at the other end 19 feet higher into the canal.  Since most of these locks are over 150 years old, it's like traveling through a living museum.

We found a good mooring spot not far from the marina and walked again to The George Inn for lunch.  It's really a wonderful pub with all it's little rooms, low ceilings and atmosphere.  We enjoyed  a great meal and a pint before moving on.

We also saw a charming party of high school students all dressed up as if for a prom taking a boat ride from there for tea!  The boat was open on the sides and canopied with a large table in the center for serving.  I imagine you wouldn't catch many of our kids doing something like that!  They looked like they were having a wonderful time.  Here the hostess readies the boat for her jubilant guests who were celebrating their high school graduation!

We found a spot to moor and it gave us the opportunity to meet several interesting people with interesting jewelery attached to their bodies and faces.  They were actually quite nice and a couple of them support themselves with businesses they conduct from their boats - legitimate businesses I might add.  One makes elaborate knotted bumpers for the boats; it's almost like macrame out of heavy roping and is an art he chooses not to reveal or pass on to anyone at this time.  His bumpers are works of art, truly.

We also had some curious visitors who were interested in what we were having for dinner.

It wasn't important to them that they were not invited to the dinner table!  The top of the boat was just fine.

                                                    Some of them were quite tame.

Having dinner with ducks and dogs was an appropriate and lovely way to end a beautiful week outdoors on the canal.  Having friends along like Ellen and Philip just made it that much more enjoyable.

During the ride back to London, we drove to Devizes so Philip could see the Caen Hill Flight.  It is a wondrous sight and I'm not the least bit sorry that we couldn't get there to do it!!  I've heard it takes an entire day to accomplish and you do get a certificate for completing it.  Looks like once you got started you wouldn't have much choice!

 On the way, we passed one of my all time favorite pubs from a trip way back when - The Waggon and Horses located near the stone circles of Avebury.  It was an old haunt of Charles Dickens and he must have been impressed with it because he featured it in "The Bagman's Story" in The Pickwick Papers.  We didn't stop however, much to my disappointment.  It is a true classic, to the point of it being featured on the cover of English Country Pubs by Derry Brabbs.  Sometimes I wonder if the British are fully aware of the treasures in their country.  I guess we are the same way, though, always traveling somewhere other than our own back yard.

I'm soon to say good by to England again.  Only one more day after we get home this evening.  It's always hard for me.  I sometimes feel more at home here than I do in my own country.  I think I must have had a previous life somewhere over here.  That would explain it!

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