Saturday, July 17, 2010

More about our canal boat trip -

The first night we were out, Ellen wasn't feeling well and didn't join us at our first pub, The CrossGuns.  This pub is situated at the end of the Avoncliff Aqueduct which crosses over the Avon River.  The pub and aqueduct are pictured below.

The next morning John and I followed a public footpath that headed down toward the river and discovered this little haven of bird life and fauna.  The fact that there was a blue heron there leads me to tell you a lovely story that has absolutely nothing to do with England.  (Those of you who know me, I know that you are now shocked!)

When my father passed away on March 15, 1978, our son Jesse was a week short of 12 years old and my father and he had been very close, especially since he had been Jess' role model all his life until I married John when he was seven.  My parents lived on a lake near Pinehurst, NC and a day or two after Daddy died, a blue heron appeared on the dock next door and stayed there all day long.  I finally said to Jesse, "Son, that's your granddaddy."  From that time on for about twenty years, I kid you not, wherever I went, a blue heron would appear, even in unlikely places like the mountains of NC and Kenya!  Well, what seemed unlikely to me, anyway.  Someone is bound to tell me that those are also natural habitats for herons but I don't know that and they seem unusual to me.  It got to the point that we no longer said "Oh, there's a blue heron!"  No, it got to where we said "Oh, there he is." when one would show up.  After 20 years, he finally stopped for about 10 years until about two years ago when he returned.  It's nice to have him back...

The next day we stopped in Bradford upon Avon, a lovely village with a magnificent tithe barn owned by English Heritage.  A tithe barn was where medieval farmers stored a tenth of their harvest that they were required to give to the church.  I have seen one other in Lacock and this one is even bigger.  They are magnificent buildings.   John took an amazing shot, I think.  The bright light at the end is an open cross-shaped window.  There are two "porches" on either side under which the wagons would pull up to to unload their tithe, a porch being an entrance with a large roof over it. 

The tithe was actually a tax paid to the church which just about governed everything in those days.

Bradford upon Avon was a textile town and that is where it got its wealth.  There were textile mills and weavers in the 17th century and it was a very wealthy town.  We explored some of Bradford, walked a narrow pathway where there were weavers' cottages, crossed the town bridge, one side of which was built in Norman times (11th-12th century), gazed in awe at the interior of a small Saxon church.

The information office volunteers said if your time is limited go to the Saxon chuch which is 1300 years old and not the Norman, it's only 900 years old! We didn't go to the Norman church and now I regret it.

There is a canal lock in Bradford and a considerable amount of activity takes place around it as in many towns that have locks.  People like to gather around and watch.  Some like to help.  It's great fun.  But you still have to crawl across yourself to get to the other side!

Another feature of the canal system is the swing bridge.  This connects roads, public footpaths, farm lanes, etc. that have to cross over the canal.  They are very easy to operate, you just unhook or unlock the ring and post at one end of the bridge, usually the swinging end, walk to the other side and push on the arm which swings the bridge over to your side.  The boat passes through and you swing it back, walk back across to the tow path side of the canal and get back in your boat.  I say they are easy to operate but on a previous trip when the canal went through the middle of town and the swing bridge needed to be unlocked with the British Waterways key you are always given and it wouldn't unlock and swing (it was electronic), we had town traffic tied up for awhile.  I'm sure they loved that.

We've got a couple of good shots of Philip and Ellen manning the swing bridge. 

For us, one of the best things about canal boating and the pubs is talking to the people you meet.  There are many pubs along the canals that started up when canal boating was a job and not a vacation.  John and I love the pubs - as I am sure you have figured out - and the pubs along the canals range from those you would never find because they are off the beaten path as is the canal or they are right in the middle of a town and popular because the canal runs through the town.  A really nice pub we came across the next day was The Barge Inn in Seend.  We came by it around lunch time and since there was a place to moor and we were hungry we stopped there for lunch.  Moored under a beautiful weeping willow tree was a boat with four women aboard who work together and boat together every year and this year they were celebrating the recovery of one of themselves from breast cancer; and I mean they were celebrating!  Here they are reenacting Titanic!  We crossed paths with them all week.

 Well, something pretty awful with this blog happened last night (Tuesday, July 13).  I had put about two hours writing time into this chapter and with the click on the wrong key, it all disappeared.  In disgust, I practically threw the computer aside but with rationale taking over, I laid it gently aside and told it where it could go.   So now I must start over because some of the most enjoyable parts of this canal trip happened at this stop over.

Lunch was very nice there; the facility was picturesque, so we decided we would boat down the canal to the base of the Devizes and turn around and come back for the night.  It turned out - and we knew this but not quite where - that one of the locks near the Devizes 16 lock flight had been damaged and that we would not be able to get as close to it as we would like because of the repairs being done.  The flight was completely closed but that didn't bother us since we had not planned to do it (it would take about 5 hours to complete I understood), we just wanted to see it.  When we got as far as we could, we moored and walked on the towpath only to find out that the towpath was also closed and there was nowhere to go.  We spent a pleasant 15 minutes or so talking with a widowed gentleman who lives on his boat and he was effectively "trapped", would be stuck where he was for a couple of weeks.  Fortunately, he could walk to the very nearby marina for water and to the road to shop for food.  He had been living on his boat for a year; sold his house, just about everything he owned, bought the boat to live on.  His children live in England but don't visit much and he got tired of watching the "telly" and sitting around.  Not the first we had met with the same story...

Luckily, our boat had been moored across from the marina which gave us enough room to turn around.  Doing a U-turn in a narrowboat requires a wide space in the canal because of its length.  There are areas specifically cut into the sides of the canal called winding holes.  (Some pronounce this with a long i; we understand it to be pronounced with a short i as in "windy".)   You sort of back into the hole realizing of course that when you are in reverse in a narrowboat it cannot be steered, than once your stern is back near the shoreline of the hole, you put it in forward and turn it around.  Not as easy as it sounds and John does it very well as he does most things.

Upon returning to the Barge, we found that we would be lucky enough to get the mooring sight under the willow tree and behind the Titanic ladies.  What a lovely spot.  We had dinner outside on the canal and not only was the food good but so was the company of Ellen and Philip and the two parties that sat at the table beside us, the first a couple of guys that lived nearby, the second two couples also from the area. I'm can't recollect how we ended up inside having dessert but England must have been "spitting" on us as Ellen calls it.

 The next morning I got up very early and went for a walk.  I left the Barge grounds and walked up the road and found myself in what felt like a Jane Austen novel.  Fields off to my right with horses and sheep, a man walking across it with his dog sniffing away far behind, stone houses to my left with beautiful gardens in full bloom, chickens in one yard, ducks in another and another horse far back in a corral.  A young mother passed me walking her son in his red shirt and navy shorts and her daughter in her stroller.  Two cars also passed me - ruining the Jane Austen aura - with children in red shirts inside.  Because it began spitting again and I had no "brolly" - and no camera ! Fool... - I headed back to the canal boat to find John doing what I call his periscope routine.  He was standing in the hatch at the stern and turning his head around left to right, right to left looking for me.  I convinced him he must come with me to see what I had found.  With equipment in hand, we took off down the road again taking pictures of what I had seen.

The woman with the two children who passed me before answered yes when I asked her if there was a school nearby where all the children wore red shirts.  She said yes and if we would continue up the road about 10 minutes we would pass it and be in the village where there were beautiful old homes, a lovely church and a village shop.  So we continued on and came to Seend and explored the church.  It was lovely, she was right.

The inside was cathedral in style but smaller and at about every other pew there was a tall - maybe 7-8' - candelabra holding three candlesticks and an enormous brass chandelier holding three tiers of candles.  There were discreet electric  CFLs intermittently atop the columns and today the sanctuary was lit naturally from the windows but I would love to have seen it lit solely by candlelight.

We were accosted by two very friendly border collies who chased after us as we came out of the church and walked down its lane.  Friendly owner, too.

We went on to the village shop where we bought homemade bread pudding and ate it all on the way back.
We arrived back at the boat at 10 to find Ellen and Philip - much to their own astonishment - just awakening.

Outside the pub there were a number of picnic tables and as John and I were taking advantage of the pub's free wi-fi, we noticed an elderly couple arrive.  She appeared frail and speaking loudly.  He was gently guiding her to a place at the table.  I thought "What a pity - dementia."  Boy, was I wrong.  When they sat down, I noticed that she put her knees between his and was soon rubbing the inside of his thigh with her knee!!! We went over to meet them and they turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip.  They both were in their eighties and had been good friends in their late teens, early twenties.  She lived in Lacock, one of my favorite villages (Google it, you'll love it,too!) and he used to walk her to work or school, I never got that part straight.  He had to leave, maybe for the war, and when he returned she was nowhere to be found.  Actually, she was in the area and had married.  Sixty years later - yes, sixty! - he tracks her down, they are both widowed and she remembers him.  The romance begins.  I asked them how long had they been married and she merrily said "We're not!  We're living in sin!!"  And that was when they told us the story I just related to you.  She was animated, flirty, and constantly touching him as if she couldn't believe he was there.  He was bantering in contradiction most of everything she said because some was so outrageous!  What fun they were and so alive.  I really had never met a couple that old having such a good time and so much in love with life and each other.  When the pub opened, they asked us to join them for coffee. By this time, Ellen had joined us so she got Philip and the six of us sat inside and chatted about music and England and Lacock where she lived all her life.  Well, used to - four months ago she moved to Melksham to be near him and "No, we're not living in sin.  I just like to say that!"  Can you imagine leaving the village you have lived in your eighty years to be near your love - at eighty!!!  While we were sitting at the table she was holding the index finger of his right hand and kept rubbing it until he said she was going to rub it off.  Her response?  "I just can't stop fiddling with him!"  We had to leave but when we got to the first lock, I told John I had to go back to get a picture and their addresses.

When I got back to the pub - about 1/2 mile - they were outside and as you might notice in the picture, her skirt was over his lap!  I came up behind her and said sternly "What are you doing??"  She jumped and he said "The wind blew her skirt in my lap!"  Yeah, right!!  Are they not adorable?  I think they are priceless.  Someone needs to tell their story - maybe it will be me....

Philip took over as skipper of the boat.  He hadn't shared with us that years ago he had taken boy scout troops out on narrowboats and when John found out how well he guided the boat, for the first time in our four canal boat trips, John was able to leave the stern and be up front and relax like all the rest of us. 

Where you get to look at scenes like this:

Move on to the next blog for "even more about our canal boat trip".

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