Thursday, 23 November 2017

DUNPEREGRINATING ... for a while, anyway.

That's us, tied up at the back of our house
 ... yes ... OUR HOUSE!

This is what the old-timers would call:
"Moving onto the bank".

Since we set out from Devizes, at the beginning of May, 2015; we've cruised over two thousand, two hundred miles. We've operated (at least) one thousand, three hundred and thirty locks;. tunnelled under at least twenty five miles of England and Wales; braved the River Thames, under Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Westminster Bridge (past the Houses of Parliament, H.M.S. Belfast, the London Eye and Kew Gardens), Waterloo Bridge, etc., etc.; twenty three in all; and we've even been out to sea - sort of - across The Wash, out of sight of land for three hours!!!

So here we are in Shipley; in the People's Republic of West Yorkshire, having enjoyed the adventure of our lifetime ... and it isn't over yet.

We're in the throes of falling in love with our new home. We've owned it for four years, but this is our first opportunity to live in it. We're beavering away: reorganizing the kitchen, changing the smallest bedroom into a luxurious bathroom, installing walk-in closets, instigating a utility-room, affixing louvre-blinds, putting up shelves, mirrors and cabinets, and lots more. I’ll even have a workshop! Lyn is buying me a shipping-container for an early Christmas present!

We haven’t ended our watery peregrinations; there are still unexplored (by us) waterways to visit. We’ve not yet crossed the Pennines (locally these are categorised as ‘mountains’), nor visited Liverpool, nor Lancaster; so those are on the horizon for 2018. Of course, Moonstone has been promised a spiffy new paint-job. The poor dear is showing quite a few ‘battle scars’; so that must be arranged for early next year. Images of her newly painted livery will probably feature in next year’s first edition of Watery Peregrinations.

If ‘Brexit Britain’ is too unbearable, you might even find yourselves reading: ‘Irish Peregrinations’. There are plenty of lovely waterways; beckoning alluringly; across the Irish Sea. They, at least, will still be in the European Union!

For now; Lyn and I are practicing being landlubbers and - with the availability of a central base and a car - next year has plenty of touring scheduled. Check this out here.

With the Festive Season, discernibly, hull-down-on-the-horizon (I'm writing this on the U.S.'s Thanksgiving Day); Lyn and I wish you all 'Health, Peace, and Happiness'; and invite you to come 'peregrinating' again, next year.

Love to all, Tom.

ps. Did you notice??? Nothing even vaguely political!!! Not like me at all.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

To York ... and beyond!

The River Trent is - by British standards, at least - a pretty major waterway. I realise that by North American (and world) standards, it is not outstanding: at a mere 186 miles (300 Kms.) However; we can now report that we've been on the FOUR longest rivers in the U.K. Viz:

Severn - 220 miles / 354 kms.
Thames - 215 miles / 346 kms.
Trent - 185 miles / 298 kms.
Great Ouse - 143 miles / 320 kms.

Now; we cannot - of course - claim to have cruised the complete length of any of these; so we don't expect you to be awed by our achievements. We mention rivers – rather than canals – solely because the majority of the past couple of weeks have been spent on rivers.
The Trent can be quite intimidating; on its tidal stretches; after the comfortable familiarity of (relatively) small canals. Times of entering and leaving these tidal stretches are strictly regulated – by lock-keepers – and the right-angle turn; against the flow; into a lock is always fraught, to a greater or lesser degree; (making us aware of why we always wear life-jackets whilst cruising on rivers). Leaving locks, to enter rivers, is considerable less fraught; nevertheless, at such times we’re always too busy to take photographs, but here are a few pictures of the River Trent, which – in its heyday was a very busy commercial highway.

Heading down the Trent with both flow and tide in our favour, we were making almost 9 mph (over 14 Kms/hr.!!!) The manoeuvre to enter the lock at Keadby involved allowing ourselves to be swept downstream of the lock and using the engine to bring us slowly back to the mouth of the lock ... almost past it. By putting the tiller over and then, at the opportune moment, increasing power; we managed to slide into the lock – this time without the necessity of a second attempt and the associated bumping and banging, which had accompanied our previous exit from the Trent, into the Chesterfield Canal at the West Stockwith lock!

Once into the Sheffield and West Yorkshire Navigation, we found pleasant moorings, and a nearby convenience store. (Such is always on my radar, as I invariably purchase a daily paper; the better to service my addiction for political news.) With no schedule in mind, we started our Northwards journey; though that has involved much Eastward and Westward meandering. We moored-up in Thorne (South Yorkshire) for a weekend; where our friend Hazel Richings collected us and drove us to The Folk Gathering, in the very pretty village of Alstonfield, in the Peak District National Park, in Staffordshire, near to the border of Derbyshire. Many songs were sung; old acquaintances remembered, several new ones made, and much ale quaffed. After being delivered back to our floating, peregrinating home; we continued on our gentle way towards York, and thence to Ripon. (With a solitary ‘p’, not two ... mea culpa!) The zig-zag route took us onto the New Junction Canal – as straight as a die for nearly six miles, to the junction of The Nottingly and Goole Canal (Aire and Calder Navigation) and thence onto a non-tidal stretch of the River Aire. We entered the beautifully quiet Selby Canal; which, six miles further on, terminates in ... Selby!!! We shall see these again in a few weeks; on our return, towards the Leeds and Liverpool Canal; a jurisdiction which is to become our home, in a scant four or five weeks.

At Selby the lock-keeper waved farewell as we proceeded up river, on the incoming tide, which supplemented our velocity, by a couple of mph, for the majority of our travel upstream on the River Ouse, up to York; about 20 miles. York is, of course, York! (It should be the capital of the U.K. (and the House of York ought to be the rulers of England, not the usurping: House of Lancaster; and it WAS the capital of ‘Viking England’. (At this point I start singing the Kipling/Bellamy piece: ‘The Land’!) A wonderful place to just wander ... or it would be, were it not overrun by tourists. (At this point I’m striving manfully to avoid ‘grumpy old codger’ mode.) Anyway; we had visitors to our York mooring, for a couple of nights – Janie Meneely and Rob van Sante – and we’ll be back in just over a week to host my daughter and son-in-law – Jane and Max; as Jane has never visited this historic, medieval  metropolis.

As we arrive in York, note the shield, on the left, with the Cross of St. George and the White Rose of York.
The journey up to Ripon proceeded pleasantly and uneventfully; though the locks on this section are barely long enough to accommodate Moonstone. However; they are nearly 15 ft. wide; so we fit quite handily on the diagonal! For some unfathomable reason; within about 10 miles of Ripon, the River Ouse (pronounced: 'ooze') changes its name to the River Ure (pronounced: 'your'). I doubt there is any connection between the name change and the plethora (sort of plethora) of Great Blue Herons on that stretch ... but who knows?

Ripon is lovely! Quite a small city, with a spectacular cathedral, very interesting museums, excellent restaurants, and a good selection of charming and interesting pubs. What’s not to like? Our mooring; only a 10 minute walk from the Market Square; was quiet and unsullied by other visitors ... so we have stayed five days!

The Cathedral Church of St Peter and St Wilfrid overlooking all.

Remains of St Anne's Hospital chapel.
In terms of the Middle ages; a 'hospital' was a place to
charitably welcome itinerants and those in need of assistance.

The name was enough to rouse our interest. When we found that there is no juke-box nor piped-music; no one-armed-bandits, but a gentleman who occasionally dropped by to play the pub piano; we were hooked. A great range of very palatable ales - including some local brews I've never before tried - I tried a few. Lyn tried the single-malt whiskies!

Now it is time to take on fresh-water, beverages and comestibles; and head for York and a rendezvous with Max and Jane Bennett. À Bientôt, mes amis!

Thursday, 31 August 2017

... because it's there ... the Chesterfield Canal, that is!

We've got several weeks to while away before the next gig, and that's THE FOLK GATHERING, in Alstonefield, in The Peak District National Park. I'll give a synopsis of the event in an upcoming edition of this blog. For now; suffice it to say that this is a 'singers and song aficionados' happening. With a maximum number of tickets set at one hundred and seventy, it's certainly not 'folk-festival sized'; (though the PSG's  GottaGetGon - in Upstate New York - isn't much bigger!)

Anyway: having a few weeks in hand; we decided to explore the Chesterfield Canal ... which doesn't, actually, get to Chesterfield. The canal IS in Chesterfield, but it is interrupted - for lack of any waterway - for a seven mile stretch, about two-thirds of the way along between the River Trent and the (small) city of Chesterfield ... famous for the twisted spire of St. Mary's church.

Having visited Chesterfield some years previously, we declined the necessary 15-mile bicycle ride, from the nearest point of navigation to St. Mary's Church. There are a few boring, and probably correct, explanations given for the contortions of the 14th, century construction (it wasn't built this way), but I like the story told to me by a local chap. Viz ... The first time an actual virgin arrived to be married at the church, the spire leaned over to take a look. The story then elucidates that the NEXT time a virgin bride arrives, the spire will straighten itself!

So ... we departed the environs of Newark, down the Trent, through the last lock on the river: Cromwell Lock. At this point the river becomes tidal, and a little trickier to navigate. Twenty miles downstream we arrived at the tiny hamlet of West Stockwith; the mouth of the canal, with a somewhat problematic entrance to the lock; in consideration of the 4MPH current flowing across it. After a bit of banging, bumping, cursing and general good-fun (for the onlookers) we were in.

The Chesterfield Canal was opened on 1777, and transported all sorts of raw materials (iron, coal, lead, stone, timber, et al) down to the River Trent, for onward shipping around Britain and Europe. In 1834 the previous Houses of Parliament were destroyed in a fire.

The inspiring building we all recognize today - including the clock-tower housing Big Ben - was completely constructed of stone (250,000 tons) quarried near Kiveton; where we are currently moored. Luckily; we took a photo whilst Moonstone was cruising by;

so this image is from June, 2015.

This has been a quiet and mostly rural waterway ... very relaxing. Now we are ready to retrace out route, back to the river where - we are assured - exiting the lock is considerably easier than entering it! Now 'relaxing' is; in this instance; relative. The upper reaches hereabouts involved the working of THIRTY TWO LOCKS; over a distance of barely 5 miles.

Whilst any plan is liable to change, at the moment we're thinking our ultimate destination - before Shipley, that is - this summer, will be Rippon, in North Yorkshire. That's; just about; the most Northerly place on the canal system ... though the top of the Lancaster Canal might be vying for that title. One of these days I'll find out. Catch you later. Tom.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Mid-summer peregrinations.

Mid-summer??? Well; it's almost the ides of August and, 'though it has been quite a rainy few weeks since we returned from the USA, the weather hasn't prevented us from cruising along. When it gets unconscionable, we find a salubrious spot to moor-up, and declare ‘the bar is open!’

As I write, we’re taking a break in Newark-on-Trent; the last large community in the next few score of miles; thus providing a boatyard/marina in which we may securely leave Moonstone, whilst we pop down to Bath (for the grandson’s parachute jump, which is his 18th. birthday gift from us) and Grove (for the FINAL White Horse Folk Festival).

When last you heard from us, we were heading for some of the lesser-travelled backwaters of the Birmingham Canal Navigations. This involved almost a week on the ‘Curly Whyrley’ (the Wyrley & Essington Canal); nicknamed for its wandering – but mostly lock-free – route, around the North-Eastern environs of Birmingham. During our meanderings thereon, we saw only two other moving boats, and hardly any boats moored along the cut! We did, however, find a large duvet – plus its cover – which; having wrapped itself around our propeller – took almost two hours to cut free. I spent so long, pulling so energetically, that the next few days had me enduring some painful muscles around my ribs! No damage to the boat, however. Sadly; probably due to lack of use; this is one of the canals which is infested with copious amounts of household garbage ... with the plethora of plastic bags mandating an almost hourly (occasionally, even more frequent) stop to clear the propeller. Thankfully, the joyous moments far outnumber the depressing ones; delightful interactions with folks on the towpath, inspiring post-industrial views, and tranquil evenings supping ale or wine, and doing crosswords.

Each day we ensure that we get some physical exercise. If we’re not working the boat through locks, we find an agreeable route for a walk, or we unfold our bicycles and ride a few miles for groceries, a newspaper, whatever. Occasionally; when passing an interesting pub; we drop in and sample the wares. Since returning the U.K., my philosophy for choosing an ale is to try something which has not, previously, passed my lips. There are now so many independent breweries around, that few are the hostelries in which I cannot find a novel brew to sample.

With my engagement at the Warwick Folk Festival in view, we booked some mooring space at Fazely Mill Marina. Getting there entailed a journey through the heart of Birmingham, and the famous Gas Street Basin, now a tourist attraction and a social recreational facility right in the center of major city. Some of the original (200 - 300 years vintage) architecture has been maintained, and much of the rebuilding involves painstaking recreations, from old photographs; amidst plenty of modern structural design. The best patronised establishments, though, are in older buildings, with a character reminiscent of yesteryear. In order to get to our next, intermediate, destination; we had a couple of flights of locks in prospect: the Famers Bridge (13 locks) and Aston (13 lock) flights. The weather forecast predicted a window of several hours, so off we set.

Just completing the first thirteen we were pleasantly astonished to find our friends: Margaret and Angus; aboard their narrowboat BETTY D; approaching the lock we had only momentarily vacated. Finding some handy bollards, we tied up, grabbed our windlass handles, and set-to in assisting them up to Gas Street; eventually ensconcing them in the very mooring we, ourselves, had vacated less than two hours previously! Once they had walked their pair of greyhounds, we repaired to the Tap and Spile (hard by the boat you see here) for a late lunch and a few pints of ale. Our duty done, we returned to Moonstone and negotiated the Aston locks in fine style!

Before departing Birmingham proper, the canal winds under Spaghetti Junction; a confluence of a small river, four railway lines, two roads, multifarious motorway ramps and two canals. At times, the traffic above us was thundering along at seventy plus miles per hour. Within seconds - so it seemed - motorway traffic was stopped in gridlock. Trains hurried by and desultory groups of youths lurked aimlessly. We; in our own insulated world; continued without fuss, but inexorably, on our way ... until the heavens opened ... calling an end to the day.

Despite frequent deluges, Warwick was the world-class event we've come to revere.

A few days later; moored overnight at Fradley, on the junction of the Coventry Canal and the Trent & Mersey Canal, we dropped in to the White Swan for a glass ... and found a great music and song session happening in the cellar ... 

We even reconnected with some musical/narrowboat friends we have last seen ten years ago. Such serendipity!

Next day ... onward ... onto the Trent and Mersey Canal - travelled just over twenty months ago - we came to Nottingham, (see Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem - above)

with the statue of Robin Hood so unlike Errol Flynn ... or even Kevin Costner!

By dint of delicate manoeuvring we can access the ripest blackberries; unavailable to non-floating pickers; and Lyn has inherited her Mother's wonderful facility for pastry-making. The pie was so delicious, I neglected to take a photograph ... sorry!

Which brings us, here, to Newark on Trent ... a much underrated town. It has a great history around the English Civil War (1642 - 1646). Newark proved to have chosen to support the losing (Royalist) side but; following the reintroduction of the monarchy; survives with its architecture barely disturbed since that time. A real 'market square' with a daily market; and numerous small alleyways and winding side-streets provide much to engage visitors. Tomorrow we'll browse the National Civil War Centre. For now, we're tied-up - as we have previously been - right under (what remains of) the walls of Newark Castle.

Apologies for such long-windedness. Next time, I'll try to practice brevity

Cheers, Tom.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

American Peregrinations.

Hello again ... rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. Although visiting President Trump's United States might be considered somewhat foolhardy, it is hardly (yet) a death-defying action. However; Lyn and I have, indeed, just returned from a 6-week peregrination on the North East part of that country. I failed to be in contact with anyone who professed to be a supporter of the current president; and certainly did not meet anyone who confessed to actually casting a ballot in his favour. But; enough of mundanities ... "What of your tour?" I hear you enquire, with bated breath. (That's your breath being bated, not mine.) Well ... the whole trip went swimmingly, and both Lyn and I believe it to have been a resounding success. Audiences were pleasingly enthusiastic. CD and songbook sales were satisfying by the sheer volume of such. Best of all were the numbers of wonderful friends with whom we reconnected ... that was really great! One overarching downside of the trip was our camera. It probably didn't enjoy the experience as much as we did ... it was never allowed out of the suitcase in which it travelled!!! (At this point you may feel that there is a distinct lack of visuals upcoming in this issue of 'Peregrinations'. Well ... yes ... that's probably going to be the case.)

We commenced by taking a National Express coach (that’s a bus; to non-Brits) from Warwick to Heathrow airport, and Virgin Atlantic to Newark (New Jersey) LIBERTY Airport. Concealing from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent that we were transporting an accordion, we gained entry into the (soon to be great again) USA. Our good friends, and Float to the Festival alumni (henceforth, I shall refer to such folks, generically, as ‘canallees’) Ann Gribbon and Pat McDonnell collected us and whisked us to their home near Princeton, N.J. Wonderful, relaxing hosts for a couple of jet-lagged travellers! 48 hours later the performing part of the tour commenced – in 92 degree heat – with the Princeton Folk Music Society ... just me and the bat flitting around the church. I was not flitting, you understand?

The next morning (Saturday) we were off – driving our Hertz rental car – 135 miles N.E. to Branford. CT. On our very first professional tour, it was the Branford Folk Music Society which reversed our depression and gave us the confidence to make this folk-singing sort of life, work. Thanks Willa. Thanks Marc. (Both canallees!) In this case they turned up trumps (no political connotation intended) again.

Next morning, we were on the road, 273 miles S.W., to Baltimore, MD. and a concert for the Baltimore Folk Music Society. This was in the aptly named: Lovely Lane Church; scene of a previous concert triumph! On that occasion, the huge audience came – I feel – more for the opening act: The Seldom Scene; than for me. This time the audience was appreciably smaller, but my reception was just as warm and enthusiastic as that of many years ago. Indeed; quite a few professed to have been in that audience. Our lodgings that night were with Susan Greshens and Mark Wolfire. Not – for a wonder – canallees, but gracious hosts, for all that.

For the fourth morning in a row (Monday), we headed out. This time a mere 80 miles South, to the Calvert Marine Museum, on Solomons Island, MD. ... a lovely place to play.

Image result for Calvert Marine Museum

Many old friends; and quite a few new ones; turned out, so we felt that the tour was off to an auspicious – if slightly tiring – start.

The next day found us in the home of our friend - and sort of booking agent – Janie Meneeley; in Silver Springs, MD.; barely a few yards north of Washington, DC. Incidentally; Janie has now purchased a home in Whitby (yes, the Yorkshire, Whitby); wherein she is cosying up with Rob van Sante, of Battlefield Band fame. (You heard it first here, folks!)

With still three festivals and five more concerts on which to report, I can sense that I could easily bore you; so at this point, I’ll engage the ‘précis drive’.

Gottagetgon is a small, relaxed festival; organised by the Albany, NY. group: The Pick'n' ‘n Sing'n' Gather'n'; most of whom are old, treasured friends ... like Rosalie and Greg Clarke. Of course, quite a few are also – you’ve guessed it – canallees! It was old home week; as we’ve not seen many of those folks for far too long.

The (38th.) annual Sea Music Festival, at Mystic Seaport, CT. assembled a stellar cast of musicians of the maritime genre, including my old friends from Australia: the Roaring Forties.

The final festival, in Altamont, NY., is the long-running: Old Songs festival, the biggest in North America still paying attention to 'traditionally oriented music and song', and had lots of performers; including Archie Fisher.

It also had an inordinate number of canallees ... FOURTEEN in all!


Add to all the above, concerts in Boston, MA, Yorktown, VA. (with Bob Zentz ,,, HOORAY!), Washington, DC., Philadelphia, PA. and Havre-de-Grace, MD.; and we saw a lot of American freeways before we made the return flight to the U.K. Successful? Certainly ... but poignant too. Who knows when we’ll do it again? Never say never!

We’re off on the cut again - to do some exploring in the more obscure backwaters of the Birmingham Canal Navigations - but we’ll get the camera out; so the next issue of ‘Peregrinations’ will – I promise – have more pictures! Cheers.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Peregrinations 3.1

If this is 'old age', then I'm getting very lazy in it. For the past couple of weeks; since my birthday; we - Lyn and I - have been (what might be observed as) drifting aimlessly along the Staffordshire and Worcestershire (pronounced: Woostershire) Canal, the River Severn, the Droitwich Canal, and the Worcester (pronounced: Wooster) and Birmingham Canal. We are feeling quite indolent and smug. (INDOLENT AND SMUG ... sounds like a firm of 'Financial Advisors'!)

Anyway ... the birthday train-trip went wonderfully well; viz (images of we two, plus our daughter: Jane; plus our son-in-law: Max)

(Birthday) Dinner Is Served!

That's Max - our hair-cutter and son-in-law - in the middle ... 

... and that's Jane: our wonderful (and only) daughter
 ... sitting next to him.

Here's the star of the show ...
whilst down at the other end is ...
"Loco Fireman is m' grade, boilin' water is m' trade.
The Driver thinks he runs the show,
but if I'm not there, the train won't go

Look at that smile - Lyn's as well as mine - it's been a birthday to remember!

Now we're meandering to Warwick, where Moonstone will await our return from those, there United States of America. Lazily yours ... Tom.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Watery Peregrinations - year three.

Hello again. Here we are at the beginning of our third summer, cruising the waterways of England and Wales. The plan is (remember the First Rule ... 'A Plan Is A Basis For Orderly Change') for us to conclude this stage of our peregrinations at our house - and mooring - in Shipley. That's in The People's Republic of West Yorkshire! That being said; one would assume that the politics of Shipley would be on the left of the political spectrum ... so why is its local Member of Parliament a Tory??? Who knows, 2018 might occasion a spurt in my own, personal, political activism.

Mind you: being already rather jaundiced with 'Brexit Britain'; next year might find these reports coming from the waterways of the Republic of Ireland! (I always knew my Irish passport - and, thereby, my European Union citizenship - could come in handy. 😏) Anyway; enough of that ... on with the cruise report.

Having spent the winter in one of the most rubbish-strewn environments we have ever experienced, we (yes; Lyn's still putting up with me) departed the Ashton-under-Lyne/Dukinfield area, as soon as the repairs were completed on the Marple Flight (16 locks in 2 miles) of the Peak Forest Canal. That was on the afternoon of March 28th.. Within 24 hours we had ascended the flight and were meandering down the Macclesfield Canal, towards Stoke-on-Trent.

Having had friends aboard, in Bollington, for dinner and wine; we carried on down the cut (and descended 12 locks), we decided to investigate the village of Mow Cop, and its (built as a ruined castle) folly. We made our climbing approach across fields, but were not greatly exhausted when we reached the top. There we discovered that the folly was the site of  the first Primitive Methodist camp meeting, in 1807; and in 1937 over ten thousand Methodists met on the hill to commemorate that event. We returned to Moonstone - nearly 2 miles, and 1,000 feet away - by the less arduous route of the road.

In Stoke-on-Trent we rented a car, in order to attend the funeral of our friend John McNulty (Cdr. R.N. Rtd.) It was our pleasure an privilege, over many years, to become friends with John, his wife Barbara, and their sons: Ned and Theo. The mere children when we originally met are now two strapping and handsome men ... one a newly qualified airline pilot, the other a newly minted copper. We know their Dad was proud of them both; as is the lovely Barbara. John Conolly not being in the country, I was allocated the pleasurable duty of rendering Fiddler's Green; John McN's favourite song.

The weather has been fairly kind; and is forecast to become even better ... so the Brexiteers can justifiably claim that; having 'taken back control'; benefits are fast accruing!

Our interim destination is Kidderminster, which lies somewhat to the South-West of Birmingham. There we shall be meeting up with our daughter: Jane; and her husband: Max. Jane's birthday is on the 22nd. of this month, but mine is on the 16th. (No flowers, please!) to celebrate both of these momentous occasions we will be dining aboard a train, hauled by a steam locomotive of the Severn Valley Railway. This will be Jane's first experience of a steam-train; and my first meal on board such since 1952!!!

One can only hope.

So ... on a quiet, sunny evening; tied up on the bank of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal; I leave you for now. Tom.