Friday, 17 July 2009

A normal week

The weather has been a bit odd lately, but I suppose everybody has noticed this phenomena - a good opportunity for an old fashioned moan, but not much fun for cruising.

As it happens, we have had a good excuse for not cruising this last couple of weeks having been in the process of finalising the purchase of a house in Rugby - not much point in leaving money in the bank to pay a dividend of 0.5% interest. Also we feel that it is about time we were re-acquainted with our goods and chattels that are still in storage. Jeeves particularly misses the figurines and other collectibles

As well as this, I have been scolded for not including some of the other amusing incidents that occurred while we were in Stoke Bruene. With particular regard to this poor squirrel that was taking a constitutional along the towpath near the tunnel when we turned up.

Unfortunately, it wasn't aware that the Blisworth Tunnel doesn't extend to a towpath and became trapped between us, the canal and a high concrete wall on the right of the path.

Eventually, it took the only option, and started up the tunnel wall, which it proceeded to climb - the wall actually slopes slightly back at an angle from the canal.

It paused to read the plaque and continued on its way up. The over the arch and up again until it reached the coping at the top. The mountaineering skills required for this overhand needed pitons and ropes, which the squirrel didn't possess. It tried though and fell off just below the coping edge!

In the next split second I wondered if squirrels could swim, but I wasn't to find out - remember the slope? Well after a fall of about ten feet, the little creature managed to scrabble a hold on some rough stones just above the yawning mouth of the tunnel. It then though better of rock climbing and scrambled across to the other side of the tunnel rampart and disappeared into the woods - I hope it had some nuts buried o that side, though if I were the squirrel, a stiff drink would have been more more welcome.

Other creatures seemed to be making the most of their surroundings as well, like this moorhen, which seemed to have commandeered a button as an interesting food source.

Then there were Neil and Ruth who joined us at 'The Boat' for a nice cool drink that we didn't deserve nearly as much as the squirrel!

Later that evening, we backed up several boat lengths (who says that you can't go astern in a narrowboat?) and winded near the tunnel for an early start the next morning. We wanted to get through the Blisworth tunnel before any boats were coming the other way and didn't wish to wake up all the other moored boats at the crack of dawn.
The following day we made it to Braunston (through both tunnels without incident this time). And who should we meet there, but Andy and Lyra, who were also out and about enjoying the fantastic weather.

Having made up time (doctor's appointment in Brinklow pending), we spent a day at Braunston, also meeting Richard and Sue who own NB Frog who keep their boat at Brinklow as well.
There was also reported to be some folk and jazz music on a the Admiral Nelson, but it turned out to be only recorded stuff, so we left that out.

There was a heck o a lot of traffic through Braunston that day - including Neil and Ruth on Nerus, who as they passed us in the late afternoon, said that they were mooring just the other side of Braunston for the night.

So, our mooring opposite the Old Mill looked less attractive (especially after some horrid music started at about nine o'clock). We therefore untied and meandered up the Oxford until we found Nerus tucked into the bank in an idylic rural setting.

A bottle of wine with good freinds and up the next morning for our return to Brinklow.

(that is enough about Stoke Bruene, and try to make the deadline in future - ed).

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Enter Warwick Castle

Right, well here we are at Warwick Castle. And it is not narrowboating, but at least a lot more up to date. There has been little of the cruising since Stoke Bruene as we have been in the throes of finalising a house purchase in Rugby.

You wouldn't believe how busy the castle was for a Monday (and not even school holidays yet) but, heaps of horrid noisy brats everywhere - mind you, I suppose they were enjoying themselves as I did on similar excursions when in my youth. Also a lot of foreigners from all parts of the globe, I hadn't realised that Warwick was such a tourist attraction - Rugby certainly isn't despite the recalcitrant and probably un-intellectual student of this famous institution who got bored and ran away with the ball in 1823. O for that matter; the poet Robert Brooks; the inventor Frank Whittle.

These can't really compete for the attention deficient nature of today's child, who will only settle for falconry; jousting larks, the drama of the Trebichet and the King making exhibition which is in fact a remarkable juxtaposition of artifacts from the era; Madame Tussaud figures and reproductions of all the goods and sundries that complement a rounded atmosphere of the time. Even one of the horses had an tail that twitched electronically, and there was a horrible 'authentic' smell to the scene.

Even the children commented on this (not favourably ether - TV and Video games haven't yet extended themselves to providing olfactory stimulation to visual and aural violence). Pointedly, they weren't enamoured of it, and I wonder what the smell of blood and faeces would do to improve their Hollywood and video killing games for them. Would they gain some sense of moral rectitude? Maybe, perhaps not, but one suspects that sales would certainly decline for any number of reasons. Most people; even brats like a clean, sterile and odourless world these days and only revel in violence and sex when it is at clinical arms length so to speak - seen and heard but not touched and smelled, let alone coped with in any sort of reality.

Enough of that, let us return to the raptors. The Castle staff seem to be gifted entertainers - well they behave as though they are anyway. The birds are entertainers, not vocal, but even unwittingly, they certainly are. Eagles all; Bald headed (lots of feather though sur la pate); White Tailed Sea Eagle (huge); a juvenile from the bald headed pair (who is learning to fly properly); and another who's taxonomy I forget.

They flew, hovered, and glided their way around the castle precincts, seemingly at the command of the falconer, and were rewarded for their efforts by pieces of meat, before dutifully swooping off to land on the waiting arm of an assistant falconer.

Jeeves and I were quite enthralled. The pictures above are mostly Jeeves effort - pretty difficult really, given that these birds zooming around.

There was a sign at the small entrance to the battlements that suggested that people with weak hearts or infirm limbs should not venture any further. Some mention of 400 and something stairs. Looking up, I wondered where these stairs led to heaven? The battlements and castle wall were only about the height of a three storey house.

Well! there was no turning back, onward and upward we went - then Guy's tower loomed ahead of us. There is no turning back; this part of the tour is only one way.

Phew! Made it to the top without heart attack and not too much shortness of breath. What a view! Look, I might be turning into a grumpy old man, but why does some idiot have to be posing for a photograph, at the top exit of a zillion stairs? But sure enough they were. And there were screeching and jumping kids as well - at least they had made the effort, but anyway, I had to be a little assertive to use a battlement for photography purposes.

Down we went again, but not too far, we had more battlements and turrets to traverse, replete with more spectacular views. Durham Cathedral has very spectacular views, afforded to the intrepid spiral stair climber as well, but all in all it is much more pleasant at the top of the tower. As well as being a tenth of the price for the exertion.

Never mind, lots more to see (and you'd better, having paid forty quid for it). We head along, up and down; finally to the Kingmakers exhibition. Of which I have spoken. Absolutely smashing, but impossible to enjoy properly for all the tourists posing among the exhibitions having their photographs taken in beguiling embraces with the waxen inhabitants, along with scores of jostling schoolchildren squawking and larking about with the exhibits (thoughtfully nailed down).

The Trebichet, slings a huge stone about four hundred yards. A remarkable medieval invention. So, it was no surprise that this piece of entertainment also drew a large crowned, presided over by a theatrical MC, who was attached to a radio microphone. The banter would suggest that he had some sort of military background - anyway, I've never seen one of these in action, and it was quite spectacular.

Probably the most interesting from our view was the 'Royal Party Weekend' exhibition. Some very helpful staff were also on hand to explain and expand on the exhibits at hand. Fascinating for example was a sideboard crafted and carved in the 19th century from timber that was hewn, sawn and carved from an oak tree that grew from and acorn planted by Queen Elisabeth in the 16th century on the estate of Warwick Castle.

In this part of the castle there are numerous rooms, medieval and Victorian, but I will not render this posting too tedious, given that most of you readers have a healthy interest in narrowboats.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Stoke Bruene Pt 5

I didn't think that you could get sunburnt in the Midlands; but you can. A heatwave Summer has been forecast, it seems that we were getting a taste of that on the Grand Union I can only say that I don't want it to get any hotter than this (it hasn't of course, and we have had some welcome rain since then).

There was a discussion about cats at the Narrowboat pub which I have been told to leave out and never repeat.

The next day saw us heading toward Blissworth Tunnel; another cracking day and passing Gayton Junction we were tempted to turn left and head up the Nothampton. The cool darkness of the tunnel beckoned though.

The silliness then started to creep in.

The first bit was my fault; I was reading the board adjacent t0 the entrance and forgot that I was also making a slight starboard turn into the stygian gloom of the tunnel.

Bang!! I sideswiped the railing on the port quarter. Crunch!! the stern scraped the starboard side. Then steady as she goes, but No!! to much port and then too much starboard.

Jeeves took over the helm - much better eyesight than mine, and she seemed to adjust to the darkness better. So there I was holding the torch to give some close reference to wall proximity, when Jeeves shouts:

'For God's sake Wooster, I've lost her -quick!!'

'What??' Came the inane answer.

'You'll have to take over. . Now!!'

The torch clattered to the deck and somehow I managed to stumble onto the counter and grab the helm. Too late!

We wanged into the right hand side of the tunnel and heeled over heading for the left side. Somehow, managed to get her back into mid-stream again and with increased revs, we continued to cruise through the third longest tunnel in the country. My eyesight had finally adjusted.

Passing boats in the tunnel was an interesting experience - but imaging the poor steerer on the boat pictured, when the flash went off. We do apologise to whoever that was, but. . . . . Jeeves gets enthusuastic with the camera sometimes.

More later plus pictures - have to make a phone call. (that was a bloody long phone call -ed.)