Monday, September 29, 2008


My day with Kathryn was delightful. We went to an internet cafe, where I booked seats for Robin and me on today's flight and printed our boarding passes. Then we went to Kathryn's flat for lunch, a good talk, and a browse through family photos.

Kathryn had an errand to run, so we combined business with pleasure by going first to - oh, dear - Stowe-on-Wold (sp?) to pick up a piece of furniture, then off to the Slaughters, about which I had just been listening to a radio show. The Slaughters were very pretty, and I enjoyed rummaging in the Saxon-Norman church in Upper Slaughter. We left there and drove through the beautiful Cotswolds. Kathryn was telling me a story when we drove through Upper and Lower Swell. I commented that Swell was, in fact, swell, and she offered to turn around to get a better look. I decided, though, to save Swell for next year. We passed Blenheim and considered a detour to Churchill's burial site, but time was speeding by, so we headed back to Oxford, where we had a cup of coffee and went to the railway station. I was a little nervous about missing my train. It was going to be dark when I got to Reading, and I was none to confident about being able to find my way from the station to the boat in the dark. So Anyway, we made a quick pit stop at W.H. Smith in the station, and then we said good-bye. I am just so pleased that I finally got to meet Kathryn.
On my arrival in Reading, I visited its much larger W.H. Smith, bought a John Irving novel for my flight home, then found the queue for taxis and made some poor driver take me the four blocks or so to where our boat was moored.

This morning, we caught the bus to Heathrow. Robin is gazing out at planes landing and taking off, while I wander around the airport. We are scheduled to fly out at 1:05 this afternoon - not too long, now.

After we get home, I'll have to read through Robin's log, to reconnect with some of the places we visited. It all becomes a blur after a while.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Special day

I've left Robin in Reading, taken the train to Oxford, and I'm sitting in an internet cafe with Kathryn, who picked me up at the station and is about to show me the Cotswolds. Home tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Down the Rabbit Hole Again

"Again", because I spent 45 minutes at an internet cafe in Oxford yesterday. I typed up a splendid entry for this blog, then got cut off quite suddenly and lost the whole thing. I complained to the proprietor that there had been no warning, and he told me there had. Odd, since I was watching for it. Anyway, I made an indelicate remark and left, figuring he wasn't going to get another pound from me. That was actually my only unpleasant encounter in Oxford. In general, I found the city quite enchanting. Robin didn't agree.

I should back up, though, to fill in the few days preceding our visit to Oxford.

We had rented the narrowboat for the 19th (was that Friday?) in Reading, and we had to return our rental car to Bournemouth that same day - so we drove from "our" holiday caravan to Bournemouth - a three-hour drive - just in time for the noon drop-off. Brother David was waiting there for us, ready to drive back home, pick up Sheila, and all go to Reading. We had decided, though, that four people and all the baggage for four people would make for a very cramped ride. David drove to the railway station in Bournemouth and dropped me off. I had just time to eat lunch and buy a copy of A Thousand Splendid Suns before my train came. Then I had a quiet, happy journey to Reading, all on my own, watching for familiar stations along the way, diving happily into the book I'd been wanting to read.

I arrived in Reading at about 3 o'clock, went on board the Lord of Caversham, got my bearings, and waited for the arrival of my traveling companions. When we were all finally aboard, we set off in the direction of Oxford. We spent one night along the way, and had dinner at the local pub. Talking to people coming downstream, we discovered that the Thames had in fact just been opened to traffic after being shut down for a couple of weeks on account of flooding.

On arrival in Oxford on Sunday, David and I went hunting for the supermarket. We found Sainsbury's in the Westgate Shopping Centre, and along the way I stopped to ask about Evensong at Christ Church College. It was to be at 6 o'clock, and it would be choral. Perfect. Sheila's ankle was bothering her, so she stayed aboard to cook dinner. The men went to the pub just across the river (called The Head of the River), and I kept going to the chapel. After my Liturgical Music Fix, I joined the men for what has become my signature drink here - a half-pint of lemonade with just a splash of bitter to cut the sweetness. Then we went back to the boat, where Sheila had prepared us a lovely meal.

In the morning, we walked to the railway station and sent David and Sheila on their way home. We saw a tour bus parked in the car park outside the station, and we hopped aboard. We bought 24-hour tickets. We did the one-hour tour, then had the driver drop us off near The Head of the River. Later, while Robin rested and nursed his cold, I went back out, hopped another tour bus, and took part of the tour again (stopping midway to do my abortive blogging effort). I visited St. Mary the Virgin church, where the Oxford Movement was born, and where both the Wesley brothers preached. When I got back on (another) bus, I found that the young man doing the commentary was fascinating to listen to, and I nearly forgot to get off the bus - well, I did stay on longer than I had intended, just so I could hear the end of whatever story he was telling, so I had a bit of a walk to get back to the boat. Never mind. I stopped at Sainsbury's again and got our supper, and by the time I got aboard, Robin was just beginning to wonder what had happened to me.

This morning, we sailed to Abingdon, where we had a mechanical breakdown just above the Abingdon Lock. The throttle cable broke, so we could not manouever. That was interesting. The lock keeper helped us get through the lock and tie up, and we waited for the mechanic to arrive from the Reading boatyard. He fixed us up, sent us on our way, and we pulled in at the public mooring in Abingdon, where I tried to sink us (not really, but I nearly did it anyway). We are now settled in for the night. Our plan is to get back to Reading, then go up the Kennet & Avon Canal for a couple of days - because we both like the canal Much Better.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

When I last wrote, we were in Totnes. Instead of boarding the steam train to go back to Buckfastleigh, we took the diesel train and got off at Staverton - the only stop along the way - to look around. Robin got to have a pint of something called Croak and Stagger - a very strong, traditional ale. I had a sip and decided that was enough for me. When we boarded the steam train for the rest of our trip, we found that we were going back to Totnes before heading home - so we got a little extra ride for our money. Beside the track at one point, there is a hillside covered with little garden gnomes. Apparently one of the volunteers takes the gnomes in every winter, repaints them, and sets them back out for the entertainment of the train's passengers.

I don't think they planned this bit of entertainment, though - on a hillside there were some cows. One of them was lying down. As we passed by, she stood up and began licking the calf to which she had obviously just given birth.

Since that day, we have been busy scurrying around the West Country. On Sunday we came to Plymouth and took a harbour tour that featured a look at the fourteen naval ships currently docked here. We walked up onto the Hoe and sat watching people bowling on the green. That is where Sir Francis Drake is supposed to have been bowling when the Spanish Armada sailed past. I don't know whether the current green is in the same place, but probably so, as it provides a lovely view of the harbour.

On Monday we drove all the way to the north coast, to Lynton, where we rode the water railroad down the cliff to Lynmouth and wandered around the village.

Yesterday we went to Dawlish. There are so many places we've visited here, and I remember most of them fondly. I took one look at Dawlish Warren, just beyond Dawlish itself, and decided I never wanted to see it again. I found myself quoting Bette Davis ("What.a.dump."") It was tacky and tawdry and noisy and generally unpleasant. The fact that the town had seen fit to install "traffic calmers" all down the street leading there didn't help. I had a headache from bouncing around.

Fortunately, there was life after Dawlish Warren. Having got through the carnival, we walked along the dunes and down the beach, all the way to the mouth of the river Exe. The town of Exmouth was right across the river. We were out walking, resting from time to time, chatting with passersby, for over 2 1/2 hours.

Today is another day in Plymouth. While the menfolk take another cruise, I'm here to catch up. Now I'm told to go away. Bye for now.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


It's Saturday, 13 September, and we are in the town of Totnes, not far from where we're staying - (still in the caravan). We caught the steam train from Buckfastleigh to Totnes - a very nostalgic little trip. The sound of a steam train is unique - as is its gentle rocking motion. We've found that walking the High Street in Totnes is a positively alpine experience. We're pretty well at the top now, and I plan to just roll back down the hill!

I've tried to keep track of our travels over the last few days, but things do get muddled after a while. The last time I wrote, we were in Exeter - but I forgot to mention that we had also been at Slapton Ley. Pam will remember that place. Walking along the shore, I could picture her sitting there among the pebbles, getting splashed.

Since then, we've gone to Killerton Gardens, a National Trust site - I think that was Tuesday. The gardens weren't as impressive as Stourhead, but they were still beautiful, and the house was very interesting.

On Wednesday we went to Falmouth, in Cornwall, to see the Tall Ships Festival - but found there was no room for us. There wasn't a single parking space in town, so we kept going to Perranporth, a delightful coastal village, where we sat and watched the waves and ate Cornish ice cream.

Yesterday, we toured Buckland Abbey near Yelverton. That was my favourite trip to date. The property started out in the 12th Century as a Cistercian monastery. Henry VIII's soldiers destroyed most of it, and a lot of the stones went into the building of houses in the neighbourhood, but part of the monastery remained. Then a home was built alongside the remains of the monastery. Eventually Sir Francis Drake, who was born on a nearby farm, bought the house. He lived there with his first wife (between voyages), and after her death he remarried and lived there with his second wife. There's a very interesting museum, a place to have pasties and tea for lunch, and a studio where I did a brass rubbing.

Every evening, we stop in at the Packhorse, South Brent's local pub, where everybody knows our names - really. Over our nightly pint, we update all the locals on our travels. Great fun.

It's time to head back to the station now.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Another Rainy Day in England

This is Day 5. We are comfortably settled in at the holiday caravan in Devon, watching the weather reports carefully in order to plan our outings. We went to Plymouth yesterday, on a quest to have my cell phone unlocked. That didn't work out very well. We finally found the appropriate kiosk, and I asked the young man there to unlock my phone. He looked it over and said that unfortunately, mine was one of very few that he couldn't actually unlock. We went back to the Car Phone Warehouse, where we bought a cheap cell phone. It costs 20p per minute to talk to someone here in England, but only 4 cents per minute to call Canada. Anyway, we do now have an English phone number, which I've forwarded to family on both sides of the pond. Even at 20p, I think it's still cheaper than using my regular phone.

We are eating far too much sausage and bacon, and I've had two pasties already, not to mention the Melton Mowbray pie. We are walking a lot, so I'm hoping the greasefest won't have too much of an impact.

Last night was the last night of the U.S. Open tennis tournament, and all of Britain (except me) was cheering Andy Murray on. Poor British haven't had a champion since the thirties, iirc, and they had high hopes for Murray - but Roger Federer came through, to my delight. We have a television at the caravan, but it only brings in four channels - none of which was carrying the tennis match - so we listened to it on the radio. That turned out to be a great treat. We had the gas fire burning in the living room, and we sat all snuggled under blankets, staring at the light on the front of the radio. I think we should do that sort of thing more often.

Today's trip to Exeter is for the purpose of blogging and catching up on e-mail - and finding the little shop where Robin bought his bamboo walking stick for €1 a couple of years ago. He's lost it in Canada somewhere, so he wants to put out the big bucks to replace it.

So there we are, wandering the countryside - between rainstorms - in our little Nissan Micra - having fun.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

2008 trip begins

We fly out this afternoon. We'll be landing at Heathrow's Terminal 5, which has a terrible reputation. If I'm never heard from again, I'm probably lost in the terminal.

The weather in England has been terrible all summer, apparently, and tomorrow's forecast is More of the Same. As the official Bringer of Sunshine to England, I have my work cut out for me.