Bountiful blackberries

We eventually persuaded Amy’s mum to take her away so we could get back to our slow sedate pace of life.. Although what was the first thing I did? Go out blackberrying and made about 4 lbs of jam. I couldnt make more because my trusty preserving pan is aluminium and incompatible with our induction hob so it’s been rehomed with our daughter. Plus I don’t have a cupboard full of jam jars like my mother and grandmother. But at the rate Eric is eating it, I’ll soon have 4 empty jars and a clean mug.

Amy in a spin,

After our adventures at Warwick Castle, we needed a quiet day to recover. Not being one to sit idle, while Amy was dusting under the bed she discovered my spinning wheel and that was the last of the housework I got from her.

It didn’t take long for Amy to pick up the necessary skills to make a nice even yarn on the wheel. And if I’m honest I was very impressed. Spinning well, is as much about gauging how the process feels as it is about following a set of instructions. Amy watched how I spun then intuitively copied. It didn’t take long before she was confident to spin unsupervised.

I had seen a craft fair advertised in  Royal Leamington Spa so whilst Eric got on with doing some real work, Amy and I went exploring. Jephson gardens was awash with stalls selling all sorts of arts and crafts but the only one that caught our eye was the one selling fibre.  Amy’s icecream money got spent on a gorgeous batt of sparkly merino and silk fibre-she’s got good taste because it’s the one I’d have bought if I had room for any more stash on the boat.

Of course that meant we didn’t want to explore any more but straight back to the boat to spin.

Knowing that Amy wasn’t going to be able spin on a wheel at home, I taught her how to use a drop spindle as well and gave her one to take home with her.

Warwick castle

Warwick castle was supposed to have been a highlight of our trip but poor Amy had eaten too many blackberries and drunk too much elderberry potion, the birds of prey at the castle soon picked her bones clean.

We were a bit worried about what mum would say when she saw Amy in this state so we just had to ply her with icecream and hope that she hadn’t lost her giggles in the dungeon.

we made Amy climb the 500 steps that took us up and down the ramparts, the view was amazing but try as we might we couldn’t see the canal.

We also tried to loose Amy in the maze but I think it was Amy that led us to safety.

Overall we were impressed by the castle, yes it is run very commercially with princess costumes and foam armoury being touted at every corner, but the history of the castle hasn’t been neglected. Lots of side shows telling the tales of Warwick in snappy sound bites.

They put on a spectacular birds of prey show, where they were swooping low over the crowds, flying for bits of chopped up child, or so the demonstrator told us. I’m not sure if I was most impressed by the awsome size of the condor or the the WWI style dog fight with 8 red kites all diving for the same bit of meat thrown in the air.

And an acrobatic re enactment of the war of the roses with horses and knights jousting.  The giant trebuchet was spectacular. Another feat of engineering that seems unbelievable without the aid of our modern computing power.

A full and busy day as we were there from when the castle opened until it pulled up the draw bridge.

Blackberries, Elderberries and Plums.

Our galley slave Amy has been hard at work but to stop her going hungry during the week she needed to get out on the towpath and forage for her supper. Thankfully it’s berry season and it didn’t take long before Amy was starting to look like a blackberry she’d eaten so many.

Our most prolific haul came when an oncoming boater called out that he’d just passed a bush laden with ripe berries at the next bridge. As this was off towpath side they could only be reached by Eric hovering the boat and us leaning out of the bow.

Between us we made Blackberry and apple pie,

 coconut and blackberry traybake and  Blackberry jam for the croissants.

Then we started on the elderberries and and made Elderberry cordial.

When we researched our recipes online we discovered that elderberries their leaves and stems are toxic when raw and can cause sickness. So we simmered and stirred

then strained and cooled and diluted with sparkling water.  It frothed up into a real potion, but tasted delicious.

The tow path was scattered with squashed black stuff where we moored and as we looked up into the tree we realised it was a plum tree but they were just out of reach to pick. Amy had the bright idea of using the pole and hook to shake the branches whilst I grovelled around picking up any that looked like they’d survived gravity.

The mild concussion I suffered from the raining plums didn’t last long and We were all enjoying a ‘plum bakewell tart’

Eric thinks we should keep a galley slave permenantly cause he certainly doesn’t get cakes like this when I’m in charge….

Visitors on board

Oh ho, so I’ve come to realise that visitors and blogging don’t make good partners, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything.

Over the last week we have been joined by Amy.  Her mum and I used to be work colleagues and to ease my conscience for swanning it around when the rest of my friends are still slogging it out doing silly nurses shifts, we offered to have 11 year old Amy for the week. Of course it wasn’t simply an act of generosity,  we wanted someone younger and fitter to work the locks for us .


Amy, who’s never been on a narrow boat before proved her worth and became a full member of our crew. It puts me to shame how quickly and well she steered the boat.

Our cruising plan for the week was to pick up Amy at Norton junction, cruise back to Warwick, visit the castle and return as far as we could back towards Braunston.

 

Braunston

I’m not usually tempted to leave my bed before 6am but seeing the sunrise makes it worthwhile as I looked back over Stockton locks. We had shared the flight with Lisa and Emily who let me practice manoeuvring without worrying about their boat being bumped.

We parted company as they had to return to the real world whilst we cruised on to Braunston.

Beloved Braunston, heart of the Narrowboating community. And while Stratford was full of tourists looking at the boats, Braunston is full of boats looking for a place to moor.  The village is a short amble up the hill where the church nurtures boaters long passed, for contrary to popular belief it’s Vikings that depart to Valhalla on their burning long boat, not narrowboaters.

One of the Braunston highlights is Gongozzlers Rest. A Narrowboating cafe, and despite it being nearly lunch time, we did enjoy the full cooked breakfast.


Afterwards I was seranaded by a lovely lady playing a Native American Indian pipe. It was a beautiful sound and I have to say something I would like to learn to play myself.

Perhaps somewhere over the rainbow.

A little bit of Leamington

We dropped Mum off at Leamington Spa station, a stones throw from the canal, then I nipped into the Co op to pick up something for tea, I’ll only be a few minutes……

I discovered the Jephson Gardens. these Victorian Gardens where created in the mid 1800‘s to enhance the river Leam walk and named in honour of the Dr Henry Jephson, who promoted Leamington as a spa town.

Not only did it have a traditional formal garden three was a hot house full of tropical beauties. Passion flowers

And pink powder puff flowers -yes that’s what they’re actually known as

And a big fountain in the middle of a lake

All very pretty and I have a feeling we’ll be back next weekend.

Wending our way towards Warwick

From Lapworth, Firecrest was to wend her way onto the Grand Union Canal towards Warwick

but first I hopped on a train into Birmingham to meet Mum on her connecting train. It was to be her first visit to our new home, and I couldn’t wait to show her our new lifestyle.

We’d planned a short evening cruise to the start of the Hatton flight so she knew what a tranquil life we lead,

before the daunting prospect of 21 locks in a row. We even got our first photo of a kingfisher. -humour me, it’s in the centre, get your magnifying glass out.

Tuesday broke with weather set fair for the flight and the boat ahead of us were not only happy to share the locks but they’d been boating for many years and had a wealth of experience to share. Thankyou Alan and Heather from NB Hull Cottage.

And looking back.

And before we knew it we were moored up and having lunch at The Cape of Good Hope pub, patting ourselves on the back for a job well done. Then in keeping with our tradition, mum and I played scrabble and she won.

The weather changed on Wednesday so mum and I caught a bus into Warwick centre and found some nice coffee shops and had lunch in the restaurant at the Lord Leycster Hospital, it was delicious and I would recommend it. We couldn’t resist a wander around St Mary’s church for our history fix and I discovered that the chained and muzzled bear on the Warwick coat of arms had come about because one of the early earls of Warwick had captured a bear in the forest and kept it on a ragged staff, he then was found guilty of treason but later granted a reprieve, however the King decreed that whilst the earl couldn’t be silenced as an act of symbolism, his bear should be kept muzzled.

I won the scrabble on Wednesday but sadly Mum had to return to her home on Thursday so we declared it a draw.

 

Aquaducts and Tunnels

 


On the Stratford canal we passed over the longest aquaduct in England at Edstone (pontcycsyllte is the longest in uk and Wales). 475feet long. Aquaducts are usually more impressive when viewed from below but this one spans a river a road and a railway, and is 28feet high so quite scary looking down.

The aquaducts towpaths on the Stratford canal are unusual because they were built to run at the depth of the canal trough, not the usual level with the water.

Shortly after we turned onto the Grand Union canal we came to a tunnel. It’s interesting because it has a separate adjacent tunnel for the horses towing path.

The Shrewley tunnel, built in 1799. It leaks. Some say it’s haunted but I think it’s just the boaters shrieking when they get dripped on.

Bye bye Rivers Hello Canals

It feels good to be back on a canal again. This time, up the Stratford canal towards Lapworth Junction.

I’d not given it much thought before but somehow the shape of a narrowboat just feels right on a canal, but is out of proportion on the river. And we feel more connected to the landscape around us.

Stratford canal has narrow locks and very narrow bridges. And with 34 locks to do in 2 days I decided it was time Eric did some of the hard work and I took the plunge and had a go at driving. The poor boat had acquired so many scratches over the past few weeks that any accidental intimacy with the brickwork wasn’t going to cause a major meltdown. Now I can proudly say I have now driven Firecrest through locks and all three of us, me Eric and the boat survived.

We didn’t think we were going to get very far on day two of this journey, just after we left Wootton Wawen we realised there was a hold up ahead with a boat stuck in the entrance of a lock. They hadn’t been able to open the gate fully so thought that the weight of their boat would complete the job pushing it open….. Nope, they got stuck fast. As they were still within walking distance of their hire base they called Anglo Welsh, who managed to wriggle them out by letting some water in, and then with the help of the trusty boaters friend, -the mallet, the gate opened and closed after them so they were on their way. To be fair the same could have happened to any of us, it wasn’t their fault. As no such luck for the three following boats, the gate jammed again and no amount of brute force would budge it. We called CaRT out, who arrived within the hour and used rakes and poles to shift an obstruction for us. Apparently there has been a lot of vandalism on the canal and they have to rake out the locks several times a week. This lock will be recorded as our slowest at 2.5 hours. But it couldn’t have happened in a prettier place and we enjoyed chatting to our new friends and really it added a bit of excitement to the day.

One of the things the Stratford canal is known for is its Barrel houses. These unusually shaped houses were built as lock keepers cottages at the same time the canals were built, by the same navvies. Because they knew how to build bridge arches they built the house roofs they same way.

The bridges also feature an interesting design. They don’t meet completely in the middle allowing the horses tow rope to be passed through.