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Clive & Melanie Morris - Narrowboat Folkies



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August 31st 2011 - Ellesmere, Shropshire

Posted by clivenmel on 3 September, 2011 at 10:50

Well we have had a very busy August what with one thing and another, travelled quite a distance, met up with lots of old friends and family and seen some amazing sights! So I am afraid this could turn into War and Peace!


We left Market Drayton on Saturday August 6th and continued our journey up the Shroppie, and soon arrived at the Adderley flight of five locks.  A new farm shop, which I had seen advertised in Drayton, has opened adjacent to Lock 1 selling bread, cakes, eggs etc and various meat products. I went over the lock gate to have a look at the produce and the farmer himself came to see what I wanted.  The meat was in another building over near the farmhouse so I walked across the farmyard with him.  On the way we passed a pile of plant pots and old white sinks.  I asked him what he was doing with them and said he wanted to get rid of them.  I said I would be delighted to take one of the sinks off his hands.  So after I had stocked up on burgers, pork steaks and sausages we walked back to the boat and he asked me which sink I would like – I pointed to a nice Belfast sink, which I thought would be perfect.  I went back to the boat and stowed the food away then we put the boat in the lock. The farmer appeared with a mini version of a JCB with the Belfast sink in the bucket, he lifted it over the hedge and deposited it on the bank, then he and Clive carried it over to the boat, which had now sunk down in the lock to a height where they could just step onto it and put the sink on the roof. 


Now you may be asking yourself why on Earth I would want a Belfast sink on the boat and the answer is that I miss gardening and thought it would make a great veggie plot! Unfortunately it’s a bit late this year to plant much so I decided I would use it for the various herb plants which I have either bought or grown from seed and maybe plant some seeds to provide us with salad leaves for the next few weeks.  All I needed now was some compost!


We reached the bottom of the Adderley flight and decided to call it a day and tackle the Audlem flight tomorrow.  We didn’t want to rush down to Audlem as we intended to stay there a couple of days in order to go to the folk night at the Shroppie Fly on Monday.  


Over the last three years, since moving onto the boat, I have been communicating by text only with an old school friend, ChristineThorpe.  She and I were at junior school together, however she passed her 11 Plus (I didn’t!) and went off to Greenhead High School along with my good friend Lindsey Britton, who is now in New Zealand.  She and Lindsey have been best friends all these years whereas I have had virtually no contact with Christine since.  Well, she and her partner Andy have a narrowboat too and they spend as much time as possible on board.  I have received many texts from Christine telling me where they are and asking where we are and up until now we have always been at opposite ends of the country!  However about a week ago she texted me to say that they were travelling towards Audlem and would be staying for a few days as their boat would be having a service at the new marina there.  I was absolutely delighted that as we too were heading up to Audlem we were finally going to meet. 


So, on Sunday morning we set off down the flight and just before we reached Audlem itself Clive decided to pull in and walk down to see if there were any moorings near the pub. As he was walking past the Shroppie Fly a guy who was sitting at one of the outside tables said “Hey that’s Clive, I recognise him from the blog” it was Christine’s partner Andy!  Clive had a quick chat with them and then after finding a mooring right opposite the pub he came back up the towpath to fetch the boat. We went down the last lock, moored up, had a quick wash and brush up then crossed over the lock gates to the pub and I finally got to speak to Christine in person!  It was amazing to see her again after all these years, she’s hardly changed at all.


Andy, Christine and Clive


We spent a lovely afternoon with them then unfortunately Andy had to return to Manchester as he was working in the morning. Christine said she would see us again tomorrow and would come to the folk night, excellent!


We spent a pretty lazy day on Monday, had a walk up to the town to do a bit of shopping at the Co-op and then relaxed in the afternoon, Christine called in for a coffee and the guided tour of Lady Arwen then went back to her boat, Ceiriog. After dinner we put on our glad rags, grabbed the instruments and headed over the lock gates to the Shroppie Fly. Christine turned up a short time later and before long people started arriving carrying various instrument cases. We recognised several of the musicians from our previous visits to theShroppie Fly folk night.  There was a fiddler, a couple of guys playing whistles and recorders, a hurdy gurdy man, a lady playing an electric keyboard and a couple of accordion players.  One gentleman whom we have seen there before plays a fascinating instrument called a Psalter, which sounds lovely.  There were also several singers and guitar players.


A Psalter (which needs dusting!)


We had a great evening both listening to the others and playing and singing ourselves, Christine seemed to enjoy it too.  It’s a bit of a free for all, there is no organisation to the evening at all, you just have to wait for a gap then dive in with a tune or a song before somebody else starts!  The nice thing is that everybody joins in if they know a song or tune, I sang John Denver’s “Country Roads” and it was lovely singing with the backing of all the various instruments and people joining in with the choruses too.


In full swing!


All good things come to an end and we finally said goodnight to everyone and headed back to the boat, having arranged to see Christine in the morning to have the guided tour of Ceiriog before heading off once more.


Tuesday 9th August - after breakfast we set off down the towpath to where Ceiriog was moored.  We actually met Christine on the way down, she thought we had got lost!  It’s always nice to go aboard other people’s boats and see how they are fitted out, they are all so different.  It’s amazing how just using different materials, designs and layouts can make vessels of more or less the same dimensions look totally different!  Ceiriog is a lovely boat but it was custom made for a single man who occasionally had a single visitor so it has two single bunks and no fixed double, Christine and Andy are currently making do with a double airbed in the saloon until they can decide how best to redesign the boat to accommodate a double bunk. 


It was time to move on again – Christine came back up to the boat with us and then helped me with the last three locks on the way back down. We also wanted to visit George. George is a very enterprising gentleman. He has opened a farm shop adjacent to the bottom lock of the Audlem Flight selling fresh veg, eggs, fruit and meat. Not only that though, he has made use of the strip of land along the side of the lock where he grows fresh veggies, its wonderful!  Christine got to know of him whilst Ceiriog was moored in the marina last winter.  I stocked up on yet more fresh produce whilst Lady Arwen was going down in the lock!  Christine stayed on board with us until we cruised past the new marina where we dropped her off, she was going to have lunch in the marina cafe.  Before parting she said that as her car was parked at the Shroppie Fly she would be delighted to take us shopping if there was anything we needed.  There was – some wood to make a couple of batons to support the sink on the roof and some potting compost!  So we made arrangements that she would drive over to Nantwich the following day and take us to B & Q, brilliant!


We resumed our journey and by the end of the day were moored up in Nantwich.  Now Christine isn’t the only school friend we met up with this week, you may remember from previous blogs that one of my oldest friends Heather Welch (was Martin) lives in Nantwich with her husband Les and two daughters, Emily and Lucy.  We have met up with them several times now when passing through the area and I had let her know we would be in Nantwich soon.  I contacted her when we arrived and it was arranged that she and Les would come and collect us and a Chinese take-way and take us back to their house for the evening.  We had a lovely time, it was great to see them again and catch up on all the news.  We also got to meet the new addition to their family, Teddy, an extremely cute, fluffy Shitzu!


Christine duly arrived the next afternoon and we headed off in search of a B&Q only to discover that there isn’t one in Nantwich, we had to drive to Crewe!  We found the timber section and inspected all the different kinds of wood that were available and finally settled on a piece of treated 2” x 2” – perfect!  We asked a couple of young men from the timber department if there was a wood cutting service available, there certainly is they said but unfortunately we can’t cut treated wood!  The reason for this was – guess what – Health and Safety Rules! Treated wood evidently gives off fumes when cut with a power saw so they can’t do it.  Clive asked if they could cut it with a hand saw – the answer was no, it’s against H & S rules to use a hand saw, too dangerous!  Oh boy, what is the world coming to!!  We managed to get the whole piece of wood into Christine’s car through the back door and through the seats with one end in the footwell and the other just shy of the roof in the back!   We also bought a bag of compost, which we put in the boot. When we got back we extricated the piece of wood ok but the compost bag had split and spilled compost all over Christine’s boot!  She was very gracious about it and said not to worry.  We were very grateful to her indeed for coming and taking us shopping, especially considering she didn’t manage to get the only thing she actually wanted, which was car headlight bulbs for the interior lights on her boat! This will not be the last we see of Christine as she and Andy are planning to overwinter Ceiriog in or near Huddersfield and as we are doing the same we will most likely bump into them again.


As soon as we got back to the boat I stripped the bed and put all the laundry into bags and headed down the towpath to the marina where there is the best launderette on the canal system in my opinion!  I managed to get all the laundry washed, dried and back on the boat in two hours – brilliant!  When I got back to the boat Clive had taken his life in his hands and despite the danger had managed to saw up the wood we had bought at B & Q and the sink was now sitting proudly on the roof on its new batons.


The sink!


As soon as the laundry was stowed away and the bed remade I got on with the dinner.  We had to eat early because we were going out again!  Heather and Les came and picked us up and we headed off to Crewe, for the second time in one day!  We were off to the cinema to see the second part of Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows in 3D!  It was an awesome movie but its a bit sad knowing it is the very end of a brilliant saga.  We were a bit cross though that the movie makers can’t all seem to agree on the 3D process.  We have two sets of 3D glasses now from two different movies but we couldn’t use either of them to see the Harry Potter movie, they didn’t work!  We had to collect another set as we went in but these we gladly returned on the way out as they were horrible!  Heather and Les dropped us off back at the boat and we said goodbye but promised we would be in touch again before leaving the district.


On the morning of Thursday August 11th we left Nantwich and headed off once more to prepare for our next visitors! Clive’s sister Carol and her husband Ivan were coming to stay with us for the weekend and we had arranged to meet them at The Shady Oak pub, which is not far from Beeston Castle.  We managed to moor up just a short walk along the towpath from the pub.  Carol and Ivan arrived the following evening, it was great to see them again.  On the Saturday morning we took them for a cruise up the canal to the Tattenhall Marina as we needed a pump-out, then we turned around and cruised back to the Shady Oak.  After lunch we went for a walk up to the castle, which was about a mile away.  It wasn’t a particularly nice day but at least it wasn’t raining! 


Beeston Castle


We walked up the towpath then through a gate onto a footpath which took us under the railway line, through a field full of cows and finally onto the road up to the castle.  I was very glad I had taken my hiking poles, which I had acquired in New Zealand, they were very useful on the climb up to the castle!  The views from the castle are absolutely awesome, you can actually see five counties from up there.  We could see all the way to Ellesmere Port to the North and Jodderel Bank RadioTelescope to the South East.


Jodrel Bank in the distance


We went for a coffee at a little café run by an elderly couple just opposite the castle gates.  Well we had quite a giggle I can tell you.  There were quite a few people sitting outside the café (it had brightened up a bit by now) waiting for their orders.  When we placed ours there were two cups of tea sitting on the counter, they were still there after several minutes!  The female half of the partnership was a wee bit yonderley and couldn’t seem to retain a memory for very long and kept getting the orders wrong, she reminded Carol of Mrs Overall from the TV sitcom!  We finally got our drinks and then overheard the people on the next table muttering about not having got their cups of tea yet – these must have been the two cups still sitting on the counter in the café! 


After our refreshment we headed back across the fields to where Lady Arwen was moored back at The Shady Oak.   We had managed to spot her from the top of the castle mound, you can just make out the pramhood canopy behind the hedge!


Spot Lady Arwen!


We went over to The Shady Oak for dinner that evening and very nice it was too.  The next day, before Carol and Ivan left to return to Huddersfield, we had a lovely Sunday dinner on board.  I cooked the gorgeous pork steaks which I had bought from the farmer at the top of the Adderley flight along with fresh veg that Carol and Ivan had brought with them, it was yummy!  We then said our goodbyes but it won’t be long before we see them again as we will be in Huddersfield for a family gathering on September 10th.


Monday 15th August – we left The Shady Oak behind and had a very pleasant cruise.  We stopped off in the village of Egg Bridge to get a few provisions from the local shop then a short while later moored up at The Cheshire Cat pub at Christleton.


Tuesday 16th August – For the last few years Clive has been researching his family tree.  He had done so well with his mother’s side of the family that he decided to make his tree public on  A short while after it was published he got an email via Ancestry from a gentleman called David Fuller who thought he and Clive might be related.  They are - it turns out that Clive’s maternal grandfather William Fuller and David’s paternal grandfather Arthur Fuller were brothers! Not only that but William and Arthur married two sisters, Fanny and Mary Elizabeth (Polly) Meakin respectively. So Clive and David are actually related twice!  David lives near Chester so as we were in the district we arranged to meet him and his wife Nan at The Cheshire Cat this afternoon – Clive was really looking forward to it!


We walked down the towpath to the pub and I said to Clive that we ought to have arranged for each of them to wear a red carnation or something so that they would recognise each other! It wasn’t necessary, as we went through the gap in the hedge into the pub car park a couple were just getting out of their car and the man saw us and said “Clive?”  It was them.  We had a lovely afternoon, David had brought some photos to show us, which were very interesting indeed.  I was actually surprised to find that Clive and David don’t look more alike, considering they share the same gene pool but they don’t do they?


Second cousins - David and Clive


We finally said goodbye to David and Nan but we are going to see them again very soon.  I mentioned earlier that we were going to Huddersfield for a family gathering, well Clive’s cousin Deborah has arranged for a reunion of the Fuller and Meakin families (Deborah’s mum Ruby was Clive’s mum’s sister). So far there are about 30 people coming, it should be quite an afternoon.  When Clive told David about it and asked if he would like to come he was delighted, in fact he is going to bring his 87 year old mum as well so it should be interesting for Clive’s mum to meet her as she does actually have memories of David’s father when he was a young man.  We are really looking forward to seeing everybody again and meeting some of the younger generation for the first time.  David has very kindly offered to collect us from the boat and give us a lift to Huddersfield on the day.


In the morning we headed off once more and it wasn’t long before we arrived in Chester.  We moored up very close to the city centre, right opposite the Bingo hall!  We could actually hear the caller calling the numbers out!  We did however spend a very peaceful night there, apart from the sound of the busy road that crossed the canal just behind us.  The next day after breakfast we went shopping at a Tesco store which was a very short walk from the boat then after stowing away all the shopping we headed into Chester itself to do a bit of sightseeing.  Chester is a lovely old city steeped in history and still has a lot of evidence of the Romans who lived there centuries ago.  The centre itself is lovely, full of old Tudor style buildings and it also boasts a very high calibre of buskers, a bit like Cambridge does.  There were two elderly gentlemen performing some awesome jazz, an accomplished flautist playing to a backing track and also a guy on a keyboard accompanied by the most fantastic violinist playing beautiful tunes like Memories and My Heart Will Go On!


The Jazzmen


We did a bit of shopping, Clive needed new trousers.  I needed to talk to somebody about mobile phones as I'm due for an upgrade but also considering changing to a different provider so we went into the Carphone Warehouse and a young man called Martin was extremely helpful and gave me lots of advice about different providers and smart phones – my heads buzzing now, I still don’t know what to do!


After that we walked through the Roman Gardens and looked at the remains of a villa showing the original underfloor heating design or hypocaust system.


Original underfloor heating system!


We walked right down to the river and stopped at a café for a snack.  There weren’t any free tables so when I spotted a gentleman in biker’s leathers sitting on his own I asked if we could join him, he said yes.  Clive had noticed a beautiful old bike parked near the café and had gone to look at it, when he came and sat down he got chatting to the biker and it turned out it was his bike that Clive had been admiring, a fully restored 1970’s Triumph Bonneville!


The Bonnie!


He informed us that he now lives in Valencia, Spain and had just ridden from there to Chester over the last few days to visit his daughter. He said it had been an awesome ride and the bike had behaved absolutely beautifully.  Clive was entranced!


After our snack we set off in search of the Roman amphitheatre, it didn’t take us long to find it, not that there is very much left! However it was great to see it, I didn’t even know there was one in Chester!  Clive insisted on taking my photo on the tethering stone!


Here I am wondering if the Romans left any gladiators or lions behind!


All in all we had a very pleasant stay in Chester and I suspect we will come back here again one of these days.  On Friday morning it was time to leave so we turned the boat around and headed back up the canal and moored again at The Cheshire Cat. Then the next day we cruised up to Barbridge Junction, which isn’t far from Nantwich.  I phoned Heather on the way and asked if she and Les could join us on the boat for a meal that evening, they said yes.  We had a lovely evening, it was really nice to be able to reciprocate the hospitality that Heather and Les have shown us on several occasions, not least New Years Eve 2010!  There was only one thing to marr the evening, during the meal Clive had noticed something but kept quiet about it.  I actually sort of noticed it myself but in the dim light couldn’t be certain of what I had seen and then I forgot about it.  However when Heather and Les had gone Clive told me – the garnet was missing from his engagement ring!  The ring was empty on his little finger – we were both gutted.  We searched the boat from end to end but there was no sign of the stone.  The other problem is that he can’t get the ring off!!


Every time we have cruised up or down the Shroppie we have passed the end of the Llangollen Canal but up to press, for one reason or another, we have never turned up this much renowned stretch of canal so we decided to take the opportunity of doing it as we were so close.  Therefore on Saturday morning, August 20th we headed down to the junction, turned right and came to a dead stop - there was a queue for the locks!  There were four boats waiting to go up the Hurleston flight of four single locks and only one boat coming down so it took quite a while but finally we made it.


The Llangollen is probably the most popular canal on the whole of the system, it is certainly very, very busy!  There is a constant stream of holiday hire boats heading in both directions and bear in mind some of the people on board have just taken on a 65’ boat without a clue or any previous experience on a boat – quite scary! It makes for some exciting encounters at narrow bridges I can tell you, its not easy doing an emergency stop in one of these things!  However so far we have escaped unscathed if a little ruffled round the edges.  As we have been cruising along we have come to understand why it is so popular.  The countryside through which it weaves its way is absolutely stunning.  There are some stretches of the waterway where we have to slow right down to pass moored residential boats, this can be a bit tedious, especially when there are boats moored for almost a mile but you just can’t go quickly because the wash the boat creates really buffets the moored boats and can at the worst rip out mooring pins and set boats adrift so one just has to be courteous so as not to upset fellow boaters.  Some of them can be a bit grumpy, others are very pleasant and give you a wave and some are just downright cute!


Fellow boaters!


One of the obstacles we had to negotiate on our travels along the Llangollen was the Grindley Brook staircase lock flight. Now we have done staircase locks before such as the Watford flight and of course the Foxton flight but this one was different!  The ones we have done before had a special system of red and white paddles, the red to be opened first, always!  They also had holding ponds adjacent to the flight to transfer the water for the locks. Grindley Brook is different, there are three locks all joined together but no holding ponds and only normal paddles on each gate.  The procedure for going up this flight is to first ensure that the top and middle locks are full and the bottom lock empty.  You enter the bottom lock and open the paddles, the lock then fills from the middle lock until the water levels are equalised and you can move up into the next lock, open the paddles and the middle lock fills from top lock and you move up again then finally fill the top lock and your done!  As the canal is so busy for most of the summer there is a lock keeper on hand to ensure it all runs smoothly.  He allows three boats to go up the flight, one after the other, then lets three come down and so on all day.  A fellow boater asked him how long he does it for, his reply was “May to October then I go into rehab to prepare for the next season”! 


Rather dishy lockkeeper!


We had to queue for about an hour as there were five boats in front of us and three coming down as well.  It gave me chance to nip into the little shop adjacent to the flight and pick up a few bits and bobs, including a second hand paperback for a pound for Clive and two bottlesof Dandelion and Burdock for me – yummy!


Finally we were at the top and on our way again.  We cruised on for a while longer then found a lovely mooring in a beautifully rural spot which was very peaceful and quiet except when a tractor went across the bridge just in front of the boat!  I went to secure the bow rope whilst Clive dealt with the stern when I heard a whoop of delight from him, I rushed back to see what he was so excited about.  Unbelievably, in fact miraculously he had found the garnet from his ring – it was just sitting right on the stern of the boat!  We couldn’t believe it, how on Earth it had managed to remain where it was without falling into the water we will never know, it was near to the stern cleat so Clive presumes it must have fallen out of the ring as he was securing the rope a few days earlier.  We are both absolutely delighted and relieved that it has been found. Mind you we still have to get the ring off his finger somehow because it will need to go to a jewellers to have the stone refitted as a couple of the claws have gone!


The garnet from Clive's ring on the back of the boat, only inches from the edge!


Once we were moored in this delightful spot I decided it was the perfect opportunity to plant up The Sink!  First problem – how to get onto the roof!  Clive came up with the solution and got our gangplank/ladder off the roof and placed it at the side of the boat so I could just climb up, brilliant.  He passed the bag of compost up to me and brought all the plants down from the stern and then helped me to fill the sink with the compost.


Mel gardening!


At one sideI planted all the herbs that I have had growing in a variety of pots and at the other side I sowed some land cress and salad leaf seeds.  I stretched some cling film over this side of the sink to protect the seeds until they have germinated.  I really enjoyed my afternoon gardening!

Herb and salad garden


Tuesday August 23rd – When we were on our travels in New Zealand we went up to the Bay of Islands to a lovely town called Russell.  We met an English couple sitting on the beach there who spend six months in NZ every year touring in their campervan and the other six months cruising the British waterways in their traditional narrowboat, Duke.  Imagine my surprise today as we were cruising along the Llangollen when a boat passed us going the other way, it was Duke!  I called out to the couple on the stern as we were passing and reminded them of where we last met, they remembered!


Duke disappearing down the cut!


How incredible is that - complete strangers meeting twice in the same year on opposite sides of the planet!  Just the simple fact that we were in the same two places at the very same time – what must the odds be?


After all that excitement we settled down to enjoy cruising through some beautiful scenery as we passed by the Mere’s, of which there are several.  The one in the photograph is Blake Mere.  The canal and mere are separated by little more than the towpath!


Blake Mere


We eventually arrived at Ellesmere and managed to just squeeze into a spot at the Wharf very conveniently adjacent to Tesco! So without more ado we grabbed the shopping bags and went to stock up the cupboards.  The following morning we headed off again and finally moored up at a pub called The Narrowboat Inn which is on the A495 to Oswestry.  There was a good reason for being here, we had decided to take a trip into Oswestry to visit the Patrick James Eggle guitar factory where Clive’s beautiful guitar was made.


The next afternoon we got a taxi to the factory. When we arrived we were welcomed by Rab. Clive had brought his guitar with him in order to have it checked over and serviced if necessary so Rab gave it a once over and said that it was in remarkable condition considering it is now three and a half years old and more to the point lives on a narrowboat!  He had expected a bit of movement but there was none, he gave it a clean bill of health. 


Rab giving Clive's guitar a check up


Rab then called the luthier himself, Mr Patrick James Eggle, who came down to reception to meet us and then he took us on a guided tour of the factory, which was fascinating!  We told Patrick that we actually have a mutual friend.  Patrick used to live in Harpenden and his old next door neighbours were our very goodfriends Jim and Jean Hysom and their sons Malcolm, Colin and Iain.  He was delighted to hear how they were all getting on and asked us to pass on his very best wishes to them all.


Patrick James Eggle and Clive with his guitar


We had a really great time at the Eggle factory, it was absolutely fascinating seeing how guitars are made and getting to meet Patrick as well put the icing on the cake. 


The next morning we resumed our journey and what an exciting journey it was going to be!  The Llangollen Canal is not popular just because the scenery is beautiful, its popularity is mainly because of an incredible feat of engineering by Thomas Telford,  the Pontcysyllte (pron. Pon-cus-hulta sort of!) Aqueduct.  This awesome aqueduct, which has recently been given World Heritage Status, brings people from far and near to see and to cross it, either on foot or by boat.  However, it is not the only amazing aqueduct on the Llangollen, there is another one which you come to first, The Chirk aqueduct, which is also flanked by an equally magnificent railway viaduct.  We arrived at the Chirk and I jumped off the boat to get some photos as she was making her way across.


Crossing the Chirk Aqueduct


Immediately after the aqueduct is the 459 yard long Chirk Tunnel, we had to wait before going through as it is only wide enough for a single craft and there was one coming the other way, in fact we thought there were two coming as we could see two headlights but one of them turned out to be a man on a bicycle coming along the tunnel towpath!  We got through the tunnel and as we were cruising along I spotted the “big one” through the gap in the trees!


The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in the distance


Now I have to confess I was getting quite nervous at the thought of crossing the PA, I have seen pictures and heard people talking and I know that there is a towpath along one side of this amazing structure but on the other there is nothing, absolutely NOTHING!  Well, there is the edge of the iron trough that carries the water, the edge being approximately six inches wide – six inches between me and the void! We finally arrived and all my fears were realised!


The six inch wide edge!


Did I say nervous, I was absolutely terrified!  I had to take photographs when all I really wanted to do was rush inside and put my head under a cushion so I couldn’t see!  Instead I got off the boat and took some photos from the safety of the towpath!


Crossing the Big One!


Then I plucked up the courage to jump back on again and take some more photos from theboat but I had to ask Clive to hold on to me, just for reassurance.  I must say it felt as if we were flying, I would have liked to have fastened the canvas dodger shut to give me a vestige of safety but when all said and done it would have spoiled the view!


Flying boat!


I asked Clive if it bothered him at all, he said that he had a slight leaden feeling in his stomach but having done mountain climbing in his youth he has been at much greater heights than the mere 127 feet of the aqueduct and without a boat beneath his feet!  Still it made me feel better just knowing he had felt that slight twinge!


Our brave pilot!


Finally we arrived safely at the other side – phew! Then we had to find a mooring where we could stay for 48 hours or more.  At first it didn’t look very promising as there were an awful lot of boats around, however there is a little arm the peters away to nothing and we managed to find a spot just big enough to squeeze Lady Arwen into but Clive had to swing the boat around first and reverse in!


Once we were settled in one of our neighbours came to pay us a visit, didn’t bother with the door just jumped in through the window and demanded afternoon tea!  Clive being the softy he is couldn’t resist!


Visiting neighbour!


I had to produce a saucer of milk as well!  This cute kitty was actually one of several plus a dog that lived on the boat moored behind us.  They also had a tiny tabby kitten needing a home but we managed to restrain ourselves – I actually thought Clive was going to give in after his response to the black cat but he said that was because it felt thin and he just had to give it something to eat, bless!


We were staying put to prepare for our next visitors!  Vicki and Ben were coming to stay with us on Friday night and in the morning we planned to take them for a cruise over the aqueduct and back – perhaps I could just go shopping or something!


They arrived in very good time, despite the Bank Holiday rush.  They left Cambridge just after 6pm and were with us just after 9pm, not bad going at all.  We all tucked into Butter Chicken and stir fried veg and sat up chatting till midnight! Needless to say we didn’t get up early the next  morning!  We should have done really because by the time we were all up, dressed and breakfasted it was nearly 11.00am!  We had promised that we would take them for a cruise but there just wasn’t time to go very far so we decided to take them over the aqueduct and back and just as we were setting off it started raining!  Out came the umbrella and waterproofs and at one point, in the middle of the aqueduct, the wind was blowing quite strongly and I was worried that Vicki was going to do a Mary Poppins and go flying off the boat! Fortunately Ben was holding her tight so she stayed put. 


Mary Poppins!

We reached the far end of the aqueduct and turned around ready to come back but had to wait as there was another boat coming across. It gave me time to fish out some coats for Vicki and Ben as they had left theirs in the car!  Ben managed to squeeze into my Berghaus (he's a big guy!) and Vicki put on my cosy winter coat, which looked huge on her.  They might look a bit comical but they did at least keep dry!


Coats!  One too tight and one too big!


When we got back to the basin we were very glad to see that our mooring space was still available and Clive very deftly did a three point turn and reversed back into our spot, then we all went to the pub for lunch!  All too soon it was time for Vicki and Ben to leave for the drive to Huddersfield.  They’re off to visit the rellies!  All being well we will be seeing them again in a few weeks time as Clive and I will be nipping down to Cambridge for a couple of days and have booked bed and breakfast at their house! 


When we got back after lunch we found that we had a neighbour, a very close neighbour, a boat was moored alongside us!  Not a problem as we do have a sticker in the window saying other boats are welcome to moor alongside if moorings are in short supply.


Lady Arwen doubled moored


We had contemplated cruising to Llangollen that afternoon but the weather just couldn’t seem to make its mind up, one minute it was pouring with rain and the next blue sky and hot sunshine, so we decided to wait till the morning!


Sunday August 28th – It was a beautiful morning when we woke up so we upped sticks and headed off for Llangollen.  It was a wonderful cruise through some stunning scenery.  We spotted this ancient edifice high up on a hilltop, it reminded us of Weathertop from Lord of the Rings!




Now we had been warned by several people about the Llangollen Canal and its narrows.  I had taken the precaution of charging up the walkie-talkies ready for these single width stretches and was very glad I had.  There are three single working stretches and it means someone walking up ahead several hundred yards to be able to see whether there is anyone coming the other way as boats cannot pass on this section.  The people who don’t have a communication aid have to run back and wave frantically at their boats to give them instructions, I simply pressed a button and spoke to Clive to give him the heads up on the situation, much easier.  All the same it made for an interesting morning’s cruise! 


The narrows!


At one point, whilst waiting for a boat to come through one of the narrows before we could head in, we were looking at the wonderful views, the countryside around here is really beautiful.


Beautiful view


Finally we arrived at the moorings in Llangollen and as soon as we were securely moored Clive nipped along to the BW office to pay the mooring fee.  Under normal circumstances mooring along the canals is totally free of charge but here in Llangollen they charge £6 per night but for that you also get a free electric hook-up and a water point adjacent to the boat.  So whilst Clive went off to pay I dug out our electric hook-up cable and plugged it into the post – nothing happened!  At first I thought I had done something wrong but when Clive got back he checked it and it definitely wasn’t working!  I walked down to the office and told the BW guy, he was a bit dubious and said it might be our cable or something wrong with the boat electrics.  Clive also put up the TV aerial as it was a Grand Prix weekend and he really wanted to watch the race but that wasn’t to be either, there was absolutely no TV signal whatsoever, not even a blip!  So a bit disappointed we took down the aerial, unplugged and stowed the electric cable away again and went off to explore Llangollen.


We arrived on the main street and it was absolutely teeming with people!  It was really, really busy, there again it was a Bank Holiday weekend! 


Llangollen on a Bank Holiday weekend!


We spotted a hotel offering food and Sky Sports and I suggested we nip in and ask if they were screening the Grand Prix – they were! Excellent – Clive was delighted. So we got a couple of drinks and then headed upstairs where there was a big screen and the Grand Prix was just about to get underway.  We had a snack whilst we were watching too.  When the GP was over we set off to explore the town itself.  It is a lovely place on the banks of the River Dee.  Then we heard a sound from a bygone age, the toot of steam train and then the chuff chuff as it set off.  We looked over the bridge and there it was below us.  We could smell the coaly smoke too and it whisked us back to memories of our childhood watching the steam trains at Huddersfield Station!


Steam train


We wandered around the town and into some of the many gift shops, there was a real holiday feel about the place, it was lovely.  We also knew that there was a launderette in Llangollen so we went to find it, it was a bit of a trek from the boat but we were in desperate need of one so it just had to be done, it being Sunday though it was closed.  So the next morning we were up bright and early, stripped our bed and all the bedding for the spare bed too, sorted all our clothes into lights and darks and were just about to head off to the launderette when I had a horrible thought – its Bank Holiday Monday!  It hadn’t occurred to me at all that it might be closed until that moment!  So Clive said he would walk up to the launderette and see whether or not it was open.  It wasn’t as it turned out so we decided to spend another day in Llangollen and get the laundry done on Tuesday morning instead.  We also decided to move the boat down into Llangollen Basin and moor there.  The basin is amazing.  It is all provided by British Waterways and is just like a marina, there are pontoons all around the edge and each one has an electric post with a water point and a light on top.  When we were moored up I suggested we try the hook-up again – it worked!  So, it wasn’t our cable nor the boat electrics that were at fault but the post at the other mooring!  Clive had to go and pay for another night’s mooring so he informed the BW guy who was on duty that the post needed checking.   On his way back he spotted one of the trip boats just setting off along the canal but this one was rather special, it was horse drawn!  So he nipped back for the camera and went to get a photo.  What with steam trains and horse drawn boats it was like stepping back in time!


Horse drawn boat


We were intending to go back into town again but the weather wasn’t nice at all and it was quite cool too, so we just stayed on board and had a relaxing day.  That evening Clive lit the stovefor the first time this year, I was very glad that he had as it was really quite chilly!


The following morning we were up and off to the launderette.  We had quite a lot of laundry to carry and split it up into four bags. Unfortunately the basin was a much longer walk into the town than the previous mooring and I was very glad when we finally reached the launderette!  However within a couple of hours it was all done and we were back on board and ready to set off again.  We had a quick sandwich and a cuppa then headed off once more to tackle the narrows. Fortunately things had calmed down a lot after the weekend and we didn’t have to wait long for our turn and then it was all plain sailing.  We finally moored up just before the entrance to the Whitehouse Tunnel – that could wait until morning!


Wednesday August 31st – today was a very special day, three years ago this very day we moved out of our large four bedroomed house in Caldecote onto our 57’ long x 6’ 10” wide narrowboat!  That was quite a day I can tell you, talk about stress!  However within a very short time of arriving at the boat all the stress had fallen away and we were relaxed and ready to embark on our new life – I remember it well!


We were up in good time and as soon as we had eaten breakfast we headed into the tunnel, it was about 8.45am.  We soon arrived at the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and had to wait quite a while for four boats to come over from the other side, very slowly indeed! Finally it was our turn to go and I made the decision to stay inside and wash up!  You can just have too much of a good thing and for me three trips over the aqueduct was quite enough!  Next it was the Chirk Tunnel followed by the Chirk Aqueduct, I was quite happy to sit up top and enjoy crossing this one as there is a broad path on both sides!!

For the last few weeks I have been commenting on the size of the acorns on the oaks along the canalside, big acorns are supposed to presage a harsh winter to come evidently and some of them were looking quite large!  We have also noted this last week that there are more and more signs of Autumn, perhaps it is going to be early this year!


Because we had made such a good start and as the weather was very clement we made up for the time we had spent in Llangollen.  By 5.30pm we were in Ellesmere and nipped up the arm to the basin so that I could pop into Tesco for a few bits and pieces. There were no moorings available so we just pulled over to one side of the turning area and Clive held the boat on the rope while I went shopping,then we went back down the arm onto the main drag and found a beautiful, peaceful spot to moor up for the night. 


Well I think that is quite enough for this blog. I had intended to post it much earlier but the one thing that the beautiful Llangollen Canal is lacking is a Vodafone signal, there just hasn’t been an opportunity to post it until now so I can only apologise for this very lengthy blog – hope you managed to stay awake till the end!


August 5th 2011 - Market Drayton

Posted by clivenmel on 5 August, 2011 at 14:50

Well it’s been a month since the last blog and a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then – excuse the pun! 


After Loughborough we resumed our cruise along the River Soar heading for Nottingham.  We spent the next night moored just before Redhill Lock, lulled to sleep by the sound of planes flying overhead, taking off and coming into land, presumably at The Robin Hood Airport, Nottingham!  The following morning we went through the Redhill Lock and soon arrived at Trent Lock where the counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire meet! This is a proper crossroads, coming up the Soar there are three possible directions to take; West up the Trent, North up the Erewash Canal and East along the Cranfleet Cut to join the Trent heading for Nottingham,we took the latter route. 


It was all very picturesque pootling along through the pretty countryside and we also passed the Attenborough Nature Reserve which is dominated by a collection of lakes and ponds. We then went through another lock which took us onto the Beeston Cut.  A short time later we were on the approach to Nottingham.  We spotted something rather odd floating about under a tree and as we got nearer realised that it was a tent!  Methinks that tent pegs might have been agood idea!!


Loose tent!


Soon after this we spotted the moorings adjacent to some rather swish looking modern apartment blocks, it didn’t take us long to get the boat securely moored and the hood up and then we set off in search of Sainsbury’s to do some much needed shopping. The search didn’t take long, the supermarket was just around the corner, a mere five minutes walk – excellent!


We were just a tad nervous at the thought of spending the night in the heart of Nottingham but we needn’t have worried, it was very peaceful and quiet and we were soon joined by several other boats, about a dozen in all - safety in numbers!


The next day we decided to go and explore the city and our first port of call was a pub that we first went to in the early 70s when a friend of ours, Dave Throp, was at Nottingham University.  We came down visit him with one of my best friends, Heather Martin (now Welch), who was his girlfriend at the time.  Said pub is Ye Olde Trip to Jersusalem and is reputed to be the oldest inn in England!  It dates back to 1189AD, just before the third Crusade. 


Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem


Evidently at that time the word “trip” meant a stopping off place for refreshment before setting off to the Holy Land.  Anyway, it is obviously very old and is built partly into the side of the cliff that Nottingham Castle once stood upon.  We decided to reacquaint ourselves with the interior.  It hasn’t changed a great deal but is now a lot cleaner than it used to be! The last time we were there, before all the Health and Safety rules had been invented, there was a model of a ghostly galleon hanging from a chain above the bar and above that was a chimney like hole going right up through the cliff.  The ship was festooned with ancient cobwebs - which would never be allowed today!  The model galleon is actually still there but is now in a glass case and free of cobwebs!  The "chimney" is still there too and that too is spotlessly clean!


After a swift pint (and a half of cider for me!) we left the ancient inn and headed up into town. We walked up past the castle and went to read some of the plaques on the walls and I had my photo taken with Robin Hood!


Mel and Robin!


On our way up to the town centre from the castle we came to a huge square with a tramline running around it.  We also spotted a very strange chap running around in the square!

A very strange sight!

We came to the conclusion in the end that he was most likely on his stag do!  There were several other guys all wearing pink tee shirts with writing on but they were too far away for us to read!  The other possibility was that they had been doing The Race For Life as that usually has a pink theme doesn't it.  There were also several hen parties taking place in Nottingham that weekend, we saw quite a few eye-openers!!

After wandering around the shops for a while we suddenly decided it would be a good idea to go to the cinema, if we could find one!  We asked a passer-by where the cinema was and were soon on our way.  It was quite a trek but we eventually found it and went in to see what was on offer.  We were delighted to learn that the new Transformers movie in 3D was showing so we got our tickets and went in to watch it.  It was awesome, the CGI is absolutely incredible and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Afterwards we went and had pizzas in an Italian restaurant very close to the cinema then made our way back to the boat and bed.


We stayed in Nottingham for three nights then after going down through a lock in order to turn the boat around, then back up through the lock we headed back along the Nottingham Canal and retraced our steps to Beeston where we moored up. There was a good reason for stopping in Beeston, in our former life when Clive was working for Ventana he had a fantastic team of dynamic young men and women working with him and one of them was Karen Holyoake. We have kept in touch with Karen and met up with her and her husband Tim on one of our many visits to Foxton. Karen and Tim live in Beeston! Not only that but we had moored up directly opposite the end of her road, in fact we could see her house from the boat – amazing!  We had been in touch via Facebook and let her know we had arrived and she came over and joined us for coffee.  It was great to see her again and catch up on all the news and hear all about Clive’s old colleagues and how they were all doing.  Although Clive is thoroughly enjoying his retirement he still likes to hear how things are doing with the business.  Karen stayed a lot longer than she should have done really as she was supposed to be going to the evening do to celebrate some friends’ wedding, in fact Tim was the official wedding photographer for the event.  She finally dragged herself away about 7.30pm and rushed off to have a wash and brush up before going to the do – still the venue was only at the top of her road so it wouldn’t take long to get there!


The following morning we headed off once more and after filling up with water we went through the Beeston Lock and back down toTrent Lock.  This time we turned North heading for the Trent and Mersey Canal, first stop Shardlow.  Shardlow is a place we have known of ever since we moved onto the boat but only because we have seen it on milestones!  We have often seen milestones whilst travelling on the T & M with Shardlow pointing one way and Preston Brook pointing the other way with the corresponding number of miles to each – there are  approximately 92 miles between them. We haven’t been to either of these places, just lots of places in between!   


First of all we had to negotiate the Sawley Locks.  This is a pair of duplicate locks and they are electrically operated.  When we arrived there was a cruiser in the left lock about to come down so we thought we might as well wait for them and go into the lock as they exited.  I had to climb up a ladder to get up onto the bank from the boat! Clive asked me to put the rope around a bollard to keep it secure as the water came out of the lock, which I did. However I was rather puzzled as to why the water was gushing out of the lock already as the rear gates were still wide open!  I hurried up to the lock to see what was going on and there was a very puzzled gentleman standing by the controls scratching his head!  He didn’t know how to operate the lock, even though there were very concise instructions printed on the control box!  I took over!  The first thing I did was to close the paddles on the front gates to stop the water flow, then I shut the rear gates and once they were fully shut I reopened the front paddles and suggested the gentleman got back onto his boat!!  I dread to think what would have happened if I hadn’t got there when I did, he really didn’t have a clue what he was doing! Finally the lock emptied and I opened the front gates to let him out.  Clive brought Lady Arwen into the lock just as another boat arrived so both boats came up the lock together.  The crew of this boat were also very new to the game and were a little apprehensive about doubling up in a lock but Clive reassured them and told them how it was done whilst I operated the paddles and gates.


After all that excitement we settled down to enjoy cruising in the sunshine.  We soon arrived at Shardlow but it was a bit of a “this is nice, wasn’t it”!  We had no sooner arrived than we’d left so to speak and all we saw were a few pretty houses behind the weeping willows and lots of moored boats and that was that – a bit of an anticlimax really!


Cruising through Shardlow - it didn't take long!


We carried on for a while then finally moored up for the night in Willington.  We were short of a few bits and pieces so took a walk down to the Co-op to stock up.


The following day we continued our journey along theTrent & Mersey through some lovely countryside then we passed through the town of Burton-on-Trent.  We passed by a field with a lot of activity going on and a lot of boats moored up along its bank.  This was Shobnall Fields and they were all preparing for the Inland Waterways Association festival which was due to be held on the last weekend of July.  A short while later we came to a lock on the outskirts of another small town, which is the home of a very famous product – Branston Pickle!  To celebrate we had a cheese and said pickle sandwich for lunch!


Branston Lock


We spent a very pleasant afternoon cruising along in the sunshine and then decided it was time to find a mooring for the night, we were approaching the village of Alrewas and hoped to stop there.  On the approach there wasn’t a mooring space in sight, it was packed with boats, a couple of which were very traditional and gaily painted, overflowing with canalia decorated pots and pans and gleaming brasses being lovingly polished within an inch of their lives by two very ardent gentlemen!  Everyone was lying in wait ready to attack the IWA festival and vie for the trophies for best kept boat, most decorated boat, boat with shiniest brass etc etc etc!  But where the heck are we going to moor, its getting late!  We continued to cruise past the endless line of moored boats when suddenly I spotted a familiar one!  Invicta (I always remember boat names!) with Brian and Sue Badminton on board. We met them back in September 2008 in Aspley Marina, Huddersfield, where they have a permanent mooring!  Sue stuck her head out of the hatch and I waved and shouted hello!  As it turned out we found a mooring only a short distance further up and just managed to squeeze in! 


Alrewas is a beautiful village with some absolutely spectacular houses adjacent to the river, some of which were for sale.  One of them was a beautiful thatched cottage with a gorgeous garden – now I could almost swap Lady Arwen for that but I’m not really ready to become a landlubber again yet – maybe one day!


The following morning we saw Invicta cruising past whilst we were having a late breakfast. We followed after them a short while later and headed up to Fradley Junction.  We have been having a few problems with our pram hood cover recently, several studs that hold the canopy to the side of the boat have come off! We did buy some more and try to fit them ourselves but we just didn’t have the right tool for attaching them so they just came off again.  Therefore Clive got in touch with Terry Ryan of Viking Hoods who made and fitted our hood and he said he would come and meet us at Fradley Junction that afternoon as he was working not far away.  He duly arrived after lunch and it was good to see him again.  It was a bit of a shock however to learn that he was recovering from a mild heart attack!  Still he seems to be doing very well, thank goodness!  He soon had all the studs sorted out and also left us a couple of spares in case any more come off.  He also told us that he was swapping his cruiser for a narrowboat which he was in the process of renovating and told us to be on the look out for it next year some time when he starts cruising in her, she will be called Still Waters!  We look forward to seeing him again on the cut one of these days.


After Terry had left we took a walk up to the junction itself where there is a shop, café, pub and a laundry!  On the way we came across Invicta and stopped to have a chat with Brian and Sue.  Brian is a fellow musician and he informed us that there would be a folk night in the pub, The Swan (also known as The Mucky Duck!) that evening – brilliant!  I managed to get two lots of laundry washed, dried and stowed away in the drawers then we decided to go and have a meal at the pub and be in good time for the folk club. The meal itself was mediocre but the folk club was great!  There were quite a few musicians and singers, there was a lady who played accordion and hurdy gurdy, a guy on fiddle, and several other and of course Brian on his very distinctive Ovation guitar, which is full of holes! Brian tends to focus on amusing songs and does a great rendition of Jake Thackeray's Bantom Cock, amongst others!



There was also a gentleman there by the name of Mal Edwards MBE.  We met him on one of our visits to the Shroppie Fly folk club at Audlem. He plays a mean guitar and sings some really great songs, a lot of which he has written himself relating to the canals and working boats of yesteryear.  He has been on narrowboats since he was 14 years old! He now makes traditional rope fenders, which he sells from his boat.


The following day, after a late start, we continued our journey up the T & M.  We passed by the Armitage Shanks factory again with all its hundreds of toilets stacked on pallets outside!  We moored up for the night just before Colwych out in the countryside, it was lovely, very peaceful and quiet.  Next day we arrived at Great Haywood junction and took a slight detour down to the marina to fill up with diesel, have a pump-out and get a spare gas bottle then back up to the junction and a right turn onto the Staffs and Worcs Canal.   We moored up for the night in Penkridge and after a quick look on the internet the next morning I found a hairdressers up in the town and managed to get an appointment for that afternoon.  That is the only problem with having had my hair cut in a bob, I have to keep having it cut to keep it looking smart!  Whilst I was in the hairdressers Clive went off and found a supermarket and did a bit of shopping then we headed back to the boat.


The next morning we set off again and it wasn’t long before we arrived at Coven.  We moored up and stayed there for a couple of nights. On Thursday morning we cruised up to Autherley Junction and on the way we had to negotiate the Pendeford Rockin! Rockin is an old boatman’s term for an extremely shallow and narrow cutting and this one certainly lived up to its name!


The very shallow, very narrow Pendeford Rockin!


There is water there, honest!  It does actually have passing places in case you should meet another boat but fortunately we didn’t!


We made it safely to Autherley Junction and moored up just beyond the junction itself.  We were expecting a visitor – my sister Thelma was driving down to Somerset from Huddersfield for a party and had asked if she could stop off and spend a night with us to break her journey.  She arrived mid afternoon and after a cuppa and a snack she and I went off to do some shopping at a local Sainsbury’s.  We had arranged for Thelma to park her car in the Napton Narrowboats locked compound for the night and we only just made it back in time before it was locked up at 5.30pm - phew!


Thelma left us the following morning to resume her journey down to Somerset, we decided to stay at the junction for another night as we had a 3G signal on the dongle, unfortunately though the TV signal was poor!  Clive had a great time though watching all the activity at the junction, it was hilarious!  There were boats coming down the Shroppie, boats coming up the Staffs and Worcs wanting to turn up the Shroppie, boats coming down the Staffs and Worcs wanting to turn up the Shroppie etc etc.  At one point there was a guy on his narrowboat in the middle of all the chaos directing traffic like a policeman!

On Saturday morning we were up bright and early, turned the boat around and headed back to Coven and moored up.  Clive wanted to watch the qualifying for the German Grand Prix!  Fortunately we had quite a reasonable signal in Coven.  The reason we had come back here is because I was off to the Burwell Bash, my annual Summer music school, which is just outside Cambridge and  I had arranged for a lift on Sunday lunchtime by fellow Burwellites, Gina Barre and her daughter Emily who live in Shrewsbury.  Coven is very near to the M54 so they only had to make a small detour to pick me up. They duly arrived on Sunday lunchtime and after a guided tour of the boat they just had time for a quick cuppa and to eat their sandwiches before we said goodbye to Clive and headed off for Cambridge.  Its hard to believe that it was time for Burwell again, where on Earth have the last 12 months gone!!!


Gina dropped me off at a Tesco store just outside Cambridge where Vicki was waiting for me, I was spending the night with her and Ben at their new house, which is lovely!  The following morning Vicki and Ben dropped me off at Burwell on their way to work.  So Clive had a lovely peaceful week without me and I had an absolutely awesome time, as usual, at Burwell. It was wonderful to meet up with all my old friends and also to meet some new ones too.  We had a very international Burwell this year with students from the USA, Russia, Austria, The Netherlands, and Germany, its fame is spreading!  I really enjoyed the week but it was over far too soon – still never mind, it will be Burwell Bash 2012 before we know it!


Flute and Whistle class 2011 with tutors Brian Finnegan (next to me) and Katherine Mann (behind me on the left)


Gina and Emily dropped me off back in Coven and again popped in for a cuppa and a snack before resuming their journey to Shrewsbury.  When they had gone Clive and I went for dinner at The Fox and Anchor as it was a bit late to start cooking!


The next morning we upped sticks and headed back once more through the Pendeford Rockin to Autherley Junction but this time we turned right, through the stop lock and onto the Shropshire Union Canal (The Shroppie).  We moored up for a short while and went for a walk up to the shops as Clive had ordered some filters for the engine and had to collect them also there was a Morrison’s so we could stock up again with essentials.  Then we were off up the Shroppie, however we didn’t go very far because it was another Grand Prix weekend and Clive wanted a spot with a good signal in order to watch the quallies today and the race tomorrow!  We did find a spot but had a devil of a job getting into the bank as there was a submerged shelf and we couldn’t get right in, however we managed finally, after three attempts! 

After the Hungarian Grand Prix had finished (well done Jensen!) in the afternoon we set off again and cruised through Brewood (pron. Brood) then moored up for the night after the lock at Wheaton Aston.  The following morning we were off again an this time we made it all the way to Norbury Junction.  Clive wanted some stuff from the chandlery and I wanted to make use of their laundry facilities, they don’t have a launderette as such but do service washes so you just deliver your bags of laundry and get them back all washed, dried and folded – nice!  We were too late to get it back that day so I left them the bag of light colours, which would be ready in the morning and they told me if I delivered the darks by 8.30am they would have them done for me by 10.30am so that is exactly what we did. I was up at 8.00am and stripping the bedding almost out from under Clive!  The only fly in the ointment was that the chandlery didn’t stock Clive’s air filter so it had to be ordered and wouldn’t be delivered until Wednesday lunchtime so we had to stay another day.  Not a major problem except that it’s a black hole when it comes to signals, no phones, no dongle, no TV!


Moored at Norbury (third up on the left)


The Shroppie is a very busy canal, especially now with it being the school holidays, there are soooooo many hire boats on the go!  Whilst we were moored at Norbury there was a constant stream of boats passing us in both directions and sometimes at the same time, we could reach out the window and shake hands with the people on some of the boats they were so close to us!


We left Norbury Junction on Wednesday August 3rd and cruised up to The Anchor and moored up. This is a tiny boatman’s pub, which is only open during the Summer months and it is a place we have always wanted to visit but have never been on the Shroppie in the Summer before.  We managed to moor up behind three other boats only a stones throw from the pub.  The first thing we noticed was a boat moored on the opposite bank on a permanent mooring – Becky – also painted on the side was “Mal Edwards MBE – Rope Fender Maker”.  This is the same Mal whom we met up with inThe Swan a couple of weeks ago.  We decided to go and suss out the pub and have a wee drinky poo.  As we walked along the towpath we passed other moored boats.  We immediately recognised the skipper of the first one, it was Bruce whom we had met back in February 2009 at Bridge 61, Foxton, whilst we were iced in for three weeks!  He is a musician and singer and has raised many thousands of pounds for the Air Ambulance doing charity gigs.  The next boat was Taliesin.  I recognised the name straight away but couldn’t remember where I had seen it before. The artwork on its side depicts musical instruments: accordion, whistle and Bodhran.  There was a gentleman sitting in a chair next to the boat who looked vaguely familiar and he was wearing braces with musical notes on them – bit of a giveaway that! We stopped for a chat and it turned out there would be a folk night in the bar that evening – brilliant! Anyway, we nipped into one of the tiny bars of the pub and ordered our drinks, which we drank outside in the garden. The bars are basically the front rooms of a cottage.  The Anchor is run by Olive and the pub has been in her family for over 100 years! It is very traditional and up until recently the beer was brought up from the cellar in jugs, however Olive has found it a bit hard going up and down the stairs recently so it is now pumped up to the bar but she still decants it into a large jug to pour into the glasses to save wastage - priceless!


After our drink we returned to the boat for some tea and a change of clothes then grabbed our instruments and headed back to the bar.  We had a wonderful evening of music and song.  The weird thing was that we knew everybody in the bar!  There was Mal who we had met twice before, then Bruce who we had met in Foxton then we recognised the gentleman and his wife from Taliesin, it was Alan and Ann whom we had met at a folk night at The King’s Head in Market Drayton in February last year!  Alan then remembered us and said he still had our card on the boat!


Folk night at The Anchor - Alan & Ann in the window, Mal on the left and Bruce on the right


There was another lady in the bar that evening, her name was Hazel.  At some point dragons were mentioned and I commented that I loved dragons and collected them.  A short while later Hazel left the bar.  When she returned Bruce started nudging her and saying “go on, show her” so she very shyly got something out of her bag and laid it on the table.  We all had a closer look – it was a beautiful dragon necklace made entirely of beads and she has been working on it for four years in total but has had other projects on the go at the same time. 


Beautiful beaded dragon necklace made by Hazel


Clive immediately asked her if it had been commissioned and she said yes, for herself!  He asked if she would sell it and she said she would consider it.  Bless him, he would have bought it for me right then and there if she had said yes, however I pointed out that I hardly ever wear the jewellery I already have since moving onto the boat and that I really didn’t need any more, so I declined!


We left our mooring at The Anchor on Thursday morning and cruised on up the Shroppie, through all the cuttings and the Tyrley Locks  - our favourite flight of locks anywhere, they are so pretty and pretty easy to work as well.  We finally arrived in Market Drayton and moored up near the pill box then took a walk up to the town intending to go to Morrison’s to stock up.  However when we we were passing what was a Netto’s supermarket last time we were here it turned out to be an Asda!  So we didn’t need to go any further, we got everything we needed right there and it was a much shorter walk from the boat – excellent!


We had intended setting off again this morning but decided in the end to stay put for another day. We will be leaving in the morning and heading on up to Audlem where we are hoping to meet up with an old school friend, Christine Thorpe, who has a narrowboat and is currently moored at the new Audlem Marina.  Also there is a folk night at The Shroppie Fly in Audlem on Monday night so we will definitely be there for that!  After that we are heading up to Nantwich and hope to catch up with one of my oldest friends, Heather Welch (was Martin) as mentioned above relating to our time in Nottingham.  As with Lindsey Britton in New Zealand, Heather and I met at infants school when we were 5 years old! 

The blogs may well now become monthly editions so look out for the next one around the beginning of September,  however I may surprise you and do one in between!   Tee hee!:D


July 2nd 2011 - Loughborough

Posted by clivenmel on 7 July, 2011 at 7:13

Clive set off before I was even dressed on Friday morning, I was just finishing my breakfast, in my pyjamas, when I heard him call out hello to somebody as we were passing a moored boat!  He then shouted down to me, its Locksley!  I gulped the last mouthful of cereal and hurriedly got dressed, I was just in time as Clive had already  pulled into the bank.  Sure enough there were Julia and Robin Lewis of NB Locksley, the parents of one of my Burwell friends, Kate.  In fact, its was after spending a lovely afternoon with Julia and Robin back in February 2008 that we finally made up our minds to live on a narrowboat! 


We had a lovely chat with them on the towpath, Clive hanging on to the boat for grim death as other boats passed by!  Julia and Robin informed us that they were finally calling it a day and becoming land lubbers once more.  They have already sold the boat and will be handing her over in a few weeks time and moving into a lovely thatched cottage in Somerset.  If you have to give up living on a narrowboatI can’t think of a nicer alternative. 


We said goodbye to them both and wished them all the very best in their new venture then continued our journey down to the Foxton locks.  It was a lovely sunny day and there were quite a few boats out on the water.  We moored up at the top of the locks and Clive went off to find the lock keeper to book our passage down the flight.  It wasn’t long before he came back and told me there were four boats on their way up and we could set off down after the last one came up.  Finally said boat emerged from the top lock and it was our turn.  The lock keeper gave a hand with some of the paddles and it didn’t take very long for us to make it down to the bottom, about 45 minutes.  Needless to say, being Foxton, there were the usual crowd of Gongoozlers (people who watch boats negotiating locks!) asking all the usual questions and occasionally helping with the gates when they weren’t getting in the way!  Its amazing how many people stand between the lock beams and the lock, a sure way to get turfed into the lock if you’re not careful!  However we managed to make it to the bottom without drowning anybody!


When we got down the flight we were delighted to find that there was a mooring available right in the basin itself and we were in there like a shot.  It all felt very familiar to us as this is where we spent three weeks iced in back in February 2009!  We reacquainted ourselves with Bridge 61 (the pub) then I made use of the little launderette and got all our washing done.  There is also a shop selling all sorts of stuff from chandlery to souvenirs and groceries.  We bought a new coolie hat for our chimney and various other bits and pieces.


We didn’t do much of anything on Saturday but Foxton was extremely busy, mind you it always is at the weekends!  Sunday was even worse – the sun was shining that means that everybody and his brother, his kids and his dogs all come to Foxton for the day – it was absolutely heaving! However, we weren't staying around to watch, we were going out, for a barbecue!!  Another of my Burwell friends, Jayne Stanton (Fiddler!) lives very close to Foxton in a village called Fleckney, she and her husband Dave had invited us round to their house for a barbecue and Jayne came and picked us up at 1.00pm.  We had a great time, Clive was a bit unsociable as it was a Grand Prix weekend and Jayne had very kindly told him he could watch it – bless!  After we had eaten we got our instruments out and had a bit of a session in Jayne’s fron troom – needless to say we were playing mostly Burwell tunes!  It was lovely.  Can’t believe that it is only four weeks to this year’s Burwell Bash – I haven’t even figured out how I’m going to get there yet!!


We stayed another night in Foxton basin then on Monday morning we headed up to Market Harborough to meet Gareth and Indy as they were staying with us on their way down from Huddersfield. It was great to see them again, evidently Indy had a great time in Huddersfield meeting various members of the family and staying with Grandma and Pop (Clive's parents).  She also had a sleepover with cousin Molly (my sister Thelma’s granddaughter) and they got on like a house on fire evidently!


Gareth drove us into Market Harborough to do some shopping, including the purchase of a new headlight for the boat.  The old one was very rusty and Clive had always thought it was a bit dim so he wanted a brighter one!


On Tuesday we decided to find somewhere to go that might be of interest to Indy.  In the end we settled on West Lodge Country Farm.  As we were leaving the boat two of the occupants of the boat moored next to us came out to say hello to Indy.  They are Rebecca and Agatha (known as Aggie Baggy Pants) – Indy was absolutely delighted to make their acquaintance!


Indy with Rebecca and Agatha


We had a lovely chat with their owners aboard NB Madage (pron. maa-da-gay) – needless to say we wondered how on earth you live on board a narrowboat with two huge Great Danes – evidently without a saloon (lounge)!  Jackie informed us that they had a DVD about a Great Dane called Marmaduke and very kindly offered to lend it to us as she was pretty sure that Indy would really enjoy it.



We dragged ourselves away and headed off to the country farm which was only a fifteen minute drive away.  It was a good choice, there were lots of animals for Indy to look at and pet, a lovely forest walk and also a barrel train to ride on! 


We started off looking at all the different kinds of fowl; there were turkeys, geese, ducks and hens.  Indy had a great time poking a stick at a flock of hens!! 


Indy with the chickens!


There were also pigs, goats, sheep and ponies and inside one of the barns there were pens and hutches full of rabbits and guinea pigs, Indy loved it. 


We decided to go for a walk to find the Witch’s Cottage.  It was quite a walk and took us through the woods, Clive and I commented on how different it was to the bush walks we had been on in New Zealand, however it was still very pretty and there were lots of birds singing but with English accents instead of Kiwi!!


Bush walk, English style!


We finally arrived at the Witch’s Cottage – she is evidently called Lucy!  Indy went and peeped in through the window and then finally she plucked up the courage to knock on the door, however Lucy wasn’t at home at the time!


Indy knocking on the door of Lucy's cottage


We walked back to the farm as quick as we could because Indy wanted to go on the Barrel Train and the next and last run was at 4.30pm.  We made it in time and all piled on board.


Indy and Gareth on the Barrel Train


The driver checked that we were all aboard then he set off on a hair raising tour around the farm making sure that he hit all the bumps and pot-holes on the way to give everybody a real shake-up!  At one point he veered off the track and went through a pool so that we could all see the dragon sleeping in his cave – everybody saw him except me, I was looking the other way!


Soon it was time to go home.  I made a slight detour on the way back to the car as I had spotted a little garden centre across the car park and I wanted to buy some herb plants.  I came out with parsley, chives, thyme and oregano. I also have some dill and basil seeds to grow, which came free with Lurpak butter!


As we were walking back down the towpath to the boat Jackie from Madage saw us and came out with the DVD of Marmaduke.  We quickly had tea then settled down to watch the movie, which was great!  Indy really enjoyed it and immediately asked if she could watch it again! 


Wednesday 29th 2011 – today was to be our last day with Indy before she flies home to America.  Gareth packed up all their belongings and stowed them in his car.  Clive went to return Marmaduke to Jackie and ended up chatting to her and her husband.  Jackie suddenly spotted a commotion in the water where there were two swans and their cygnets and something else – a grass snake!  WhenClive went over to have a look he realised straight away that the snake was in trouble, it had been injured and was struggling to stay afloat, he managed to get it out of the water before it drowned. Indy came rushing back to the boat shrieking that Granddad had got a snake, she was very excited indeed but not frightened at all! 


Injured Grass Snake


On examination the snake had definitely been injured, whether by the swans or a dog or even a boat propeller we don’t know what but it had a large swelling two thirds of the way down and it didn’t seem able to move the rear part of its body. Clive was concerned that its back might be broken.  I dug out a plastic basket, a box lid and some masking tape, Indy fetched some grass and very soon we had a makeshift vivarium to put the snake in. 

Indy inspecting the grass snake in his temporary home

Once he was safely caged we phoned the RSPCA who told us to phone a local vet who told us to phone the Leicestershire Wildlife Hospital – there was nobody in!  Clive left a message on their answerphone.


After all this excitement it was time for Gareth and Indy to leave.  It was hard to say goodbye to Indy, its been so lovely to spend time with her again, however she is coming back to the UK to have Christmas with her daddy and by then we will all be up in Huddersfield (all being well!).



Bye bye Granddad


They were going to drive to Cambridge and spend the night at Vicki and Ben’s.  Then onThursday Indy’s mum would be collecting her ready for their trip back to Colorado Springs.




After Indy and Gareth left it was time for us to leave too.  We were heading back to Foxton initially.  We still hadn’t heard anything back from the wildlife hospital so the grass snake had to come with us!  It was a very pleasant trip back to Foxton but there was no room to moor in the basin this time so we turned right up the Leicester Arm and there was a mooring just around the bend from the bridge, excellent. 


Thursday June 30th 2011 - Whilst we were at Whilton Marina last week Clive managed to get some little gadgets which bolt onto the side of the boat and enable you to climb up onto the roof using them as a step.  The only trouble is he didn’t have any strong screws to fasten them on with.  Tony, the guy who runs Bridge 61, the shop and Foxton Boat Services suggested he ask his son, Sam, as he was sure he had just the thing – he did!  So whilst we were moored Clive  fixed the two folding “steps” onto either side of the boat.  They are quite nifty as they fold up so they don’t stick out whilst you are travelling but when needed can be folded down providing the step – clever!


Nifty folding step


Also we had a phonecall from the Leicestershire Wildlife Hospital at last!  Clive explained the situation to the lady that phoned and she said she would come to Foxton and pick him up.  A short while later we got a call to say she had arrived and was in the car park so Clive went off to meet her with the snake.  She suggested we phone them in a couple of days time to see how it was getting on.

Friday July 1st 2011 - I made use of the launderette again today.  I did all the bedding this time and a few more bits and pieces.  We also picked up a few more things from the shop and I baked a self-crusting chicken and asparagus quiche which was yummy!  I got the recipe whilst we were in New Zealand staying with Raewyn and Jason Fair in Papamoa Beach.  Raewyn gave me the basic recipe but you can alter the main ingredients to whatever you fancy putting in it – it’s really delicious and very, very simple to make!


The Vodafone signal is really poor in Foxton, both for our mobile phones and for the dongle.  In order to have a decent conversation with anybody on the phone we had to walk back to the bridge and stand in the middle of it!  Vicki and Ben are moving house this weekend and we made the decision to let them take all the furniture out of our house as they could use it in their new on, this meant that we could let our house unfurnished rather than furnished.  I had to speak to the letting agency and also Vicki several times, I was on that bridge for ages!!  We both feel a wee bit guilty as we are not there to help Vicki and Ben move this time, however Gareth is there to give them a hand and Ben’s dad too so hopefully it will all run smoothly!


Saturday July 2nd 2011 – We said goodbye to Foxton this morning and headed off up the Leicester Arm.  We called in at Debdale Marina to use their pump-out facilities then we were off to pastures new. We have only been a very short way up this arm before to a little aqueduct over a farm track so everything beyond that is new territory!  We went through the Saddington Tunnel (880yards) and tried out the new lamp, it was brilliant!  It certainly lit up the tunnel a lot better than the old one did!  Once through the tunnel we cruised a bit further then moored out in the countryside just before Kibworth Top Lock.  We had a much better Vodafone signal than we had in Foxton! We also had a pretty good TV signal so Clive enjoyed watching Wimbledon in the afternoon. 


Sunday July 3rd 2011 – We set off after breakfast to tackle the next set of locks, which were big double ones.   It took us quite a few hours to get from the top lock, No. 19, down to Kilby Bridge Lock, No. 30, but it was a pleasant day and we enjoyed it. Part way down the flight, just as I was shutting the lock gates behind the boat I heard the sound of a low flying aircraft.  I finally spotted it and yelled for Clive to get the camera.  It was a Vulcan Bomber and I believe it is the only one now flying!  These amazing planes first flew in 1952, the same year Clive was born!  They were also used in the bombing of Port Stanley airport during the Falklands War back in 1982.  Fortunately Clive managed to get a shot of it before it disappeared from view!

Vulcan Bomber

We carried on down the flight and finally moored up at Kilby Bridge.  There was a pub across the bridge from us called The Navigation so we decided to go there for dinner.  They did a great Sunday roast, which was very tasty indeed and very reasonably priced too!  Once back on board we watched TV for a couple of hours then had an early night – we had a big day ahead of us!


Monday July 4th 2011 – We got up at 5.30 in the morning – yes I said 5.30 A M!! We had a quick breakfast and were off by 6.30.  It was quite slow going as there were a lot of locks but none within walking distance of each other.  They were also big double locks but fortunately the majority of them were in our favour, which helped a lot.  Several locks down the flight we came across another boater who was just getting ready to leave his mooring and head down the flight so we decided to go down together. It makes the locks so much quicker and easier when there are two people operating the paddles and gates. 


Half way down the flight we reached King’s Lock and this is where the canal is joined by the River Soar.  The water suddenly went from murky brown to lovely and clear. A short while later we reached the outskirts of Leicester and it looked quite nice, by this time there were lots more boats out on the water, we had passed a few going the other way – here’s another one coming!


Approaching Leicester


It didn’t take us long to get through the centre of the city then we passed through some less salubrious areas where there was an awful lot of rubbish, both floating in the water and scattered around on the banks.  We reached another lock and here the rubbish was appalling, there were several supermarket bags full of rubbish just hung on the railings – who do they think is going to get rid of them!  Our fellow boater came up with an idea – he suggested that all the people on the dole should be made to spend one day a week picking up rubbish in their area, once they have done it a few times perhaps they will stop throwing it in the first place!!  Somebody tell that Mr Cameron please!


As we were leaving the city behind us we passed an amazing looking building.  It turned out to be The National Space Centre – awesome!  It looks like something out of a Sci-Fi movie doesn’t it!


The National Space Centre


Finally we reached Birstall Lock and once through there we decided it was time to call it a day so we pulled over and moored up on the visitor moorings.  When we were all tied up and settled I went off in search of a shop as we were in need of biblical rations – Bread and Wine!


I was amazed to find just around the corner from the boat three pubs, a betting shop, a dentist, a doctor’s surgery, an off license, a gym, Chinese and Indian takeaways and a fish and chip shop, not to mention a Co-op!  What more could you need!  All I needed at that point was the Co-op.  I bought the bread and wine and a few more bits and pieces then headed back to the boat.  It had been a long day but I set to and made a chicken curry, which was yummy!  The only thing to marr the tranquility was a group of lads walking passed the boat and one of the litte brats decided it would be fun to stand on the gunwhales and make the boat rock!!  Toe-rag!  Afer dinner we watched a couple of episodes of CSI Las Vegas then, as by this time we were both yawning, we called it a day!  Not surprising really, up at 5.30am, seven and a half hours of cruising including fifteen locks – no wonder we were tired!


Tuesday July 5th 2011 – We set off at a much more civilised hour this morning, around 10.00am and continued our journey down The Soar.  We met up with a single boater who was going all the way to Loughborough so we had a locking companion yet again.  It was a beautiful day and we really enjoyed the cruise through surprisingly pretty countryside, considering we were so close to one of the ten largest cities in the country!  We past some absolutely stunning properties in Barrow on Soar but one of them amused us a great deal.  They say an Englishman’s home is his castle but these days not many of them have turrets and certainly not gunports!


Turrets and gun ports!


A short time later as we were approaching Loughborough it started to rain and we decided to moor up as soon as possible.  We came across a stretch of mooring with several other boats already moored up so we pulled in and here we are! Clive finally found time to phone the wildlife hospital to check on the progress of the injured grass snake.  We were both delighted to hear that he was on the mend.  They had come to the conclusion that it was just badly bruised as the snake was beginning to move his body south of the injury which implies that it was nothing too serious after all.  All's well that ends well so they say!


The weather forecasters don’t seem to be able to make up their minds what the weather is going to do over the next few days!  They keep changing their minds – one minute there are going to be thunderstorms but then the next day this has changed to sunshine and showers!  So, we will find out what the weather is doing in the morning by looking out of the window – if it is fine we will move on, if its raining or looks like rain then we will just stay put! 


June 23rd 2011 - just North of Husband's Bosworth, Leics.

Posted by clivenmel on 23 June, 2011 at 12:22

On our return from New Zealand we had booked a car for a week to enable us to do any necessary running about and also to make a trip up to Huddersfield to visit the family.  We headed up to Yorkshire on Friday May 13th and stayed until the Tuesday, it was great to see everybody again.  Clive’s mum was very relieved to see that her darling son hadn’t come to any harm whilst visiting foreign parts so very far away!


We had quite a lot to do to get the boat ready for living aboard again.   All the cupboards were bare, well apart from the odd tin of rice pudding and a can of sardines!  We stayed at Vicki’s until the following Friday when our granddaughter Indeia arrived with her mum, Xenia, having flown in from Colorado Springs, USA the night before.  She is here to spend the next six weeks with Gareth.  It was so lovely to see her again – she has certainly grown and now has a fully fledged American accent – I wonder if she will still have it when she goes back!?  Gareth’s arrival from Huddersfield was delayed because his van had finally packed in a few days earlier and had to be scrapped!  Considering he bought it three years ago for £250 and got £140 from the scrap man he hasn't done badly!!  He had managed to source a new car the day before but it needed an MOT and taxing.  The garage promised to get its MOT done first thing that morning so that he could pick up a tax disc and then drive down to Cambridge.  He arrived about 15 minutes after Indy and Xenia!


Clive and I moved back to the boat that afternoon having returned the hire car.  We suggested that Gareth and Indy spend the night at Vicki’s then come over and join us the following day. Vicki and Ben were due to arrive back from their Antipodean trip sometime on the Saturday but we didn’t know when!  Gareth woke up at 7.15am to the sound of a key being turned in the lock!  He and Indy had only just got to sleep – she was jet-lagged and had been awake all night – they had both just nodded off on the lounge floor! Vicki, Ben and Ben’s mum were quite surprised to see them!!


Ever since we moved on board Lady Arwen we have had a bit of an issue with our batteries.  She had two huge domestic batteries, which we were assured at the time of purchase were adequate for our needs, well they never have been!  We have always had problems with too little power as we had a fridge and freezer on permanently, plus lights, laptops, TV etc.  Even the loo needs electricity to flush and the shower also needs power.  We always had to run the engine in the evenings to ensure that we had enough power in the batteries to get us through the night. Even after adding the solar panels we never had enough power!  Well, after sitting for six months with just a trickle charge from the solar panels the batteries had deteriorated even further and for the first few nights on board with Gareth and Indy it was a nightmare, we couldn’t have lights on for very long at all and there was no way we could run the TV or laptops, even then the red light was on in the mornings!  So Clive contacted Hartford Marina and ordered 5 new batteries then we cruised up the Old West River to collect and fit them.  Gareth and Indy helped me with some of the locks on the way.


Lock helpers!

It was a bit of a fiasco to start with, the marina had the batteries ok but hadn’t got all the connectors and cables which Clive had requested.  We ended up staying overnight on their mooring and they kindly allowed us to plug into the electricity supply at no charge.   Gareth did his best to keep Indy entertained whilst we were stuck there!


Gareth & Indy at Hartford Marina


The following day all the connectors etc finally arrived, having had to be sourced from another marina and collected by the lady in the chandlery!  Clive disappeared down into the engine room and an hour or so later it was all done.  We set off again and cruised down to St Ives and moored up.


Well to say we are pleased is an understatement – we absolutely love our new batteries!  They are incredible.  Some nights we have had lights, TV and laptops on, phones charging etc, at dawn the solar panels kick in then within seconds of starting the engine the battery light is flashing to say they are fully charged, its awesome! In fact some days when we haven’t actually moved the boat we have had to put the engine on just to heat the water up as the batteries are still charged – we are chuffed to little mint balls I can tell you.  The only issue at the moment is the freezer – just before we left for New Zealand Clive had a bit of an accident with it!  I had emptied it, switched it off and cleaned it out but left it open to air off, Clive tripped over it in the dark on his way to put the engine on and it kind of came off its moorings!  He has now got a bracket in order to fix it but hasn’t had time to do it yet so the freezer hasn’t been switched on at all since we got back.  I have no doubt whatsoever though that our new batteries will cope admirably with the extra output when it finally gets switched on again!


We hung around the Cambridge area for the last week as an ex-colleague of mine from Addenbrooke’s, Emma, was getting married and we had been invited to the evening do which was to be held in Royston.  We moored the boat at Clayhythe (Waterbeach) and after putting on our glad rags Gareth drove us the short distance up to the station, we caught the train to Royston then walked up to The Banyers Hotel for the do.  We had a lovely time, it was great to meet up with my old colleagues. 


Mel, Emma & Robyn


Emma looked absolutely gorgeous in her wedding dress and the groom didn’t look bad either! 


Emma & Stuart - the happy couple!

Interestingly Emma and Stuart met through dancing!  Emma wanted to go to a dancing class and needed a partner, another colleague from work, Marian, asked all her son's mates if any of them would be interested, Stuart said he would and the rest is history!

Later that night we walked back to the station, got the return train to Waterbeach then walked back to the boat.   The whole trip cost us £12 in total – amazing!


June 6th 2011 – First of all we said goodbye to Gareth and Indy, they were off to Centreparcs in Elvedon Forest for the week.  We then cruised down from Waterbeach to Cambridge and moored up at Jesus Lock and later on in the afternoon Stevie and Helen Gilson came to spend the evening with us, we went out for dinner at a nearby restaurant.  It was good to see them again even though we had spent the evening with them at Emma’s wedding on Saturday!


Stevie and Helen Gilson


The following day, Tuesday  June 7th, we cruised back up to Waterbeach because we had arranged to meet some other friends, Jim and Jean Hysom, at The Bridge for lunch, then on their way home they dropped us off to visit yet more friends, Rosemary and Vernon, who live in Waterbeach!


One thing to report is that Clive finally decided it was time to part with his beloved classic car, a 1973 Triumph TR6 roadster.  He has had it since 1996 and was very fond of it indeed.  However, since moving onto the boat it has become a bit of a liability. Initially my brother Nick kindly looked after it in his “shed” nestled between his Ferrari and his restored Haflinger. Last Summer Clive drove it down to Cambridge so that he could use it for a few weeks whilst we were here then Phil, a friend of our daughter’s, very kindly offered to store it in his barn whilst we were in New Zealand.  But our plan now is to head up North – what to do with the TR6???  In the end Clive decided it was time to let it go and he contacted a local Triumph specialist to see if they would be interested in it and they were, so in the evening he delivered it to them.  Sad in a way but he is now actually relieved that he doesn’t have to worry about it any more.  Bless!


1973 Triumph TR6


So now that we have done all that we are free to go! We could finally leave Cambridge behind and head North!  At 8.15 on the morning of Wednesday June 8th we left our mooring at Waterbeach and cruised up to Ely. We moored up and went to Tesco to do a bit of stocking up then after a quick lunch we headed off and for the first time in 12 months actually cruised beyond Ely!  We moored at Littleport the first night then the following day headed for the Denver Sluice where we got onto the Middle Levels which took us to Peterborough and thence onto the River Nene.  Just beyond Peterborough is a lovely place called Ferry Meadows Country Park and OvertonLake, which just happens to have some lovely moorings and that is where we moored up on Friday June 10th. 


Lady Arwen moored on Overton Lake at Ferry Meadows Country Park


Now these moorings are supposed to be for 24 hours only, we however overstayed our welcome just a bit, we stayed for four nights!! There was a good reason for this.  First of all Gareth and Indy finished were due to join us on their return from Centreparcs for a couple of nights before heading up to Huddersfield.  Overton Lake moorings are very close to a car park so it was safe to leave the car and stay on board with us.  Also it was a Grand Prix weekend and you know what that means! 


On the Saturday afternoon Clive and Gareth decided to fix the freezer so Indy and I went for a walk in the park.  Well actually we had a ride as there was a lovely little miniature railway, we got a one way ticket and had a lovely walk back to the boat.  When we got back the freezer was sorted – excellent!  So Gareth, Indy and I went off to Peterborough to do some shopping and left Clive on his own for a bit of peace! 


Gareth and Indy left us on Sunday after lunch to drive up to Huddersfield and we got ready for our next set of visitors!  Sure enough on Monday afternoon our they arrivedand there were a lot of them, five to be exact! My niece Ali, husband Mike, three year old Harry and four month old identical twins George and Tom!  It was great to see them all, especially George and Tom as this was our first meeting, up to then we had only seen photographs as they were born whilst we were in New Zealand!


Identical twins, George and Tom (or Tom and George!)


We had a lovely afternoon, we went out into the park, Harry enjoyed himself playing in the little playground for a while then Ali and Mike produced a kite!  Clive had a go first,


Clive kite flying - its been a while!


then Ali persuaded me to have a go, I was very reluctant at first but discovered to my surprise that it was great fun.  After that, with daddy’s help, Harry had a go too and did a great job. 


Then we all trooped back to the boat for tea,  which was quite interesting with Ali and Mike juggling twins and trying to eat at the same time!  After tea we got Harry all set up with the laptop to watch My Neighbour Totoro, he was just as enthralled with it as Indy had been the first time she saw it!


Harry totally engrossed watching My Neighbour Totoro


All too soon it was time for us to say goodbye as Ali and Mike headed back home to Hartford with their lovely boys.  It was really nice having them all on board.


Mike and Ali with their three lovely boys


We stayed at Overton Lake for one more night and then on the morning of Tuesday May 14th we took our leave and headed off along the River Nene.  We moored at Fotheringhay that night, once again below the castle mound where Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded!  It’s a lovely mooring, very peaceful and quiet.  They say Mary’s ghost has been seen here but if she walked that night we certainly didn’t see her!


We were up bright and early the next morning and continued our journey along the Nene.  It was a really beautiful day and it was wonderful cruising along in the sunshine through such beautiful countryside. 


There are 37 locks on the River Nene, many of them have electrified guillotine gates at one end and pointing gates at the other end.  However six of the 37 locks have not yet been electrified and the guillotines have to be wound up by hand using a huge wheel! They are very hard work and wreak havoc with your shoulders – I was very glad to put them behind us!  We finally reached Northampton and the end of the Nene on Saturday the 18th.  We spent one night moored in Northampton then on Sunday morning we attacked the Rothersthorpe Flight of 17 locks!  We were very lucky that all but one of the locks were in our favour so it only took about three and a half hours to reach the top.  From there its only a few minutes cruise down to the Gayton Junction where we turned right onto the Grand Union Canal heading North.


Having spent the whole of last Summer in East Anglia plus the last few weeks since our return from New Zealand, getting back on tothe canal was quite a surprise, it was soooooooooo busy.  It was like the M25 on a Monday morning!  We couldn’t believe how many narrowboats were on the move.  There are quite a few narrowboats on the East Anglian rivers but nowhere near as many as there are on the canals and of course it is now Summer so they all come out of the marinas and start cruising.  We managed to find a lovely quiet spot out in the countryside to moor up, opposite a field full of sheep and spent a very peaceful night.


The following day we cruised up to Whilton Marina.  This marina is Lady Arwen’s homeport so to speak, its where we bought her from and where we set off from on our maiden voyage on September 1st 2008. We stopped off there to top up with diesel and water, pump out the loo and pick up a few bits and pieces from the chandlery then we tackled the next flight of locks, the Buckby Flight.  This flight has only 7 locks but they are big double ones with very stiff paddles and very heavy doors.  Fortunately there was another boat ready to go up at the same time as us so we shared the locks with them making it much quicker and easier. We moored up just before the last lock as there was no room on the moorings up at the top.  As soon as we had Lady Arwen securely moored Clive and I went straight up to the New Inn, which is adjacent to the top lock, for a well earned drinky-poo and dinner.  Unfortunately the food was very disappointing, which was surprising as it has always been very nice in the past.


We didn’t rush the following morning but finally around 11.00 o’clock I went up to set the last lock in the Buckby Flight and then Clive brought the boat up and we were off again.  Only a few hundred yards from the top lock is Norton Junction where we turned right, heading for yet another flight of locks – the Watford Flight.  This is a flight of 7locks.  There are two separate locks at the bottom then a staircase of four locks and finally another single lock at the top.  The staircase locks are interesting because they are joined together. There are two paddles to operate each lock, a red one, which has to be opened first, then a white one.  It is imperative that you do this in the right order otherwise there could be a disaster.  There is a little rhyme to remember the order: Red before White and you’ll be alright, White before Red and you’ll wish you were dead! 


I mentioned earlier how many boats were out and about, when we arrived at the bottom of the Watford Flight there was one boat moored in front of us and one already in the bottom lock.  You have to go and speak to the lock keeper on duty and actually book your passage up or down the flight.  Boats cannot pass on the staircase so on busy days each boat has to be given a time slot. It was very busy on Tuesday and we were waiting for at least an hour before we could go up through the first lock and moor up in the first pound.  There were four boats coming down the staircase, one boat in front of us waiting to go up and seven more boats behind us!  Finally the lock keeper gave us the go ahead and we were off.  He is known as Terry the Hat due to his collection of odd hats from around the world, which he wears when he is on duty.  Today it was the turn of a Pith Helmet, which caused quite a few comments!  Several relating to Zulu and also references to Carry on up the Khyber or Carry on up the Canal in this case!!  The funny thing is that underneath it his head is totally shaved!


Terry the Hat


By the time we were through the last lock it was after 2.00pm so we decided to call it a day and moored up a short distance further on, once again in a lovely spot opposite a field full of sheep!  This spot however wasn’t quite as peaceful as the last one, we were quite close to the M1 and there was a constant drone from the speeding traffic somewhere beyond the trees!  I totted up how many locks we had negotiated since getting onto the Nene last week – it came to 68!


When we awoke this morning it was pouring with rain.  It continued on and off for a couple of hours then finally the showers passed over.  We upped sticks and cruised on for a couple of hours.  Our  journey included negotiating the Husband's Bosworth Tunnel and soon after emerging from the other end we started looking out for a suitable mooring.  We finally found a lovely place overlooked by the Laughton Hills.  We have a reasonable TV signal which meant that Clive could watch Wimbledon whilst I blogged.  We have another lock flight ahead of us tomorrow, The Foxton Staircase of ten locks - its all go isn't it!


May 12th 2011 - Cambridge

Posted by clivenmel on 16 June, 2011 at 11:14

Sincere apologies for the very long delay in posting this blog!  You will have guessed by now that we are finally back home in good old Blighty and since we got back there just hasn’t been time to sit down and blog, till now! So here goes!!


May 1st 2011 – Vicki and Ben arrived in New Zealand and Clive went and picked them up from the airport in the campervan.  I waited back at Lindsey’s cos there wasn’t really room for me in the van as well!  It was wonderful to see them both, there were lots of hugs and a few happy tears from me!! We managed to keep them awake most of the day, apart from a short nap in the afternoon then we all went out to dinner at a wonderful Thai restaurant.  There were 8 of us, Philly, Ann, Lindsey, Mary, Vicki, Ben, Clive and I.  We had a wonderful evening but didn’t stay out too late as the weary, jet-lagged travellers needed their beauty sleep!


May 2nd 2011 – Lindsey went off to work and the four of us drove to Pine Harbour in the campervan.  I was actually in the back of the van,sitting at the table on the journey – totally illegal as there are no seatbelts in the back!  However I survived!  We arrived at Pine Harbour and got the ferry to Auckland, much easier than trying to park in the city and actually quite an adventure in itself as it was a very windy, rainy day and the sea was really choppy, it was quite an exciting trip, a bit like white water rafting!!! 


Auckland with the Sky Tower in the centre


We decided to go up the Auckland Sky Tower but it was a bit of a damp squib (or more like a wet spark plug!) really as it was so cloudy and when we reached the observation deck at the top we could hardly see a thing!  Still it was fun.  After that we headed down to the harbour and had lunch in one of the harbour-side restaurants.


May 3rd 2011 – We said goodbye to Vicki and Ben at about 10.15am as they set off in the campervan for their whistle-stop tour of North Island.  Later that day Clive put the news on and we were absolutely horrified to discover that a tornado had hit the outskirts of Auckland at a place called Albany and caused untold damage, lots of injuries and sadly one person had died.  However we were really concerned as the tornado had hit right by the elevated highway that Vicki and Ben would have had to cross on their journey North!  However it turned out that the tornado had struck at about 2.00pm several hours after Vicki and Ben passed that way – phew!


May 4th 2011 – I desperately needed a haircut so Clive and I headed into Manukau to the shopping mall where I had my hair cut before.  Unfortunately the young Maori lady who cut it last time wasn’t on duty so I had to settle for another lady.  She did a pretty good job but Idon’t think it was as good as the previous cut, which was all done with a cut-throat razor!  Still I looked quite respectable when it was done!  That evening we went to the Pub Quiz for the very last time, we still didn’t win but as always thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. 


We had a phonecall from Vicki the next day, just to catch up,  tell us what they were up to and also to give us some news – whilst they were in Russell, Bay of Islands on their first day of travelling Ben proposed to her and she said yes!  We were absolutely delighted.  At that stage they didn’t have a ring but a couple of days later they stopped off in a little town called Bethlehem and Vicki chose this beautiful solitaire diamond ring.


Vicki's beautiful engagement ring


We didn’t do much over the next couple of days other than mooch around at Lindsey’s. 


May 8th 2011 - Lindsey, Clive and I decided to go to Auckland Zoo!  On our visit to the Sky Tower with Vicki and Ben we were given BOGOF (buy one get one free!) vouchers for the zoo, excellent!  Trouble was there were three of us!  I got in free with Clive but Lindsey was on her own, so she accosted a guy in the queue and asked if they could go in together to use the voucher – nice one!


We had a lovely time, it is a really wonderful zoo and they have some amazing animals there, some that I have never seen before.  However I think the highlight of the visit had to be the performance put on by the Samian Monkeys in the afternoon, they were awesome!  Swinging from branches, hanging onto the fences and howling at the top of their lungs.  They have a sort of throat flap which inflates like a balloon and creates a soundbox to amplify their howls, it was incredible.  Wish I had sound on this blog!!


Samian Monkey


That evening we had all been invited to Mary’s for a final meal together.  I said I would make the starter – carrot and coriander soup!  We had a lovely evening, my soup was well received and Mary had done a fantastic roast dinner finished off with the most glorious pudding I have ever eaten!  It had the most unusual name: Sussex Pond Pudding!  It was basically a suet pudding (except suet is very hard to come by in NZ so she used butter!) and the filling consists of butter, sugar and lemons – it doesn’t sound anywhere near as good as it tasted, it was truly awesome – we all had seconds and I now have the recipe!!  Sadly it was then time to say goodbye to Philly and Ann as we wouldn’t be seeing them again before our departure. :(


May 9th 2011 – As it was our last day Lindsey decided to take the day off work so that she could spend it with us.  We managed to get just about everything squirreled away into our suitcases, which felt very heavy indeed!!  It had always been the intention that Lindsey would take us to the airport however a few days earlier Mary had very kindly offered to take us.  As it turned out this was quite fortuitous as Lindsey had completely forgotten she had a Forest and Bird AGM to attend on the evening of the 9th!  Because our flight was actually in the early hours of the 10th that was the date she thought we were leaving! So it was decided that Lindsey would go off to her meeting in the evening, Mary would come and pick us up from Lindsey’s and drive back into Clevedon where Lindsey would meet us on her way back – excellent!  So we were all packed and ready to roll with the suitcases in the hall.  Mary duly arrived and we managed to stuff all our belongings into her boot.  We said goodbye to Radar and Buzzy Bee then we were off.  On the way to Clevedon I noticed a rather odd sound and assumed it was the mud flaps touching the road as the car was so heavily laden, however just as we were pulling into the village Mary commented that the car seemed to be pulling to the left – oh dear!  Sure enough we pulled into the kerb and I got out to look – yep, we had a flat tyre!!!


The Flat!


I couldn’t believe it! Having never actually experienced a flat tyre in a car ever in my life, since arriving in New Zealand I had experienced two!  The first one was on the campervan on Christmas Day on the way back from the beach and now this one on the way to the airport!!


Mary managed to get the car onto the gas station forecourt, which was only a short distance along. Lindsey was already waiting for us so she came to see what was happening.  Needless to say we had to unload all the luggage from the boot to get at the jack and the spare tyre then with Lindsey, Mary and Clive working as a team they got the tyre changed in record time.  Mary read the instructions, Clive jacked up the car, loosened the wheelnuts and removed the offending wheel, Lindsey got the spare out of the boot and I was the official photographer!!




We finally made it to the airport after yet another delay when we ended up behind a very slow works vehicle on the slip road putting cones out!!  At last we got to the check in desk and watched the scales with trepidation as Clive put our suitcases on the belt!  We were over the weight limit by about 6Kgs but we needn’t have worried, the girl on the desk never batted an eyelid, stuck the labels on, handed us our boarding passes and wished us a nice flight!  Brilliant!  After that we met up with Lindsey and Mary again and went for a well earned coffee!


Over the last few weeks whilst we have been living at Lindsey’s house, I have been doing all the cooking and keeping her kitchen clean and tidy and generally looking after Lindsey, because of this she kept referring to me as her “house elf” which of course reminded us of the Harry Potter books and films and finally I became "Dobby"!! In the books the only way a house elf can become free is if his master voluntarily gives him a sock!  Standing in Departures at Auckland Airport Lindsey and I had a final hug and quite a few tears, then I turned to Mary to give her a hug too, when I turned back Lindsey had removed her shoe and her sock which she handed to me!  That of course brought peals of laughter from all of us and even more tears!  I gave it back to her and said she must keep it because one day I would be back to carry out my duties once more, if she’ll have us that is!!


So still sniffling and wiping away tears I followed Clive through the security checks and into the Departure Lounge to await our flight,which was scheduled for 2.15am!!


May 10th 2011 – At last we boarded the plane and took our leave of New Zealand heading over the Tasman Sea and Australia for the first leg of our journey to Brunei, which is a small Sultanate on the island of Borneo.  We settled down under our blankets and tried to get some sleep!


We did managed to get a bit of shut-eye before landing in Bandar-Seri-Begawan at 8.15am the same day!  We stepped out of the airport and the heat was tremendous, it was just like opening an oven door!  We had planned all along to have a stopover in Brunei and as our flight arrived early in the morning and our onward flight wasn’t until 8.45pm the following evening that gave us almost two full days.  We managed to get a taxi and were soon on our way to The Empire Hotel.  At about 10.00am we pulled up outside the most magnificent, palatial hotel I think I have ever seen – wow! Our bags were removed from the taxi by a bell boy and put on a very ornate trolley and wheeled into the foyer, we headed for reception to check in.  The lady behind the desk took our booking reference and disappeared.  She soon returned and informed us that we had been given a complementary upgrade, courtesy of the hotel and handed us a keycard for our room!  The bellboy with our luggage guided us to a lift and then to a large, stately door with a huge gold knob in the middle – Clive put the card in the lock and the door opened onto the most magnificent suite!  There was a huge Sultan-sized bed, a lounge with two couches and a large TV in a cabinet, amazing marble bathroom with a huge corner bath, enormous separate shower and also a separate loo and bidet – it was incredible!  I opened the curtains in the lounge and there were patio doors leading out onto our own private terrace with the most fabulous view over the grounds and the Indian Ocean – awesome!  Fortunately the room was air conditioned and there was a console by the bed which was had a clock, a button which turned the lights on and off, several buttons to control the air conditioning and best of all a button which opened and shut the curtains – sheer decadence!


The Empire Hotel, Bandar-Seri-Begawan


Before we arrived in Bandar-Seri-Begawan we had all sorts of plans to go on excursions and visit this, that and the other but the hotel was so fantastic we just didn’t want to leave it at all!  We strolled around the grounds in the very hot sunshine, looking out over the Indian Ocean and Clive actually spotted a turtle!  We also explored the hotel itself, which was vast, it even had its own shopping mall!  There was a photo gallery showing some of the famous people who have stayed in the hotel including Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods (there is a fantastic golf course attached to the hotel complex), Ronan Keating, Prince Charles and so on and so forth. We were not surprised really as the hotel was just like a palace, definitely fit for a king!  The amazing thing is it wasn’t really expensive considering it has a Five Star rating!! 


At lunch time we went to one of the five restaurants in the hotel and the Maitre D’ a lovely Philippino gentleman called Anthony, asked if we would like to see the buffet.  It took him ten minutes to show us all there was on offer, it was absolutely incredible!  There was a huge, long table groaning with every kind of food you can imagine, both European and Asian and that was only the starters!  Then he took us to see all the hot dishes that were on offer, including some that were cooked on the spot at your request!  Then he took us to another table where there were huge prawns, mussels, clams and other seafood all displayed on ice – awesome! He then directed us over to yet another area where there were dozens of delightfully pretty deserts, plus two big hot pots, one containing an unusual grey/brown concoction which Anthony assured us was a lovely desert made from a kind of bean and in the other one was Bread and Butter Pudding with Crème Anglais!  Needless to say we stuffed ourselves stupid!  The food was so varied and so delicious that we just had to keep trying something else.  We only had small quantities of everything but we were still absolutely stuffed, so much so that we didn’t bother having a meal that evening, we just weren’t hungry! The other thing to mention is that Brunei is a Muslim country and therefore there is no alcohol.  We didn’t miss it at all, there were lots of lovely juices to try and with our buffet we had a wonderful cocktail called a Mango and Coconut Bomb – it was divine!  Mango nectar in the bottom topped with frothy coconut milk – awesome!!


We were wondering what to do with ourselves that evening and were delighted to discover that the hotel actually had its own cinema!  So we strolled out into the hot tropical night, walked across the car park and into the air conditioned cinema to see the film Thor, it was great!


We spent a very peaceful and cool night in our gorgeous suite and the following morning we went down to an amazing breakfast that was almost as sumptuous as yesterday’s buffet! We let that settle and then decided to go for a swim in the pool.  It was really hot outside and the pool was absolutely wonderful.  We had a great swim and also treated ourselves to a green coconut from the pool bar, which was very refreshing indeed! 

Sharing a coconut!


A while later we went and indulged ourselves in the luncheon buffet once more knowing that as we had to be at the airport by 6pm for our flight at 8.30pm we wouldn’t have much chance to eat again. 


Finally we dragged ourselves away from The Empire Hotel for the next leg of our journey home.  I wouldn’t mind spending a week there I can tell you!  We caught our flight with no problems and were soon up in the air again heading for Dubai this time where we had to stop for refuelling.  As with our outward journey we all disembarked, walked the full length of the airport lounge and back again then boarded our plane again for the last leg of the journey to Heathrow.


We were only very slightly late arriving at Heathrow and were absolutely delighted to see our friend Stevie Gilson waiting for us in Arrivals.  We piled all our belongings into his car and set off on the journey up the motorway to Cambridge.  We did stop off at a Tesco store on the way to have a spot of breakfast and a cuppa! Our grateful thanks to Stevie for getting up at some ungodly hour to come and fetch us whilst still jet-lagged himself following a trip to the States!  Finally we arrived at Vicki and Ben’s house where we were staying.  Our Antipodean Odyssey finally over! 

We will continue to update the blog as we resume our life afloat on board Lady Arwen - I'll give you a bit of time to absorb this latest blog before posting the next one!


April 25th 2011 - The Coromandel

Posted by clivenmel on 25 April, 2011 at 18:36

Well I know I said I wasn’t going to do another blog until we got back home but I do actually have something worth blogging!  Some weeks back, whilst Clive and I were still travelling, he suggested that Lindsey and I have a weekend away in the campervan together and leave him at home to look after the dog!  We suggested this to Lindsey and she was definitely up for it.  She doesn’t get away very often so it was a very good opportunity.  Well we finally got around to doing it this weekend!


We packed the campervan on Thursday night and got everything ready for an early start on Friday morning. Well that was never going to happen, not when Lindsey and I are involved, neither of us are particularly good at doing things on time!!  However we did finally get organised and said goodbye to Clive and Radar at about 10.30am! Our destination – The Coromandel! The Coromandel is a peninsula on the East coast of North Island and is a very popular holiday destination for Aucklanders as it only takes an hour or so to get there.  It is also very beautiful. 


We stopped off in Thames on the way to fill up with petrol and also to have a coffee and a bite of lunch. We both had scrambled eggs on the most yummy toasted five grain bread – the whole thing was absolutely delicious! We continued our journey and it wasn’t long before we arrived at Hahei (pron.haa-hay) Beach campsite where I had booked us in for two nights.  We got settled in and sat outside in the sunshine having coffee and biscuits.


Coffee break!


We decided to go for a stroll along the beach and have a look around.  Our pitch was only a stones throw from the beach but we couldn’t actually see it as there was a large dune in the way!  However it didn’t take us long to get there.  It is a lovely beach and a very popular one with the boaters. There was a long row of tractors and trailers parked along the beach to prove it!


Tractors and boat trailers


However that was only at one end of the beach, which is accessible by road.  The rest of the beach was peaceful and beautiful.  We had a lovely walk right up to the other end of the beach, as far as we could go without getting our feet wet!  There were some amazing cliffs at the far end and evidence of ancient rock falls in the shape of intricately wind-carved boulders. 


Wind-carved boulder


The whole of the Coromandel is left over from ancient volcanic eruptions and it has all been eroded by wind and sea into somes pectacular scenery, more of which I will show you later!


By this time we were quite hungry.  Unusually our pitch was a really long way from the main facility block and we just couldn’t be bothered to traipse over there to make dinner so we decided to make it on the van.  There is one item of equipment on the van which Clive and I had never used at all, a mini oven located in the cupboard under the sink!  We hauled it out and plugged it in, set it to 180 degrees and shoved in a couple of steak pies!  We opened a can of baked beans and I made some instant gravy and Bob’s your uncle we were sitting down to dine in style in no time, with a glass of wine each of course!!


We had a hilarious evening playing Scrabble!  Squealing with laughter at each other’s efforts but disaster struck part way through – we lost a letter!  It’s a travel Scrabble set so the letters actually click into place so that they don’t move around.  When you have finished a game all the letters have to be tweaked loose from their slots and have a tendency to shoot off in all directions if you're not careful.  Well one letter shot off, hit the door and fell down into the footwell, I went to retrieve it and it had disappeared, completely disappeared!  I got the torch out and shone it into all the little nooks and crannies but couldn’t see it anywhere, I opened the door and got out of the van and had another search but all to no avail, it had gone!  We went through all the other letters and counted them all and finally ascertained that it was a letter A that had gone missing!  We managed to play a couple more games using an imaginary A then it was time for bed.


Putting the bed up was yet another cause of great hilarity!  Clive and I had got so used to doing it that it took no time at all but Lindsey and I working together was a different matter and we ended up in a fit of hysterics, which left us completely exhausted and ready for sleep!


April 23rd 2011 – Lindsey was up before me as usual, had already had a cup of tea and was eating dry cereal for breakfast!  We had milk, she just prefers to eat cereal without it!  The weather was looking a bit miserable and we weren’t really sure what to do.  Rain had been forecast for both Saturday and Sunday, which is typical, it’s Easter, a Bank Holiday weekend!  Sure enough it started to rain, quite heavily!  We decided to have a Scrabble rematch! First of all though I was determined to find the missing A!  I sat and pondered the situation, staring down into the footwell!  Suddenly it came to me, there were only two very tiny spaces at each end of the footwell that the letter could have got through, I got out of the van and opened the door and pondered some more then I had it, the letter must have somehow got into the runner groove for the door!  I got the torch and shone it into the groove and Lindsey peered in - I can see it, she said!  Finally with a lot of poking and prodding she managed to retrieve it with her finger - yipee!  We were both very relieved as neither of us were looking forward to telling Philly we had lost one of her letters - she can be a bit scary when she's cross!!

Not long afterwards it stopped raining and the clouds started to blow away so we decided to go on an expedition to Cathedral Cove!  We got our hiking boots on, I dug out my trusty hiking poles from the cupboard, we packed a knapsack with waterproofs (just in case), a bottle of water, some sandwiches, the binoculars and of course the camera and then we set off.


The trek began on the beach, retracing our steps of yesterday along to the quiet end of the beach where there are wooden steps leading up to the cliff top.  The path then winds its way along through the bush with occasional tantalizing glimpses of turquoise blue bays below.  Lindsey is very knowledgeable when it comes to New Zealand flora and she was pointing out the various trees and shrubs to me as we walked along and telling me their Maori names too - clever lady! 


We came to a signpost pointing down a track to Gemstone Bay so we took it and finally arrived at said Bay but the tide was right in so we just sat on some huge boulders and ate our sandwiches, which we shared with a couple of gulls!  The bay doesn’t actually have a beach as such but it is a very popular spot for snorkelling and we watched some people doing just that.  We hauled ourselves back up the path from the bay and rejoined the main track again.  A little while later we came to another branch, this one pointed to Stingray Bay, so named because it is actually frequented by Stingrays and sometimes you can see them from the beach evidently.   We set off down the path and soon began to regret the decision – it was very, very muddy!  The path was very badly eroded and we were clambering over tree roots and slipping and sliding in the mud!  There were some steps but they were quite difficult to negotiate – well for me anyway! We finally came to one step and it was a really deep riser – because of my knees I have difficulty with big steps and this was a really big one!  I struggled to get down, Lindsey came to my aid and I finally made it but slipped and fell against the bankside and got absolutely filthy!  I had mud all over my arm and tee shirt!  Anyway, we finally arrived at Stingray Bay and once again sat on some huge boulders to admire the scenery.  Lindsey went off to see if she could spot any stingrays but there weren’t any in sight.  She has been here before but not on foot, by kayak!  She, Philly and Ann did a trip along this coastline by kayak a couple of years ago.


I see no stingrays!


The cliffs around this bay were absolutely fantastic, once again sculpted by wind and sea into spectacular designs. 


Cliff Sculpture


We spent a while in Stingray Bay just enjoying the tranquillity and the scenery and listening to the waves pounding up the beach until one pounded itself all over me! Time to go!!  Oh dear, we had the muddy path to negotiate once more!  We reached the high step and I honestly didn’t know how on Earth to get back up, I attempted it using my hiking poles and Lindsey trying to push me up but I fellback again and Lindsey, trying to catch me ended up covered in mud as well – what a pair!  Finally she went up first and managed to haul me up afterwards – thank you Lindsey!!  Needless to say we were both in fits of hysterics yet again!


So we continued our trek to Cathedral Cove now in a dishevelled and muddy state!  Finally we arrived and it was worth all the effort, it is an awesome place, absolutely spectacular!  The first thing you notice is the beautiful beach but then you see why it got its name, a fantastic natural archway through to another beach at the other side!


Cathedral Cove archway


There are fences across both sides of the arch warning people that this area is prone to rock falls and recommending that you avoid it, nobody does of course but the authorities are covered, if you do get crushed by a falling rock its nobody's fault but your own – you have been warned!  So, thus warned, we ignored it and went through the arch to the other side. It was absolutely beautiful! There is this huge chunk of rock, which was obviously part of the cliffs eons ago but has been eroded away and it is just gorgeous!  I took lots of photos of it needless to say!


Awesome chunk of rock!


We walked back through to the other beach again as the tide looked as if it was coming in and we didn't want to get stranded! Lindsey and I couldn’t wait to get our boots off to give our feet a rest and I decided to go and paddle! It was lovely, a wee bit chilly when you first dipped your big toe in but you soon acclimatize and I really enjoyed it.  I took photographs of the waves at close quarters!



Lindsey also decided to go and have a paddle but she wasn’t impressed by the temperature at all and didn’t get much further than dipping her big toe in!  I’ve noticed that ex-pats living in New Zealand have all become soft after being here for awhile, what I consider as a pleasant day is considered cold by them and Lindsey is no exception.  There have been a few occasions when I have been dressed in shorts and tee shirt and Lindsey has wrapped herself up in a huge, thick fleece because she’s cold!


Is it cold Lindsey!


We also decided to make use of the facilities that have been thoughtfully provided at Cathedral Cove. Hidden in the bushes at the back of the beach is a dunny, quite a big, wooden structure, not your average dunny at all.  What is even more amazing is that it has been fitted with a window so as you are sitting on the dunny you can admire the view!!

The Dunny!


All too soon we had to don our boots again and drag ourselves away from Cathedral Cove as we had a long walk back.  On the way here we had passed underneath a viewing platform so we decided to investigate it on the return journey.  We climbed up the steps to the first level and soaked up the view for a little while and read the notice boards telling us all about the marine reserve which takes in the three coves we had visited.  Its amazing what a difference these reserves make in quite a short time. There is no fishing allowed in the reserves, you are not allowed to remove anything from the sea or beaches here at all and therefore the sea-life thrives and grows a lot bigger than those in the unprotected regions.  Lindsey told me that people often go and fish just beyond the boundaries but very rarely catch anything – its as if the fish know that they are safe if they stay within the reserve!


Above the viewpoint is a car park and in the car park is a refreshments trailer selling the most wonderful coffee so we indulged ourselves.  We also fished a poly bag out of the backpack and ate the crumbs which had started out as biscuits when we set off this morning!!  After that we continued our trek back to the campsite. We had set off this morning around 11.00am and when we got back it was nearly 5.00pm!  We  returned to the van via the village as we needed to pick up a bottle of wine and another tin of baked beans!  Good camp fodder!


As we were walking along the road I spotted something on the verge under a tree, it looked like a tennis ball.  I wandered over to retrieve it thinking Radar might appreciate it but when I got there I found that it wasn’t a ball at all, it was some kind of fruit!  We looked around at the trees but couldn’t see any more growing so have no idea where it came from!


Strange fruit!


Neither of us had any idea what it was at all, it had a sort of citrusy smell but didn’t look like any fruit we had ever seen before.  We took it back to the van with us and cut it in half, it still looked very unfamiliar. 


Very strange indeed!


We both had a taste, just a lick, it wasn’t unpleasant but somehow it didn’t taste edible!  We decided to err on the side of caution and throw it away!


We were both footsore and weary and decided to make tea straight away so that we could relax later. Lindsey cooked potatoes and baked beans in the van and I trailed over to the kitchen to cook bacon and managed to get it back to the van still warm!  We washed it all down with wine!  After tea we had a Scrabble rematch and then gratefully fell into bed and had a very restful night.


April 24th 2011 – after breakfast we packed everything away and left the campsite and drove just around the corner to the car-park above the beach.  Time for a swim!  Lindsey was very dubious about this indeed, the sun wasn’t even shining!  It was actually quite mild though, well as far as I was concerned, so we donned our togs in the van, grabbed our towels and headed down to the beach.  Getting into the sea was a wee bit hard, it did feel quite chilly but once we were in it was lovely and we had a good swim.  The beach dropped away quite sharply and only a short distance from the shore our feet couldn’t touch the bottom!  I have no idea how long we actually stayed in the water but finally we returned to the beach and retrieved our towels. There were loos here but no showers, which is quite unusual in New Zealand as an awful lot of beaches have a cold shower available just to wash off the salt.  So still salty we dried off and got dressed.  We decided to have a coffee and play some more Scrabble! 


After lunch we headed off to Hot Water Beach, one of the best known beaches on The Coromandel. Some volcanoes develop huge underground reservoirs of superheated water.Over time, this water will escape to the surface, cooling on the way. There are two fissures at Hot Water Beach issuing water as hot as 64ºC (147ºF) at a rate as high as 15 litres/minute. This water contains large amounts of salt, calcium, magnesium, potassium, fluorine, bromine and silica. There are other hot water springs nearby but the location of these two springs on the beach make them unique.  The only time you can access the springs is two hours before and for two hours after low tide.  Today low tide was around 5.00pm.  We got there about 3.30ish and the beach was already packed!


Crowded Hot Water Beach!


The springs are located in one small place on the beach so everybody congregates there and starts digging! You can hire spades from the local shops if you wish for $5 and dig you rown private spa pool which fills up with hot water.  As you can see from this photo it was a hive of activity!


All colours and creeds digging for hot water together!


We had decided not to bother with spades, Lindsey informed me that you can just stand in one place and wriggle your toes into the sand to find a hotspot but she warned me to be careful! We found a place where the sand felt warm and started wriggling and sure enough we hit hot water and boy was it hot! You couldn’t stay in it for long or your feet would get quite burned, even with the waves coming in as that only cooled the tops!  Hence me hopping about!!


Scorched toes!


It was really funny watching everybody on the beach.  Obviously as there were so many people there it was hard to find a space so as the tide was receding people were digging lower down the beach.   They would just get a reasonable sized hole dug when a big wave would wash over it all and they would have to start again so they were making sea-walls around the holes to try and keep the waves out!  This gentleman had made a really good job of his.


Private Spa Pool

We left them all behind beavering away and headed back to the van.  I was really glad to have finally got to Hot Water Beach and enjoyed the experience very much but when it comes to hot spa pools I prefer something a little more civilised!  Before we set off again I phoned Lindsey’s house to let Clive know what we were up to – he wasn’t in!  On the way back to Ness Valley we have to pass through a place called Miranda where there just happens to be a hot springs open to the public, that’s where we were headed!  We arrived there around 5.00pm and were soon relaxing in the lovely hot water.  There were quite a lot of people there but it is a really huge pool and there was plenty of room.  We stayed in the pool for an hour or so then showered and returned to the van.  About ten minutes after leaving Miranda we arrived in Kaiaua where there just happens to be an award winning fish and chip shop!  Needless to say we couldn’t pass it by without sampling their wares now could we!  They were absolutely delicious – we both had Tarakihi, I had potato wedges with mine and Lindsey had Kumara (sweet potato) chips with hers, each accompanied with sour cream (they don't do mushy peas and curry sauce in New Zealand!).  We even had a little glass of wine each to wash them down!


Once again I tried to phone Clive to let him know we were on our way back, he still wasn’t in!  I wondered if he might have gone to play golf with Philly and Ann so I rang Philly’s house – she wasn’t in either! So I left a message in the hope that Clive would get it eventually.


We arrived back at Lindsey’s about 9.00pm – Clive still wasn’t in but we found a note from him -  I was proved correct, he had been to play golf with Philly and Ann in the afternoon and had then gone back to have dinner with them. I’m glad he did, I would have felt rather guilty having enjoyed those wonderful fish and chips if he hadn’t had dinner!!


So that was that, our girly weekend was over but we had both really enjoyed ourselves and we had been so lucky with the weather.  Thankfully the weather forecasters had got it wrong again!


Lastly, remember the strange fruit that I had picked up by the roadside – well I looked it up on the internet when we got back.  At first I typed “knobbly green fruit” into Google, which came up with a few interesting things but not our fruit so then I typed in “fruit like a tennis ball” and Eureka, I found it straight away!  Its called an Osage-Orange or Moraceae Maclura and is actually related to the Mulberry family! It is most certainly not native to New Zealand and comes from the United States! One other thing, it confirmed that we had done the right thing, it is inedible!  Not actually poisonous though.


April 19th 2011 - Ness Valley

Posted by clivenmel on 19 April, 2011 at 7:37

Ok I have been totally shamed into doing another blog!  I have had snide and derogatory comments from various blogees wanting to know why I haven’t blogged for some time – sorry!


Well, where to start? We have been back at Lindsey’s now for several weeks, in fact I’m shocked to see how long it has been, almost a month!  What have we been up to…..?  Well first of all it was my birthday on April 4th and so on the 3rd we all went out for dinner together to a wonderful Thai restaurant.  I got a lovely card from Philly and Ann with a voucher inside for an hour’s massage with Philly (she is a Therapeutic Masseuse). Also, as we were on our travels when it was Clive’s birthday he got one too.  I got a lovely present from Lindsey too, three beautiful little tiles, about two inches square, depicting very characteristic Kiwi icons; the Koru (new fern frond) the Kowhai (pron. co-fi) a native tree and Pouriri leaves from another native tree.  They are absolutely beautiful and will be displayed on a wall in the boat when we get back, they will look fantastic against the honey coloured bamboo. Anyway, we all had a really lovely evening and I ate far too much!!!


Beautiful tiles


The following evening we had a visit from Mary, who had been unable to come the previous evening as she had another engagement.  She arrived bearing a beautiful birthday cake for me.  Mary makes cakes for a living and she is a very clever lady.  My cake was a deliciously moist fruit cake topped with crystallised fruit, yummy!


Since then, apart from odd jaunts into Papakura to go shopping and of course Wednesday nights at the pub quiz, we haven’t done a great deal.  Lindsey acquired a new double bed and we swapped it for the one we were sleeping in.  That one actually belongs to Philly and is a lovely bed made of beautiful Kauri wood but it was in a bit of a sorry state having shared a house over the years with several very large Scottish Deerhounds and a couple of Whippets who all chose to sleep on it with Lindsey whenever they got the chance!  It had lots of scratches and the odd nibble here and there and needed some TLC so it got it in the shape of Clive and a sander!  He has rubbed down the whole of the bed frame and it is now waiting to be oiled, which is his next job.


One weekend soon after we got back from our travels, Lindsey was doing some gardening and I was chatting to her when I spotted a very handsome insect on a tree next to her. It was a female Praying Mantis and she very kindly sat still for a few minutes so that I could take her photograph. It is when you see exotic insects like this that it brings it home to you that you are in an Asiatic country. The fact that everyone speaks English and drives on the left makes you feel very much at home but even Lindsey says that she has to remind herself at times that she lives in Asia!


Female Praying Mantis

The weather has been very mixed of late and the strange thing is that we had to put the clocks back a couple of weeks ago and suddenly it was Autumn, like someone had tripped a switch!  We have had quite a few dull, cloudy days and quite a few rainy days too but it is the temperature that is most noticeable, it has got quite chilly!  However, we have also had lots of sunny days too and when the sun is out it is still lovely and warm.  The evenings are quite cool now though and we have actually started lighting a fire in the lounge.


We had a lovely evening at Philly’s house last weekend.  Everyone had expressed an interest in seeing the photos of our World Tour of New Zealand so Philly suggested that we all go over to her house, she and Ann would make dinner and then we could sit and look at the photos using her flat screen TV connected to the laptop.  The dinner was awesome!  Philly and Ann had outdone themselves – we had homemade Tapas, there were lots of wonderful dishes and they were all absolutely delicious!  We then retired to the lounge for the photos.  I had done some considerably abridged slide shows, the first one was from our departure from a very icy marina in Cambridge to our arrival in sunny New Zealand and then all our fun and games over Christmas and New Year etc.  The second one was our tour of North Island which commenced on January 9th and took in our return to Auckland and El Caballo Blanco, the wonderful horse show we went to see.  Following that was our tour of South Island, return to North Island and our visits to Wellington, Gisborne and Tauranga and last but not least a few photos which I had taken on our return to Lindsey’s.  In actual fact these slide shows only make up a tiny proportion of the masses of photos I have taken during our stay here in New Zealand but it would take far too long to go through them all.  Mind you, one of our friends told me she wanted to see every single photograph taken during our trip when we get back – OK Shirley, we better book bed, breakfast and evening meal with you for a week in order to get through them all!!!! 


We had a really lovely sunny day during the week and Clive and I decided to take Lindsey’s little dog Radar to the beach.  We had a wonderful afternoon, the sun was really warm and the sea was lovely too, I had a paddle and if I had taken my togs with me I would have been in like a shot! Radar had a fantastic time – he adores Clive and follows him around like a little shadow.  He went into the sea a few times chasing pebbles which Clive had thrown for him.  I have to say I am really going to miss the New Zealand beaches, they are absolutely wonderful.  On our walk back along the beach we did a bit of “chumping” (collecting firewood!) and managed to get quite a good pile of large logs in the back of the van. 


Clive and Radar, pretending to be a yoyo!


Both Lindsey and Mary have been complaining recently about items of equipment that they just can’t get to work!  Lindsey’s is an industrial petrol driven strimmer and Mary’s is a chain saw! Neither of them have been able to get the darn things started for one reason or another so Clive came to their rescue.  He had a look at Lindsey’s strimmer first and soon got that sorted out – she just looked at him in disgust!  (It’s a man thing!).  Then one afternoon I had to go shopping to Papakura so I dropped him off at Mary’s first and left him doing battle with her chain saw.  By the time I returned to pick him up he and Mary had a huge pile of logs all cut up ready for the winter!  I asked Mary if we could borrow the chain saw to cut up all the logs we had brought from the beach and she very kindly agreed, she also insisted we have some more from her huge pile of very well seasoned wood at the bottom of her garden. So we set to with saw, saw horse and ear protectors and soon had a huge basketful of logs to take back with us. The saw also made short work of the logs we had brought from the beach and Lindsey now has two big baskets full of logs, mind you lighting a fire each evening has made considerable inroads so I think we might have to go chumping again very soon!


I have mentioned before that Lindsey’s house is nestled in a beautiful valley and over the years she has lived here she has planted her land with hundreds of native trees and shrubs, which are now very well established indeed and so, with her own personal “bush” she is now attracting all sorts of native birds into her lovely garden.  One of them has been tantalizing me ever since we got here!  It’s a Fantail, a beautiful little native bird which is very, very tame indeed. They are a bit like our own Robins, very curious and tame and will come and sit very close to you in the hope that you might disturb insects that they can feast on.  Just outside Lindsey’s kitchen door is a Ponga (a fern tree) and one particular Fantail frequents this tree and a chirrups to attract your attention then promptly displays and flits about.  The other day he almost came and sat on my hand!  They are really pretty little birds but very hard to photograph because they won’t stay still!!  I have umpteen very blurred shots of Fantails which I have taken over the course of our stay here!  However the other day I actually managed to get some good shots at last!




Fantails aren’t the only native birds to frequent Lindsey’sgarden, she also gets Tui from time to time and Morepork – this is a native owl.  They have that name because that is exactly what they say!  Unfortunately, in Maori legend, they are harbingers of death!!!!  There are also non-native birds like Mynah Birds, which come from India.  These are extremely vocal!  Lindsey told me that a few years ago she kept leaping out of bed in the morning and running to answer her phone only to find that it wasn’t actually ringing, it was a particular Mynah which had learned to mimic her phone and it used to sit on the roof and “ring” first thing in the mornings!!  There are also a couple of Rosella’s, which are very exotic looking indeed, they hail from Australia.  There were a couple in the garden the other day, I managed to get a shot but they were a bit far away!




Another native visitor is the Grey Warbler, which is a really tiny little bird.  I often see them through the window flitting about in the trees outside Lindsey’s kitchen so I decided to make an effort to get some photos the other day and managed to get one or two.


Grey Warbler


Whilst we were at the Pub Quiz last Wednesday (we came 3rd by the way!) Philly suggested that it would be a good opportunity to have our birthday massages this weekend.  So, it was decided that we would go over to her place on Sunday morning, each have our massage, go out for a bite of lunch then, weather permitting, she, Ann and Clive would go and play golf in the afternoon. I suggested that they all then come back to Lindsey’s house and I would cook a traditional Sunday dinner. 



Lindsey decided on Friday that she really needed to go shopping for some new clothes so asked me if I would like to go shopping with her on Saturday – ooh goody, a girly day out! We had a great time – we set off just after 10.00am and she took me to a place called Sylvia Park, a really big shopping mall and we spent hours (and I mean hours!) visiting all the fashion shops that it had to offer and there are quite a few!  It was rather strange seeing all the Autumn stuff knowing I was heading back to Summer in a few short weeks!  However it worked in my favour, I managed to get a couple of new summer tops myself, in the sales!!  Lindsey did manage to find three tops, which wasn’t a bad haul for a day’s shopping. I say day because we didn’t get home until 5.00pm!  The only downer was when Lindsey discovered that one of her tops still had the security tag on it – doh!  Fortunately there is a branch of the shop where she bought it near Philly’s house so she is going to get it sorted out for her.  What I want to know is how the heck we got out of the shop without getting our collar felt!!



Sunday arrived and amazingly it all went according to plan.  We both thoroughly enjoyed our massages and Philly sorted out a few problem areas in my back and neck and Clive too got his aches and pains dealt with – she is one very clever lady I can tell you, she really knows her stuff!


We didn’t actually think the golf was going to be possible as it was raining on and off all morning, however it cleared up in the afternoon so they went off to play a round and I drove back to Lindsey’s to get started on the dinner.  Lindsey also invited Mary and another friend of hers, John, who is a fellow member of the Forest and Bird Society.  I made an Ensalata Tricolore as the starter (sliced tomato, avocado and mozzarella cheese drizzled with basil infused olive oil), then we had roast beef, Yorkshire puddings, roast Kumara (sweet potatoes), creamed potatoes and vegetables and for desert Mary brought the most awesome lemony pudding which she had rustled up that afternoon from lemons which were growing in her garden – it was divine!  All in all it was a really lovely evening, topped off with a Skype phonecall to Pat, Lindsey and Philly’s lovely mum, who was celebrating her 85th birthday over in the UK. 


Clive and I have been into Papakura today to finalise the details for our return to Blighty in a few weeks time.  We decided before we left home that it would be nice to have a stopover on the way back from New Zealand as it would help to break the very, very long journey a bit and give us the opportunity to see a place we have never been to before – Brunei! So we have now confirmed our flight, which departs from Auckland in the early hours of Tuesday May 10th. We arrive in Bandar-seri-Begawan (Brunei) at about 7.30am the same day (flying back in time!).  We have booked into a really lovely 5 star hotel overlooking the sea for the night and plan to book ourselves onto a tour of some sort when we get there so that we can see some of the sights of Brunei, possibly including the Sultan’s palace.  However we also intend to have some R&R by the pool or on the beach, we’re just hoping the weather will be clement.  Ever since we flew out here back in November Clive has had the weather report for Bandar on his iPhone and it has been the same the whole time, 30 odd degrees and thunder storms!  It is evidently their rainy season!  In saying that it wasn’t raining when we landed there nor when we took off again an hour later!  So fingers crossed.  Mind you, at 30 degrees a bit of rain could be quite welcome!


One other thing to mention is that a friend of ours, Stevie Gilson (husband of Helen, one of my colleagues from Addenbrooke’s) has very kindly said he will come and collect us from Heathrow, for which we are very grateful indeed.  He has also been over to the marina to check on Lady Arwen for us and as far as he can tell she is OK!  Just to reassure us he took a few photos of her and emailed them to us! What a sweetie he is.


Lady Arwen nestled in her berth at the marina


I have to say that just recently Clive and I have both been feeling a bit homesick!  We don’t actually want to leave New Zealand but we are really looking forward to being home on board Lady Arwen again and seeing the photos of her just made those feelings even stronger!  Its not long to go now but before we return home we have something else to look forward to, our daughter Vicki and her partner Ben are coming out to New Zealand for a holiday, they arrive on May 1st!  We are really excited about seeing them again. They will be with us for a couple of days then they are going off travelling in the campervan for about a week, whilst they are away we will be leaving!  They are then flying over to Australia for a week to visit Ben’s Granny before flying back to the UK. 


We have heard that the sun is shining in the UK now, make sure you hang onto it, we are looking forward to our second Summer when we get back!  The other thing we have to look forward to is the arrival of our granddaughter, Indeia, she is returning to the UK from the United States to spend a few weeks with her daddy, Gareth, she arrives at the end of May!  Can’t wait to see her again and Gareth too!!


So, that’s it for now, hope this blog is long enough to make up for the dearth of blogs over the last few weeks! Unless there is anything really exciting to report I probably won’t do another blog now until we get home – so no nagging please!!


March 26th 2011 - Ness Valley, Auckland

Posted by clivenmel on 1 April, 2011 at 23:22

March 23rd 2011 - Awakeri Springs continued – We had a wonderful time soaking in the swimming pool sized spa pools last night.  The water was really hot!  For once I really wished there was a cooler one as the sun was really hot as well. Fortunately there was a canopy over the pool so were able to get out of the sun for short spells in between swimming. When we got out of the water we went to van and picked up our toiletries and headed off for the showers.  Now I have to say, this campsite was rather spartan in the way of facilities but I was really surprised to find that the showers were using the same thermal water that was in the pools, the pressure was almost non-existent and of course the water was sulphurous so I came out of the shower smelling like a boiled egg – nice!  Still I was clean!  The washing on the line was completely dry and ready to put away and I got a second lot hung out as well but there wasn’ treally enough heat left in the sun to dry that and I had to finish it off in the tumble dryer.


This morning we left Awakeri Springs and headed off to Whakatane (pron. Fackataany).  The sun was shining once again.  It wasn’t far from the campsite really so it didn’t take very long to get there.  When we arrived Clive suggested we find somewhere nice to park the van and have a coffee and TimTams before exploring the town.  That done we headed into the town centre.  It’s a nice town and was quite a busy place.  We found a bargain bookshop and spent absolutely ages browsing through the stock.  The books really were very cheap, certainly for New Zealand!  The trouble is we can’t take too many home with us, they weigh too much!  I found a really lovely book that was only $5 but I would have to leave half my clothes behind if I put it in my suitcase, it weighed a ton!  We bought three paperbacks, which were on special 3 for $19 – bargain! 


After a quick sandwich aboard the van we set off on the road again, this time for Mount Maunganui. There is a campsite right at the base of the Mount and we managed to get in there.  The Mount itself is actually on a peninsula therefore we had a beach at either side of the campsite.  One was very sheltered and calm the other was a great surfing beach and the waves were really big.  We could see lots of surfers taking advantage of them from our vantage point.


We had a very relaxing afternoon and evening and a reasonably early night – we needed the rest to prepare for the expedition in the morning!!!


March 24th 2011 – Mt Maunganui.  After breakfast we got ourselves sorted out, left the campsite and found an unrestricted parking spot out on the road where we could leave the van for a few hours. I got my hiking poles out and put my walking boots on – I was ready!  The expedition was to  climb Mount Maunganui!  Clive said we would just take it at a steady pace and have rests when necessary – oh goody!  We set off and I was lulled into a false sense of security, the path wasn’t very steep for about a hundred yards then we turned a corner and up it went!  My hiking poles were absolutely invaluable, if I hadn’t had them I would have turned back I think, I’m not too good on inclines at all, never have been, even when I was young and slim!  Anyway, we plodded on, stopping to admire the view from time to time (well that was my excuse!) which was amazing.  It didn’ thelp my morale when younger, fitter people passed us on the way up,,jogging!  Some people have far too much energy!!  Anyway we finally arrived at the top – I’d done it!  I have to say at this point that in April 1953 the famous New Zealander, Sir Edmund Hilary, conquered Everest, well almost 58 years later Melanie Morris conquered Mount Maunganui!


At the top of Mt Maunganui


When we looked out from the summit we realised that it was well worth all the effort we had put into getting here, the views were absolutely breathtaking.  As I mentioned earlier, Mt Maunganui is on a peninsula so every direction we looked in had something different to offer.  One view looked over Tauranga and the port where we could see a huge, fully laden logging ship tied up to the quay and acres of logs in the yard all waiting to be loaded onto other ships.  Logging is a really huge industry here in New Zealand and we have seen the evidence of it the length and breadth of the country, on both islands!


Logging yard and ship


From another aspect we could see the township of Mt Maunganui below with the shore stretching away to Papamoa Beach in the distance and in this photo you can see both sides of the peninsula.


Both sides, both beaches


Then yet another view looked over Matakana Island and the distant coast road which would take us up to Auckland in a few days time.


Matakana Island


We could also see White Island in the distance, NewZealand’s only off shore active volcano. We just drank it all in, it was so beautiful.  Then it was time to head back down again and once more my trusty hiking poles were a godsend, they helped enormously on the descent as anyone with arthritic knees knows, going down is more painful than coming up!  On the way down we had more chance to do a bit of bird spotting and were rewarded with a couple of nice shots, which Clive took, one of a New Zealand Yellowhammer and the other a gorgeous little Silvereye.


                        New Zealand Yellowhammer



Finally we reached the bottom and it wasn’t long before we were back on the van.  We now had a problem – we had checked out of the campsite and therefore had no facilities on hand!  Needless to say we were both very hot and sweaty after scaling Mt Maunganui and very much in need of a shower!  I came up with a great solution.  At the base of the Mount, between the two beaches are the Mount Maunganui Hot Saltwater Pools – sorted!!  So we walked round to the pools, donned our togs and had an hour soaking in the lovely hot water – lovely!  Just what we needed after our climb.


Once we were nice and clean and changed into clean clothes we set off up the coastal road heading for Papamoa Beach.  We stopped to look back and take a photograph of the Mount.  I have to say it doesn't look anywhere near as big as it really is and nowhere near as high, but it is I can assure you!!

Mount Maunganui

Now you may recall that we stayed at a campsite in Papamoa Beach back in January and it rained very heavily!  At that time we called in at Torbin Place, where Nick, Sam, Jamie, Molly and Daniel (my nephew and family) used to live.  We stopped for coffee at No 4, the home of Raewyn and Jason Fair and their two children, who were very goodfriends of Nick and Sam’s.  At that time they asked if we would call back this way and stay with them for a couple of days, so that is what we were doing.


Since that visit however Jason had injured his back and ended up having surgery the week before we arrived!  We had suggested that we cancel our visit but they wouldn’t hear of it and insisted that we still come.  On our arrival we found Jason in a bit of a sorry state and in quite a bit of pain but he seemed very pleased to see us.  We hadn’t been there long before Jason and Clive were happily watching Morcambe and Wise, the DVD which Clive got for Christmas from Mary!  They were both in stitches!  They also watched wall to wall rugby, cricket and the Formula 1 practice sessions – happy as pigs in sh..mud they were!  Bless! 


Raewyn was busy in the kitchen preparing the dinner so I kept her company.  We had a barbecued Butterfly Lamb, the same thing we had here on Christmas Day.  It was absolutely delicious.  I wonder if I can get a butcher to butterfly a leg of lamb for me when I get back to England?


Later that evening we said goodnight and pootled off down the drive to the van, which was parked outside in the street.  We couldn’t sleep in the van if it was up the drive as it was quite a steep gradient – all the blood would have rushed to our feet!!  So we lowered the tone of the neighbourhood instead!


March 25th 2011 – Papamoa Beach


We had a very peaceful nights sleep out on Torbin Place last night, no problem at all.  The Fair’s two children, Harrison and Eden were both up and watching TV so they let us in the front door.  Harrison had to go to school as it was a weekday and it wasn’t long before his friend called for him and off they went on their skateboards!  After breakfast Raewyn, Eden, Clive and I left Jason to rest and we headed off to Te Puke (pron. tay pookay) the next township. Raewyn took us to Kiwi 360, which is a small four and a half hectare farm growing Kiwi Fruits.  They do a guided tour of the farm and it was just ready to go when we arrived, so we all piled onto the little train and set off. 


The tour was absolutely fascinating.  We drove through groves of Kiwi vines and there was a commentary telling us all about the farm.  Considering it is such a small size in terms of area its fruit production is awesome. Every season it produces one hundred million trays of fruit and each tray contains about thirty fruits!  There are six thousand permanent staff working on the farm but in the picking season that swells to twenty-five thousand!  During this time all the government benefits are stopped as there is no excuse whatsoever for anyone not to work.  They get the unemployed, backpackers, students, old age pensioners and anyone else who wants to work for a few weeks.  However, they still can’t get enough people so they also ship people in from the Pacific islands such asTonga, Fiji and Vanuatu and these people all have to be accommodated too! 


At one point the driver stopped the “train” so that we could all get off.  He took us under the vines and we could see all the Kiwi fruit hanging down.  They are almost ready for picking but not quite. 


Golden Kiwi fruit, (note the pointed bottom) almost ready to be harvested


No Kiwis are picked until the sugar content of the fruitr eaches 6.5% but when that happens everyone goes into overdrive to get the fruit harvested as quickly as possible. Once the fruit is harvested it is put into storage and the temperature is reduced to half a degree and the fruit will then keep for at least six months and can be shipped all over the world. He also informed us that the Kiwi fruit is number one on the list for its nutritional value.  It is the healthiest fruit available to man!  There are actually two different types of Kiwi Fruit growing here.  The ones in the picture above are Golden KiwiFruit, which have yellow flesh instead of green and look a little different to the normal green ones we get at home , which are pictured below:


Normal green Kiwi fruit - flat bottomed


When the tour was over we had a browse around the gift shop and I bought a bottle of Nektar, which is pure, squeezed Kiwi juice, absolutely delicious!  We then went outside and had a look at the big Kiwi slice which advertises Kiwi 360.  There are steps inside and you can climb upto the top and look out over the farm.


Mel, Eden & Clive with the Big Kiwi Slice!

Then we returned to Torbin Place for lunch.  Clive and I had intended to leave after lunch and head up to Auckland but Jason and Raewyn persuaded us to stay another night. 


March 26th 2011 – We had breakfast with the Fair family and Clive and Jason resumed their places in front of the TV for another comedy session, this time it was Ronnie Barker! I watched Raewyn making a New Zealand quiche with great interest.  All the coffee bars here serve really luscious savouries along with the usual muffins and tarts and I really wanted to know how they are made.  The one that Raewyn was making was really unusual, it was called a self-crusting quiche!  She started with a basic pastry recipe, flour and butter, which she rubbed in as normal, however she didn’t mix it with water to make it into pastry, she set it on one side.  She then proceeded to make the filling with eggs, milk, tuna and various veggies. Once that was ready she added it to the pastry mix and combined the two together then poured it into a dish and popped it in the oven – never seen that done before, I was intrigued!  Well it was absolutely delicious!  We had it for lunch with salad and it was divine.  I asked Raewyn for the recipe and I am definitely going to try making that when we get back to Lindsey’s!


Finally it was time for us to take our leave of them all.  Jason asked us if we could come back for another visit before we return to England in May then he had another idea, he is going to be off work for nearly three months whilst he recovers from his back operation and had planned to make a trip up to Auckland during the school holidays in a few weeks time so that they can go to the zoo, he suggested we all meet up and go to the zoo together – that will be lovely.


It took us about three and half hours to do the journey back to Clevedon.  I phoned Lindsey to tell her we were on our way and would be back about 6.30pm and she informed us she might not be in when we arrived as she had been invited to a party!  So as we were passing through the village we decided to stop and get fish and chips (Tarakihi and wedges) for our dinner!  When we arrived back with them Lindsey was still in, just putting the final touches to the supper dish she was taking with her!  We said hello and goodbye and after she left we tucked into our delicious takeaway. We’re really going to miss Tarakihi when we get home, it will be back to boring old Cod and Haddock!!

Lindsey still wasn’t home when we went to bed – dirty stop-out!



March 22nd 2011 - Awakeri Springs

Posted by clivenmel on 23 March, 2011 at 1:03

March 17th 2011 – Napier – We had a very lazy day at the campsite, it was very hot and sunny again!  We knew this because there was a Weather Rock at the campsite which forecasts the weather very accurately and today it told us it was sunny!


Very accurate weather forecasting device!


We arranged a taxi for the evening and it finally arrived to pick us up about ten minutes late – well that’s the Kiwi way really, nobody ever rushes to do anything, everybody is very chilled and laid back!  He was very nice taxi driver and even took us round an area we hadn’t been before just to show us what other nightlife was available!  Eventually we arrived at The Brazen Head in the centre of Napier and it was already jumping!  I have to say, Napier did Paddy’s Day in style – there were huge leprechaun hats, Guinness hats, ties and green was most definitely the order of the day!  There were a lot of Celtic shirts about as well and we were quite amused when a young Maori girl, who looked as if she should be trying for the All Blacks, came in wearing one!  Obviously Irish Maori!  There was also an Irish menu and Clive and I both opted for the Irish Stew.  Well, we were quite surprised when it arrived, first of all it was made with beef and of course Irish Stew should be made with lamb! We had about four small bits of potato each, Irish Stew is made predominantly with potatoes!  There were also a few bits of al dente carrot and celery to top it off!  The only claim it could actually make to being Irish was the fact that it was cooked in Guinness!  After saying all that it was delicious and when I said it was made with beef, there was enough beef in each bowl to feed a regiment!


Whilst we were devouring our “Irish” stew the band arrived and started setting up their equipment in a very tiny corner of the pub.  There were two guys, an Irishman and a Scotsman and I believe they were called Shenanigans!  They started the evening off a short time later with The Irish Rover – they weren’t bad but they also weren’t the best we’ve ever heard but what the heck, it was live music and you can’t beat it!  About half an hour later a woman walked in, plonked a large bag down on the bench and proceeded to unpack a mic and stand, which she then hid behind one of the speakers, she grabbed a handful of whistles out of the bag then joined the mic and stand behind the speaker and started playing along with the band!  We never saw her all evening except when she emerged from behind the speaker to nip outside for a fag!  There were a lot of very rowdy Napians(?) in the pub and the Murphy’s was flowing freely, there was Guinness too but only bottles, which of course most of the Kiwi’s drank out of – imagine that, drinking Guinness out of a bottle!!  We did enjoy ourselves and it certainly beat sitting at home on the campervan on our own but I kept wishing we were still in Christchurch so we could have gone to Willie McArthur’s gig, now that would have been something! 


I nipped outside about 10.40pm and walked round to a quiet spot outside the cathedral to phone for a taxi to pick us up around 11.00pm.  The voice that answered said, no problem, I’m outside The Brazen Head right now!  I walked back to the pub with the phone to my ear and spotted the cab with the same driver in who had brought us!  We both cracked out laughing and switched the phones off!  I explained that we hadn’t actually finished our drinks yet and he said no problem, I’ll just hang on till you’re ready, there’s no rush.  So I popped back into the pub and told Clive, we’d almost finished our drinks anyway so a couple of minutes later we piled into the cab and headed back to camp.  So, even though we are a very long way from home we still managed to celebrate St Patrick’s day in style.  The amazing thing is, I can’t believe it’s a whole year since we were at The Paddy’s Day Parade in Birmingham and watching The Teds playing live!  Incredible how time is flying these days!


March 18th 2011 – We finally said goodbye to Napier and set off  to Gisborne.  We were really looking forward to getting there because two very special people live in Gisborne, our lovely friends Brendon and Elenor Gill.  They used to run our folk club for many years before emigrating to New Zealand from Cambridge in 1999.  We did visit them soon after they settled in Gisborne when we were here in January 2000.  Gisborne is the first place in New Zealand to see the sun rise each morning and our daughter Vicki and Iain Hysom, our friend’s son who she was touring New Zealand with, stayed with Brendon and Elenor on New Year’s Day, the first day of the new Millennium, after being aboard the tall ship Spirit of New Zealand, which sailed out from Gisborne to greet the sunrise!


We duly arrived at the Gill residence in the afternoon and it was wonderful to see them both again. We had a lot of catching up to do, having not seen them for ten years!  They really haven’t changed very much at all.  They are still very involved in the Gisborne music scene be it folk, jazz or classical and they had got things lined up for our entertainment over the weekend – brilliant!  I must add at this point that since their departure from the UK in 1999 Elenor has become a published author of no less than five novels!  She has very kindly been sending me copies of each of these books as they were published, I have enjoyed every one, she’s a very clever lady! 


Our arrival at the Gill residence was not really very timely, though they were pleased to see us, as they are moving house in a couple of weeks time.  They are not going far really but their new house will be much nearer to the city centre so they will be able to walk to the shops instead of drive and also it is right across the road from the museum where they both spend quite a lot of time both at the café and perusing the many exhibitions that are put on there regularly.  They are really excited about the move and can’t wait to be in their new home.  We therefore did not want to put them to a lot of trouble and insisted on sleeping in the campervan up their drive, which is no hardship at all, though it may have lowered the tone of the neighbourhood somewhat!!  We went out for a lovely Indian meal at one of their favourite restaurants that evening and had a great time.


March 19th 2011 – We had a morning cuppa and some breakfast with Brendon and Elenor and met their daughter Andrea and their 8 year old granddaughter Macey, who we didn’t actually know about!  When they emigrated in ’99 they had three little grandsons here in New Zealand, Joshua, Mitchell and baby Charlie – the boys are now all grown up and Macey is of course very special being the only girl! 


After lunch we helped Brendon to put all their musical instruments in the car, including Bertha, Brendon’s double bass, who emigrated to New Zealand with them!  There wasn’t room for us as well so Clive and I piled into the campervan and followed them to an old hall in another part of Gisborne where T.R.A.M.P.S meet every other Sunday.  This acronym stands for Three Rivers Accoustic Music, Poetry and Song. Gisborne stands on the confluence of three rivers, hence the name.  Brendon opened up the hall and rearranged all the chairs into a circle and we brought all the instruments in from the car.  Brendon very kindly let Clive use his old Yamaha guitar, the one he always played back in Cambridge, he now has a new Taylor guitar! 


Besides becoming an accomplished author, Elenor has also taken up another instrument, the Ukelele! She has a very fine instrument indeed, its beautiful!


Elenor and her Ukelele

A short time after we arrived people started turning up with various instruments and we were introduced to them all and were made very welcome indeed.  When everyone had arrived we all took our seats and Sarah, who was the MC for the day, welcomed us all and picked on Brendon and Elenor to start the afternoon off.  It was really lovely to hear them both singing and playing again, we have missed them! Finally it got around to me – I had decided to play a tune on my flute first and before I did I just had to tell everyone that Elenor had been my inspiration for learning to play this instrument, which I absolutely love!  Elenor used to play Clarinet but suddenly decided to change to flute, which she had never attempted before, within two weeks of getting her flute she was playing beautiful tunes on it at the folkclub – from then on I wanted to play flute, it took a while but I finally managed it!  My tune was well accepted, I sang a song as well and then it was Clive’s turn, he too was very well received and Sarah asked if we really had to return to the UK as TRAMPS could do with us! 


TRAMPS (and Clive!)


We managed to go around the whole circle again so we all got to do another song each.  We had a really lovely afternoon and it was great to hear all the other people performing.  There were three people in particular, two gentlemen and a lady who did pure Kiwi folk, it was brilliant!  Whilst we were there I asked if one of them could take a photo of Clive and I with Brendon and Elenor for old times sake.


The Four of Us!


We returned to Brendon and Elenor’s for dinner and spent the evening just chatting and catching up on all the news then it was off to bed up the drive!


March 20th 2011 – By the time we were up and dressed Macey had arrived, she was going to spend the day with us because her mum, dad and one of her brothers were involved in a fishing competition, which would take most of the day.  I’m not talking fishing as in standing on the bank of a river in the pouring rain holding a rod for hours and hours in the hope of a bite, I’m talking deep sea fishing for BIG fish!  This is a very popular sport in New Zealand and Darrel, Andrea’s husband, is a very keen participant, there again so is Andrea and all the boys! Anyway, Macey didn’t really want to go and preferred to spend the day with us and her grandparents.  She and Clive hit it off straight away and had a great time entertaining each other, they were both screaming with laughter in the lounge whilst Elenor and I were chatting in the other room! 


It was soon time for us to go out.  The plan for today was to go to The Matawhero Winery where two members of TRAMPS, Nick and Neil, were performing live for the lunchtime diners.  We all piled into Brendon’s car and headed off to the winery on the outskirts of Gisborne.  Nick and Neil were already playing when we arrived and we joined Neil’s wife Wendy at one of the picnic tables.  I failed to mention that we weren’t the only Pomms at TRAMPS yesterday, Wendy and Neil hail from Bolton, Lancs!!  We were soon quaffing one of the lovely Matawhero wines, a very tasty Merlot and tucking into one of the winery’s famous lunchtime platters of meats, smoked salmon, cheeses etc with lovely freshly baked bread – yummy!  During all this Nick and Neil were regaling us with Simon and Garfunkel and other great stuff and they were very good indeed.  We had a really great time.


Nick and Neil


We left the winery and headed back into Gisborne via the harbour.  We went into the clubhouse where all the anglers finish off their fishing trips – it’s a bit like the 19th hole at a golf club!  The walls were covered in life sized replicas of huge fish that had been caught by the locals, some of them were absolutely enormous! There were Bluefin Tuna, Marlins, Sharks, Snappers etc etc  Andrea was there when we arrived and I asked her if they were just models and she explained that when a big fish is brought in they take a plaster cast of it and an exact reproduction is made to hang on the wall.  How on Earth they managed to bring in some of those monsters I’ll never know!  The largest was a Black Marlin over 420 kilos, evidently the second largest fish ever to be landed off New Zealand!!  I have to say I could quite enjoy going along on one of these fishing expeditions just to see how its done!  Unfortunately we had missed Darrel and Charlie, they had already weighed their catch and gone off to clean the boat.  Andrea was keeping her fingers crossed that they had brought in enough for a prize. She told us that they had had problems with Mako Sharks which kept circling the boat and on one occasion Darrel had a really good sized Tarakihi (Clive’s favourite, especially with chips!) on his line and as he was bringing it in a Mako bit it in half so all that was left on the hook was the head and a little bit of body!  Then to make matters worse as he was hauling that up the Mako shot out of the water vertically and took that as well, including the lure, so poor Darrel had this whopping great Mako Shark on the end of his line thrashing about!  He ended up having to cut the line and let it go, lure and all!  Andrea told us that the shark was easily as big as her!!


We said goodbye to Macey and her mum and piled back into Brendon’s car.  Elenor suggested that he take a roundabout route home to show us the observatory and the view of Poverty Bay and Young Nick’s Head (it’s a headland named after Captain Cook’s cabinboy, Young Nick!).  We drove up a very steep and winding track and finally arrived at the top and the view was spectacular!


Poverty Bay


Brendon and Elenor are members of the Gisborne Astronomical Society and often come up to the observatory to view the night sky, they also attend lectures and talks.  It is perfectly obvious that they are totally settled here in Gisborne and are now well established in the community, they are very happy here indeed.  They also seem to be as well loved, admired and respected here as they were back in Cambridge, not surprising really, they are lovely people.


Brendon, Elenor and Clive


Right underneath the observatory is a concrete structure which has a notice on it saying “Gun Emplacement”.  Evidently during WWII there was an enormous gun here, something like one of those in that amazing film The Guns of Navarone!  Its purpose was to protect the bay from the Japanese should they ever get there, fortunately it was never needed.


We returned to Brendon and Elenor’s all feeling very content and extremely full!  We ended up not bothering with tea, nobody was hungry enough to eat it!  It wasn’t long before we were all yawning and struggling to keep awake, so we decided to all have an early night – it was only 8.30pm!  We dived into bed on the van and managed to do a whole crossword before weariness got the better of us and we just had to put the light out and go to sleep!


March 21st 2011 – When we woke up this morning it was raining!  Sadly it was also time to say goodbye to Brendon and Elenor.  We have had such a lovely weekend with them and it really was wonderful to see them both again after all these years. However I have one souvenir of our visit, which I will take great care of and ensure it gets safely back to the UK – a signed copy of Elenor’s latest book, which this time she has published under the pen name: Zoë Adams. I can’t wait to start reading it! 


We headed into the town centre to find a supermarket to stock up on a few things before taking our leave of Gisborne in the pouring rain.  Our journey up the coast continued in a constant deluge.  It wasn’t long before we noticed the creeks and rivers we were passing were getting higher and faster, there was water running down the runnels at the side of the road and it showed no sign of letting up whatsoever! Finally we arrived at the campsite we had aimed for at Te Araroa.  We drove in through the gate and the sign on the office door read “pick your own site, come back and pay at 3.30pm” !  We drove around the very damp and drippy campsite looking for a power site that didn’t have a lake on it.  We finally found one that appeared to be reasonably sound and parked the van.  I decided I wasn’t going to set foot out of the door until absolutely necessary so I climbed over the seat into the back of the van!  Poor Clive wasn’t so lucky, he had to plug the lead into the power source so that we could have electricity – bless!  About an hour after we arrived he had to brave the elements again and go over to the office to pay the fees!  When he came back he was chuckling because the guy in the office had asked him what he thought of the rain, he then proceeded to say that the forecast was for heavy rain, which hadn’t arrived yet!  Clive was aghast – we actually thought it was pretty torrential!  Oh no, this is nothing, it will get heavy tonight then should tail off by lunchtime tomorrow,he said!  Clive was a tad concerned and asked if the site was likely to flood - only if the creek bursts its banks, was the reply. Ah well, don’t worry, if you need towing out tomorrow we’ll sort it, he reassured Clive!  Oh dear!


We made the bed up and decided to have an early night.  We managed to do another crossword before it all got too much for us and we settled down to sleep.  I woke up at some ungodly hour needing a pee!  It was still raining!  I grabbed the umbrella, slipped my feet into my flipflops and headed off to the loos. Several times on the way over my feet were under water!  Then, trying to hurry (bad idea in flipflops!) I tripped and went base over apex and landed spreadeagled on the rainsoaked grass!  I was absolutelydrenched!  I picked myself up, found the umbrella and continued on to the loos.  I returned to the van, peeled off my extremely wet pyjamas and climbed back into bed.  Clive never even noticed!!


March 22nd 2011 – We were rudely awakened by a loud knock on the side of the van at 7.20 this morning!  Clive peered out of the window then yelled at me to get up, quick,  the campsite was flooded! The aforementioned creek had burst its banks and was now flowing under the van!! 

Flooded campsite (sorry its a bit blurry!)

Everybody was rushing around like mad things, disconnecting power cables and battening everything down so that they could move their vans.  Clive did the same.  I quickly stripped the bed and stowed everything away whilst Clive started the engine and very gingerely eased the van forward.  He needn’t have worried our trusty Econovan coped magnificently, not a sign of wheelspin, we were soon out of the campsite and onto hard ground – phew!  Clive decided to nip back to use the loo before going any further, when he came back I was going to go too but thought better of it when he informed me that the drains were all backing up!!!  So off we went down the road, not a tooth brushed nor even a cup of tea under our belts!


We were on the main road continuing our journey round the East Cape but you would never have known it was a major road at all!  There was evidence of the overnight deluge everywhere, ditches on either side of the road were overflowing and in places creeks were flowing over the road but the van coped very well.  Then we reached another such flood and started to drive through it but this one was much deeper than the previous ones and suddenly the engine started to balk – oh no!  I pleaded and cajoled with it to keep going and Clive did his best but he said we were actually starting to float and therefore the tyres didn’t have enough purchase, also the clutch was struggling as well!  Just as I thought we were going to have to get out and push, the tyres suddenly caught again and very slowly we inched our way out of the water, that was a very close call! 

Flooded road!

We reached another of these floods a few miles further on and this time decided not to risk it!  We parked on a bit of hard standing at the side of the road and put the kettle on, at least we could have the morning cuppa we had missed!  A little while later a huge logging truck with an equally huge trailer appeared over the hill and when the driver spotted the flood he pulled up, got out of his cab and went off to investigate in his wellies!  This one looked a lot worse than it was, it barely came half way up his boots!  A 4WD turned up whilst he was paddling and then a small mini bus after that.  The trucker got back in his cab and headed into the water, he made it!  The 4WD and the bus followed him and they too got through without any trouble.  So, when we’d finished our drinks we did the same – I had all my fingers and toes crossed I can tell you, however we made it through without any bother, it was nowhere near as bad as the previous one. 

Fortunately this was the last big flood we came across as the road started to climb after that. 


We carried on driving for five hours in total, there was just no point stopping.  The rain never let up the whole way!  Clive had intended stopping off at a place called Opotiki as there was a campsite there but it was situated on the banks of a river so he thought better of it and decided to continue on to Whakatane (pron. Fakka taany). However whilst I was looking in the campsite book to find somewhere for us to stay I spotted a camp a few miles inland from Whakatane called Awakeri Springs – hot springs!!  So we headed there.  Would you believe it, by the time we arrived the rain had stopped, the clouds had all blown away and it was wall to wall blue and very hot sunshine! Incredible!  Everything promptly started to steam and it is now like a sauna! I made good use of the laundry facilities as soon as we arrived as I had a pair of very soggy and muddy pyjamas needing a bit of attention!!  I put them out on the camp clothesline and they are almost dry already!

So here we are in Awakeri Springs and we are just about togo and sample the pools.  Bye for now!


March 16th 2011- Napier

Posted by clivenmel on 16 March, 2011 at 20:25

March 11th 2011 – after a very peaceful night at White’s Bay we headed back up to the main highway and the route to Picton.  It didn’t take long to get there.  We parked the van and went for a strol around town, bought a few bits and bobs and stopped for a coffee at one of the café’s with a view over the sea and the marina – lovely!  The weather was absolutely amazing, blue sky and sunshine yet again!  We then drove up to Waikawa Bay, just to the East of Picton, to the campsite where we had stayed on our arrival in South Island a month ago. We spent a very relaxing afternoon and Clive took advantage of the sunshine to top up his tan!


A Real Picnic!


I was on the laptop blogging, checking emails, Facebook etc and I noticed that Lindsey was on Skype.  I texted Hello and got a reply back saying she hadn’t got long to chat as she had to leave for the airport shortly to catch a flight down to Wellie for a Forest and Bird meeting!  I couldn’t believe it!  I told her we were in Picton and heading over to Wellie the following afternoon!  She told me where she was staying and we said we would try and catch up with her at some point.  How amazing!


I went over to the camp kitchen a short while later to prepare our evening meal and there was a radio on but it wasn’t very loud.  I vaguely heard something about another earthquake and thought Christchurch had been struck again! There was a young couple in the kitchen too and I asked them what had happened and they explained that it wasn’t Christchurch this time but a huge earthquake had hit Japan and that there were tsunami warnings all over the Pacific!  Oh dear, things are really rocking and rolling at this side of the world aren’t they!


Later that evening, just before going to bed I nipped over to the loos and spotted this rather handsome green gentleman on the wall.  On closer inspection I realised it was a Praying Mantis.


Praying Mantis


March 12th 2011 – We were in no rush to do anything today as our ferry crossing was booked for 2.20pm so we had all morning to relax.  Unfortunately it was cloudy and quite a bit cooler than yesterday. However, we decided to go and investigate the Waikawa Bay Marina – you know how we like to look at boats!  I spotted a Pied Shag on a post preening, they are such pretty birds.


Pied Shag


Besides all the yachts and cruisers in the marina there were lots of yachts moored out in the Sound as well. If you lived here you would just have to have a boat, you could spend a lifetime just investigating all the little islands and bays in the Sounds, it really is a fantastic place.


Yachts in the Sound


There was a café at the Marina so we made good use of that.  We finally headed for the ferry terminal, Clive said we might as well get there early, check in, park the van in the boarding lane and whilst we were waiting we would have time to make some sandwiches for lunch and have another cuppa. Well, it didn’t work out quite like that!  We arrived at the terminal and checked in. We were quite early, it was 12.40 when we arrived, we weren't due to check in until 1.30. The lady in the kiosk checked our booking reference and asked if we would like to go on the earlier sailing at 1.10pm!  We said yes! We hadn’t booked to go on that sailing for the simple reason that it was $50 (£25) more expensive than the later crossing, so we did very well getting to go early for the price of going later – if you get my drift!


Within a few minutes of arriving at the terminal we were stowed in the hold!  We knew that we had about twenty minutes before departure so I quickly jumped into the back of the van and made some sandwiches, which we ate immediately, then locked up and headed upstairs.  We were wandering around looking for a good place to sit when a voice said “hello”!  It was Liam! Unbelievable that we should meet up again – they had told us they were planning to get the ferry over to Wellington this morning and we were booked on the late afternoon crossing yet here we were, together again!  Anne was outside on deck trying to get a signal on her dongle to post her blog but it wasn’t long before she made herway back inside and laughed her socks off when she saw us!  So we had good company for the crossing over to Wellie.  We stayed inside for most of the crossing but then Anne went off to get some photos and after a while came back in and suggested we all go up on deck as it was so beautiful, which we did.  It had brightened up considerably by now and the sun was out, it was still a wee bit cool but not too much to send us back inside, even though Clive and I were only in tee shirts!  Anne was right, it was very beautiful indeed.  I have to confess, I am very sorry to leave South Island, we have enjoyed it so much, it really is incredibly beautiful.


We arrived in Wellington and said our goodbyes once again to Liam and Anne with a promise to keep in touch and if ever we are in Ireland again we have promised to visit them in Clonmel, Co Tiperary.  I know we would be made extremely welcome and we would have a great time being in their company once again.


Once we had disembarked we headed straight into Wellie city centre to try and locate the hotel where Lindsey was. We did find it, not far from Te Papa, Wellington’s wonderful museum.  I changed into something a little more respectable and then we wandered into the hotel foyer.  Clive spotted a board announcing that the Forest and Bird meeting was in Room 44 – it was right next to the reception area.  The door was open so I peeped in, there were one or two people standing around but it was obvious the meeting had adjourned for the time being.  A gentleman wandered over to see if he could be of help, I explained we were looking for Lindsey.  He told us that the meeting was due to resume in a few minutes so she would be back shortly.  Sure enough she appeared and dida double-take when she saw us!  We just had time for a hug and a five minute chat then the meeting was ready to start and she had to go back in.  We said goodbye and told her to brace herself as we would be back with her in a fortnight!  I think she will be glad to have Clive back so he can mow her lawn again, its grown like mad recently!  She has mowed it since we left, in case you were wondering, but with the sunshine and rain of late it has just gone mad and is almost knee high again!


We had booked into a campsite at Porirua, a small city just a few miles up the coast from Wellington. However we were both absolutely starving so decided to have a meal before heading up there.  We wandered around looking for a restaurant and finally found a rather interesting one, it was an old tug boat which had been converted into a restaurant.  We both had a burger and very nice they were too.


Floating restaurant


Once replete we walked back to the van and headed up the coast to Porirua.  The campsite itself was actually part of a motel complex and very pleasant it was too.  We went into the lounge area and made use of the TV and it was then that we realised the full impact of the Japanese earthquake and the resulting tsunami!  We thought Christchurch was pretty bad but this was total devastation.  The footage of the tsunami coming in, relentlessly taking everything in its path, even buildings on fire floating along with it, was just horrifying. 


March 13th 2011 – we spent a very lazy morning, there didn’t seem to be a specific departure time at this campsite so we stayed put, blogging etc then late morning we set off to have lunch at my friend Sue Reeves’ house.    On our way we noticed some really weird clouds, we have never seen clouds like these before, they looked like shadowy hills in the distance at first.  This photo doesn’t really show how weird they were but will give you a bit of an idea!




Weird clouds


Sue’s house was a bit tricky to find but we finally got there.  She lives in the most amazing place.  Her house is set on a hillside overlooking Wellington Harbour, the view is stunning!  She has a really lovely window set in one corner of her lounge framing the view.


Sue's lovely window - it does not tilt to the left as my photo suggests!!


Sue poured us both a glass of wine, took us out onto her terrace and informed us we were lunching al fresco!  We were just waiting for her friend Lee to arrive before eating.  He turned up a few minutes later.


Sue's terrace and that wonderful view (not me, behind me!)


We had a lovely lunch, good food, fine wine and great company.  Lee was a laugh a minute and kept us all entertained.  However, he had to leave soon after lunch as he was playing tennis.  A very popular sport over here, every  town has a tennis club and the kids start playing at an early age too.  We finally said our goodbyes to Sue, its been lovely to see her again.  Its really good to see her enjoying life as it is now seven years since she lost her lovely husband, Chris.


After chatting to both Sue and Lee about where we should go next we decided to head up towards Masterton. We had a fantastic drive through some amazing countryside, first climbing up through the hills and wondering if the faithful old Econovan was going to make it to the top, then plunging down the other side, hoping the brakes would hold!  When we finally reached the bottom we were in the vast, flat expanse of the Wairarapa Valley, another wine making and fruit producing area. We had decided to camp in a place called Carterton and it wasn’t long before we arrived and got settled into a very pleasant campsite.


March 14th 2011 – Our journey today was very uneventful, after leaving Carterton we continued up the main highway, Route 2.  We stopped off at Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre for a bit of lunch then carried on up to Waipawa.  We found a campsite and Clive went into the office to check in.  He could hear somebody having a piano lesson in the back and a young girl, Clive reckoned she was about 12, did the checking in.  Could only take cash and told him to help himself to a site, anywhere!  We did just that.  Well, we have to say it was the most laid back site we have been too!  It was extremely basic to say the least!  At one point I was just exploring the facility block and a man came out of the Ladies!  He turned out to be the owner.  He asked if we had got checked in ok and had we been informed that the Ladies’ showers weren’t working?  Er no! Fortunately, I had showered that morning so reckoned I could manage another day.  He wasn’t kidding though, the showers were not only not working, they had been ripped out!  It turned out that they need regular maintenance as the water tends to leak down the sides of the cubicles and rots the wood – the last time he maintained them was ten years ago!!!  At least, that explained what he was doing in the Ladies!


March 15th 2011 – We left Waipawa after breakfast and continued our journey to Hastings.  We decided to stop in Hastings to have a look around and have a coffee.  Hastings is a lovely place, all the shop fronts were festooned with hanging baskets and looked very pretty.  There are also some interesting sculptures around the town too. 


It was a bit disconcerting to discover that there is a railway line running right through the town centre!  New Zealand's rail network is nothing like ours at home, it is very sparse indeed, we rarely see trains and those that we do see tend to be goods trains.  The level crossings aren't as sophisticated as our either, most don't have barriers, just flashing lights and sirens, some don't even have that, just a sign stating "Look For Trains!".   So I had a very good look in both directions before crossing this one, then I got brave and nipped back to take this photo!

Intercity rail!!


Hastings and its sister town, Napier, share an interesting past.  On 3rd February 1931 both towns were devastated by the huge Hawke’s Bay earthquake, which measured 7.8 on the Richter scale, actually there were two quakes, one immediately following the first and in total lasted for an incredible three minutes!  Hastings was almost destroyed but Napier’s destruction was even worse due to fires which raged through the town following the quake.  Both of these towns were almost totally rebuilt in the Art Deco style of the time, which makes them quite unique.  So, as you see, earthquakes are not new to New Zealand!  We thoroughly enjoyed wandering around the town and then stopped for a coffee and a muffin at one of the many coffee bars in the town.  It was lovely sitting outside in the sunshine watching the world go by.


We resumed our journey to Napier but on the way passed through another town.  This was definitely the place for a photoshoot so Clive pulled over and parked the van.  We crossed the road and Clive posed for the camera!


Clive in Clive!


Interestingly both Clive and the town were named after the same person, Sir Robert Clive, "Clive of India", who was born in Market Drayton, Shropshire!


A short time later we arrived in Napier.  We drove around and had a look at the city centre briefly but decided to find the campsite and take the next day to explore Napier at our leisure.   We found a lovely campsite on the West Shore and got ourselves settled in. We hadn’t anything in for tea so I headed off to the local shops but unfortunately passed a fish and chip shop on the way – oh dear!  Well there was no contest, they sold Tarakihi!  Nom Nom!

March 16th 2011 – we made an executive decision when we woke up, we decided to stay another night!  So Clive nipped over to the office and booked us in again.  That meant we didn’t need to rush!  We had a leisurely morning, Clive is doing some more family tree research, this time for my cousins, Charlotte, Chloe and Rob Mason.  Late morning we drove into Napier for a look around. Its beautiful!  The first place we came to was Clive Square!  There is a lovely park here complete with fish pond and fountain and also an unusual musical sculpture!  Its called the Napier Carillon and it plays a different tune every half hour on the lovely tinkly bells, its sounds gorgeous!

Napier Carillon

We sauntered along through the lovely Art Deco streets, some with very upmarket high street shops, some selling antiquities from the 20s and 30s, including retro clothes!  Then we spotted this very elegant young lady taking her dog for a walk, Clive made her acquaintance and I took their photograph!

That dog is eyeing him quite suspiciously don't you think!

The Art Deco style is evident everywhere, all in different pastel shades, very pretty indeed.  One particular building has quite a dramatic history; the Masonic Hotel.  The first Masonic Hotel was opened on the present site by the proprietor, Joseph Gill on 14th September 1861, later it was extended and had a new proprietor; Mr A Dalziell.  On 23rd May 1896 it was destroyed by fire!  The hotel was rebuilt in 1897 by a Mr C Fleming McDonald and became the grandest hotel in Napier!  In the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake the hotel was destroyed again, mainly by the fires that raged after the quake itself.  After the quake a temporary corrugated iron building was erected to serve the patrons whilst a new hotel was built.  In 1932 the current hotel was built and fortunately it is still standing today! We have not been able to ascertain its connection to freemasonry but the Masonic symbols are evident in its décor.  It really is very grand.  We had a look around in the foyer, it is like stepping into a past time.


The third Masonic Hotel!


We stopped for a bite to eat at a cafe on the opposite corner to the hotel, we had a lovely lunch accompanied by a smoothie made from Feijoa fruit!  The Feijoa fruit tree grows all over New Zealand, though it is not a native, it actually came from South America but is often used as hedging and has the added bonus of bearing fruit!  It was quite delicious, unusual flavour, sort of a mixture of banana, lemon and pineapple!


Feijoa fruit


After lunch we did a bit more exploring.  Whilst we were in Hastings we had passed a music shop and the manager was outside cleaning the windows.  He saw us looking at the instruments in the window and asked if we were gearing up for Paddy’s Day!  We had completely forgotten that it was actually this week!  So, one of the things we wanted to find was somewhere celebrating Paddy’s Day with live music!  We had expected to be in Gisborne by Thursday or Friday but on checking on the web there didn’t seem to be any live music on or indeed an Irish pub in Gisborne!  We had found one in Napier called The Rose but they were only having recorded music on – oh dear!  However we were reliably informed at the iSite office that there was a pub called The Brazen Head, which was almost certain to have a live band on, so we went to find out if this was true.  We found the pub and sure enough they informed us that there will be stuff on all day tomorrow, a live band in the afternoon and another one on in the evening – brilliant! So we made another executive decision, we’re staying in Napier another night!

We had thought it would be nice to go for a swim in the sea it was still lovely and hot and sunny. Unfortunately the beaches around Napier are very pebbly indeed so we changed plans and went to the Ocean Spa instead!  It is situated right next to the beach just a few minutes walk from the city centre.  There were several pools to choose from, some quite chilly until you became acclimatised but were nice to swim in and some quite hot so you could just sit in the warm water and relax – lovely!  We spent a couple of hours in there then headed back to the campsite for dinner, which we ate outside on the picnic table next to the van – very nice indeed.


We will report back on how Paddy’s Day Napier style goes –watch this space!