Thursday, 20 November 2014

Buses, Basketball and Bakewell Tarts

It’s taken a bit of getting used to, but after two weeks tucked up in our marina in Derbyshire, we have stopped waking in the morning wondering where we are, and whether we need to move or stay put, and roll over. Slowly, a daily routine has emerged which involves a fair bit of hanging around bus stops, chatting to our neighbours (there’s a lot of that), a regulation longish walk along the towpath, marina or neighbouring countryside, and the occasional excursion with our “pontoon pals” to The Boardwalk, the new pub/restaurant on the other side of the marina. It’s all quite pleasant.

An autumnal towpath walk close to the Marina on the Trent & Mersey

One of the reasons we like it here at Mercia Marina so much are the transport links. Most marinas are in very rural locations. Not having a car any more means we have a certain reliance on buses and trains, and we have a lot of choice here. The bus outside the marina goes to Derby one way, and Burton-On-Trent the other and runs every hour. We are about half way between the two.

We went into Derby on Tuesday with my old work colleague Hubert, who had joined us onboard for a couple of days. The plan was to do a bit of a road trip up into the Derbyshire Dales. The forecast was for a brightish day, and we had pencilled in Matlock and Bakewell as destinations. It was a long old journey, about 90 minutes each way, and we did make it to Bakewell, had two hours there and then caught the bus back to Derby. Stunning scenery from the bus and Pat and Hubert had to have a Bakewell Tart while there, taken with afternoon tea in a very ostentatious tea room, down a little alleyway in the centre of the town.

Hubert & Pat in Bakewell

Pat enjoys her Bakewell Tart in Lavender Cafe
Last Saturday we switched to the train and visited Sheffield to see Pat’s Great Nephew Cameron in action. He is playing professional basketball for a local team just outside the city and also working as a teacher in the city.

Cam & Pat

Six foot six Cam hails from just outside Melbourne in Australia, and has played extensively in college basketball across the US, but though our international wanderings are extensive, we had never seen him play. So we were so glad when his team “The Arrows” won their match, beating a talented team from Loughborough by the narrowest of margins – just one point in it. We both thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Cam, though, was a little disappointed with his performance. He is playing down in London early December and we are hoping to be able to get along and see him then as we will be staying in Hendon the same weekend.

Cam in action with "The Arrows"

Back in the summer, when we were in Yorkshire, I travelled a fair distance to Huddersfield to check out a particular brand of ukulele, that I really fancied. Eagle Music in Huddersfield is the only importer of this particular American brand called “Mainland”, but they were quite expensive and I put it to one side.

I did contact the company though about buying direct from them in Illinois, after realising that we are going to be in the US and Canada this December. The price was right and they agreed to make one for me to my specifications and it was delivered to Pat’s sister Monica last week. I think it looks magnificent and can’t wait to play it. I also ordered a brown hard crocodile case for it, so it should be safe on our onward journey to New Zealand and back to the UK. So I have a Kala Tenor Ukulele for sale if anybody is interested out there. Just restrung, with a very nice tone.
My new Mahogany Mainland Ukulele, waiting for me on Vancouver Island
I must say, even if we did want to go out on the boat now, our options are limited. Our nearest lock at Stenson, whose gate paddles have a fearsome reputation, is undergoing a huge facelift and it looks like they are replacing the gates. It’s just one of dozens of locks closed during the winter months for maintenance across the country.

A lot of activity at Stenson Lock, just down the cut from the marina

So that’s about that. We have around two weeks left here, before shutting up shop and heading south for a few days before we fly out. Hope to blog before that though.


Sunday, 2 November 2014

All cruised out

After 800-plus miles this season, we finally chugged back into Mercia Marina yesterday morning. And it felt good to be back. Lots of familiar faces said hello and we didn’t waste any time before we were in the new bar/bistro at the “Boardwalk”, the new retail complex that sticks out like a finger from the main car park. There is a rolling selection of beers and the quality was good.

Our view of the new "Boardwalk" development at Mercia Marina from TCW
We are back on the same pontoon as last year, though we have moved down one spot. I was not looking forward to turning into the mooring as the marina is very open and it was quite gusty yesterday, but it was OK, and our neighbour Ian was there to lend a hand. Ian and Sarah have taken possession of a rather-snazzy 10ft wide-beam since we saw them last and we were both very impressed with the finish, both inside and out. Ummmmmm.........
The last week or so has seen us marking time as we could not come in to the marina until 1 November. That was our agreement. All this hanging about would be fine for most of our boating pals who make a point of only moving every few days, stopping to commune with nature and immersing themselves in local cultural activities. Pat and I, (well me anyway) like to keep moving, unless, of course, we are in a place or town that screams out for investigation.

We must have been mad asking for a cream roof. Always scrubbing it clean and then rinsing it off.
At Branston Water Park

Most villages you pass through or by usually have the regulation church, a Co-op or a Spar, and at least one hairdresser, and within an hour or so you can easily walk the length of the High Street, take a look at the church and have a quick pint if the pub happens to be open. Occasionally these visits throw up something interesting but it’s rare. Call me cynical (and I am sure you will) but that’s the way we cruise, though I note that we have done 100 miles less this year than last, so we are slowing down a bit.
Pat places her order at Coates the butchers in Alrewas
So we had a long weekend in the village of Alrewas, and there are a lot worse places to bide your time with 3 pubs, 2 churches, a butchers, a fish & chip shop and a Co-op. I’m sure there is also a hairdresser somewhere, but we never come across it. We both like the village, especially Coates, the butchers. It’s a popular stop for visiting boaters and Coates has a very good reputation. Not cheap, but the quality is excellent. We were there for five days this time around. And Alrewas punches well above its weight in other departments too.  Great value Sunday carvery lunch at “The George & Dragon”, plus a visit to the local ukulele club on Monday night and a return trip to the National Arboretum just outside the village.

The new Women's Land Army statue at the National Arboretum just outside Alrewas

Then it was nearly three days at Branston Water Park, just outside Burton Upon Trent: a very good mooring with a half-decent pub and a very convenient park bench close to the boat that I was able to use to as a work horse, to split a load of wood up on and cut some longer lengths down. We now have a good stash of year-old cured wood ready for when it finally gets cold. We have had the fire on most nights, but as we all know it has been very mild of late. In the mornings when I get up to put the kettle on, I have rarely had to slip a jumper on and on Thursday visitors to the water park were walking around in shirt sleeves.

Part of our wood "cache", ready for a cold snap
Late this afternoon there are fireworks at the marina. Not sure whether to watch from the back of the boat listening to “Handel’s Firework music” or venture over to where the barbecue is. Ah decisions, decisions.
Toodaloo chums