It's a very short ride to Trowbridge - 20 minutes. The "train" consisted of a railcar single car and no special luggage area.

We wolfed down our cheese and baguette and oranges and chocolate, just in time. Caught taxi easily at Trowbridge to Hilperton marina. Hooray - there are Barbara, Dennis, Molly and Max. We stow our gear, including at least a ton of food brought by the Martins, watch a "how to drive a narrowboat" video, then are shown how the boat works and given practice time at the tiller (maneuvering the "Empress" which is about 67 feet long but only 7 feet wide takes a bit of getting used to). Well, at least the men partake. Molly and Barbara are busy stowing kitchen gear and food. I'm just watching.

We get en route at last. We come to our first lock after about an hour. Another brand new crew, the Lancelot, is ahead of us - 6 young men - and they do a splendid job. They also don't mind if we watch and ask questions. We're up next, along with the Eve. They're new to this, too. We decide to go thru together, which works out fine. Well done, both crews. It's nice to have many hands for the winches. At one point, I'm holding a line loosely wrapped and I remark to Gil that the boat is really putting a strain on the rope - well duh! The water was going down so fast that I should have released the rope. (One of those things I thought was so blindingly obvious, back in Eureka reading the little Canal Boat Guide in the comfort of our living room.)

We are quite proud of ourselves, and in a bit, we moor for the night just past the famous Lock Inn Pub. We dine splendidly there -note the photo of Barbara and her kedgeree. After the huge portions some of us still ordered dessert. I had apple caramel pie wit clotted cream. Good lord, we're so full we have to waddle along the bank like the fat canal ducks back to the Empress.

So we spend our first night aboard the boat. It is surprisingly stable and quiet. None of the beds are what you would consider comfortable, but they are cozy and warm. The radiant heaters work well. We are never cold. We wish for more shelves and hooks and storage space. It's also tricky moving about with six people. 3 people at one time are about maximum in the galley/saloon area.

20 March 2004

I shower, which is an experience. The stall is about 18 inches square, with a handheld hose. A quick wetting, water off, then scrub with liquid soap, then quick rinse and done. Meanwhile, Den is busy creating a fabulous full English breakfast. More food!

Did I mention that Gil and Max had us under way by 7:00?

Fed the ducks...they insisted

Molly and Max saw a vole jump into the water. Saw dead hedgehog and then later a dead badger and bunny floating along.

Went over 2 splendid aqueducts high over the Avon River. The river below us is running very high, with gusty winds and showers.

Went through 2 swing bridges, which were awfully easy and fun to maneuver.

The 3 men are startlingly good at making the Empress go where she ought. Gil and Max did a fantastic job parallel parking, and Den pulls off a 180 turn (see below) with finesse and aplomb. It is evidently considered ok to bump into the sides of the canal, the odd bridge, or other boats, which takes some pressure off.

We stop midday at Bathhampton, at the George, a 13th century building, formerly a monastery. Had a pint and a walk thru the nearby parish church.

Then back on board down towards Bath. Den prepares us a tasty lunch of cold meats, cheeses, baguettes and crisps.

We make it to Cleveland Bridge in Bath but must turn back, as the winds are too high plus we've been instructed not to go into the Avon, as it's at a very high level. Disaster looms in the blustery air… There are endless boats already parked along the sides of the canal, no room to park our sixty-five foot "kite" in FORTY-FIVE to FIFTY mph winds. Things were getting seriously ugly fast...The only real option remaining was to us was to just CRASH THE BOAT!!!

Gil's Story: Okay, I'm at the helm (how is it I always seem to be at the helm when the going gets dicey?) and we've just pulled through an incredible deluge of driving rain. We have swirling tailwinds of what I estimate to be in the range of 60 to 65 mph (I should point out the possibly more cooled-headed Max estimated them to be a wee bit lower...35). As we came around a slow left-hand bend an especially hard blast of wind hit us on our starboard side and put us totally out of position for the following sharp right-hand turn. I laid the old girl over hard to the starboard and opened up the throttle a bit to help gain all the control I could just as THE MOST FEROCIOUS GUST OF WIND EVER struck us on our right-hand side driving us totally across "The Cut" and directly towards the boats lining the far bank! I cooly waited till my stern was about to hit another boat and jammed the throttle wide open; (I believe at this point we were racing across the water at upwards to 3 or 4 mph!) I then threw the helm all the way over in a desperate attempt to "kick the stern around." It didn't work. I yelled below to my crew, "ASSUME YOUR CRASH POSITIONS" just before we plowed into some poor, unsuspecting narrowboat tied to the bank. Needless to say we somewhat startled its wide-eyed owner who was sitting at the window watching the whole episode unfold. No real "visible" damage was done other than some loss of some paint...and thanks to the coolness of the crew (and to the skill of her mighty Captain) no lives were lost.

Now back to Becky's story. So we moored alongside our inadvertent collision victim. Chatted with the young man in the other boat. He was rather concerned that his vessel may have suffered structural damage -he's got a steel hull but wooden superstructure - steel flexes, the wood can crack.

I called Alvechurch (the canal boat company) and talked to Spencer, the marina manager. Gave him particulars; told him the Empress and we all seemed ok. A half hour later, he showed up at our door; took more notes and talked to our neighbor. He was very nice and reassuring about our "Mighty Wind" incident.

We walked downstream to The George Inn for a lovely meal. The George offered up excellent service and fabulous food (see photo of Gil and his mighty puffy "meat and beer" pie). I had pork and leek sausage with bubble and squeak. No desserts this time! Back onboard, we played "Mastermind" with Barbara and tried Molly's various exotic chocolates. Slept very well, although winds continued to gust.

21 March 2001

We're on the road by 7:30, continuing our upstream journey back home. Den once again treats us to a full English breakfast. I am at the tiller for a while.

Turns into lovely day, but with intermittent wind gusts. We stop at the Dundas aqueduct water point again to refill our tanks and dispose of our rubbish. Takes quite a while to fill, and we just filled the tank yesterday! There are lots of sheep, lambs, and cows, on green rolling hills. And ducks, almost entirely mallards, recognize us as the handy food source we are. One female landed on our roof and stayed with us quite a while, hiding from a male mallard.

We make it to Bradford on Avon and go through the lock.

We tie up soon afterwards, early afternoon, along a grassy area with an undercut bank, which prevents us from getting really snuggled against the bank, so, for the first time, we must use our gangplank. We have all afternoon to explore the town. It's really lovely, with buildings ancient and modern made of stone. We visit the immense tithing barn (ca 1340's),

...go over an old packhorse bridge, and walk along a footpath past old stone weavers' cottages hugging the hills, to a thousand year old Saxon church. Very small, high stone with small windows, small buttresses. Then we walk into town and find The Bridge Tea Room, which is a truly lovely, picture-perfect, Victorian establishment. Two crowded stories and a 'mind your head' doorway. Building dates back to 1625, I think. Molly and I decide to splurge and have the full set tea, at 16.95. Pot of tea, a 3-tiered china rack for each, filled with sandwiches, a toasted crumpet, scones with strawberry jam and thick clotted cream, salad, and a huge slice of cake. I choose a rolled meringue, wrapped around cream and raspberries. The waitresses wore long black dresses with frilly white aprons. The Maitre-d' was a very polite, yet sincerely friendly gent - I actually enjoyed being called 'madam,' as in 'so sorry, madam, to have stepped upon your foot.' (The place, as I mentioned, was quite crowded.)

We finally had to leave, carrying boxes of our copious leftovers. Stopped to get film for Molly and pick up some postcards.

While Molly and I took tea, and Barbara and Dennis were strolling around on their own, Gil and Max sought more manly amusement at the Three Horseshoes pub.

While sucking down some Guiness for lunch, they struck up conversation (as is the nature of pubs) with a delightful local chap named Danny - a stonemason who at one time had some dealings with the British mob - and then watched Scotland vs. France rugby on the pub's big screen telly with the local enthusiasts. (Gil note: it really doesn't get any better than this)

Back 'home,' Molly and I successfully 'walked the gangplank.' Note that Dennis was seen to be bouncing up and down on the gangplank just for fun - not a scaredy cat like me! Gil and I wrote postcards and we walked back into town to mail them. Then came naps/quiet time for all...

...until we had a small late snack - hot cross buns and the remnants of our tea goodies. We also knocked back a bottle of German white wine called Hock that Dennis had found in town. Molly and I sang the Erie Canal song for all. Oh my. My apologies to all… (Gil note: It may have been the wine)

22 March 2004

We awoke to a light breakfast, low power, and a nearly filled toilet tank (oh dear). We leisurely motored on upstream to Hilperton. Gil executed, in windy conditions, an absolutely picture perfect landing at the Alvechurch Marina! While they feigned nonchalance I suspect the Marina staff were all watching our docking (our reputation for crashing had surely proceeded us) and broke into a hearty "well done" for our beautiful parking job. I filled out a couple of pages of insurance forms for Spencer.

We were offered a chance to look inside the Pellinore, a "doublewide" narrowboat ("very popular with the Americans" we were told). It boasts two separate ensuite staterooms and a real lounge with u-shaped plush coach and L-shaped kitchen. It has lots of storage area. Very comfy looking, and would allow everyone to gather together in the lounge in comfort. After calling a taxi, we said goodbye to dear Dennis and Barbara, and drove to Trowbridge. Caught the train to Paddington with Molly and Max. We agreed to meet at the Westland hotel at 6:30 for dinner at an Indian restaurant.

Please click HERE to continue our tale wherein we spend a full week playing around in London!

(Return to Gil & Becky's homepage by clicking HERE)