Monday, 31 December 2007

2008 here we come

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Mild weather.

0 locks, and 5 miles. Now moored at Campbell Park, Milton Keynes

This morning started out mild and sunny as we left Fenny Stratford. There were not as many boats on the move today but there were plenty of Sunday fishermen making the most of the weather.

By the time we moored up at Campbell Park the sky had started to cloud over but stayed fine long enough for me to do a few chores down the engine hole and on the stern. By mid afternoon we did get a few light showers of rain but it didn't last long. As we have not previously moored here we will stay the permitted 48 hours to have a look around the area.

869 locks, 1173 miles, 33 Tunnels, 40 swing bridges and 19 lift bridges since Nov 2006

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Fine day for boating.

2 locks, and 4 miles. Now moored at Fenny Stratford

Tracey headed back to London last evening after spending five days with us, so as to keep ahead of the BW winter stoppages it was time to move on. It turned out a beautiful but cold day and bought out the boaters in droves. We haven't seen so much activity on the cut for months.

We called into Willowbridge marina for diesel at a modest 60p per litre and a pump out. We took on another  89 litre's which told me that our diesel consumption had dropped back to 8 litres a day since our last fill up. This is probably due to the Mikuni central heating unit not having to work quite so hard over the last week or so with slightly warmer temperatures.

We struck lucky at Fenny Stratford, just North of the lock  we found a vacant 14 day mooring . We are only staying overnight but it gave us a chance to go to Tesco's for some essentials as supermarkets become scarce after we leave Milton Keynes.

869 locks, 1168 miles, 33 Tunnels, 40 swing bridges and 19 lift bridges since Nov 2006

Friday, 28 December 2007

Whipsnade Zoo

Still moored at Soulbury 3 Locks Pub

Yesterday was Boxing day and while Dot and Tracey took off to Milton Keynes for some retail therapy I spent the afternoon quietly alone. Today after a lovely quiet Christmas we decided that as Tracey had her car nearby and the weather was reasonably mild we would take a trip to Whipsnade Zoo which is where my working days started in 1961.

As a winter special the Zoo were not charging for cars entering the Zoo, only it's occupants. We parked the car near the Wolves enclosure and then set off on foot around the park. Things haven't changed much since I worked there with a lot of the animals locked in their heated winter quarters. A lot of common animals that are not threatened with extinction have been excluded as the Zoo is concentrating on building up stock of endangered animals.

There have been a couple of additions since I worked there, the train ride around the park which doesn't start again until February and the drive through safari. I was amazed to see the old Elephant house still standing as I know the Elephants are now in a large breeding enclosure. Apparently the building has a grade 2 listing because of who designed it back in the 1930's.

Contractors are at present building larger quarters for Lions and Rhino's with a new display for Cheetah's due to open mid 2008.

I was pleasantly surprised when I spoke to a keeper who I only know as Roger to find that he knew some of the staff that I had worked with and that one of the trainee's ( Andy White) who I had the pleasure of working with all those years ago is now a Team leader.

867 locks, 1164 miles, 33 Tunnels, 40 swing bridges and 19 lift bridges since Nov 2006

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Christmas Menu

Still moored at Soulbury 3 Locks Pub

After the obligatory phone calls to New Zealand and Australia to elderly parents who celebrated Christmas 13 hours and 10 hours ahead of us we settled done to a quiet day. Tracey was up from London for Christmas so for the three of us I decided to have a slight variation on the traditional Christmas fare. Roast Pork with lovely crisp roast potatoes, kumeras, parsnips and carrots served with steamed broccoli. Australian wine to compliment and as afters baked Queen Pudding with brandy flavoured cream.

The idea was to have the left overs and traditional Christmas pudding and custard tonight, well the way we feel we may not feel like eating. Settling down this afternoon to watch the Shrek Trilogy, the first and third on DVD and the second on TV.

Colourful end to a perfect day.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Noisy Night

4 locks, and 4 miles. Now moored at Soulbury 3 Locks Pub

What with petrol heads doing wheelie's in the Tesco car park and noisy drunks walking past all hours of the night we decided to move somewhere quieter for Xmas. It was cold and foggy with a thin film of ice on the water. We watered up before leaving the area so hopefully we are all set for the next 10 - 12 days.

There must have been a fishing contest going on as it was wall to wall fisherman after we passed through Leighton Lock. One of them was scooping up ice in his landing net to clear a patch of clear water in which to fish.

It wasn't until the Soulbury Locks that we met another boat. At the bottom of the flight there was just one mooring space which was just what the doctor ordered between 2 moored boats. After mooring up we watched the fog dissipate as the sun broke through but as soon as the sun disappeared behind a cloud the fog soon rolled back in.

This evening it is a very cool, clear moonlit night and another frost in the offering because as at 7pm the canal has already iced over. Ho hum, still we won't be leaving here for a few days.

867 locks, 1164 miles, 33 Tunnels, 40 swing bridges and 19 lift bridges since Nov 2006

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Late night shopping.

Still moored at Leighton Buzzard

Well the threat of overnight frost on Thursday night didn't eventuate due to a light breeze. Friday was spent shopping at Homebase and Aldi which is a new one to us. For our friends in NZ Aldi is a European supermarket that sells just about everything from booze to toys, clothes to electrical tools and the usual groceries.

As Tesco's were going to be open all night we decided to leave that until later as it was busy, busy, busy when we walked past. It turned out that there was a James Bond movie ( Die another day) on TV that I hadn't seen so by the time that finished it was past midnight when we finally got to Tesco's. Except for the stores bulk trolleys dumped all over the place with replacement stock awaiting the shelf fillers there were relatively few people in the store which meant we could take our time and not be jostled about by the normal crowds. Bliss.

Saturday morning and there is a thin film of ice on the canal but a shower of rain is about to put pay to that.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Arctic White Out

3 locks, and 4 ½ miles. Now moored at Leighton Buzzard

Last night we thought that the temperature was quite mild but this morning we awoke to an arctic white out. The canal was frozen over and you can see from the photo's what we were up against. With the weather forecast predicting more over night frost tonight I could see the ice getting thicker and possibly impenetrable for days. As we had to get to Leighton Buzzard to get diesel before Friday we decided to try and smash our way through.

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To start with I had to go around the boat with the pole hook and smash the ice before we could move at all. After 3 goes of backwards and forwards we finally started to make headway up to the water point. The ice was about 10 - 15mm thick, the thickest we have struck, excuse the pun. At the water point somebody had left the tap dripping so it wouldn't freeze up,lucky for us.

While waiting for the tank to fill I set the lock and had to swing the gate backwards and forwards a few times to smash more ice to get the gate to open fully. While doing this I spoke to 1 of the permanent's moored nearby who told me that 9 years ago the canal froze to about 5 inches thick and for 3 weeks they merely walked across the canal to the carpark instead of crossing over on the lock gates. This made me more determined to get to Leighton Buzzard before we did get frozen in.

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From Slapton to Grove lock it was really heavy going especially at Grove lock where the lock was really iced up. Out with the pole hook again to smash more ice. Surprising the ice became thinner after this lock possibly due to another boat having gone through earlier.

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Do you call this an Ice Shelf?

At the Wyvern Shipping company we tried to turn but the winding hole was well and truly iced up. Eventually a guy from the boat yard came out and took the bow rope and helped us round. While halfway through the winding manoeuvre he told us to tie up so we could take on diesel. The yard has a veeeery long hose to be able to reach all their hire boats regardless of where they are moored, 112 litre's later and we headed back to the Tesco moorings for the night.

863 locks, 1159 ¾ miles, 33 Tunnels, 40 swing bridges and 19 lift bridges since Nov 2006

Thursday, 20 December 2007

5 Boats! Wow

10 locks, and 5 miles. Now moored at Slapton

As we had quite a few chores today we had another early (ish) start in cold overcast conditions. The sun was trying to break through  but by mid morning the low clouds proved impenetrable. By the time we had reached our present mooring visibility was starting to fade rapidly with the onset of fog.

We were amazed that for the first time in about a week we actually passed 5 other boats on the move some of which coincided with the locks which made things a bit easier. Still our problems have been miniscule compared to Nb Emporer out on the Fens. We feel sorry for them as they have only been aboard since November.

We had a bit of a problem in one lock when a young lone female swan decided to tag along and come through the lock with us. Once trapped in the lock we could see she was starting to get agitated and as soon as the bottom gates were opened she was away like a racing greyhound. This did not stop her following us again but we managed to shoo her away from the next lock. Not long after we moored up guess who arrived again? She had been out of sight and yet she flew down and landed right alongside us. She must have a good homing device.

860 locks, 1155.25miles, 33 Tunnels, 40 swing bridges and 19 lift bridges since Nov 2006

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Clear run today.

6 locks, and 4½ miles. Now moored at Marsworth

We made an earlier than usual start today. It had been quite mild overnight so there was no sign of any ice. We also knew that we had a long run through the Tring cutting before reaching the Marsworth flight. As usual we were the only boat on the move.

The old lock keepers house part way down the flight was a pleasant surprise with all its Christmas Santa's, reindeer and Guardsmen at the door.

We are now moored above lock 39 alongside the reservoirs. Mid afternoon and 2 boats passed us, 1 in each direction and some time later we began to list quite badly. I went off to see if I could find the problem without success. As I started to let some water down from lock 40 another boat came through heading North so I helped them before letting some more water down.

While Dot prepared dinner I went back to lock 40 to let some more water down and found that a paddle had been opened and left open by persons unknown. After I had let another lockful of water go I closed it all down but will have to monitor the situation in case we take on a list again later in the night.

850 locks, 1150.25miles, 33 Tunnels, 40 swing bridges and 19 lift bridges since Nov 2006

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Ice breaker again.

7 locks, and 3 miles. Now moored at Cowroast

A bit of a surprise this morning. We looked out of the window to see the canal was frozen all around us and yet there was no frost on the ground. The towpath was crunchy underfoot and a few puddles iced over. There was a mild breeze which may the  reason for no ground frost.

After watering up we set off to the sound of ice cracking. The further North we got the thicker the ice became , probably the best part of 10mm thick. The ducks were obviously happy that we were breaking the ice as they wasted no time in getting into the clear water to feed.

Gas 2 lock was leaking very badly and some kind person had left both top gates open.  Consequently the pound above was very low in water and a moored boat on a precarious angle.  A lady walking the towpath told Dot that the pound was very low all the way up to Bushes lock.  Hence a half mile walk up to the lock and open all paddles to let water down.  After successfully navigating that in the freezing cold we were working up through Dudswell lock 47 when we were confronted with another loose boat broadside across the canal. Its mooring ropes hanging down in the water with pins attached but it was too far out from the bank to be able to do anything to secure it. The only way around it was to nudge it out of the way. I tried to push it back towards the towpath but the ice put paid to that plan. As we passed the boat it became apparent that the boat was unlicensed and had been since 2005 so we took no further action in securing the vessel. I didn't feel that we should endanger ourselves to help a non payer.

851 locks, 1148.75 miles, 33 Tunnels, 40 swing bridges and 19 lift bridges since Nov 2006

Monday, 17 December 2007

Berkhamsted Castle

Still moored at Berkhamsted

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After doing a bit more varnishing in the boat this morning we took advantage of the fine sunny weather and went to investigate the ruins of Berkhamsted Castle circa 1066. Despite the very cold conditions we walked right around the mound between the 2 moats that surrounded the castle. The moats would have been a big deterrent to invaders in days gone by as they were deep enough to hold water up to 20 feet deep. I will let pictures tell the rest of the story.

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My son Richard discovered this castle during our delivery cruise on narrowboat Gypsy Rover in March 2004. Unfortunately we hadn't seen it until today.

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The Keep

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Finally our own Christmas robin for the day

844 locks, 1145.75 miles, 33 Tunnels, 40 swing bridges and 19 lift bridges since Nov 2006

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Things that go bump in the night

Still moored at Berkhamsted

It's 8.30pm and its already been dark for four hours, I am sitting here thinking about today's blog when we were broadsided by some indescribable person trying to moor a large narrowboat in the dark. Admittedly there is some light from Waitrose and the carpark but it is still pretty dark out there. I know some people have time limitations on when they can shift their boats but they could at least be a bit more considerate and careful. How can you not see a boat with a five foot Christmas tree lit up with christmas lights adorning the cratch I'll never know. The last I saw of the boat was when he was trying to reverse back to the lock moorings which is a couple of hundred yards behind us.

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Berkhamsted 16 century courthouse

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Imagine attending a school such as this.

Other than doing some varnishing in a galley cupboard and going for a walk through town its been a quiet day.

844 locks, 1145.75 miles, 33 Tunnels, 40 swing bridges and 19 lift bridges since Nov 2006

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Cold cruising.

6 locks, and 2 miles. Now moored at Berkhamsted

The temperature was a bit milder this morning but the sky was grey and overcast. It was about 10am when we set off again. The other 2 boats that moored up with us overnight had already left earlier so we were travelling solo.

The towpath and lock surrounds were still frozen so caution was the name of the day again. We did meet another 2 boats on the move today but other than a boat moored lengthways across the canal it was a quiet cruise. We were not sure whether the boat had been let loose by vandals or broke its mooring when the previous 2 boats had passed by. We only pulled the boat in so we could get past and as it had obviously been poorly secured and was unlicensed to boot we didn't waste too much time with it.

Upon arrival at Berkhamsted we expected to find wall to wall boats and no moorings as we know how popular this place is but we were pleasantly surprised to find only 5 moored boats and plenty of space. We plan to stay here for the week-end before continuing again on Monday.

844 locks, 1145.75 miles, 33 Tunnels, 40 swing bridges and 19 lift bridges since Nov 200

Friday, 14 December 2007

Crunch, Tickle, Tickle.

7 locks, and 3 miles, 1 swing bridge. Now moored at Bourne End

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Frost not Snow

Its still as white as snow around here after another heavy overnight frost but to beat the winter stoppages we have to start moving again. We cannot travel too far in a day due to the short days and we prefer to travel between 10 and 2 when the daytime temperature is at its highest, not that it gets very warm. It only reached about 4deg C today after an overnight temperature of -5.4 deg.

The first 2 pounds were well and truly frozen again so it was a case of imitating an ice breaker. Even though another boat had been through about 1½ hours ahead of us the water had started to freeze over again. At times we were pushing sheets of ice as big as the boat ahead of us and other times we were unable to steer as the ice just pushed us sideways unless we hit it head on and smashed it.

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Ice not glass, not good for the blacking on the hull though

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Once past Boxmoor lock it was a clear run until we got to Winkwell where there was a queue of boats waiting to go through the Winkwell swing bridge. This has been playing up lately, something wrong with the electric's and BW have been opening it up at 9, 12, and 3. We were in the process of getting some late lunch organised when the call went out that BW were on the job and it was time to go.

We only went up through 1 more lock and tried to find a mooring as it was getting cold and late. Fat chance, we couldn't even get close enough to get off the boat. In the end we moved up to the next lock and moored at the back of the lock moorings which are barely deep enough. Two of the other boats did likewise complaining that they didn't have this problem last time they were here. Its about time BW made more use of their dredgers instead of worrying about the towpaths.

We have just checked the latest on the winter stoppages programme to find many stoppages have been cancelled probably due to DEFRA cuts and the collapse of the Mons & Brec.

837 locks, 1143.75 miles, 33 Tunnels, 40 swing bridges and 19 lift bridges since Nov 2006

Thursday, 13 December 2007

We've been everywhere man!

This morning we awoke to a whitened landscape, not snow just a very heavy frost which has not thawed all day. The muddy towpath is still frozen hard and the pound 2 locks up is frozen over with ½ inch thick ice.

Still we had a busy day mapped out ahead of us so there was no curling up under the duvet again, First leg of the journey was to catch a bus outside the marina into Hemel Hempstead. We checked the fares on the Internet and found an Explorer ticket for £7 for 2 adults and 2 kids, WRONG, Arriva have changed the fares a month ago but failed to change their website. It's now £10 for up to 4 adults but boy did we get our bob's worth.

Once in Hemel our first job was to pick up our new specs from Specsavers which arrived a day early, can you believe it. Once this was sorted it was back to the bus station for a number 6 bus to North Watford and Screwfix to try and buy a hole plug cutter. The trip into North Watford covered some familiar territory for me passing through Leverstock Green, Bedmond, Abbots Langley, Leavesden, past the old now defunct Mental Hospital which as kids we lovingly used to refer to as the looney bin. On down past the housing estate where I had lived and Francis Coombe secondary modern school where I spent 4 years of my life. Through Garston where the old London Transport bus garage is now run by Arriva buses. Once in North Watford we found Screwfix quite easily and obtained my plug cutter.

As we had completed all this in record time and not wanting to head straight back to Hemel Hempstead we browsed through the bus timetables to see what other options were available to us and see what other destinations were suitable. In the end we found a 320 bus to St Albans and Hemel Hempstead via Garston, Meridan estate, and Bricket Wood . When we arrived in St Albans we alighted to have lunch and catch a later bus to Hemel. The Cock Inn advertised a 2 course lunch for £6.95 which fitted the bill nicely.

After satisfying the inner man and woman we returned to the bus station just in time to catch the next bus which unfortunately wasn't going to Hemel, only to Adeyfield. Another couple who also wanted to travel to Hemel told us that a 301 was the next option which was only 5 minutes later. This was a real cross country service going through the rural outback between the 2 towns.

After 7 ½ hours of gallivanting all over the countryside we eventually got back to the boat and a much needed cuppa. I think we did very well for our £10.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Our Internet Connection

1 lock, and .25 mile. Now moored at Apsley Mills

This morning we woke up to a beautiful fine frosty morning. We had not long finished breakfast when Peter on n/b Bletchley and Argos turned up and filled the diesel tank with another 60 litres so we are set for another 3 weeks. After this we decided to move the boat up 1 lock to the next pound, less than quarter of a mile. Once moored up we decided that it was a nice day for a walk into town.

I went to the Post Office to apply to get my NZ drivers licence changed to a UK version. £50 later and it's all in the post as they say. On the way home we called into Woolworths to take advantage of their Xmas chocolate specials,yummie but fattening.

We deviated on our way back to visit the craft shop which Dot had found out about. The couple who own the shop have only been there since last August but are a friendly couple and are very knowledgeable about what they sell. We bought a cross stitch kit of the Settle railway station and locomotive which will measure 12" x 10" and a clip on LED lamp to work with at night.

We received an email today from Chris and Debi concerning our internet connection being that we are continuous cruisers. We have had almost continuous internet since we connected in October last year. We did a lot of researching to find what other boaties are using and decided on T-Mobile. We now have upgraded to a USB modem with Web and Walk with T Mobile. Previously we used a datacard with the same company but since upgrading we are getting almost broadband speed (of course this depends on our location). With any mobile internet you will find there are some places that reception is marginal but overall there have not been too many days we have been unable to connect to the internet). Most of the mobile phone companies now provide mobile internet but from what we are hearing T-Mobile appears to be the best. For £29 a month on direct debit we get unlimited data capped at 3gig which we have never ever got anywhere near. When signing up you need a permanent address with a postcode, (use a friends if you don't have one still.) All the best with your future plans Chris and Debi email us your email address and we will answer more fully if needed. What's the name of your boat? Patchwork Cat sound interesting we look forward to catching up in the future on the cut.

831 locks, 1140.75 miles, 33 Tunnels, 39 swing bridges and 19 lift bridges since Nov 2006

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Dining out.

Well there's not much happening around here except wind and rain and rain and wind in no particular order.

Over the week-end we were graced with the presence of Tracey to celebrate Dot's 60th birthday, am I allowed to divulge an age here? We took Dot to lunch at the Paper Mill on Saturday  and the White Lion for a roast Sunday dinner.

This morning we got a phone call from Specsavers to say that the frames Dot had chosen last week were no good for her lenses and we had to go back to select another set of frames.

Over the week-end we received this email about a stolen car and dog, can anybody help these people?

"Hello, I have just read your blog, i wonder are you anywhere near Watford? those youths could be the same who stole a car from Milton Keynes on Friday night? It contained a beautiful Border collie dog and we are desperately trying to find/locate him."

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Friday, 7 December 2007

Rain, rain go away.

Thursday morning and it's raining quite steadily. Dot has gone into Hemel Hempstead with a couple of the ladies from the marina to investigate the new market place which apparently has been moved from the covered market place out onto High St. Sounds like a backward step to me but perhaps the land value of the covered market dictates better use of the land, i.e apartments or office building space.

In the meantime I will give the vacuum cleaner a work out and see what other chores need attending to.

Tis the season (for hoons)

Still moored at Apsley Marina

Tuesday night and all was well except for some blustery wind conditions which was rattling things around outside. About 1am a wind gust woke me and I thought we may have lost our satellite dish. Upon peering out through the front cratch I saw that the latter was still in place but the boat moored ahead of us wasn't, it was moored or resting up against the opposite bank. As this boat had been very loosely moored I just assumed the wind had pulled the pins out and blown it across the cut so knowing that there was nobody aboard I returned to bed.  I had just started to doze off when I heard Dot jump out of bed and yell "Bugger off". Now this is not normal behaviour so I shot out of bed into the cratch to see 3 louts running across the bridge. They were in the process of undoing our ropes when Dot felt the movement on the boat, these were securely tied onto the boat meaning it takes a while to undo them, hence we were the only ones still securely tied up.  When I got off the boat I found the boat behind us (n/b Tripitaka) had been let loose and they were at right angles across the cut despite their boat being chained to the bollards. The cheeky blighters had climbed aboard the boat to untie the ropes. Chris and Lesley had surfaced and were in the process of starting the engine. The hoons must have been very quiet because that boat has a Staffie on board for security and he never made a murmur and slept through it all.  What a way to meet your neighbours at 2am in the morning.

We helped them secure their boat and all the while the hoons were in the car park on other bank creating mayhem and shouting abuse at us, so Lesley fromTripitaka rang the police explaining what had happened and that we were still being harrassed by these guys. Within 10 minutes the police arrived and found them on London Road and rounded them up. What action was taken by the police we are unsure but at least these hoons may get the message, don't mess with boats that don't belong to you.

When it was safe to cross the bridge I went and checked on the other boat and found that it was only been held in place by the wind so I secured it best I could.

Later on Wednesday morning we met the lady owner of the latter vessel, which subsequently has been sold and awaiting collection, and helped her to return the boat to it's original mooring.

830 locks, 1140.5 miles, 33 Tunnels, 39 swing bridges and 19 lift bridges since Nov 2006

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

By the seaside beside the sea.....

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Have you missed us? Sorry about that but we have just had 4 glorious days away in Paignton and Plymouth. For security reasons we didn't broadcast the fact that we would be away from the boat for an extended period.

We travelled down to Paignton by rail all the way from Apsley, which was a pleasant change, to stay with our cruising friends, Derek and Christina on n/b Kalimera. They have moored the boat up for the winter and returned to Paignton where they have a flat only minutes away from the railway station which is in the centre of the town.

On Saturday we ventured out around town despite the showery weather and visited Oldway mansion which was built in the late 1800's by Isaac Emmeritt Singer, the man who gave the world the sewing machine. He didn't invented it, merely improved a machine built by somebody else but failed to patent it soon enough. When the mansion was built it cost £100,000 and has been added on to over the years by Isaac's son Paris. Inside the main entrance is a beautiful ornate sweeping marble staircase with a beautiful handpainted ceiling. Of a standard matching a certain other ceiling in Rome.

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The building has been used by several movie makers including a German company who used it quite recently with actors all dressed in period costume of the 1800's. Probably the most famous was the film "Isadora" starring Vanessa Redgrave about the life of Isadora Duncan who was tragically killed in 1927.

On Sunday we travelled by bus to Plymouth to visit my Uncle and cousin before they fly out to New Zealand to visit their daughter/sister for Xmas. Along the way we were unsure we were going to reach Plymouth as overnight rain had caused some serious flooding (Oxford re-visited) but the bus driver got us through.

Back in Paignton we had been told of a hotel called the Great Western Hotel which is owned and operated by a Great Western Railway fan. We went off in search of this hotel and were openly welcomed by Cathy who was as equally knowledgeable as her husband Mel on railway matters. Displayed inside the hotel is a virtual feast of railway memorabilia, model railways and other artifacts. Mel also built and operates the "00" gauge model railway which is on display at the Babbacombe Model village.

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After an hour or more of me feasting my eyes over what was on display we left Cathy to get on with her chores and we wandered off down to the waterfront and pier to take in the sea air before we had to catch the train back to Apsley. Due to several cases of signal failure along the way we eventually got back to the boat about 8.45pm.

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