“Would You Do It Again?” – David

The title of this post is a chance to sum up the trip and answer the question that you are always asked by people who have heard of the trip.  It can’t be a one-word answer as no trip is ever perfect in every way, all the time, in every context.

Would we fly Business Class both directions?  Hell yeah, if only to avoid being on a 737-MAX H8te ever again. That aircraft is just horrid in Economy.  Even SeatGuru.com says the “Premium Economy” seats are as bad as seeing  Death Himself walking backwards out of an outhouse reading MAD Magazine with his pants down and shit on his shoes.  

Boat.  The Lapland Bunting was a fine boat, perfect for two blokes, but converting Rob’s bed each night was an annoyance.  Perhaps a slightly longer one, that has two berths that we could leave as berths and a sit down ‘salon’ as the Brits call it.  Maybe even the womenfolk would come along for at least part of the trip. We know them well enough that the day and half going through the Mere district wildlife reserve might bore them a bit, but then there is always wine to be consumed before it goes bad.  One does not want wine to spoil and we know the womenfolk would attack that task with their usual devotion and dedication. We did ask them about participation in another adventure of this ilk and their consideration is that going two days without a shower is not going to happen. There would have to be hotel rooms on the route and a ‘wider fucking boat’ to quote one of the spouses.

We’d probably skip the Irish Whiskey Museum tour in Dublin  And skip a hotel in Temple Bar. There were a couple of hotels we eyed near Grafton Street in Dublin that looked appropriately plush, yet modest in price and near all kinds of things like pubs.

Taxis.  No walking from Wrenbury to the Marina.  Book a taxi at Crewe to Wrenbury with a stop at the local provisioners before reaching the marina, so one can take the training, sign the papers, load up and get motoring to Wileymoore Lock for opening time and a pint of real ale.

Weather.  I think we chose the right time to go.  We both opined that in the high summer season that traffic on the canal would be near-oppressive and unpleasant.  Off-season was just right, with exception of Storm Callum.

Storm Callum.  Yes, it was windy and rainy for two days or so.  We did get soaked to the eyelids, but it was a challenge, not a bad thing.

Provisions.  We would know more about our consumables habits and provision appropriately with an emphasis on things that can be consumed with one hand whilst piloting.

Bacon Sarnie and Chips with a Salad – Ellesmere Pub

Bacon Sarnies:  Yes, yes, yes, ohgawd yes!

Oscar in the pub at Wileymoore.

Dogs in Pubs.  Eminently Civilized.  We ate well, especially the Sunday Roasts, but also Gammon and Chips, Yorkshire Puddings the size of a cat’s head covered in lovely gravy and steak at the Tomahawk Restaurant finished over a wood fire on our last night in Dublin.  

People.  To a person they were polite, friendly and  often curious why two blokes from Canada would make the effort to come this far to drive around in a narrowboat in October.  A common theme we did hear was “Ahh, Canadians, so you’re not Americans then.  What do you think of the Yanks down south?”  Our answer was usually, “The neighbours?  Oh well…”

One trick we learned many years ago from work travel to foreign climes was that a very modest Canadian Flag pin on your collar opens a lot of doors when they recognize you’re not American.  I always has a half-dozen in my pocket and would give them to folks who engaged with us, especially if they said they had family or friends in Canada. You can get them, free, from your Member of Parliament and they are only available from Parliament.

One little girl of perhaps six was with her grandpa at Wileymoore and she had never seen a narrowboat, or a lock.  Grandpa was explaining how it all worked and she was fascinated.  It turned out that Grandpa was in the Royal Engineers as a sapper, as was Rob, in the Canadian reserves, so the doors of welcome were opened and Grace got to see the boat with her Grandpa.  Both walked away with a tiny Canadian flag pin as a memento of their impromptu visit.

Walkie-Talkies.  If you have two, testing the flotation abilities of one of them makes the other one of no use, when you discover that a walkie talkie does not float.  That and a tea cup were the only victims of our adventure.  The broken tea cup was kept as a place to put tea bags when the brew reached the correct potency.

River Liffey in Dublin

Dublin.  Probably an extra day there, mayhaps even a bus trip down to Cork, if only to see the place.  Trinity College, housing the Book of Kells is a tourist spot that we semi-wanted to see, but then again, we also wanted to hit other places, so it was left off the list.  

 

Rob contentedly piloting a narrowboat

Company.  I couldn’t imagine doing this trip with anyone else but Rob.  We both mesh in attitudes and tasks, getting things done and enjoying each other’s company.  Adding the spousal units would be the only thing that would have made it better.  Trip of a Lifetime?  No trip, except the last one to the hereafter is a Trip of a Lifetime, but this was most certainly in the top five.

And not flying on at 737-MAX H8te ever again

 

Dublin Again

The Paramount Hotel, our digs for two nights, is in the Temple Bar section of Dublin, meaning it is a tourist destination.  To quote our taxi driver on the outbound trip “Temple Bar is full of damned tourists and is shiite if you want to see the real Dublin”  Oh well, we already had reservations, so we stuck with our plan. The taxi driver was right, it was shiite. The hotel was originally either a whorehouse or was fifteen different slums bashed together and called a hotel.  There was nothing wrong with it, except getting to your room meant walking in ever changing directions up and down tiny flights of stairs at odd angles in strange directions in some kind of triangle pattern.  Temple Bar is the neighbourhood and it is somewhat famous from books and movies, which also means it attracts tourists looking for something memorable.  By comparison, the Byward Market in Ottawa, or the Distillery district in Toronto would be equivalents, meaning lots of shops, restaurants and bars interspersed with historical structures.

We dined that first night at the Porterhouse Pub, simple fare, as we were tired from our trip across the Irish Sea and retired comparatively early, still on boat time mentally.  This was disturbed at 0600 by the sounds of kegs. Bars, of which Temple Bar has hundreds, require beer. Beer is transported in steel kegs. Empties must be removed and full ones delivered each morning to keep the thirsty patrons at bay.  We lay there, half dozing and hoping the sound would cease, allowing us to nod back off on a Monday morning. No. It would seem that Monday is the prime delivery day and 0600 the prime delivery time, for at least a friggin hour. Bang, clank, rumble, Bang, clank, rumble.  Repeat until you wish to do someone harm.

If we’re going to be up, then at least we can eat, so we adjourned to a joint just across the street that said it had breakfast.  Pinocchio’s was the name and yes, they did have breakfast. You could have toast and coffee. Groggily we agreed to toast and coffee, then noticing a large fiberglass Pinocchio head over in the corner, glaring at us the whole time.  Why an Italian pasta joint would have a fiberglass Pinocchio head, football mascot sized is the first puzzle. The second puzzle was why do you advertise breakfast if all you have is toast?

Our first stop was luggage.  Rob’s rolling bag decided after the miles of travel to blow a handle.  The telescoping handle wouldn’t retract any more, so rather than sacrifice his bag to Air Canada in a couple of days, we found a luggage store and obtained a new bag.  Since my contribution at this point was to stand around and look handsome, I figured I would help the staff load in a shipment of a couple of pallets of bags that were kindly dropped off in the road in front of the store. 

Across the street from the hotel was a place we both noted in our brains for sensible reasons.  If we returned home without some kind of treasures for our beloved partners in life, from an epic trip to the UK and Ireland, then we might as well just chain concrete blocks to our necks and drown in the River Liffey now and skip the flight home.

Being practical men we recognize that art is always appreciated.  We adjourned to Fab Cow and perused their wares.  Francis Leavey is the artist and one of the pieces of his that I had seen before was his single line drawings. They’re stunning pieces and getting to meet the artist is something you should always try to do, because then you understand the nuance and inspiration behind the work.  We bought modestly, because of luggage room, but we bought direct from the artist, which is always better.

Francis Leavey is a fascinating artist with a background in Chinese medicine and longish stays in China, as well as study of his art at a very deep level.  We compared notes, Francis speaking from how art reflects culture and me speaking how culture is reflected in food.  Eclectic and kind is the kind of mix one likes to be near.

Liquor was next on our list, Dublin being home to two magical distilleries, one that actually produces in Dublin and the other that has converted their old digs into an excellent display of the history of distilling in Ireland.

First stop, Jameson’s.

 

Food And Drink I – Pub Fare

One wag has described navigating the Shropshire Union Canal to Llangollen as a slow pub crawl on a boat.  Public houses seem to proliferate in the middle of nowhere next to the canal, ostensibly serving locals (Population of the village, 11 people, 1,400 sheep and 24 dogs) but in reality are there to provide a comfortable place for boaters to pause and refresh.

During high season when the canals are clogged with holiday-makers, business must be very good, but in the off-season, perhaps not so much.  Our trip, essential the first two weeks of October, is considered on the cusp of the off-season, as it can be cold, rainy and damp, sunny, or a blizzard, depending on the vagaurities of the UK Met. Office and their reading of the entrails.

Pub fare is the subject of much discussion among those who are self-proclaimed experts as to what is and is not actual pub fare.  Perhaps they know, or perhaps they are talking out their arse, but we do know what pub fare is not:

There are no micro-greens involved in or near pub fare

Peas of some sort must be served, or available to order

Gravy is a food group

Chips must taste like potato, not starch tubes and be served hot enough to scald

Yorkshire puddings are also a food group

No pub fare will feature a 50p sized piece of ‘artisanal’ salmon with an eggplant slice the size of a book of matches and cost £45, especially if served by someone wearing a wool hat named Campbell or Daffyd

There must be local, real ale.

You must be offered, or have readily available ‘brown’ sauce, which we know as HP

Vinegar must be malt vinegar

An appetite is required

Pub fare is not complicated food by any means.  Roasted meat, a couple of veg, potato of some sort, gravy and more often than not, Yorkshire pudding, especially if it is the Sunday roast special.  It is home-style cooking. Where else could you get cold, hand-carved real leg-of-pig ham, a small salad (instead of chips) and hot peas and carrots with palate-melting hot mustard except in a pub, or at home.  Portions are generous and you find that your membership in the clean-your-plate club is always threatened by the size of the meals.

When it comes to beverages, the most common accompaniment is ale.  Real ale, quite often brewed within a few miles of the pub, reflecting the local tastes and desires.  You will see taps for Heineken, Peroni or other commercial brews, but the most common is the hand-pulled pint of what is local and what pairs perfectly with the food.

Which is exactly what you want.

Rescue By A Cab

Trains in England are a little different from Canada. In Canada if there is a station there are people there and there are cabs and phones etc. At least for the parts of Canada I’ve seen.

In England this isn’t always the case. We catch the train from Holyhead to Crewe and manage the change to the Wrenbury train – more of a truck on rails serving the smaller communities.  Three cars, comfortable enough, with a diesel engine that they wind up to 1200 rpm, then release the brakes to roll away.

Getting to Wrenbury there is nothing there, barely a station, no people and no phones. So we are two Canucks stuck in the middle of Nowhere with rolling luggage.

Cell phones point the way and we begin to walk, I’m fat, I don’t like walking, I complain a lot. We carry on for short while and I being looking on the phone for a cab from Wrenbury. Nope. There are no cabs in Wrenbury. We continue the walk, there are cabs in Nantwich and in Whitchurch that service the area but, as optimists, we figure we can cover the rest of the journey. Plod, plod, plod one foot in front of the other moving slowly forward. I scan my phone again, should we just call and have a cab get us. Plod, plod, plod ever on like true Canadians without complaint.

A car passes and then another and finally a taxi enroute somewhere else.  We flag it down, it is divine intervention. No. The cab has a passenger and is on it’s way from A2B – can we share for the short while? Some discussion and then a discussion. Rescue, they will take us up the main road to the marina. A few quid pushed in the hand of the passenger at the end ensures all are happy and we’ve made it to the marina.

Just in time for the health and safety briefing we are duly trained on what to do at locks and where to find things on the Lapland Bunting.  It isn’t any more complicated than a recreational vehicle that floats.  We will post more later about life on a narrowboat, but for the time being, we find the pointy end and the arse end, two somewhat informal nautical terms.

Our next stop, since we’re both running on only a few hours sleep, is to regain some strength for our mighty toils on the waterway.  A short stroll into Wrenbury and we find The Cotton Arms Freehouse, a CAMRA-award winning Pub and Kitchen.  The sign outside says it all “Children and Dogs Welcome”.  Real ale and roast beef dinner with some of the locals who welcome us to their village.

One small issue we had the foresight to plan for was provisioning.  The marina provides you with fuel, water, a boat and the equipment to operate the boat.  They do not provide provisions, meaning things like food.  We both like food and consider food to be almost as important as drink, air, or spouses.  You decide which order these should be in.      

We wander a little further into Wrenbury, finding the local convenience store and obtain important things like coffee, milk, bacon, bread, cheese, hummus, croissants, butter and crisps.  And liquor, specifically a blended malt scotch whisky called Sheep Dip.  Neither Scrim or I are abstemious, so yes, there is drinking on the boat, but both Scrim and I are responsible boaters.  Drinking is only permitted after we dock for the evening.  Or if it is really, really chilly.  Or if the name of the day of the week has the letter Y in it.  

A long walk back to the boat and we sign off the documentation adding our own uniquely Canadian touch to the registration number of the boat.  Lines off and the Lapland Bunting is pointed in the direction of Wileymoor Lock. 

We are underway.

 

 

A Pipe, a Fall and a Whiskey Tasting

Being in Dublin there are certain things that must be accomplished, especially when one is only slightly strapped for time.  Rob Scrimger is a pipe smoker and he enjoys a good pipe.  Peterson’s of Dublin makes good pipes, world renown pipes if truth be told, and we would be remiss if we didn’t go to the source of all goodness.  Just off Grafton Street, their shops stock a stunning array of samples of a pipe-makers arts.  Scrim knew what he wanted and in less than a handful of minutes, a Model 999 was obtained from the manufacturers.  A few moments later a bowl of tobacco was ignited and was duly enjoyed by Rob.

The Fall is not just a season, it is also an action.  The two of us, looking lost and confused on Grafton Street after sampling the wares of McDaiid’s Pubic House (Have a Guinness in Dublin they said, you’ll enjoy it they said) we were walking along when the ground suddenly leapt up and bit one of this party.  There were no injuries aside from a momentary feeling of stupidity, but many offers of assistance and concerns for our well-being from the nearby inhabitants.

There was another retail requirement:  A black wool turtleneck sweater from Marks & Spencer to join others in my drawer.  An M&S was duly located and after a route march to the Men’s department, two examples were obtained with only a moment’s hesitation.

In order to get over trans-meridian circadian disarrhythmia, it is important to get your body on to local time, meaning eat the meal that the local time says to eat.  It being close to noon local time (but still 0700 for our bodies) we had to attend the Porterhouse Pub in order to have lunch, a chicken thing and some IPA.  The photo mural in the Gentlemen’s was worthy of the visit, as well as a sensible selection of beers.

We then availed ourselves of the Whiskey Museum, an hour long tour of the history of Irish Whiskey history and manufacturer, followed by a tasting of four types of Irish Whiskey with an almost-learned tutor guiding us through the nuance and subtleties of Irish Whiskey.  For the uninitiated, or the uncaring, you can always use the term ‘notes of vanilla and caramel’ in tasting as you stare off into middle distance, pausing thoughtfully, perhaps swirling your glass to examine the whiskey-equivalent of legs (called the ‘tears’) in a nuanced manner.

If you are served a glass of Pumpkin-spice intimate wash, you can still use the thoughtful pause and the hesitant “I get notes of…hmmm..vanilla.  And a hint of caramel flavours..with spice, and warm notes…”