England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿: Thames cruise on “De lachende Moor”- mayday, mayday …

I have to turn back the clock quite some years to take me back to the time I lived on a house boat right by tower bridge. With hindsight, it was probably my best time in London and I made some wonderful friendships that last until today.

Paul is one of these friends and without a doubt the biggest character of all as my other friends will happily attest. He lived next door on a steel hulled dutch barge called ‘De lachende Moor’. He skippered his steel monster the way from Holland across the channel. No experience? No problem! A true, full-blood english explorer.

Fast forward to today Paul asked me for help to get his boat into dry dock downriver at Chatham. Sure! It turned out that he picked a beautiful evening to start the trip. The sunset was amazing with vivid colours and lovely, open views of the London skyline courtesy of the river.

He came alone from Barking dock and picked me up at the Thames Clipper pier in Woolwich / Royal Arsenal. Without Paul actually stopping i jumped on the boat to the surprise of folks waiting for the official ‘public’ transport. Off we went into the night…

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It was already late and visibility increasingly poor. However, we wanted to make some way in order to make the next days journey quicker. After i while paul left me to steer and disappeared into the boat. It was really dark by now and hard to tell what is river and what is mud as we approached low tide.

I saw lots of seagulls resting in the shallow waters to my right (starboard) and made sure to keep a distance. Still i misjudged the situation for the birds didn’t sit in shallow water, but in the mud itself. By the time i realised that we had already hit a mudbank. Stop.

There was no getting away and so we prepared dinner waiting cor high tide to lift us off. Eventually a boat from the London Port authority joined us and, once the water levels allowed, pulled us off the mudbank and led us to this nights resting place.

Off to Chatham

We left bright and early (partly to avoid paying a mooring overnight fee) and headed down the river. Paul was up even earlier than i was and prepared a fry-up … the smell tingling my nose and forcing me out of bed despite the bitter morning cold.

Soon after we set off we passed under Dartfort crossing. The weather was miserable at best – rainy, cold, foggy … and no wheel house to hide in. Coffee and snacks kept us going as we headed towards the North Sea.

Late morning another incident, as we tried to cut short the path off the Thames and on the River Medway. We got stuck on mud again. Really hard to see that though this time we managed to free ourselves (as the tide was coming in) and continued our journey.

Conditions got rougher now by the minute and waves became a real challenge forcing the boat to move in corkscrew like patterns. One moment the forces was so strong as to catapult Paul’s tender boat and bicycle off the barge and into the river … bye, bye.

We ended up calling the coast guard for support and while we only requested moral support really, they dispatched one of their boats to guide us into the next harbour. We were well relieved, prepared lunch and headed down to Chatham in much calmer waters where we checked the barge into dry dock. Fingers crossed the survey doesn’t turn out too bad!

Anyway, what a fun two days out. Thanks captain Widdecombe! It was a real adventure.

Scotland 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿: Family trip to Edinburgh & Cairngorms National Park

I remember fondly the time Laura and I spent in Scotland just one year ago. What great memories of the Fringe festival, Jen & Sean’s wedding in Dunkeld or our three week hike on the Scottish national trail. This time we came here to belatedly make good on a birthday present for Bodo … a present we gifted more than one year ago yet group dynamics prevented an earlier trip.

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Checking out Edinburgh: Friday for Future Fun

While the masses of the fringe festival held throughout August had left town, it was still pretty busy with tourists. And there was Greta Thunberg and her climate movement. And it was Friday.

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So amidst ~20,000 of people joining the global Friday for future climate strikes, thus neatly avoiding school, we visited Edinburgh on a mild and sunny late summer day. Castle, Grassmarket, Greyfriar church, Royal mile etc. I used a few notes of last years blog to share the stories of Edinburghs most famous dog Greyfriar Bobby, of Maddie Dickson and how the term “shit-faced” came about (see Edinburgh: Beauty. Tales. Art. Friends.).

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In the afternoon we hiked up to Arthurs seat to enjoy the splendid views of Edinburgh and the North Sea. Many others were likeminded and hence it was quite busy up there.

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Nightlife in Edinburgh is always worthwhile – lots of pubs and bars with life music (and lots of more upmarket options if it tickles your fancy). So we enjoyed everything from Scottish folk songs by a group of brothers from the North of the country, improvised fiddle & accordion music and more.

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Dalwhinnie Whiskey Distillery: Getting the taste of it

Saturday we left the city behind us and headed north into the Highlands and Cairngorms National Park (by now easily the park in visited most on the island). Never-mind the destination, the way up there is lovely with stunning scenery wherever you turn your head. You can even spot deer, pheasants, foxes and rabbits … so mainly dead on the roadside. Sadly.

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After two hours we reached the distillery with its beautiful building and distinct roof construction. Dalwhinnie distillery is the most elevated in Scotland (~400m) and facing the coldest conditions (6 degrees average annual vs. 12 in London and 13 in Dresden).

Scotch single malt – What makes a scotch a scotch

  • Produced at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley (and yeast)
  • No added ingredients
  • Matured in an oak cask for at least 3 years in Scotland
  • Minimum 40% alcohol

The guided tour takes about 75 minutes and is very informative. At Dalwhinnie they produce 1.5m liters of whiskey per year, most of which becomes the trademark 15y Dalwhinnie scotch you can buy in most duty free shops in the world.

There is, however, also a “winter gold” edition. This one is produced, as you might have guessed, in winter times as the chilly conditions from October through March cool down the alcohol vapour in such a way that its not conducive to producing the standard brand. And i guess the owner Diageo didn’t want to have the factory idle half the year!

 

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Hiking the Ruthven & Glen Tromie circuit

It was still only early afternoon and the weather still splendid. So we hit the hiking trail for a 11km circular hike (viewranger link to route) with about 250m ascent. The path, while well visible, is wild and takes you through a range of different scenery. We even briefly got lost. Barren hills, farm land, deserted houses, rivers, forrest… the trail really offers a bit of everything. Start and finish is marked by the Ruthven barracks.

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After 3:40mins we made it back and headed for the nearest pub for refreshments.

 

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Frances rediscovered her love for horses it appears. Male ones mainly.

 

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Kingussie: Mostly quiet with a bit of disco light

Last year Di picked Laura and myself up from the pub in Kingussie and treated us to a lovely dinner in her house (Scottish National Trail: Crossing Cairngorm National Park & Dinner at Di’s (days 9, 10, 11)). This time we had a little time to explore this 1,400 soul village. Well, there is not that much. We enjoyed a dinner in the best rated restaurant (mc Innes) in town (well, partly best rated as they give you 10% off your bill if you review the restaurant before paying … but it was genuinely decent).

We tried the local pub again (which at the time of our visit didn’t serve food) only to find some crazy old Scottish dude entertaining the locals with disco lights and music mostly suited to the older generation (and in a very random order). We didn’t stay long and rather retired to the hotel after an exhausting, but fun day out.

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And Sunday it was time to head home – naturally not without a short hike around Pitlochry and its hydro power station.

 

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England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿: Paddling the Thames in Oxfordshire

Looking at the thermostat would not have given you much of a hint, but indeed it was already May and the first bank holiday weekend had arrived. Alex had just come back from his first overnight schooltrip in Norfolk and i had promised him a canoe trip and time in the countryside, which he adores.

Early, early start…

I booked the early train to get us out of London an into Oxford before 9am. I had a feeling that putting the Canoe together would take a while… I was spot on!

The train station is pretty close to the river and perfect to put in a folding canoe (if you don’t mind the puzzled looks of people trying to figure out what you are hiding in this huge green bag). I must have fiddled with the canoe for more than an hour, repair a part of the frame that had snapped and found it generally not that easy to assemble the Ally 15DR canoe given low temperatures (skin not very elastic) and different to last time (Elbe paddle (day 1): Usti n. L. to Decin) i was alone to do it.

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Anyway, by 9.30am we hit the river and the adventure was underway.

Get you license sorted

To paddle the Thames requires a boat license for the part that is regulated by locks (GBP10 for a weekly one for unpowered canoes). Closer to the sea and in London you can go without, but for paddlers the tides can be a nuisance. You can sort everything here: www.gov.uk/environment-agency

Day 1: Oxford to Abingdon

We managed 17km down the river taking in the amazing scenery of Oxford along with its rowing club that was rather busy that fine Saturday morning. We chatted away with lock keepers (we had several on day 1, including the Thames’ largest lock at more than 9ft drop), watched a motocross race and plenty of wildlife – mainly birds such as geese, swans, ducks, herons – as well as the idyllic architecture of Oxfordshire. English countryside at its finest. All culminated with a big lunch at the Nags Head in Abingdon before we explored the cosy town and got some shopping done.

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Since Abingdon camping was full, we went for a night of wild camping further down the river. We pitched the camp just in time to escape the rain mid afternoon. A cold night with temperatures as low as +1 degrees lied ahead of us, but it turned out ok.

 

Day 2: Abingdon to Shillingford

We started the morning with sunshine and to the noise of early Sunday rowers passing by. Quick breakfast and off we went.

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It was again pretty fresh, but alex enjoyed himself wrapped in a blanket and lying on my inflatable mattress instead of sitting on not so comfy plastic canoe seats. We managed another 16km before his attention span run out and we were hungry. So we stopped in Shillingford where you have camping and restaurant right by the bridge.

 

A word of advise, don’t land your boat on the upstream side of the river. It is private property (the Boathouse) and the owners are nasty. They stole our paddles and only handed them back on the threat of police getting involved. What a bunch of miserable people. 

In the afternoon we had time to stroll around and wandered over to Warborough with its famous and stunning Six Bells pub (both the village and the pub featured in the British detective drama Midsomer Murders). A cricket match was on too!

 

Once back in camp we all enjoyed the above mentioned episode with the owner of the boathouse, but the subsequent evening was lovely. The canoe incidence helped to get to know Pippa & Garry (and of course their dog Pepsi). They treated us to finest English hospitality over BBQ & drinks and we had some really entertaining conversations (later also joined by another couple that gave them a surprise visit to the campsite). Thanks for the evening.

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Time to head home … so canoe into the bus & back with the train. Pretty easy after all to travel around with a canoe ;o)

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London: Home sweet home, school & sightseeing

It was nice to be back in London after a month up North in Scotland. Sleeping in your own bed is just different than in your own tent. But it was busy. As usual when i am back home there is a host of things to take care of. First up cleaning all the gear!

Alex was staying over as usual and brought loads of homework with him on top of his busy club schedule – piano, scouts, russian school, football, sunday church… You name it. There was also a new person to be met for all of us… My lodgers girlfriend. We did it in style over a good raclette dinner.

For laura it was the second time in london, but the first one with a bit of time at hand to explore london. Arguably far from everything. But we managed Greenwich & canary wharf, cycled through the west of town, camden lock market, the regents canal by boat, buckingham palace, natural history mueseum and explored tower bridge and its surroundings. I also manged to show some of my favourite hangouts – in particular the world’s best pizza at the Oak in Notting Hill.

Time went past in a heartbeat before laura returned to colombia and i made my way to vienna to start cycling the sultan’s trail (more of that in my next post).