The 1,000km walk-for-water campaign blog is moving to here. Feel free to come and have a look at the greatly updated layout.
a kiwi family with eight kids and a grandpa
chronicle their pilgrimage from Singapore to London and beyond.....overland all the way
that was in 2008/2009....
then they kept on pilgrim-ing....2012....
then the 1,000km walk-for-water in 2014...
in Him we live and move and have our being ~ Acts 17:28 ____________________________________________________________
“I guess when it comes to sponsorship there is a spectrum between doing something clearly unpleasant (eg a hunger strike) or useful (eg picking up rubbish in a third world heritage area) and going on a pleasant family holiday. Most people will be less motivated to sponsor the more that your activity looks like “fun” or something you would do anyway, and more motivated if what you’re doing is clearly a sacrifice for you. Where do you think your plan falls on the spectrum?”
(question asked by RoseErose on Facebook)
In the past some people whipped themselves as they walked their spiritual pilgrimage to Santiago. That would be right up there with hunger strikes – but I’m not convinced it would elicit any more sponsorship. I’m not making fun of the question – it surely is a good one.
I wholeheartedly agree that you’d probably have a tricky time getting people to give even a cent if your “project” was to visit every theme park in the US. I get that.
So should I list the hardships we might come across…..bedbugs, walking in the rain, walking in the blazing sun, being sick of walking, missing brothers, missing sisters, missing Daddy, missing Grandpa, missing friends, missing reading, struggling with Spanish, handwashing every day, blisters…..
When a concerned acquaintance advised that allowing children to walk so far would damage their bones, I consulted our revered medical expert. His reply was short and to the point: You can do no damage to children’s bones by walking a long way, but they will be bored after two weeks. And they might be.
So are we up there nudging close to hunger strikes? I don’t think so.
Our potential problems are first world ones.
We are privileged. We are fortunate to be able to do something that goes beyond merely providing for our daily needs.
We are blessed in the midst of any sacrifice we might make, big or small.
If we encounter bedbugs (like we did last time), we’ll be thankful for the beds we slept in.
If we walk in the rain, we will be grateful for water (and raincoats).
If we walk in the sun, we will give thanks that it’s not raining.
If we get sick of walking we will continue anyway.
When we miss our family and friends we will pray for them, send them a message, treasure them.
When we want a book, we will open our journals and write our own story.
When we can’t find the right Spanish word, we’ll laugh.
When we do our handwashing each day, we’ll be thankful we didn’t have to carry the water the whole way we walked.
And as for blisters…..nah, we won’t get blisters. But we could pick up rubbish – it’s a real problem along the way.
How about it? Would our pilgrimage be more valid if we picked up rubbish and each carried a 20litre jerry can of water on our heads?
Coz I tell you what, no matter how much I might enjoy walking, I would never choose a holiday that involved lugging round a jug of water and sack of trash all day. That certainly would not be fun. It would not be something I would “do anyway”. Besides, it would be pretty tricky to use my walking poles.
But how about it? Would you be more inclined to donate money if we were carrying a water jar? Would fellow pilgrims be more likely to give, because we make a spectacle of ourselves? I’m willing to consider it.
What do you think?
Feel free to comment here on the blog, or pop over to the Facebook page to chat there (I’d love you to hit LIKE if you’re OK with that too)
Why not just walk in NZ? Then you could donate the airfare money too.
It’s a valid question, and one we considered carefully. Actually, we more than considered it; we investigated doing exactly that before we even thought about going back to Spain.
Money. Time. Whatever we do, it’s going to cost us. So we want to walk 1,000km with an 8-year-old. Experience tells us 15km a day….when it is day after day after day…..is a reasonable distance to aim for. That means about 70 days. Just for argument’s sake, to stay in youth hostels in NZ would be over $100 a night. Which is over $7,000. Which is not too much less than airfares to Europe. Walking here would not necessarily be a lot cheaper.
But cost is not the only factor.
The main issue is accommodation. 1,000km in NZ could be done by going from Cape Reinga to Wellington. So we start at Cape Reinga and the first settlement we come across is Te Kao. Unfortunately that is over 44km away and we’re not up for walking a marathon on the first day! Besides, there’s not actually a legal camping place there, and no youth hostel or motel or five star hotel either. It’s another 25km before we find somewhere that we could legally stop and we can’t walk 70km without sleeping;-)
The kids cope with carrying their own gear – it’s not reasonable to expect them to lug the extra supplies we would need for camping out (tents, cooking utensils, burner, washing facilities, sleeping mats, food supplies and additional water).
And as for walking along SH1 – does fighting with trucks need to be part of the plan?
Along the camino routes, however, there are accommodation options every few kilometres, and cheap ones too. We can stay for a week in Spain for what it would cost us to spend one night in a cheap motel in NZ. Plus we get to take a shower and wash our clothes in a sink each afternoon, and sleep in a bed at night.
Food is cheaper, too, and available at frequent intervals. In NZ we would need to carry a few days’ worth at a time – in Spain we can pick up what we need as we need it from little hamlets dotted along the path. Paths which are very frequently off-road.
So we ruled out the North Island Walk.
Trudging alongside SH1 didn’t appeal, but we wondered whether we could string together New Zealand’s Great Walks. Then at least accommodation would be provided. But that’s not cheap either. The huts might be basic, but they still cost an arm and a leg. Getting one adult to Stewart Island from Invercargill costs two weeks’ accommodation for all of us in Spain. And you gotta get to Invercargill first! Oodles of dollars in petrol or if we take the train and ferry as far as we can, we’d still have to hire a van to get to the start of the routes.
And that’s not all. There’s a but, a big but….here it is……BUT….even if we did all of the walks we wouldn’t make it to even 400km – and quite frankly, 398km-walk-for-water doesn’t have the same ring about it. Plus, we’d have to leave the 8-year-old at home because you have to be at least ten years old to do the Milford Track. And even if we did leave her behind, what are the chances of managing to get bookings on all those tracks in one season? We haven’t heard of anyone managing to fit them all together in one sitting.
Nup, that’s not going to work either. Not this time.
By this stage, remembrances of how easy it was to walk along established camino paths in Spain entered my thinking. Not easy-in-terms-of-no-hardship, but easy as opposed to ridiculously silly.
We priced it up. Yes, $10,000 for airfares. And a few more euros for food and accommodation, although truth be told, we would also be eating food even if we stayed in NZ (and spending more on it, what’s more).
We decided we were in a position to choose to spend 10K if we wanted to. We weren’t planning to, but we were able to. We thought that if we could get sponsors to generate $20,000, then we would have raised more than if we simply gave our own money away. Mboy11 has his hopes pinned on $100,000!
So we thought about how to raise money. We listed all the people we could ask – and it goes well beyond our family and friends! Other people just might give – and not only give once, but start a habit of giving, resulting in far more than our airfares building one water project in Africa.
We decided we would devote a decent amount of time and effort to focussing on fundraising – this would not just be a walk in the park, it would not just be a holiday. It would be a learning opportunity for all of us. As we learnt, the children also would learn how to go about fundraising. They would learn they could make a difference in the world. They would learn to use their voice to stand up for justice, to fight poverty, to defend the defenseless. They would learn to use their resources to benefit others. They would see that we don’t just give money to causes, but we can invest ourselves in them. They would learn to do hard things. They would experience sacrifice. They would walk. And walk. And walk. And walk some more. And think about the women and children who have to do that same walking every day just to keep their families alive.
This is about so much more than money.
It was Easter 2013 that
we I had a crazy idea.
PapaBear had gone off to camp with the older kids and had a face-to-face encounter with God and came home expecting MamaBear (me) to suggest we adopt a dozen babies from Africa. I rather suspect he would have been up for the challenge. But with half the family away I had had time to think and had hatched my own plan, albeit a much simpler one.
You’ve got to know that we adopted into our family two little kids from Togo last year – that is to say, we sponsor them, but our biological kids talk about them as much as each other, so they are family now. And even before we’d done that, we’d talked with our GP one day. We had visited him with a broken toe or something and came away with broken hearts. He had just returned from his latest trip to Africa and talked passionately about what he believes is the single biggest problem in Africa – the long treks women make to collect (often impure) water. He reckoned if you could give access to clean water, you could change their lives completely. Of course, we already knew that, but it took his compassionate account to compel me to action. I asked the kids to consider what we could do to help the situation. I asked God to lead our thoughts.
I came across “Half the Sky” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn – may I encourage you to read this one? It is a life-changing book. It’s almost certain that if you have access to that book, you are living in a position of privilege, and for me, it made me want to use my position to bless others.
As a family we read aloud Katie Davis’ “Kisses from Katie” and our hearts swelled more for the people of Africa.
Some Christmas money went towards digging a well. We welcomed Komi and Dagan into our family. But we could still do more.
I discovered charity: water. I spent Easter reading every page on their website and my idea took shape.
“What if I went back to the Camino and walked 1,000km to raise money for a water project in Africa?” I suggested to PapaBear.
I needed him to know this was a Serious Suggestion:
And over the next few months the dream grew. We decided the younger boys (who will be 11 and 13 when we go) would be invited. They didn’t hesitate.They were in.
Then the little girls (the youngest will turn 8 soon after leaving NZ, the other will be 10) wondered aloud why they couldn’t go.
Too far, too hard.
“But we walked last year – and I did it with a broken arm and I never complained,’ Tgirl pointed out.
Can you argue with that? Would you even want to?
So we started looking at routes. How to make 1,000km along various camino paths. All roads lead to Rome, but we were going to Santiago, and there are a lot of roads that go there too. We’ve ended up with the following proposal.
Lboy13 and Mboy11 will accompany me to Madrid at the end of April. We’ll take a bus to Pamplona and walk through the Pyrenees to Bayonne in France on the Camino Baztan. 110km Done.
Then we’ll head down to Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port, which is a semi-official-ish starting point for the main Camino route, the Camino Frances. That will be 67km on the Voie de la Nive (and no, I don’t speak French apart from baguette and merci, but my linguistic detective work tells me the Nive is the name of a river and “voie” is probably “path” – googletranslate provides confirmation. And I have a map and compass, so we’ll be right. Besides, it’s only a hand span on the map)
When we leave Saint Jean for our second take at the Pyrenees, PapaBear will leave Auckland with the two younger girls. If all goes according to plan, we will arrive in Pamplona on the same day, and we’ll have done another 70km. The girls will have missed the hardest stretch with compulsory longer stages. (by the way, you can zoom in on the map and scroll around if you really want to)
PapaBear has two weeks with us and we’ll blitz along as far as we can, trying to find the balance between enjoying our time together and covering some decent distances. Then he’ll hop on a train bound for Madrid airport (and ultimately, home), and the rest of us will walk due west towards Santiago. But we won’t keep going that way. We have already walked the last 300km of that route, and so when we get to Leon, we’ll sidestep northwards through the mountains on the Camino del Salvador. When that finishes, we’ll continue on the Camino Primitivo……and a good way along that route we will hit the 1,000km mark. Hopefully we will still have time up our sleeves – if not, we’ll take a bus, but if we do, we’ll go the extra mile…..we’ll zip off the official route and make our own way down to Melide where we have wonderful memories from our last trip. The rest of the family has charged us with buying a particular variety of biscuit from a particular bakery there. We’re not objecting. From there it’s just a few days to Santiago, the totally official end-point of all the Caminos.
Why 1,000km? It makes the maths easy! If you sponsor one cent per kilometer, it will cost $10. If you sponsor ten cents it will be $100. What could be easier?
But we’re not actually asking you for any money…..not yet!
For now, would you be able to take a look at www.charitywater.org? Would you snoop around and see if this is a charity you might find yourself willing to make a contribution to when we walk? We’ll be putting up a campaign, but not until next year. In the meantime, I’d encourage you to check out the website and see the fantastic work they are doing.
Will you take this journey with us? (we’ll blog weekly until departure and then daily if possible when we’re away)
There is nothing particularly auspicious about this date.
We know that we are at “less than a year to go” on the next countdown, but we don’t know when we are leaving. Or when we will be returning.
But today I tried dehydrating curry to take with us.
Just thought I’d mention it.
How’s that for an inspirational title?
We have been home a week, and the blog has not had a look-in. The van battery had been recharged, the garden weeded and ready for spring planting, the summer clothes are organised, a photobook has been compiled (priorities, you know!), a few walks have been undertaken…..now to finish off this journey in blogland. For the sake of ease, I am going to type directly from my journal, which was written in a state of stupour on various trains and aeroplanes, but I will save you the agony of reading my theological thoughts about goings-on in Westminster Abbey and leave them in my paper journal!
Because we had turned the boat at the winding hole yesterday and moored at the wharf overnight we were able to have a relaxed start to the day. On waking everyone greeted each other with with cries of, “Only eighty hours til we’re back in bed!” Is it romantic optimisn that hopes everyone will do OK? I don’t expect complete absence of tears or grumpy faces or even exhausted exasperation, but if it can be contained to a low-grade stress level, I will be one happy Mama.
My hopes will be raised later on the bus when Mboy10 will tell us that he has a strategy for not getting too tired and grumpy; when he feels his eyes start closing “like this” (you gotta see his expression – one of dopey resignation with eyelids drooping downwards), he will turn off the movie or game and let himself fall asleep. Not a bad strategy if he manages to employ it. Sleeping BEFORE complete exhaustion would be even better and we may well suggest it, but it is encouraging to see his intention to self-regulate his behaviour wisely.
We will also be impressed at the way everyone takes our advice on the plane with regards to water. They will all prove to be very responsible with staying hydrated, limiting juice intake and almost totally restricting fizzy (only a couple slipped through the gaps on that score).
But first there’s the last day.
We check out of boat, miss the train from Aldermaston by two minutes (the place must be jinxed!), wait an hour and head towards Reading on the next one. We don’t even try to make the connection to London! Not because we thought we’d fail (again), but because we’d decided to take the short stroll up the high street (actually called Broad Street) to get foodie provisions. Old and new stand side by side, in fact new seems to squeeze inside the old. Buildings are old with modern interiors and signage. Broad Street is a wide (broad?) pedestrian precinct lined with shops….take an escalator up from teh street and you find yourself surprisingly in a large open mall. Thankfully for us it provided some seats ot perch on to eat our last lunch in shelter from the unforecast but persistent drizzle.
Arriving back in London at Paddingtom Station, the first priority was to find the statue of Paddington Bear! It was smaller than most of us had expected, but satisfying to see and touch nonetheless, especially for the Short People, who are delighted by his antics.
We had entertained thoughts of going to Covent Garden to eat, but our packs were heavy (with chocolate and Marmite!) and quite frankly it seemed too far to be worth it! Instead we took the direct route across Hyde Park (cue squirrels and more threatening drizzle) towards the coach station we would leave from later. Having scouted out a place for dinner, the young souvenir-hunters took an age to decide on their London purchase, and we raced to Westminster Abbey for evensong.
My oh my, what a building. It soars majestically up to the heavens. The stained glass windowns hold your eyes captive. The hundreds-of-years-old memorials to dear departed ones engage your emotions. The flagstones underfoot are worn smooth. You notice Wilberforce, Isaac Newton, William Pitt, Faraday – and that’s just the beginning. We cannot “sightsee” as we are there for a “service only”, but there is plenty of opportunity to soak up much as we walk up the side aisle to be seated, as we sit listening, as we walk still-awed out again afterwards. The service was similar in many respects to the one at St Pauls – choir, prayers, readings, lessons, pomp and circumstance. Yet it was different too. Sadly there were no hymns for congregational singing, it was shorter, the organ was not played as impressively.
From where we were sitting we could not see the choirboys, but we had seen them file out after their pre-service practice, all dressed in red robes with white ruffled collars. I couldn’t help, but think of a poem I had read about them (and now cannot lay my hands on – anyone know it? first stanza about an angel in the choirstall, second stanza about a ragamuffin slipping out the back door – both about the same boy), and I wondered what out-of-abbey life consists of for each of them.
It was a fitting way to end our time (note to self: refrain from typing out pages of questioning treatise and move on to dinner)….maybe not quite “end”, we still have to linger over a pizza-pasta-salad buffet before checking in at Victoria Coach Station late at night, where the attendant was incredibly friendly and went out of her way to speak to the driver to ensure we boarded the bus first. She even physically restrained someone else who tried to sneak in before us! While embarrassed at the singling out, with such a long haul ahead, we were grateful for the privilege and claimed seats all together at the very front of the high bus, which had the added advantage of plenty of legroom. Although there would be an hour’s break at border control at some undisclosed hour after midnight (including removing packs from bus and having them x-rayed), and then the semi-excitement of going through the Chaneel Tunnel, everyone did *some* dozing, and some got a decent one.
It’s interesting how the mind plays tricks on you.
After a week on the boat (in spite of the rolling not being significant and in spite of getting off to walk every day) some of us ended up with a drunkard loll around London with the pavenment swaying all over the place. That much we had expected.
What we did not expect was to drift off to sleep on the bus, wake with a start and see the canal ahead with a set of lock gates. I immediately reached down to the floor to put my shoes on quickly so that I would be ready to jump off and work the gate. My shoes were done up before I realised I was on a bus and the canal was actually a rain-soaked motorway – the lock was the back of a truck in the distance.
A couple of hours later Jboy16 would wake and see two gates straight ahead and also think they were lock gates. And Grandpa would confess he’d had a similar experience in the night – but instead of boats passing us on the water, they turned out to be cars. FatherBear still insists he saw many canals!
Thursday 16 October
6am we arrive at Charles de Gaulle Airport. There’s half an hour of excitement as the bus gets stuck at the bottom of a ramp, another bus wedged in behind and and a long string of impatient honking taxis all the way up the ramp to the main road. We are facing two gates (the ones Jboy16 thought were lock gates!), anda cherry picker parked in the way is preventing our passage. Eventually both busses end up reversing the length of the ramp and finding a different route!
CDG is a huge sprawling airport and so we took a shuttle to the right terminal….where…somewhat amazingly we alighted outside the very desk we would have to check in at; we could ended up at any of fifty counters stretched down the elongated hall.
Organic blueberry yoghurt with a hint of lime, nutty muesli and fair trade bananas made a delicious wake-up breakfast before needing to check in. (I remembered how the kids had objected to washing our bowls in the toilets when we left NZ on the first trip…..now they think nothing of it).
Kgirl13 was clearly tired at this point and looked with little interest on FatherBear’s equally tired and silly antics! At least everyone else was still smiling, and FatherBear *really* was.
I wonder why there are so many posters of the Eiffel Tower in the duty free shops we tramp past and realise we are in Paris, not London! Evidently I’m a bit tired too.
We had thought there might not be much sleeping on the first eleven hour leg to Los Angeles as it was a daytime journey, but everyone managed to doze or sleep enough to keep spirits high. (In retrospect, we would have encouraged everyone to really try to sleep instead of movie-watch this leg, but hindsight is a wonderful thing is it not? With two seats each we should have made better use of them, especially as the following two planes would turn out to be completely full.)
With about three hours to go ERgirl6 started asking somewhat persistently when dinner would be. On reflection, we realised her internal body clock was telling her it was well past bedtime and she ought to have eaten by now! However, it’s not like there had been no food – after the hot lunch there had been a constant supply of focaccia sandwiches, snack bags and macaroons available for the taking, along with neverending beverages. All the same, it was a beaming delighted little girl who came back from a walk with one of the flight attendants – she’d been taken to the business class galley and given two enormous plates of dessert. I must say the passionfruit cheesecake with a layer of choclate in the base was very very good!
And then……the turbulence started. And went on. And on. And on. And got worse. And went on some more.
“When we get over these mountains it should pass.”
“When we get past the thermals above the desert it should pass.”
“When we get over these mountains it should be better.”
We were right the last time – there was nowhere else to go as we were at LAX! A number of our party (and not only kids) felt sick. Tgirl8 couldn’t even touch her meal that arrived in the midst of it all. ERgirl6’s drink spilt with one of the more violent turns. I lost my footing in the toilet and stumbled back to my seat holding on to others’ seats as I went. A bit more excitement than anyone wanted and it did not serve to make time go faster! Finally we touched down in LA and breathed a collective sigh of relief. Everyone else transferring to Tahiti was due to leave in just a few hours and they were herded through to the windowless dingy transit lounge. We had been squeezed on a different flight and could not bear the thought of sitting in that room for nine hours and so we went through the process of customs, collecting bags, transferring them on, changing some money….and we headed to Santa Monica Beach.
Zombie-like we wandered. Tgirl8, Mboy10 and Lboy11 had fallen asleep on the bus, and now they were not interested in the beach at all (although the fresh air was pleasant).
“Oh look at the sea, it’s so far away across the sand, let’s lie down here on the grass.” And they did.
The others wandered down to the pier, which was strongly reminiscent of Brighton – roller coaster, big swings, merrry-go-round (none of which were attractive to our still-turbulent tummies), and lots of people strolling.
It was an interesting assortment of folks. A drunk guy looking for a light for his cigarette ended up stealing another man’s fag. A man was pushing a tandem. There were groups of young people hanging out. Families. Homeless. Fat people. Skinny people. Black. Tanned. An old lady with a cane. Runners. Walkers. A lady tottering in six inch high heels. And on the corner were three guys with a snake and three parrots (one each of red, white and blue). I’m not quite sure what they were up to. They didn’t do a show or anything, but did talk amongst themselves loudly with a colourful and very limited vocabulary.
The sun, an orange ball, sank down to the sea. It was a deep sunset, a beauty that I was aware we were not really appreciating.
Then back on the bus to the airport ERgirl6 lost the plot. She whined and kicked and pushed and argued for the entire trip and then settled completely upon our arrival (thank goodness). Then it was Mboy10’s turn to refuse to do what he was told to (which very unreasonably of us was to tell him to sit down for a rest!) He went through the security checks with a face like thunder. (Speaking of security checks….ERgirl6 and Kboy15 were both chosen by the beeping twinkling machine for random drug tests, and when Tgirl8 presented a cast, she too was taken off for testing!) We still had a couple of hours until boarding and so everyone lay down on seats or on the floor and SLEPT.
Jgirl18 suffered from her usual exhaustion response – crying out and sobbing inconsolably as she failed to be able to wake herself from a bad dream (strangely enough this one was being in a canalboat that was sinking and she could not get out – she was quite distraught). Apparently. I didn’t notice as she was a) across the other side of the departure lounge and b) my spot on the floor was confortable enough to allow sleep to overtake me completely for the first time.
Kids staggered to their seats on the plane and the ParentBears took control. No movies or games or anything for at least five hours. They could eat the meal, but apart from that they ought to try to sleep.
I was the only one still awake for the midnight takeoff! Tgirl8 did not get to her first meal until half an hour before the second one arrived!
Given that we had been on the go for over fifty hours before any significant meltdown occurred, I think they’d all done really well.
Wednesday 17 October
It could have been a disaster. ERgirl6 was sleeping very uncomfortably with her head falling into the aisle and being knocked by passers-by. I knew she would not last long in that position, and if she did, she’d wake feeling very sore. So I made the executive decision to swap seats with her so she could lean against me. Well, when you wake a hibernating bear (because, of course, she did wake despite my best efforts to move her slowly and unobtrusively), don’t expect a pretty sight. She kicked the seat in front half a dozen times and my heart sank. When we had arrived at the airport after her bus trip antics, I had sat outside with her until she settled. I could hardly take her outside now. Lacking a guarantee that it would work, but with very limited options available at 36,000 feet, I did up her seatbelt, told her to sit still, gave her permission to stay awake (but not move or disturb anyone else – the rest of the plane was sleeping) and ignored her. She fell asleep, spread over me and stayed that way for five hours. Whenever I was tempted to wish I could get comfortable I considered how she could be awake and making a scene. Any contemplations of slaking my thirst were quenched when I thought of the performance that might ensue. When she woke there were just three more hours to endure.
At this point the journal scratchings peter out. I don’t remember when we arrived in Papeete….yes, it must have been dawn as it was still darkish. I lay down and went to sleep, dreaming inevitably perhaps that I was on a swaying canalboat. Evidently FatherBear managed to have a shower. It appears the latter served as better refreshement than the former!
My journal records the barest of details:
Thursday 18 October
We leave Papeete on Wednesday, but it is already Thursday in New Zealand. We’ll be crossing the International Dateline and losing a day.
(Actually I went on to record six pages of post-trip(almost) reflections ranging from whether I’d do it like this again, long distance walking, canalboating versus motorhoming and camino thoughts.) But this post is already long enough.
All that is required now is to say that after a delightfully short five final hours hours on the plane we arrived early afternoon on Thursday, kind friends picked us up from the airport, we got home and started churning through the mountains of washing, and managed to stay up until……OK so we didn’t make it to anywhere near bedtime as we had intended – the youngest kids were asleep by 6 and the last of us tumbled into sweet bed at not quite 7pm. The next few nights would get later by only a small increment each time, we would wake at 4:30 but refuse to get out of bed….and then suddenly after a week, we’d find ourselves adjusted. We’re just glad it was much quicker going the other way and we were not struggling for our entire time in Paris!
Our final day in London will be spent catching the train from Aldermaston back to London. Evensong at Westminster Abbey.
Overnight bus from London to Paris CDG Airport
Midday flight to Los Angeles
9 hour stop-over in LA – hoping to get to Santa Monica
Flight to Tahiti
3 hour transit in Tahiti
Flight to Auckland
So we leave the canal boat at 9 am Monday morning, and arrive back in Auckland 1pm Thursday. It WILL be memorable I am sure!
Final post when we feel human again after a loooong set of sleeps back in our own beds 🙂
PROMISE: this post will be updated!!!! MamaBear journalled the trip back, so nothing will be forgotten. We are just trying to recover right now and it’s taking a tad longer than we expected (though we have weeded the jungle turning it into a vege garden ready for spring planting)
Photos and stories to follow…..
Last day on the canal.
Sorry, but we have to discuss the weather before proceeding any further. (This is England you know, and if you discuss nothing else, you do talk about the weather….at least that is the stereotype and it is what we have experienced). Anyway, today’s weather was significant on two counts. Firstly, at 8:45am it was MINUS one degree Celsius. COLD! Look – there was even ice on the boats:
The other significant factor is that this was our first day in England in two weeks in which it DID NOT RAIN AT ALL. Sure, yesterday was sunny – but there was a hailstorm that completely saturated some of us. But today the sun shone all day. It was cold and we were amazed at the number of people sitting outside pubs all rugged up in layers of clothing (we, too, were wearing long johns and thermal tops!), and we can only surmise that Brits are a hardier bunch than we are! You won’t find too many Kiwis sitting outside when the mercury in the thermometer has not quite reached double digits, but I guess when you don’t get a lot of sun, you make the most of it…and all the riverside pubs were busy busy busy this Sunday afternoon.
Traffic ON the water was also much more noticeable. Over the week we have met and shared locks with just half a dozen different boats and have only met a couple of boats coming the other way. Today we were constantly passing boats coming at us, at times had to wait for locks, and never used one without another companion boat. This also provided us with opportunity to take photos of passing boats – as per a reader’s request!
So here you go…..boat spotted downstream:
…getting closer now…
…and about to pass…
It’s a good thing we didn’t meet on this stretch:
We had a number of locks to pass through – in fact, in the thirty or so kilometres we went upstream, we met a lock on average every kilometre – yes that means, we’ve done sixty of them! And to remind ourselves, we photographed the process at one lock the other day (the very astute observer will work out there are two different photographers as everyone features in the pics):
If you click on the picture you will be taken to the folder and if you then click “Newer” quickly you’ll feel yourself approaching the lock, going down as the water empties out and then coming out the other side of the bridge! – sorry we can’t use slideshow-making-technology right now!)
And finally we get back to the first bridge, the one where we get to stop traffic on a main road, and even on a Sunday afternoon there were over a dozen cars in each direction and twenty-off pedestrians who had to wait for the two boats to pass:
Little kids ended the day trying to fish with a safety pin and some sausage. In our adult minds they were not really fishing, and so it was fine for them to do without a license, but how do we explain this justification to them without ruining their enjoyment of what they thought was the Real Deal?….especially in light of Mboy10’s journal entry from the other day which read: “I am kinda sad that we haven’t been fishing, but I guess we’re only obeying the law.”
“It’s surely not summer holidays yet?” we are frequently asked. Cue quizzical expression on enquirer’s face. No, it’s not, but these kids don’t go to school anyway. However, they are not short on learning.
Bridge engineering….(as well as comparing these to the French and Spanish bridges, we’ve been reading the informative plaques – the brick one was designed and built in 1799)
History…GrandpaBear explains the pillboxes we frequently pass:
”During the second world war when France, Holland and Belgium were all occupied by Germans, who were preparing to invade England, we needed to prepare defences. Firstly the beaches were covered with barbed wire and all manner of things to keep invaders out. The second line of defence was the canal system running across the south of England. It was to act as a deterrent for easy progress of troops, supplies, guns etc. The plan was to blow up bridges and several hundred pillboxes were installed along the north side of the river/canal.” Later GrandpaBear also throws in some Geography….most of the landscape is almost Dutch-flat, but there was one hill 300 feet high and he knowingly pointed out to everyone nearby that it is the highest spot in southern England…
Seasons……(four in one day here – we started with a wintery mist hovering over the water and an almost-freezing temperature, sun emerged for a few hours, but was chased away by rain that turned to hail as we were negotiating a swing bridge with hand-operated barriers, and sometimes the sun-dappled leaves looked springlike, other times obviously autumnal)….
Exercise (we have walked lots of the towpath)…
And the biggie that non-homeschoolers often get concerned about:
from Lboy11’s journal:
Today as we arrived at the third lock a man who had been sharing the locks with us showed us an American signal crayfish, which is considered a pest. They are constantly breeding and have no reproductive cycle. It is LAW to kill them (you can eat them). The man let me kill it.
Well that’s the important detail, is it not?! The reason there is a law prohibiting you returning the crays to the water alive is that they are such a problem – they eat the native fish eggs and the large ones even eat ducklings, and more disastrously they burrow into the banks and cause the canal sides to fall in. They are costing the country millions of pounds as a concerted effort is underway to rid the streams, rivers, canals and ponds of these destructive varmints and repair the extensive damage they have caused. Many of the canalboaters travel equipped with nets and buckets, and find the crayfish make very good eating (after at least half an hour sitting in fresh water). Today’s was too small, and so the honour of extermination went to whoever was willing to write about it later!
Biology and ecology done.
What happens when you are cruising down the canal which is approximately 25 or 30 feet wide and want to turn your 70 foot canal boat around to head home? Until yesterday this was just a theoretical question, but we had hit our half-way point and needed to spin around to head back east to Aldermaston. We knew we would need to look for one of these semi-circular arrow-squiggles on the map which indicated a "winding hole" on the river. Good start!
A winding hole is an area of the canal or river where there is a scallop carved out of the bank, or sometimes where a side "tributary" canal joins, or perhaps a weir to the main canal. Regardless, there should be a minimum of 75 feet of turning space unless otherwise specified, which gives us just under a couple of meters to spare. As we approached the W.H. our strategy was simple – stick close to one bank of the canal and then slow down before hauling fully on the tiller… at some point engage reverse to slow ourselves down completely. As the bow neared the opposite bank, Jboy16 would jump off with a rope and help pull us through 90 degrees to finish the turn. That was the plan, and that was (somewhat surprisingly!) exactly what we did! Admittedly it did take us more than five minutes to fully turn around and we sure stirred up plenty of mud :-). Turning complete – only one more to do at the very end as the boat company ask that the boat be returned to the dock pointing upstream!
As mentioned, we also spent some time looking around the town of Hungerford, a small town of approximately 5000 residents that was a bustling canal town in the 1830s. The canal between Newbury and Bath was proposed and designed back in 1788 by a group of Hungerford "gentlemen" who thought that the canal would bring prosperity to the town. Barges of stone, brick, timber, tiles, coal, manure and peat ash were ferried up and down the canal until the early 1900s when the railway gradually replaced the canal as the preferred means of transport.
These days, the town is a typical small English town – and even more typical today as it was shrouded in a light fog that hid the sun from view all morning. However, there is a fantastic collection of antique shops through the town which actually captured all of our interests with their range of ancient instruments, tools, pots, carriage and boat parts, post boxes and all other unimaginable but interesting bits and pieces! The local butcher’s shop also looked fantastic with traditional sausages, fresh whole pigeon, guinea fowl, partridge, grouse and venison. We decided to stop by the butcher tomorrow on our way downstream to buy some handmade sausages for dinner!