A Yank's View of England Part 10
|Friday - May 12th
After dropping the kids off at school, Helen and I headed into Leicester for some shopping. She needed to pick up some models of the 101 Forward Control and some cool sounding paint (Skull White, Snot Green, etc.) for Tom to use in painting his Warhammer creatures. The Games Workshop was a really cool place (except for the creatures that kept attacking from the ceiling!!!) We also went through the Leicester Market. Man this place is HUGE!! Vendors screaming for your attention, disparaging the other bloke's goods, etc. What a zoo! You could buy ANYTHING in there from a fully functional anti-tank rifle, to slave girls, to fresh veggies for dinner! Memo to self: Figger out how to pack slave girl for trip home!!
Dinner was Austrian Chicken which is chicken wrapped in smoked ham with a smoky cheese sauce. Just WONDERFUL!
I've grown fairly interested in the beauty and lore of English canal life. So after dinner we headed for Foxton Locks (or properly, Foxton Locks and Inclined Plane). Foxton Locks were built to carry canal barges up a 75-foot hill. There are two flights of five locks with a passing pond between the two flights. The top gates of one lock are the bottom gates of the one above. The locks were built seven feet wide to take the "narrow" boats as the water supply was limited. The locks went into operation in 1810.
Since boats could only pass one at a time through Foxton Locks it became a bottleneck affecting trade. So in 1900 the inclined plane was built. It was sited at right angles to the locks, and carried boats floating in tanks running on rails. Two tanks, which could each take two narrow boats or one barge, counterbalanced each other with a steam engine to provide extra power and operate the system. The system was ingenious! When the tanks reached the end of the travel up the hill, a hydraulic ram pushed the tank a bit into contact with the dock face. The space between gates was filled with water and the two gates were lifted. The boat then continued on its way. Really, really cool!!
The "lift" took only 12 minutes, for up to four boats, as opposed to 45 minutes per boat through the locks. Competition from road and rail transport led to the lift being closed in 1911 and it was finally demolished in 1927. Recently it was announced that the Foxton Inclined Plane would be rebuilt. The eight million pound (~$13 million USD) project is scheduled to be completed in 2002.*
Tradition has it that when you complete a successful passage of the hill, you go into the pub to celebrate. We followed this tradition faithfully!! [Editor's note: The Bridge 61 pub is named after the bridge at the bottom of the locks. Every bridge in the canal system is numbered, like junctions on a road!]
Tomorrow was going to be a full day, so we needed to fortify ourselves. While we enjoyed our libations, Helen was talked into modelling her Malaysian oil field hard hat. As I turned in for the night, I noticed something that had somehow escaped me up to now; some of Jim and Helen's "recreation" equipment installed in the hallway!! Whoo-hoo!! 8-)))
Saturday - May 13th
This was the day we went to the French's summer cottage in Wales. I was really looking forward to this as Helen had told me a lot about the place and the time she spent there as a kid.
As we got into Wales itself, I was struck by how narrow the county lanes were. Jim pointed out that the "vegetation" along the roadside didn't provide an "escape route" to avoid an accident as it's simply growing on top of rock walls!
Our first stop was Montgomery Castle in Trefaldwyn (and the really scary thing is that Helen can PRONOUNCE Trefaldwyn!!!).
The castle dates to 1223 and sits on the top of a steep, rocky ridge. A helluva climb early on a foggy morning [Webmistress's Note: allowing this photograph to be included is proof that I have not interferred (much) with the author's work]. Many buildings nestled against interior walls. I was impressed that one of 'em was a brew house! Rogan sez "I LIKE these arrow ports!"
Down in the village itself, we popped into an ironmonger's shop (I really wanted the sign over the doorway). But once you've been in one, ya gotta try 'em all . And they ALL seem to have an engine affiliation. There were also numerous examples of classic Welsh houses as well as some pretty funky ironwork.
The scenery on the drive to the cottage was spectacular. I'll bet Rob Skinner would enjoy climbing those rocks beside the waterfall. We also got to see more classic Welsh house construction. I especially enjoyed the bilingual road signs and the (unpronounceable) local place names.
The cottage dates to the early 1800s and is made of Welsh slate. The walls are about a meter thick! The only neighbors are one pub and scads of sheep. The place even has built-in play equipment. I was VERY impressed by the view from the "throne"! And we chose this location as the "preview" site for the first annual crisps tasting to be held at Portland Y2K. Ever the helpful guest, I did my best to oblige. And just in case you worried that you might escape mindless bureaucracy at a wild out-of-the-way place like this, the ONLY mail delivered to this cottage is the annual TV tax bill. Which is a real hoot since there is ZERO TV reception!!
On the way back we stopped in Machynlleth so Helen could pick up a box of cream slices; must be a genetic thing. The rest of us didn't have this totally blissful reaction to 'em. The town provided more classic Welsh architectural views and gave me an opportunity to understand the difference between the two styles of post boxes . [Webmistress's note: the box on the left is from the reign of George VI, hence the GR and king's crown, while the one on the right is from the reign of the present queen, Elizabeth II, with a queen's crown] We got to eyeball a few of the "landmarks" from Helen's childhood including this MASSIVE beech tree. I really liked this footbridge over the creek [stream - we don't have creeks in the UK - WM]. Lizard-boy warms himself on the rocks while the rest of the family contemplates this "fixer-upper" home that includes a Fallingwater-esque interior tree! Jim sez "It just needs a bit of work." Keep that in mind if he locates an engine for you! 8-))
[Couldn't resist adding this - we did check whether there was a conveniently abandoned engine in here. Unfortunately there wasn't, just an old cart being gradually washed away by the stream which runs from front to back!]
As a "city-boy" I found the creative slate walls and cattle grids on the road to be endlessly fascinating.
Next up is a "Victory" party and hanging out for the last couple of days of the trip.
* Shortly before this saga is completed
Arnie's UK Tour
|Rushden Cavalcade||Twycross Zoo||Peter Forbes'|
|Country Towns||Stoke Goldington||Roland Craven|
|Stoke Bruerne||Southern England||Local Attractions|
|Canals & Wales||Last Few Days|