Sunday, July 01, 2007

Logbook: Pangbourne

Pangbourne2Thursday morning I did my usual routine of packing up, checking out and moving on. I took the Victoria Line all the way from Walthamstow/Chingford to Green Park in downtown London then walked a few blocks to the Royal Army and Navy Club where I met my friend Tony for lunch. (You may recall that I crossed paths with Tony in a tiny cafe in the Falkland Islands back in March, and we have kept in contact ever since.) After a grand tour of the prestigious and elegant club, we dined in style then made our way over to Paddington Station and caught a train to Tony’s hometown of Pangbourne in West Berkshire -- more or less in the heart of the Thames River valley.

While enjoying the luxury of watching TV in English back in Chingford, I had caught part of a BBC documentary that featured some footage of an amazing looking set of locks on one of the England’s many famous canals. I asked Tony about it and we figured out that it was the Caen Hill flight of locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal. He had never been there, but agreed that it was worth exploring based on the pictures we saw of it on the web. So, Friday morning we hit the road and cruised westerly through a series of lovely English towns until we reached the town of Devizes in time for lunch, followed by a short drive further on to the Caen Hill locks. It is hard to describe the locks, and even photos don’t really do it justice. With 16 locks placed in a direct line, the canal rises more than 200 feet in a very, very short distance. Although the concept of locks is really quite simple, the concentration of these locks -- and the engineering required to build them -- makes them a stunning sight. What’s more, the canal and locks are still used today by people who make a holiday out of riding in rustic but comfy little barges. Having never heard of Caen Hill until I saw it on TV by chance, it was a fabulous discovery and well worth a visit if you are ever anywhere nearby.

Img_1417We continued our exploration along a circuitous route through more charming English country towns on our way back to Pangbourne. Yesterday we hit the road again, headed east and north -- more or less along the Thames River -- stopping in the very chic and picturesque town of Marlow for lunch then continuing on to the town of Henley, particularly famous for being the home of a very prestigious rowing club. Our route back took us through Tony’s childhood hometown of Cookham where we had a look at one of the many, many locks on the Thames. All in all we had two very fine days of exploration, and many hours of fine conversation along the way. Thanks Tony! This morning I checked out of the little inn I had stayed in and walked to the local train station to catch my ongoing train, only to find that the station was closed for “Works.” No worries, a “replacement bus” showed up a few minutes later to take me to Reading where I was able to catch the train I am on now.

Img_1425After two hours of riding through absolutely lovely countryside, I am now looking out over what I assume is the English Channel as I approach Dawlish in Devon. Here I will meet Betty -- who you may recall was my shipmate on the Polar Star sailing up from Ushuaia and across the Atlantic -- and spend a few days with her exploring the area. I am very happy to be back in the countryside, and thrilled to be back near the water. Visiting new friends made along the way is a new experience that I am very much enjoying on The Voyage of Macgellan!

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