5 Days Canoeing on the Thames

5 Days Canoeing the Thames?
Well it seemed like a good idea at the time!
And I still think it is, perhaps 3 days is enough though.
We have little experience of canoeing, actually none but my wife and I have done a couple of days in Hawaii kayaking , We are in our 60s but we know how to apply ourselves so canoeing on the Thames can’t be beyond us? Especially when accompanied by our 2 sons in their 20s and as fit as butchers dogs who regularly attend the gym. They have no experience at all of boating, other than an hour on the serpentine rowing.

After looking on the Internet for ‘canoe hirers’ on the Thames we chose Henley canoe Hire 0118 402 5820. Mainly due to his calm positive response to our on line enquiry. I am so pleased we did he turned out a blessing . More later.

It is not cheap, but what is these days? We find a walking holiday is £100 per day for 2 if you are lucky, add on to this canoe rent and you are into £150 All things considered. Even more when you add fuel ,parking charges and the odd pint.

The biggest problem on the logistics front is to decide where to start, where to finish and then connect the overnights to coincide one after the other and close to the river. Book early is the only sure cure there, we were working 3 months ahead and still, it was a challenge.

We planned to put one of our cars at the start and one at the finish so car parking needed arranging too. Otherwise you are relying on taxis, and public transport which can be a nightmare and very time consuming.

We chose Rose Revived at Newbridge for our first overnight on the Monday as it happened. This makes the canoe rental a little less expensive than over a weekend, and the B&Bs are similarly less busy.
So Where to start? With a free car park? A bit of a search and I concluded St Johns Lock at Lechlade was it. Plus, free parking was close by. It did mean a 16 mile paddle though! Still I thought it was within our reach.

I did some homework and concluded that Canoeing is about as fast as walking, 2 mph is what we do on foot so 8 hours and we are there.

The following day Was to be 13 miles which put us in the centre of Oxford at a hotel called ‘The River’ followed by a short 10 miles to Abingdon which meant we could have a morning in Oxford a beautiful city with good walking tours, a tale to tell and supreme architecture. Then we would do a 12 miler followed by a 14 miler to finish in Pangbourne where they have a long stay car park (about £25).

Guy from Henley canoe phoned several times to see how we were and arranged to meet us at St Johns lock at 10 am ( yeah , a good plan 8 hours, finish at 6 dinner and bed-perfect).

We had a bit of an ‘ add on’ on the start day, we had a friend to drop off in Oxford en route to Pangbourne to park the end car. We allowed an extra 1/2 hour for this although Oxford ring road was part of our itinerary, it was at Rush hour so better safe than late. It was our first mistake, we should have allowed an hour! The journey was also 1/2 an hour longer than the sat nav predicted so we were an hour late meeting with Guy and the canoes. He was as it happened a calm and patient man. He also let me know that the free car park I had found, had, in the last couple of weeks turned into a pay and display! However he had found a place for us to park in the boat yard at Lechlade which would be our new starting point a further mile, meaning an extra lock to negotiate, upstream. Still with a hard days paddling he thought we could make it ok.
He went through his safety lecture( compulsory by his insurance company) etiquette on the Thames and a bit of canoeing technique then we loaded our rucksacks and we were off!
Sue and I led ( we were the most experienced of course) followed by the lads who crashed into every obstacle in the boat yard as we zinged and zagged our way to mainstream Thames.

Negotiating the Boat Yard

Negotiating the Boat Yard

By now it was 11.30 ! Our schedule was looking tricky our competence and speed improved slowly so I was still relatively optimistic. The locks however do slow you down even when they are manned by a keeper as many were. It must be near 20 minutes lost at each one. On the upside it does give you time to rest.


The crews waiting for the Lock operatives to perform their task


The day had started bright and cheerful but we could see nimbus rolling in as we approached the 4th lock where the very helpful operative and they are all very helpful and encouraging informed us we could take the only ” canoe pass” on the Thames. This saves using the lock and sends you down to the next level close to the weir but at a somewhat less risky pace. It wasn’t easy mind and my ‘front man’ Sue was in a negative frame of mind and failed to push us off the hazards so we got stuck several times. It was ‘sweaty’ fun though and I thoroughly recommend it.

When we reassembled our selves after this stimulating interlude the heavens opened. An impressive cloud burst lasting for half an hour. We sheltered under some willow trees while we climbed into water proofs. Time was still ticking though, it was now around 3 pm.

After another lock or two we arrived at, what in my dreams was our lunch stop, the Trout at Tadpole bridge. At 5 in the afternoon you can’t, in all honesty call it lunch. They don’t serve dinner until 7! We were cold and a bit damp so chose hot tea, coffee and crisps, whilst we pondered our dilemma. 9 miles covered and according to some fellow travellers in a motor cruiser on the same Trout mooring as us, still had 8 to go!

My personal remedy for these situations is always to carry on but try harder! Other members of the team could see the futility of this and conspired to mutiny, refusing to get back in the boat. We were 8 miles short of our destination leaving 21 miles the following day to reach our second overnight if we rejoined at the “Trout” the following day. Not really possible.

Lubbers plotting Mutiny at the Trout inn

Lubbers plotting Mutiny at the Trout inn

A plan was hatched, Sue simply refused to take further part in any paddling, ever !
Phew! That left us a canoe with one man, with more distance to cover than was possible. We could get a taxi to Rose revived eat and sleep. Then fully rested we would devise a cunning plan.

The Rose Revived was delight, the staff so relaxed nothing was too much bother, I can thoroughly recommend it. The Taxi on the other hand was a bit painful,15 miles and £30 including the tip! Ouch!

After the refuel ,sleep and a smashing breakfast, we decided Sue would, from the garden, telephone Guy at Henley canoe hire tell him our quandary. Cancel our last 2 overnights, with loss of deposits. Asking Guy if he could pick the canoes up from either the Rose where we would abandon the whole project, or from a bit further downstream if we could make it. And/Or take us and the canoes to our hotel in Oxford where we would attempt another day and finish in Abingdon! Meanwhile me and the boys would taxi back to Tadpole bridge and paddle the canoes to meet Sue at the Rose, to examine the results of the phone calls. We thought we would make it by about 1 pm in time for a spot of lunch and the pow wow .

The taxi this time was a bit more attractive at £20 including the tip, in a superbly trimmed people carrier. Driven by a very nice man. So if you are in the area the “Really Nice Cab Company” is the one. Telephone Paul on 07807 176886.

We tied the 2 canoes together, 2 men in the front and one in the rear basically being towed but supplying forward momentum by paddling. This worked well we started to pickup speed. We planned to swap places at each lock, this too worked ok and we picked up more speed.


The Cunning Plan in opperation.

Just after 2 and a half hours paddling we were approaching a rather attractive old bridge with equally attractive buildings on each side when I received a phone call from Guy! He was sorry to hear of our plight and was keen to assist wherever he could. What a bloke! A real professional with customer care and happiness as his priority. I am proud to recommend Henley Canoe Hire to anyone. He asked us our whereabouts I told him about the bridge and just to hang on a moment and I would be able to pinpoint the pub I could see looming up. Lo and behold! We had arrived at the Mulberry Bush tavern and the Rose Revived was on the opposite bank! What is more we could see Sue sat at a table in the garden! My odometer was reading only 6 miles but we had done it so quickly. Over 2 miles an hour, marvellous!

I asked Guy if he could meet us at the next pub down the river, The Ferryman? He agreed, however he needed to get cover for his children who required picking up from school at about the same time, what a bloke! (I keep wanting to write “what a guy” but as his name is Guy it gets a bit cumbersome)

A tip Guy had offered as we had a passenger that refused to paddle, was to tie the canoes together at the front. Making a delta shaped raft in effect, with one paddling at the front and one each side at the back. Sue could then sit in the centre seat of one of the boats and knit,read,take photos or whatever.
This idea was rejected, she refused to even get in! Preferring instead to spend another £20 on a taxi to the Ferryman which I estimated was about 2 miles downstream. Oh well what can you do?

Me and the lads set off using our towing system As it had proven effective and relatively swift. The Ferryman turned out to be nearer 4 miles, though we made it in around 1,1/2 hours. ( only 1 lock) Sue was sat in the pub garden which happened to be closed for the afternoon, with our rucksacks that she had taken in the taxi. Guy was waiting on the opposite bank ( nearest to Oxford ) We unhitched our boats and I ferried Sue and the bags across the river, so in the end she was forced to ride, if only for 50 yards.

The fit young blokes viewed from a lock gate

The fit young blokes viewed from a lock gate

Arriving at the River Hotel on Osney Bridge, the canoes were unloaded and chained to a tree in the garden. I had arranged this with the management when I booked the place. I would be hard to find an overnight closer to the river than this one. The garden fence stopped you falling in! We could not launch from there mind we had to carry the canoes about 50 yards to an easy launch site. The River is a bit more commercial than tourist but still £90 per night B&B. The breakfast is a good one though. I guess the place needs a bit of freshening up but it was fine for us and again the staff were brilliant!

We had an evening walk around Oxford in the surprise summer rain, so the place was packed and busy with inappropriately dressed students commuting hither and yon. We ate at the “Head of the River” a riverside pub on the Thames or rather the “Isis”as it is called in Oxford . Sue and I had stayed here a year previously and liked it. The rooms are all named after writers, Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens et al rather than numbered. It was full this night BTW, consequently we were booked in the “River” . We also looked out travel arrangements for the chief mutineer, so she could pick up one of our cars and meet us in Abingdon.

After Dinner we took a continually moist walk through Christ College gardens, in the fallorn hope that some architectural culture may be absorbed by the lads, exiting by Merton college and on to Magdelin Bridge road. We then diverted past the Radcliffe Camera,the Bodlian Library, the Sheldonian Theatre then down Broard street and back to our hotel. Passing more beggars and street artists than you would think in a city as rich as this one. Or maybe that is the reason? The beggars go where there’s money!

Christs College Oxford

Christs College Oxford

Ancient Oxford

Ancient Oxford

Classic Oxford

Classic Oxford

After breakfast the following morning Joe and I carried the canoes, or rather we “portaged” them, to our launch mooring. Whilst Adam fetched provisions from the supermarket. We moved off at 9,20. It was only a few hundred yards to the first of the days locks, this one is called Osney, the operators, again a friendly pair of blokes, had no Idea at the origins of the name when asked but we enjoyed a bit of abusive banter during the hydraulics. All operated by push button electric motors from here on to the capital!

Approaching Foley Bridge

Approaching Folly Bridge

The Head of the River Oxford

The Head of the River Oxford

On we went and I was expecting the Isis to be a bit industrial and unpleasant through this part of Oxford but it turned out ok, maybe it was the sunshine I don’t know. It wasn’t long before we were passing under folly bridge and past the pub of last evening and several punts mored close by. The river starts to widen here and the Oxford university boat clubs have their boat sheds along here on the left side some fairly modern which contrast with a couple from the 30s or 40s all displaying the appropriate coat of arms. Suddenly on the right emerges another, well you can’t call this a shed by any stretch , it’s a palace, a very modern glass affair with a viewing balcony, displaying what you would think would be a need for those passes you see round the necks of the privileged these days. With perhaps a pint of Pimms served by a dicky-bow’d flunky. Is it perhaps the HQ of the chosen 8 blues? Or at least where the best of Oxford’s rowers are trained and whittled down to the 8?

As we passed a rather scruffy looking ill-kempt little cabin cruiser mored on this section, I made a sarcastic comment about the way in which duct tape had been applied to one of its windows in a rather careless or perhaps arty way if you were of a generous disposition. Never expecting anyone would actually be at home on this wreck, that is until a head emerged complete with frown! We picked up more speed.

There are one or two rather natty houses that run up to the Thames along here. Probably the reason the Thames path has to swop banks so many times. Well who would want a scruffy walker strolling by at the bottom of ones garden?
Some of the gaffs are quite something, one or two have a moring and some a drive in boat house!

A Drive in Boat House?

A Drive in Boat House?

A Double Drive In Boat House?

A Double Drive In Boat House?

Yet another 'Posh Gaff'

Yet another ‘Posh Gaff’

We reached our 3rd lock of the day, ” Sandford” a bit ahead of lunch, we were making such good time. We had an idea to stop and imbibe at the Kings Arms but they were not open yet, so onwards and onwards. Incident.y the weir here is called the Sandford Lasher! It’s a whopper and a bit on the scarey side so best avoided.

About this time we came upon the only snooty pair we met on the whole journey. They were in a million dollar cabin cruiser mounted on white leather seats at the wheel about 30 feet above the river! Burbling along looking down their noses, they had little choice I suppose from that height.
A little while later we had to get out of the way of a tourist cruiser absolutely full of pensioners there must have been a hundred of them taking the river air, god knows where they were going maybe just up and down stream? It was the largest craft we had come across in 3 days.

Abbingdon Wier

Abingdon Wier

Abingdon lay not far ahead and it was still only midday! Maybe we were calling it a day far too soon? Such was the improvement of our competence. We elected not to change our mind again though. Especially as Joe had said he had enjoyed the enterprise, was pleased he had experienced it but perhaps didn’t need 3 days of it!
We negotiated Abingdon lock alongside a couple from Ilkeston a town near our own, who were in their narrow boat and had set off 2 weeks ago. I was mildly surprised they had come so far in that time having to zig zag the way from the Erewash to the Thames. Had he said 2 months I would not have been so, anyway well done!

We had a decision to make, I could see coming, a split in the river we were to find a specific boat yard to leave the canoes around here. Guy had said it was just after the bridge. Panic! There was a bridge both sides? The island in the centre looked rather attractive umbrellas and tables, in the sun, it was a delight. To the left! No to the right? Then I saw the sign “main channel”
pointing left! So I changed my mind for the final time. NO LEFT ! I was so pleased the boat yard appeared immediately after the bridge on the right bank. Phew had we taken the right channel it would have bought us a nightmare and a rather sweaty bit of work. It looks nothing like it using Google earth!

Anyway we had reached our destination. We were wondering if Sue had made it too? Little did we know she was on the opposite bank watching us land!
We gathered together after parking the boats and retired to the restaurant on the island we had been dithering about. The Nags Head. It was lovely a great way to finish something that had turned out so rocky at first.

Thanks go to Guy at Henley canoes, my crew, Joe and Adam Horton, we laughed nearly all the way. Sue for pitching in and doing the best she could.

1st night – Rose Revived 01865 300221
2nd night River Hotel Oxford 01865 243475 or 01865249756
3rd night (planned)Kingfisher barn 01235 537538
4th night -(planned) Coachmakers Arms 01491 832231

Henley Canoe Hire – Guy 0118 402 5820

Written and Edited by Clive 25th August 2014

Oxford or Cambridge?

We had done Cambridge in the October of 2012, it was a bit of a wet autumn to be honest but it had been a wet summer so no surprise there. We did it as a day trip and felt a bit rushed as we sloshed about the city . We liked it on the whole and because we felt we missed out on the chance to see a play staring Tom Conte due to time constraints. We thought this trip to Oxford in a cold and soggy March would have a more relaxed feel to it, with an overnight.

Sue chose the “Head of the River” an ancient pub, restaurant,and hotel  along side the river Thames, or rather The Isis as it is called around these parts. Luckily we were able to park the car here in rather cramped conditions it must be said but a real bonus. Oxford council hate private motor vehicles, not perhaps  with the cat spitting fervour of Nottingham’s but hate it is.

After checking in we walked into the town along St Aldates, passing the Thames Valley Police HQ, seen many times by Morse  fans in the intellectual detective series written by Colin Dexter.  Himself a classics graduate from Christs College Oxford.

Next along Aldates is the very same Christs college , a fabulous, huge, imposing building in extensive grounds. Built in the square fashion, a la college mode, around a massive quadrangle about the area of two football fields. The student accommodation is equally impressive and has a  delightful rural outlook. One can’t help feeling masses of cash make this happen in the middle of a city, still it must be a total pleasure to be educated in this establishment. One can walk past all this 15th century  grandeur to give it the once over, by strolling along “broad walk.” Which puts you back in the town near Magdelin Bridge, after passing the rear of the Botanical gardens and Merton College another familiar name for viewers of University challenge, as are most of the colleges in Oxford it must be said.

100_1070 Christs college Student accommodation

As one continues walking gently up Aldates, passing Christs, on the left, can be seen Pembroke College, nowhere near the splendour but still ancient, then the town Hall is on your right another stone built edifice, they have seen some cash here over the years it is obvious. We reach the crossroads of High st and St Aldates. Here on the left is the Carfax bell tower. The word Carfax is thought to be an anglicisation of the French word Carrefour or quatre face meaning cross roads or four face.

These very bells were rung after a pair of students in the 14th century, threw mugs of beer, whose quality they were  dissatisfied  with, at the landlord of the Stockswindle pub ( it is now a Santander Bank) , who also happened to be a pal of the towns mayor.  He took exception to being smacked in the kisser thus so rang a peal or two to gather the towns folk together, where he rallied their support to mount an attack on the students. There exists much history of “town verses Gown” so there probably was not a lot of rabble rousing necessary . However the meeting was overheard by a passing college fellow who ran back to the “gown” area and rang the bell of St Mary’s church summoning the students, he let them into the proceedings and a pitch battle ensued. They didn’t mess about in those days, every participant was “tooled up” be it a dagger, a  pitch fork, an axe, a stone or what have you. This brawl lasted for 2 days and resulted in the death of 63 students and around 30 locals.
I love the rallying cry used by the Townies. “Havac , havoc! Smyte well and give  gode knocks!”

There was later an enquiry which found in favour of the “gown” and as a result on each and every St Scholasticas day, the10th February, the mayor was required to pay a fine of one penny for each student killed. A total of  5shillings and thre pence , or in centigrade, 26.25p! After first walking bareheaded through the town to St Mary’s, to deliver it. This punishment lasted for 470 years until the mayor in 1825 simply refused to take part and that was the end of that!

Continuing now gently downhill through what is these days pedestrian precinct, one passes a real old Tudor building that leans drunkenly but with a certain majesty and is now rather  incongruously housing a Pret a Manger sandwich bar and Bureau de change. To me this is the most attractive building in Oxford, every. time I see it, I smile.

100_1078The Most Attractive of buildings

Adjacent is a Saxon tower, this is “St Michaels at the north gate city church” there can be few cities with buildings over 1000 years in the centre, although the church itself is of 19th century construction.

A few yards past this is another cross roads, Broad St to the right but we enter George st to the left, to reach Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant for lunch. It is excellent, a dry cider and a shell fish pasta for me. For Sue , a tagliatelle Pork and beef thing with 2 glasses of house red! ( they were a bit mean though) cost? £35 and my scarf ( I left it, like a twat). We went back for it the following day but the operatives were not very interested, who would want to nick a blokes scarf? I ask you!

We arrived at the tourist information office in Broard street shortly before 1.30 to take the “Morse tour of Oxford”. Blow me it was full! We were keen to do it.  At this time of year though this tour only operates twice a week, damn it.
The back up plan was to take a”free” tour of the centre of Oxford that started at 2 pm. We found the meeting point, a blue bicycle chained to a lamp post, opposite a fudge shop on Broad street. Of course it is not free, you give a tip to the guide at the end. I like the basic idea because the guy or gal will strive to be as good as they can be. We overheard  a couple of the “official” tours over the next couple of hours and they seemed quite stuffy in comparison to our “footprint” one.

We checked out the blue bike with its modest advert and were immediately accosted by a friendly , witty , and enthusiastic individual who thrust a leaflet at us, I cottoned on to his style straight away and agreed we would give it a go.

We wondered up one side of Broad street and down the other to waste the half hour. Cars are banned here unless one has a special pass, it is not pedestrianised but bikerised instead , so you have to keep your wits about you or you could have the wheel of a Chinese export jam’d unexpectedly between your buttocks.

Returning to the bike we joined 3 other folk, then 2 more arrived one of which had done the tour the previous day but enjoyed it so much wanted a second go, quite a recommendation that, even if it was a bit like the guide having a stalker.
When the guide arrived it turned out to be the same “come on” guy we met earlier. He started his introduction, it took some time as he had ( poor fellow). A couple of nutters in the group that asked questions or made clever remarks, you know the type!  The group grew to 10 during this time, A Swiss, a Frenchie, and a Colombian, mix that with an Irish and a pair from Yorkshire and you have quite an eclectic bunch.

Our guide Tom , had a style of delivery that smacked of the comedian Michael McIntyre , sans the bouncing dark hair. It was almost like witnessing an impersonation.

We moved a few yards to the first stopping point, a square yard of pale cobbled street, that was bared of the 20th century Tarmac . Laid into these cobbles was a cross of black stones. This, said Tom, marks the very spot the Oxford Martyrs in  1555    were burned alive at the stake! Our Yorkshire wit said ” is that why the Tarmac is melted away”? A great gag, you may want to use it if you do an Oxford tour.

Tom regaled us with the whole martyrs tale and is quite a significant part of English regal history. A few yards to the north is another familiar college name,  Baliol  who claim to be the oldest in Oxford, next door along Broad street is Trinity. They both have masses of green space inside their private grounds it is all very lovely. Further along from Trinity is the famous book store of Blackwells.
The most interesting thing , apart from it’s huge store of books on almost any subject you care to name, is its massive basement it stretches under the lawns of Trinity college it is that extensive.

Next door to Blackwells is a “Morse pub” he was well known as a connoisseur of beer, the White Horse. It is though a bit pokey, olde world e,  I’ll grant you but jolly uncomfortable with mostly stools to sit on, we tried it but didn’t stay for lunch.

Across the road is the Sheldonian theatre one of the iconic Oxford buildings, it’s not a theatre at all really but a building used for the ritual issuing of certificates to successful graduates and the occasional music recital, which sounds awfully boring. Hidden behind this is the Bodlian Library, the name is of which is iconic itself , another  huge building. This one though houses a copy of every book, magazine and newspaper ever printed in English. From Shakespeare to Barbra Cartland, I doubt Barbara’s stuff or 50 shades of anything is actually on these estimable premises, a pound to a pinch of sand there will be a large shed ( the Bodlian annex) somewhere on an industrial estate for those.

Back on Broad street we turn into Turl street and enter Exeter College and its gardens, not only do Exeter have a large quad , we re not allowed in there, but a stroll around its gardens is quite permissible. From the garden wall one can see down onto Radcliffe square and view “The Radcliffe Camera”, once again one is forced to use the word iconic. It is a building used as a reading room for the Bodlian. Ingress and egress is gained via extensive underground tunnels. The rules of the Bodlian state that no books are to be removed, by anyone no matter what your name or position. The Bodlian make little money from fines for late returns it appears. There is a lovely story about this subject and Oliver Cromwell, I’ll leave it to your guide to tell you though.

From Exeter’s wall one can see the side of another well known building, that of Brasenose college. It sounds awfully snooty but when you realise it is a bastardisation of “the college with the big brass nose like knocker” ! It looses a bit of its aura. From here we wander past a few odd buildings and houses, many of which have a tale or two attached or imagery used by well known ” Oxograds,” JRR Tolkein and C S Lewis for example. Some are very plausible , others? maybe one needs a lungful of chemical stimulants or a pint or two of beer to grasp.

Eventually we find ourselves on Radcliffe square itself, in front of the famed Camera.     The foot way is made of large pebbles cemented into the surface simply horrid to walk on, I think mud is more comfortable, it doesn’t look tidy like this stuff though. I can’t help but wonder if cyclist crash into each other here through blurred vision? This square is well familiar to viewers of both Morse and Lewis. St Mary’s Church is adjacent the very one mentioned in the punch up above.

Radcliffe himself is a rather amazing character a scholar, scientist and Doctor known for a rather forthright and even brutal bedside manner. He saw his patients as scientific challenges instead of frail , vulnerable human beings. He would be struck off these days but medically, his thinking was light years ahead of his peers, a wonderful man!

Just yards from here is All Souls college ( I keep wanting to pronounce it as arseoles) a very special place no undergraduates here, all the members are “fellows” all doing some sort of research. One of their old fellows was T E Lawrence,   (of Arabia fame in WW1). A very intelligent  man , biker and nut case and writer of a most unintelligible book called the ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom”.  Peter O Tool did a great characterisation in the film of the same name. T E, was killed crashing a 1000cc Brough Superior motorcycle wearing a cap with goggles and a tweed double vented hacking jacket for protection, I said he was a nut case!

Associated with All Souls is something to do with a “Mallard hunt” I can’t remember the details but it sounded like drunken chaos, I’m sure those involved enjoy it though.

From here here we pop across the road to “the bridge of sighs” it was built, it appears, because Cambrige had one. They are both replicas of the Venician original and look awfully impressive and very well constructed. The Oxford version connects two buildings of New College that were on opposite sides of a street. So keeping up with the Cambrians also has practical purpose.

100_1073The Oxford Bridge of Sighs

Passing under the bridge our group comes to a very narrow passageway or alley called St. Helens passage (at one time called hells passage) which leads, after a right angled turn to the Turf Tavern. Dating from the 14th century and updated in the 17th.  It is significant because in the olden days it was right on the edge of the city wall , evidence of which can still be seen and pretty high it was too. As the boozer was technically outside of the city it meant it and its occupants were not bound by the town rules and college regulations, therefore students could get hammered on the local grog without fear of reprimand by the college bursar. These were not the ordinary skint  students we are familiar with today, no, these are the progeny  of the gentry and well to do. With names like, Walter Spryngheuse and Roger De Chesterfield you know they are not the sons of bricklayers and farmers. It was in this establishment that the future Prime minister of Australia, Bob Hawk, broke and still holds to this day the record for downing a yard of ale. Bill Clinton, who went on to become a two time President of USA attempted to smoke a cannabis joint during his tenure as a Rhodes scholar at this very pub. I bet the Aussies loved Bob.

In St. Helens passage is a blue plaque, dedicated to Jane Burden a ” muse and embroiderer”. She is worth a mention as the wonderful Tom knew nothing of her he had never even noticed the plaque. She was a poor woman living in this passage apparently, selling pieces of embroidery for a modest living. She was noticed as a classical beauty by a couple of artists who fell for her charms. They used her as a model.  One of them, William Morris eventually married her, they moved to Kent had a couple of children then moved to London. The other artist in the tale, Dante Rosetti  became her lover and she continued to model for him.  The love petered out when he became a drug addict, dope is not a modern abomination it seems.  Mr Morris in the meanwhile had taken a lover of his own. Jane Morris nee Burden,  although from lowly stock ( her dad was a stableman,  her mother an illiterate domestic servant) was intelligent and had no trouble in mixing with the upper classes, she educated herself in French and Italian. Eventually dying in 1914, her story, it is believed, became the inspiration for George Bernard Shaw’s 1912 play, Pygmalion/My Fair Lady.

After passing the “new Bodlian” built in 1940 and not a patch on the original, we finished our tour at the Oxford Martyrs Memorial close by the Ashmolian museum. Where Tom finale’s  his tour with the ghastly end of Thomas Cranmer the final member of the trio of martyr’s and ex Archbishop of Canterbury. We then bung him a tenner and it is worth every penny. Now We are left with wanting to return to Cambridge and repeat a footprint tour there, so well done Tom!

We wobble back down Aldates and return to our Hotel for a pint and a rest before our pre prandial walk along the river. We have arranged to meet a pal who lives locally for dinner so snatch a spare hour to stroll the banks of the swollen Isis . It’s not long before we see the facilities of the many boat clubs that contribute to Oxfords fame, some are quite posh looking all displaying their crest proudly. The one on our side, the right going down stream is absolutely stunning, modern, new and bossy looking with smoked glass!  We guess this is where the chosen have their HQ, the ones who represent Oxford in the annual  university boat race.

We notice an odd looking watercraft being readied nearby it has standing room only and is mounted on a pair of floats. I guess it is for the sculling coach who these days does not cycle the tow path looking sideways at his clients whilst yelling instructions down a megaphone. Instead rides majestically in this boat with a driver. This has to be much safer. The volume of cycling traffic along this towpath makes the former a lethal act.

Returning to The Head of the River, we meet our dinner companion bang on time. Pete Tollput , an ex motorcycle racer and BMW robot engineer, who offers to buy our dinner, what a fine fellow. The evening passed all too quickly with fine food and many good laughs as we regale one another with tales of daring do and stupidity. A lovely evening ending a satisfying day we are ready for a good sleep in our room which is dedicated to TS Elliot. Each room at “the Head” is so dedicated, Oscar Wilde, Thomas Hardy, et al.

The following day breakfast is Eggs benedict then we check out! leaving the car parked and having a final self guided waz around the city. Magdelin school an independent mainly for boys (and expensive no doubt), Queens, Magdelin, Edmunds, St Mary’s, The Ruskin, and University Oxford are but some of the colleges  we pass walking up High street. We notice a rather worn looking rather old fashioned barber shop, I remarked to Sue “look at that dump” I was in need of a trim but it looked an expensive dump. I read later it is something of an Oxford treasure.

100_1074 Oxford Colleges Have imposing doorways100_1072
Oh yes Oxford is a very walkable city. We have the natural history and Pitt Rivers museums as our target . Neither of us are museum people but feel we must give them a go seeing as  we are so close. The Pitt is well laid out but is a veritable jumble of stuff, we notice so much but see so little. We eventually escape and move to the Ashmolian again for no reason other than we are here.

100_1071 Merton College 100_1077Pitt Rivers Museum

As we walk past Keeble,  and St Johns colleges I develop a bit of a plan. When we enter, the Ashmolian doorman encourages us in what is on offer, for an extra charge we could see some “Chinese art that is on loan”! When I made the “over my head sign” he seemed relieved that he was talking to normal people and confessed they had had no one up there yet today! He was helpful with my plan though which was to see The Lamp that was purportedly used by Guy Fawkes on his last visit to Parliament on the 5th of November 1605.  It made the visit interesting. It is the plan I will adopt in future visiting a museum. “Have something specific in mind and what you see inadvertently en route may give you joy.”  It worked very well, we couldn’t help noticing on our journey past many roman statues they all had they’re nobs broken off!
You can’t help but think the human being, throughout the millennia, can’t stop him/herself steeling a stone penis. Very odd ! What would one do with it once you got it home?

One thing I did enjoy learning from the Ashmolian. It was considered by learned ” Sniffy’s ”  as nothing but a ” knicknackatory”. What a lovely word.

100_1076St Johns College Oxford (back yard)

Leaving this magnificent building it was close to lunch lime. We took a stroll through the old fashioned rather attractive Covered Market that Oxford is famed for. How it survives in todays quick fire, slick, get it done, supermarket style god knows, It does seem to offer top quality, maybe its as simple as that. Our Robot pal from last night had suggested another “morse” pub. This one is out of town someway on the banks of the Thames. “The Trout Inn” took some finding but is well worth it, a proper old building, with ancient timbers throughout, beautifully modernised. Staffed by young keen professional individuals, can’t get better than that. The food is top notch, it was very busy . Its Tuesday in March and bitterly cold. What’s it like in May? It has a delightful  patio next to the river that in its present swollen form boils by threateningly. No one is using the patio it’s too cold out there.

100_1081The Trout Inn and Swollen Thames

After lunch a post prandial was taken past an old derelict nunnery along side of  a canal designed to step boats gently down this section of the Thames. It’s on a section of the “Thames path” a 184 mile walk from its source  to the Thames Barrier just past Greenwich, Sue displays interest in doing it I’ll check it out later.

In conclusion then. Oxford is worth a visit particularly if you are familiar with the TV Programs University Challenge, Morse and Lewis. It will make you smile as you recognise familiar stuff.

Viewed via google earth it is striking!  The many old buildings surrounding green geometric shapes, these are the colleges and their quadrangles and there are loads of them. I think Tom said 39 individual colleges, but they are not individual. They are managed as part of the whole. One can apply to join “Oxford ” or apply to join a specific  college, but you will be interviewed by a board that represents the whole institution which ever way you play it. If you are rejected for any reason, it’s no good saying “ah sod it! I’ll go to Cambridge then” because they won’t take Oxford rejects anyway and visa versa it appears. Oxford will not take Cambridge rejects either. I thought Margret Thatcher had got rid of the “closed shop”. Only in the work place it seems, the “gown place” were exempted.

So Oxford or Cambridge? They are so similar the former is the older and seems to hang on to its oldness better and with an overt pride in the fact. Here the learning seems to take place by osmosis. In Cambridge there is an air of “busy learning” about it, there are students thronging hither and yon, all on bikes of course. They are both though, about scholastic achievement, I love the fact they exist at all and am very proud to see the clever sods perform in the many competitions.  Unlike the donkey who spoiled the boat race in 2012 by swimming into the path of the boats during his protest about “elitism”.  Yes I have to agree with him, they are elite. They are the best rowing team each town can put together, who would want to watch a race between the ordinary, the average or the crap?
In future I pray police snipers are placed on every bridge to take out this kind of plonker.. Well?  he may be wearing a suicide vest! Better shot than sorry.

Done mid march 2013.

It could have been embarrassing.

The Regina Hotel Paris.

The following took place whilst filming “American Built” the movie was later named “Race For Glory” a crap title but we can blame a “Focus Group” for that. The Bikes we used in this in the main were the wonderful 3 Cylinder RS500 Hondas. I say in the main because sometimes they were Suzuki RG 500s, occasionally even it’s road version and a couple of times TZ250 U’s dressed as Hondas ( that wasn’t easy ill tell you) total swines to ride as they were jacked up to the max ride hight wise and had a huge rear tyre. One of the crash scenes we used the 400cc 3 cyl Honda Road bikes as victims.
If any one has a copy of the movie one can play “spot the bike” a bit of competitive viewing, probably more fun than the movie itself.

This tale could not have been told accurately without the invaluable help of Vera Van De Velde.

It wasn’t part of the plan to walk up to the concierge at the Regina to ask if I could borrow his room key for the second time that day. Dressed this time only in a rather modest towel.

The first time was fairly innocuous , I’d left the key in my caravan which was parked in the middle of Monthlery race circuit. We were using the concrete banked race and test track to get some some shots for the film we had been involved with making since the middle of summer 1988. We had already worked at the GPs of Spa Francorchamps, Paul Ricard in the south of France and the Yugoslavian circuit Rieka ( now in Croatia of course this was before the country exploded into constituent enclaves in the 90s )

My friend Kamile and I had been planning to stay in the caravan but when the dark arrived at Monthlery it didn’t half look black and creepy. Paris was looking bright and attractive. So we opted to stay in a hotel curtesy of the film company. Had I known what the Regina was I don’t think the caravan idea would have made it as far as the consideration brain cell. It is the sort of place regular ordinary folk can’t ever afford $500 a night that sort of thing. Smack in the centre of Paris, in the Place des Pyramids. The Regina is perhaps a bit stuffy and rather traditional, certainly utterly classy. The film cast and crew were quite acceptable, even the norm for this gaff, a couple of race bike mechanics maybe not so much. We were on our best behaviour though and after a couple of nights started to relax . Kamile even invited his Girlfriend down from Brussels with her daughter Vera who was 13 to share the experience.

I should have done the same with my Sue really but she was otherwise engaged being 3 months pregnant, project managing our house extension and running my business, oh! and looking after our other 3 children aged 13, 11 and 3. So there was no way I could give her time off for a few days in Paris it stands to reason. So I thought I’d phone her whilst I ran a bath. Maybe I could tell her what its like living the millionaire lifestyle, I was certain she would love to know.

A bunch of us, Kamile, Cathrin, Vera and a couple of others Chas Mortimer’s then wife Jaqui or Big red as she was secretly nicknamed and her friend who were sharing a room had arranged to meet in the lobby at 7 pm that evening to go out for a meal.

Whilst sitting naked on the side of the bed chatting with Sue the bath had slipped my mind, it’s easy to see why I am not given multi tasking jobs. Suddenly out of the corner of my eye I saw a rat run across the floor! CHRIST! A RAT? AT THE REGINA? After a double take I realised it wasn’t a rat at all but a stream of water scurrying rodent like across the carpet. My god what have I done? I hung up and sploshed into the bathroom to attend the taps.

I put some clothes on and went back down to the lobby to report my misdemeanour and throw myself on the mercy of Renne the concierge. He was really cool about it, he just said “zis is is not ze problem I will get madame “Mimi ze Mop” to attend to it maintenent” When it was pointed out that although that was all fine and dandy, what about the room underneath? Then his head came off and he started to rush around like a chicken with its neck rung. Meanwhile I went up the elevator with Mimi. Who got stuck in to sucking up a thousand litres as if this was an everyday occurrence. Jacqui saw me hanging out side my room and enquired my predicament, I told them my tale and they suggested I should ,use the shower in their room , they were all ready to rock and roll as it were and would wait for me in the lobby.

A great idea I striped off again in my room and bobbed next door with a towel round my waist to freshen up, leaving Mdm to her task. When I’d done and I must admit to now running behind schedule somewhat, rushed to my door to find the mop lady had gone and the door firmly locked. I looked back to Jacquis room to watch it click shut , Damn! So there was no alternative, down to the lobby yet again dressed as a refugee from Ben Hur.

When the elevator door slid open in the lobby I stepped confidently out in front of my colleagues who were patiently waiting for me , now laughing their heads off! Despite my protestations of “its only me don’t worry,this is not what you think, its only me”! Renne meanwhile with an alarmed visage joined in the clamour protesting ” but Monsieur! Zis is not acceptable!” He quickly settled down, when he recognised me,stepped up to the plate, and calmly did the business with his spare key.

I was given a new room later but without a bath, I guess I was no longer trusted with that sort of technology. A smashing Hotel and I’d love to return one day, I’m sure they won’t remember me after a quarter of a century.

Road Trip USA 2011

  21st and  final day August 2011 We chose to play the only CD we have,  Steppenwolf late 60s music. There are only 3 tracks we like, I say we but it’s really only me.Sue tolerates it well and I don’t overplay them, just once a day, the art of compromise eh?

 So we go with “Born to be wild”, “The Pusher” and the other one to which which I’m a recent convert and don’t know what it’s called. I wish we had a radio.


 So far, and I touched wood here, the jeep had been wonderful , the only problem, I find is with a locking nearside rear wheel, when grip is low. I first noticed it last Christmas and it hasn’t healed up by itself as I had hoped. It was a worry in the rain storms, but I managed to avoid emergency stops, like you do, in fact, if I use the brakes at all, for any reason, I consider it a failure of planning. I’ll have a look at it in Charlotte I think, as we are off to Cincinnati in a couple of days, another 400 miles!

 The 3 rd Steppen track is ” Dyin Slow” a good line is , “he said he wanted heaven but prayin was too slow, so he bought a 1 way ticket from an airline made of snow”.


 We cleared the Smoke mountains a part of the Apalatian Chain that separates Tennessee from North Carolina expeditely  and its another wonderful Interstate through the mountains. When you think that this country, little over 100 years ago had very few metaled roads, except in the towns, they have done jolly well, traveling by road in this country is very close to a pleasure. 


The interstate system was promoted by President Eisenhower. His experiences in WW2 made him realize the the difficulties , sometimes impossibilities of logistics , to defend a country like this moving stuff about would be the priority and it works for everyone not only the military. 


Once back in Charlotte we took the jeep in for a professional clean, they did a great job, as we left there was a horrible noise from up front, what the? There was a loose piece of plastic under the engine compartment, they may have loosened it with the sprayer or something . All those miles and these bastards! It’l  fix easy enough I suppose.

                  We were Done!


Road Trip USA 2011

  20th August  When we kicked off from the Paulo Duro area the weather was lovely mid 80s with cloud cover or shade as I regard it now.  We were soon out of Texas and in to Oklahoma, everywhere is still flat the roads are still almost perfectly smooth, a nice ride. As the 2 states close together there are some lumps in the topography, it’s title is the something or other basin, I’ll check it out later. The land stays flat as we continue, but it does get greener the further east we go, the trees get more plentiful and taller, there does seem to be many trees under stress though, if I was the guy in charge of trees I would be concerned.


 The cloud cover eventually disappeared and we were back to blistering sun ooh the pain, thank whomever for air conditioning. We made good progress and as a result thought we would easily hit out initial target of Fort Smith just over the border in Arkansas . So we moved the target to Little Rock, 180 miles further on. I have a saying that is rarely wrong “ don’t make a plan it will only make God Laugh”. Like fools we didn’t realize God had a counter measure in hand! 


The rivers and creeks we crossed havd got water in them, unlike the ones in, Kansas and Oklahoma, still with their ironic names like, otter creek, wolf creek, beaver creek all have no sign of the aforementioned animals and certainly contain less moisture than a prop forwards jock strap. Northern Canadian river is a classic, yep no river, nowhere near Canada and we couldn’t see a bloke in a daft hat, red coat sat aboard a horse singing O Rosemarie! who’d of thought it? The one they named correctly was Sand Creek, a perfect name for that one, I know you were expecting a rushing mountain stream tumbling down a mountain side, nope it was sand in a depression.


 As we approached Fort Smith the sky darkened, and we got the works, lightening, in sheets , bolts and forks, rain like you see on movies, really hard to see to drive. We thought we would be clever and pull over for a burger while it blew itself out, yeah a blow out while it blew out geddit?

 Anyway it didn’t it just kept coming and the wind? I thought it was a hurricane, we could hardly see even with lights on it was a nightmare.  The truckers in their semis kept hammering past, is it dry when you are sat 2 meters higher than the rest of us? I can’t see it myself, some have pulled over to the hard shoulder to wait it out, I guess the ones still doing 70 are on some kind of mind stimulant . Some of the idiot drivers we are forced to share the road with still don’t put their lights on, what is the matter with these dolts? Or is it ok to drive and drool in the USA? There was a fallen tree on the inside lane that caused a bit of panic but it was negotiated without incident. With the visibility and speed down we abandoned the Little Rock target  have an early stop for the night. The Days inn we found had computers that were ailing  because of the storm and we don’t get Internet as a result, so we watched the telly , which is the lowest form of crap in the USA. They ought to take the BBC. They wouldn’t do that though as it would show to the American public what is possible. So the viewing public are rationed with just a bit of BBC as a special treat now and again.


 We got a decent start this Sunday morning and flew, metaphorically speaking, through Arkansas and over the ole Mississippi into and through Memphis we had hoped to be back in Charlotte by evening but it was a big ask.


Tennessee, what a lovely state. Green with rivers that have water in them. Which reminds me againof the amusing name thing, in Arkansas we crossed a bridge over a couple of lakes there was an off ramp to a town called “Lotawatah”.


Apart from Dolly Parton the only other person of note , that I know of anyway, is of course Davy Crockett, who was “born on a mountaintop in Tennessee , the greenest state in the land of (what used to be) the free, he knew where the woods and he knew where the tree, and he killed a bear when he was only three, Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier.” There you go I still remember the words from when I was 5, the brackets are mine by the way.


Road Trip USA 2011

  18th  and 19th August. Dodge City Kansas.

The journey here through the Texas panhandle was rather tedious , it’s flat well more phlat really, it is a perfect example of Gods Olympic standard, synchronized bulldozing and grading. As we approach Oklahoma there is, evidence of a tectonic twitch damaging Gods fine efforts, I guess that’s why the judges only scored him a 9.7 out of 10, a little harsh I think. Especially as the tectonics came after God by a good few million years. Hang on a minute? Didn’t my Mormon neighbor tell me the world was created just over 4000 years ago? And that it was a fact! It’s in the bible! Well I’ll go to the foot of our stairs! That 9.7 is looking a bit generous now.

 It’s comforting to find that science is codswallop after all. These geology chaps and chapesses could have saved a lot of time if they had just read the bible. Or have I stuck in an unnecessary m in Mormon? 


 Oklahoma becomes flat , the part we traversed is a panhandle as well, 50 miles wide and we are in Kansas, it is also flat !

 We lunched in a Macdonalds , goodness it was busy. The three young ladies in front of us ordered a truck load of food between them, it must have cost 30 dollars. These lumpy wobble-bottoms didn’t seem overly concerned about putting on weight though, I think it was because they had a glandular problem that was coincidently, nothing to do with how much they ate!


  Dodge is a bit of a disappointment , everything is a replica of stuff, they have tried quite hard to make the city at least a 20th century one, and hang onto the old cowboy stuff as well, not an easy combination but they try. We did the trolly tour, usually a good idea any where you go if there is one and it helps you find your way round. This one though needs upgrading somewhat, I scored it a 6 out of 10. 


One restaurant we used does deserve a telling. It was on the main street that runs parallel to the railway lines, and shaded with a veranda. These railway lines by the way are more than they seem. In the old days of Matt Dillon and Wyatt Earp the rule was no guns were allowed to be carried on the north side, you could however please yourself on the south. So most of the rough trades, prostitution , gambling and shootings took place “ on the wrong side of the tracks”. A gun carried on the north side would have seen you cracked over the head with Wyatts “Buntline  Special”. Whacking people over the head is what this extra long barreled pistol ( developed by a writer called Ned Buntline for greater accuracy than a regular pistol) was mainly used for. The other Earp brothers were given them as well but they sawed the barrel back short again. Wyatt was the only one to keep the original design. Illustrated well on the statue of him on main street one cant help but say “ooh thats a long one matron”.

 We sat down in this empty italian eatery ( never a good sign) the waiter ( Spanish but not from Barcelona ) seated us and said “ you have hit the right spot today folks” I loved his upbeat attitude, you cant ever beat it. Sue chose something simple as is her way, while I took a chance on some mussel based pasta affair. Dodge city is about as far away from the sea as you can get and to top that, the last time I ate mussels was in South Africa when I was laid up for  more than 3 days with some horrific illness, venting from all orifices.

 To cover this possibility I quizzed the waiter “ are any of your mussels dead”? “yes” he replied, “wrong answer” says I. then I told him my tail. “ ill just check with the chef”! he came back with the right answer “they are all alive at the moment but will be dead when we serve them”. I was right to put the staff on “friendly” notice I think and the meal was delicious. Hit the right spot? he could have been Wyatt Earp himself.


 We did another stupid tour, well we had time to spare. It was of the old train depot. We had the guide to ourselves, this tour by contrast was quite interesting. It also houses a dinner theatre! What a facility, a place where you can go and watch a show , performance, or a play and eat your dinner at the same time, how good is that?  This thing needs using more I think, it is a real nice asset. They say it’s used 4 or 5 times a year. What a waste. Period elegance like this needs, more use, maybe as a B&B even a boutique hotel, it has many rooms that aren’t  finished it’s a damned shame. The lost opportunity is more akin to Africa than the USA, I don’t understand it.


A walk through the business district revealed little, except one of those matrix signs displaying the current temperature 106F blimey!

 Next we were off to the museum part of the original conserved “Dodge” with dinner,a gunfight and a show. Let’s see if Dodge improves after that? we toured the exhibits and “Boot Hill” many western towns have one. This one though is well preserved and presented, you get the impression that there is pride accompanied by  gentle black humor.

 It was a good meal , brisket , yes brisket! it was cooked very well, corn, very sweet, taters and biscuit, why they call a cob, a biscuit I don’t know?  Followed by an appropriate  “pudin”, luvly!. The gunfight was an eight man shoot out, after a tension building preamble, acting outside isn’t easy and they all did well. The gunfire was real, you could see the flames from the muzzle. They must have been good shots though as no one took a bullet, they only pretended to be shot. I asked them why no one fell into the strategically placed horse trough? The Sherif said they had done the show a hundred timed already this year and the soaking does wear thin and they had run out of volunteers.


 People reading this who are of a certain age will be familiar with the  “Long Branch” saloon a favorite place of refreshment in “Gun Law” staring James Arness as Matt Dillon ( he died quite recently) and Dennis Weaver ( before he became more famous as McLoud in the 1970s) as his “aid de camp” Chester ( ahm a cummin Mr Dillon) in the mid1950s TV series.


A lot of effort was put into the show in the “long branch”, that’s not easy either, when the actors are all dressed up in period costume, performing in front of folks wearing shorts and sandals . But they did get the audience involved , even Sue smiled when the bar owner, Chalkly Beeson, did his party piece in front of her and she absolutely hates that kind of stuff. Yes it was definitely worth doing, an experience in which I didn’t feel shafted, it made me smile. I do recommend it, just don’t oversell it to your self before going in. Do not even attempt it if your company is of a “tense or scowling nature”.

The individual performances by the actors, mainly high school kids I was told ( they looked as old and  out of kilter as the Fonze to me mind) was very good and the least blessed ( with beauty) were the best. One chunky lass didn’t even use a microphone, she scored  big performance marks from me even though I heckled her ( not mean, just a “bit off script”) which she handled very well.


I will say the whole Dodge city experience is under invested and undervalued by the powers that be. Our B&B host agreed wholeheartedly. You are left with the impression that the old Dodge city is more of a nuisance to the councillors than an asset. It must be that they skim more than enough from the businesses that slaughter and process over 6000 head of cattle per day. To even be bothered in any more than a modest way with their inheritance.

Its hard to believe! Underinvested and underused, in America? it doesn’t make sense.


1300 miles to Charlotte next.


Road Trip USA 2011

 17 TH August and we were still looking for enchantment, I suppose at a stretch, yesterday’s lunch at Wendy’s in San Bernalillo was pretty enchanting, I liked mine anyway. I chose the “wild berry chicken salad”.  “Large a small” says the operative, small I reply , I get  enough to fill a goat, what do you do with a large one I wonder?

 Every time I see the San Bernalillo name I keep wanting to throw in a letter d, Bernadillo, but it isn’t a dillo its a lillo, we passed over the Rio Grande, is this the Rio Grande from westerns?  I ask myself, well how disappointing , it makes the river Derwent in Derby look ” the river pretty  jolly impressive” if you ask me.


 San Bernalillo gets it’s name from an ancient, very well respected, local priest, who one day decided to float down the rio an an inflatable mattress. He was disappointed , he thought it would be an exiting experience instead it was more like playing the stick part, in a game of Phoo sticks. In his frustration, he consequently pulled out of the river at this very spot and set the mattress afire. The locals saw this and started shouting “the saint burn a Lillo!” . The name stuck.


 The breakfast at last nights  decent motel was a 7/10 by the way. Amarillo Tx was the next target!

We were just starting to feel the enchantment of the New Mexico nick name, as we cross over the border into the Lone Star State, bugger ! too late to be enchanted now.


 We were so far ahead of schedule, we did some more of the historic rote 66, even Gladys caught on, stopped trying to put us on the i40, and just  enjoyed the ride. We called in at a state park called. Palo Duro Canyon. 10 bucks before you ask. Typical Americans, well Texans actually, they built a road into the canyon so it can be accessed , like they do. It’s not easy but they do it, and I’m glad. I wanted to do a bit of hiking while we were there, the park ranger advised against it, ” it’s rather hot today, I would not advise it”. Did I mention before that it was hot? Well I was lying, now it is HOT! Blistering HOT! I was still going to hike though, it was a challenge you see. Once I sobered up, much to Sue’s relief we skipped the idea. And drove through the park. It was all geology again I’m afraid, and we’ve done that.


 For those who like a bit of native Indian history and legend, thats me of course. The Palo Duro was used as the last redoubt of a Comanche Chef called Quanna Parker, the vicious soldiers who were sent to slaughter his tribe couldn’t shift him. I remember the name Quanna Parker from a John Wayne movie some where, he was the progeny of a  coupling, Between Peta Nocona a comanche chef and an American European called Cynthia Ann Parker who had been assimilated into comanche life from an early age  I just liked the name. Another Indian name that caught my ear was “Sicatrice” or Scar in English again from a John Wayner “The Searchers” I think, good ol John Wayne I say.

  There were some beautiful clothes and shirts in the gift shop absolutely gorgeous, did I just use the word gorgeous and clothes in the same sentence?  I think I need help, they do say once you recognize the need, you are on the road to recovery.

 Sushi this evening I think. After a good few lengths in the pool.

 We”re off to get hammered in the “long branch saloon” in Dodge tomorrow.


Road Trip USA 2011

   16th August,

We left Durango to go south into New Mexico “the land of enchantment” well, we’ll soon find out. I had an enchanting dream last night when I eventually got off to sleep. I’ll try not to bore you, people’s dreams are the most tedious thing to listen to, but you will have had this one yourself if you have driven over here. You are doing 5 mph over the limit , this seems to be de rigur here anyway, even when it’s  75 mph, so we are bobbing along at 80, your rear view mirror is filled with a logo, it reads, Peterbuilt , Freightliner, or Kenworth, it’s a mirror image you can’t really read it but you know what it says, it is mounted atop a massive chromium plated radiator grill, about 1 sq meter in area, this in turn is sat on a bright shiny equally chromium plated 18 inch deep 8 foot wide bumper.

It’s telling you to get a move on, or I may have to eat you! as a friend of ours Robin Mayne would have put it ” piss or get off the pot” go! Get out of my way!  I woke sweating .Not enchanted then , more nightmared.


 Have you noticed the design of all these monster American trucks? They look so much like a malevolent Buffalo it can’t be a coincidence, the big bumper, very grinning mouthlike, the radiator grill, like  a nose, the smoke stacks  couldn’t be more like horns if they wanted to be , stuck right in the air as if on a charge, the windscreen is split down the centre to give the impression of a scowl, ” my god I’m in a bad mood” these eyes are saying “so watch out”. All 3 manufacturers have the same basic look that can’t be anything but desired and deliberate.


 We moved out of the green and usable Colorado into New Mexico, the change is gradual the green thins , except where irrigation is used, it gets sparser and more brown until we end up with the same topography I’ve reported before. Parched earth, tumbling mesas that begin to look like abandoned quarries, there is more growth though, the shrubs are a bit taller, there is the odd tree, but the earth itself appears as hospitable as a spitting  cat. We cross dry gulches, The sat nav has them colored an attractive blue, but there is more moisture in sumo wrestlers loin cloth.


 Once passed Albuquerque heading east on I40 things start to get greener the further we go looks more like you could graze cattle, it is August so one can’t expect lush grass but there are signs of that possibility, there is even verdancy when you look from a low angle. There are nimbus, and rain visible in the distance all around us now , we seem to be missing it though ,lightening as well just to add a bit of drama, as we leave the i40 to find the famous but defunct route 66.


    It is mostly gone now the 2 lane highway of 50 years ago, made famous by the song. The businesses that you find now are dilapidated ruins, some still function as a service to the odd nutters like us who come for a sniff of nostalgia. The motels and restaurants mostly have  “for sale” signs that look as if they too, are passed there hay day. Some stretch’s of Tarmac do still exist , we must have traveled along 20 or 30 miles of them with the i40 just 10 yards away. Grass and weeds poke through the black top now though. It is still repaired but not well , more bodged up, I suppose it is understandable it’s so little used. We swaped sides every now and again, some times we were on the north side sometimes on the south but always parallel . It must have been a heck of a journey back then. When on the interstate the miles are gobbled up so fast we are actually ahead of schedule.

 We  pulled over at a decent motel with an outdoor pool , we used it before dinner, and we don’t feel stiffed 91 dollars all in, with they say, a hot breakfast to boot!


Road Trip USA 2011

 15th August. Mexican hat to Durango Co . Through more empty desert like country, just nothing for miles and miles, sand with that usual stuff trying it’s best to survive. We pass the odd homestead no neighbors even close, miles from any where, what in heavens name do these people do to survive? Eat sand? For some reason and there must be one , pylons yomp across all this nothing, going somewhere carrying white mans magic!


 We eventually arrived at a place called Mexican Water. There is no water and I didn’t see any Mexicans either. Aha! I get it now , it’s irony, you find what there isn’t and call it that! They do like funny names these Americans, Crazy Woman Creek or Kickapoo, for example, what about Punshzumfeka or Thwakatableeda? Actually I made the last 2 up, but I bet they exist somewhere.

 You cannot believe that this terrain is on the same planet as Iowa or South Dakota, never mind the same land mass.


 We stopped at a place called “the 4 corners” it’s a national monument a point in the USA where 4 states touch borders. A bit of a big deal is made of this and with good reason, it’s unique. It is also in Navajo reservation land, as a result the Indians administer it. 3 bucks each, the sign says, no discounts, no park passes, no concessions, children under 6 free, no dogs! I was under the impression that Indians liked a bit of dog. I suspect the information came from a fellow racing driver, a complete lunatic whom I must say, I liked allot. He did however make me cringe one day. In a balkan restaurant. This was a few years before the Yugoslavs all fell out and butchered each other. There were about a dozen of us at the table, mostly blokes, riders , mechanics, and some of the film crew, with whom we were working on “American Built”. Mike Baldwin was with his English wife, they had been food shopping earlier in the town and Mikes wife swore she had seen a carcass of a dog hanging in a butchers window! We were all struggling with the menu so when the waiter came for our order, Mike, in that somewhat embarrassing American way, shouted “bring anything you think we would like but NOT dog, we don’t want any Red Indian food, NO dog! Got it”?  I should have realized no one from california would know remotely anything about Navajo culinary art.


When you get into the “4 Corners” there isn’t much there, a paved square divided  with a big x, corner to corner using contrasting tiles, each triangle formed is that particular state. Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah, so. Technically you could be in 4 different states inside a couple of seconds. 

Bordering the paved square are a bunch of little stalls about 10 feet wide, numbering 15 units along each side. With a Navajo in each, flogging T shirts, jewelry, art or food, the general tat that we the hoi ploi like so much. We tried a bit of the food, it was real nice, even the beans and they are never palatable. Encouraged , we ordered some genuine Navajo fry bread, we had it with apricot jam real good it was. I would describe it as a stiffish thick pancake, I’ll have it again given 1/2 a chance.  The American Indian I notice, does tend to carry excess fat, like so many Americans I suppose but it seems almost universal in these people, even the youthful carry the heavy cheeks normally only seen on cartoon pigs! I can’t help wondering why? It is utterly impossible to imagine these folk even riding horses, never mind galloping after a stage coach or round a larger’d wagon train in a whooping frenzy. I realize I’m being stereotypical here, but this image and the western stories didn’t come from thin air. In the Fry bread stall was a switched on , obliging kid  helping her mum in the school holidays, looking like any normally proportioned 8 year old, We couldn’t help thinking will she still be the owner of approved BMI stats in another 10 or 20 years or a heart braking lard arse?

 Sue quite liked the  4 corners . She described it as calming. Is she turnin injun on me?


 Back on the road we passed through a town called Cortez, it had the appearance of your regular American town with a Rite Aid and other ubiquitous stores, we were back in the land of the living. The land beginning to look habitable at last, green bits and hills instead of mesas, trees instead of buttes, we were liking Colorado already.


 A raise in altitude to 6000 feet over 30  miles or so and we were in Durango, originally a silver mining town, now a vacation destination, and a skiing one in the winter. After getting fixed up in the Econo lodge, we went driving again! For a change! We did a 50 mile trip, deeper into the mountains to a town called Silverton, I’m so glad we did, it was a picture from the approach road 1000 feet above,  another alpine road route that ran over 9000 feet of altitude. When we got into the town it was still a picture, if different to what we thought, we both loved it. It was almost a proper  19th century western town, not quite Clint Eastwood but certainly cowboyville, there was even board walks under  verandas, a saloon called ‘The Shady Lady” and lots of shops selling cowboy stuff, the oddest thing we saw was a bloke, wearing a cowboy hat, boots, shirt, holster and a 6 gun, dusting the counters in his shop, he was even wearing a Sheriffs badge.

I suppose he could simply have been an inbred , the village idiot, anyone can have a gun here, mostly stupid people have them, some are called cops. Sue thinks there are lots of inbreds in these small town America places, I tend to agree and it does make me laugh.

 One could have taken a narrow gauge steam railway from Durango to Silverton, there are 4 classes of ticket, standard (the lowest) is over 80 bucks! For 1st class I imagine they handcuff you to the railway lines pull your pants down and really give you what for. So thats why we went by car!

 I was hoping to do a zip line tour in Durango and the gunfight that was advertised on the internet. The gunfight has disappeared from the expected advertising and Sue isn’t keen on the zip line. Consequently we decided to bugger off south in the morning to New Mexico.


Road Trip USA 2011

 14th  August. As we were ahead of schedule and had done the monument stuff, which we were supposed to do to day, we find ourselves with a spare.

 So we went for a drive through an area called “Valley of the Gods” it was a dirt road and rather washboard in texture, we had to crawl along, it’s not our car you see, at about 5 or 7 mph, even on good bits 10 was tops. We were passed by every vehicle that came upon us, I guess they were in rentals.


 The area is , I’m sorry to use the word again AMAZING, the shapes of the geology, some are like trophies mounted on plinths, some are just plinths, the trophies long since stollen. The different shapes change from alternate angles and there are so many of them, definitely worth two or three hours out of your life if you are ever in the area. It would be called “Monument Valley” if we didn’t already have one.


I really can’t set to to describe it, you would get fed up with the superlatives and its constantly changing with every kilometer. 


 The last mile  was washboard rotten,( this is what happens to all dirt roads after it rains, they then have to be regularly regraded with heavy machinery) and what do we see coming at us as quick as he could go? A motor home, a renter from Cruise America, this bloke was going for it, on a road definitely not suitable, (if he’d bothered to read the warning signs). Every part of this thing was vibrating and shaking, as he came towards us we could see his wing mirrors flapping like a humming birds wings, they are huge affairs and stick right out into the wind. They won’t be on by the time he’s done and Sue says wait till he’s sees in the back, milk will be butter and the inside looking like, the IRA have just paid a visit.


  After leaving the valley we ascended another alpine road, this one was a bit more scary, you are right on the edge, the drop is steep, and it just feels wrong. It is called Mukacuji road, it goes right to the top of a flat toped mountain, but you have to ask why? It doesn’t need to have been built, it does eventually lead to a national park, but why would you need a “short cut” to it from Mexican Hat? where the residential population must be about 20! None of it made any sense, unless it was built by apprentice civil engineers as a test or to pass an exam or something.


 By the time we had finished mucking about and paid a visit to the state park called “Natural bridges national monument”. Here they wanted 6 bucks, I thought I’m just not that bothered , we turned round and went to the same restaurant as last evening, the cowboy one, and got 2 more bandannas. Blast! Now I’ll have to start my own biker gang, to use them up.