London to Bristol by water

“Home is whatever in this world you love more than you love yourself” – Elizabeth Gilbert

This next blog entry has taken me some time to write. This is in fact my third attempt, after a long break to reflect on the 2nd attempt and the 1st attempt is not really worth discussing. You see, what I wanted to tell you about was the bond that was formed between Mum, Bob and I on our trip from London to Bristol on Kevin James; I wanted to tell you about how each of us had someone we were missing. How Bob had lived for 20 years on a canal boat with his wife until she got dementia and this was the first time he had spent more than a day away from her. How mum and dad had always dreamed of owning their very own boat together and now here we were fulfilling that dream together in his name. How I too had shared that dream with the man I love but unfortunately we had not survived the journey together and sadly parted ways just before we were able to realise our dream. To tell you of how this journey for each of us was so much more than just the destination; It was a journey of strength, of memories, of loss, of pride, of nostalgia, of proof, of self worth, of achievement, of reclaiming our lives. We found not only solace but also we found joy and companionship in the company of each other. We formed an unspoken bond and a memory that will stay with all of us for a long, long time.

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…But as I wrote about this I found myself unable to be as open and honest as I would like, unable to really take you on that journey with me and tell you all I learned about myself; I don’t feel it is my place to divulge the emotional journeys of Mum and Bob but I am not one for shouting about my own private life either. When other people are involved it becomes not only a choice of my own privacy but theirs and that is not a decision I can make alone… So I wrote and I wrote, trying to find metaphors and examples to tell you without really ‘telling you’… but it felt empty and weak and not something I even wanted to re-read. But what I did stumble on in my ramblings was this; my 2nd attempt began as follows:

“It’s my first night home alone…

Home…

This is my home now. “

And over the next few days I started to really think about what home was to me… I came to the conclusion that; home has always meant many different things to me; Since leaving home at 19 I have moved around to many different places: over my 32 years I have called so many places ‘home’. Someone asked me the other day: “so where do you call home?” and I said: “wherever I am at the time.” But I don’t think that is strictly true; I have lived some places that I have not really called home in every sense of the word and in the same respect even when I have lived places that I have called home, I would still go home to see my mum. So maybe home can be many places at once… I guess what this means is, home is where I feel most connected to at any moment in my life. IMG_5767I have a link on my keys that holds all my ‘home’ keys and I realised the other day that there are now 5 keys on there. All keys to different places that I would still consider ‘home’, I would still feel completely at home in all 5 of them. But right now they are all overshadowed by my connection to my new home, my very own home, the place that instantly felt like home, the place that feels so completely me that I truly believe we were destined to be together just me and my home; The Kevin James.

 

 

As a creative person pursuing a passion that I love more than I can really explain to you, there is very little time or space for convention. My life is wholly unconventional and sometimes it is to my detriment but always it comes down to one thing and one thing only… music. So having a space that I can call home and knowing that it can come with me along this crazy journey is a comfort that I have not felt before.

IMG_5759Every other home I have had I have always known that I would one day leave but with kevin James, I feel like we are going to be together forever!

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I watched a lovely Ted Talk tonight, which sums up home really well: In it Elizabeth Gilbert talks about home being to do with love, which is what I believe all the keys on my key-ring have in common; In each of those places I felt/feel love. My favourite line from the talk is: “Your home is whatever in this world you love more than you love yourself”. Well for me, the ones that remain constant in my life and are the reason I call each of those 5 places and many more ‘home’ is Music, Family and Friends. Whatever your home is be sure to realise that it is not the bricks and wallpaper that make it that way, it is the love that you feel within it. If your happiness is ever challenged or tested and you feel uncertain of whom you are and what you’re capable of… Just go ‘home’ and it will all be ok.

 

We made it!

It’s been a bit crazy to say the least. Once again I have struggled to find a moment to sit down and write. I am sat out on the deck of my new home the sunshine is blazing and all I want to do is tell you how amazing my new way of life is but before I do I have the last leg of the journey to tell you about… and man what an eventful last leg it was! I left off in my last entry the day before Devizes and this is the day is all started!

We got up a 6am and set off at 7am in a bid to get to Devizes by night fall to moor up and hit it hard the next day. We were setting off from Hungerford, moored up just after Lock 74 and heading to Devizes, which starts at Lock 50 so there were 23 locks to go… Mum and I had our windlasses at the ready!

We got off for the first lock, dogs in tow and smashed through it in no time, we have a little routine going now which has been unconsciously perfected throughout the trip. When we finished lock 73 we could see Lock 72 up ahead so we thought we would stay off the boat and walk ahead give the dogs a little run… Well this was basically the theme of our day; we didn’t get back on our boat until after Lock 55! Although we popped the dogs back on a little before that which Barley made clear he was not happy about when he turned up soaking wet mid way through our lock prep. Our sight of the boat was blocked by a bridge so as mum grabbed Barley I ran down to Bob to check he was ok: Barley had managed to nose his way through to the front bedroom and then launched himself of the front of the boat! Luckilly when Bob was mooring up to wait for the lock to empty he looked down the side of the boat to check his distance and saw Barley’s bright yellow life jacket! There he was just swimming about in the water… Bob ran down and hauled him out the water with the help of another moored boater and once Barley was on dry land he bolted after us! Crazy dog!

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19 locks down and god knows how many miles walked/run we were knackered!

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Next up Bruce Tunnel all 502 yards of it, time to test the headlights!

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We hopped back off the boat at Lock 54; 4 more locks to go and all in quick succession before we could get back on The Kevin James and cruise the next few lockless hours to Devizes. Excited, exhausted and pushing through we were both pretty happy when we got to lock 53 and the paddles we seemingly easy to wind up, not too much resistance at all…. “Ah these are nice and easy.” I said and mum agreed, what a relief, if the next 2 are like this we will smash through them… Sat waiting for the lock to empty it was a good few minutes before it dawned upon us: The lock was not draining, the paddles were easy with little resistance because there was no resistance! They had not lifted at all, the lock was not emptying and suddenly our 6am start and hammering through 21 locks in no time came to a crashing halt.

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Bob made a call to Canal and River Trust and they assured us they would call us back. 40 minutes went by the lock had managed to drain halfway and plateaued and with 1 other boat waiting to come down the lock another boat came into view up ahead heading up the lock, just what we needed. It was a 70ft narrow boat with a group of 6 old boys on their lad’s holiday! A quick chat with them and they agreed to try their best to nudge the lock gates with their boat in the hope of allowing enough water to escape so that we could push the gates open. With our boat tied up in the lock and four of us on each: On 3 we pushed with all our might as one of the lads drove the narrow boat into the gates. There was some deceptive movement in the gates, which turned out to just be the bending of the beams. The lads were not giving up and continued full throttle into the gates, one old boy even climbed onto the gates thinking he could make a difference with his sheer brut strength but I think that was more to do with the amount he had had to drink than his actual ability.

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With the cue building up the heavens opened! Two hours went by and the Canal and River Trust finally turned up only to take one look at the boat and say; “yep, you’re not getting out of there tonight…” Undeterred I was not about to let their pessimistic, defeatist attitude stand in the way of our journey and undo all our hard work that morning. Mum and I seemingly took on an unrehearsed good cop/back cop routine. I expressed my extreme disappointment in their diagnosis and demanded they give me an exact time in which they planned to get the divers here to sort the lock. Then along comes mum apologising for the hassle this has caused them and with and understanding tone, sympathising with the ‘bad week’ they had had, which they were all too keen to tell us about: ”I know its not your fault” she said. Bob had not given up either and had managed to get some coal ash from the lads boat which he climbed up onto the top gate with and poured down the middle successfully attempting to block up the cracks somewhat in a bid to reduce the water coming into the lock so that the flow going out was greater and thus the 2ft of water left in the lock would slowly reduce. With the coal in but unsure how long it would hold Bob came and said to the two CRT lads: “can we put some pressure on this gates to see if we can let some water out enough to open the gates?” “oooo, we can’t do that, we’ll snap the beam”. Bob, too polite to argue their crazy logic just accepted their response and walked off. In comes bad cop again: “Lads come on. I don’t mean to be rude, you look like strong lads but between the four of us I don’t think we are going to snap that beam! Lets just try. ”Well, I don’t know if it was their bruised ego’s desperate to prove me wrong or just the sheer shock of being challenged by a woman but they complied. Mum ran off to get the lads who were now way more than two sheets to the wind and were just untying their ropes to head back up to the pub for the night. 6 of us on the one gate, the rain pouring down we heaved with all our might. By this point our friends Viv and Ian had turned up on their bikes hoping to meet us along the way to Devizes not expecting to find us in this state; They too jumped on along with a few others from the ever growing queue of boats and we did it!!!!! We were free!!!!

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In a flash we hauled the bikes onto Kevin James, elated to be set free from captive we carried on down the river without a second thought for the boats that we had left behind stuck there for the night till the divers came and fixed the paddles…

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We did, of cause spare a thought for them eventually; we’re not that self-absorbed!

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Slowly drying out and thankfully only 2 more locks to do we powered on but only made it to Honey Street by nightfall. Nothing another 6am start wouldn’t fix: We got to Devizes at 11am. Ready and raring to nail these 28 locks!

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Although we had called out to various people to come along and help, we had but one taker in the form of Nigel Dean. What a clueless trouper he was!

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With him being ordered around the locks by mum and I, the three of us managed to get a little routine going and smashed it in 3.5hrs.

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Proud as punch we had a celebratory cheese on toast and cuppa tea then carried onto Semington where we moored up for the night. Just as we locked up the boat and headed down the towpath to The Semington Arms for our first and only dinner out (treating ourselves for all our hard work). We were met by the ever ‘on his way’ Tom Sheppard. Just in time for our celebratory pub dinner and drinks the windlass we had brought him for his arrival and help at Devizes lay untouched in the back box on the Kevin James.

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We had a lovely dinner; Tom and I managed to win pool as Bob ‘the hustler’ lost his hustle by accidently potting the black! Kate Dean joined us at 9 for a late ordering of mushroom risotto and then we all headed back to Kevin James for a little nightcap before bed, lush!

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The next couple of days went by in a flash; with another early start and back down to the three of us we managed to make it to Hanham Lock by nightfall.

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Coming through Bath, the Widcombe Flight of 6 locks didn’t faze us at all however the last Lock was a seriously deep one, so much so that both mum and I struggled to close the gates afterwards. After several attempts we decided to join forces and with my hands on the gate and mums hands around my waist so that she could get her feet onto the poorly placed ridges for some grip we pulled with all our might and not without lots of funny looks and laughs from the passing traffic we got it moving!

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Getting back onto the river was a change of pace; with all the rain the river was flowing pretty fast and we were flying along. There was very little traffic on the water, as I believe most sensible people without a schedule to stick to, decided to stay at home. But halfway to Hanham we met a boat coming the other way, which had seemingly forgotten that you always pass port to port and was now heading straight for us. In a panic I handed the tiller to Bob who was equally panicked but with mum franticly signalling for them to get over we managed to squeeze passed each other. However this left us right in the bushes, poor Bob was desperately trying to recover us but with the flow of the river it was not an easy task. Before we knew it we were right over the other side in the trees, mum and I had to duck right down while Bob stopped, calmed the situation and with a clear head and a quick lift off of the brand new chimney we had just bought he waded us through the trees and got us back on track with only a broken navigational light to show for it. Thank god for Bob! Although once we got to Bristol we did find half a tree under our bow!

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Waking up at Hanham lock we were only an hour from Bristol so we were able to have a slightly lazier start to the day and head off around 9am. We got to the lock and the moorings were flooded! Undeterred Bob nosed the boat up to the gates and we hoped off the bow straight onto the gate. As we started to wind the gates up the lock master came out in his dressing gown explaining to us that the river was closed due to the flooding and they were not letting anyone in or out of Bristol. Bob tied the boat up around the top of the mooring post that was just sticking out of the water and climbed off the bow while I held the front end in with the rope. A quick chat with his old drinking friend Trevor the Lock Master, a call to the Lock Master at Netham Lock and we were on our way! It’s not what tiy know ‘ey?

It was not going to be an easy ride but Trevor knew Bob was more than capable and sure enough we made it to Netham lock in record time! So much so that the Lock Master was not ready for us. As we waited patiently for him to sift the rubbish through (which was why he allowed us through knowing he had to open the lock for his daily rubbish duties anyway. Also FYI we think this may be where we picked up the tree on our bow but it was more dramatic to say it happened during the near miss!) I started to reflect on our journey and how far we have come. It has been such a journey for all three of us in more ways than one.

Watching as he turned away other boats we couldn’t help but feel a bit smug. Mum and I went and bought a 15 day visitors pass for Bristol (I am currently on the waiting list for Bristol Marina) as I had decided to spend a few days there before heading over to Portished where I am going to moor while I wait with finger crossed and baited breath for a mooring in Bristol.

We got back on the boat and Bob handed me the reins saying: “right skipper, he’s all yours, my work is done, away you go.” A proud moment as I cruised down the Feeder canal, taking the tight right turn with ease, bob said: “well, I’d have been proud of that, you wouldn’t have done that last Monday” and proud I was. We approached Bristol Harbourside and much to everyone’s distaste I decided to moor him up right outside the bustling Arnolfini. It may be noisy at night but if I’ve only got 15 days here I wanna get right in the thick of it!

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As we turn the engine off, a glass of Presecco on a completely empty stomach marks the end of our journey together as a threesome and the beginning of mine as a boat dweller…

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I couldn’t be prouder of the three of us…. London to Bristol in just over 9 days!

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Kevin James has lots of visitors…

It’s Sunday night; we’re moored up at Hungerford for the night… after a short discussion we all agreed to finish early so we can have a lazy evening in preparation to hammer the next five days. We basically need to haul ass to Bristol by Friday so that I can do the big move over the weekend before starting work Monday! Hectic you say…? I wouldn’t have it any other way…

Mum’s getting the spag bol on the go, we have our lovely Bob Back after his trip home for the weekend to allow us to have room for the whole family on board and I have finally got some time to fill you in on the next instalment:

So this is my second attempt at writing part 2 of our journey from London to Bristol. It has been hectic to say the least and every time I’ve sat down to write, there has been a lock to do, a bridge to open, a boat to steer, a drink to make, a dinner to cook, not to mention the moments when you just want to stop and take it all in.

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In my first attempt I started to tell you all about our completion of the Thames River and joining the River Kennet: We hit Reading on Thursday and what a culture shock it was…

 

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Leaving the Thames…

Having never done any boating on the Thames River I can see how people get used to the leisure of it all! No man-powered locks at all, every single one is run by the push of a button and not only that but at 90% of the locks there is a person there to push said button for you! The other lovely thing about the Thames is the space; getting into the windy River Kennet we suddenly had to be a lot more alert while steering! But still I love it on the canals, doing the locks not only gives you a sense of achievement but its great teamwork and a dam good workout. We have of course been putting all our guests to work too!

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So far on this trip I have found two new loves; my new (charity shop bought) slow cooker and birds; I’ve become a bit of a keen bird spotter (with the help of Bob identifying them for me) we’ve seen swans, geese, ducks, great crested grebes, cormorants, herons, buzzards, terns, red kites and many more. Unfortunately without a decent zoom lens on my camera and usually only my iPhone to hand I’ve not managed to capture any decent pictures yet but I’m working on it! And don’t even get me started on my slow cooker, its just a dream and perfect for this trip; Chop it all up in the morning, plonk it all in, switch it on, set off and forget about it for the whole day… then after a long day there is nothing to be done but eat… Although the aroma throughout the day is pretty dam hard to resist!

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Slow Cooked vegetable curry.

Slow Cooked chicken casserole.

So as I said, Bob headed home for the weekend to make room for the motely crew to come aboard; we moored up just before Newbury right outside the The Narrow Boat pub. That way my sister and the gang could park the car literally spitting distance from the boat and get all their stuff on board. Anyone with kids will know that there is no such thing as packing light with two little ones! But it was perfect for us because with a Tesco’s superstore on our doorstep we were able to stock up… and stock up we did, we were busting at the seems with food and booze (can I just take this moment to say there really is nothing super about Tesco’s superstores, they are so under stocked and have little more to offer than a corner shop! That’s my rant done)!

 

With the family on board, the next morning although up nice any early to enjoy the day we had a leisurely start. Breakfast in our pj’s and much to Gem’s disbelief mum even walked the dogs in her onesie!!! Anyone who knows mum knows she doesn’t leave the house without her lipstick so this was a proud moment for me; she’s adapted well to boat life! Driving the boat with my whole family on board it felt amazing. It was so lovely to see us all enjoying our new venture together. Took me right back to our childhood… only this time it’s ours; no having to give the boat back in a week, no extortionate rental fees, no post holiday blues, it’s ours to enjoy holidays whenever we want. Every day’s a holiday.

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Maximising the new sofa bed

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Quick stop off in Newbury for some pedal boating

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Boat life!

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The sun has been shining down on our journey all week…

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Little Milo getting introduced to boat life… Start them young.

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Alfie tormenting the dogs with his ‘swords’…

Even with our leisurely pace we surprised ourselves and managed to make it to Kintbury for the evening’s mooring spot; I think the extra hands made light work of the locks. What a lovely little Village Kintbury is, we had a wonderful stay there and then after another well earned lazy morning the family set off and we picked up our next guests. Some day-tripper’s this time: Miss Serena Catapano came back for some more and this time she brought her mum and step dad along for the ride. Jan got stuck in with the locks straight away climbing down the side the boat, jumping off the front end and pushing the gates open faster than me! We hit Hungerford in no time… So much so that we nearly cruised straight by it! We were cruising passed it and mum said: “oh, this place looks nice, where are we…?” With Serena’s car in Hungerford ready to take them all back to Kintbury and Bob getting the train there to meet back up with us, there was really no choice… I quickly banged it into reverse and with a good old audience building up I managed not to make too much of a hash of it and reverse moored it up! Although we realised shortly after that, that it was the boat trip mooring and not somewhere we were supposed to be… oops!

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Miss Catapano had a little go a steering!

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Jan and Brin loving boat life.

Sunday was of course a popular day for visitors but we managed to fit them all in with our last guests of the day being none other than the lovely Kate Dean and her papa. What a lovely end to a wonderful weekend.

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Time to turn in for the night, long old day tomorrow, I have a slow cooked roast chicken dinner planned, I can smell it already; 24 locks to Devises which we are determined to do so we can moor up and tackle the Caen Hill flight Tuesday morning. Feel free to come and watch or get stuck in, we could do with the extra womanpower…

Kevin James on the Tidal Thames.

Four days ago I fulfilled a childhood dream of mine…

At 12 Noon on Sunday the 1st of May Mum and I pulled into Regent’s Row, London to sign the papers for our very own canal boat. At 60ft by 10ft she is a beast, all glistening and glorious in the afternoon sun! Many of my fondest childhood memories are holidaying on the canals with my family… and since those days I have always dreamed of one day ditching solid ground for life on the water. As we step aboard the formerly named Gertrude, to me she already feels like home… This is a shared dream with my Mum and a big achievement for us both; her and Dad had always wanted to own their own Narrow Boat but sadly never got to realise that dream before he past away. So of course there was no question when it came to naming the boat; one phone call to the Canal and River Trust for a quick sex change; She becomes a he and is fittingly named Kevin James (after my dad).

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With A Little Help From My Friends we managed to get him spick and span and all settled in in no time. With the first fire (lit by yours truly) roaring we popped open the Champagne! Women make fire too you know, we just do it in style…

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The next morning consisted of dragging my friends to IKEA on a bank holiday Monday (thats love) to purchase a corner sofa bed that resulted in getting picked up by and UBER driver with a people carrier as, surprisingly it didn’t fit in Serena’s Fiat 500! This may seem excessive but it was an important buy for all the visitors we have coming along the way to join in the madness! Sofa bed made up, food and supplies stocked and we are ready to set sail (I know there is no sail but you know what I mean).

 

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We have a long journey ahead to get him all the way back to Bristol which is where we intend to moor my new home for now. Planning our route weeks before with the help of my new boating friend Bob we decided to tackle to the Tidal Thames and out to the Kennet and Avon Canal that way for what promised to be an epic adventure!

After a relatively short trip from Broadway Market we moored up for the night at Limehouse, right outside the Thames Lock. This proved to be a somewhat sleepless night; Muchly to do with the copious amounts of cheese and Port we consumed, which finished up around 1am! But also the realisation of what we were about to tackle the next day; Mum, whilst excited was somewhat apprehensive. I on the other hand was blissfully blinded to the dangers by my thrill seeking over ambitious brain that just jumps in head first without a second thought of the risk. But the butterflies kept me awake…

I lived in London for 9 years of my life and it will always hold a special place in my heart. This journey is much more to me than just us bringing our new boat, my new home, back to Bristol. It is a little farewell to the place I called home…

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Police escort under Tower Bridge no less! (Just a coincidental convoy I promise!)IMG_4703This is by far the best way to see London! What a beautiful view:
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Farewell Tower Bridge…You always blow me away with your beauty, especially on a clear night when you light up the Thames!IMG_4736

My knight in shining armour! We could never have taken on this trip without our Pilot and now, dear friend Bob:IMG_4749 IMG_4770 IMG_4778 IMG_4787

Albert Bridge, a beautiful bridge that holds a very special place in my heart. Sunrise from this Bridge is worth the early morning!IMG_4802

Brecon the Border Collie loving life!IMG_4828

Barley the Border Collie wondering why he is on such a short lead… Crazy pup! Hang in there buddy in a couple of years you will have earned your stripes.IMG_4829

And finally we reach Teddington which marks the end of the Tidal Thames. What a ride!

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Needless to say it all went swimmingly and is without a doubt up there as one of the best days of my life!

Our journey continues…

BBC Introducing with Tom Robinson on 6 music
 
 
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