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Wintering in the sun

We have rented an apartment in Corralejo, Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands until mid March, by which time we hope that the winter weather at home will have passed.

Before I retired, we always had a winter holiday on one or other of the Canary Islands and that started with a drive to the airport, usually Birmingham. After I handed back my company car, there didn’t seem much point in having another while we were boating so we’ve done without and as a result have done a lot more walking. Of course it isn’t always practical to walk so we have become quite adept at using public transport and since we didn’t fancy walking to Birmingham airport, we went by train instead. Birmingham International station is right next to the airport and the two are linked by monorail so it’s all very easy and civilised. We like to take things easy so we went to the airport the day before we were due to fly and spent the night in the Novotel, which is a two minute walk from the terminal.

The following day, all we had to do was to get up and have a leisurely breakfast before checking in and although the flight was delayed slightly, we still enjoyed it. All went smoothly on arrival and we were picked up by Keith, the property manager, who brought us to the apartment and showed us where everything was. We made a quick trip to a nearby supermarket where we bought some basic essentials and after dropping those off, we headed into town for something to eat.

We’ve visited Corralejo many times before on holiday so you might be forgiven for wondering how we have spent our time in a town which is essentially a holiday resort. We’ve made a point of walking every day, anywhere between four and twelve miles but generally averaging around seven or eight. From where we are living, there are many different routes to follow that take in the beaches, the harbour and even an out of town supermarket. Inevitably we will stop somewhere for morning coffee or if it’s afternoon I can usually be tempted by a cold beer.

We have travelled by bus to other towns in the north of the Island including the capital, Puerto del Rosario. The bus services are regular and they have a card system similar to London’s Oyster card so it is very easy to get around. Buses are known locally as Guaguas (pronounced Wah-wah) – a term that is also used in the Caribbean, but not in Mainland Spain.


Tiadhe is the local bus operator in Fuerteventura

Because we are here for a few months, we have not eaten out as frequently as we would have done on a normal holiday so this has meant that we have had to do a lot more grocery shopping than normal. We have a good choice of supermarkets in Corralejo, Hiperdino, Mercadona and EuroSpar with the latter being the only recognisable name to us. All three stock pretty much everything needed by visitors and locals alike. They all have a wide range of fresh produce, their fish counters in particular are exceptionally good, putting the UK supermarkets to shame. Shopping has been interesting and fun on occasion because of course almost everything is written in Spanish. Some items are easy to recognise, others take a bit of working out but that’s where Google’s translate app is a Godsend (Download it here). After a while, product recognition becomes second nature and it seems as easy to go shopping here as it does at home. Nevertheless, that heady mix of confidence and complacency can soon lead to mistakes and it wasn’t too long before I bought a bottle of hair conditioner thinking that it was shampoo and then wondered why I couldn’t wash my hair properly! Embarrassingly, the Spanish word for shampoo is champú so I had no real excuse!

Top Tip: When buying fresh chicken, use the phrase “puedes cortar la cabeza, por favor?” **

When it comes to eating out, there really isn’t a language barrier because virtually everyone working in the cafés, bars and restaurants have a good command of the English language making it easy for us lazy Brits to order food and drink. We assume that English is a major subject in the local schools, it would make sense given the number of people who are employed in the tourist industry. We have probably eaten out once or twice a week on average and maybe the same again for snacks or light meals. The food and service has been good to excellent everywhere that we have eaten but needless to say we haven’t sampled anywhere near the reported 275 eateries in town. Top of that list, according to TripAdvisor, is The Ugly Duckling. We have visited it twice and have to say that it deserves its reputation and probably deserves its number one ranking.

Whether eating out or shopping in the supermarkets, the cost of living is more or less the same as at home in the UK even with the weaker pound. Even adding 10 – 15% tip to a café or restaurant bill doesn’t break the bank here.

So a combination of being a resort in which English is widely spoken and almost everything that can be bought in the UK is here, our time in Corralejo has hardly been a cultural revelation. However we knew that before we came here for the winter, all we wanted to do was to migrate rather than hibernate. The question of culture is about to be turned on its head in the next few days. February is carnival time in Fuerteventura and on Friday it is the turn of Corralejo to host its carnival. We’ve never been here during the carnival before but we can see from the preparations and from pictures of the carnival in previous years that the town is going to come to life in a much different way than we have experienced so far.

** puedes cortar la cabeza, por favor? means “can you cut its head off, please?”

Here are a few pictures of Corralejo and El Cotillo

Time for a mid-winter update

It seems like ages since we ended our summer trip and I suppose that it is now that four months have passed by. The first month back on dry land was spent carrying out various jobs on the boat while the weather held up and we were in the marina. Eventually though it just became too cold and wet to get much done. Fortunately all of the main work was complete so there should be very little that needs to be done before we embark on our summer 2018 tour.

It had always been our intention to escape the winter weather by seeking refuge in the Canary Islands so in early December we flew to Lanzarote and had a couple of weeks at the Rubicon Palace Hotel.

H10 Rubicon Palace

Dolphins fly through the hotel reception area.

We wouldn’t normally choose a hotel holiday but this last minute, half board offer from Jet2 was too good to pass up. We had a great time, the staff are superb, the hotel is lovely, the food was excellent and to top it all, we were given a free room upgrade on arrival so spent the two weeks in a spacious suite. We were equally fortunate with the weather, having flown out just two days before Britain was hit by freezing temperatures with snow and ice causing severe travel disruption. By the time we returned, just a few days before Christmas, the UK temperature had risen and it was as mild as the day that we had left. The only sign that winter had visited was a giant mound of snow that had been ploughed to the side of Birmingham Airport.

We had a quiet Christmas at home followed by a trip north to see in the New Year with my parents. We travelled back on January 2nd and that left us just three days to prepare for our next trip and our “proper” winter break.

More of that in the next post.

Borough Market

After threatening to visit London since we got off the Thames at Brentford, we decided that Apsley would be a good place to do it from. The railway station is a five minute walk from where we were moored so on Saturday morning we caught the 0938 to Euston. The half hourly service takes thirty minutes to reach the capital so we found ourselves on the station concourse just before quarter past ten. We had intended to take the tube to Borough Market but the station was so busy, we decided to walk there; it’s only three miles after all! Once we had crossed the Euston road, the number of pedestrians had thinned out so we had an enjoyable walk in the Saturday morning sunshine. The route is a fairly straightforward and one that we have taken before so we were able to have a good look at some of the architecture along the way. As we crossed the Thames on Blackfriars bridge we tried to work out the state of the tide, coming to the conclusion that it was going out and was pretty low at that time. This was confirmed as we walked along the southern embankment and could see that there were a number of people walking on the exposed beach. Soon we reached Borough Market which was already heaving with shoppers, when we have visited before we have been staying in London and were able to get there when it opened at 8am. Now, three hours after opening time, the market was packed but we still managed to get around it all, buying a couple of items and sampling lots more.

The hour that we had spent in the market went quickly and then we started the trek back north to Euston.

Fleet Street was full of buses when we walked along it, a mixture of service buses and tour coaches lined up, no doubt waiting for traffic lights to change somewhere. Well the lights changed or the hold up cleared and they  all moved off one by one. All, that is, except for one open top tour bus which stayed resolutely still. We automatically looked at the driver and saw him sitting, slightly slumped in his seat with his eyes closed. He then lifted his head and looked around to see that the traffic had moved and the road ahead was empty. He then caught sight of us pointing and laughing at him. In fairness, he grinned and waved back at us before moving on with his bus load of passengers who were oblivious to the actions of their sleepy driver.

We took our time and broke our journey part way at an open air café. Our light lunch was fine although we wondered at one point whether we had made a good choice of venue. I asked for a sandwich which was listed on the menu as being, “Pastrami and pickle rye”. “What kind of bread would like?”, asked the waiter, “White, wholemeal or ciabatta?”. “I would like to think that it is on rye bread”, I replied. “Oh, yes, my mistake.” he said, laughing. Meanwhile the couple at the table next to us were sending their food back and the family at another table were given the wrong bill to settle. As it turned out, Sue’s jacket potato and my pastrami and pickle on rye sandwich arrived and they were fine, although my idea of rye bread is clearly different to whoever made the sandwich.

After our brief stop, we walked the final mile or so back to Euston and only had a few minutes to wait before we could board our train back to Apsley for the rest of the day.

Inescapable Banbury

After our walk to Adderbury on Wednesday we were going to walk in the opposite direction and take a look at King’s Sutton. The temperature was already rising outside when we awoke at seven so we changed our mind and decided to get the bus to Brackley, a small town about eight miles away rather than walk four miles in the baking heat. There was no particular reason to go there except for the fact that it would be a new place to explore. The bus arrived at the road bridge just after midday, we boarded and paid the fare. The driver looked a little puzzled and questioned if we really meant to go to Brackley. The bus is a local one and most of the stops are request stops although the driver seemed to know all of the passengers and where they would be getting off. We passed through Kings Sutton, then the village of Charlton before arriving in Aynho. The driver stopped the bus and came to speak to us, explaining that although the service ran all day shuttling between Banbury and Brackley, this run turned around at Aynho.

The driver told us that he only did the lunchtime run and that he’d never picked up anyone from Twyford Wharf who had wanted to go to Brackley – well he wouldn’t, would he if he only drove the service as far as Ayno? I can’t really criticise, after all it was me who didn’t read the timetable properly! Anyway, he gave us three possible options, get off at Twyford, wait an hour and then get back on the bus. Stay on the bus and eventually get to Brackley via Banbury or just go to Banbury for the afternoon. We decided to go to Banbury – just for a change! It was alright though, we had lunch and a good walk around before getting the bus back to Twyford.

We saw Kings Sutton at least, pretty but not much there. We probably won’t ever get to Brackley but the driver assured us that there wasn’t much to see or do there anyway. In any case we had yet another lovely day in the May sunshine.

Now the real journey begins

This is just a quick catch up on what we have been doing over the last week since our last post. We remained moored at the top of Hillmorton and caught the bus into Rugby where we did a bit of shopping and had a birthday lunch at Prezzo, courtesy of Rebecca, Don and the children. Thank you very much, it was delicious!

Caxton safely tucked up in Braunston marina.

On Wednesday we untied and made our way to Braunston, blue skies had returned and with the very gentle winds to accompany us, our journey was very enjoyable. It was around one o’clock when we arrived at Braunston marina where had arranged to leave Caxton for a few days while we travelled to Hampshire for my retirement party. We found our temporary berth which was on the adjacent pier to the one that we used when we moored here permanently a few years ago. After wiggling our way into position with only inches to spare, we tied up and then went for a walk along the towpath to the tunnel. After a quick refreshment stop at the Admiral Nelson, we returned to the marina and paid our fees.

A narrowboat emerging from the tunnel mouth.

We had arranged to meet some friends who live in the village so after dinner on board, we trotted up to the Wheatsheaf for a couple of hours and had a great time catching up with them.

We were up and ready early on Thursday, despite it being Sue’s birthday. We needed to catch the bus into Rugby so that we could start our train journey to Winchester and that bus leaves the village from The Green so we had to climb the hill from Butchers bridge once again. When we first moored in Braunston, the village was well served by bus services running between Rugby and Daventry with some of them stopping on the A45 outside the marina. That ended and then the nearest stop was outside the Boathouse pub, also on the main road. Today, the hourly service only just touches the top edge of the village, stopping by the village hall. Judging by the small number of passengers on the bus, I wonder just how long even this service will remain in place.

Braunston bus? (Actually in Winchester).

Anyway, after the bus to Rugby we caught a train to Coventry and then boarded the Cross Country service to Winchester. We continued the birthday eating theme with afternoon tea at the hotel and very nice it was too. Winchester is a lovely place to wander around at any time but on warm spring days, as we had on Thursday and Friday, it was glorious. We rounded off the birthday week meal festival with lunch at Rick Stein’s retaurant which was perfect.

Afternoon Tea on Sue’s birthday.

Rick Stein’s Birthday message for Sue.

On Friday evening, I had my retirement bash in a Spanish restaurant in nearby Arlesford with colleagues from work, some of whom I have known for thirty years. We all had a good time and they even presented me with a leaving present – a Nikon DSLR camera. Once I get to grips with that, expect to see a more feature filled blog. There were many messages of good luck and some other personal gifts which will be cherished. All in all they gave me a good send off – thank you everyone.

Saturday dawned and we made the return journey to Braunston, re-tracing our route via Coventry and Rugby. It was after four o’clock when we got back and Sue used the evening and the fact that we were plugged into the mains to catch up with the washing and drying.

Our original intention had been to travel south on the Grand Union and return on the Oxford canal later in the summer. However, by the time we were ready to leave on Sunday morning we had decided to go the other way around. It doesn’t make any real difference to us which way we go but we were slightly concerned that there have been some predictions of drought and figured that we might be better crossing the summit of the Oxford sooner rather than later just in case low water levels start to have an effect on lock operations.

Sitting with an unusually large amount of free space around.

We turned left out of the marina and found a place to moor, halfway between the two bridges that carry the A45 over the canal and close to the two bridges that carry the towpath over the junction of the canal. We were surprised at just how empty the moorings are in Braunston but I suppose that it is still early in the season. The reason that we didn’t go so far was because the weather outlook for Monday was for high winds and lots of heavy showers. Sunday was still fine so we walked up and around the village, calling at the Chandlers and the village shop along the way.

The rain started in the early hours of Monday morning and continued on and off throughout the day. We did manage to get a walk around the village again during a dry period after dinner but the rain came again shortly after we returned to the boat.

And so to today, Tuesday. It was still windy but thankfully no rain, although there is a horrible outlook forecast. We took advantage of the relatively good conditions and set off in the direction of Napton, just after eight o’clock. Normally, this stretch of canal irritates me but today it didn’t because there are very few boats on the move and not many moored up either. What normally happens, usually on sunny, summer, Sunday afternoons is that as boats converge at Wigram’s and Braunston turns, convoys get formed. Lines of moored boats then force everyone down to tickover speed and the convoys become condensed. The real fun starts when two convoys meet at a bridge! Anyway, it wasn’t like that today and three hours after setting off, we were moored just above the bottom lock at Napton. After lunch, we took a walk to the village shop where Sue bought some provisions and then we returned to the canal. The rain started mid afternoon and the forecast is that it isn’t going to stop until Thursday morning so it looks like we will have another day here tomorrow. With a bit of luck, who knows, there might be a tiny break in the rain, a small window of opportunity to nip to the Folly for a pint before then!

Tuesday’s mooring at Napton

So now the journey can really begin, we have no timetable to stick to, no set route to follow and very few restrictions to hamper us on our big adventure.

Today’s Trip