It was a quite early start - even for us - with a doctor's appointment in
Fortunately we seem to have in-built alarms and after finishing breakfast, completing the packing and locking the boat, we were in the car and moving by 6:45am.
We knew that it would take a bit over 3 hours of actual travel and these days on these roads we like to have a bit of a break along the way, so a need to build that into the calculations.
Traffic was reasonable and as has been our custom we take the M6 tollway - simply because there is always roadworks on the M6; always traffic congestion; always speed restrictions, and; invariably an accident. We were correct on the first 3 and not on the last one.
The interchange from the M6 to the M1 is creating it's own disruption and scheduled to last another 2 years, but we did get through there without too many problems, although it was slow at times.
All-in-all we were about an hour early, but Diane always has a list of things that we need to take care of when we have a car, and when we are in
So we used up some of that time to cross a few items off the list.
For once Diane was called in to see the doctor on time and was out unusually early. However, there was a need for a blood test and so we raced off to Watford General to get that all seen to.
After all of this and filling the car with petrol, it was then time visit Maggie and Paddy (Diane's aunt and uncle) - our mail collectors. Time to catch up on the family news, and pass on stories of our travels as well as pictures from home. Maggie is Diane's dad's (Terry or Fil) only sister, and so photo's of his 80th birthday were shown.
|There's nothing under the tree yet for your dear!|
|A cuppa for all occassions|
|Maggie, Paddy and David|
We stayed the night as it had been a while since we had been down and gave us a better chance to see them; also it is such a time of the year that with darkness descending so early and it being so cold, the inside of a nice warm house is more appealing than the long drive back in the dark and eventual chill of the late night.
|Patchy the hampster|
|A friendly little thing she is|
The following day was a different matter and we did have to head back again, unfortunately; we did however decide to break up the journey with a visit to Kedleston Hall near
Part of our plans for the coming year are that each time we hire a car we would make a concerted effort to see a National Trust property not near to a canal. So armed with our new NT members cards (which had come in the mail that had come to
Christmas time was in the air and a very nice touch was the arrival of carolers singing from a balcony crossing over this area. Entertainment at lunch time, and well appreciated by all who heard.
|Kitchen and lunch...|
|and the carolers|
The tour around the house was limited to the main central area and a number of rooms off on one wing - much of the remainder of the house is still being refurbished in the style of the mid to late 18th century - but what was available was well presented and as is usual with these properties you have to really wonder about the concentration of wealth in the hands of so few.
Time did not quite get away, as there was still the matter of getting back to the boat without being too late.
|Lovely inside, but still cold|
|The Vicar of Drivel maybe|
Diane had a thought and I didn't disagree with it at all - It would be really nice to catch up with Paul and Elaine, who were making their way to Stone for the night -indeed for a couple of nights in preparation for a Xmas dinner with all of us who had been co-horts in drinking so much last year - a boater's reunion.
It was planned for the Sunday and we would be there, but it would be nice to get a head start and we would drive home a little later.
In such a short time we arrived; Diane had messaged ahead; we were all sitting down in the bar area of the hotel in comfortable chairs - in the warmth. Before Diane even had a chance to say it, I had thought of it; a check at reception and that lead to the next beer.
Funny thing was, Diane was able to book a room cheaper over the internet than I could persuade the person on reception to give it to us for.
With that done, it was only a matter of a couple of photos and messages to go with them and we had another four with us - Sue and Andy along with Dot and Gordon.
Were we really ever apart? It seemed not!
So a few more drinks were consumed; Sue was the nominated driver. A great many laughs and stories were shared and without warning it was getting late.
We had had a great night - another impromptu one at that - the first time we had all been together for quite some time - probably since last winter.
So we said our goodbyes and headed to our room with our cases - Diane always packs for one extra day, so we were covered - only problem was our room had not been made-up - back down to reception - were they annoyed that we had used the internet for a better rate? - I doubt it.
New room - this one was all ready - but we only had eyes for the bed and sleep - too many miles driving; too many things bunched into two days.
The bathroom did have a rather large bath and Diane made good use of it - coffee was provided on demand - at least I was able to catch MOTD replay.
Breakfast time had been compromised on - 9am - Paul and Elaine were looking a bit tired - this was too early in the day.
No cereal for them, but we needed our porridge starter - the hot breakfast orders had been taken.
There was a high occupancy in the hotel overnight, but this didn't account for the slow arrival of the porridge and slower removal of the bowls and then even slower showing of the cooked portion of the meal.
|Here they are after waking up - but still waiting for breakfast|
Their excuse - "We don't start on the eggs until the bowls come back".
We managed to stay calm, but the clock had dragged on for 90 minutes from the time we sat down until we finished.
I think that they knew we didn't believe the excuse that it was entirely the fault of the "bl___dy porridge".
By this stage we did however need to get back to the boat as there were things that we wanted to collect for the Xmas dinner; Elaine and Paul needed to walk the dogs.
A pleasant 45 minute drive toward Crewe and a little beyond; the boat was still afloat; the batteries were in reasonable shape after 2 days on their own; the solar panels had trickled in a bit of power to top them up; we added a bit from the engine and cranked up the Mykuni for a bit of heat.
In all we were back for less than 2 hours before we headed right back to where we had just left - this time however there were 17 of us in total - almost all had been party to the great times shared last Xmas - just Richard (and unfortunately not Sharon who was ill) off OakApple being the sole new comer, but we had met them during the year at Lapworth.
|Roly - unhand that lady, you don't|
know where she has been or what
she has been up to
|Jim (impersonating a wide-mouthed frog) and the ever-lovely Joan|
|Bev, Roly, Paul, and Sally (hiding Rob)|
|Too much fun being had|
Oh what a joyous reunion it was - with Roly and Bev, Joan and Jim as well as Rob and Sally; Phil was there sporting a new goatee and his much better half Lynn; Richard and us eight from last night completed the gathering.
|Lynn, Phil and interloper|
We all were chatting away; the meals arrived; we sat and ate and chatted and it really was just like we had not been apart.
Most of us moved on to The Royal Exchange - our haunt from last winter - Michelle the landlady had a night off; our usual window seat was occupied by another but that didn't change the fact that we all start doing silly things when we get together.
|The hats were being passed around - Phil bears a resemblance|
to Leonard Cohen
|Andy suddenly remembered where he had left his lost camera|