Monty The Boat Horse

As an IBM retiree, I am a member of the IBM Retired Employee Club. The club organises various activities to keep us occupied, mainly via organised excursions. These activities can vary from shopping trips to London, mystery coach rides through the British countryside, shows and visits to stately homes.


Canal Side Flowers

A couple of weeks ago we did something a little different, for us. The scheduled excursion was a trip to the old market town of Marlborough, combined with a horse-drawn boat trip on the Kennet and Avon canal.



So, reasonably early in the morning, we set of on the coach. It was quite a dull day, in fact it rained quite hard as we drove down the M27. This didn’t bode well for the time we were due to spend in Marlborough. Plodding around shops is not my idea of fun. Doing it in the rain, even less so. However, 90 minutes or so later we arrived at Marlborough High Street, the second widest in Britain. The rain had eased off to a light drizzle so that was good.

Marlborough is an interesting town but, since we have visited several times before, we opted to spend very little time window shopping. Instead searching out a cozy hostelry, namely the Castle & Ball hotel, which dates from the 15th century. Here we had a very pleasant meal.

Having completed our lunch, we were soon back on the coach, ready for the days highlight, the boat trip. And, after a short, thirty minute drive, we arrived at Kintbury and were soon aboard the canal boat.


Kennet Valley – Our 1 Horse Power canal boat

Our horse-drawn boat, Kennet Valley, is a wide-beam passenger vessel, purpose-built in 1976. She operates from Kintbury and is 20.4m (67ft) long by 3m (10ft) wide. Powered solely by the 1hp towing action of a horse.


Monty ‘The Star’ – a Welsh Cob Shire Cross

The horse in question is Monty ‘The Star’ a Welsh Cob Shire Cross. He was ready and harnessed when we arrived. Shortly, after all passengers were aboard, Monty was hitched up and off we went.


Regular Stretching Exercises – Keeping The Rope Clear

This is a fabulous way to travel. So smooth and quiet. Sometimes, there are obstacles to negotiate. The guys, our crew of three, were very adept. Lifting the tow rope over other craft moored alongside, so as not to take down their chimneys ……..


Aye Aye Skipper

….. steering to avoid oncoming craft. Yes it was very busy. I think during our three hours on the boat we encountered two other craft coming towards us. I think the rules were that, since we were under horse power, they had to give way to us. …..

…. Locks are an intrinsic part of the canal way of life. During our journey we had two locks to negotiate each way ….


Passing Through The Lock

….. and bridges too.

Between locks, some of us decided to jump ship and walk alongside the canal. This was so relaxing.


Threading the canal boat through the eye of the needle

If there hadn’t been some fifty odd passengers chattering away, this would have been a very quiet journey.

About half way through our journey, the galley was opened and we were served a fabulous tea. Hot tea and coffee along with Walnut Cake, Victoria Sponge and Lemon Drizzle Cake. Best of all we were treated to Fruit Scones with Cherry Jam and Cream. Surprisingly, the chatter level increased with everyone enthusing about the quality of the fare.

However, even with all that chatter, this was a lovely way to travel. No monotonous engine drone, no exhaust fumes, just the fresh country air. All accompanied by the bleating of lambs in the fields and the birdsong to join us on our gentle glide along the canal.


Monty walked steadily along, grabbing mouthfuls of grass and other foliage at every opportunity. Literally, foraging on the hoof. During our journey, we were regaled with tales of how, on a previous “wrinklies” trip, Monty did a runner. When Monty was un-hitched to allow the boat through one of the locks, he decided he had had enough and took off along the canal-side, all the way home. This left the boat stranded while the skipper trotted back home to retrieve Monty and bring him back to finish his days work.

On this occasion he behaved himself. Our journey was all to soon completed and we were back on the coach. Safely back to our departure point and then on to home.

A Great Day Out.


You can tell that the weather is warming up. The ants get busy and then along comes this great little guy….


European Green Woodpecker

This very smart bird is a European Green Woodpecker, Picus viridis

He and his pals visit our front garden fairly frequently since we seem to have more than our fair share of ant nests.  This member of the woodpecker family spends much of its time feeding on ants, on the ground. Unlike other species of woodpecker, he does not often ‘drum’ on trees.

They are supposed to be a shy bird but I have found them to be fairly tolerant so long as you don’t make any sudden moves. When they fly away they usually do so whilst emitting their very loud and distinctive call.

Super Car Sunday – Goodwood

Today was Super Car Sunday, part of the Breakfast Club series, held on the first Sunday of every month at the Goodwood Motor Racing Circuit.

The weather was perfect, with bright sunshine to show of the varied paint finishes.

Here are just some of the photos I captured.

I would just like to say thank you to the folks at Goodwood for hosting this event and to the owners of these fabulous machines for bringing them along for us to drool over.

And the best thing about this event, it is totally free.

Italian Adventure Part 8 – Hunt The Olive Tree

This was to be our last venture out before heading for home. As usual the weather forecast was mixed but, fingers crossed, we headed out. But, not before a couple of pictures taken from our hotel room.

Our target destination was the  Olivenbaum, at Marciano down near the tip of the Sorrento peninsula. As far as we could determine this is a piece of “folk art” initiated and maintained by the local villagers.

The satnag took us out from our hotel, weaving through Vico Equense,  Montechiaro and Meta along  the usual route to Sorrento.

From here we headed out into the countryside, into unknown territory. Needless to say we were presented with many beautiful views, although there wasn’t always anywhere to safely pull over and get the camera out. We did get some pictures ……

and there is more ……

The church and cemetery were situated on, by far, the quietest road that we had driven during our stay in Italy.


View from via Nastro d Oro, over a small gorge, towards Capri

The following picture, taken by Gerry, shows three rocky islands …. The Sirenusas


The Sirenusas – Gallo Lungo – Il Gallo Lungo, La Castelluccia & La Rotonda

So named as legend has it they were inhabited by sirens.  The most famous of whom were Parthenope, Leucosia, and Ligeia. One of them played the lyre, another sang, and another played the flute.

In more recent times the islands have been owned by Rudolph Nureyev, purchased in 1988. Following his death, they were purchased by  a local Sorrento hotelier.

According to Wikipedia: The property has been on and off the market for years, most recently a public listing of the three islands in 2011 was for US$268,000,000.

We never did find the Olive Tree. The satnag led us round in circles, telling us to turn when there wasn’t a turning. On one occasion we came across a narrow road/track, which might have taken us there but the road signs were confusing. Implying no vehicular access. Since there were no signs regarding the Olive Tree, we didn’t fancy hoofing it into the unknown.

Never mind, we were enjoying the views, the peace and quiet of the countryside. Well, peace for the most part. However, we were treated to a 21 gun salute. We had seen some signs for a military establishment and they were evidently practicing with their cannon. The puffs of smoke can just be seen in the following photo …


Gun smoke ?

As I said this was our final day exploring the Sorrento Peninsula. Sadly, it was soon time to head back to the hotel and the inevitable suitcase packing.

Just time for one more shot of Vesuvius, across the bay from our hotel ….


Mount Vesuvius – Viewed from Towers Hotel

So that is it, the end of our Italian Adventure.

Well not quite, our journey to the airport was nearly as complicated as driving to the hotel on day one. However, we made it to the airport, eventually found our way into the car rental compound and ultimately made our flight back to the UK and home. It was amazing how rush hour on the M25 seemed so tranquil, compared to the roads around Naples and Sorrento. And quiet, not on single toot of a car horn. And so few motor cycles.





Italian Adventure Part 7 – Sorrento & Sunset

Having previously, either passed through, or ricocheted off Sorrento, we thought it was time to pay this busy town a visit.

We found a convenient car park, in via Ernesto de Curtis, near the Circumvesuviana station. After a short walk, through Piazza Angelina Lauro,  and browsing the nearby shops, we made our way to  Piazza Tasso.

The Piazza has many eateries and we selected Bar Syrenuse as the venue for our lunch. Not the best choice as it turned out.

I chose this venue for my first “real” Italian Pizza. As it happens, I think it was probably the worst pizza I have had and that is in comparison to a Tescos own brand pizza.. Flavour-wise it was fine but the sauce was sloppy and the base soft. Could only eat it with a knife and fork. Gerry had ordered a chicken sandwich and the bread was stale.  Still the drinks were cold and very good.

After lunch we continued our tour and were soon passing shops / art galleries displaying Capo di Monte

Away from the main roads we found small parks where one could regather your  thoughts after doing battle with the cars and scooters.

Various kinds of wall art …

From Sorrentos Park Villa Comunale the views are superb. Whether looking down on the commercial beaches with their sun loungers and pretty umbrellas, or looking out across the Bay of Naples

Heading to the view-point we were drawn by some rather pleasant violin playing, coming from this beautiful courtyard….


Sorrento – Catholic Church, Convento di San Francesco

The music was part of a wedding event. The happy couple can just be seen in the background, and here I have cropped in closer ….


Wedding couple – Sorrento – Catholic Church, Convento di San Francesco

They had lovely weather for their wedding, lucky given the mixture of dull, cloudy and rainy days during the last week.

Now here are a couple of rare shots, I’m usually the one behind the camera.

Now you are over the shock, me too, it’s time to move on.

After a cold drink to bid Sorrento goodbye, we headed back to our hotel where we were treated to the Vesuvius summit playing peek-a-boo through the clouds. And then a superb sunset.

And then it was time to head down for dinner.


Italian Adventure Part 6 – Pompeii

We were up reasonably early today, Monday 7th, as our coach was picking us up at 08:50. As it happens, they arrived about twenty minutes late but never mind, this wasn’t to be a long journey and we had been sat chatting in the hotel lounge.

So today we were going on a guided tour of the archaeological site that is ancient Pompeii.

For those of you who don’t know  …….. From Wikipedia …..

Pompeii was an ancient Roman town-city near modern Naples, in the Campania region of Italy, in the territory of the comune of Pompei. Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and many villas in the surrounding area, was mostly destroyed and buried under 4 to 6 m (13 to 20 ft) of volcanic ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.

Pompeii is vast, it covers a total of 64 to 67 hectares (170 acres) and was home to approximately 11,000 to 11,500 people on the basis of household counts of the time.

Pompeii was not engulfed in a huge lava flow, rather it was enveloped in layer upon layer of volcanic ash. The victims died through asphyxiation. It is because of the ash that so much has been preserved.


Pompeii – Ancient Roman Tourist queuing to buy souvenirs ?

We were on a guided tour with the usual radio head sets. Our guide was very good, with lots of information about what we were seeing. Unfortunately my little grey cells are not up to the job of retaining all she said. The following is a selection of the photos I took. Where I can, I have included snippets of information that I remember, supplemented by a little research of my own.


Pompeii – This larger than life character “Daedalus” looks down near the entrance to the site. I expect he’s wondering about all the tourist tat shops Perhaps wishing Vesuvius would bury the lot of them

What you see in Pompeii isn’t all as it was found. Some parts have been re-constructed and, as seems to be the case wherever I travel, there are some areas covered with scaffolding.


Pompeii – It’ll look great when the construction work is finished

The streets of Pompeii were built to last, to withstand the passage of wheeled chariots and carts. They were also the place where every kind of effluvia ended up. Be it rain water, horse droppings, human waste and the general detritus discarded by the population of the city.



Many of the streets had large raised blocks across the width of the street. These were the Pompeii equivalent of a pedestrian crossing, There to help Pompeiis citizens avoid splashing through who knows what.

Many of the streets in Pompeii were not wide enough for two-way traffic. In fact, none of the streets in Pompeii are wider than 3 meters across, and it is believed that such streets may have been permanently designated as one-way. No signs to support this theory have been found. However, by looking at the wear patterns of the ruts, archaeologists have been able to identify the predominant direction from some of the streets.


Pompeii – Water Fountain

Water is fundamental to all life and no less so for the citizenry of Pompeii. Only the richest residents  would have had water supplied to their houses. Everyone else  would have relied on public fountains. Fountains, such as the one above, would be found at most street corners.

Another water related fact is that the citizens of Pompeii were not very tall. This is put down to the amount of lead used in the water systems. Lead pipes that fed the water fountains and also the richer homes. Water storage tanks were also made of or lined with lead. Apparently lead can stunt growth. However, there is a counter argument that says the amount of calcium in the water would have led to the calcification of the pipes and tanks and that in turn would have reduced the amount of lead contamination.

Our guide made a point of informing us that the lead came from England. What she omitted to say that it was the Romans who did all the serious mining and presumably exporting most of it back home.

One of the largest homes, identified so far, in Pompeii is the House of the Faun. The house was home for a very wealthy  family and takes up a whole block. It had an interior space of about 3,000 square meters (nearly 32,300 square feet).

The large mosaic in the picture above is the Alexander Mosaic  Follow the link to Wikipedia for a better picture and more information.

The photo above, with the columns, is the smaller of two peristyles. A peristyle is an open space surrounded by columns.  Even the smallest is not insignificant, being about 20 meters (65 feet)  by 7 meters (23 feet). The current reconstruction of this peristyle includes a formal garden. It may or may not have been a formal garden when it was originally in use.

Time for a little moan. The House Of The Faun is one of the most popular places to visit in Pompeii. There are two gateways and if they had put both of them to use there would have been a better pedestrian flow. Instead folks were trying to get in and out of just the one, narrow, gateway. A lack of courtesy meant that the flow would be only one way for quite some time.

Another popular building to visit is the Lupanare or brothel. I never thought it would happen, but I took my wife to a brothel. A great deal, was made by our guide, about the saucy images that we would see on the walls within the building. So much so, that a family group with two young boys were considering not taking them through.

They needn’t have worried, you aren’t inside for very long and what is on display, is fairly faded and difficult to interpret.

The prostitutes in the brothel would have been mostly Greek and Oriental slaves. Apparently, they were paid between two and eight Asses (a glass of wine cost one Ass)
for their services. The building has two floors. The homes of the owner and the slaves are at the top and there are five rooms at the bottom, all fitted with a built-in bed, on either side of the corridor that connects the two entrances of the ground floor. The rooms were
closed by a curtain. A latrine is at the end of the corridor, under the staircase.
Small paintings with erotic depictions on the walls of the central corridor informed customers of the activities that took place.

Our guide led us ever onwards through the maze that is Pompeiis streets. Directing our attention to various structures that have been identified as this business, or that business. Here are a couple that I can remember ….

The first two photos are of a bakery, showing the oven and flour mill that would have probably been operated by slaves. The third photo shows the remains of a thermopolium, effectively a fast food outlet. The Roman equivalent of a McDonald’s although the food would probably been better that a big Mac.

The residents of Pompeii were not averse to the arts and we were soon entering one of the many theatres.

The Odeon or theatrum tectum, as it was called by the Romans, was built during the early years of the colony, c79 BC.

This building was the place dedicated to the most popular theatrical genre at the time, mime. The Odeon would also be used for musical and singing performances.

Leading to the Odeon is the Quadriporticus of the theatres or Gladiators Barracks, a large quadrangle surrounded by 74 Doric grey columns, used as a foyer, an area where the spectators could stop during the intervals in the shows.

After an earthquake the building changed its function and became a barracks for gladiators. This resulted in parts of the building being reorganised.  The rooms upstairs may have been the apartments of the undertaker of the gladiators. During the excavations ornamental weapons, used in the parades that preceded the battles,were found in two wooden boxes. Many victims were also found here, such as four skeletons of slaves and 18 people were found in a room, including a woman with a very rich collection of jewels.

Our party was introduced to the Stabian Baths so-called as they lie at the intersection of the Via Stabianaand the Via dell’Abbondanza.

Here the citizens of Pompeii would have made use of the cold (Frigidarium), warm (Tepidarium) and hot baths (Caldarium)

The floor of the Caldarium would have been very hot. So hot that visitors to the baths would have to wear clogs to insulate their feet.

Much is made of the speed with which the residents of Pompeii were trapped by the pyroclastic clouds from Vesuvius. So much so, that not only were the buildings preserved, but the bodies of the inhabitants.

As the archaeological digs proceeded, throughout the years, many of these bodies have been found, or rather the cavities where the bodies had been. Basically providing a negative image in the compressed ash. By using a form of plaster of paris these forms have been revealed.

The example in the above photos is said to be of a servant / slave girl. She was also, judged by the curve of her belly, believed to have been pregnant. Very sad.

As our tour continued we arrived at The Forum, a vast area. This would have been at the political, commercial and social heart of the town.

The most important civic buildings of Pompeii would have been located here. For example, municipal offices, the basilica (court-house), the principal temples (such as the Capitolium). Also the macellum (market) would likely have been here.

After visiting the Forum it was time for our tour group to head back to the coach for our journey home. How quickly two hours passes by.

Our route to the exit leads us, once again, to the huge sculpture/statue of “Daedalus”. From whichever angle he is viewed from, he is impressive.

And finally, here are a few more photos from our visit.

I would recommend everyone, who has the opportunity, to visit Pompeii. Probably, the best way would be to do your own research before visiting, then self guide to see the key items. Since our visit I have viewed a few other blogs and websites and seen photos of items that we would have enjoyed. The guided tours have their set routes, and not everything can be covered in the two hours that we had. Unfortunately with such a tight schedule our tour was more like a route march.

Pompeii has so much to offer and I am afraid we only scratched the surface.