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