We have been travelling on and off with Chris and Jim Smith and their narrowboat “Sylph” since meeting them by chance at Thrupp on the Oxford Canal in July 2014. They are such very good company and we have certainly not yet run out of stories to tell, experiences to share, opinions to broadcast and laughs to be had. Not to mention the beer, wine and cider that needs to be consumed!!!
In late August 2014 their daughter, Cassie, contacted Bron through the effective medium of facebook, to invite us to share in the surprise party for Jim and Chris to celebrate their milestone 70th birthdays. Their birthdays were in January and February but the party was timed to coincide with Cassie’s birthday in an attempt to throw them off the scent!!!!
We of course agreed to come and to keep the whole thing a huge secret. A mammoth undertaking as it turned out, when from October to March we had been in pretty much constant contact with them!!!! However the surprise on their faces when they arrived was worth much more than our efforts, as they tried to understand how so many people from such diverse parts of their lives had assembled in the pub in their favourite tiny coastal village in Cornwall, Crackington Haven. More about the party later…..
We went through many plans to attend the party as the months went b,y from hiring a camper and driving there for a week or so of touring around, to getting there by train and hiring a car. Of course the ongoing saga of Bob’s eye problem kept throwing spanners in the works and at one point for a very brief time we thought we wouldn’t make it at all.
But just a few days before the weekend of the party on Saturday 28th March (the date on which Bob’s daughter Kathryn also held her engagement and birthday celebrations in Oz!!) Bron got busy with the travel and accommodation arrangements and a story that would seem plausible to both Chris and Jim. We had hospital appointments on the Wednesday (true) and then would be going to spend a few days with Bob’s cousins Julie and Phil in Maldon (untrue), and returning to London for a hospital appointment the following Monday (true). They seemed to buy it and were leaving the following day to meet up with their family in Crackington Haven for a family weekend.
First hospital visit successfully completed we arrived at Paddington Station to board our train to Taunton on Wednesday afternoon. On arrival in Taunton we had a half hour evening stroll (please note an element of sarcasm here!!!!) to find our brilliant B&B room waiting for us, We can highly recommend Beaufort Lodge at Taunton in Devon for both the quality of their room and the sumptuous full English breakfast. The hosting skills of Richard were also exemplary.
A short walk up the hill to indulge in a great Indian feast at the Blue Mango before retiring. Our only problem was the usual one in England – the effectiveness and noise of the toilet plumbing. We haven’t yet worked that one out!!!
After a restful sleep and wonderful breakfast we set off on Thursday morning to find the Europcar franchise to pick up our rental car. They were well hidden and after a phone call and a few wrong turns we finally picked up the car and returned to the B&B to collect our luggage and to pick up a few essentials from the Tescos nearby. And then we were off.
We (Bron) made the decision to have Bob drive while Bron navigated. Now this would seem a little dangerous given the lack of vision he currently has in his left eye. However, he is an appalling navigator. So armed with Tomtom’s guidance and a map book and with one eye each on the road checking for possible problems we managed the trip with only a few wrong turns and no incidents!!!!
We headed of towards Watchet to enjoy as much of the coastal views and moors as we could. Along the way we raced a steam train from Watchet to Blue Anchor, enjoyed a home made steak and ale pie and gluten free cream tea in Porlock, drove along tree-lined country roads, across the moors, up and down some very steep coastal roads, past a variety of Lorna Doone pubs and Smugglers Inns, and through the busy towns of Barnstaple, Bideford and Bude before taking a sneak peak at the Coombe Barton Inn in Crackington Haven where the party was to be held.
From here we drove the last stretch to meet our hosts for the next three days – Chris and Peg Jarvis- at their home in Trevalga near Boscastle. They live in The Old Rectory in beautiful gardens and shared their rental cottage – Curly Cottage with us for the weekend. Absolutely beautiful. Peg is a friend of Bob’s sister, Judy, from childhood and Bob enjoyed catching up on their days as army brats in Europe as much as Bron enjoyed meeting and getting to know these wonderful people for the first time. Chris has now retired from being the local GP in Boscastle but still maintains a very busy professional life while Peg is an accomplished artist and gardener. Not to mention their excellent hosting skills.
After a delicious dinner and a few (too many) wines we retired for the evening but set off in good time the next day to head south through Tintagel (for a quick peak at the ruins of the legendary castle in the chilling wind), Padstow for a fish and chip lunch (but not at Rick Stein’s restaurant!), quickly through Newquay (where Bob worked 30+ years ago and hasn’t it changed) and down to Land’s End where we could well believe it as the thick fog all but hid everything from view! And then it rained nearly all the way back to Trevalga. However everything was made better by dinner and ales at the Napoleon Inn in Boscastle. We understand this is a favourite of Ted and Herb (our family in Canada)!?!?
On Saturday we decided to have an easy day just relaxing in preparation for the celebrations that evening. It rained most of the day so we took advantage of the beautiful views from the second story bedroom window over the fields to the rugged coast. This truly is a beautiful part of Great Britain and we are certainly pleased we have made the trip. I don’t think it will be our last!!
By evening we were ready to party!!! We arrived at the Inn in plenty of time to catch up with the other guests, a few of whom we knew and many we had heard about, before Chris and Jim arrived and were completely overwhelmed. We explained to them that we had just turned west at London instead of east as we had previously told them. It was amazing to meet their family for the first time and so many of their friends. It is unsurprising that so many made the effort to share this milestone with them and we all had a fantastic night – eating, drinking, dancing, singing and talking together. We both feel blessed to be welcomed into the family in this way. Cassie had organised for a gorgeous cake to be made – a replica of their boat Sylph with then sitting on the front. It was just gorgeous. Many photos have been placed on facebook and comments shared about this.
Eventually we had to leave and return to the cottage before a final rest and trip back to London on Sunday. We bid a sad farewell to our hosts and drove back to Taunton to return our car. The manager kindly dropped us back to the station in plenty of time for our train but the wild windy weather had caused a tree to fall across the line and be hit by a train causing cancellation of ours and delays of about two hours for most trains. We finally got underway and were met in Paddington by our friend Jonathon and led back to their narrowboat Munden in Little Venice to catch up with his partner Mija before spending the night.
We were incredibly tired and could not even be bothered to go out to get some dinner instead enjoying tea and toast and a good night’s sleep.
Monday morning and an early start to head back to the hospital for a further appointment before catching the train back to Nantwich.
A wonderful few days making new friends, visiting new places and making new memories. We certainly hope to come back sometime. Please enjoy the photos in the gallery.