I am Linda and along with my husband Richard and our dog Muffin we enjoy our summers on the UK's canal system

Saturday, 28 August 2021

Round the UK Cruise - August 2021 (Days 6, 7 and 8)

Thursday 19th August – at sea

Yesterday I mentioned that I had heard that a lady had contacted the BBC and today it has been confirmed!  She was interviewed on the radio this morning about yesterday’s debacle.  I found this bit from a website called Newsletter. 

“We phoned everybody. The port authority – they said it wasn’t them, but they’d spoken to the police.

“The police said it’s the health authority.

“We spoke to the health manager, and they said it’s the ship.

“So, we’ve gone round in a big circle.”

The whole situation is crazy with no-one accepting responsibility.

Anyway, enough of all that!  This was our last sea day, and it was rather grey.  Richard and Jim went to listen to a talk about the Jurassic coast while Penny and I went to the sales!  At the end of each cruise, they sell off items from the Celebrity Shop.  These range from watches to clothes.  Most say 30% off but they are still very expensive.  We have bought things in the past but there really wasn’t much to look at today.

Richard and I went for a walk round the deck after lunch and saw a pod of dolphins racing towards us at 90°.  Where they went we had no idea but I just hope they went under the ship and didn’t hit their heads on us.

Penny and I went for some girlie time up to the Sunset Bar on deck 15.  The waiter came round for our drinks order and I had a Tom Collins, I had no idea what it was but it was lovely.  Back in our cabins we opened our free bottle of Prosecco, which we get for being Concierge guests. 

Dinner was in the main dining room as it was Chic Night and the main dishes included lobster and beef wellington. Penny had the lobster which she said was lovely and the rest of us had the beef.  There has been a lot of beef eaten this week! 

When we got back to our cabin I wondered if I had had too much to drink!  I looked at my bedside clock and it said

However, our cabin steward had, of course, put it upside down! 

Friday 20th August – Portland

We woke up in Portland.  We hadn’t really planned to go ashore but we heard that the Port Authority was laying on courtesy buses into Weymouth so we thought, why not 😊  It was a challenge to get Jim’s scooter onto the bus but it worked really well.  We were dropped off on the west side of Weymouth harbour entrance, an area I had never been to before.  We walked up to the water then headed out to Nothe beach and fort.  It would have been a struggle to get the scooter up to the fort so we sat and had a coffee overlooking the harbour.  The café was called Stone Pier Café and was in a converted public loo! 

We headed back to the bus stop and just missed a bus.  However, it gave me time to find this place, which is now known as Shire Horse Mews. 

This is taken from the Weymouth History website. 

Take a meander to the other side of the square, just behind the Devenish buildings is the old stable blocks where the great dray horses were kept. They would plod along the streets, carts packed with the giant wooden kegs that were ready to be dropped down the hatches that opened up in the ground to the cellars below the pubs.

Always a fearsome sight to a small child, the heat and strange smells that rose from these black holes in the pavements that whispered of evil spirits and dark places where children could be locked away…

Now instead of hooves on cobbles and sweet smelling straw in mangers, they contain holiday lets and sweet dreams of lazy sunny days to be enjoyed.

I could almost hear the horses 😊

Back onboard we didn’t need any lunch as we had had a large piece of cake each in Weymouth. 

In the afternoon we all went up to the Sunset Bar and sat out in the sun.  I had another Tom Collins, but it wasn’t a patch on yesterdays!

We returned to our cabins to watch the sail away.  Down on the quay we could see a very small (5 people) troop of historic soldiers with a canon!  

As we began to pull away the order “Fire” was given and there was an almighty bang!  It was much louder than we anticipated!!  There were two more firings before the soldiers took their hats off and waved goodbye to us.  It was a lovely end to a good visit to Portland/Weymouth.

As we went through the submarine barrier, we were waved off by some trip boats. 

Just a couple of photos of the pilot launch. 

In the evening we went up to the Lawn Grill for a speciality dinner.  As you may gather from the name it was all steaks but also had prawns and scallops.  It was an amazing but huge meal. 10 out of 10 for food and 11 out of 10 for service.

Outside the Lawn Grill was the Lawn, where films are shown during the day.  Jim’s scooter had its own private film show while we were eating. 

The Barricade Boys were singing in the Foyer at 10pm so we couldn’t miss that.  They were as good as ever but only sang for half an hour

Saturday 21st August – bye bye Silhouette!

We were docked in Southampton when we woke up. 

Usually there is a long wait to get off the ship but with it only being half full, even though we were given disembarkation numbers, we were able to get off when we liked. Our main suitcases had been taken last night so all we had were our carry ons.  Once on terra firma we collected our luggage, found the car and drove home.

It is always sad at the end of a holiday, but I always feel that it is sadder when I leave a cruise ship.  This was our 4th cruise and I have to admit that I do enjoy them.

With regards to Covid I felt safe on the ship.  All passengers and crew had to be double vaccinated.  Passengers had to have a negative PCR before boarding and crew are tested regularly.  Masks have to be worn in all inside public areas.  We were made aware of all this before we set sail.

These are our mileages from Southampton to Southampton.

Southampton – Invergordon – 673 nautical miles

Invergordon to Belfast – 464 nautical miles
Belfast to Portland – 483 nautical miles
Portland to Southampton – 75 nautical miles

Total nautical miles – 1695
Total land miles - 1949

Thursday, 26 August 2021

Round the UK Cruise - August 2021 (Days 4 and 5)

Tuesday 17th August – at sea

Our second sea day was begun by our usual breakfast in the Oceanview Café.  I usually have fresh melon followed by pancakes with blueberry jam and cream – absolute decadence! 

I needed to get some Ancestry work down for our tour on September 1st.  I got some done but really wasn’t in the mood for it.

Richard and I took Jim for lunch and then we “took a turn” round the deck which was timed well as we were going down through the Sea of the Hebrides and there was some pretty spectacular landscape to look at.  We noticed that there weren’t many trees on the Hebrides and when Googled I found that the Islands suffered vast deforestation over the centuries with Vikings destroying the tree population to prevent locals making boats!  Climate change and crop expansion have also contributed to the change in landscape. The Sea of Hebrides is home to the basking shark and minke whale, but sadly we didn’t see any.

I tried again to do some Ancestry but ended up catching up with this “blog”.  It was a rather grey afternoon, and we didn’t feel like doing much, we didn’t even feel like changing for dinner so ended up by going to the Oceanview Cafeteria for dinner and our Baileys.  Richard and I then went for a short walk before going back to our cabin and watched a film.

Wednesday 18th August – Belfast

Up early as we had booked room service for breakfast.  We were being picked up by our private tour company at 9.30am.  I was in the shower when I heard the Captain talking over the tannoy.  I couldn’t hear it properly but got the gist that we weren’t going to be able to go ashore unless we were going on a Celebrity organised excursion.  Richard confirmed this as did Guest Relations.  I phoned our tour company, and they were so sorry that we couldn’t go and offered us our money back.  However, they were also cross as they had laid on extra Hop On Hop Off buses for the additional tourists in the city today.  Penny and I went down to the excursions desk and managed to book a three hour tour to the gardens of Bangor Castle with a short tour of Belfast.  It’s not what we wanted but better than nothing.

We had been told by the Captain that he had only been informed of this change this morning and that it had come from the Port Authority.  I emailed the Port Authority who said

“Staff from Belfast City Councils Port Health Department have not boarded the vessel this morning. Regarding excursions, advice was issued by the Public Health Authority yesterday, which was communicated to the vessel.

I would advise you to contact management on-board the Celebrity Silhouette, who will be able to explain the current situation regarding excursions.”

I immediately emailed Public Health Authority who replied with

The PHA has worked closely with Belfast Harbour,  Port Health, cruise operators  and  partners to support the safe return to cruise ship operations. As part of the current process for welcoming cruise vessels to NI , the PHA  will provide public health advice to assist in minimising risk to guests, crew and the wider public.  The public health advice reflects a precautionary approach and is issued based on the particular circumstances of each cruise vessel. We will continue to work closely with partners in facilitating cruise visits to NI recognising that each visit presents its own unique set of circumstances which  have to be considered as part of our wider response to Covid.

Richard went to get some coffee and was talking to a man in the lift who said that he had heard (Chinese whispers) that someone had written to BBC Belfast telling them that we are being held hostage on the ship!

We joined our tour to Bangor Castle and had a very knowledgeable guide.  When we arrived at our destination we walked to the Castle, well more like a manor house, and then back to the gardens.  We had a Castle guide for the first part and the head gardener for the gardens.  The present Castle is the third one built on a similar site, the difference being that each one was a little bit further away from the town. 

The gardens were nice but, to be honest, nothing special.  The head gardener was very knowledgeable which made our tour interesting.  These photos are some of the lovely flowers in the garden.

We then drove to look at Stormont, a very imposing place indeed.  You normally only see little bits on TV news reports but this time we could see the whole place and the lovely drive. The photos were taken from the coach, hence the raindrops! 

Our drive back to the ship was through Belfast.  I was really surprised as it reminded me so much of Dublin.  We saw the murals but there wasn’t a chance to take any photos, but they were impressive.

Back to the ship and down to dinner.

Sadly, a very disappointing day not helped by the weather being so grey

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Round the UK Cruise - August 2021 (Days 1, 2 and 3)

Saturday 14th August

A rather manic morning as I was having my hair cut and I hadn’t packed a thing!  Most things were out but not actually in suitcases.

We left home on time and arrived at the port and into the disabled car park (courtesy of Jim).  We collected Jim’s mobility scooter and headed to the departure hall.  All checked in we headed up the ramps into Silhouette.  It is our second time on Silhouette, and we have also been on her sister ship, Eclipse.  Last time we were on this ship she was a bit tired, but she had a 42 day refit last year and she certainly looks better for it. 

Our cabins, or state rooms as Celebrity like to call them, are pretty much the same as last time and are on the port side.  This was the suggestion of the travel agent as we are going anti-clockwise round the UK so we will always be able to see the land if we are in close enough!  Our cabins are next to each other and are on Deck 10 midships.

We had booked a speciality dinner as it was on special offer.  The Italian restaurant, Tuscan, is across the stern of the ship and we had a lovely view of Southampton Water as we left.  This was followed by a Baileys – a cruise tradition now! 

Sunday 15th August – at sea

Our first sea day.  We have three sea days and three days ashore in Invergordon, Belfast and Portland. 

It was a quiet day which we all needed, and I think we all had a sleep in the afternoon.

We passed a huge wind offshore wind farm which I am pretty sure was the Hornsea Wind Farm.  Construction began in 2018 with phase one being completed in January 2021.  It has a capacity of 1,218 MW, making it the largest in the world on its completion. Sited in the North Sea 75 miles off the coast, the eventual wind farm group is planned to have a total capacity of up to 6 gigawatts.

Dinner was in the main dining room.  Richard and I had beef which was so tender you could have eaten it without any teeth in!!  This is pudding not steak!

The entertainment in the main theatre were the Barricade Boys who we saw before, in 2018, on Silhouette.  They were brilliant then and were just as good this time.

We managed to find somewhere to sit down for our regular Baileys.

As far as Covid goes onboard all passengers and crew have to be double vaccinated.  Passengers had to have a negative PCR before boarding and crew are tested regularly.  Masks have to be worn in all inside public areas.  We were made aware of all this before we set sail.

Monday 16th August – Invergordon

We woke up and opened the curtains as the ship approached Invergordon which is in the Cromarty Firth.  We passed a huge oil rig in the harbour with about 6 men all waving at us!  We watched the ship dock then went for some breakfast before heading ashore.  The gangplank was very steep, but Jim managed to do the steps while one of the crew carried his folding scooter down. 

We all had to have special masks on to go for about 100 yards from the ship to get out of a designated area set by the Port Authority.  After that it was just mask wearing in shops and enclosed areas.  The masks, KN95, are about £1+ to buy and Celebrity had to provide everyone getting off the ship with one of these. 

Invergordon is a rather sad town with not much going for it.  There was a Boots and a Co-op and that was about it.  However, there is a mural trail consisting of 17 murals, which, apparently, is a major tourist draw.  In January 2002, a small group of dedicated volunteers who called themselves “Invergordon off the wall” got together to address the social and economic deprivation of the town. One of the projects taken up by this group was creation of an outdoor art gallery where the history and culture of the area is depicted through the murals.  We only found six. 

Over the years, the people of Invergordon have seen various industries come and perish. There was an aluminium smelter here but the costs of transmitting the electricity needed to smelt bauxite imported by sea from Jamaica made the operation uneconomic, and it was closed down in 1981. It still has a grain whisky distillery constructed in 1961, in an effort to bring new industry into the area following the closure of the naval dockyard.

Less than fifty years ago, however, Invergordon was more than a tourist town. It was once a strategic base for the Royal Navy with what has often been called the best natural harbour in Europe. During both World Wars the harbour and oil storage tanks were of great value to the Royal Navy. The naval base was closed in 1956, but the proximity of Invergordon to the North Sea oilfields allowed the area of the docks to remain productive by fabricating and repairing oil rigs. 

Back on board it was a late lunch then and a quiet afternoon until the sound of bagpipes stirred everyone into action!  A group of 7 pipers and 1 drummer played for half an hour and should have seen us off at 5pm but nothing happened – we didn’t move.  Eventually about 6pm the Captain came on the tannoy to say that we would be leaving about 9pm.  The reason being that some of the crew had tested positive for Covid last week and had been in isolation.  However, it was decided that they would be put ashore to continue their isolation.  One has to ask how, if all passengers and crew have to be double jabbed, some of the crew had tested positive and I guess weren’t really well enough to stay on board. 

Dinner was in the main dining room.  We then came back to our cabins to watch the leaving of the Cromarty Firth.  We passed a vast wind farm harbour with some gigantic uprights and some massive blades and a couple of very different ships for carrying said uprights and blades.  

We were being stalked by the Pilot’s launch and waited to see it pull up to take the Pilot on board, but the rotter got off towards to stern, so we missed it! 

Richard and I went to get the Baileys which we took next door.

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Hayling Island – Monday 9th August

Just a brief post to say that after packing up the boat we set out on our journey home, and it wasn’t the best journey home that we have had – school holidays, I guess. 

I’ll try and sum up our 5 week cruise.  We discovered that the first part of the trip on the Grand Union and South Stratford were really just a means to get to the River Avon, and it was the same coming back.  We do this when we go to the Thames too.  We need to stop this and enjoy the waterway we are on – it isn’t an A road!!  We love the Avon, and it was soooo quiet.  It wasn’t until we got back onto the canals that we realised how busy August is.  However, from what I’ve heard the canals we were on were a lot quieter than some.  We heard of waits of 4 hours at locks!  We had wanted to get down to the Sharpness, but 5 weeks doesn’t really allow for that. 

Anyway, we are now at home and I’m trying to get into big ship cruise mode as on Saturday we are off on a 7 day round the UK cruise from Southampton on Celebrity Silhouette.  We cruise anti clockwise round the UK and stop in Inverness, Belfast and Portland.  We are only planning on getting off in Belfast. 

We covered 151 miles and did 192 locks all on one tank of diesel which Richard is very pleased about. 

We will be back in the middle of September to take Mary H to Debdale Marina to have her bottom shot blasted and zinc sprayed with black epoxy.  

Today’s photos are ones from our trip which I couldn’t fit in before!