Is this Challenge Anneke?!

This morning the aim was to travel the 12km to visit the Plan incline de Ronquieres which is a sort of boat train/lift. It’s used instead of locks and puts you at the bottom (or top) of a hill.

I had no expectations at all but, since my vertigo attack last October, I’m not great at heights so I kept well away from the edge!

I managed to get a few pictures though.  This is it as we were approaching.   We headed for the right hand chamber.

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Changing the subject … do any of you have the problem of being called back to the stern every time you go to the bow by your darling other half?  It’s so frustrating!! Of course this happened as I went to my tying off position.  When I finally returned, I spied this little piece of graffiti which made me chuckle …

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How apt!

So in we go and this is my side view …

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and the other side …

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and the front …

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Off we go down the mountain hill and it creaks and groans and sounds like its about to fall apart but amazingly we slowly go down and down and down.  I admit I wasn’t feeling that great during this experience and didn’t look much further than my shoes so maybe its better you read my husband’s take on the whole thing at http://www.wbavalon.blogspot.com.   It felt a bit like a ski lift.

It seemed to take forever before we reached the bottom and I dared to stand up!  This is the view from the bottom upwards …

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It’s not really that steep is it?!

As the weather brightened we moored just after here for the night.

I wonder what I’ll be facing tomorrow? I’ve been through huge scary locks with huge scary barges, locks deeper than you could ever imagine, boat lifts of varying sizes and now this contraption! 

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Not quite according to plan!

Well the day started nicely with sunshine streaming in through the windows and we set off to return to the boat lift.

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As it wasn’t raining I got a good view of the surroundings as we went down.

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Next stop was a nearby mariner where we had been told we could get water.  Having moored up the Harbour Master paid a visit and told us no, then yes. Confused Graham tried the tap and it worked, then it didn’t.  Hmm there was no way we were leaving without at least some water.  Jill marched into the office and came out triumphant.  We needed to buy tokens to operate the tap.  This we duly did and soon had lots of lovely water in our tanks.  I don’t really agree with paying for water but when you consider how cheap the licence is then you can’t complain.

Onward to the self-operated lock. 
I pushed the green pole up and we re-entered the lock with no problems and, all safely tied off, began our descent.  
Suddenly Jill shouts out – her rope is stuck and she can’t release it.  Rapidly she pulls on the red pipe (stop) but it takes too long to stop the water level dropping and Matilda Rose is beginning to hang.  Kevin was quick to get a knife from our kitchen and Graham sliced through the rope releasing Matilda Rose who bounced back to find her level. 

Thank goodness no harm was done but we were all pretty shaken up by the experience expecially poor Jill and none of us will travel without a sharp knife close to hand again.

Once we had collected ourselves the blue pipe (go) was pulled and we waited … and waited but the level didn’t change. We tried phoning the numbers displayed but they weren’t being answered so finally Kevin radioed the boat lift and one of the men came and reset it all, phew!  Right, I thought, lets get on with the day.

Next stop was the Ascenseur de Strepy-Thieu, the tallest boat lift in the world.

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I must be really getting used to all these new things because this didn’t phase me a bit.  We chugged in behind a big barge and tied off.

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Here we waited while we were moved up 73.15 metres. It was very smooth indeed.

Unfortunately Kevin missed most of the lift because he was called into the office to produce documentation.

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Above is the view to the back when we first entered. Below is the view when we’d finished.

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Here’s Matilda Rose leaving the lift …

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Although it was a bit of an anticlimax its nice to say “I’ve been on the tallest boat lift in the world”!

We have moored up for the night in an private mariner in (according to my map) Seneffe but I could be wrong!

Tomorrow is another first … we will be heading towards Plan incline de Ronquieres which is a different type of boat lift.

Boat lifts

From our rude awakening in Blaton we made good progress and took advantage of the extra ‘awake’ time to get a bit further.  Again we faced the deep locks. 

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I secured my rope to the side bollard this time making reaching the lock bollards as we ascend alot easier.

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There’s one of these every few feet so you have to release from one and lasso the next quickly.

The next lock had a lifting bollard again so that was much easier.

As we approached our destination of Strepy-Bracquegnies we had to go through a self managing lock.  This was a first for all of us so it was a bit puzzling at first.  One of you needs to push this green stick up to open the lock.  If you look closely you can see the green stick just in front of the sign.

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It took quite a few attempts before we all worked it out.  Poor Jill twisted, pulled and shook that stick … none of us thought to push it!  The lock was surprisingly narrow and quite short but Matilda Rose and Avalon managed to both squeeze in.  At the top of the lock there were flashing signals and Jill (being at the front) had the job of pulling the blue pipe which closed the gates and filled the lock.  I couldn’t tie up to anything here but it was so tight I wasn’t going anywhere!  I did tie to Matilda Rose just in case and Kevin tied to a rising ring on a pipe. Unfortunately Jill’s rising ring refused to participate meaning they were only secured via Avalon. Not an ideal situation but as I said it was a tight fit and we came to no harm.

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The man from the nearby mariner came by to ask where we were mooring (looking for customers!) and with my excellent hand signals I told him we were carrying on to the boat lift.

And so to the boat lift.  By now the rain was coming down in rods so I wasn’t best pleased to be stuck outside but what can you do?!

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Despite the rain it was a pleasant experience and before I knew it we were out the other side.

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The lift operator escorted us to the moorings … it was a Hobson’s choice situation but as we’re moored alongside a nice footpath I’m not complaining. 

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Next morning myself and Jill decided to explore with the dogs while the husbands went to retrieve our vehicles from Asper. 

Further along the footpath we found the second and third boat lifts (no longer in use unfortunately).

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We stopped briefly here for Jill to have a quick ‘comfort break’ behind a tree … when nature calls you have to obey!

After lunch Jill and I did the requisite visit to the local shops and found a lovely Spar with a grocery, butchery section and deli section so we bought as much as we could carry. 

Because we bought so much it was very heavy so we decided we needed a rest in a nearby bar to muster up some strength for the journey home.

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We met some of the locals and their dogs and watched some French daytime TV while we were there and Jill found an interesting leaflet …

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I wonder who uses this?! (in actual fact it was a laundry service)

Tomorrow we will be heading towards this beast of a lift!

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The photo doesn’t really show how huge and imposing the construction is.  Wish me luck!

Big scary locks

As we left Tournai we passed alot of industrial buildings but i spied this charming turret rising up from the tree tops.

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I expected to see Rapunzel draping her hair down the side.

I also spied this …

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We had decided we all needed a break and changed our route to escape the big boys only to discover some humongous locks. 

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The first one was horrible. Extremely deep and you had to release and reattach your ropes as you lifted. Of course I used the wrong bollard so couldn’t reach to reattach and had a frustrated husband yelling at me which made it all the worse. Still, we survived somehow and were soon in the (even deeper) second lock. Thankfully this lock had a rising bollard to tie on to which made life so much easier (and quieter) so no incidents here.

Gulp!

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Imagine climbing that ladder!

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The river narrowed and became quite lovely and so we moored up in Blaton before attempting an 8 lock climb. 

Now, to approach a lock you need to radio ahead so they can get the lock ready and when there are 8 to go into you need to give notice well in advance. So the men phoned and it turns out the entire flight is shut for 3 weeks. There was no notification of this but what can you do?

We spent the night here and spent the evening with Graham and Jill plus a Swiss couple, Lucy and Peti, who had moored up nearby.  Today Jill and I decided to walk the younger dogs and explore the 8 elusive locks.  What a treat we would have had.  Such a pretty route with greenery everywhere.  No industry or big cities in sight.

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We did meet a few old cows …

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Herbie wasn’t too keen on getting close though so I stayed well back.

We also walked past a cute row of cottages …

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All in all a very loooong and enjoyable walk.  We even found a pretty park to walk through on the way back …

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Later on we hosted the Sunday lunch.  Because it had been such a lovely sunny day we had a barbecue and Graham and Jill bought a delicious apricot tart from the local patisserie.

Last night we spent the evening aboard the Swiss boat ‘La Vie’. I love meeting new people so this was a treat plus their English was excellent.  I really must learn to speak French (sigh).

We were woken early by the sound of the boat being pushed and pulled with the waves caused by large barges going past the end of the river. This was not expected!  We are still learning remember!  Monday morning and its business as usual.  Again and again it happened and we got stuck on the cill of the riverbank. Kev managed to get us off but it happened again and again so we left it there while we got up.  The dogs were getting quite agitated so I was glad to get them off the boat for a quick stroll into the village where they proved to be popular.

The heavens opened while we were out so we huddled under the awning of a market stall for a bit then made a dash for it.  Back on board and we hastily pulled pins and left.

Today we are aiming for Mons or maybe Ascenseur de Strepy-Thieu (boat lift).

Tournai and a distinct lack of greenery

Next morning and we leave Kerkhove for Tournai which was once the capital of France.  We have to go through three locks and tagged along with a couple of the big ‘uns.  I felt rather apprehensive but the locks here are very gentle and we let the big guys go in first.

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We all had great expectations of Tournai and our entrance to the city lived up to these expectations.

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We moored up at some new town moorings to be greeted by the local ahem ‘character’. We left Graham and Jill with him … sorry about that!

Now, I was expecting the same standard we have had everywhere else in Belgium but we had a bit of a shock. Dog mess everywhere, broken glass everywhere and overall the place looks tired and grimy.  We did find a nice park to take the dogs to but even there we found drunks hiding in the bushes.  The only other piece of grass surrounded a church and was used by every dog in the neighbourhood.  I’m afraid I haven’t done very much exploring here, it hasn’t caught my enthusiasm at all. The people though have been extremely friendly. We met a lovely lady who teaches English.  I believe she brought some of her students to see Matilda Rose as an example of an English narrow boat.  I’m sure their blog will tell you all about it http://www.contentedsouls.com.

We did find a drink for the dogs though …

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On the bright side we discovered 2 supermarkets close to hand and I found lots of things to buy in the local boutiques.  No surprises there! We also discovered a fresh food market today on the way home – the chocolate mousse I bought didn’t last very long ha ha!

I’m very pleased to say that my dogs have more fans having been called ‘magnifique’ twice today and ‘superb’ once. They are certainly better behaved than the one I saw today jumping onto a flower display to ‘go potty’!

Anyway, here’s a photo of our mooring when we arrived …

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and this morning …

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We are now in a different region of Belgium.  Previously we were in Flanders (where everyone speaks English excellently) and we are now in Wallonie (where no one speaks English) and French is the spoken language. It makes life a bit harder but I need to practice my French anyway and you can get quite a long way using hand gestures!

The urban shepherd and things that go bump in the night

Firstly I must mention the urban shepherd I spied on the way in to Gent.

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He was peacefully grazing his sheep along the cycle/walk way. Each time a cyclist appeared he sent his sheepdog to create a space for them.  I spied him on the way back too so this must be his usual route.

Now then, our past mooring was delightful,  perfectly situated near Gavere village for shopping and with plenty of dog walking

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… then the weekend ended.

Monday morning and the big boys returned – lots of them – making waves and churning up the water … poor Avalon was up and down, backward and forward, rocking this way and that with her ropes creaking under the strain.

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I was glad to put my feet on solid ground and escaped to walk Herbie with Jill and Mutley.  We found a nice copse behind Carrefore Supermarket which led in turn to a fishing lake. The dogs had a lovely time and we all returned thirsty and tired.

Back on board and although I can cope with the boat swinging about a bit it does get rather annoying when you have to literally brace yourself each time a barge goes past and I was thankful when it was time to go to bed perchance to sleep. Or so I thought.

It seems the big boys like to motor through the night which is fine until you are woken in the early hours with the boat feeling like its being thrown from side to side (well not quite but you get the idea!). There was one particularly nasty occasion at 6am when the boat was rocking for around 15 minutes afterwards and the fenders were squealing under the pressure. My head was spinning and poor Herbie came for a reassuring cuddle.

On inspection in the morning it seems our gunnel had at some point dipped under the rim of the mooring and the side bollard had scraped off some wood. Also some of the paintwork is now scratched where it was bashed about.  Quite a rough night! I can only imagine what would have happened if we had been on mooring pins!

Tonight we have erred on the side of caution and moored off of the main thoroughfare in a village called Kerkhove.  Far more peaceful!

Gent and Graham finds the perfect mooring

After a quick walk about with the dogs we leave and head off for Gent. The river continues to be picturesque and the weather changes from sunshine to rain then back again. I give thanks that we have a pram hood to keep us dry.

Upon entering Gent it quickly becomes apparent that we are in for a treat. We take the boat right around the twisting canels of the city waving at the passers by. It’s all very exciting as I take photos of the architecture.

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We misunderstood a direction of Grahams and ended up stuck next to some tourist boats.  However, all was good because I got to photograph this beauty while we were turning.

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We had one lock to go through. The lock keeper was small and looked cross … I think we interrupted his lunch … we needed water so I plucked up the courage to approach him.  Yes he said and by the end Jill and I managed to get a smile out of him.

Just around the corner Graham had discovered some perfect moorings alongside a park. Lovely!

Next day and we explore. One bus and one tram and we’re in the centre. Its buzzing and there’s lots to see. I buy some egg poachers and Kev buys a set of rather nice kitchen knives. I also buy a replacement Kong for Herbie as he dropped the last one in the river.  I stumble upon one of my favourite labels, Desigual, and emerge triumphant with a rather lovely shirt, albeit a little poorer!

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The men are bored so we have a quick beer then spy a boat trip. You have to, don’t you?! It meant we could see the parts we couldn’t get to in Avalon.

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The next day was a chore day so I did some food shopping and housework but did find the time to take Herbie for a looooong walk with Jill and Mutley.  (Teddy and Baxter are too old for long walks now) we took a detour when we spied an interesting graveyard.

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I love this last one – I can’t imagine it being allowed in the UK!

Last full day in Gent we spent cruising into the centre and having a picnic in the sunshine on the city moorings.  Jill and I took a walk and discovered we were in the Greek/Cypriat quarter … very interesting but not quite what we were expecting!  Kevin got the dinghy out and he and Jill took turns having a go while me and Graham watched.

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We returned to our park side mooring for the night.  The men were eager to go into the centre for the evening but Jill and I were too tired, so we gave them a pass and off they went ‘to photograph Gent at night’. To drink lots of beer methinks!

Backtracking a bit here’s a sweet photo of Herbie meeting a donkey in St Martens-Latem.  Cute eh?

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So this morning it was time to leave Gent. We chose the pretty route out of course so I got to take more photos.

I spied some friend’s names …

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… and some interesting buildings

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The angels are watching over us it seems.

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I tried to get the last shot on the way in so was really pleased to get it on the way out (albeit a bit crooked).

One night in Deinze and a lovely river

Moving off from Brugge we broke up our journey by stopping the night in Deinze. A nice enough town with a great park for the dogs to romp in and  Carrefore for me to get some supplies.  We’d been playing with the big boys again and while this is exciting stuff you do need your wits about you and so it doesn’t make for a relaxing journey. We were all very tired, especially after our Sunday roast.

We decided to take the pretty route this morning and headed off where the big boys can’t go … much more relaxing.  The sun even showed itself briefly. Almost constantly along the route were a stunning array of beautiful houses and mansions all with beautifully manicured lawns.  Gardening seems to be a bit of an obsession here … very regimented lines and carefully trimmed.  Plus statues seem to be a mark of wealth. I saw some beauties.

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Some of the statues looked extremely expensive.

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Giant green cow!

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Enormous red dog!

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My personal favourite.

Some were not so expensive but charming nonetheless.

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I have this one in green at home.

I also spied a pet deer.

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And a man filming us going by.

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I also caught this woman unawares feeding the ducks.

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My camera is now exhausted!

We have moored for the night in a very pretty village called St Martens-Latem where even the police station looks opulent.

The last evening and ‘wish I’d taken a photo’

Last night in Brugge and we all headed into town for a look-see.  Thanks to Kevin’s Segway tour he had discovered some delights the rest of us had missed.

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My camera isn’t very good at night but I’m sure you can appreciate how beautiful it is in life.

I took a liking to the menu holder in a bar and was allowed to take it!

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I think its quite retro plus its perfect for holding odd notes and receipts so I’m quite pleased with myself.

So yesterday we left Brugge to make our way to Gent. Lots of bridges to pass under. Take a look at http://www.wbavalon.blogspot.com to see some of them. None were as spectacular as the one in Brugge.  We have kinda got used to the huge barges, just giving them a respectfully wide berth as we go past.

We moored up overnight in some Godforsaken place against the riverbank. No nice moorings for us! The riverbank was incredibly high and steep so the climbing rope was put in place.  Kev went first, then Herbie and then Sherpa Ted and then I attempted.  I did get half way in all fairness but then the thought crossed my mind that I’d have to get back down and my nerve went … then my footing went … then I went back to the boat.  They coped well enough without me.

I’m now calling Teddy ‘Sherpa Ted’ because he is handling these steep banks amazingly. He digs his claws in and just plods on to the top like a pro.  I did have some concerns given he is 11 and slowing down but he’s coping admirably.  I really wish I’d taken a photo to share with you.  Herbie just bounds up like a goat.

A very lovely Facebook friend called Wendy kindly drew a sketch to give you a good idea what Sherpa Ted looked like:

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Having survived the night in the wilds  we are now heading to Gent via Deinze which is meant to be a pretty route to Gent.  We shall see.

Meanwhile here is a cute picture of Herbie last night. He thought I should feed him early and brought his bowl into the living room for me.

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My Brugge

Over the past couple of days it has been exceedingly windy so we have had to stay put and find ways to entertain ourselves.  Kevin did a tour of Brugge on a Segway which he enjoyed thoroughly. I didn’t join him as I thought a Segway and vertigo wouldn’t work well together! Saying that, my vertigo has improved immensely since being in Belgium. This is probably due to the exercises I have been given by my physio. Just one bad day so far!

While Kevin was doing his own thing  me, Jill and Graham did a tour of our own  … on foot.  This was mainly around the shops of course but we did stop off here and there to take photos of some gorgeous little back streets.

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It was raining quite hard so any excuse to get out of the wet …

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Even Jill succumbed!

We met this lovely little lady on our travels

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And this little fella keeping watch over an empty shop

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We have found another area to let the dogs off so Mutley and Herbie can go nuts and play bitey face …

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Jill and I discovered a fun assault course and just had to have a go!

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There was a little difficulty getting back down again but we didn’t need to call out the firemen (shame!).

Hopefully the weather will calm down enough for us to move tomorrow so we can carry on with our adventures.