Boat trip 2014

It has become something of a tradition now that every year I invite a few of my friends on my dad’s narrowboat for a week pottering around the Midlands, relaxing, eating and drinking (usually with much of the latter). This year was no exception, except for a slight change of scenery.

For a bit of a change, and a bit of a challenge, I wanted to get the boat to Llangollen in Wales. I say challenge because this particular route involves travelling over one of Tomas Telford’s greatest creations: Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. The aqueduct is a 307m long, 38m high masterpiece of 19th Century engineering. An iron trough carrying 1.5 million litres of water over the River Dee valley, originally allowing for goods from Welsh mines and quarries to reach English markets, now serving as the tourist highlight to the busiest canal in the country, the Llangollen Canal.

And so our voyage was set and, on a surprisingly sunny week in the middle of August, we set off. Passing secret nuclear bunkers, drinking cider and champagne and navigating lift bridges we weaved our way through the English and Welsh countryside. It didn’t fail to deliver relaxation and calm to the entire crew, and after a week of inhaling diesel fumes and eating far too much, I felt ready to tackle the monotonous world of research once again.

Charles x

No post this week

There will be no blog post this week because I’m still getting on top of everything post-holiday. The boat trip last week was incredible! Lots of pictures from that in the coming weeks. I’ve also been busy setting up a new website and blog for an exciting project that I’m working on with the University. Details of that and lots more coming in the next few weeks :)

Charles x

What the f*** is an Arboretum?

All roads lead to... arboretum?
All roads lead to… arboretum?

It’s summer time and that means it’s the season for my department to go on it’s annual walk around the Surrey countryside. Last year we went through the Surrey hills, but this year was a little different…

Starting off at the university, the aim was to walk to Winkworth Arboretum, a good walk along the River Wey, and through the trees and fields around Milford and Godalming. It took over three hours in the hot summer sun to make it to the arboretum, but it was well worth it!

Winkworth Arboretum
Winkworth Arboretum – This picture really doesn’t do it justice

An arboretum, pronounced are-bore-ree-tum, not arr-bee-tor-ee-um as I had originally thought, is essentially a botanical garden, but with trees instead of plants and flowers – which basically means, it’s massive. We spent probably an hour walking around and still had barely scratched the surface of this place. I have to go back because some of the views were just stunning, and I hear it really comes into it’s own during spring and autumn.

If it’s a sunny day and you fancy a bit of a trek, or want to cycle, you can’t go far wrong with visiting this place a few miles south of Guildford.

Winkworth Arboretum is run by the National Trust, and an entrance fee applies. There is a small coffee shop and toilets at the entrance which, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find to be a sweet reward for all your hard work getting there.

Ukuleles: The Greatest Escape

I am no musician, and I certainly can’t sing, but about 18 months ago I bought a Ukulele… and I love it.

There’s something so simple about a four-stringed mini-guitar-shaped musical instrument that just makes you smile when you play it. My housemates might say something about the noise it and I make together, but I hope they’ll agree that after a year-and-a-half, it’s starting to sound palpable.

Back when we lived opposite a guitar shop, on one bored Monday afternoon, I took a spontaneous excursion across the road and bought myself a ukulele. I’m not quite sure what on earth compelled me, but I’ve always wanted to learn guitar, and a uke was much cheaper and looked far more within my abilities bracket. Within a couple of days I’d learnt a few basic chords (C, G, Am, F) and found a smile across my face that had been missing in recent weeks.

It’s no coincidence that the ukulele purchase came at a time in my life when everything seemed to be changing. I’d recently moved into a new place, started a new job and had lots of questions about where my life was going. The ukulele didn’t help figure any of that out, but it did give me an escape. Time to myself without any distractions to just let my mind wonder. And it still gives me an escape now. After a stressful day at work, or when there’s too much going on, just playing a few songs can slow you down and make you relax for a few minutes.

A posse of ukuleles (I'm sure that's the official term)
A posse of ukuleles (I’m sure that’s the official term)

I’ve started going to UkeJam, a collective of local ukulele players that meet bi-weekly in a local pub to play songs together on their ukuleles. I love it because I learn new songs to sing, and can play as loud as I like without annoying anyone :D

Ukulele playing in Richmond Park
Ukulele playing in Richmond Park

Turns out that there’s quite a few other people in the PhD offices that play ukuleles, so we’ve got quite a sweet little niche going on. Maybe I should start a ukulele society on campus…

There might not be a post next Thursday because I’ll be boating from Birmingham to Wales, but we can get in touch the following week :) x

Update: There will be a post next week, it will answer one of life’s greatest questions, “what the f*** is an arboretum?”