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Brit’s ‘big 8-0’ celebrated on Mississippi with Front Royal pals

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The ‘American Duchess’ at sunset on the mighty Mississippi – Photo/Bill Powers

Thirteen friends on September 27 saluted my English brother on his 80th birthday at an unusual location; American Cruise Line’s paddle wheeler, “American Duchess” on the Mississippi River.

I share this with our Royal Examiner readers because of the frankly unexpected sheer delight we experienced aboard a boat that plied the USA’s mightiest (well, the longest, anyway) river in the wake of one of America’s greatest writers, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), who began life as a paddle boat captain on the Mississippi more than a century ago.

There were five Rocklanders in the party, me and wife Carol; Bill Powers and wife Mary; and Susan O’Kelly, as well as my brother, Lord Neville Barr of Stanton-by-Bridge, of Derby (home of Rolls Royce Ltd), a city in central England. Others in this eclectic group were the “Birthday Boy’s” American friends from Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina, as well as a couple from the United Kingdom. Neville has visited in Front Royal twice yearly since we retired to Rockland in 2002.

Bill Powers took this photo of the group which attended the birthday bash aboard the paddle wheeler.

“I think I’m almost a native,” he once said. Well, not quite!

It should be explained that our family is not descended from royalty; rather that brother Neville purchased the title from an earl’s estate sale in England 19 years ago. That’s what the aristocrats have to do in the UK to meet inheritance taxes on the death of the head of a family. Barr’s was one of a couple of dozen titles on the block, many bought by Americans. The Brits buying the titles may have them recorded on their passports and drivers’ licenses. Sometimes, I’m told, that helps out with a British Airways upgrade or a traffic ticket!

Neville, an avid member of his country’s Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), visited the Virginia Beer Museum on Chester Street while in Front Royal, providing handouts and other appropriate paraphernalia for the historic building’s “Helltown Saloon”.

But back to the Mississippi paddle wheeler which was the center piece of the brother’s birthday trip (he has maintained a ‘bucket list’ of places he plans to visit every fifth birthday since age 50, that includes Hawaii, Texas, Maryland, Virginia, China, Egypt and Russia).

Ship’s captain Joe McKey (right) joins brothers Malcolm (far left) and Neville Barr, and Malcolm’s wife, Carol, during the September 27 birthday party aboard the ‘American Duchess’. Photo/Susan O’Kelly

The refurbished boat, pictured with this article, is grander on the inside than its freshly minted outside. Most of us arrived at the dock in Memphis expecting a, say Holiday Inn decor, and experiencing something along the lines of a 5-Star plus hotel with matching high end cuisine and a professional and friendly staff, from the captain on down. Nightly entertainment emulates just this side of Broadway!

Neville Barr poses for the camera as he leaves the ‘Duchess’ in New Orleans. Courtesy Photo

As it wended its way down river to New Orleans, the stern wheeled boat made calls at several historic southern towns and cities, including Vicksburg, Natchez, Francisville, and Baton Rouge, all of these attractive and educational in different ways. Francisville, a small but proud township, is gallantly fighting its way out of poverty while Vicksburg boasts its “sweeping views of the river, perfectly blending southern culture and heritage with Civil War history.”

Lord Neville leaves Nottoway, the South’s largest remaining antebellum mansion, with tour guide Amanda in period costume. Nottoway is in Louisiana, a few miles south of Baton Rouge. Courtesy Photo

New Orleans, of course, is, well, New Orleans, an exciting city abounding with culturally significant art, history, museums and architecture. Bill Powers found, through the Internet, a hard-to-come-by, affordable, comfortable French Quarter hotel (St. Mary’s) on the relatively quiet Toulouse Street, another recommendation to you readers who may wish to replicate our 300-mile boat trip.

(Our contributing writer, a well-traveled journalist, offered this article for local publication with the recommendation that readers consider such a journey on this mighty river in their future travel plans. A frequenter of ocean cruise lines, he warns that the 200-passenger paddle boat is “relatively expensive” but well worth the extra dollars. He also credits his brother with “coming up with the idea.”)

Malcolm Barr handles a young alligator during a swamp boat trip near Baton Rouge. Photo/Bill Powers

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