Monday, 19 July 2010

Bankside at Bedford

The Bedford River Festival happened – and we were there!

Some stats for starters:

Prizes won: 1*

Participation in boat parades: 3

Cruise companions during parades: 16

Total number of callers: 34

Youngest caller on board: 4.75 months old

Most mature caller: in 8th decade

Most requested drink (Saturday): Pimms

Most requested drink (Sunday): beer

Empty bottles: numerous


Most unexpected comments:

·        Wow, I could put my piano on here (from a music teacher)

·        How much to come on? (youthful spectator)

·        This loo technology is the same as on the space shuttle (re. the composting toilet)

·        Did a lorry bring your boat here?

·        Can I have some water for my dogs?

There we were, along with an estimated half a million other visitors, at the biennial Bedford River Festival. So much to see, in fact one of our visitors said it had taken his family two days to see it all (then qualifying his remark: "with pushchair"). For many it's  a chance to spend a few hours or a couple of days down by the river watching boats of all sorts, watery races, demonstrations by canoeists and rowers, sailors and rafters, dragon boaters and invaders (Vikings). And on the water too was Thomas the Tank Engine... There was music – folk groups, jazz groups, pop groups and who knows what else on the main stage, apart, delightfully, from Harmonise, the Daubeney Middle School choir.  You could eat, shop, browse, be informed on a vast array of topics – or just chill! Our mooring, right by the weir, was certainly prominent. Just behind us was the bridge over the weir and both our MK-Bedford Waterway Trust's banner and the poster showing a map attracted a lot of interest: many enquiries – and some disapproval it seems from rowers and owners of small cruisers. But for the most part we had the joy of seeing friends, neighbours and colleagues. Right outside the boat was a wooden bench and we pitched a picnic table and four chairs alongside, from which a great view could be had of all the craft passing by.  The next door boat, participants at every Bedford River Festival since its 1978 inception, were experienced veterans: they erected two gazebos, a windbreak, brought in a dozen white plastic chairs and decked out their boat as Rosie and Jim's 21st birthday party, using swathes of pink and white cloth, two prominent dummies, lots of lights and a very large champagne bottle. (Should we ever do anything remotely like this again we have learned a few lessons from them!) During parades crew were even dressed for the part, hence the river saw pirates (of course), convicts in the outback, party-goers, Bottom and the fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream; on the competitive rafts were spotted WAGS, Fletcher Christian and the mutineers, Minnie Mouse, Snow White and the seven dwarfs and the Fat Controller ...

The wind dropped during Saturday evening and we bravely participated in the illuminated boat parade: on board were two veterans of our boat, two colleagues and a spouse and two neighbours. Last minute instructions were given re. Lighting Up: travel black until the sound of the Harbourmaster's horn.  With so much noise from the banks which was his horn? "Lights on!" shouted our skipper and in the cabin we scrabbled to press plugs into sockets. I managed my task –but could not see my illumination. "Yes, it's lit," shouted Chris, chief lookout. By the front deck steps we scrabbled around with unfamiliar fairy lights, the "hairnet" over the bow, but then success. From the bank calls of appreciation: "Look, a helicopter".  So Ken night-cruised at Bedford, the name Cleddau a geographical reference to those inspirational fifties flying boats and a Christmas decoration a reminder of his professional past! Craft of all kinds were participating, from the brash and loud Diamonds are forever (Bedford Boat Club) to the tiniest of outboard boats bedecked as a festive tree. Turning a large, heavy steel boat, not equipped with that helmsman's gizmo, a bow-thruster, can be challenging, as certainly it was in the dark. But all went well and as the last rope came ashore for mooring up so started the firework display. Though trees hid the lower display we could see and hear the higher bursts of colour.

The raft races on Sunday afternoon brought even more crowds to the bank, supporters of local teams and companies. Paddling a half-sinking raft proves hard work; though most seemed to make it to the end many tilted dangerously; some crew plunged into the water to push and swim their vessels downstream, waterfights broke out, and right opposite us two paddlers abandoned ship, swam ashore, climbed out and proceeded to wet-hug any members of the crowd foolish enough to stay close by!

The afternoon dwindled away, as did the crowds and the decision was made to de-flag the craft, prepare for departure – and line up for the lock. Some hours later Cleddau was safely moored up again in the Bedford marina. Our crew looked gratefully at the 4-wheeled transport to take them to a morning train – and a phone call summonsed Ken to a 10am meeting at Borough Hall.

Life back to normal?!


*2nd prize awarded for illuminated narrow boat in the night parade ("The judges liked your helicopter")


Probably over fifty illuminated boats participated – but only two narrowboats, so we were second out of two in a competition we didn't know we'd entered! The prize? an impressive trophy with engraved plaque! Something else to buff up with a polishing duster! 

Friday, 16 July 2010

Day 20: Friday 16th July: QI (for gongoozlers)

Distance travelled: 0.25 mile
                   Lock: 1
    So, at about 1pm Cleddau finally nosed into Bedford Lock, after a queue, a fair bit of rope-throwing - and absence of the hands to help as had been promised.   But of course, the Sea Cadets were all in school and no doubt will be much in evidence over the next two days. At the lock was the last of several very low bridges and the the Pembrokeshire flag (essential as a windsock) had to be wrestled from its socket. An hour or more earlier we had negotiated our way out of the marina, past two large cruisers tied up waiting for the river level to be lowered and then on towards the festival site.  A couple begged us in broken English to stop so they could pose for photographs in front of us, but river flow and 20 tons of steel boat aren't that immediately obliging! The Pyramid came into view, white against the white clouds, the Oasis swimming complex.  The Harbourmaster provided us with our berth number (71), a Bedford Town of Markets goody bag (info, balloons - any volunteers to blow them up - and a super strength black bag for rubbish, very practical!)
    Though tricky to moor here (gusty, shallow, angled bank) our location beside the weir leaves us in a very conspicuous place: draw a triangle across the river with its apex at the weir and the base line between the Embankment Hotel and the Castle Mound, and you'll see us. The view is good, straight down to St Paul's Church spire, the Swan Hotel, the new Castle area development and the Mound. Ken has spent a happy afternoon rigging bunting and light decorations so that we will be "dressed overall" for tomorrow...  We didn't end up beside the Bedford - Milton Keynes Trust boats (they're a lot further along) but we'll be draping a banner for the cause. As for the QI bits: creeping in behind Mill Meadows you could see banks of loos, traders' vans, the community stage, lots of focused activity. . On the river we've espied the Mayor's Launch, the BBC Three Counties launch and two cruisers with sails rigged. One has even sailed down to Town Bridge and back.
    To any readers in Bedford tomorrow or Sunday do come and say hallo (and say whether you'd like mint in a drink!)
    Final stats:
    Miles travelled from Lyme View, Adlington (North Cheshire) : 301.5 miles
                                                                  Locks negotiated: 141
                                                                   Total mint miles:   551.5

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Day 19: Thursday 15th July: "There's no such thing as the wrong sort of weather..."

From Great Barford to Bedford (Priory Marina)
Distance travelled: 6.92 miles
                 Locks: 3
    It had been our intention to lie alongside the meadow at Great Barford and gently tend our boat, an illusion shattered on arrival yesterday by the lack of any form of official mooring space  - and by the wild and whipping winds this morning. The need to fill the water tank remained. Investigations of the under floor, the deck and the gas lockers did not provide more than about 140 feet of hose, not enough to stretch back to our water tank.  And then, mid-morning, some of the "St Neot's Armada" departed and enough of a gap appeared to allow us to nudge in and fill up.  Thus replenished further action was called for: a drive for the centre archway of the Great Barford bridge, even though it is marked as No Access. Boater word recommends that course as the turn otherwise into the main stream after the bridge is too sharp for a longer boat. So off we set, into high and gusting winds, heading west for Bedford.
    Often high trees protected us from the worst of the wind. At Willington Lock, a very familiar view since it is a regular stroll past Danish Camp, the weir looked less fierce than usual, but the lock when empty was an enormous abyss.  "Look out for the kingfishers," insisted the downcoming boaters, "Five we saw yesterday on this stretch."  (The same one five times, I wondered...) Soon Danish Camp appeared, sheltered, benign. Activity on the waterfront: a familiar face. Readily Roy, proprietor, took our line and attached us fore and aft to his wide beam boat The Artful Dodger. Our arrival gave a certain amount of entertainment to the terrace customers - and we were pleased to moor up at a favourite venue for lunch.
    More confident now that the deep cutting of the river would offer protection from the wind off we set again - and the first of three extremely heavy and prolonged rain showers started. Clad in the waterproof over-trousers, waterproof jacket and winter peaked cap (with chinstrap) I struggled to retain my lookout post. No sign of the five kingfishers, just five million lashing raindrops. We squeezed past two fallen trees and on into the newly renovated vast Castle Mill Lock. Help was at hand, painters painting white lines around the lock chamber. The water, very unusually, is released into the centre of the lock: down one side of the boat surged foamy river stuff, down the other a milky substance (the watered down wet paint!). Then came glimpses of familiar Bedford landmarks, to the north a wireless aerial and the Home Store near Tesco; to the south the two Cardington airship sheds. We crept closer to the town, but could see nothing of it. Again another downpour at Cardington Lock; cover was taken under the back steel hatch. Wet ropes assume lives of their own, and ours were saturated and fatigued like their owners. On exit from the lock, now only a mile from the day's destination my mind and hands pined for my winter waterproof mitts. With waterlogged and wrinkly fingers we turned into Priory Marina, and after instructions various found an appropriate pontoon mooring place. Relief!  A quarter of a mile and one lock to go and then the final destination will have been reached!
    The title is a trite saying completed by "only the wrong sort of clothes." Today's experience taught us that having certain clothing on board is worse than useless if there's no time to don it! 
    On the domestic front, again wonderful daughter has been in the right part of the country at the right time and by way of a fine meal at Priory Beefeater we have been reunited with a car, have viewed the River Festival site along the Embankment and Russell Park, checked our mail at home (7 misaddressed letters dropped back in a postbox) and returned to the marina ready for tomorrow's hopefully less challenging day... 

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Day 18: Wednesday 14th July: The wrong sort of water

Little Paxton to Great Barford
Distance travelled: 10.75 miles
                Locks:   4
    It still feels remarkable that we made any progress yesterday after the breakdown episode, and it was 3pm before we eventually entered "new" waters.
    Keen to be back on plan today Ken was moving the boat away from its mooring just before 8 am - and indeed we had at least 5 miles and a lock behind us before he gave in to breakfast pangs. The first lock, Papermills or St Neot's Lock, took a full forty minutes to negotiate.  First there was a very busy road to cross, then a long hike to the far end of the newly rebuilt lock (2005) to close the Vee gates.  Next the hike back to operate the guillotine gate which needed raising so as to empty the lock chamber. It's done electrically, very slowly, as the torrent of water pours out through a very narrow channel and easily causes serious turbulence to boats waiting below.  Eventually the gate was ready to be raised (very very slowly) then the boat came in and was tied up while the gate needed to be lowered (again very very slowly).  Hike again back to the far end of the lock, to tackle what we would call "paddles", but on the Great Ouse are called "slackers" and on the Middle Levels are known as "penstocks".  The gearing here is operated from a grid type platform right above where the slackers are opened; the force of water was immense, deafening. Far away Ken did his usual semaphore arm signals but it was as if we were in two separate worlds! The variety of lock shapes and the different operating procedures has added challenge to our journey. The third lock of the day, Roxton, was far more straightforward, a regular shape and size, Ken commenting that it was "a lady's lock".  The fourth lock was very familiar: often we have walked out at Great Barford, and once, on the meadow beside the lock, I watched a pupil perform in a Sealed Knot Civil War re-enactment.
    Mostly the river has coursed past meadows and woodland; before St Neot's were some truly splendid houses and gardens, then parkland and the golf course at Wyboston Lakes. Never attracted to spending time hitting a small ball with a golf iron nonetheless the course looked absolutely magnificent. Cruising past felt a bit like peeping over someone's garden wall to see what normally would be private! Then after Eaton Socon tall housing blocks with harsh vertical lines have sprung up - and suddenly your vision is invaded by sharp and angular shapes: cranes, pylons, power lines, crop driers (or are they incinerators?), bridges (the A1-Cambridge road, the A1 Tempsford bridges, various footbridges...) If you know where to look two other distinctive man-made shapes: the television mast at Sandy and the Black Cat, known by every A1 traveller!
    Between Roxton and Great Barford the river is narrower, wending its way through reed and tree-lined banks. Only one place of habitation: a delightful house right beside the water. And then our arrival at Great Barford shortly after midday: dismay. No obvious place to moor a 60' narrowboat, both EA and GOBA moorings already occupied. On the Severn narrowboaters used to refer to a flotilla of cruisers as "the Birmingham Navy".  Here we are squeezed up against the St Neot's Armada. So we tied up initially to a tree but have tidied ourselves up, but will be profuse in our apologies if the owner of the boat in the private dock we are blocking wishes to move his boat out...
    Ah, "the wrong sort of water": we have a very large water tank and had filled up at Ely, but top of our To Do list today was to top up the water tank.  We crept alongside a landing stage at St Neot's this morning looking for the tap recorded on the map - it had been disconnected by the Council.  Here at Great Barford a wide boat is moored right beside the tap, has been there at least two days and even our considerable collection of hose pipes and hose connectors won't reach quite far enough. But there has been water, plenty of it, vertical, noisy, accompanying the thunder and lightning over the last couple of hours...
    Tomorrow: cleaning and polishing before the final 4 locks and 7 miles stretch up to Bedford on Friday.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Day 17, Tuesday 13th July: No more spanners in the works, please!

Godmanchester to Great Paxton
Distance travelled: 10 miles
Progress towards destination: 6.5 miles and 3 locks
    Boat garb is usually casual, often grubby, chosen for messing about in boats. Last night's Chinese Takeaway was brought on board by friend in a pin-striped suit and tie, he too having suffered a breakdown experience, his on the bus from Cambridge to Godmanchester. But our mood was instantly improved, wine, wine glasses and napkins were assembled and the evening took on a lighter tone. Sombre thoughts later though -  when would we be able to resume our journey? Some brass cleaning therapy was applied.
       Plans had been laid for me to house-sit to await the Royal Mail Special Delivery package, promised by 1pm. Wonderfully, it was delivered just after 9am and Ken liased with our friend to carry it (all 7.5 kilos of it) back to the boat. Apparently, this parcel passing was observed by another boater, who sagely pronounced "BOAT= Bring Out Another Thousand..."  Glug. So we were now equipped with a replacement centreflex coupling - all that was needed was the expertise to fit it.  Throughout the night Ken had plotted to do so if no engineer could be found.  At
10 am a further call to the insurance breakdown callout line (the deal supposedly provides an engineer within four hours) produced no joy, apart from a lot of wasted time. However, we could ring local boatyards. Within an hour of calling Daylock Marine a lithe and oily engineer was clambering, emptyhanded, through the nettles, having arrived in a small boat and tied up behind us.  The deed was slow, telephone support was given from our Agony Engineer who has had intimate dealings with the very bowels of our engine compartment - and then done! Just before 1pm propellor shaft and gearbox were reconnected, and we revved up, turned round and retraced yesterday's waters as far as Hartford to pay the bill and have the bolts tightened by a torque wrench.
    Breaking down in such a civilised place as Godmanchester did bring on some Pollyanna-type thoughts: I am glad that we broke down in Godmanchester
because the park is pretty;
because the One Stop Shop is 5 minutes away;
because the Chinese Takeaway and the fish and chip shop are 3 minutes away;
because the elegant litterbins in the park have wide openings for rubbish;
because we had an accommodation address for a Special Delivery ...
(However, we'd both preferred not to have had that unscheduled eventuality!)
And now, three locks and some heavy rain later we are moored on GOBA (Great Ouse Boating Association) moorings alongside Little Paxton nature reserve; across the river trains thunder past on the London - Peterborough line. Tomorrow (Wednesday) we head for Great Barford, where we shall lick our wounds - and continue polishing the boat.*
* Some polishing of roof and bow was achieved this morning during the coupling-fitting operation: can you tell which side of the roof has been polished...?!

Out of signal...

Martin (Son-In-Law) here,

Quick update via answer-phone message from a well oiled (Red Wine apparently) Ken who cannot get a good enough 3G signal to post a blog.

Boat fixed thanks to helpful Nick who came to the rescue with couriered replacement parts. Boat back underway and still on target to reach Great Barford for Friday where boat shall be polished etc in preparation for Boat Fest!

As is traditional, here is a photo to accompany the blog and as Ken and Sue cant send me one to use, here is my alternative 'Test Card'

'Normal programming' will resume shortly once 3G reception is regained :-)


Monday, 12 July 2010

Day 16: In a bit of a jam...

From Brownshill Staunch Lock (near Earith) to Godmanchester
Miles travelled: 11.75
            Locks: 3
    Last night I was reminded that I needed to refer to Ken's departure from the Ely Marina yesterday: surrounded by fibre glass boats, two tight turns and gusting winds it was pronounced "perfect" by an onlooker from an adjacent boat.
    What a peaceful mooring we had - no traffic, no trains and the only noise that roused us this morning was a sort of mooing dialogue going on between nearby young cows!  Then the gravel works started its conveyer belt at 7.30, a distant clatter above the lock and along the conveyor over the waterway.
    We sped along, past Holywell, past two well-known waterside pubs, Cleddau seeming to enjoy the deep water. She had been built for the Trent and performs well on deeper rivers.
    Then arrival at St Ives - and overwhelming nostalgia hit. For over five years it had been our nearest town; there was the town quay, occupied by tribes of mums and toddlers feeding the swans. There was first one, then a second, gracious spire above the rooftops. There was the bridge with the chapel in the centre; there even was the same rather quaint little department store still doing brisk trade.  The Greek Cypriot restaurant near the bridge seems to have metamorphosed into "Surf and Turf" but much else was the same. Monday has an extensive and bustling street market, the stalls layered three deep in some places, and presiding over it still is Oliver Cromwell, whose own town of birth, Huntingdon, was far too Royalist to support calls for a statue
of such a well known non-conformist.
    On past the Hemingfords towards Huntingdon. There are frequent surprise views of graceful spires across large water meadows  or in picture postcard villages.  An exception is the bankside church at Hemingford Grey, where the tower was blown down in 1741,  a legend claiming that the Devil flew off with the steeple. At Houghton Lock more memories: views across the vast water meadows of winter-time floods.  And the landing stage, now solidly built, fit for purpose, forever engrained in some readers' memories as the place of a Pathfinder emergency. Below Wyton more boats - and even caravans - are moored. We approached noisy Huntingdon, headed under the old town bridge and under the newer A14 road bridge, following the water towards Godmanchester, where we were to join two old friends, for a Chinese supper on board.  Their enthusiasm for tracking us down is legion: their last boat visit was in September in Shropshire, previous ones being  at Oxford, at Leighton Buzzard ... and others. But here we were to be moored less than a mile from their house... 
    And then CLUNK,  a quiet clunk, but ominous. Power, but no propulsion. Poles used to punt us towards the bank.  Nettles, ropes, engine inspection. Diagnosis: a split centreflex coupling.  Hopeful solution, early delivery of critical part to our friends' address and a call out engineer to fit it. What a jam, what will tomorrow bring? And the other jam? Well, Nan ariived mid-afternoon, bearing scones and grape jam, made from our own bumper grape harvest last Autumn! We sat on the stone steps, drinking tea, eating scones and jam.  Later we enjoyed the Chinese supper together, so that part of the plan worked out.
    I'll let you know about the rest...

Sunday, 11 July 2010

... Day 15: Ely to Earith (Roots, Routes and Detours)

Sunday 11th July:
Distance: 17 miles 2 locks
Mint miles: 511 miles*
Wind losses: 3
    Back after the enforced break. 
    Never would I have conceived of putting the words "happy" and "OfSTED" into the same sentence. But due to the latter's arrival at school ("Send for Ken!") I have enjoyed happy hours with all four grandchildren (the Californian Three and the Cheshire One) and had opportunity to gaze upon Ely by foot, not just from the water. Ely I have fallen in love with, its quiet streets, helpful bookshops and breathtaking cathedral. We made a boat checking visit to the marina during this week, accompanied by the Cheshire One who was so impressed that "men built that high building with their hands, Granny".  Forays into three separate bookshops in search of a specific book title for her were enjoyable and ultimately successful. Today, in search of a newspaper before departure, I took a different route back to the boat: in the heart of the city is a field, leading down to the Jubilee Gardens.  Beautiful tranquil spaces.  The cathedral, the Ship of the Fens, dates from Saxon times and the name Ely comes from Eel Island, so you see, its roots go back a long way... As for the other routes: well the car Satnav didn't know that on Saturdays the High Street is completely closed to traffic because of the market so yesterday we had an enforced but interesting detour around the city - and we nearly had a detour to Cambridge, but more later on that. Saturday was for serious boatloading and much additional ballast in the form of beer, bananas and bunting has arrived on board. (Time too to learn one serious lesson: when turning fridge off before departure, do thoroughly check that all food is removed - defrosted uncooked chicken ten days later produces a rather strong odour...!)
    We had arrived today at the boat by 9 am, transported by a very kind neighbour, in his Jaguar. How droll a little later, to spot a different mode of transport, a surfboard being paddled, right opposite King's School Boathouse. Waterside was quiet, far more waterfowl than humankind, and just the sweep of a brush outside a riverside cafe indicated activity to come.
    The route to Bedford is via the river Great Ouse; at Pope's Corner the water carries straight on, taking eager (or reluctant) boaters up the River Cam to Cambridge. Had I not glanced up and spotted a little sign saying St Ives, 19 miles, Old West River, we might now be mooring up nearer fine colleges. Wind, river flow and barely visible signposts provided us with an unplanned equivalent of a screech stop and several point turn...  The kettle, which had boiled during this minor emergency, was put to immediate use to make some pretty stiff coffees. The wind has been very strong, whistling through the reeds and on occasion showing wind lanes on the water. Despite an absence of useful landmarks by which to navigate (Ken resorting to taking note of powerlines) there was much to notice: fluffy grey cygnets aplenty, occasional forlorn abandoned wooden boats, cows to the left and cows to the right, tempting information boards alongside high floodbank paths, darting butterflies and soaring seagulls, the Old Engine House at Stretham, the sluice structures at the locks...and the wind continued to blow. So surprised was I to spot something lift off from the front deck, deck matting from the front locker, that I jerked my head, and off flew too a useful cap - and an even more useful Great Ouse map!
    A helpful St Ives bound boater at Hermitage Lock asked us of any previous Great Ouse boating experience.  A mention of the RAF Wyton boat twenty odd years ago brought on an intake of breath and "Pathfinder!"  Some readers may recall that old Broads cruiser.
    Tonight, as shown, we're moored up between Earith and Holywell. On the front deck the mint continues to thrive, ready to refresh thirsts at Bedford this coming weekend!
    Forecast for tomorrow: light rain with possibility of thunderstorms.
* Mint Miles: Total distance travelled:         511 miles
                                         Road miles:     250
                                         Water miles:    261
                                          Locks:            127  
           (Opinions sought: Can the mint be considered carbon neutral??)