After weeks of river cruising the Cleddau crew were back in canal-land last weekend. 17 months ago there had been one of those Keep this date free emails: keep the July 12th/13th 2014 weekend free for an Event to mark my 40th birthday,
was the message issued by Techno Son-in-Law. The Event, two years in the planning, had no requirement for dinner jackets or ball gowns but a dress code of scruff gear and kit for getting wet...
Day 1 was to take place at Rudyard Lake,
near Leek, in North Staffordshire. Canal fans may recognise this as the reservoir created two hundred years ago to feed the Trent and Mersey and the Caldon Canals.
Those with a penchant for poetry (If - ) and short stories (Jungle Book and the Just So Stories) may be reminded of Rudyard Kiplingwhose parents had courted at Rudyard before moving to India. More recently, in 2006, global fame came to Rudyard Lake when it was the venue for Clarkson, Hammond and May of Top Gear to race their specially adapted (supposedly) amphibious vehicles... Now does that episode ring a bell...? Report to the Rudyard Lake Activity Centre by 10 o’clock was the instruction from Techno Son-in-Law. Folk were prompt, ready to be organised.
Perhaps it should be explained that nothing gives Techno Son-in-Law more pleasure than a project to be developed and managed. It proved an organisational triumph on Saturday that forty plus individuals from babes to pensioners were kept entertained, fed and watered all day long. Do as much or as little as you like: sit out on the balcony in sun or shade;
have a kayaking lesson – and play kayak polo;
climb and abseil on the climbing tower;
paddle a Canadian canoe and view the Victorian era boathouses from the water; take part in group problem solving;
race in the bell boats at the end of the afternoon.
If none of that appealed there is a lake circuit walk and also a miniature steam train to view and ride on... Moorland Adventure provided boats and gear along with instructors with lashings of patience and humour - and via another organisational masterstroke* the sun shone all day. Did the birthday boy get a dunking? Of course he did,
the result of a slickly executed conspiracy! The core group of Graftonites, undergraduates together nearly two decades ago at Reading University, maintain regular contact. Four families slept under canvas. Pack up your tents on Sunday morning was their instruction and report up the road to Langley Village Hall. There the Saturday attendees reconvened and set off for a country walk,
led of course, by the 40 year old in his Ranger role. There were pauses along the way for a horse, then a pony,
next a stile, then a frog,
and finally a toad.
(Debate – was it a frog or a toad?)
To the youngsters’ delight the Cheshire One, demonstrating her local knowledge, pointed out Bottoms Reservoir,
and hungry now the group straggled back to the village hall to a BBQ lunch, more puddings and cake - and a washing line or two of embarrassing photos...
There were journeys to be done for many after lunch, with commitments on Monday to work and school. It had been a great way to spend a weekend, so much talking, some walking, some floating and lots of laughter. Many thanks, Techno! Later the Captain and Boatwif retreated back to the Rudyard Hotel
– and contemplated how the fringing and tassels, the flock wallpaper and highly patterned carpets may have been the epitome of good taste for the visiting Victorians; while the food was excellent the quaint serving practices and haphazard admin perhaps might score it a fair few points on a Fawlty Towers scale... Countdown time now: the Bedford River Festivalis this coming weekend and Cleddau has a mooring booked.
*Reading’s Meteorology Department was well represented by past students and post-grads. Did they use special powers to secure the sunshine?!
Great Barford to Bedford An early departure was agreed for Wednesday from Great Barford – there were three locks and seven miles to go to the Priory Marina in Bedford. Late on Tuesday afternoon Boatwif glimpsed a flash of white (and some black) sidling past the cabin window. Boat Dog from Tentatrice had decided to absent himself from the stern deck of his boat and to position himself comfortably on the grassy bank overlooking the river.
From here he could better supervise the crews and survey the scene...
Decades back there was another unauthorised dog departure at this same place. Senior Sis and Saltie had a terrier-like dog, Chip, but he leapt off, lead still attached, just as the boat was pulling away from the bank. Perhaps it is the gentle setting that makes certain types want to be on the land rather than on the river. Why, about five years ago the Captain and Boatwif drove to Great Barford's The Anchor
to meet Three Men on a Boat. “Join us for dinner, do,” they had insisted. Godmanchester Friend 2 was one of the Three Men and he’s a very persuasive chap. Several phone messages throughout the day preceded the dinner – the little boat hired for an overnight jaunt from Huntingdon proved so unreliable it broke down nine times. Over the very late dinner that night the Three Men made a resolution: “We’re not taking it back,” they declared. “The boatyard can fetch it!” So they too jumped ship at Great Barford... On Wednesday morningCleddau again led the little convoy. “I’m going through the No Entry bridge hole,”
advised the Captain to the Tentatrice crew, “otherwise I’ll end up in the bushes.” This magnificent bridge was first built in the early 15th century and has had changes made over time – nonetheless a 60 foot long steel boat needs space to veer left into the navigation channel on the south side of the bridge. A voice on a PA system floated down to the river, audible for a good half mile. Once “Come on Year 7,” was heard. So Alban Academy, the Great Barford school for middle school age pupils, was having an outdoors morning then. The river creeps undisturbed by roads for several miles. High trees and bushes provided shelter from the blustery winds.
Soon came Willington Lock, a popular spot for village and Bedford area walkers.
As Cleddau rose in the lock two locals expressed delight at seeing the boats. “We come here often – these are the first boats we’ve seen all summer.” After Willington Lock it’s not far to the log cabin at Danish Camp: here you can buy food and drink, hire a bike, hire a boat, bounce on a Viking themed castle, enjoy lazy jazz on Bank Holiday Mondays – and discover something of the site’s history as a winter harbour for the Danes. Just look at those little boats:
three summers ago there was a multi-generational trip in one of those, seeking dragonflies we were (see paragraphs three and four here). Further on secret log structures are nearly hidden amongst the trees. Yet again there’s a sobering reminder of the river’s force when in flood: see the height of some of the mooring poles.
Road noise begins to intrude as the river passes under the Southern Bypass (Oh look, this is called the Castle Mill Viaduct).
Cleddau may have gone through 138 locks so far on this trip but this next one still jangles the nerves. It is a vast chamber, deep and long. The noise from the weir is thunderous,
and the lock operation perplexing. Two pillars stand midway along one side of the lock.
To empty the lock of water you use the windlass to wind what is called here “the outlet penstock”.
The water is discharged directly out onto the weir from half way along the chamber. Filling the lock is an odd experience here: as the water swirls in at the side of the boat and can cause some turbulence if the boat isn’t properly secured. Tentatrice was first through the lock.
From the lock side across the fields are the Cardington sheds,
famous for the airships created there. Airship related industry is still based in one of the vast hangers while in recent years the other has found new life as a film studio. As Cleddau prepared to enter the enormous Castle Mill Lock the Artful Dodger from Danish Camp hove into view, crewed of course by Roy and Gail – and Ozzie,
their three year old European Owl. With a nudge and a shuffle the two boats squeezed into the lock, narrow Cleddau at the front, shorter broader Artful Dodger at the rear – and it was a smooth rise to the upper level. Just the queue for Cardington Lock to go. It’s a more normal size, within Priory Country Park. It was lunch time. Workers from the nearby Business Park stopped to watch and to ask questions. Water surges fast past the guillotine gate,
the flow to the weir is strong and the wind was increasing in strength. This cruise was becoming a race against the wind: past the Barns Hotel, past Bedford Boat Club and a hard right into Priory Marina.
Where was the lady with the kind telephone voice who said she’d direct the boats to their visitor pontoons? Arrived Priory Marina 1330 - finally moored up,
hooked up to electricity points and dues paid by 1600. Never did a mooring take longer... Nor has a recovery to home ever taken longer. The seven weeks of absentee driver had taken their toll on the car. A sheared coil spring, a tow truck and a garage bill was Thursday’s problem. Three cheers and heartfelt thanks to Exemplary Neighbour who twice drove his Jaguar to the marina to ferry the Captain and collect crew (and baggage). Not seen since May the Neighbour wryly announced: “My birthday went off alright.” It had been a Big Birthday, a seriously big birthday - and here he was providing emergency rescue of the boaters. So the Cleddau crew have jumped ship for a few days. Though seven weeks were spent on the Macclesfield Canal to Bedford boat trip, it took under three hours on Friday to drive back. Techno Son-in-Law’s Big Birthday Event is this weekend and it involves kayaks, rafts and dragon boats...
Total distance to
Distance so far: 309
miles Total number of locks to
Bedford: 141 Locks so far: 140
Great Ouse: Godmanchester to Great Barford At 8pm on Sunday at Godmanchester litter was piled high by the park bins and spread thickly across the areas favoured by the local teens. But, magic! By 10am on Monday morning all was gone. Just the steel frame of the stage area was left to be dismantled
after Godmanchester’s Gala on Saturday and Picnic in the Park on Sunday. No crowds jostled on the Chinese footbridge now
and no boats lined the riverbank of the park – all gone! “Come on, it’s a working day!” urged the Captain, eager to be off boating in such lovely weather. Out of Godmanchester on a broad river... After about a mile appear the attractive looking buildings of Brampton Mill, its waterwheel turning.
Is this the mill Senior Sis remembered where the water can be seen through a glass panel in the floor? It’s tricky here to find the lock – it’s round the back up a very narrow channel.
What if something looms round the next corner coming in this direction...? Nothing did... Coming down the lock was a widebeam boat, Calypso, 60’ long, heading for Pope’s Corner. Impressed her crew were to hear of Cleddau’s and Tentatrice’s respective itineraries. “Abroad! You’ve come from abroad...” their skipper proclaimed. So anywhere beyond the Great Ouse is “abroad” is it! And in a kind gesture Calypso’s mooring platform at Little Paxton was offered if the GOBA moorings were full.
(Members of the Great Ouse Boating Association can make use of certain GOBA only mooring sites). Is it always this busy on sunny Monday mornings – a boat queue at Brampton Lock, before total boat congestion at Offord Lock. Onwards upstream, past the holiday lodges at Buckden Marina. Short of space at the lock landing stage Cleddau's bow spent time in a willow tree
while several cruisers poured out of and then other cruisers poured back into the narrow Offord Lock. Often Boatwif drives this way to visit Godmanchester Friend. Holdups at the nearby railway crossing are common (it’s the busy commuter and East Coast line to Huntingdon, Peterborough and the north) but to see one boat, let alone nine at this location seems quite exceptional! Off upstream again, the river wide, smooth, glassy.
Another memory stirs – decades ago, wasn’t it along this stretch (on the wooden boat Pathfinder) that Scottish Sis squeaked and wailed, her Greece-bought sunhat borne away on the breeze? There was a slowing down and a boathook rescue, wasn’t there! Heading south, heading upstream. Slowly now, look out for boats on the right. If you walk the Ouse Valley Way you pass these boats, private moorings beside Paxton Pits Nature Reserve. Squint to spot the blue GOBA sign
and squeeze in if you can. The boats were breasted up again
but this proved an excellent mooring for the Tentatrice Boat Dog as the nature reserve has paths and thickets and rabbits and squirrels... Tuesday saw the Little Paxton – Great Barford leg of this marathon cruise. Clouds were reflected in the waters
as the boats headed towards St Neots - and into Paper Mills Lock. This is an extraordinary lock, seriously long (119 feet of narrowboat, plus space to spare!)
and slackers (ie paddles) set in metal pillars by the far gates. To operate the slackers you must stand on a metal grid with the water roaring in below.
Far below and far away in the lock chamber helmsmen may wave their arms in meaningful communication – but the noise beneath your feet prevents any understanding! You meet all sorts on the waterways – folk who are generous, those who are founts of waterways knowledge, folk who are funny – and occasionally folk who are less than pleasant. When you come across someone who in your view is totally obnoxious you hope never to coincide ever again. To share waters and lock side territory again today with the all-time Mr Obnoxious first encountered about three years ago was disconcerting. Why do some people behave in such an intimidating and water possessive way? Away from Paper Mills Lock the river passes glorious properties - and a mass of white bottomed boats.
St Neots has a 48 hour Visitors pontoon with easy access to the town. Once upon a time there was a very useful tap on the pontoon. Then, in a controversial move, the local council cut off the water feed (a cost saving measure?) Questions had been asked further downstream: anyone know if the St Neots tap is working now? No-one knew. But there it was, a working tap, with the slowest water delivery rate this side of Marple! For over 90 minutes the boats took on water, and as is the usual way, another friendly boater stood by and swapped tips and tales. Through Eaton Socon Lock (a pretty spot and a cheerful fellow boater) then onwards, further upstream. The A1 runs parallel here, and, A1 fans, Cleddau paralleled the Black Cat roundabout at 1445...
The river turns west, under the Tempsford Bridges,
the surroundings quieter now. In a green corridor it flows, twisting and turning towards Great Barford. Two white bottomed boats surged round a bend, the blast from Cleddau’s horn of no significance to them
– but narrow boats can share this water too! Then came the familiar sight of Great Barford’s weir; rowers avoided,
fishermen from the lock wall avoided (“I know who’ll come off worst!” said one).
So here, at Great Barford, facing the 17 arched ancient bridge, Cleddau and Tentatrice lie,
with only 7 miles left to do to reach Bedford. To finish with flags and a fish. Why is the Stars and Stripes flying above the Union flag from a St Neots lamp post?
Does this flag at Tempsford indicate a Scottish Independence supporter?
And as for the fish - it’s a chubb,
caught by the lock at Great Barford this afternoon. Total distance to Bedford: 310 miles Distance so far: 302 miles Total number of locks to Bedford: 141 Locks so far: 137