Wednesday 11th August: St Ives to Ely, 22 miles, 3 locks
The three dish Thai meal last night was superb, cooked by a near professional it would seem, since Simon the Navigator indicated that he had taken a Thai food cookery course - in Thailand! We were picked up as planned, right beside the statue of Oliver Cromwell, conveyed to Houghton and Wyton, the back roads and village streets stirring distant memories. How the chaps talked, often opening with "There we were at 30,000 feet" and "Remember when we landed at ..." But special laughter was reserved for that long ago Sawley / Evesham boat trip. Both have dined out - frequently over the years - on the tales of coming upon the gangsters and their minders late at night and how the canal ran out of water and how the tillerpin disconnected from the rudder and how they found themselves in a politically incorrect Irish bar. If you have not been treated with these gems just ask Ken, they are still as fresh in the telling as in 1994 (and I've heard them many times since!) Just before midnight the taxi dropped us on Bridge Street and we strolled across the bridge, passed the chapel and gazed down at about fifty swans gently bobbing on the water. This morning a swannery bankside was much in evidence.
We left behind the graceful twin spires of St Ives and for the next couple of hours the river moved us from spire view to spire view: Holywell, Needingworth, Bluntisham. Then none was seen for a long while from the Old West River until Stretham and then finally Ely. First the huge bulk on Ely's Cathedral appears, sometimes two, sometimes three of its towers in view, and then delicately behind it all emerges one more spire, of the parish church.
With the high flood banks of the Old West River restricting the longer views the eye rests on nearer sights, the Dutch influenced architecture at Earith - and the cows.
"You keep taking photos of cows," commented the Captain.
"Well, there isn't much else to take photos of," went the mumbled reply. But it did create a line of thought about cows. Why, whenever we passed cows, would they all be grazing with their heads in the same direction? Was it to keep the warming sun on their backs? Or not to have the sun straight in their eyes? Or because they are herd animals which copy rather than originate? Perhaps all - and didn't they all follow the direction of the calf that was walking in the water at the river's edge.
Back on the Great Ouse after Pope's Corner the river was wider, busier and overlooked by a pair of spectators seated on an oversized chair.
We are moored in Ely (just past the bridge to the marina, right beside a small park). The boat is overhung by willows and now that the park walkers have dispersed it is very peaceful, apart from occasional crashings and bangings from the very long freight trains - and gossiping between some very garrulous geese...