Saturday, 21 July 2018

Bedford Festival to St Neots 16th to 18th July 2018

Monday 16th July 2018
Bedford Festival to Priory Marina
1 mile, 1 lock

The morning after the weekend before -  traders are still packing up - the biggest job, inevitably, fell to the litter pickers.  Speaking to a couple of them on Sunday morning we were told that the area round the main stage was like a blanket.

We set off just after 10:30 to find just one boat ahead of us

the long line of cruisers had gone, so mooring up for the lock was very easy

and one just one behind us.  Whilst we were waiting around we heard that there were 6 narrow boats queuing at 06:00! I think Angela and Patrick was just ahead of the rush.

Once down the lock all those moored boats had gone. 

It was an easy journey back to the marina where we would have to go to wait for the bow thruster to be re-repaired.  Chris had made contact with the engineer - spare parts were ordered and a promise given to arrive as soon as possible on Tuesday.  So there was nothing for it, but to hunker down and wait.  Of course this would mean moving all that coal again!

Tuesday 17th July 2018
Priory Marina to Great Barford
6 miles, 3 locks

When we were in the marina before the festival Monty and I had walked round the lake - a very pleasant almost 2 mile walk.


Today we set off to walk to Cardington Lock whilst Chris waited behind for the engineer to arrive. I wanted to see if there was a queue - we were told that at one time yesterday there had been 19 boats waiting.  Even if they were all cruisers it would still have taken a while as the lock only takes one narrowboat, so probably just two cruisers.

I saw nothing moving on my way to the lock and there was just one cruiser in there when I arrived, but it was in a bit of a pickle.  They had just bought the boat and did not realise just how narrow the lock is.  The buoys jammed the boat in the lock, so they had to re-fill the lock, move all the buoys and try again.  Even then they only just made it.

By the time we got back, the engineer was hard at work and Chris was usefully employed as his 'mate'! 

The first problem had been caused by some corrosion in the connecting block between the control wires and the thruster itself.  This meant that the thruster was continually being prompted to keep thrusting during the Wash crossing, only stopping when the overheat protection was triggered, only to restart again once it had reset itself.  The first repairs (before the festival) were to the control connections and to replacing the thruster bearings which thanks to virtually continuous running across the Wash had become damaged.  During the festival the thruster stopped completely - no power, no lights, no nothing. 

This next problem was the corrosion in and around the main fuse holder which had become very hot, eventually causing the fuse to fail.  Unfortunately neither we nor the engineer had spotted this the first time around.  Once the main fuse holder and the charging fuse holder had been replaced and new fuses fitted, everything was fine and at the time of writing (3 days on), still no problems.   

By the time it was all sorted, the coal re-loaded, we had filled up with water and diesel it was 15:00 before we got away - a very late start for us, but we really did not want to stay another night in the marina,  As we were filling up with diesel look what we found lurking in a corner of the marina -
a 'naked' pirate raft.

By the time we got to Cardington lock there was a narrow boat already going down with the trip boat 'John Bunyan' waiting ahead of us on the lock landing.

These two tiddlers came up

We did get through eventually and by the time we emerged John Bunyan had winded and was on the way back to the lock we had left which was hopefully ready for them.  Whilst chatting at the lock going down earlier we did discover that the many trips they took during the Festival were all full.  A good commercial weekend for them.

The rest of the journey was plain sailing and having noted that the lovely mooring by the old lock at Great Barford was empty we reversed in just very pleased to find such a delightful spot empty so late in the day.  We soon found out why - the river is just too low and we could not get in.

Onwards then to Great Barford itself.  As we approached the bridge it looked a little full on the EA moorings, but would there be a space?

No! -  it was nose to tail all the way along, so we went across to the GOBA moorings, which were, thankfully,  empty.

Banging pins into the solid earth is not for the faint hearted, but we managed and settled down for the night with a less than appealing view out of the side hatch

With such a high sided bank getting on and off had to be done with care, but it was only for one night, so we managed.

Wednesday 18th July 2018
Great Barford to St Neots
7.75 miles, 3 miles

With six boats on the opposite bank, five of which were pointing the same way we were going, we were determined to make an early start, so we were pulling pins (very quietly!) at 07:10 when I heard an engine!  Our hearts fell - we knew they only had to untie, not wriggle pins out and put them away before setting off.  Thankfully there was no need to panic - it was a vehicle on the other side of the bridge.  The lock was against us, so it was a long wait on the lock landing for Chris, but it was a glorious morning and we were not in a hurry.

Most of the lock workings are covered in webs

Roxton Lock was also against us, but it was still only 08:15 when we got there, so no queues.

Just after that lock I think we disturbed this heron's early morning rest high up in a tree

Wonder of wonders - the next lock at Eaton Socon was in our favour, so we could sail straight in

This is the first large lock we had been in for quite a while, but it was still early, so we were 'Billy No Mates'

Approaching St Neots - the mooring before the bridge was occupied

There was space on the park after the bridge, but we needed to fill up with water and to visit Waitrose and the town moorings were full.  Nothing a bit of breasting up can't solve.  By the time I had shopped, Chris had filled the tank and we moved across to the park to moor up for the night.

It was three hours after we got there that the first of the boats at Great Barford arrived!  Maybe we should not have started so early, but it is certainly a little cooler then.

So where were our travelling companions, Sue and Ken on Cleddau?  They had had a meeting on Tuesday, so could not leave Priory Marina until Wednesday midday.  How far would they get?  We both needed to be in Godmanchester on Friday, so there was not a lot of time to spare.  In the end they put their heads down and went for it arriving is St Neots around 7pm.  They tried to get in a bit further along, but it is just too shallow.  Thankfully they were able to breast up with us.  There is going to be a huge Inland Waterways Festival here in August - how they will get the very many boats in remains to be seen.  It is a huge park, but it is all just too shallow for boats to get within two to three feet of the bank.

We had offered to cook dinner - one less thing for them to think about.  This really is a tough life!

Having missed them at the Festival our entertainment for the evening - a dragon boat practice

Friday, 20 July 2018

Bedford River Festival - 14-15th July 2018

First a bit of a catch up!  The last post that promised that normal service that was going to be resuming shortly was actually posted two weeks ago!!

Fri 6th - Fri 13th July 2018

On 6th July we made the very long quarter of a mile trip from the moorings into Priory Marina - the boat's home for the next week.  On Saturday we travelled home - the roads were very quiet as England were playing football.  Whilst at home we caught up with our daughter and family, had blood tests, dental and hygienist appointments, hair cuts and Monty had his annual MOT and jabs.  I also managed to see a friend who is not too well on Sunday and Tuesday, so a successful trip.

The journey back on Wednesday afternoon was also trouble free, but oh how fast cars seem after a couple of months afloat. 

By the time we arrived nb Chouette (the third boat in our party this year) had arrived and as we still had the hire car that evening we were all invited to Sue and Ken's for dinner.  A jolly evening indeed and a good chance for the six of us to catch up.

The plan was move the boat to Bedford town river on the Thursday, but despite a boat key being left at the marina we got back to find that no work had been done on the bow thruster.  The engineer did not arrive until early Friday morning.   It was a very long and frustrating Thursday stuck in a marina with no idea when we would escape.

We finally got away with a working bow thruster around 11:15 on Friday.

Bedford River Festival - 14th - 15th July 2018
There and back to Priory - 2 miles, 2 locks

The first signs that anything was being made ready was the positioning of a temporary bridge

As we crept closer activity was happening on all sides - stalls etc to our right

and moored boats with space for more against newly mown riverbank to our left

And at the lock we were welcomed to the Festival - the fun could begin.

Thankfully the lock at Bedford was not too busy and was manned by Environment Agency staff.  There was just these two boats ahead of us

Our party this year would consist of three boats, Cleddau (Sue and Ken), Chouette (Patrick and Angela along with their grandson, Alex) and ourselves + Monty on Tentatrice.

Chouette and Cleddau had arrived on Thursday and boat 'dressing' was well underway when we arrived.

We managed to get the main part of our structure up before lunch and before the roof became too hot to handle.

The rest followed on after lunch and soon we were ready to relax and enjoy the festival.  My favourite part on ours was the string of lanterns towards the stern - a last minute buy from Argos in Ely.  They are solar powered lights and I wish we had bought another set.

They did not light up all that well, but were really pretty in the day time.  A bit of a fiddle to construct, but worth the effort.

One job we did not have to do that Ken had was cleaning all the brasses, but at least he was able to sit down in the shade to do it

Around 17:30 Monty and I went for a wander up to the lock just to see how busy it was - well we were glad we came when we did - it was organised chaos!  Due to a very low bridge the EA drop the level of the river between 16:00 and 20:00 on both the Friday and the Sunday to allow some of the high cruisers a chance to get up to the town river and then back down again.

It really is quite low - we as crew have to duck and remove our Worcestershire flag.

It is actually all very well organised with every boat being given a 'plot' (we were 69) number - this lot just had to catch their tree before tying up.

So when all the work was done what better way to start our celebrations on a hot summers day than with a Pimms.  Sue and Ken had a rather posh dome tent - you can just see our gazebo in the background.  In the event we spent most of the outdoor time under the tree between the two, but with having one 'construction' at each end it did mark out our territory to some extent.  Our chairs were appreciated by quite a few others when we were not around. They provided a much needed resting spot for hot & weary souls.

So what was there to see and do?  Let's start with the watery fun that we did see/take part in.  First a young man who tried to argue the toss about why he should not swim in the river today (Saturday)!  The answer 'That's the Rules today mate - now get out'!!  He chose the moment that the cruiser parade was about to start to be swiftly followed by the narrow boat parade - not something he would have wanted to be caught up in.  He was made to get out on the far side, despite saying he had left his clothes on the other bank!  I just hope he had left a little something on his body before taking to the water!!

There are parades during the day on both Saturday and Sunday and a night illuminated one on Saturday evening.  All parades are led by the Harbour Master and then the Mayor - in full regalia on Saturday, but the gown, shirt, gloves and hat had been discarded by Sunday afternoon - I suspect he was just too hot.

There is a competition for the best dressed cruisers and narrowboats in both the day and the illuminated parades. Some of the cruisers do put on a tremendous show - just a few of what I considered to be the best.

Tropical Island

Party Hut

Star Wars

The Wizard of Oz

This one was a clever theme which was highlighting the problem of plastic waste

Hardly a cruiser, but such was the pace of the parade they managed to keep up - HMS Queen Elizabeth.

This pirate raft under tow did not really qualify as a cruiser, but I guess it was being towed by one.

There were many others and although there was some congestion - nothing to compare with what was about to follow during the narrowboat parade.

We believe that both Star Wars and Wizard of Oz were awarded well deserved prizes.

The stretch of river to be paraded is about a mile long each way. The instructions are to join the end of the parade as it goes past.  Sail to the suspension bridge at one end, turn, sail to the Town Bridge at the other end, turn again, repeat the circuit and then go back to your mooring.  We were among the last to leave our mooring and the start had caught up with us before we got going, so a huge queue ensued.  No one thought about how long it takes a narrow boat to turn round!  The queues were long with a lot of reverse required to just keep still!

This was the turn by what they call The Suspension Bridge (even though it isn't!)

Not that tight a turn, but with legs hanging over the edge here and all the way along one had to be very careful, especially when the newly repaired bow thruster failed just over 24 hours after it was fixed!  More about this in another installment.

Once you had winded there was, understandably, a very large gap between you and the boat ahead with very long queues waiting to turn to our left and many, many legs to our right!  It was not long before the Harbour Master started to give the order 'Just once around and return to your mooring'.  Even once round took over the hour assigned to us.

But we did it with two passengers on board - visitors of Sue and Ken's - Sheila and Margaret.

As you can see from the bunting there was a bit of a breeze - never the friend of narrowboats trying to wind in tight spaces.  This also gives a better view of my much loved lanterns.


and Chouette also took part in both day time parades, but we all gave the illuminated parade a miss - in the light with just narrow boats was chaotic enough, but at night with a mix of cruisers and narrowboats - well enough said I think!

Most narrowboats were modestly dressed with bunting, lights and flags, but a few made more of an effort.  We believe that Lady Rosemary Two has taken part many times and has been a worthy winner in the past.

Rosie and Jim always play a central role each year and although they chose the highly appropriate theme of the 40th Anniversary of the Bedford River Festival they were pipped at the post by

Chimaera - a worthy winner depicting the 100th Anniversary of Womens' Suffrage.

One other boat that has to get a mention was The Artful Dodger

that comes from a place called 'Danish Camp' - a pub/restaurant/events establishment (to be highly recommended if you are coming this way) with their very special passenger Ozzie the Owl who loves travelling along the river watching all and sundry from his perch complete with sunshade if required

We thoroughly enjoyed the night parade from the safety of our mooring.  Some of the boats had sound effects both by day and night.  At one point on the night parade The Wizard of Oz made an early turn to tuck in behind Star Wars.  The result was Star Wars versus The Wizard of Oz - for the most part the former won the battle - have a look at this video if you want to see the mayhem that ensued.

It was great fun to watch, but no place for narrow boats especially as some craft had no lights at all and it did eventually become a bit of a free for all with boats turning in unexpected places and then putting on speed to overtake!

There was a two mile swimming race - not for the faint hearted

and another race for paddle boarders

The last event on Sunday was the raft race - always good fun.  Two heats battling their way downstream for one mile.

I think this was the winner of heat one

and this from heat two who I think went on to win when the final took place along the mile stretch back upstream.

It was all great fun to watch, but hard work for the crews.  Once the final has taken place the non finalists have to paddle the mile back upstream to get the craft out of the water.  Some don't make it and have to be rescued and/or towed.

That was the sum total of our watery experiences.  Sadly for us, they have extended the river being used for events to the other side of the Town Bridge, so we missed the dragon boat races and the jet bots this time.  A reminder of the latter from 2014

Quite spectacular, but having seen them before it was not worth fighting the crowds in the hope of getting close enough to see again.  We have since heard that they think they had 330,000 visitors.

So to land - well we were back to WWI on the Castle Mound opposite our mooring.  Last time we were here was 2014, so that was the start of the war and this time was a celebration of the end.

An impressive display which we managed to visit early on the Sunday before they were officially open, hence not all jackets etc were on (they must have been unbearably hot) and no crowds to battle with.  There was quite a lot to see and read.

This Sopwith Camel plane was, we believe, built for a film set and was going to be dumped until someone saw it, asked if he could have it and was told to 'go ahead'!  Definitely worth salvaging.  The two-seater versions were used as training aircraft.

Both front and

rear seats were incredibly small, but then so were people a century ago.

This flame thrower was a two-man operation - one carried it whilst the other operated it.  A very heavy bit of kit to lug around.

Then there was the cause of frequent distress as far as Monty was concerned - the gun on the left was fired at regular intervals
resulting in him taking cover/seeking solace in any way he could even if it meant sitting on the cushions!  The cool coat saw a lot of wear over two very hot days.

By the river they had a WWI first aid station including a rescue boat

which sailed up and down the river from time to time

The RAF added to the occasion with a couple of flypasts - a Spitfire that I almost missed
and then the Lancaster

We did go walk about a few times, but I have to say a lot of time was spent sitting under 'our tree' chatting to our fellow travellers and many of Sue and Ken's visitors, some of whom we have met several times before.

We even had one set of our own very welcome visitors - Dan, Georgie, Dan and Bethan - the latter two visited us with their grandparents when we were in Ely.

There were various music venues - the one closest to us was Jazz, which for the most part made for easy background listening.  For those with enough spare energy in the heat, they were encouraged to 'strut their stuff'.  These two made a good fist of it.

People sought shade in all sorts of places

I wandered off on Sunday morning before most of the crowds arrived just to see what was there.  First I visited a craft tent that was mostly pictures - some wonderful and some not so appealing to me.  They also had cards, pens and some magnificent pieces of turned wood.  Certainly plenty to keep the interest for a while and bliss with lots of room to move around before the hoards descended.

There were also things for children - an area with giant outdoor games

another for petting farm animals

How three the labs fitted into that I have no idea, but they, of course, were eager to lap up all the attention they could get.  'Mum' was particularly pleased to see me when she got the scent of Monty's treats that were still in my pocket!

Plus there was a mini adventure area where various activities could be tried.

My favourite exhibit was the blacksmith - he had to work hard with those bellows to keep his fire going.

On Sunday morning there was a carnival parade through the town, but one look at the crowds sent me scurrying back to the relative peace around our boats.

Saturday evening was rounded off with a big firework display - all sky bursts, so we could enjoy them without straying from 'our patch'.  All except Monty and Chris who stayed inside the boat - another cause of stress for Monty.

Considering that he had to spend the entire time we were there on the lead, didn't have a big free-run walk, had to have a couple of walks into town (not his idea of fun), had to put up with many 'nasty noises' and cope with crossing two boats

and a noisy, slippy, wobbly gangplank every time he wanted to get on or off the boat, I have to say Monty coped quite well

It all starts to wind up late afternoon on Sunday.  In 2014 we left on the Sunday and joined the mayhem to get out of town lock.  This time we stayed put until Monday and just went to 'gongoozle' (watching people going through locks) on Sunday and were glad we were not part of the crowd trying to escape.

Things were not helped by the fact that this bridge across the bottom of the lock is narrow and really only has room for single file two way foot traffic, so when people stop to gongoozle

it meant that this man with a megaphone was kept very busy trying keep people moving!

Another craft making a bid for freedom was the pirate raft - we have never seen anything like this in a lock before.  Remembering the very low bridge at the bottom of the lock we did wonder how on earth this would make it through.

The 'constructors' had thought of that - one flip on a lever and it all collapsed.

This lot (and many more) were still milling around jockeying for their turn

We beat a hasty retreat back to the boats safe and smug in the knowledge that we would be able to enjoy a well deserved quiet Sunday evening. 

However, first we had to put up with many traders vehicles that came onto site to start packing up

Some were bigger than others and on the way out had to re-position many times just to get over the bridge and away.

Peace did descend eventually we were able to enjoy a quiet interlude.  Patrick and Angela on Chouette had an early night as they slipped away to start their journey home at 05:50 on Monday morning.

So was it worth the long journey down with another long haul ahead of us - resoundingly yes.  It was a fantastic weekend.  Will we come again - we shall see!