So whose water is it anyway?
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
Tomorrow to Priory Marina, Bedford.