An evening cruise – and a Dahling afternoon…

No, Cleddau has not slipped her moorings at sunset and sailed off into the gloom – but the John Bunyan did!

While home-based for a few days in Beds, a friend had extended a kind invitation to join her on a birthday cruise. Since 1995 the Bedford and Milton Keynes Waterway Trust  has been promoting the development of a canal link between the Buckinghamshire town of Milton Keynes and the county town of Bedford. Close the Gap (not the same as a disembodied London Transport voice advising “mind the gap”)


but Close the Gap is the Trust’s motto. Connecting the Grand Union Canal at Milton Keynes with the river Great Ouse at Bedford via a new waterway will close the gap in a waterway ring that takes in Northampton, Peterborough, Ely, St Ives, Huntingdon and St Neots as well as Bedford and Milton Keynes.   See here  for details of the B&MK Trust.

Awareness of the new waterway project has been much increased over the last three years by the launching of a purpose built community boat, the John Bunyan, which does public, special and charter cruises from Bedford along the Great Ouse.

“A jazz cruise,” the friend had said – and she’d already bought the tickets.

Boarding was from 7.15pm at the riverside Barns Hotel, with final boarding at 7.31pm.   16al-01   The boat is accessible even for passengers who have mobility difficulties. The stairs from the stern deck down to the cabin are easily lifted onto the stern deck so that a lift from the cabin up to the deck can be operated. 16al-02

The sun was sliding towards the horizon as the boat pulled away.   16al-03   The first mile or so was in the dusk, past the cruisers tied up at Bedford Boat Club and past the astonishing pyramid shape of the Oasis Swimming Pool16al-04

It was totally dark when Bedford Lock was reached, a sharp right turn from the channel. By then the dulcet sounds from the Tom Syson Jazz Trio (guitar, double bass and trumpet)  16al-05   hid any untoward crashing and bangings…

Slowly and steadily John Bunyan rose in the lock, rose to floodlit buildings: the Embankment Hotel, the medieval Castle Mound, The Swan Hotel and evening walkers promenading alongside the river. Straight ahead was Town Bridge, bathed in blue light. (Oh for photo opportunities from either  bow or stern deck…!)

As when cruising in daylight it is by the bridges that you pinpoint your position. Town Bridge, the controversial new footbridge (too ugly by half)  , the rail bridges, the recent footbridge. Then, despite the Jazz Trio’s efforts, came the unmistakable sound of bow thrusters as the boat was turned to head back towards Bedford and the Embankment.

There were late rowers at the Star Rowing Club and at Bedford Rowing Club. Lights flooded onto the water from the Moat House Hotel. Onwards went John Bunyan, past the hotels, past the lock, further along, under the Butterfly Bridge,  here again to use the bow thrusters to execute a neat turn and to cruise back along the upper river to the lock.

Down through the lock… the trio playing on.  16al-07    A member of the deck crew descended from the stern, a head torch perched above his brow, a large Ouse windlass in his hand. During the cruise cabin crew had offered snacks and mementoes, soft drinks and alcoholic drinks for sale, profits of course going to the B&MK Trust.

Now it was totally dark, not even shrubs and bushes had any defined shape. On the trio played – and  a couple danced happily  in the less than wide gangway.

Two hours on from casting off the John Bunyan was moored again at the Barns Hotel. It had been a delightful occasion, a gentle trip by water enhanced by the rhythmic strumming and blowing from the trio… Probably all the passengers were already aware of the project to connect Bedford and Milton Keynes by water, but It is certainly good to see a community boat promoting the notion and providing plenty of opportunities for so many to get afloat on the river.

Then, two days later, back up in Cheshire there was a trip to Tatton Park. It is renowned for its gardens, its fine house,  16al-20   the deer park, the farm, its annual RHS Garden Show and for the carousel.  16al-33    The mansion ( originally built in the early 1700s) is large and like many other important country houses it has been extensively re-modelled. The rooms and grounds exude wealth and taste.

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 Since 1716 a succession of Egertons have been owners of the Tatton Hall estate. Particularly intriguing were paintings of the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal.

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One Wilbraham Egerton (1832 – 1909) was Chairman of the Manchester Ship Canal Company.

There is an additional attraction currently, a widespread exhibition inspired by the life and writings of Roald Dahl, the centenary of whose birth is celebrated this year.   For UK children Roald Dahl’s books are inexorably linked with the illustrator Quentin Blake – and here is a feather painting of Tatton Park as created by that same illustrator.


Roald Dahl’s books have been translated into 59 different languages. Throughout the Mansion are displays of book covers of well known titles from different countries. While they are recognisable they are also starkly different… Below are front covers of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in Arabic and Russian

16al-15    16al-16

Portuguese and Serbian.

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Then there is Matilda, 16al-25


one of Dahl’s very popular heroines. A clever but mischievous bookworm, reminders of her story appear throughout the house.  16al-12 No reader can forget Miss Trunchbull, the ferocious hammer-swinging headteacher 16al-30 or the Chokey, punishment place for pupils who offend… 16al-29

The housekeeper’s sitting room, a calm and dainty place, is presented as the safe haven that is Miss Honey’s  cottage.  16al-32






During this Dahl 100 season the kitchen gardens are dominated by James’s Giant Peach 16al-19   and in the woods is the garage  16al-21  from Danny the Champion of the World and the caravan where his Dad lived.  16al-22    Lurk outside the Tower Garden and there are reminders of the Twits’ malevolence… 16al-24

It is a cunning device to attract visitors to historic sites: superimpose onto them much loved personalities or dress the location to reflect a particular theme or anniversary. It was working at Tatton, since on a September Sunday there was no shortage of visitors of all ages…

(For those short of Cleddau news the current mooring is Beeston Castle in north west Cheshire, there remaining a mere 50 miles and 50 locks back to her Cheshire East base…)






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