Bankside at Bedford

The Bedford River Festival happened – and we were there!

Some stats for starters:

Prizes won: 1*

Participation in boat parades: 3

Cruise companions during parades: 16

Total number of callers: 34

Youngest caller on board: 4.75 months old

Most mature caller: in 8th decade

Most requested drink (Saturday): Pimms

Most requested drink (Sunday): beer

Empty bottles: numerous


Most unexpected comments:

·        Wow, I could put my piano on here (from a music teacher)

·        How much to come on? (youthful spectator)

·        This loo technology is the same as on the space shuttle (re. the composting toilet)

·        Did a lorry bring your boat here?

·        Can I have some water for my dogs?

There we were, along with an estimated half a million other visitors, at the biennial Bedford River Festival. So much to see, in fact one of our visitors said it had taken his family two days to see it all (then qualifying his remark: “with pushchair”). For many it’s  a chance to spend a few hours or a couple of days down by the river watching boats of all sorts, watery races, demonstrations by canoeists and rowers, sailors and rafters, dragon boaters and invaders (Vikings). And on the water too was Thomas the Tank Engine… There was music – folk groups, jazz groups, pop groups and who knows what else on the main stage, apart, delightfully, from Harmonise, the Daubeney Middle School choir.  You could eat, shop, browse, be informed on a vast array of topics – or just chill! Our mooring, right by the weir, was certainly prominent. Just behind us was the bridge over the weir and both our MK-Bedford Waterway Trust’s banner and the poster showing a map attracted a lot of interest: many enquiries – and some disapproval it seems from rowers and owners of small cruisers. But for the most part we had the joy of seeing friends, neighbours and colleagues. Right outside the boat was a wooden bench and we pitched a picnic table and four chairs alongside, from which a great view could be had of all the craft passing by.  The next door boat, participants at every Bedford River Festival since its 1978 inception, were experienced veterans: they erected two gazebos, a windbreak, brought in a dozen white plastic chairs and decked out their boat as Rosie and Jim’s 21st birthday party, using swathes of pink and white cloth, two prominent dummies, lots of lights and a very large champagne bottle. (Should we ever do anything remotely like this again we have learned a few lessons from them!) During parades crew were even dressed for the part, hence the river saw pirates (of course), convicts in the outback, party-goers, Bottom and the fairies from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; on the competitive rafts were spotted WAGS, Fletcher Christian and the mutineers, Minnie Mouse, Snow White and the seven dwarfs and the Fat Controller …

The wind dropped during Saturday evening and we bravely participated in the illuminated boat parade: on board were two veterans of our boat, two colleagues and a spouse and two neighbours. Last minute instructions were given re. Lighting Up: travel black until the sound of the Harbourmaster’s horn.  With so much noise from the banks which was his horn? “Lights on!” shouted our skipper and in the cabin we scrabbled to press plugs into sockets. I managed my task –but could not see my illumination. “Yes, it’s lit,” shouted Chris, chief lookout. By the front deck steps we scrabbled around with unfamiliar fairy lights, the “hairnet” over the bow, but then success. From the bank calls of appreciation: “Look, a helicopter”.  So Ken night-cruised at Bedford, the name Cleddau a geographical reference to those inspirational fifties flying boats and a Christmas decoration a reminder of his professional past! Craft of all kinds were participating, from the brash and loud Diamonds are forever (Bedford Boat Club) to the tiniest of outboard boats bedecked as a festive tree. Turning a large, heavy steel boat, not equipped with that helmsman’s gizmo, a bow-thruster, can be challenging, as certainly it was in the dark. But all went well and as the last rope came ashore for mooring up so started the firework display. Though trees hid the lower display we could see and hear the higher bursts of colour.

The raft races on Sunday afternoon brought even more crowds to the bank, supporters of local teams and companies. Paddling a half-sinking raft proves hard work; though most seemed to make it to the end many tilted dangerously; some crew plunged into the water to push and swim their vessels downstream, waterfights broke out, and right opposite us two paddlers abandoned ship, swam ashore, climbed out and proceeded to wet-hug any members of the crowd foolish enough to stay close by!

The afternoon dwindled away, as did the crowds and the decision was made to de-flag the craft, prepare for departure – and line up for the lock. Some hours later Cleddau was safely moored up again in the Bedford marina. Our crew looked gratefully at the 4-wheeled transport to take them to a morning train – and a phone call summonsed Ken to a 10am meeting at Borough Hall.

Life back to normal?!


*2nd prize awarded for illuminated narrow boat in the night parade (“The judges liked your helicopter”)


Probably over fifty illuminated boats participated – but only two narrowboats, so we were second out of two in a competition we didn’t know we’d entered! The prize? an impressive trophy with engraved plaque! Something else to buff up with a polishing duster! 

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