Bedford River Festival

“Are you going to the River Festival?” friends and neighbours had asked all last week. “Will you be on your boat?”

Yes – but no…

Cleddau is tied up in Cheshire   16T-00  and the Bedford River Festival  is 9 waterways, 297½ water miles and 141 locks further south…  This year, then, the Festival was to be viewed by foot rather than by boat.

The River Festival “was founded in 1978 to celebrate the completion of a navigable route, by water, between Bedford and the coast”  (Wikipedia). This biennial event, free to attend,  is now a mighty big affair, offering 5 outdoor stages, living history within a heritage village, a street carnival, fairgrounds, umpteen stalls selling anything from plastic toys   16T-36   to leather handbags, from speciality cheeses to handcrafted goods. What’s more, a multitude of local sporting clubs and community groups put on displays and demonstrations  – and that’s not all…

For a flavour of Day 1 of the two day event read on.

Saturday (16th July) saw Boatwif and the Captain make an early arrival in Bedford. There is a joy at arriving on the scene long before passage through the crowds becomes an elbow to elbow shuffle. Up on Castle Mound the living historians had emerged from their overnight accommodation  16T-04  and were about to start their day, a day as it might have been 850 years ago, in 1166 – the year when Bedford Borough was founded.  Weapons were being laid out,  16T-06   knights were being prepared for battle,   16T-10 food was being cooked,  16T-11   tools were being crafted.  16T-09   There was an on-site chapel   16T-07  (and later, much later, the ladies sang an evening anthem).  16T-08    Down below the Mound, on an outline plan of the medieval town,  medieval fighters practised their deaths… 16T-12


Mid-morning the river bank was lined with boats.   16T-13  Here was the Queen,  16T-15    a figurehead on a cruiser (personified via an ASDA-purchased garden statuette) – and here again, on a narrow boat, with consort and corgi…   16T-17   There was much to see – but Boatwif and the Captain had a midday appointment. The Bedford and Milton Keynes Waterway Trust promotes the vision of a 15 mile canal to connect the Grand Union at Milton Keynes with the river Great Ouse at Bedford.


It’s not a new idea (in 1811 it was under serious discussion), but railway mania connected the route first. Now there is a strong case and much public support for building the canal as part of development along the Oxford-Cambridge corridor and growth in the South Midlands region.

“When will it happen?”

“How much will it cost?”

“Is there going to be a ‘Falkirk Wheel ‘ on Brogborough Hill?”

And “How has the project moved forward in recent years?”

Such were the questions – and it was pleasing to be able to describe the newest, very local, Kempston Mill to Box End proposal.

“I wouldn’t be standing here doing this if I didn’t really believe this will happen,” proclaimed one volunteer. Watch this space – to bring one’s boat to Bedford via a brand new waterway would be a thrill indeed…

It was festival-time: smooth jazz played near the river bank,  16T-24   other bands were belting out a range of music on stages north and south of the river,  16T-37   the dragon boat heats  16T-25   continued throughout the day, the Jetlev Flyers cavorted –

16T-33 16T-34 16T-35

and the crowds were wowed by the boat parades.

It was cruisers at 2pm (led by the Mayor)



 and narrow boats at 4pm.  16T-01

“Did you see the cruisers?” asked an acquaintance on Sunday. “Did you see the Dad’s Army boat?  16T-21   My Dad was Corporal Jones…!” There is real pride in what Bedford can do at River Festival time.

The Lego boat was a treat:    16T-31  the owner uses it to raise funds for Great Ormond Street Hospital which has saved the life of one of his twins (see small boys on the boat roof).

The Queen, Prince Philip and the duty corgi seemed to enjoy their good view of proceedings.   16T-30   The John Bunyan  trip boat,

16T-14 16T-16

festooned with bunting, was giving folk the thrill of being afloat on a hot summer’s afternoon. Taking advantage too of the weather was Judy’s boatwoman:  16T-32   with what courage and determination she mangled her laundry and pegged it out to dry…! Promoting well recognised local businesses were The Artful Dodger (crewed by Roy, Gail and Ozzie the Owl) from Danish Camp,

16T-26 16T-2216T-23

about three miles downstream on the Great Ouse, while the new owner of Goldings (a much loved ironmongery business now 149 years old) pedalled rather than cruised his way along the river!


Mid-evening several dozen swimmers ploughed their way upstream, turned at the new bridge and swam back to cheers from the crowds.    16T-38  There was to be yet another parade of boats, this time vessels illuminated in the dusk – and then a spectacular fireworks display.

There is just so much to see and do that a return visit seems very tempting.  Attend the next, the 2018 River Festival by boat, perhaps…?



You may also like...

2 Responses

  1. Jennie says:

    Ah what memories! Glad you had a good day and we would be up for a return in 2018!

  2. les says:

    All looked good fun. The jet flyers looked fun. How long will it be before this can be sampled like waterskiing. Perhaps it is somewhere, Milton Keynes lakes could be a site.
    Les xx
    See you soon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.