Blooms, bathers and blustery winds

St Ives to St Neots:  15½ miles, 6 locks

St Ives – what’s not to be missed in St Ives?

The Quay-side     and the St Ives Bridge is a very attractive area. It’s popular with locals and visitors, popular too with swans and ducks, terns and pigeons. These flying and swimming creatures make their presence known, either by nibbling away at weed on boats’ hulls, or by  scrabbling around on the top of the boat at dawn, leaving ‘messages’ on the roof and cabin sides. The view, however, outweighs the inconvenience. The Quay is a high wall for mooring against  – by careful manoeuvring Cleddau was positioned by a set of stone steps, but passengers on a hotel boat in front were trapped on board until the Captain loaned them a step ladder that has been strapped to the cabin roof for just such emergencies…

Walk up Bridge Street (now with very limited traffic) or weave your way through an alleyway to the wide main street (Market Hill) and you’ll meet a character much defiled by many, local boy, Oliver Cromwell (1599 -1658).  A large bronze statue of him stands in the centre of the street outside the Free Church.   It was funded by public donation, and unveiled in 1901 (after the people of nearby Huntingdon had abandoned plans to erect a Cromwell statue).

There’s a backwater near the parish church called The Waits. Here local yarn bombers had been at work, winding knitted pieces and around the railings and trees. For boaters’ use there is a water tap here – and before leaving the town Cleddau nosed along this narrow waterway. “Ooh, it’s very physical, isn’t it…!” said a passer-by as Boatwif wriggled and scrambled up the wall to secure a rope and then a hose pipe.  After a fill up of the tank a long reverse out was successfully managed (though regrettably no audience witnessed it to appreciate the skill and effort deployed!)

Two last photos from the St Ives’ days – towards the further end of the town (before Waitrose) are some ‘boutique market’ stalls and an antiques centre.

Distinctive bicycle

A fondue set (remember these, 1970s?)

The river between St Ives and Huntingdon, the next town of any size, weaves past the picturesque Hemingfords (Hemingford Grey and Hemingford Abbots).

There are wonderful mooring sites in these parts (the GOBA stretch beyond St Ives, two stretches in Hemingford Grey,   the EA mooring below Houghton Lock.)

The vast Hemingford water meadow is popular walking territory so congestion can arise at the bridge over Houghton Lock. While a small cruiser worked its way down (its owners off to St Ives for live music in one of the pubs) there was time to notice the swathes of wildflower planting around the lock.

After the lock it was onward towards Huntingdon, past boatyards and meadowland, past backwaters and then the  pretty 12th century Hartford Church.

The river is wide – now it passes under the Huntingdon Town Bridge,  then under the bypass.

The channel narrows and weaves its way through Godmanchester. There are creeks and side channels –  KEEP RIGHT  for the channel for Godmanchester Lock.

Again crowds of lock-side wildflowers delighted the eye. The boat rose in the lock, and yes, the pontoon mooring beside it was vacant! Great!

It’s a good place to watch action at the lock; early morning the Captain caught the Environment Agency inspection vessel passing through…

The good folk of Godmanchester enjoy their location: two young teenage girls spent the afternoon ploughing to and fro across the river from the canoe portage point to the field opposite. They had a good time, although their expressions of dismay if another boat approached was limited to “Oh, s*** ” Later young boys shrieked and jumped from the same place, the following morning lady “wild swimmers” gathered there    Meanwhile in the early evenings about a dozen teenagers would congregate at the side of the lock.

On Saturday young anglers fished in a competition, grown men kicked a football about and parents supervised young children on the play equipment.

A classic Godmanchester view is of the Chinese Bridge.

About a hundred metres beyond the Chinese Bridge is the newly installed fish and eel pass. (See Town Council report here ). Note the very attractive stonework. and the beautifully designed seating.

There’s a frequently used footbridge across Godmanchester Lock which provides access to the vast Portholme Meadow.  This 260 acre SSSI is a delight – walk right round it, or explore the paths across it. An hour’s walk around the perimeter provided changing views and plenty of flora and fauna…

Godmanchester Friends One and Two dropped by on Saturday night (after a busy day of four mayoral engagements…) It was great to catch up with these long-term friends. 

Blustery winds on Sunday were going to make a departure from the Godmanchester Lock pontoon tricky. The boat, at the time facing the Causeway, needed to face the other way. The Captain worked out a Plan A – and a Plan B – and issued instructions. In the event, though the boat was turned (Plan B), the picking up of the crew was problematic. As the boat was headed to the upstream lock landing Boatwif made her way across the bridge round to it, only for the Captain to gesticulate “Back over there! The wind, the wind!” Back over the bridge Boatwif hurried – but the wind and current made a reverse onto the pontoon impossible. “Over THERE!” came the next instruction as Boatwif scurried across the footbridge for the third time – and the boat’s stern was brought at right angles to the lock landing for a swift pickup. Over the bridge three times, and six times through latch gates, it had not been an easy start to the day.

In a day of blustery winds and lock queues more tribulation was soon to come.  The access to Brampton Lock is via a broad weir pool – which was busy with novice canoeists, paddleboarders and a fishing boat.    The very short landing stage for the lock was occupied with a cruiser and the lock contained two slow boats about to descend; for many minutes the Captain hovered, his head in the foliage of a tree while Boatwif monitored the bow’s distance from a fibre glass cruiser…  

Between Brampton and Offord Locks the new A14 sweeps across the landscape. A major civil engineering project, the lengthy viaduct across the Ouse Valley was under construction four years ago.  It opened to traffic 8 months ahead of schedule in May 2020. See aerial photograph here.

Again there was a lengthy wait at Offord Lock (two cruisers coming down, two cruisers going up and a long hover in the breeze).

There was a posed photo op here at Offord Lock, , a reminder of the 2018 Lost Keys Episode (see here, Day 3)

The planned public mooring at St Neots, though empty, was written off because the wind made it far too risky to try to moor up… Luckily there was a perfect space on Regatta Meadows right opposite the services pontoon. A belt of trees provided shelter from the wind – and suddenly Cleddau was safely nestled in a warmer, gentler climate…  As the day’s trials were reviewed a lesson emerged: avoid cruising on this section of the river on a sunny Sunday!

A further massive improvement to the day was the “We’re nearby, where exactly are you?” phone call from Godmanchester Friend One. Google maps were referred to, roads were identified and visitors arrived again!

To meet twice in two days was positively splendid! Perhaps it was the prospect of grazing again on the Captain’s boat-cooked Welsh cakes that drew the Godmanchester Friends back to the river, albeit the second time at St Neots…

Trip stats since leaving Victoria Pit: 369  miles, 187 locks, 6 swing bridges, 4 tunnels and 1 cow

Height drop from the Macclesfield summit: 416 feet

Height rise since Trent Lock:  311¾ feet

Height drop from GU Leicester summit: 371¾ feet (4ft below Sea Level)

Height rise since Middle Levels minimum: 71 feet

 Queries about the Tudor rose: now 10

 2022 Monkton Moments*- 4

(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)

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