Friday 25th March, 2011
Disguised as local land-based residents Boatwif and the Captain took a morning stroll to the village post office, there to dispatch a parcel to California. Back out in the warm sunshine a left turn was made, as opposed to a right. On we ambled, past roofing workers, past a Dynarod van, past yellow forsythias and emerging magnolias. A left turn at the junction, down past the (fairly) new Health Centre towards the (very) new latest housing development. Ahead of us the road arched over the three month old fast dual carriageway, the construction of which had perplexed and amazed locals in equal measure. “But where will be the canal?”* had been the anguished cry from so many.
We crossed the road and entered a green area, part ploughed field, part planted crops, part young trees. Berry Wood is a recent plantation, created as part of the Forest of Marston Vale. After the recent dry spell the farm vehicle tracks are dry and deeply rutted, not the claggy-clay lead-weight boot experience that prevails during wetter times. Buds were sprouting on branches, birds were singing, a tractor purred in the distance and we wound our way along field edge, through grassy clearings, past clumps of upright saplings, squeezing single file in one place along an enclosed path but heading generally south and west. Then we came to it – the southern edge of Berry Wood.
Through a large gap in the hedge there was a clear view of the new road, traffic smoothly spinning along towards Bedford. But here the roadway, invisibly from the carriageway, stretches on a bridge over an underpass. A wide channel has been created under the bridge; several serious water drainage covers are embedded along one side and a purpose built concrete edging and wall provides separation along the channel. Could this be it? Could this be an intended access from the non-existent, as yet, canal link into a non-existent marina? A channel cut and an unmade towpath? The sturdy metal gate was not secured so closer investigation was possible. Under the roadway we sailed (if only), rather sallied, to discover no further channelling the other side. Such deliberate infrastructure must be for a purpose – would that it heralds the near construction of our very own local canal.
Since 1995 campaigning has been vigorous for the completion of a canal link to the river at Bedford. The route has been secured, and near to home it is to come. See http://www.b-mkwaterway.org.uk/ for further details.
Photographs taken we headed back towards the village, green shoots in the field, blossom on the trees, warm sun on our backs a sign that Spring is truly here. The distant glisten of the Saxon Church served as a beacon back towards the age-old settlement. Across a road, a squeeze through the hedge and then across ridge and furrow: cows slumbered in the sunshine, ewes rose to their feet to protect newborn offspring and ahead the edges of the wood were ablaze with white blossom. Now back in familiar territory we tramped across the small footbridge and continued towards the village, emerging beside the Vicarage and War Memorial.
Starved for so long of our own boat are we fantasising now about a waterway that is still decades away from completion? Hopefully not…
And as for Cleddau: she’s looking good, according to word from the boatyard; an inspection is planned for early next week. Just please let it be a real boat on a real canal!
*The roots of the Bedford & Milton Keynes Waterway go back 200 years to October 1811, when a group of Bedford businessmen met with the Mayor of Bedford to discuss the trade benefits to be gained from a link between the River Great Ouse and the Grand Junction Canal (as the Grand Union was called then). Local roads were poor, and they hoped that the canal would lead to greater prosperity for towns along the route and into the Fens.