Clogs, sticks and locks
Cleddau continued to head upstream on Saturday.
There had been confirmation from boaters at Offord Lock that the water supply in St Neots (non-operational in 2014) was definitely available in 2018. St Neots (a Cambridgeshire market town with a population of over 40,000) was a few miles further on. First though, was Paper Mills Lock.
It’s long, it’s deep and unusually it has two sets of stone steps inset into the lock sides. It was busy, a cruiser and Cleddau ascending and five boats waiting to lock down. The heritage boats seen before at Ely and at Buckden were returning from Bedford, having crept towards Kempston Mill until the river bottom was too near the top, and so they did, one crew member said, “ a long reverse…”
It’s a pleasant run into St Neots from the lock, a boat club on the left, some very good-looking houses on the right. There is a floating pontoon (and tap) at the Priory Centre. While the Captain fed water (very slowly) into the water tank Boatwif was dispatched to town. There is a Waitrose straight ahead and an intriguing mews to the right. Out on the main street crowds of people seemed to be gathered on the square watching something. Watching what?
There was a blaze of brightly coloured costumes, clashing staves, jingling bells, fluttering ribbons, preened feathers, eager musicians and scores of dancers! It was St Neots Day of Dance.
There was only time for a little watch – then an excuse to return to the shops later for a forgotten item coincided with some feisty skirt swirling of some clog dancers. But it was the Peterborough-based Pig Dyke Molly dancers that intrigued. All were dressed in stark black and white, with all faces painted in combination patterns of black and white. After the clog dancers they took to the square and by contrast seemed remarkably light-footed. An extremely tall member of the group hovered away from the dancers: “The musicians will go into the centre soon,” he informed, “ and the dancers will come out to join the crowd. Will you dance with me?”
What an opportunity – an offer to dance with a very tall and strikingly dressed gentleman… With regret Boatwif muttered that she had a boat to catch (does anybody ever believe that?) and made haste to purchase the overlooked washing up liquid before retreating back to the floating life.
Onward, south through St Neots. Shame about the bank erosion here… There are moorings on the park opposite and it’s not very far to Eaton Socon Lock. The chamber took a long time to fill (of course it will keep emptying while the paddles /slackers are still half raised…) and during the long ascent two spectator boaters showed great interest in Cleddau’s front roof flagpoles. So lengthy was the conversation that eventually other topics were reached, a carbon monoxide alarm that saved their lives, boat fridges, Lib-Dems and political leaders hereabouts…
Onward; out of the lock; under the A428 St Neots-Cambridge road. The river winds past the well-kept grounds around Wyboston Lakes which is a leisure complex and business training centre.
Then ahead was a jumble of shapes: boats at Kelpie Marine Boat Yard nestled underneath a modern road bridge (the southbound carriageway of the A1) and spread towards the much older bridge which now carries the northbound A1.
Away from the trunk road the river seems to narrow, flowing between shelter belts of trees. In the stillness dragonflies and damselflies darted over the water’s surface and enjoyed rest periods on the roof hatch. A swan carried two cygnets on her back, no room it seemed for her other youngsters.
Familiar Great Barford came in sight, a few of the 17 arches of its fine stone bridge visible from the lock. With cruisers crowding the Anchor Inn side and canoeists clogging the bridge arches Cleddau was moored initially by the meadow, moving across once a space became available, an easier boarding place for a Sunday visitation.
What’s better than additional crew keen to do the hard work at the locks? Why, it’s additional hard-working crew who bring a sumptuous lunch for all! The Biologist and the Academic (as two of the Three Musketeers) have visited several times before . It was a good round trip, Great Barford to Eaton Socon and back. The crew were excellent slacker winders and gate pushers and as the day warmed even the Antipodean Biologist shed a few layers of clothing… Back at Great Barford the world was at play: anglers at the lock tail, a swimmer and a courting couple at the lower lock landing, picnickers and family groups stretched out on the village green, paddle boarders out on the water….
With no other contenders for the Great Barford tap on a sunshiny Monday the Captain proceeded to wash the boat and to polish its roof. A wander meanwhile village-wise revealed some extraordinary names, a property of very mixed styles and some tilted tombstones in the churchyard. ‘Happy Memories’ are the words on a village green seat – and this location holds many recollections for Boatwif, of frequent queuing at the bridge traffic lights, of a dog that tried to jump ship, of a concussed head and of the saga of the Three (Godmanchester) Men in a Boat on a voyage to celebrate somebody’s fifty-tenth birthday…
Onward, creeping ever upstream. There was an overnight wild mooring at the Old Barford Mill site, a drop in at Danish Camp for coffee and a natter. This had been the venue for the September 2017 Birthdays Cruise . The newest project, an outdoor bar, is nearing completion. “Come and see, “ said Gail. There was talk of the upcoming Bedford River Festival (40 years since it started, likely to be the biggest yet) and then a moving on.
Onward, through a green corridor, past Goldington, reaching Cardington, the penultimate lock of the outbound cruise. Patience. Apply patience as the seconds tick by on the guillotine lock delay timer…
It was Wednesday when in benign conditions Cleddau took up her temporary residence at Priory Marina. Two members of the GNO group were nearby and (briefly) came aboard. It was great to see familiar faces again…
So Destination Bedford River Festival is now just 1¼ miles, 1 lock ( and several weeks) further upstream…
Note to Cleddau crew: Better start a list of things to be done / purchases to be made before next month’s River Festival…
Distance and locks: Little Paxton GOBA moorings – Great Barford – Eaton Socon – Great Barford – Bedford: 29½ miles, 10 locks
Distance and locks since leaving Aqueduct Marina, near Nantwich: 351½ miles, 109 locks
* Enquiries earlier in the week had established that nb Bancroft was so named as its owner had been very involved in the restoration of Bancroft Basin in front of the RSC at Stratford-upon-Avon.
Insect bite score: 5 (Ely) + 5 (Old Barford Mill mooring)