… Day 15: Ely to Earith (Roots, Routes and Detours)
Sunday 11th July:
Distance: 17 miles 2 locks
Mint miles: 511 miles*
Wind losses: 3
Back after the enforced break.
Never would I have conceived of putting the words “happy” and “OfSTED” into the same sentence. But due to the latter’s arrival at school (“Send for Ken!”) I have enjoyed happy hours with all four grandchildren (the Californian Three and the Cheshire One) and had opportunity to gaze upon Ely by foot, not just from the water. Ely I have fallen in love with, its quiet streets, helpful bookshops and breathtaking cathedral. We made a boat checking visit to the marina during this week, accompanied by the Cheshire One who was so impressed that “men built that high building with their hands, Granny”. Forays into three separate bookshops in search of a specific book title for her were enjoyable and ultimately successful. Today, in search of a newspaper before departure, I took a different route back to the boat: in the heart of the city is a field, leading down to the Jubilee Gardens. Beautiful tranquil spaces. The cathedral, the Ship of the Fens, dates from Saxon times and the name Ely comes from Eel Island, so you see, its roots go back a long way… As for the other routes: well the car Satnav didn’t know that on Saturdays the High Street is completely closed to traffic because of the market so yesterday we had an enforced but interesting detour around the city – and we nearly had a detour to Cambridge, but more later on that. Saturday was for serious boatloading and much additional ballast in the form of beer, bananas and bunting has arrived on board. (Time too to learn one serious lesson: when turning fridge off before departure, do thoroughly check that all food is removed – defrosted uncooked chicken ten days later produces a rather strong odour…!)
We had arrived today at the boat by 9 am, transported by a very kind neighbour, in his Jaguar. How droll a little later, to spot a different mode of transport, a surfboard being paddled, right opposite King’s School Boathouse. Waterside was quiet, far more waterfowl than humankind, and just the sweep of a brush outside a riverside cafe indicated activity to come.
The route to Bedford is via the river Great Ouse; at Pope’s Corner the water carries straight on, taking eager (or reluctant) boaters up the River Cam to Cambridge. Had I not glanced up and spotted a little sign saying St Ives, 19 miles, Old West River, we might now be mooring up nearer fine colleges. Wind, river flow and barely visible signposts provided us with an unplanned equivalent of a screech stop and several point turn… The kettle, which had boiled during this minor emergency, was put to immediate use to make some pretty stiff coffees. The wind has been very strong, whistling through the reeds and on occasion showing wind lanes on the water. Despite an absence of useful landmarks by which to navigate (Ken resorting to taking note of powerlines) there was much to notice: fluffy grey cygnets aplenty, occasional forlorn abandoned wooden boats, cows to the left and cows to the right, tempting information boards alongside high floodbank paths, darting butterflies and soaring seagulls, the Old Engine House at Stretham, the sluice structures at the locks…and the wind continued to blow. So surprised was I to spot something lift off from the front deck, deck matting from the front locker, that I jerked my head, and off flew too a useful cap – and an even more useful Great Ouse map!
A helpful St Ives bound boater at Hermitage Lock asked us of any previous Great Ouse boating experience. A mention of the RAF Wyton boat twenty odd years ago brought on an intake of breath and “Pathfinder!” Some readers may recall that old Broads cruiser.
Tonight, as shown, we’re moored up between Earith and Holywell. On the front deck the mint continues to thrive, ready to refresh thirsts at Bedford this coming weekend!
Forecast for tomorrow: light rain with possibility of thunderstorms.
* Mint Miles: Total distance travelled: 511 miles
Road miles: 250
Water miles: 261
(Opinions sought: Can the mint be considered carbon neutral??)