Downstream from Bedford – Why do…?

Bedford – St Ives, 29½ miles, 12 locks

Stripped of her flags, bunting and lights Cleddau looked somewhat under-dressed before departure from her festival mooring. 

Down through Bedford Lock for the last time.

Back in Priory Marina a mass unloading operation got under way as the gazebos, chairs and huge collection of Christmas lights were trundled by trolley off the pontoon and packed into a car to be stored back at home.

 Oleanna (floating home of Pip, Mick and Tilly) had been berthed for a few nights on the same pontoon and mid-morning there was a farewell and a “Where will our bows cross again?”  conversation before they left the marina to start their journey back to the canals.

Cleddau’s departure from Priory came three days later, delayed briefly by the sight of a large broad beam boat strapped in a hoist and about to be launched into the water.

Farewell Priory, thanks for being so accommodating over this last month.

Out onto the river, bear left, past Bedford Boat Club and The Barns (refurbished as The Kingfisher after the devastating December 2020 floods),     soon to arrive at Cardington Lock. There was an amber alert on display about the river levels and flow. 

The lock was occupied by two Environment Agency weed cutter vessels. 

Onward, out, weaving around the back of Bedford – next stop, the hugely deep Castle Mills Lock.     This lock is so long and so deep. Unusually the paddles (slackers) are operated from the side of the lock not at the gates; apprehension levels can be high here. Yet the water, whether the level is rising or falling, enters or leaves the sluices smoothly. Fear not. But there is of course the matter still of opening the large heavy gates…


Onward, under the A428 Castle Mill viaduct, weave past the secretive little cabins    and several fishing platforms, onward past Danish Camp, busy with Thursday lunches, all the customers, it seemed, waving madly…

Half a mile further on is Willington Lock, no problem here, but the whole lock operation  was closely watched by a young family from the weir bridge.

This is quarry country; a temporary bailey bridge links one quarry site with another. As Cleddau went under the bridge so a work vehicle crossed it, spraying water to dampen down the quarried sand. Wet sand splodges splattered randomly down onto the roof.

Past Barford Old Mills Lock (disused now) passing a pair of early afternoon swimmers   (“It’s looovely in here – do you river-swim?” asked the lady) and on the boat went  through one of the arches of Great Barford Bridge…

Rather necessary roof and solar panel mopping.

As the afternoon wore on a steady flow of swimmers (human and canine), paddle boarders and kayakers enjoyed Great Barford’s easy access to the river.

Onward on Friday – to St Neots.

Forewarned of a fair on the park Mooring Plans B and C were formulated in case of need…

The river between Great Barford and Roxton Lock is quiet, untouched by road and it flows between high banks.    The yellow water lily buds of a month ago are opened now, displaying a delicate white flower head.   (Sorry, poor photos while on the move).

After Roxton the world intrudes briefly with the A1 bridges   and the clutter of Kelpie Marine Boat Yard.   There’s a long stretch, then Wyboston Lakes Resort towards Eaton Socon.

Under the A428 Bedford to Cambridge road. 

Two boats left Eaton Socon Lock, boaters from one talking about the St Neots fair. Cleddau was secured for her descent. While the water was draining away Boatwif took a look at the landing stage on the mill side of the lock. And there was an all too frequent sight     – a cruiser tied up slap bang on the middle of the pontoon, pointing downstream, so presumably not waiting to access the lock, preventing a longer boat from using it to pick up crew…

The cruiser was there a while. The lock duly emptied and Boatwif had to climb down the (wet) ladder to return to the boat…Why do cruiser crews just pull up on lock landings for their own purposes and block their usage for boaters in need…?

Onward. Passing Eaton Socon Mill. How parched the grass looks.

St Neots next; pull in before the bridge – or after? The Captain spied that the Priory Centre pontoon was empty (so the over-stayers of four weeks ago had gone…) Through the bridge Cleddau came.

Opposite was the park where there was plenty of mooring space for those who choose to moor beside a Friday night fair. Somewhat smug at their good fortune the Cleddau crew tied up the boat at the end of the pontoon on the opposite side of the river furthest away from the fairground. After all, it would only be one night…

At 3pm the fair opened and soon the noises of fairground music mixed with the screams of teenage girls being whirled around drifted across the river.

Within an hour or so there was noise of a different sort – and from a closer source. There are rooms for hire at the Priory Centre and a heavy Indian beat got under way. There were voices from the balcony above and occasionally very smartly dressed folk (some wearing stiletto heels!) would tiptoe along the pontoon to pose for photographs. The occasion, it transpired, was a South Asian engagement party. Mid-evening there must have been a break for food before the beat returned…

The fairground noise ceased at 9pm and the engagement party ended about an hour later.

The rest of the evening was blissfully quiet!

Onward on Saturday, waves exchanged with the crew of Davy Bach,   to follow a ‘party’ cruiser: one man (and his dog) was “the driver” for six cocktail-sipping ladies of a certain age. Fun was being had on the cruiser (though not so for Boatwif whose efforts at the St Neots Papermill Lock involved three crossings of the high level bridge, two sluices wound up and wound down again, the closing of one lock gate AND the descent of these wet and slippery steps to get back on the boat…)

Onward, past the unicorn in a garden  and the long stretch beside Paxton Pits. Periodically trains raced by on the East Coast mainline (not a rail strike day?) and Cleddau and the cruiser approached Offord Lock. Two of the cruiser ladies got off to do a bit of lock work and by careful judgement the cruiser and the narrowboat were worked through the lock together with neither the bow of the first nor the stern of the second trapped or grounded – success!

Past Buckden Marina and its waterside lodges,  past a vast goose gathering, under the new A14 viaduct – then to arrive at Brampton Lock. The cruiser tied up on the lock landing to wait for any upcoming boats to leave the lock – but here again small boat thoughtlessness or ignorance made life difficult. Eight folk had set up a picnic on the lock landing   – and while Cleddau hovered about just short of the weir for about 15 minutes or more no-one off the small boat even registered that they were obstructing access to the landing stage for boats passing through the lock…! Why do some people ignore or not read the Environment Agency notices? Why do they  not see the picture of what other boats are having to do…?!

Eventually the Captain nosed the boat against the concrete and Boatwif jumped off via the gas locker at the bow.

A single small boat was rising in the lock, two apprehensive-looking young women (plus two dogs) as its crew. “Don’t forget the stick! Don’t forget the stick!” said the woman at the wheel urgently to her crew mate. The “stick” (a boat hook) was picked up from the ground, the woman holding it clambered onto the roof of the little boat and as the boat left the lock she brandished it, lance-like, prepared to prod away any vessels that came too close…

Why does Brampton Lock always present a challenge to the Cleddau crew…? (Last time through Brampton Lock recorded here:)

Down through Brampton Lock (eventually), on past Brampton Mill and there on the GOBA mooring was Oleanna (of the “Where will our bows cross again?” conversation at Priory Marina on Monday).  Wind and river flow made a side-by-side conversation impossible so onward Cleddau went, by just a mile, to moor up at Godmanchester. The usual favoured pontoon mooring was already occupied (by three rather bloated-looking cruisers) but a hiding place mooring was found beside the park.   Once the on-board secateurs had been deployed to chop through large thistles and willow herb gangplank access to the bank was achieved…

It was a breezy departure from Godmanchester on Sunday. No textbook arrival on the lock landing, no smoothly controlled descent through the lock. The skipper of one of the boats still tied up on the mooring pontoon offered to help, both with his muscle and with his windlass. Many thanks to him and his crew!

It’s a narrow channel that weaves past Godmanchester Park, past the vast Portholme Meadow and under the bridges to Huntingdon. Families waved from the Rowing Club steps, there were paddlers at Hartford Church and Cleddau cruised on towards (the once local) Houghton Lock. Two EA volunteers were being watched by a footbridge crowd as two narrowboats, a cruiser and a day boat were locked down. “Got to take a photo for Rachel,” said one of the volunteers, rushing to the footbridge to take a shot of a lock full of boats. (Here’s hoping ‘Rachel’ received and appreciated it!)

Though Hemingford was the day’s destination there was Oleanna, just short of it, comfortably moored on an island with plenty of space behind. “Plans,” so the Captain often proclaims, “are mere figments of my imagination…”  and so Hemingford Grey was swapped for Houghton Island and a very pleasant time was had.

The Captain, Mick and Pip, (don’t count the glasses…) All the best Pip and Mick, for panto plans and your onward journey.

Onwards on Monday, just to St Ives. Mid-morning the duck-feeding visitors on the Town Quay watched with interest as Cleddau was shuffled forward and backwards to line up the bow with the stone steps up to street level.

It was hot, it was market day, racks and racks of clothes filled the street of Market Hill (Note: there is no hill).  

Now if Cleddau manages to pause in March on a market day (Wednesdays and Saturdays) the March Museum  will be open for visiting…  Since it is the Captain who creates the travel plans, Boatwif may just have to do the dreaming!

FOOTNOTE: Cleddau is heading to Crick marina in Northamptonshire for a winter mooring.                      Miles and locks still to go to Crick: 152 miles, 75 locks

2022 Monkton Moments*– 9

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

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3 Responses

  1. Jaqueline Biggs says:

    I think one of the lovely things about cruising the canals and rivers is that the outbound journey always looks and feels different from the in bound trip; sights seen from a different perspective and new boats and folks, although the undiluted pleasure of time on the towpath with Pip and Mick (and presumably Tilly) is not be missed and vice versa for them with you and Ken. xxx

  2. Jane Massey says:

    Well a long trip hack to Bedford but what a fabulous weekend you had -so lovely to see so many peopkle enjoying themselves after such a restrictive 2 years. Happy cruising and hope to catch up soon.

  3. Hi Jane, hi Jaq,
    It was certainly a long way to Bedford – but well worth the time and effort involved… You’re right , Jaq, the return journey looks both the same and different but the conversations with folk that you meet are new.
    Best wishes , both,
    Sue /Boatwif

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