Drifting downstream with the dragonflies
Monday 9th August: Great Barford to Godmanchester, 17.25 miles, 6 locks.
To start with old news: picture attached of the trophy awarded in honour of our night-time illuminations at the Bedford River Festival.
It’s been a simply beautiful day – clear blue skies, excellent visibility and relatively gentle breezes. We made an early start, 0815 into the Great Barford lock, although Adventurer the other narrowboat moored nearby, had already departed. . The river between Great Barford and Roxton is enchanting: just one house, reeds and trees, a north bank footpath and some sweeping curves. We were heading east, into the morning sun. The water rippled, streamers of sparkles appeared and disappeared, the water was quilted and puckered, then its surface would seem pressed flat, as if by an iron. That simple river water itself offers such differing visual qualities is a joy that always fascinates.
Conversation on the back deck, however, with the Skipper/Chief Engineer is rarely so lyrical. One must be updated on engine revs per minute, percentage of electrical charge, hours of engine life remaining, oil pressure, engine temperature and Things I Need To Understand, apparently!
River users (or navigators as many of the official notices refer to them) are dependent on well-maintained mechanisms at the locks. This may be taken for granted, but until as recently as 1978 this stretch of the Upper Great Ouse was derelict, unnavigable. There is much to mark earlier and older structures: the old lock paddle at Great Barford, the coping stones from the previous Roxton Lock, the inscription on Tempsford Bridge from 1820, all providing a link with previous river users.
River traffic was slight at the beginning of the day, but as we left St Neot’s, on wider waters, more boat life was in evidence: ranks of cruisers moored nose in to the banks, eager novices taking initial lessons at at the Rowing Club, occasional cruisers, and of interest to the environmentally conscious a grass-roofed boat was espied… Then came ” Ahoy, shim-ei,” as the Welsh-flagged Danny Bach narrowboat cruised by. We met congestion at Brampton Lock and boats of all dimensions jostled about to go up or downstream. As we approached Godmanchester, the wind blew, across Port Holme, reputedly the largest water meadow in England – and we arrived at the seventh lock of the day, the only one set in our favour- but our plan was to moor before it!
We have eaten supper tonight, ashore, bidden by the Godmanchester friends, early not because of unusually early start times at their respective Cambridge University posts, but because (and those of you who know him may be less surprised) tomorrow they do an Awayday, to Northern Germany, to visit a model railway exhibition…