Foot cruises across field and fold…

This time last year (16th May, 2019) Cleddau and crew were at Tarleton preparing for the adventure that was the tidal route across the Ribble to access the Lancaster Canal.

And in 2018? On this day Cleddau chugged along the Fossdyke to Burton Waters Marina, just outside Lincoln.

Looking further back, in 2017, May 16th saw Cleddau moored in Gloucester Docks.

In May 2016 Cleddau was moored in Salthouse Dock, on her first visit to Liverpool,

while in 2015, with Cleddau on her home moorings in north Cheshire, her crew were on home turf, in South Pembrokeshire…

What then of 2020? The Captain had planned a whopper of a Summer Cruise – Stratford-upon-Avon, Birmingham, Lincoln, York…

but aground in Bedfordshire travel has been entirely on foot.  Day after day after day village footpaths and bridleways, woodlands and ridge lines have provided colour, interest and surprise.

Across the nation small (and large) children have created rainbow posters as symbols of hope and gratitude for the work of all involved in caring for others.  During this time of Covid-19 crisis home-bound families have turned to crafts and paintboxes.  There was a surprise one day when on the footpath that leads out from the church towards the “sheep field” a small painted stone was spotted. 

Deliberately painted.

Deliberately placed?

A day later two more painted stones were spotted, this time a mile or so away in Ridgeway Wood.

And in another sign of the times stone lions guarding the front of a property had been given protective  PPE.

“You have to do something!” said a man who was replacing the fence posts in his front garden one day. Whichever daily walk route is taken it often starts from the Back Field (a vast open space criss-crossed by footpaths). As good weather prevailed during April many house and garden jobs were under way: in one place back garden fencing was being replaced, elsewhere front garden turf was being shorn by hand.  Tile cladding was being removed from the front of one house, raised veg beds were constructed at another while one lady sat outside in her front garden most days, knitting winter jumpers for her Australian grandchildren.

The glorious spring continued, so who wouldn’t feel joy at the sight of carpets of bluebells in Kempston Wood,

at new wheat growing fast in the field (29th April)  across which on (4th April) Mrs Mallard had led her young family  . There was astonishment at the tall cow parsley dwarfing Boatwif  and at the tadpoles, hundreds of tadpoles, racing about in the shallows of  a pond…

From various directions the church spire is prominent above the rooftops. The church remains locked up, closed due to the Covid-19 crisis. A colourful village sign indicates a bell foundry.    “In the 18th century church bells were made here for several churches in Bedfordshire and adjoining counties” (Wikipedia). But where is / where was the bell foundry? No current building displays any signs referring to a foundry. The question gnawed away until a possible source   was spotted and a search on Ebay provided the answer. On page 153 of A History of Wootton   was the vital information: the bell foundry was in Cause End Road, where Astra House now stands.  Curiosity satisfied!

Fields are displaying bright yellow colour, not the flower of oil seed rape, but celandines.  And look: the ancient ridge and furrow ploughing pattern is far more noticeable when the ridge is capped by these buttery-coloured greater celandines….

A clamber up onto one ridge line behind the village gives views eastwards towards Cardington Airship sheds    (see here for the sheds’ more recent uses) while from another ridge line the eye sweeps across Marston Vale. Only a mile or so down there as the crow flies lives local celerity and national hero Captain  Colonel Tom Moore.

Captain Tom’s 100th birthday dawned on 30th April. “Did you see the flypast?” many asked via email. No, was the response, but the (Cleddau) Captain heard and recognised the very distinctive Merlin engines of the World War 2 Spitfire and Hurricane that flew over Captain Tom’s home in tribute.

Then, on the morning of Wednesday 20th May a smoke trail appeared in the sky: A T shape and this:  were plainly visible. (The M had dispersed on a south westerly wind.)

.Congratulations again, Sir Tom!

The warm and balmy April days made flowers, crops and weeds grow…When vigorous brambles made squeezing through kissing gates a regular hazard the Cleddau crew took action;    on three successive days they set off with secateurs, a pair each, keen to at least do something useful throughout the parish.

As April moved into May there were sights that stirred childhood memories: any lilac tree in pale pink /blue flower   brings instant recall of the lilac tree at the bottom of the garden, the tree whose main trunk grew at a 45 degree angle and whose upper branches represented a pirate ship one day, an aeroplane the next… Then there was a vast field of dandelions  – remember dandelion clocks …and “counting” the time on them…?

The field edge path around the lower part of Wootton Wood runs close to the horse paddocks of a livery.  How many horses were there last week? 16? How many today? 20? There’d be a count. A score would be kept – and further horse numbers added in the walks around the village.     Up the numbers went – three more here in this field, six there in those paddocks, another two… By Thursday 14th May it was Heinz 57 (well, 56 horses and one chestnut coloured Shetland pony!)   Hidden in plain sight between the M1 and an urban population sprawl of 157,479 is a tapestry of equine heaven!

What made a boater’s heart flutter with joy one day on yet another new walk (a three stile walk)       was the discovery of a little willow draped pond – and a dinghy! Oh, another boat,   one just right perhaps for a travelling owl and a pussy cat…?

Travel by foot is slow, but it allows time to gaze, to gaze at tractors in use stacking hay bales,  to read the village signs,

to investigate the bleating from behind a hedge and discover there two pretty pygmy goats…    Nothing though could have been preparation for the greatest surprise of all –  two US astronaut gatekeepers at a kissing gate deep in a valley behind Wootton Wood.

Were they just a figment of the imagination? A return two days later was confirmation of their existence – placed there by who knows!


Who knows how long the pandemic will last? Who knows how long it will be before /if the daily walk can be in a different location, in a different county maybe, beside a narrow boat perhaps…?

Best wishes to all, stay safe.

Area ‘cruised’ (frequently) 5.5 square miles; stiles (proxy lock gates) 7; kissing gates 14

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3 Responses

  1. Nidia says:

    Lovely post Sue, always so informative. I particularly liked the spot of community pruning that was carried out, the two astronauts and the blue bells!

  2. Jaqueline Biggs says:

    Excellent post Sue, filled with your joy d’ vivre! Wonderful pictures too. Spokane, Washington is the Lilac City. Every year it hosts the annual Lilac Parade with floats and parades from all across the country. Manito Park on South Hill, was designed by Frederic Law Olmstead, who also designed NY’s Central Park. There is a Lilac garden with over 88 different varieties of Lilacs which all come into bloom at some point in late April and over the month of May.

    Great photo of Ken in the ultimate Covid-19 protection gear–a space suit! 🙂 Thank you for bringing me a lovely bit of English springtime.

    Love to you both,

    Jaq xxx

  3. Sue says:

    Hi Nid and Jaq,
    We were both staggered to find the astronauts (and they’re still in place on 22nd May). Jaq’s conclusion that the spacesuit is the ultimate PPE was very droll…
    I wished I’d taken another photo of lilac trees, the one I had taken wasn’t a particularly fine example – there were so many of them about, looking absolutely stunning in the first week of May. ‘Scottish Sis’ emailed to say how she remembered our lilac tree at the bottom of our garden! When there is more time to look about even a simple thing can become so evocative.
    The hedgerows are thickening up – I think we might be on bramble trimming patrol again in the next couple of weeks!
    Sue /Boatwif

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