Snippets and scenes en route to Ely

St Ives – Ely: 22¾ miles, 3 locks

It was a pleasant evening at St Ives. Tucked below the wall of the Town Quay there is a degree of privacy not always afforded in a place where there is high footfall. From the quayside there’s not a lot of boat visible apart from the roofline. 

On climbing up the stone steps during the afternoon there had been a barrage of questions about the amount of electricity generated by the solar panels. (Boatwif’s tactic at this point is to hand over to the Captain to explain the numbers…)

Then mid-evening a young voice exclaiming at the ducks drew Boatwif’s attention. Up above was a German-speaking toddler with his bi-lingual father.

“How long is the boat?”

“In feet or metres?” (Metres were preferred).

“And how long is the bridge?

Conversation ensued: North Germany – Kiel Canal – boats that carried coal from the Duke of Bridgewater’s coal mines into Manchester – freight on the German rivers…

The German toddler was wriggling as foreign words swirled above his head. So a sequence of Guten Morgen, good morning, Guten Abend, good evening was rehearsed with him.

.A young teenager nearby joined the exchange. “I know German and French, but I’m dropping Latin,” he admitted.

Was this the first time that Latin had become a riverside reference? After a final round of Guten Abend the toddler was taken off to bed.

The teenager and his father hung about – and shortly the teenager was the umpteenth visitor to take a walk through the boat to see what the inside looked like. Unfortunately for him the stern doors and back hatch had already been closed for the night so he gained only a very vague impression of what happened when the boat was being steered…

A visitor the previous day had timed her trip through the boat in broad daylight when all the hatches and doors were open. It was Oleanna’s boat cat which (uninvited!) had tiptoed through, (See here for Tilly’s conclusions. )  When Cleddau passed Oleanna on the outskirts of St Ives on Monday morning Tilly was already out exploring the trees and bushes…  

From dusk the St Ives bridge was lit up again – and apart from the birds on the roof at about 4am and the quayside bins being emptied about three hours later it was a very peaceful night…

Onward then on Tuesday morning – through the large St Ives Lock, the only boat in the lock chamber, but the top gates were closed and the guillotine button pressed by the young boys on an upcoming hire boat.  All help is gratefully received!

Between St Ives Lock and the next lock there are a few pretty miles (passing for example The Pike and Eel at Holywell where on at least two previous occasions Cleddau has stopped).  

The Brownshill Staunch is one of a kind: it’s very exposed to the wind, a large industrial use conveyor belt crosses the river at that point, there are guillotine gates at both ends and on the downstream side the river is tidal…  On arrival another narrowboat could be seen on the lock landing. Its skipper seemed reluctant to move forward. His face was white with stress. “Nightmare,” he gasped, “it’s been a nightmare…” His was the third of three St Neots outbound boats travelling together, the other two now tied up on the lower landing stage. The wind was strong. Slowly and with difficulty two chaps from the other boats hauled the third boat away from the lock landing and into the chamber (or “pen” in these parts).

“We’ll stay and help you,” said one, “with yer ropes.”

Down went the third boat of the trio. The lady crew member at the guillotine panel reset the lock. The Captain meanwhile had prepared a plan: with the long barge pole he poled the stern away from the pontoon, put the rudder across with the engine in idle, replaced the pole without losing his position, reversed hard back and then aimed forward to arrive at the lock once the gate was fully raised. Relief… All was well!

The rest of Operation Brownhill Staunch and the transition along the tidal couple of miles to the manned Hermitage Lock went smoothly.


Then Cleddau was on the Old West River. Along its relatively featureless course boaters can be uncertain of their exact location for seemingly miles. The wind, though warm, was strong…  While cows paddled,  a pair of horses might have felt overwarm…

Realisation dawned that there was a cruiser behind – and a boat ahead. The wide beam kindly allowed an overtake – and at a convenient moment Cleddau too was overtaken by California Girl. Spotting the cruiser’s name it couldn’t be resisted, could it, as in a hail the Captain called: “We have a Californian Girl, a granddaughter!” (and thoughts surfaced of Cal Gal, now 16 years old…).

 Avoid the shallows, keep to the central channel, be mindful of the wind. This was no easy-peasy carefree cruise! When an hour or so later the wide beam ploughed past Cleddau’s overnight mooring Boatwif asked its destination. “OFF THIS RIVER!” the skipper replied through gritted teeth, recounting a serious grounding back at the Twenty Pence Bridge…

As for the mooring in the middle of nowhere what could be seen from the top of the floodbank?  Glasshouses and food processing factories. See Google Earth satellite pic.

Onward on Wednesday,    a few more Old West miles to Pope’s Corner – and then left to Ely.

There were wind lanes on the water,

on the right bank the entrance /exit to the non-navigable Soham Lode and these sculptural shapes

while on the left the intricacies of Ely Cathedral’s stonework became clearer and clearer. 

What luck, a mooring was spotted near The Cutter Inn, a good place from which to view boaty activity and riverside fun.  

Next, some time in Ely and onward to Denver.

FOOTNOTE: Cleddau is heading to Crick Marina in Northamptonshire for a winter mooring.                        Miles and locks still to go to Crick: 129 miles, 72 locks

 2022 Monkton Moments*– 10                                                                                                                                    (Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)

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