Spectacle at Bedford River Festival
So on Friday after six months of planning, seven weeks of travel, 141 locks negotiated and 310 miles of canal and river navigation Cleddau had nearly reached the venue for Bedford’s 17th biennial River Festival. There was just the Pyramid (the Oasis Swimming Pool) to pass, a few low bridges to creep under and a lock to queue at. Allocated mooring sites 76/1 and 76/2, by midday it was safe to declare that Phase 2 (Braunston –Bedford leg) of the 2014 Summer Cruise had been completed.
During Friday afternoon the Cleddau and Tentatrice crews worked hard, setting up camp for a siege (it seemed) as well as for a show. There were gazebos to assemble and chairs and tables to be set out on land, while flags, bunting and lighting had to be found and used to adorn the boats on the water.
Throughout the afternoon and evening preparations around the site continued, even when it meant the tightest of squeezes across the Town Lock Bridge, or the improvising of materials as boats were prepared for the Grand Parades.
Bedford River Festival is now a huge free family event: visitor numbers are estimated at 320,000, there are five music stages, a Heritage Village this year commemorating the outbreak of World War 1, a Sports Village promoting a vast range of local and national sports, fairgrounds, stands promoting local and community interests, a craft marquee, national society stands, food stalls – and so much more.
But for Cleddau and Tentatrice the Festival was about being on the river at Bedford. The allocated moorings (“Sorry about the big tree, there’ll only be two of you there”) provided a grandstand view of all the action on the water.
and Grand Parades of cruisers and of narrowboats on both days.
“Welsh Dragon because we are from Wales,” replied the Captain, predictably.
“We have American grandchildren,” was the Captain’s proud explanation.
Visitors dropped by – some for a while, some for longer; some even timed their arrivals to skid on board to join the Parades! Pimms was popular, and in any gap between water-based activity there was chat, plenty of conversation and Cleddau boat tours. For some it was a first time ever on a narrow boat, for others it was a “Let’s look at these improvements then.” (A further improvement on the front deck now is a splendid Alstroemeria, a generous gift from the Exemplary Neighbours – thank you Tony and Margaret).
As the light drained out of the sky on Saturday evening the Embankment lights and stall lights began to twinkle. Lighting up time! Boaters participating in the illuminated boat parade moved away from their moorings to process between Town Bridge and the Butterfly Bridge. Crowds lined the river’s edge, ready for the floating show –and for the fireworks that followed.
Did Cleddau take part in the night parade this year? No. Etched on the memory from 2010 was the tight turn at the Butterfly Bridge, tiny unlit craft barely visible in the gloom and the unpredictability of spin-on-a-sixpence cruisers. Better to have the grandstand view from Cleddau and Tentatrice, was the reasoning, than the fear of a frightening and potentially expensive crunch.
Sunday was filled with sound. “Let’s make a Big Noise, Bedford!” was the rallying call from the carnival leaders as they wended their way down the High Street, along the Embankment to Russell Park. This was Bedford’s very own Notting Hill Carnival! Fire engines, flamboyant costumes, carnival floats, musicians, dancers and baton-twirling majorettes slowly processed to the park, the crowds increasing all the time.
The noise didn’t come only from ground and water level: On Saturday a Spitfire and a Hurricane displayed overhead; on Sunday a Lancaster performed for the crowds. Out of view from the riverside the Falcons Parachute Display Team performed on both days – and in a noisy streak across the sky on Sunday evening the Red Arrows, en route back to base at RAF Scampton, made a diversion from their afternoon’s display.
You just have to admit it – Bedford puts on a great River Festival.
As for Cleddau and Tentatrice – it’s Phase 3 now – they are heading downstream, making for Denver. If conditions are right a sea crossing across the Wash to Lincolnshire is on the agenda…