Two Thursdays

A suggestion to mount a little local boat trip with a picnic lunch was mooted – and agreed.

Passengers were loaded, mid-morning tea was drunk and then it was off out of Priory Marina with a right turn to Bedford.

No, it wasn’t by way of Egypt    – that Pyramid is the tell-tale shape of the Oasis Beach Pool.

From Priory Marina up to Bedford Embankment wasn’t far, the jaunt taking just over half an hour. There’s a lock to contend with, windlasses and effort required for the gates at the lower end, and a special Abloy key for the magic box to operate the guillotine gate at the upper end. Patience is also needed, first to wait for the countdown time after the gate’s first movement and then a steady thumb to keep pressing the Gate Open button until the guillotine is fully raised.

The Captain inched the boat to the right after the lock. Along the upper river the boat cruised, right up to the Suspension Bridge to turn and then cruise west back beside the Embankment, past the bandstand on Mill Meadows and past Bedford Lock towards Town Bridge. It was a serene and green scene, the only crowds being the swans and the geese…

Beyond Town Bridge are the recent buildings behind Riverside Square. 

The boat was winded (turned) again to head back east and then moored up at next week’s mooring spot. Yes, this was where Cleddau’s River Festival mooring would be – and right on cue the man spotted with a clipboard and a measuring wheel near the Rowing Club materialised beside the stern..

“Just where have you come from?” said the man. (What timing! This was Martyn, the Bedford River Festival Harbour Master). “And how long did it take?”

“From North Cheshire, three months, set off on April 7th…”

Cleddau may have appeared a week early but it was an opportunity to test the weir-side mooring and to see how close the stern and bow could get to the river bank (the bow very close, the stern not so). Out came table and chairs, a flattish spot was found under the shade of a tree and lunch was served, followed by piles of fresh strawberries and lashings of cream. (Thanks, Pat!) How pleasant it was to while away an afternoon in conversation, tales and laughter….

Back down through the flag-bedecked Bedford Lock.   Here a plaque commemorates the 1978 restoration of navigation along the Great Ouse Waterway through to the Wash. The first biennial River Festival, a small affair in 1978, grew and grew – and now is an event that caters for attendances of some 300,000 people…

Tied up back in Priory Marina there remained just a week to prepare for the Festival.

River Festival weekend was Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th July. Boats with pre-booked moorings were welcome to tie up during Thursday and Friday.

On Thursday morning, with a tank full of water, equipped with gazebos (2), chairs (8) and decorative lights (100s) Cleddau made her way out of Priory Marina.

From the lower river Festival preparations could be seen, the setting up of a temporary pontoon bridge, a performance stage, the first marquees…

Up through the lock Cleddau went again, first narrow boat to arrive…

Focus on the tasks ahead: tie up the boat, erect number 1 gazebo.

There was a lot to do but all went well, despite one rather brusque and officious lady whose interpretation of plans and bookings was entirely mistaken…

Then along through Town Bridge heading back downstream came nb Oleanna, with her crew of inveterate waterway explorers; they had cruised as close to Kempston Mill as possible until deterred by the shallow river bottom…

The afternoon proceeded: number 2 gazebo, a central flagpole, braced by strings of white Christmas lights, Welsh and Bedfordshire bunting attached.

More flags: the Welsh Dragon, the Stars and Stripes.

Next came the shorter flags, the Macclesfield Canal Society burgee, the Pembrokeshire flag on the front of the cabin, the GOBA flag and the Stafford Boat Club at the stern, the  Union pilot flag on the bow, all flag protocols adhered to, of course!

How were preparations going elsewhere? An early evening stroll revealed:

A large Craft and Gift Marquee


The bandstand now handsomely decorated by the WI knitters

Aqua fun waiting to be used

Swings and teacups for little folk

Rows of toilets

Banks of bins awaiting distribution across the site

A bar awaiting drinkers

The main stage awaiting performers

Another temporary pontoon bridge

Flower beds, spruced and ready, grass more yellow than green

River Control and officials’ launches as seen from the Embankment

Across the site there was an extraordinary atmosphere, much purposeful activity being quietly observed by curious passers by. By 7pm at least one more narrow boat was in position and from across the river Cleddau was looking suitably flag-bedecked…

During the evening the regulars floated past, the rowers, the swans and the John Bunyan trip boat, its cabin lit up by twinkling fairy lights.

“Hm, better check our lights work,” said the Captain,” and he switched them on.  ”Friday tomorrow,” he added, “Welsh Cakes Day…”

And so, 106 days after leaving the home mooring in north Cheshire, just 36 hours remained before thousands of participants and visitors would converge on the river, along the riverside, in the parks, on the Castle Mound and on the  bridges for Bedford’s 22nd River Festival.

Over 2 Thursdays: 4¼ miles; 3 lock passages

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1 Response

  1. Jaqueline Biggs says:

    Ah nb Cleddau looks superbly grand!! How lovely nb Oleanna with Pip and Mick turned up. A gathering with some of my favorite boaters. Stay cool!!
    Love Jaq xx

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