Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Bedford: Bridges, Bunyan and Boathouses

We decided to explore the "other" end of the waterway above Bedford Town Lock: the eastern end. On the way we passed two fine boathouses, this one still very much in operation, and another all fenced off.

We also passed under a few more bridges: a road bridge first, then two suspension foot bridges. This one was built in 1888 ...

… and the second in 1998.

This looks much more spectacular from the ends, and shows why it is called the "butterfly bridge".

Not far along The Embankment we reached a slightly wider section, marked as a boat turning point, beyond which it got shallow and weedy.

We winded here, dropped through the lock and tied up on a long run of bollards.

Back in the town once more we looked round the John Bunyan Museum and his church, although in his time (mid 1600s) it was called "Bedford Meeting". It wasn't allowed to be called a church as it was independent from the established Church of England.

One of the stained glass windows depicts Bunyan in his prison cell writing The Pilgrim's Progress. He spent 12 years in Bedford Gaol for preaching without a licence. A postcard of this window was famously sent to hostage Terry Waite. It was reputedly the only post Waite received during his incarceration and buoyed him up (along with the BBC World Service).

Later I spotted the John Bunyan trip boat, operated by the Bedford-Milton Keynes Waterway Trust, coming along the same section we covered in the morning.

Which reminds me. We have seen very few powered boats in Bedford. Plenty of rowing boats, kayaks and canoes, but just three other narrowboats, the John Bunyan trip boat and two small cruisers. It's time for us to move on, so tomorrow we shall go down to Great Barford on our way to St Neots.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Canoe polo, or Spot the Ball

Our view from the side hatch in Bedford this evening.

Now we know what the lines strung over the water (and our boat) are for: suspending the goals. We had a knock on the boat as we were eating tea. A man asked if we were aware that canoe polo is played on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings as well as Saturday afternoon (if I remember correctly). We said no; he suggested very nicely that we might like to move the boat along a bit to avoid getting splashed. We complied, as did nb Lordy Lordy who had joined us during the day, and watched a bit of the action.

The ball is easy to spot in my picture, but if someone cleverer than I had painted it out the photo might have made a good Spot the Ball competition. Have those disappeared now? Is it a case of Spot the Spot the Ball? I'm trying to remember where I used to see them. Were they in comics (it does seem a very long time ago)?

The boat stayed put in Bedford today while I had to go to Birmingham in the morning. Jan explored the town; when I got back we both walked round. We went for another walk in the evening, along the branch which extends east above the lock.

Monday, 13 August 2018

As far as we could get up the Great Ouse

We heard from the neighbouring boat at Great Barford that the obstruction above Willington Lock should be removed by 1400, so after lunch we set off. When we got to Willington Lock we found that a boat which had passed us at Great Barford earlier was just exiting the lock, it having been unchained only a few minutes earlier.

Our way was now clear to reach the head of navigation, provided we could get under the low bridges.

Before Castle Mill Lock we passed under another oft-travelled road, the A421.

Of course, driving over the bridge one has no idea it is really a viaduct, and an impressive one.

I shall have to try to get a better shot on the way back.

Castle Mill Lock is the one clearly visible from the A421 and is probably the deepest we encountered on the Great Ouse. The paddle gear, here called penstocks, are positioned half way along the lock side and allow water in and presumably out in the centre too.


On the final approach to Bedford we were surprised by this pyramid.

Having squeezed under the first of several low bridges we entered the last lock of our Great Ouse journey upstream.

The plaque commemorates the restoration of navigation of the Great Ouse in 1978.

Turning left out of the lock we travelled alongside the Embankment and found ourselves in rowing country (not that you can see any rowers in this photo).

But we weren't stopping yet, oh no. We were going as far as we could, which meant Kempston. The river got narrower and shallower … until suddenly the bow rose up as we hit the end of the road for us.

We were able to reverse off easily; we had gone up the right fork.

There was plenty of room for us to wind our 55' boat; we know a 60' boat has done it (because we met it at Cardington Lock) and I reckon a 65' boat might just be able to do so.

Back in Bedford here's one of those low bridges. And some rowers.

We tied up on the EA 48 hour mooring just back from the water point having completed a successful day's cruise.

If only the Bedford-Milton Keynes Waterway were built. Then we could nip back onto the canals in a day. As it is we will have to retrace our route down to Denver, across the Middle Level and up the Nene to Northampton.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Ally: "We've bought a bed and it won't fit in our car. Can you help?"

Today we were supposed to be going to Bedford but, as mentioned yesterday, our route is blocked by a submerged fallen tree. We are hoping the Environment Agency might tackle the problem tomorrow. Meanwhile we wait it out at Great Barford.

There are worse places we could be. Great Barford has a well-stocked general stores/Post Office and a riverside pub, The Anchor, outside which we are moored.

We went to the Methodist Church in the village this morning and resisted the tempting roast lunch smells coming from The Anchor at lunch time. After our usual salad I washed the boat and was just about to read the paper when we had a request for help from our daughter. Ally and Ben had bought a bed from Ikea in Bletchley and discovered it wouldn't quite fit in their car. Would I be able to drive over and put it in the Volvo? Yes, but our car was in St Neots. Ally drove here, picked me up and delivered me to St Neots and I was able to sort them out. We ended up at their house in Cranfield, Beds, where we had tea and I emptied our Elsan cassette. Cunning, eh? Facilities seem thin on the ground on the Upper Great Ouse.

Now I'll have to do another car/bike shuffle to get the car back to St Neots. And the forecast is for rain tomorrow. We shall see.  Perhaps if I do it in the morning the tree might be dealt with at the same time.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Fallen tree squashes plans

Oh no! Our plan to head up to, er, the head of navigation has been thwarted. There's a submerged fallen tree blocking the river between here (Great Barford) and Bedford. We understand that EA will attempt to remove it "early next week". We'll stay here for a couple of days and see what happens.

Back to today's journey. After watering up we set off under St Neots Bridge … and came to the A428 bridge. This is another road we frequently travel; we have once - and only once - spotted a boat from the road.

A while later we passed under the A1: the northbound carriageway uses this fine bridge.

The inscription reads "J Savage Architect. 1820. Johnson & Son Builders."

Then came this converted lifeboat Fort Victoria.

Just below Roxton Lock the now unnavigable River Ivel Navigation joins the Great Ouse. The Ivel Navigation started from Shefford and ran through Biggleswade and Sandy on its way to the Great Ouse.

Ally and Josiah joined us for lunch at Great Barford; we then went back to their house for the afternoon. I mowed the lawn, assembled a settee and assisted with repairing a vacuum cleaner. Jan cooked tea. We both enjoyed entertaining Josiah.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Now THAT'S what I call a log cabin

I couldn't resist another pic of the Chinese Bridge in Godmanchester, especially as the duck posed so nicely.

Not long after we set off this morning the rain started. It varied in intensity as we travelled, and stopped when we tied up four and a half hours later. Then the sun came out. I managed to take a few photos nevertheless.

At Brampton Mill I was pleasantly surprised to see the water wheel turning. Not that you can see it move in this photo.

Further upstream we saw a beautiful wooden cabin complete with log store. I want one!

St Neots Lock is another unusual one: long and thin. This could take two narrowboats … end to end. Two our size (55'), that is.

As I cycled to St Ives (to get the car) I met … a turf maze. Which I walked (of course). There were no choices of direction to make as it is unicursal, i.e. in the form of a single track wound back and forth with no forks etc.

It was in the village of Hilton, which has one of only eight turf mazes in the country.

We have arrived at St Neots, which is where the IWA Festival of Water will be held in a fortnight. We are moving on tomorrow, though, as we continue our journey to the head of navigation the other side of Bedford. We shall return!

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Bridges old and new(er)

Normal service has been resumed, weather-wise. Rain. Lots of the stuff. And we had to boat in it, as we were going to pick up cousin Victoria and David from Houghton Lock and take them to Godmanchester. First we moved to the water point at The Waits in St Ives. A small cruiser was moored there; fortunately they agreed to move out of our way. Even then we couldn't get in properly; another cruiser moved up a little and all was well.

At Houghton Lock we met our guests and put their bikes in the well deck. Unfortunately the rain confined them to the cabin as Jan and I took turns to steer. Victoria and David enjoyed seeing their home environment from a new angle.

Apparently the spire of Hemingford Grey church was blown into the river during a hurricane in 1741.

We passed many thatched buildings, including this splendid boat house.

A close look, however, reveals the poor condition of the walls.

We stopped for lunch just before the old bridge connecting Huntingdon to Godmanchester. Just beyond it is the more modern bridge carrying the A14.


Halfie, Jan, David, Victoria

On our way after lunch … here is the A14 bridge. We have driven over this many times - at last we were going under it.

Just the other side is this sad-looking house.

Through Godmanchester Lock, hard left … and here is the Chinese Bridge. When I was little we used to break our car journey here on the way to Granny's in Lincolnshire.


Victoria and David invited us to their house where we enjoyed a meal together with Toby. Thanks for the great evening.  And did I mention that it rained?  I think it might have just stopped.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Universal joint on paddle gear

Today's excitement was being locked through onto the tidal Great Ouse at Hermitage Lock, Earith.

The rise was no more than a foot; we were soon out onto a waterway that felt different. There was no detectable tidal movement, but we were 20 miles from Denver at this point.

Immediately upstream of the lock, under the bridge, is the New Bedford River which we intend to take as a short cut when we return after the IWA festival at St Neots at the end of this month. Yes, I know it's fairly straight and samey but I don't mind.

After two miles on this tidal section we reached Brownshill Lock. Why is this lock to tidal waters unmanned when Hermitage Lock is manned?

We stopped at Holywell to walk round the village and look in the church. Oh, and see the holy well. All very pleasant.

St Ives Lock has a couple of curiosities. The first thing is the unusual shape, being extra-wide. We thought, wrongly, that if we tucked the boat in the bay to the side we wouldn't be affected too much by currents set up when the slackers (paddles) were opened.

The other interesting thing I noticed was the universal joint in the spindle transmitting the rotation of the windlass to the paddle gear.

I don't recall seeing this system on any other of the hundreds of locks I've worked.

And then … we were in St Ives itself. We found a mooring right by the old bridge, and discovered it was as close to the town centre as it was possible to be.

We had a good time exploring the town; we included a visit to Morrisons and I found a curry house for later. The car being in Ely, and the wind in the right direction, I decided to cycle there to get the car. It was an enjoyable bike ride, on cycle paths alongside main roads and through the villages of Sutton-in-the-Isle and Witchford - about 17 miles in all.

We opted for a take-away when I got back. The PR Massala provided it, and it was good. The lamb was especially tender in my naga.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Field fire next to River Great Ouse

We waved goodbye to Sheila and Christine this morning as we set off up the remaining part of the Cam we didn't need a Cam licence for.

This is as far as we could go: Bottisham Lock. To travel beyond the lock would have cost an extra £49 - and we wouldn't even have had time to stop overnight. Something for the future.

On the way back towards Upware I nosed up to Swaffham Lock at the entrance to the unnavigable Swaffham Bulbeck Lode.

At Popes Corner we turned left to resume our journey on the River Great Ouse, here known also as the Old West River.

We passed Stretham Old Engine, which was closed today as was the Prickwillow engine museum when we went past that a few days ago.

Just before the Lazy Otter pub I spotted a narrowboat pulling onto the GOBA mooring. I wasn't surprised to see that it was Tentatrice, with Chris and Jennie. We came alongside and chatted for a bit; it was good to meet you both.

They warned of the duckweed blighting the next stretch of river … but I don't recall them mentioning the field fire.

We saw the smoke from a couple of miles back; when we got closer we could hear the sirens of fire engines and the clatter of tractors.

To get the pictures I had to stand on the roof of the boat. I'll let them tell the story.




When that excitement was past we could return to the small matter of duckweed. It wasn't that bad, actually: the boat just carved through it without hindrance.

Behind us the duckweed closed up.

At Hermitage Lock we could see that the visitor mooring had space, so we tied up and saw the lock keeper. He said it would be fine for us to stay overnight as long as we didn't leave the boat before 7 pm when he went off duty.

I crossed the road which spans the lock and had a look at the tidal section which is tomorrow's treat.


After tea we walked in to Earith, crossing both the Bedford New and Old Rivers. Whilst in Earith it started to rain, but it didn't amount to much. Tomorrow, as we lock out onto the tidal Great Ouse I will ask about travelling down the tidal New Bedford River on our way back from St Neots. That is our plan, to save time.