Thursday, 20 August 2015

River Great Ouse. Godmanchester to Bedford.

There was rain forecast for the afternoon when we left Godmanchester, so we got going fairly early...
Brampton Mill, just outside Godmanchester. Now a very posh restaurant.
...but, as it turned out, not quite early enough. While we were setting Brampton lock, five plastic boats from the same cruising club turned up. Brampton is a ‘D’ shape so we could have fitted a couple of them in with us, but rather than splitting them up and having the rest come past us half an hour later, we worked them all through together, then we went through on our own. By the time we got Legend up the lock it had started raining so we made an unplanned stop at Mailer’s Meadow GOBA mooring.
In the afternoon it got colder and wetter and at tea time we lit the fire, as much to cheer ourselves up as anything.

In the morning we set off and pulled in at Buckden Marina, which has a very handy service pontoon on the river bank supplying diesel, petrol, water and pump-out. We hadn’t filled up with diesel since Stowe Hill Wharf on the GU at Easter; a dip of the tank showed about 80 litres left. We don’t like letting it get much below that and although it’s a lot more expensive on the river, we were going to be handing Legend over to John and Cam the following week. They were certain to be doing a fair amount of boating and the least we could was to make sure they didn’t run out. While we were filling the water tank Dave went to find out about fuel. It turned out that the marina office was shut on Mondays, so another plan would have to be hatched.

We stopped that night at the beautifully peaceful Paxton Pits Nature Reserve...
...and did a car move to the far side of St Neots. The walk back took us over St Neots weir which, after the recent rainfall, had quite a deluge going over it.

We boated into St Neots the next day and moored up on the floating pontoon outside the Priory Centre. In front of us was Nb Large Marge, with Laura and Alison on board who we’d last seen at Godmanchester, but not had opportunity to speak to. It turned out that they were not only two of the friendliest people we have ever met, but they were a hilarious double act to boot. They were in the process of having some diesel delivered by a very nice man, so we sidled up to him and asked if he could do us while he was at it. Twenty minutes later we had 40 litres in the boat and it was cheaper than it would have been at Buckden. Result!

That afternoon we found out that our house sitting services for the following week were no longer needed. This put us in a bit of a dilemma. We didn’t feel it would be fair to cancel John and Camilla, after all they’d taken time off work to look after Legend for us and it was their holiday. We sat down and thought about it and realised we did have several options, most of which involved a grand tour of the UK, visiting friends and family. Then it dawned on us that most of our friends were in Poland at the World Meeting of 2cv Friends, which made things a little trickier. Ann-Marie put a message on Facebook explaining our ‘homeless predicament’, and within minutes Helena came back offering us their house for the week, which would be empty as they were going cruising. The generosity of our boating friends never ceases to overwhelm us.

We’d decided that Great Barford would be the ideal spot for a boat handover; there’s unrestricted parking on the road by the church, it’s easy to find and there’s mooring for lots of boats on both sides of the river.

We had one night at Eaton Socon Island...
...which was a lovely mooring and very convenient for a big Tesco,  but the bank was a bit lumpy and we had the back end stuck out in the river!

On Friday morning we went by the very eccentric Kelpie Marine...

That orange thing is a 72 person lifeboat!

...which many people will have passed on their way down the A1 as it is just south of the Black Cat roundabout where the A421 goes off. The A1 goes over the river on two bridges now; there's a new soulless concrete one...
and just a bit further on the much nicer original Great North Road Bridge.

We came through Great Barford lock at about 11am and moored up on the edge of the village green, right outside the Anchor. Perfect.
Great Barford looking upstream from the footbridge. GOBA moorings on the left, EA and a village green on the right by the very nice Anchor pub.

A little while later the ‘Margees’ (as we’ve nicknamed Laura and Alison) came under the bridge on their way back from Bedford and moored up on the opposite bank. By the time they’d got the pins in and tied up we’d made score cards and gave them marks for ‘artistic performance’ and ‘technical merit’. Then we put the kettle on and invited them over to the dark side for the afternoon, most of which was spent in fits of laughter.

Saturday was handover day, so the morning was a whirlwind of packing and cleaning. In the afternoon we had another natter with our new bestest friends before John and Camilla arrived.
We had a run through the boat explaining how it all worked; we’d spent the previous week trying to write a list of all the stuff they needed to know. Doing that really brought home to us how different from the norm our boat life is, and how used to it we’ve become. It wasn’t too bad because John has had a boat before, so he knew more or less to expect. In the evening we went into the pub for dinner then came back to Legend for drinks and a bit of music before bed.
In the morning, with John at the tiller, we did a little induction run upstream, through the bridge, turned at the old lock, then came back through the bridge to turn again and moor up where we started from. Under Dave’s guidance, John cleared out the weed hatch after which there was a round of bacon butties, then we unloaded the last of our stuff into the car and went over to the lock to help them through and see them off. We stood on the bridge and waved as our lovely little boat chugged off down the river with John and Cam looking just a little bit too much at home for our liking.

Just as they got beyond earshot we realised that our car keys were still on board.

There followed a frantic fifteen minutes, at the end of which we’d left messages on John’s phone, Camilla’s phone and the Margee’s phone, and accosted the crew of a plastic cruiser, who were going the same way and kindly agreed to try and catch them up before the next lock. After that we could think of nothing more to do but wait, so we sat in the sunshine outside the pub for a couple of hours until they came back.
When they did we expressed our gratitude by giving the weed hatch another clear out – they’d had to turn round twice in the river and there was just this big green ball where the prop used to be – then there were more hugs and goodbyes and off they went again.

We set off for Gordon and Helena’s at Braunston, stopping at Buckby to see Lindsay and Paul on the way. We had a lovely evening with Gordon and Helena in their beautiful house and as we lay in bed that night we realised that for the first time in over four years, we didn’t know where our home was. Which was a bit strange.

In the morning we stood on the balcony and watched as Mandakini wove her way out from her berth just below us...
...under the iconic cast-iron bridge...
...and onto the Grand Union before heading up towards the locks.
We gave them a head start then walked up to the locks to help them through, however there were queues both up and down, and a volunteer lock-keeper on duty so we’d have only got in the way. We said goodbye again and left them to it. In the afternoon Helena phoned to say they’d left their kitchen blind at home, so we hopped in the car and delivered it to Norton Junction where they were moored and then had dinner with them in the New Inn. While everyone else had the yummy looking ‘Fish Platter’, Dave insisted on sampling the ‘Local Faggots’. Then we said goodbye – again – and went back ‘home’.
For as long as anyone can remember, the Gongoozler’s Rest, a floating cafĂ©, has been moored at Braunston. For as long as we can remember, we’ve promised ourselves that one day we’d go and have a meal there. This seemed the perfect opportunity, so the next morning after a suitable period of lazing around we strolled down through the marina and ordered the all-day breakfast.
And very nice it was too.

The next day we had an early start and went back over to Buckden for a day Jack sitting while Lindsay was away. We had a lovely walk along the canal and up the hill towards Norton. Having a dog is a very social thing; far more people stop and chat, and it’s very nice to borrow someone’s dog for a day, but we know we’re far too selfish to have one of our own.

On our last day at Braunston we drove over to Leamington Spa where Bob and Mandy were moored on Matilda Blue. We all piled into our car and went to Canon’s Ashby
a National Trust property - where we’d seen there was to be a ‘Guided Walk’ around the estate. It turned out not to be quite the kind of ‘guided’ we were expecting; we thought there’d be more in the way of local history and landmarks being pointed out along the way, rather than just someone leading, but it was an enjoyable morning all the same.
And we ended up in the tea rooms, which is always a Good Thing.
We returned to Matilda Blue for lunch, then had a trip into Leamington for Ann-Marie’s annual optician check-up.

On Friday, after what seemed no time at all, we were once more back at Great Barford waiting for our little boat to arrive.
John’s mum and dad had joined them for the last leg from St Neots, so when they’d moored up we all went for lunch in the pub. John and Cam had managed to get all the way to Earith and back and it was really good to hear they’d enjoyed themselves doing it.

After a long round of fond goodbyes they drove away and we had a lovely sunny afternoon sitting in the well deck feeling good to be back home. It was thrilling going away, and amazing to be staying in a beautiful house with so much space, but there really is no place like home.

As it had had a week of almost constant movement we thought Legend deserved a day off and a bit of pampering. Dave took the engine covers and the back step out and sanded all the rough edges down before painting them properly. They hadn’t been done before because we weren’t sure they were going to work, but after living with them for a year or so we thought they were probably a permanent fixture and ought to be finished off.

On Sunday we left Great Barford and went through the enormous Castle Mills lock...
...and on to Bedford.
While we were waiting for Cardington Lock to fill we collected a big bowl of blackberries and spotted some plum trees that we’ll go and raid on the way back. We moored up alongside the park on the only proper mooring on the Lower River after a cruiser very kindly pulled back to allow us in.
In the afternoon we went and listened to a brass band playing on the bandstand, then spent the rest of the day sitting in the well deck watching the world go by.

In the morning Dave collected some willow and started working on a basket, then we went for a wander into the city. In the afternoon Ann-Marie did some beadwork and Dave finished the basket. 
This was to be our last day before turning Legend round and starting the journey back to Gayton Junction and the canals.  In the evening we had a twilight stroll through the park and along the river. We were unexpectedly impressed with Bedford; neither of us had ever been before and we thought it had a very continental feel to it with its wide river and Lime tree lined avenues.


We were also impressed with this little chap who seemed to like being on the bank opposite.

The next day we took all the tall stuff off the roof and put it in the well deck...
 before going under a couple of low bridges...
and through Bedford Lock onto the Upper River.
We made a left turn and cruised upstream to the current limit of navigation at Sovereign Quay...


 where we finally turned round and started the long journey back to the canals.

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