Monday 20 July 2015

River Great Ouse. River Cam. Upware to Ely via Cambridge.

First thing in the morning, outside the Five Miles From Anywhere, we awoke to find we had a visitor.
This is a Whooper Swan. They have a reputation for being aggressive, but it really is unjustified....
they’re just bolder and more inquisitive than the more common Mute Swans.

We had a couple of days back at Fidwell Fen and walked out along the droves and riverbanks under the huge fen skies. On one walk we were lucky enough to see a pair of Avocets wheeling around over one of the meres.
Very exciting! These are incredibly rare and at one time were officially extinct in Britain.

On our way to our next stop at Bottisham Lock we saw the Avocets again, plus a Heron and a couple of Kingfishers. At the lock we met Joan on Early Byrd...
who we’d seen briefly at Wicken Fen. She lives nearby and goes down the Cam and up Wicken Lode every week on her days off.  We stopped on the GOBA moorings just above the lock...
they’re a bit of a jungle but very peaceful. 

We were getting ready to go back for the car when we found that we didn’t have the car keys. This has always been one of our worst nightmares, if they’d fallen out of a pocket on one of our walks or dropped in the canal they’d be gone for good.  Luckily we have a spare, but when we got back to the car-park the car was unlocked, leading us to the conclusion that we’d left the keys in the door and someone had handed them in somewhere. It seemed too much of a coincidence that we would have left it unlocked and lost the keys on the same day. We phoned the nearby pub and the police, all to no avail and a week later, when Dave found them in the pocket of a jacket, it just went to show that coincidences are just that, and not impossibilities.

While we were moored at Bottisham we went off for a day working in Leicester. Our patch was quite near to Castle Gardens so on a break we went to have a look at the visitor moorings.
Leicester has got a bit of a reputation, but it looked alright to us. In a couple of years when we finally get there, we'll do what we usually do and trust our judgment; it's worked ok so far. Mostly. 

The following day we treated ourselves to a Grand Day Out in London. We were up at the crack of dawn and had our porridge on the back while boating to the visitor moorings at Clayhithe.
From there it was a quick walk to Waterbeach station where we hopped on a train and were in King’s Cross for 10 o’clock.
We had nowhere near enough time in the science museum...
Spot the 2CV 
Dave standing next to the Rolls Royce RB211 engine that his dad drew.

then lunch in Borough market, followed by a very interesting walk over Tower Bridge and through the city to the Regents Canal at St Pancras.

From there we walked along the towpath to Camden Lock where we bimbled through the Horse Tunnels until they closed. We got the tube back to King’s Cross where we hopped on the train home just before it pulled out. Perfect timing!

As we were now National Trust members it seemed a good idea to find other places to visit, so the next day we found ourselves in Anglesey Abbey – which is neither in Anglesey (It’s in Cambridgeshire.) or an Abbey (It’s a replica stately home, built on the site of, and including large portions of, a former priory.)

As well as the house and extensive gardens there’s a working water driven flour mill...
a fen with lots of explorable places, a very posh looking restaurant and a lovely little ice-cream trolley in the grounds.
 And the sun shone, and there were deck chairs.
We didn’t have time to see half of it and vowed - as we now get in for free - to go back another time.

Before we ventured into Cambridge itself we had a recce with the bikes to the limit of navigation at Jesus Lock. While we were there we bumped into Joan again – almost literally – who very kindly pointed out the visitor mooring sites in the city. It was going to be a bit of a gamble finding somewhere to stop that weekend as there was a huge fairground on Midsummer Common and all the permanent boats had understandably evacuated from there, and taken refuge elsewhere for a few days. (Elsewhere included the visitor moorings.) In we went anyway, through the very pretty Bates Bite Lock...
And onward upstream into the city.

We stopped for water outside the lido and had a good look at the opposite bank just below the lock. It seemed to us that there might be just enough room between the last boat and the ‘Thou shalt not moor beyond here’ sign so, hoping that it was deep enough, we pushed over to the far side.
Spot on. Lovely mooring, right by the footbridge over Jesus lock.

We downloaded ‘i-footpath’ onto Ann-Marie’s phone and followed an easy 2 hour tour of Cambridge, including the Backs, the bridges, the Fitzwilliam, the Conduit and lots of other interesting stuff.

In the evening we went to meet up with Anne who, by happy coincidence, just happened to be working in Cambridge the following day. We retraced most of our walk with her, then she treated us to dinner in the city. Fabulous!

The next day we visited the Fitzwilliam Museum which holds some very impressive collections of Greek, Roman and Egyptian tombs, pots, sculpture and artefacts, as well as hundreds of paintings, all within a magnificent building.

One of the few surviving Lidos from the 1920’s lies between the River Cam and Jesus Green. On such a blisteringly hot afternoon it was an opportunity too good to miss. We paid our £4 and pushed through the turnstile under the sign telling us that the water temperature was 24˚C. Upon entering the water we discovered that this was clearly not the case. However, after a few minutes hopping up and down, whilst making breathless squeaky noises, we conceded that our initial impression – minus 5 – had perhaps been a tad hasty and, once you got used to it and the circulation returned to your extremities, it wasn’t too bad.
Anne joined us after she finished for the day; how we laughed while she hopped up and down and squeaked. Later the three of us lay on our towels, soaking up the late afternoon sun and watching the wind in the poplar trees, surrounded by the many facets of semi-naked Cambridge.

There followed a steaming hot day boating back to Bottisham, a day working in a wind tunnel in Birmingham (the less said about that the better), then a day of manoeuvres which included the deployment of all our various transport methods. By teatime, the car was in a car-park in Ely, whilst the boat, the bikes, the shopping and ourselves were back on the lovely visitor moorings at Upware.
We also managed – as the following day was the fourth of July - to produce some Stars and Stripes bunting for our windows. (We had tried to find some in the shops but for some reason there doesn’t seem to be much enthusiasm to sell souvenirs of us getting our backsides kicked out of America.)

We think our home made efforts were far superior to anything we could have bought anyway.

Next morning, bright and early we put the bunting on the roof and in the windows and set off once more through Upware lock and up to Popes Corner. This time we turned right up the section of the Great Ouse known as the Old West River.
Many years ago, before the course of the Ouse was altered and it still flowed out to sea at Wisbech, this bit of river used to go the other way. Nowadays - although it theoretically flows west to east - it actually doesn’t go anywhere very much, due to most of the water on the Ouse flowing down the New Bedford River from Earith straight to King’s Lynn. This makes the Old West rather narrow and shallow, but quite pretty for all that. 
A few boat lengths along we tied up alongside Nb Shanti, owned by Mike, our American friend. He had a visitor – Nicole - over from California for a week or so and we’d arranged to have a joint 4th of July cruise up the river to The Lazy Otter. Hence the bunting. We don’t just throw this together you know.
Our little flotilla set off, avoiding the canoes and weedy patches to arrive at the GOBA moorings just before the pub a couple of hours later. We were lucky enough to slot into the only gap left, and Mike and Nicole tied Shanti up alongside us.
There followed a delicious lunch outside the pub.Later on, after a relaxing afternoon which may or may not have included napping, we combined our wares aboard Shanti. Mike’s contribution, an amazing chilled yoghurt and garlic soup, stole the show and all in all it was a terrific day.
In the morning we were treated to freshly brewed Californian Coffee, before our neighbours set off for St Ives. While Dave swapped the USA bunting for the Birthday Banners Ann-Marie put the finishing touches to a batch of sausage rolls and a strawberry & cream cake, so that by the time Lindsay, Paul and Happy Jack arrived we were ready for Paul’s birthday cruise down to Ely for the Ely Aquafest.
You could be forgiven for thinking that there’s some kind of plan to all this.
As if to prove that there really isn’t, we arrived in Ely just as the raft race was in its final stages. Festooned with vegetation and bunting, and about as far from ‘low profile’ as you can get, we came chugging down the river to the bend outside The Cutter, only to realise – too late – that that was where the finish line was. A buoy had been placed in the middle of the channel to mark the spot, but we didn’t see that; we were too busy wondering why there was a huge Gin Palace hovering in mid-stream. It was only as we passed it that we noticed that most of the passengers were very smartly dressed and wearing copious amounts of gold chains. We also noticed the bright orange raft coming towards us. Dave did a very hasty reverse and many, many times more by luck than judgment managed to not hit either the Mayoral Yacht, or the crew of the barely afloat HMS Sainsbury, or anything else as Legend backed out of the way. Not surprisingly, due to the frantic nature of the occasion, we don't have any photos, but we have no doubt that the many spectators lining the bank have hundreds.
After all the commotion had calmed down, we poured some more tea, handed the cake around again, and continued along Ely’s lovely river front where, quite unexpectedly, we found somewhere to moor. We thought we’d have to go straight through to Queen Adelaide and walk back, but we found another narrowboat to tie up to till the raft-race crews left the park moorings and then moved down to there. By six o’clock - and with impressive speed - the fair had vacated the site, and we had sat down to another perfect Ann-Marie creation – spicy red and green Thai – before saying a fond farewell to our fab friends.
It was lovely having you aboard Paul & Lindsay.
Happy Birthday Mate.

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