Friday, 29 July 2016

Our travels continue -  Leaving Ely we entered the River Cam for a short 14 miles trip to Cambridge.  Many more plastic cruisers along this stretch of river.   Moored up next to Jesus Common right in the heart of Cambridge for the weekend.

Bicycles everywhere!

A very, very old  place – with most of the colleges over 500 years old.   So many busloads of tourists arriving each day and as well it was the week that a lot of the students came to book into their accommodation for the new school year so lots of parents added to the throng.   On every corner there were 4 or 5 people selling ‘punting on the river’ trips. 

We visited quite a few of the colleges that were open – and all had the hallowed green lawn in the centre which absolutely NO-ONE steps on.  We spoke to one of the gardeners who said that the lawns are mown every 3 days – no wonder they look so good!  In the centre of all the old buildings there is now a huge 3-storey shopping mall with has all the High Street shops.  Not quite sure how they managed to build this and still retain the old feel of the city.

Just a few of the Cambridge colleges

Left Cambridge and travelled back to Pope’s Corner and the Great Ouse River where we turned left towards Bedford.   First stop was the village of Earith where amazingly we spotted a seal swimming along the river.  It came out on the bank just opposite where we were moored and sunned itself for half an hour or so. 
A huge 3 boat lock
Next night we stopped at the Dolphin Moorings at St Ives The Old Riverport, near a 500 year old bridge which has 55 arches and includes a chapel on it built in 1426 which has also been used as a toll house, an inn and a private dwelling over the years since. 

Lovely town with some very old buildings and lots of flower baskets lining the streets.   The mooring was in a small arm next to a hotel and a strong wind blowing caused a bit of fun when we were leaving and trying  to manoeuvre our way out past some Tupperware cruisers.

Very windy trip next day to the village of Huntingdon.   Another long arched bridge here as well across to Godmanchester on the opposite side of the river.  

Decided to go to a renowned Car Boot Sale on the Saturday morning but there was over an hour wait for a bus so we caught a taxi.   When we arrived at the racecourse where the sale was being held – there was only one stallholder.  We were assured there would be ‘hundreds’ there on the Sunday so were driving back towards Huntingdon when we saw a National Trust Mill sign.  The taxi dropped us off there (in pouring rain) but it turned out the mill building is now a restaurant/conference centre.   We filled in time with a cup of coffee  but the rain didn’t look like stopping so we saw a little ferry moored up outside who agreed to take us back to Godmanchester.   Captain Jim told us the boat was originally a cruise ship lifeboat to which he had added a roof (which leaked), plastic side curtains (which also leaked) but the worrying thing after he had bailed out the water in the  bottom of the boat was when he got out a blow torch to start the motor!  Anyway it all worked out fine and we managed to get back to our boat.  

Captain Jim starting the motor with a blow torch

The Great Ouse Ferry

Godmanchester village across the river from Huntingdon

We were moored up next to path alongside a brick wall which was probably about 10 feet high.  There were a group of young Polish men sitting on the wall when we got back in the afternoon just talking quietly and they were still there when it started to get dark about 9 o’clock.  Suddenly there was an almighty crash on the roof of the boat.   One of the fellows had fallen backwards off the wall and was lying on the path next to our boat.   A couple of the other chaps jumped down to him (one nearly breaking his leg in the process) and they said the fellow was OK and not to worry about calling an ambulance.   We kept looking out the window and he hadn’t moved for about 10 minutes but they eventually got him to his feet and they all went away.  We’re sure he would have been feeling pretty sore the next day.

Sunday morning we repeated the taxi ride to the racecourse (because the buses don’t run on Sunday in Huntingdon).   They were right – hundreds of stalls there but mostly very second-hand rubbishy stuff just spread out over the ground by each seller.   We walked up and down and then the heavens opened and everyone very quickly cleared off.  We had to wait for our taxi to come back so were thoroughly soaked by the time we got back to the boat.

Bridge at Great Barford mooring

Little bird's nest in lock wall - with an egg

Moved off next day in more gale force winds to nearby St Neot’s.   Moored up next to a conference centre but decided to leave seeing the town until the return trip.  Next stop was a lovely mooring at  Great Barford where we had arranged an appointment with a Bowen lady to treat a shoulder/wrist problem ‘the captain’ was having.  She actually came onto the boat – can’t complain about the service.

The next stop at the end of the Ouse navigation was Bedford which we heard was holding a bi-annual River Festival.   Because we hadn’t booked a mooring spot we stopped a little way out of town near a Tesco store and walked into all the action.   They were just setting up on the Friday when we arrived.  
Street performers in Bedford

Moored up outside the Bedford Oasis Swimming Centre

The town of  Bedford has quite a history.   We went to the John Bunyan Museum (born 1628 in Bedford - he was a tinker, Christian, soldier and was jailed 12 years for preaching.  He wrote ‘’A Pilgrim’s Progress” which we haven’t read – looks a bit heavy!)   The display was upstairs and we had a guide show us around – we were a definitely a captive audience – he explained every last detail right down to what every jar in the kitchen would have been used for, the height of the chair legs because John Bunyan was a tall man, etc etc etc.  He just went on & on.....  Terry managed to sneak away and see the rest of the exhibition in a couple of minutes then waited outside – laughing!!     

Went through the Bedford Museum and Art Gallery and then over the road to the Panacea Museum.  This time the guide at the front counter was great.  Even told us not to bother visiting the Cafe there  because the tea and coffee were lousy!  We hadn’t heard of the Panacea Society before.  Apparently it was a unique religious sect founded by a Mabel Barltrop in 1919 that created its own Garden of Eden in the centre of Bedford.  She thought she was a prophet and used to breathe on small pieces of paper which were sent around the world to heal all sorts of diseases.   On display is a copy of a big mysterious lead box created by Joanna Southcott, also a self-proclaimed prophet, who wrote down her prophecies and sealed them in the box in the 1700s.  It is not to be opened unless there are 24 Church of England Bishops in attendance.   Apparently this Pandora’s box is well known around England and there were attempts to have it opened during World War II so that the result of the war may be known.  Also there was a Monty Python sketch about the Box as well.  It’s still a world-wide organisation with lots of followers in Australia apparently.
Panacea Museum entrance

'Garden of Eden' in Bedford

Joanna Southcott's box


On Saturday the Festival was in full swing.   More than 300,000 people attended.  Over 120 boats were moored up – some 20 narrowboats the rest Tupperware ones.   There were activities both sides of the river with displays by sporting, cultural and community groups and some decorated boats.  Lots of eating places with every taste catered for.   Quite a few stages with dancing and different styles of music while the river had dragon boat racing, slalom racing, men on turbo powered lifts (one even shook hands with people on the bridge) a narrowboat parade and cruiser boat parade.  We apparently are in the local Bedford Press – had our photo taken in front of one of the decorated boats by a reporter for the paper.  They are posting a copy to our London address.   When it got dark there was a terrific fireworks display which we enjoyed from the front of our boat.

Set out early on the Sunday morning to avoid the exodus of Festival boats to retrace the route back along the Ouse. 

Decided to call in to Houghton Hall Alpacas – they bought 7 of our best alpacas when we auctioned them off in 2012.    We moored up on an island just through the Houghton Lock but couldn’t get across to Houghton Village even though Google maps said it was only 800 metres to the alpaca farm.  

Continued downriver to St Ives and moored up at The Waits right in the heart of the town.   Caught a bus back to Houghton and finally arrived at the alpaca farm where we met owner Mick George.   Lovely fellow – he runs a large recycling business (employs over 800 staff).  It was great to hear that our alpacas had settled in well.   We think they must have thought they had died and gone to heaven when they arrived at Houghton.  It’s such a beautiful property with all the alpacas on manicured green pastures under groves of apple trees – so different to the dry paddocks at Ruffy when they left.   Mick is back to Australia next week to visit the National Alpaca Show – and probably to buy some more alpacas.   

Walked back to Houghton Village – another picture perfect village with many thatched cottages and went to the National Trust Houghton Mill which has been producing flour for hundreds of years.      


We went to a concert “The Merry Wives of St Ives” a play based on the old riddle “I met a man with 7 wives......” on Saturday night.   This was held outdoors at the quay by the old arched bridge – a beautiful setting.  On Sunday afternoon we went to a free Dixieland Jazz concert in the St Ives Methodist Church right across the road from our mooring.   

Moving on - this time at Earith we saw four seals.  Had mother and her baby seal lined up for a lovely photo until mother seal pushed her baby’s head underwater and they swam away.


Cutting rushes for chair seats, mats.

Next it was back to Ely (our favourite place this trip)  where we moored up in the same spot and  were entertained that evening by the Ely Military Band which gave an impromptu concert in the bandstand in the Jubilee Gardens right next to the boat.

Spent most of yesterday contacting lockkeepers to arrange times to go through the locks– one at the big Denver Tidal Lock - the last on the Great Ouse, then the nearby Salter’s Lode lock which also works on the tides.    After the Middle Level Navigations we have the Stanground lock back onto the Nene River near Peterborough and then the Dog & Doublet Lock which leads into Wisbech where we have booked with a pilot to go out to sea in a convoy of boats at 6.00 am! next Monday morning across The Wash to Boston.
Huge Denver lock

Presently sitting in the Salter’s Lode Lock where we have been nearly 4 hours waiting for the tide to go out so they can open the smaller lock gates to let us through.
Small extra gate for longer boats

More news later.......................