Sunday, 23 September 2012

Huntington to Great Barford

Day 3. Wednesday, 19 September 2012. Huntingdon to Great Barford.

I caught the sun rising at 7.00am before the first cup of char.
By the time we headed off, the sun was fairly high and causing significant glare on the water as we negotiated Godmanchester. The river and the locks in this section of the Ouse are very attractive, all the more so today because there were so few boats and people about.

We passed under a rail bridge after Huntingdon and I wondered why they had painting it this colour. I can imagine the conversation in the rail depot. 'OK guys, anyone got any ideas about the colour we should paint it?' Roger the Assistant Storeman  pipes up, 'I have some pink gloss in the back of the engine shed Boss.' 'Oh Roger, that sounds like a lovely idea. You go and get it out and I'll find a couple of brushes'.

We had lunch at St Neots next to The Priory Centre. We found the public water tap had been repaired since our last visit, so ‘well done’ to whoever did this. I hope the pipework lasts, as it looks very vulnerable to those pesky people who might find some sort of pleasure in vandalising things that other people value.

We left the town with a brisk tailwind coming in from the north but by the time we arrived at Great Barford for the night, this had disappeared and left us with a fantastic evening sun next to the ancient bridge and local pub.

A clue to Great Barford’s past is in the name of the pub, The Anchor (previously The Bull).  Btw, the Church is behind the pub, not on top of it!

Before the mid 19th century, Great Barford was the head of the navigation, transporting goods to and from the north sea via Kings Lynn. It must have been quite a bustling place with boats crammed into its tiny harbour and people jostling for position to load and unload their products – a little odd being so far from the sea. The attractive ancient bridge that spans the river has been restored many times over the years. While we were there we could see this continues to this day.  Its importance is reflected in the fact that it has sometimes successfully competed with the main bridge in Bedford as the best crossing point on this part of the Ouse.
Like elsewhere in the country, the railways brought the end to the commercial use of the river and, over the years. the river became disused, silted up and eventually the public navigation ended. It was not until the 1970’s that a few like-minded people joined the Great Ouse River Board to dredge the river and reopen the navigation – and thanks goodness they did. This part of the river continues to be one of the most attractive we have seen.

It’s interesting to see though that the river is still very quiet – we have hardly seen any other boats going in either direction. Could this be just because we are here midweek outside the summer holiday period or maybe people staying at home rather taking their boats out? We did hear the other day that even more well-known boat builders are only building boats to order rather than speculatively or, worse still, going out of business. If this is true, it must also be having an impact on participation levels and the second-hand market.

Our earlier visit to Waitrose in St Neots provided our evening meal. It turned out to be some sort of cheesy tart which Kay beautified with boiled potatoes and the tinned sweet corn. The new tin opener proved its worth. What an exciting time we’re having.

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