Bedford River Festival (part 2)

Notes, to be turned into a piece for GOBA News in due course.

The Bedford River Festival is a biannual event organised by Bedford Borough Council to promote the waterfront area as a place for recreation of all kinds. Shortly after moving down here and buying Seren went by car in 2018 to see what it was like, and later booked a mooring for the 2020 event. For obvious reasons that was postponed first to ‘21 then to this year. Moorings are free, but you do need to book in advance.

Bedford makes the most of it’s waterfront, on the north bank is a tree-lined embankment with a park at the eastern end, on the south side a series of gardens and parks divided up by back channels and weirs and a lock down to the ‘lower river’. There’s even a boating lake on an island between the upper and lower rivers.

This year there were fewer boats than previously, (about 80) the majority of cruisers moorings were on Mill Meadow with narrowboats further upstream past the town bridge. Most of the moorings are booked by individual boaters but Bedford Boat Club booked a block for their members, roped-off the area and set up a gazebo. Actually many of the individual boaters bring gazebos, tents, BBQ, chairs, loungers etc…

The festival showcases just about every kind of water based activity you can think of (for a full list see https://riverfestival.bedford.gov.uk) it’s not primarily a boat rally such as the IWA organise so there is quite an eclectic crowd. There are also a lot of activities in the parks and gardens that are not water related, a fun fair, craft marquee and dozens of market stalls and street food vendors. Russel Park at the eastern end of the embankment is more music festival with a big stage, picnic area and plenty of catering.

Bedford lock between upper and lower rivers is a potential problem when a lot of boaters try to arrive and depart at the same time. Although the show is only open for the weeekend (23/24 July) the reserved moorings are available from the Thursday lunchtime so I made sure I got there early. I’ll depart late too once the rush has calmed down, being retired has its benefits.

During the weekend there are daytime boat parades each day and an illuminated boat parade on Saturday night. Participation is optional, if you don’t want to take part you get a mooring on the lower river which eases lock congestion.

The theme for the parade is ‘Pirates’ so I’ve equipped Seren with a Skull and Crossbones flag and #2 daughter will bring her two little pirates over for the parade on Sunday.

The Mill Meadow mooring is right in the middle of the site, handy for getting around the various events but not great if you want a quite night on Saturday.

‘Facilities’ for boaters are sparse compared with what you’d expect at a rally or boat show. The notes handed out on arrival refer to ‘water points’ on the Mill Meadow site, and it’s true there are, but they have taps for refilling water bottles or washing your hands, you can’t connect a hose to top up your tank. The nearest EA water point is at Sovereign Quay upstream of the town bridge but once the festival opens the river is closed to normal navigation so if you have a small tank you need to top up on Friday.

There are no pump-out or ‘Elsan’ facilities, the nearest is at Priory Marina. You can empty a toilet cassette into one of the many portaloos on site but I don’t think the organisers will thank me for saying so.

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