Thursday, 24 March 2011

Patience along The Backs 2

Still flushed with excitement from our expedition up the Cambridge Backs, photographs come flooding in! We had sixteen people involved and about half of these had cameras, some stationed at key bridges, some on board, several actually running between bridges to catch us at more than one point.
We cannot neglect their efforts - so here are some more shots, thanks to Sylvia and to John S.
Starting with the classic shot (of Clare College) in front of Kings (College Chapel) ...

and Colin in front of Kings College Chapel

Approaching the Mathematical Bridge

our camerawoman, Sarah, above with crew and passengers below
... and everywhere, bridges.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Patience along The Backs

The Rivers Ouse and Cam are Patience's home territory and we love the riverside moorings, winding currents and wildlife. But there is one part of the Cam where narrow boats rarely go. This is called "The Middle River" or more commonly The Backs, because it passes by the backs of the university college. And it is a fact not commonly known that powered boats can, with the permission of the Cam Conservators, navigate this short but world famous stretch of river between 1st November and 31st March.

And so it was, that with a suitably enthusiastic load of passengers and large numbers of awe-struck onlookers, Patience set off on her magnificent and stately journey past the dreaming spires of Cambridge.

The Conservators having given their permission and contact details, so they can warn us of water surges and warn the punt companies of our presence, and also having given us the number of the combination lock (and waived their statutory right to charge us one shilling and sixpence for the privilege) we passed through Jesus Lock and into a different world.

Here punts reign supreme and Patience slipped slowly on, huge in proportion, confident yet wary in movement.

Once a rash punter sped across our bows but generally Patience, like a swan amongst ducklings, lived up to her name and glided gently along, past beautiful stone colleges, manicured Fellows' lawns, bright daffodils and the soaring heights of Kings College Chapel.

The bridges were a major attraction. Looking at them from the bank it seemed impossible for Patience to pass through. St John's Kitchen bridge is in fact the lowest, at 2.08 metres (6ft 9ins) at normal river levels, so we had cleared all debris from the roof, including aerials and chimney. In fact we passed through the central arches with maybe 18inches clearance - though you do have to duck as the stonework comes towards you rather alarmingly.

For the record, there are 9 bridges, in order:
Magdalene St Bridge
St John’s 19th century Bridge of Sighs

St John's Kitchen Bridge (designed by Wren, built 1712)
Garret Hostel  
Clare College 1640

Kings College
Mathematical (1902 copy of the original of 1749)

Silver Street
So, bridges above, punts all around (some rocking alarmingly and veering off unpredictably) while below were the uncertain depths of a river where historically horses walked a causeway in the centre of the river rather than a bank side tow path - so the middle line was not necessarily the deepest.
The final challenge was the weir by Silver Street bridge and The Anchor. Here our earlier recce indicated there was ample room to turn and go back under Silver Street Bridge - but since then the number of stationary punts had increased and were in danger of clogging our passage back. For a moment we were trapped between the weir, a flotilla of punts and unable to see through the bridge arch. Fortunately our sentries on the bridge parapet acted as traffic signals and prevented a collision. We were through, and barring one confrontation with an overhanging willow (which we preferred to ramming a nearby punt), we made it back to Jesus Lock without incident.

It was a great trip, celebrated with a meal at The Fort, followed by champagne and a specially decorated Patience cake onboard.

Would we recommend it? Once, yes, though not often! It is an enshrined right that powered vessels including narrow boats can navigate the Middle River and it would be a shame to lose that. But the Conservators have wisely placed a time restriction on powered boats because power and punt together create a tricky mix. We were careful; nearly all the punters were careful too, but we saw enough rocking punts and wayward poles to realise that it wouldn't take much to cause an incident. So we're happy for the punters to reclaim their territory for the summer.
Thanks to all who came with us, either on board or dashing tirelessly ahead to take the photographs.
We finally moored up for the night at The Bridge at Waterbeach, having taken some passengers to Baits Bite whence they cycled home, and others to Waterbeach to catch the train.
Thanks particularly to Mark and Sarah for their photographs (and whose copyright they are) and to John for his seamanship.
... and a quick link to Lucky Duck, another Cambridge narrow boat who did this same journey last autumn!

Note: More pictures in the next posting - "Patience Along The Backs 2".