At eight o'clock this morning Chertsey and Renfrew both slipped quietly (well, it's all relative. We didn't open the starboard side engine room doors until we were well clear. Anyone who has heard the screech of their hinges will understand).
By leaving early we have missed the final day of fun and frolics, and the presentation of the prizes, so we will have to wait to be told who won the awards for best turned out boat, best winding, and best illuminated boat. However, I was all socialised out and it was time to get away for a little peace and recuperation. Alvecote is turning into a very good event, but it is a concentrated one, very intense. At dinner last night I was asked how I thought Alvecote and Braunston compare as gatherings. Many people say now that they prefer Alvecote. My own, strictly personal opinion, is that there are pros and cons to both. Braunston has such an important place in my heart that I hope I will never miss it; I have also now been to all three of the Alvecote events held so far (two of them by accident) so for the sake of completeness I will keep going there too.
Alvecote has many pluses where it scores over Braunston. Firstly, nowhere else offers such a magnificent showcase for the boats - around fifty of them all moored stern on, and staggered too, so every boat can be seen clearly and to good advantage. The moorings all have pontoons, making access to the boats easy, whereas at Braunston, with the boats tied up four abreast, but access and visibility are a lot harder.
At Alvecote there is an excellent pub, serving food (providing you book) and with really good beers for the weekend. There are good bands in the upstairs room, and they're not too loud, meaning you can enjoy a drink and a chat downstairs or outside, in stark contrast to Braunston's overamplified beer tent where conversation is impossible. On the other hand, in Braunston, there is a choice of four other pubs to go to, including the reliable Martsons chain pub the Boat House, and the newly splendid Nelson. You can get breakfast in the Samuel Barlow at Alvecote (again, you have to buy a ticket in advance), but I would hazard the suggestion that the boater's braekfast served by the Gongoozler's Rest at Braunston is better.
At Alvecote everything you festival wise need is on site, although if you want cash or groceries you have to go into Amington, which I imagine is quite a way without a car. This is both a pro and a con. It is very self contained, but that leads to the intensity I mentioned earlier. The are no quiet places to wander off to. It fells rather like I imagine a holiday camp does. Braunston on the other hand has the village within a short walk, with not only pubs but the now very good village shop and Post Office where you can get cash without paying the premium charged by the shop's machine.
Finally, the parades. Everyone is familiar with the Braunston parade, but the beauty of it is that it's so chaotic it's impossible not to mess it up, so cock ups (unless of dramatic proportions) tend to pass unremarked. The one bit of winding you have to do, at the Turn, is pretty easy, with plenty of space. At Alvecote you have to wind twice, once in the muddy winding hole at Amington, and once in the layby in front of the pub, lined with the trading boats, in front of an audience, with judges giving marks and a commentary by Norman Mitchell which, unlike his purely factual Braunston one, includes 'humorous' comments. I declined to subject myself to this rather cruel display - although I love the Braunston parade.
So on balance, although both gatherings are great, and I enjoy attending both, the only area in which Alvecote is, for me, clearly better, is the way the boats can be displayed (and I guess for some people, for whom it's more of a gathering than a show, this would be a disadvantage). The other real downside of Braunston for me is the ruination of the beer tent by excessively loud music; if only they would address that then they would possibly have the edge the as well.
What we mustn't forget, however, is that both events are privately organised by the respective marinas' owners, and it's entirely up to them what sort of show they put on. It's interesting that it's these two privately organised events which dominate the historic boat calendar, suggesting perhaps that it's easier for an individual than for a committee to organise a good show. Boats are voting with their rudders and supporting these events so they must be doing something right.
Anyway, tonight we have got as far as Tixall Wide where we are tied up next to a wasps' nest. And we did have a fabulous time at Alvecote, and certainly now intend to go again next year.