... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

Monday 26 August 2013

Escape from Alvecote

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.


  1. Blimey you made some progress after meeting us. I spotted you straight away, a combination of hair colours and that bow, the latter my first spot of course ! One day we will actually get to talk rather than exchange hello's

    Take care

  2. A very interesting read. We have never been to Alvecote but I suspect we'd agree on most points. Hopefully next year we will be bringing Willow!

  3. Not very helpful, given you had to leave today, but I think we actually had our best day of the three today. We had expected numbers to thin out heavily, as they did last year, but actually today's parade was probably significantly larger than yesterdays. At one point we had only Grand Union boats on show, with about 6 queuing to get through the pipe bridge, although the actual congestion point was the winding hole.

    Perhaps I just thought it was best because I actually got around in one outside the Samuel Barlow! A bit scary, (though only that commentators boat was in the firing line, so I don't imagine you would be too concerned!), but at least I proved it possible. I find parading here trickier than Braunston, where you never actually do anything hard, but as well as parading, we also snatched Aldgate off the shoals, so given we also gave Python a tow yesterday, we have had a fair amount of play, (and a lot of potential scope for making idiots of ourselves!....)

    To me the ability to enjoy good beer and good food on site, without being drowned out by loud music is a massive plus point over Braunston, but I also think the boats all lined up so you can see them all is a splendid sight.

    Actually, although I still love Braunston too, I'm actually struggling to think of any reason I prefer it, except perhaps that it is a far shorter journey for us to actually attend.