IWA National at Beale Park
Over the August Bank Holiday weekend, 13 Wilderness boats attended the National Inland Waterways Festival in the super setting of Beale Park near Pangbourne on the River Thames. Everyone arrived at different times and each was helped to moor ‘bow on’ to the bank behind ‘the island’ – the same perfect Wilderness moorings that we have had for previous Festivals at Beale Park.
As with all Wilderness gatherings, conversations were struck up where they had finished last time we had met – even if it had been a number of years since we had met before! We were pleased to meet new members Gilly and her mother Molly on ‘Just Because’ (ex ‘Caroline’) – who welcomed all of us as they were the first “occupied” Wilderness to arrive on site. Arwyn arrived the previous weekend but was left as the owners had to return to work during the week. In their absence, Arwyn was almost involved in an incident when an unoccupied Dutch Barge broke free from its unauthorised moorings further up the site, only to be salvaged with some difficulty by an IWA volunteer mooring team that spotted her drifting down out of control on moored boats.
Two boats arrived for a booked launch via the lake slipway on the Wednesday afternoon straight from the Caen – Portsmouth ferry having been cruising the Mayenne and Sarthe rivers for three weeks and had to stay overnight in the car park field in caravan mode, because the awful weather delayed the craning in of large steel barges over the slipway area, but also as it was not conducive to a good launch after the warm sun of France! The volunteers on site were extremely apologetic that they had to wait until the morning to launch, but could not have been more helpful in ensuring that the slipway was free early on Thursday morning to enable a 9.00 am launch, and that water and a loo dump was available.
As the sun at last shone, bunting was put on the boats and crews spent much time ensuring that the floral decorations on ‘Arca’ were suitable displayed.
The illuminated parade was in danger of being cancelled due to lack of support, so Wilderness crews answered the call to enter the parade and most boats managed to find some solar powered lights, or used their own or borrowed generators and lights to ensure that the parade went ahead.
The evening entertainment for the boaters was excellent. The Thursday night saw a showing of ‘Painted Boats’, a film from the 1940s on which Tom Rolt was a consultant. It gave a fascinating insight into the life of bargees in the 40s. Following that there was a quiz which was won by a team that must have used modern technology to get the score that they did! Friday night entertainment was provided by ‘Chucklefoot & Stompie’ who were great value and could be seen throughout the weekend on site, and a superb duo folk act, with fiddler Tom Kitching and guitarist Gren Bartley. There was standing room only for this event and for the Saturday night entertainment, which was provided by the ‘BBO’ Swing Band which was excellent. Sunday night, Wilderness helped provide the entertainment with the hugely enjoyable illuminated cruise (didn’t we wish that EA had all the lights visible on all the buoys though, as one was out but helpfully illuminated by spectators on the bank and some were only visible 90 degrees from the direction of flow i.e. from the banks !). Thanks to the Wildernii crews who were unable to take part, for their support and for help in mooring up again at 11.00pm!
It was great to see other Wilderness members who had arrived in cars or other forms of boat (steel and aluminium) and to enjoy some time with them in the gazebo that unfortunately blew down in the gale, along with trees on both sides of the Thames near our mooring, on the Sunday afternoon that resulted in the cancellation of the ‘Wilderness Synchro Team’ from doing their display on the lake that afternoon.
After much practice (well – one walking practice on Saturday and a drawn diagram) this went ahead on Monday afternoon. None of the choreography was followed – everyone did their ‘own thing’ – but the result was enjoyed by the crowd, who were none-the-wiser!
Events on land included displays by ‘Knights of the Crusades’ and Falconry displays. There were plenty of ‘on land’ stalls selling boating-related items, or publicising waterway organisations, and a variety of entertainment for the crowds (not as many crowds as previous years, but the organisers hope to break even) and anyone who paid to get in would have had their money’s worth.
The organisation for an event such as this is a military operation, and to think that an immense amount of it involves volunteers is amazing. All involved should be congratulated and, relating back to their request for Wilderness to take part in the illuminated procession and entertainment on the lake, our Chairman was heard to say “we are only doing a very tiny amount to help people who have done a lot more for the IWA than we will ever do”. And he is so right!
The Wilderness boats that were at Beale Park were: Jenny Wren, Snapdragon, Tophyl of Taunton, Arca, Just Because, Annie Rose, Matchbox, Bobbles, Jester, Samuel Whiskers, Arwyn, Haricot and Figment.