For 363 days of the year, the nearest most of us get to celebrating our greatest asset is a stroll down the Embankment with a bag of dry bread in one hand and a dripping ice-cream cone in the other.
But when asked what we think Bedford’s nicest feature is, 99 per cent of us have no hesitation in plumping for the river.
Since the very first River Festival in 1978 the event has grown beyond all expectations.
Hundreds of thousands of people now flock to what is the second largest outdoor free festival in the UK (after the Notting Hill Carnival) for the parade, the entertainments, the fireworks and the boats.
By mid-July we will have braved three months of rain and still have managed to celebrate Her Majesty’s 60-year reign; we will have bobbed along on the crest of a wave of national footballing pride (or not) and we will have cheered the passage of the Olympic torch through town. So it shouldn’t take too much to tempt us back out on to the streets for yet more fun in mid- July. Even better, there’s still time for you to take part.
Tucked away in a civic cupboard somewhere the borough council has 36 Dragon boats ready and waiting to be raced over the 350 metre course. You provide a team of 16-20 paddlers, they do the rest.
When Dragon boat racing first surfaced in China more than 2,000 years ago it wasn’t uncommon for the race to resemble a naval battle. Crews of competing boats threw stones and tried to hit one another with cane sticks. Onlookers also joined in with the fun, cheering the boat from their region and hurling abuse and stones at the opposition. Not only that, but it was thought unlucky unless at least one drowning occurred! There’ll be no stones, hopefully no abuse, definitely no drownings, but lots of cheering when the dragon boats line up at the start of the racing on Saturday, July 21.
If Robinson Crusoe is more your style, there’s still time to enter your own team in the raft races that take place on Sunday afternoon. You have to build it first, of course but if it stays the course you could win the admiration of hundreds of thousands of people, and if it sinks, OK, you’ll get wet but it will all be in a good cause.
The Grand Carnival Parade is, traditionally, the official start of the festival and for the first time since 2006 it will finish on the Embankment.
If you want to decorate your own float or join the parade on foot, or sign up for any of the boat races, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call the events team on 01234 718617.
Stop Press: In2beats, the local community radio station, will be broadcasting live from the festival site across the weekend including relaying the soundtrack that will accompany the firework display at 10.30pm on Saturday. So don’t forget to bring your own radio tuned in to 106.5fm for the full audio-visual effect!