Lightning start for Chippenham flotilla

This Is Wiltshire: Ricky Stardust, left, and Brett Mayfield came from Bristol for the river festival Ricky Stardust, left, and Brett Mayfield came from Bristol for the river festival

Revellers carried on regardless as storms raged over Chippenham’s sixth River Festival in Monkton Park on Saturday.

The Calne divers made a sweep of the river bed to ensure it was safe before the event set off and – despite heavy rain, thunder and lightning – the festival went ahead as planned.

During the grand flotilla, a variety of boats including canoes, kayaks and a dragon boat full of oarswomen in pink, made their way upstream along the River Avon.

Mayor John Scragg arrived on board the Calne Divers’ safety boat to declare the event open.

Visitors could experience taster sessions with the Chippenham Sailing and Canoeing Club and the Nature of It showed how to make and sail a model boat with a solar-powered motor.

There was also a zip wire taking people across the river, set up by Oceanrock Adventure, and boat trips were provided by the Wilts and Berks Canal Trust.

On dry land, entertainment was provided by giant pirates and a traditional Punch and Judy show.

There was live music from the Original Sax Quartet in the beer tent.

Organiser Julia Stacey said: “Everyone had a great festival. Obviously, the weather didn’t bring out as many people as we’ve been used to in the past, but it didn’t stop any of the activities planned and the people who did come had a fantastic time.

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“It just really demonstrates what a fantastic environment we’ve got in the parkland and the river and how it can be used by the community.”

The sun came out during the afternoon, just in time for the Big Swim, during which more than 30 hardened swimmers braved the cold depths of the Avon to make their way from the Sailing Club to the pontoon at Monkton Park.

Lead swimmer Stuart Gibb completed the course in just over 13 minutes and the mayor awarded medals and certificates to all the participants.

Ms Stacey said: “The swimmers came from all over the country and it was a fabulous event because the sun was shining.

“There were some interesting outfits. One lady did it in a straw hat and pearls.”

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