SOGGY, wet, sticky mud failed to ruin the Inland Waterways Festival at the weekend with thousands of people braving the tricky conditions and the majority enjoying every moment of it. Heavy rainfall in the lead up to the three-day event – dubbed St Ives o

CHILD CAPTAIN: Huntingdon girl Megan Griffin, with the help of dog Molly, tests out her steering skills.

SOGGY, wet, sticky mud failed to ruin the Inland Waterways Festival at the weekend with thousands of people braving the tricky conditions and the majority enjoying every moment of it.

Heavy rainfall in the lead up to the three-day event - dubbed St Ives on Water - and the use of heavy machinery on site had turned Hemingford Meadow into a huge mud bath.

Despite the event being blessed with brilliant sunshine, the ground was still soggy for the opening speeches on Saturday and just moving around the site was hard work.

People were advised to take Wellingtons or boots and those who didn't were losing shoes to the mud. The mud did produce some positives - one St Ives shop quickly sold out of wellies while a stall inside the festival was doing a roaring trade with its designer, polka dot boots.

AND RELAX: Dave Rogers, from Bury St Edmunds, found the perfect way to avoid the mud.

However, as the festival opened, some people took lone look at the mud and decided not to venture in. On Saturday, about 30 people were given their entrance money back as parts of the ground were impassable, especially for buggies and wheelchairs. The organisers said refunds were given without question but that some people were spotted the following day having decided to give the event a second chance.

However, once the sun had dried out the majority of the ground, and matting had been put down, the event took off and an estimated 25,000 people attended over the bank holiday weekend.

A highlight of the festival was the illuminated parade of boats on Sunday evening which was won by Wild Cat, a 70ft narrowboat from the Midlands which had lit wheels, similar to Catherine wheels, all along the side.

Organiser Gillian Bolt said: "It was a beautiful evening and the town was buzzing, shops and restaurants were doing a roaring trade. Even on Saturday, which was the muddy day, there were huge numbers of people - we far exceeded expectations and we are delighted."

NIGHT LIGHT: Some of the entrants in the parade of ­illuminated boats.

The festival was opened by Baroness Young from the Environment Agency who said: "I'm glad the festival is back on the River Great Ouse. This is my river. I live about 300 yards from the River Ouse in Bedfordshire."

She added: "The last time the time that the festival was on the Great Ouse was in Ely in 1973 and it has been a long time since we have welcomed the festival back to this river. It is a great celebration of the waterways for the people who care about them, work on them, and enjoy them."

The organisers thanked the people of St Ives and Huntingdonshire for offering the festival such a warm welcome.

Baroness Young said: "It has been touch and go some of the time in the last few weeks and months what the floods and high fluid. I would like it put on the record once and for all that every raindrop does not have an Environment Agency logo on it. The fact this festival is taking place is down to the enthusiasm of everyone involved with boats and boating and our waterways."

Attractions at the festival included 15 boat-building stalls, steam boat parades on the river, hundreds of stalls and jazz and folk music, craft workshops and 50 kinds of beer, hog roast and cream teas.

During the day the crowds were entertained by a Wild West Show, while there were readings of the children's stories for younger visitors, circus skills and the Wild Over Waterways challenge, designed to introduce children to life on the river with fun tasks and prizes.

The national festival was first held in 1946 and is one of the biggest events organised by volunteers. It has also been held at Ely, Northampton and twice at Peterborough.