Sunday, 19 August 2018

Across the tide and up the River Cam

We left the Middle Levels on Wednesday (15th August) and crossed the short stretch of tidal water to Denver Sluice to join the River Great Ouse.  As I type this we are are Clayhithe on the River Cam and hope to reach Cambridge later today.

But let's start with the last of the Middle Levels and the crossing to Denver:
From the wilds of the south west corner of the Middle Levels we retraced our outward cruise back through Benwick to Flood's Ferry Junction where a sign marks the junction.  We turned right this time to March.



Soon after Flood's Ferry we passed this sign indicating that we were crossing the Greenwich Meridian to go East of zero.  There are not many waterways east of Greenwich and soon we were also to pass into Norfolk, a county more famous for the Broads than the waterways we were travelling.
Here is Leo moored in March with the rather splendid Town Hall behind.


We cycled south from the waterway (here in fact the old course of the River Nene) about a mile to the outskirts of March where we looked at St. Wendreda's Church.  This is famous for the 118 angels on its hammerbeam roof.  The angels are half human sized and were carved and mounted in the 15th century.  
Here is a closer view of just four of the angels.  There are a few other churches where some roof angels remain but these are by far the best preserved and most spectacular.



And here is a carving of St. Wendreda herself.  She was around in the seventh century but the carving is about the same date as the roof angels.


In March Ian was taken with this fountain which was erected in 1911 to celebrate the coronation of King George V.  The Health and Safety folk have taken away the drinking fountain in the middle but the outer structure remains.






































On Tuesday we carried on to Outwell.  The villages of Upwell and Outwell are curious in having a road either side of the central narrow navigation, like a High Street with water down the middle:
A few miles from March we came to Marmont Priory Lock.  The lock keeper is Maureen, now in her 80s, and she likes a few hours notice of your arrival.  This lock takes you back up from the lowest levels and ready to enter tidal water.

Some of the bridges through Upwell and Outwell are quite low!

The moorings at Upwell were full so we carried on to Outwell where we contrived a mooring on the bend (yes it is a public mooring) with the stern held on a neighbour's boat (with his permission).  We later had to relax the stern rope to let the rowing boat out.  As you can see it was towel wash day.

The channels through Upwell and Outwell are pretty narrow.

Here we are on Wednesday leaving Outwell and heading to Salter's Lode Lock where you can enter the tideway.  Our time for the lock was midday and we arrived with time to spare.

On the way we passed over Mullicourt Aqueduct shown in the picture.  This takes Well Creek, the navigation, over the Main Drain which is at the level of the water before Marmont Priory Lock.  Main Drain is not part of the navigable waterways of the Middle Levels.

Wells Creek also passes this Trig Point which may be the lowest in the country, unless of course you know different.

And so to Salter's Lode where other boats were also waiting for the lock.  In total about half a dozen boats arrived in time to be let out.  It is a case of one by one through Salter's Lode, though Denver at the end of the tidal section can take two narrow boats side by side.

Here is the view of boats waiting for the lock which has 'V' gates on the Middle Levels side and a guillotine on the Ouse side.
You can go up or down to join the Ouse, depending on the tide.  Previously we have gone down at near low tide.  This time we went up to go out after high tide and cruised against the ebb tide to Denver.
This view is taken while we were waiting for the tide to fall.  If you look at the entrance to Salter's  Lode Lock you can see a couple of concrete beams over the lock entrance.  At this point close to high tide there was only a couple of feet clearance down to the water and we had to go underneath the beams in leaving the lock.  So we had to wait a while for the level to fall.

Here we are in the lock.  The paddles in the guillotine are pretty fierce.  We held well back in the lock (which is only about 60 feet long) and still got a bow locker full of water.  Yes I know it drains away but still everything inside got wet and covered in silt.

And finally soon after 12.30 we were through and out on the tide.  This shows us leaving the lock.

We cruised against the ebbing tide for just half a mile upstream to Denver Sluice.  This is a huge structure but on the far left is a lock with two guillotines to let you out onto calm water.  There was a boat in the lock as we arrived so we had to wait on the pontoon you can see on the left until we could go into the lock.  There was quite a current pushing you onto the pontoon and, at other stages of the tide, there are mud banks around.  So this is not always straightforward.

But here we are securely tied onto the pontoon waiting our turn.


A few miles up the broad River Ouse we moored on this rather unkempt mooring owned by GOBA (Great Ouse Boating Association) which we have joined to get access to their moorings.  Hope they are not all as wild and covered with nettles as this one!
In the last few days we have travelled via Ely to turn onto the River Cam heading towards Cambridge as these photos show:
The Ouse has three navigable tributaries which join between Denver and Ely.  We are aiming to visit these on our return.  This is the Little Ouse or Brandon Creek seen to the left of the Ship Inn, and the Ouse carries on to the right.  We didn't go far on Thursday because it rained heavily in the morning.

As we approached Ely you begin to see the Cathedral arise out of the flatness of the countryside.  The white thing to the left of the cathedral is a water tower.  The railway to Kings Lynn runs beside the river along the four miles of straight water running towards Ely.  This bit of waterway is a bit boring.

Here is a closer view of the cathedral again taken from the river.



The nave of the cathedral is a splendid Norman vista with a wonderful painted ceiling.
After lunch by the river we visited the interesting museum.  Ian is modelling a fierce face befitting a reconstruction of a roman soldier's helmet.  A bronze age torc in gold is in the case behind and is the prized and recently acquired exhibit of the museum.  Previous gold torcs we've seen have been bracelet sized but this one is 126 cm long.  It is 3,000 years old and worth seeing.  The rest of the museum is quite good too.

Leo is cruising through Ely in this photo taken on Saturday morning.

And here we are approaching Pope's Corner.  To the right is the Old West River and to the left is the River Cam.  We went left.

This is a sign at Pope's Corner.  So it is off to Cambridge for us.

The boring straight bits of the lower Ouse are enlivened by views of cows, but these English Longhorns on the River Cam are something else!  The Cam is wide to start with but soon becomes more friendly with low banks and views of the surrounding countryside.

Our first lock for ages!  This is Bottisham Lock on the Cam.  Above here you need a different licence as the water is managed by the Cam Conservators, not by the Environment Agency.  And Leo has never been here before.

Above the lock we passed this Enterprise dinghy.  We used to own one so it was fun to see sailing on the Cam.

We are moored at Clayhithe not far above Bottisham Lock.  Just the other side of the bridge is this splendid house with its fine Dutch style gable ends.  It is or was owned by the Cam Conservators.
Our aim today (Sunday 19th) is to cruise into Cambridge.  It is not certain that we will find a mooring so it might be a case of there and back again to here.  But we'll see.  After that excursion we will be going back to the Ouse and carrying on upstream ultimately to Bedford.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Boating below sea level!

This posting tells you about our cruising so far on the Middle Levels. This network of waterways helps in draining the Fens and also, for boaters, links the Rivers Nene and Great Ouse without having to venture out onto the Wash.  To join the Middle Levels at Peterborough you have to lock down off the River Nene, an intriguing prospect and, at Whittlesey, we locked down again.  So we reckon we are now below sea level.

We've cruised some new waterways where Leo has not been before and enjoyed some challenging boating as you will read below.

We moored overnight last Wednesday on the embankment at Peterborough and on Thursday morning had a look round the cathedral and the town before leaving around 11 am.
As you can see it was raining as we left Peterborough.  The picture shows us turning right off the River Nene under the bridge onto Morton's Leam, which leads to Stanground Lock. To go through Stanground you have to book the day before.

And here we are arriving above Stanground Lock in the pouring rain.  The two chaps in the yellow jackets were from the Northern Levels.  Helen went looking for the relief lock keeper, Julian who then let us down about 4 feet onto King's Dyke the first part of the Middle Levels.

King's Dyke is reasonably wide and much like a canal leading past old brick works and the pits from which they dug the clay to make the bricks.  The 'Mc Cain' sign makes it look as if the factory now makes crisps rather than bricks.  Ian feels sorry for the little pig in a house made of crisps.

As we approached Whittlesey the channel narrowed and then there was a very sharp right bend.  You really do have to slow down for this one but the guide book says that some 70 foot narrowboats have managed to make the turn.  At 57 feet, we did it without use of pole or crashing into the side this time, but it's not easy.

And here we are having rounded the bend.

Moorings on the Middle Levels are sparse.  There are public moorings in Whittlesey but only for a couple of boats and these were full.  So we managed to hang off the end of the moorings with a rope ashore at the stern and used our gangplank again.

The rain stopped and we walked into Whittlesey.  This walled space was originally the pound where stray animals were rounded up for collection, but now it is planted by volunteers and makes quite a show.  We had done our research and carried the spent engine oil from the recent engine service to the recycling centre maybe half a mile from the Dyke.  We then had a walk round the town which has a few fine buildings and some shops.

This is the landlubbers' view of King's Dyke close to the very sharp bend.
On Friday we carried on following Whittlesey Dyke to Flood's Ferry where there is a junction.  We turned right on the old course of the River Nene (the history of the waterways round here is pretty complicated).  This took us to Benwick.
Just below the public moorings at Whittlesey is Ashline Lock which goes down about 7 or 8 feet.  Like the other locks here it is 11 feet 6 inches wide, so don't try sharing with another narrowboat!  We think the paddles were full of weed as it took ages to fill.

Here is Leo finally leaving Ashline Lock.  There was quite a bywash coming out below the lock so presumably the drainage chaps were moving water from one section to the lower section.

The Fens are famous for big skies as this shot along Whittlesey Dyke shows.  Some of the channels are very straight and have high banks so the best views are from standing on the roof of the boat as Helen was in taking this picture.

A few miles from Whittlesey we crossed a waterways cross roads at Angle Corner.  The waterways both sides are navigable.  Right is Bevill's Leam which runs for several miles before you have to turn round at a sluice.  Left is the Twenty Foot River which can be used but has some impossibly low bridges, so not for Leo.

Here is the sign at Angle Corner.

It is a rare event here to meet other boats but we did.

Here is the sign at the next junction called Flood's Ferry where we turned right off the main link route from Nene to Ouse.  The turn takes you onto the old course of the River Nene before Vermuyden and his Dutch cronies were engaged to drain the Fens in the 17th century.

This is the junction at Flood's Ferry.  It is quite an acute turn if you are going right as we were.

Amazingly the single mooring at Benwick was free so we used it.  Just as well as the heavens opened again soon after we tied up.  Later it did clear up and we walked round the village which, as you can see, has a shop and a pub.

What Benwick had but no longer has is a church.  Both the Victorian parish church and the methodist church fell down due to subsidence.  This grassy bank is all that remains of the parish church.  As the peat in the Fens dried out there was widespread subsidence and we noticed that most of the houses in Benwick are relatively new.

This gravestone is a good demonstration of what can happen.

Benwick in Bloom's answer to this poor looking site was to weave woollen designs into the netting around it.

After we came out of the village shop the sun shone for an hour or so, but later this lot arrived.  Fortunately we were back on Leo by then.
Saturday saw us carrying on up the old River Nene to the Forty Foot Drain (good names round here).  A right then a left took us up Ramsey Lode to moor at Ramsey for the night.
The Forty Foot Drain brought us to Lode's End Lock seen through this bridge.  Our way lay left just before the lock into Ramsey Lode which is very narrow and pretty weedy especially past the entrance to a reasonable sized marina at Bill Fen.

Just over a mile down Ramsey Lode is the end of this waterway.  It is just possible to turn our boat there.  You need to put the bow to the corner in the left of this picture and then power the stern round.  A 60 foot boat might be able to turn but anything longer would not.  There is also enough space to moor a single visiting boat, but that then blocks the turning point.  However no-one came so we spent Saturday night there.

Ramsey had a large abbey but little remains today except this gatehouse which now functions as the entrance to a school.

The green by the church and the abbey gatehouse is delightful.  The main street of Ramsey is called Great Whyte.  It is extremely wide and has the continuance of the Lode in tunnels beneath it.  We spent a pleasant afternoon at the Ramsey Rural Museum on the edge of town.  Lots of old farm machinery and a reconstructed Fens cottage but the best exhibit was a two hole privy.  Very friendly!
Sunday was our day of adventurous boating following waterways where Leo has not been before.  We retraced our outward route to Lode's End Lock and then through it to new waterways:
Now Lode's End Lock was a bit of a novelty in that the levels both sides of the lock were the same!  Clearly sometimes that is not the case.  Depending on drainage and irrigation needs the levels on the Middle Level do vary.  The 'upper' lock gates are chained in such a way that water can flow the wrong way through them when the levels are the other way round to normal.  So we had to unchain the gates, go through the lock and then secure them again (they are padlocked with a Middle Levels key).

About 3 miles beyond the lock comes the junction called Nightingale Corner.  To the right the old course of the River Nene leads to the other end of Bevill's Leam beyond the sluice (see above).  We turned left towards New Dyke past another junction with Great Ravelly Drain

And then this one with Monks' Lode.

New Dyke got narrower and narrower and was pretty choked with weed.  However the thought of reversing through that weed kept us creeping forwards round several bends.

until the promised pool for winding the boat appeared.  This is very close to the East Coast main railway line, so trains zoomed past while we gently turned the boat round.  Amazingly the wind actually helped us first blowing the stern round and then the bow until we were facing back the way we'd come.  Usually the wind makes life more difficult but this time it was definitely in our favour.

Here is Ian enjoying the tussle of turning the boat in a tight spot and delighted not to have to reverse the boat through oodles of weed.

To our great surprise there was a boat at the end of New Dyke.  This little cabin cruiser was moored here and the owner was not onboard.  Perhaps he or she was at the pub in Holme nearby.  New Dyke sort of carries on beyond the turning place past this boat but not for the likes of Leo.

So we escaped from New Dyke and, on the way back, turned down Great Raveley Drain.  After a couple of bends this is dead straight for a mile or more down to this sluice where navigation ends.  We had been told you could turn down here but it didn't look good with trees lining one side of the Drain.  So we reversed several hundred yards until, beyond the trees, the Drain proved to be wide enough to turn Leo.

And we moored opposite a pumping station as some fellow boaters had suggested.

Further down the Drain where we had encountered the trees by the sluice is Wood Walton Fen which is one of the first nature reserves in the country.  We had earlier seen a marsh harrier here and later we spotted two Chinese water deer quite close to the boat.  In the reserve is this building called the Bungalow which was built by Charles Rothschild in1911 as a base for his field trips studying insects. There are meant to be almost 1000 species of butterflies and moths in the reserve. The bungalow stands on stilts because the area is prone to flooding.

Helen is pointing to the sign showing the ground level in 1910.  Like the rest of the Fens the drainage has caused the land to subside.  On the pillar to the left are markings showing flood levels in several years.  The earliest is 1947 and the highest mark is 1998.
 We are ever hopeful of seeing an otter and thought this might be a good place but none obliged.  We did see kingfishers and hares.

So that was our little adventure for the weekend.  Today (Monday 13th) we've come back through Lode's End Lock and returned to the main route through the Middle Levels to moor tonight at March.  In the next few days we will complete our passage through the Middle Levels and follow the brief tidal passage to Denver Sluice to join the River Great Ouse.  But that story will have to wait for another day.