Thursday, June 18, 2015

On the “Old West”, but not as far as intended.

We left Ely this morning after topping up the diesel tank at Bridge Boatyard. It was only a couple of hundred yards back, so we reversed rather than turning around twice.
We filled last at Burton Waters Marina on the Fossdyke, and a lot of water has flowed under the baseplate since then, sometimes fairly rapidly. But it doesn’t seem to have affected the fuel consumption any, we’re still doing about 1lt/hour.
The guy at the yard told me that the Old West River was pretty shallow in places, but only after we’d put an extra 90kg right on the back end…

Then we set off, leaving Derek and Sheila (Clarence arrived yesterday afternoon) to follow on later.

Looking back towards Ely, the cathedral centre and the spire of St. Mary’s to the left.IMG_5620

It was a wildlife watching day today, not so much up to Popes Corner, certainly more so on the Old West River.

Not exactly wild, but photogenic anyway.IMG_5618

Just call me Lily…IMG_5623

Four and a half miles out of Ely we took the right branch onto the Old West River.

Popes Corner. 

I should try to explain the way the rivers and drains work, if I can. Before the intervention of man and his picks and shovels, the Great Ouse lost it’s identity below Earith, spreading out across the flat land to form the fens and marshes that ran north and east to the Wash. It is believed that sometime in the medieval period, when schemes for draining the rich land were restarted after the Romans had their go, a stream running from near Twenty Pence Bridge was widened and deepened, then an artificial channel dug heading west to meet the Cam at Popes Corner.

These two sections of the current Great Ouse are known as the Old West River, connecting the “Ely Ouse” below Popes, to the “Bedford Ouse” above Earith. The new channel of the Great Ouse from Popes Corner, through Ely to King’s Lynn and the sea was then completed, carrying flows from the Cam and the Great Ouse, and water from the pumps draining the marshes.

Come the Earl of Bedford and “The Adventurers”. In order to further recover land for agriculture, the consortium first cut a new ditch from Earith, a wide straight channel heading north and west to Denver. A sluice, the predecessor to the current one, was built  on the Ouse channel to hold water above Denver to a navigable depth and the Old Bedford River allowed to drain into the tidal section below.
Further improvements followed, improvements to Denver Sluice and the construction of another drainage channel, parallel to the first and now known as the New Bedford River. The area in between, called the 100 Foot Washes, is used to store surplus water in times of heavy rainfall before releasing it in a controlled manner.

Where the two Bedford Rivers intersect the Great Ouse at Earith is a short tidal section trapped between Hermitage Lock and Brownshill Lock, although the tidal range is low this far upstream.
That’s about it at this end, though it gets a lot more complicated on the Middle Levels…

Anyway, turning onto the “Old West” at Popes Corner the difference is immediately apparent. Gone is the wide, deep channel with high flood banks, instead we’re on a gently meandering, narrower channel, and with a bit of a view!

Under the Ely to Cambridge rail bridgeIMG_5631

As I said, there’s a lot more wildlife on here than on the wider Ely Ouse.

Now let’s see…

Coot chicks…

Grebe chicks…IMG_5638

Of course, cygnets.

Whatever the animal, youngsters like to have a splash about…IMG_5671

Why is it you never see heron chicks? Maybe they’re hatched this big…IMG_5641

Stretham Old Engine was built in 1831 to raise water from around 10 square miles of fenland up into the river.

The original Boulton and Watt drove a scoop-wheel capable of moving 120 tons of water a minute. The engine was still working in 1941, but diesel power now does the work. The original plant is still preserved in situ and is open to the public at certain times.

Now that’s any easy way to re-bottom a boat…IMG_5648
Just turn it upside down!

At the Lazy Otter you get a taste of things to come, the channel gets narrower and shallower as the river performs an S bend through woodland before passing under the busy A10 and heading into open country again.

Near the Lazy Otter

It’s a fairly straight course from here to Twenty Pence Bridge, supporting the view that this is an artificial but ancient watercourse. I was entertained by another tern looking for fish disturbed by our passage. IMG_5667
He did well, catching two while I watched. Just too fast for the camera, though.

There’s a fine thatched cottage at Twenty Pence BridgeIMG_5673
It’s here that the channel meets the widened streamway, and it’s obviously a more natural course, following a series of switchbacks across the flat land. It’s also very shallow at the edges, as we found out on two occasions. It took over 10 minutes to get going again the second time. In future oncoming plastic boats will have to move over for me, instead of the other way around! It’s that extra 90kg of fuel…

We passed under Aldreth High Bridge on another bend, and spotted the GOBA mooring just beyond. It looked a pleasant place to stop after a couple of nights in Ely. We’d intended to get to Earith, but this will do.

Aldreth High BridgeIMG_5679

GOBA mooring alongside Ewell Fen.

Our only company tonight is a horse and a group of cattle. Clarence went past this afternoon, they’ve plans for the weekend so wanted to be nearer St. Ives this evening.

Locks 0, miles 11¼

1 comment:

Naughty-Cal said...

Sounds like we had better make sure we take a spare set of props with us!

I think we are going to head up the 100ft drain on our enrty to the Fens and get our visitors licence at the lock at Earith. We only have to do the shallow Old West River once that way!