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River Great Ouse, from Bedford to Denver - by Dave Saunders

From Priory Marina, Bedford to Denver Sluice on our Viking 26 Wide Beam, Aunt Erika.
Originally the children should have gone to there Grand Parents but due to unforeseen circumstances came with us.

After fuelling up and filling the water tank we finally set off from Priory Marina at 10.40 am. Although it was overcast the weatherman promised sunshine for the afternoon (fingers crossed).
It's only a short 15-minute cruise down river, past Bedford Boat Club to Cardington lock. This is a challenge as the lock entrance is 90 degrees to the main river and if the current is running fast and the wind blowing you can be taken off line very easily.

We left the lock and proceeded along a very narrow stretch of the river that borders the Country Park. The bank side trees are quite dense here and in places create a tunnel effect. Once under the old railway bridge the river widens with fields either side.
We had to wait at Castle mill lock for "Dawn Missed", a Viking 32,to exit before we were able to enter.
The next section of river was very pictureres and we saw a community of log cabins on the hillside. On the approach to Willington lock we passed by the Danish camp, a riverside restaurant that is very popular with the cyclists and walkers (Boats are welcome but mooring is difficult due to the bank side vegetation).
Willington Lock was next and past the old lock before the approach to Barford Bridge. Due to the low arches most boats use the upstream arch when going down stream.
Great Barford Lock, then Roxton Lock. The locks from the marina to here are spaced at about half hour intervals, which keeps the children busy (under close supervision, of course) and the river traffic quite!
From Roxton lock we go under the Old & New bridges that carry the A1 over the river and through lovely country side for about an hour before we reached Eaton Socon Lock .We moored at 16.15 Hours on Lammas Meadow just the other side of the town and opposite the "Posh Houses" were im told a West Ham football player and "Gloria" from "It ant half hot mum" lives.

Summary of day 1
Total Miles = 14.76
Total Locks = 6

Day 2
After a walk to the local store with my son for papers and milk we departed for the short trip to St Neots Lock. This has been totally rebuilt over the last 2 winters .The new gates are so easy to open; my son aged 6 did them on his own (on some of the others locks I struggle!!!).
Offord, Brampton & Godmanchester locks were next . Godmanchester lock is on the edge of Port Holme Meadow, the largest meadow in Britain !

At Houghton lock the family left me to get ice creams and to have a quick look at the old water mill, still in working order and run by the National Trust. After Hemingford lock we moored at the Dolphin Hotel in St Ives. We booked a table for dinner and had a very nice carvery.

Summary of day 2
Total Miles = 15.88
Total locks = 6

Only 3 locks to Ely! On leaving our mooring we pasted under St Ives Bridge, it is one of only three in the country that has a Chapel built on it.

Once under the bridge and through St Ives lock the river meanders and shortly after passing "The Pike & Eel" we crossed the meridian line .We watched the bearing on the GPS and counted down as the long/lat changed from "W" to "E".
Once through Brownshill Staunch we enter a short Tidal section of river at Earith. Although 50 miles from the coast the Hundred foot drain, created to help drain the Fens, brings the tide to here.
Hermitage lock has a lock keeper and she was kind enough to lock us through before she went to lunch.
We were now on "The Old West" river, no more locks to negotiate until our return. This is the start of The Fens and high flood banks border the river. The main point of interest was the Stretham Old Pumping Engine, and an unloved boat!

After about two and a half hours we reached Pope's Corner where the Old West, River Cam and Great Ouse meet. We turned left up the Great Ouse for the run in to Ely.
10 minutes from Ely the outboard died! Fortunately it was nothing more then the petrol running out .I quickly swapped tanks and we were off again .We had done 53 miles on 25 litres of petrol (40hp 4 stroke running at 2000 rev).
We moored on the busy Quay at Ely next to "Endeavour" owned by Ivan, a boat I meet last year moored at the Dolphin .We had a much awaited beer and chat as my children played with his grandchildren and my "galley slave" went to find Tesco`s.

Summery of day 3
22.93 miles
3 locks

Day 4
We spent most of the day exploring parts of Ely. There is the home of Oliver Cromwell, Ely museum and the Cathedral .I especially enjoyed the tour of the Octagon tower.

After refuelling at the marina for only 95 pence a litre we headed up river in the late afternoon .Now we were venturing to a part of the river that we had not been to before. Here the river is higher then the surrounding land and very straight. We turned on to the River Lark to moor on the deserted EA mooring for the night. It was absolutely peaceful and quite.

Summery day 4
Miles = 4.75
Locks = 0

Day 5
We re-joined The Ouse for a trip up to Denver. The river here is very straight and featureless and as mentioned is higher then the surrounding land, which is below sea level.


On reaching Denver we took a walk up to the lock. This lock is also manned but can only be used at high tide. If you go through you can join the River Nean and the rest of the waterway system. This was our limit for this year and after 70.87 miles we started our return journey.
I decided to take a ride up The Wissey. This was a narrow reed lined river that passes through two lakes that reminded me of the Norfolk Broads .We didn't go to the end of navigation but went over an aqueduct to the sluice.

We moored for the night at The Ship and had a very enjoyable meal.

Day 6 + 7
The return trip back to Bedford was uneventful .The river was very quite due to the rain on day 6.
On day 7 we pushed on and got back to the marina at 19.45.

I really enjoyed the trip and can't wait till I get the time to do the next one, which I plane to be to the Cam and Wicken Fen.

Total miles = 156.47

Total Locks = 30

(Many thanks to Dave for his kind permssion to include his © photos and text on this site)