Thursday, 4 June 2015

River Great Ouse. River Wissey. Denver to Brandon Creek.

After all the antici…..pation, the tidal crossing from Salter’s Lode to Denver Sluice was all over in the blink of an eye – to a given value of “Blink” – not surprising really, when you find that you can see one from the other.
This is Salter's Lode.
Well Creek is on the right with Legend on the mooring. The lock is just in front of the cottage between the railings, and the Tideway is on the left with Denver Sluice just visible at the far end. 
This is what the tidal bit looks like at low tide.
And at High tide.

You have to wait until it's gone down far enough for your boat to get under those concrete beams before you can get out of the lock; on a spring tide that can be as much as two hours.
You've also got to wait until these little guys have vacated the lock gate before you can get in!

On the Wednesday morning - after we’d cried off the day before - the wind had dropped and the sun was peeking between the clouds, so when the Lock Keeper came out we gave him the thumbs up, cast off and gently edged into the lock. The paddles, or slackers as they're called around here opened up and we rose up to tide level.
 And up....
And up!
Ann-Marie kept the front away from the lock sides while the locky gave Dave some very useful advice about how to make the turn upstream once we were out.
There's those concrete beams.
 Looking back. There wasn't a lot of room for error.
The turn is tricky; you go out at an angle pointing downstream and then have to turn through a good deal more than 90˚ across a channel that is now 2 hours after high tide and going at quite a pace. At full throttle, with the rudder hard over, there was a moment of doubt when we thought we were going to go straight into the opposite bank, but then the back end got to mid-channel just as the front end went into the slower water and before we knew what was happening we were powering our way up river.
Half way through our very thrilling, but very short, sea voyage we passed another boat going in the opposite direction so the lock at Denver was open for us when we got there.
It didn't look all that open; those big sluice gates in front of us were definitely shut, but the lock itself is a much smaller affair and was on the left tucked in behind the bush. After exactly twelve minutes up on the tideway with Legend making the biggest bow-wave ever, we were gently going back down, and four minutes after that the big guillotine gate opened and the wide expanse of the beautiful River Great Ouse lay before us.
So, less than an hour after untying at Salter’s we were moored on the service point at Denver, none the worse for wear and wondering what all the fuss was about.
 Jane, who used to work with Ann-Marie at the farm, came to visit Legend the next day, so while they caught up on all the gossip, we had an old fashioned boat trip up the river and back, complete with tea and buns. Later on, after Jane had gone home, we set off again. This time we turned left onto the River Wissey...
and moored up on the Great Ouse Boaters Association(GOBA) moorings just after the railway bridge.

On Lindsay and Paul’s advice, we’d joined GOBA a few weeks previously. This was the first of their designated moorings we’d come across and it was lovely. There was a cuckoo in the woods, there were reed warblers in the reeds, and that was about all we could hear for two days. And as if that wasn’t enough, on the way there we saw a pair of Grebes with three chicks.
On the Saturday we moved on to the EA moorings at Hilgay, then jumped in the car and set off for Crick. Bob & Mandy had reserved a mooring for Matilda Blue while the Crick Boat Show was on and they’d invited us to stay on their boat, have a look round the stands, and join them in the marquee in the evening. Lindsay and Paul were going to be there as well, so even though there wasn’t anything chandlery-wise that we really needed, we were really looking forward to seeing our friends.
And what a great time we had! We had a fun afternoon mooching round the show with Lindsay and Paul; Lindsay scrounged four freebee coffees from the very nice people on the RCR stand, than half of us went investigating deep cycle traction batteries and hybrid diesel/electric engines, while the other half went poking about through all the jewellery and rainbow coloured harem pants. The band on the Saturday night; Murphy’s Marbles were brilliant.
Small World Moment. The percussionist, Clive, was a mate of ours from Citroen 2cv land!
We spent most of the evening jigging about and singing at the tops of our voices.
And we still managed to come home with a new solar controller that we didn’t know we needed.

On the way home the next morning we drove through a few showers, and then just as we pulled up in Hilgay the car’s alternator died. We decided the best course of action was to abandon it and not think about it until we got back, so when the skies cleared after lunch, instead of worrying about our broken car we had a very pleasant afternoon boating up the lovely Wissey...

past the enormous sugar beet factory...
and out to the limit of navigation at Stoke Ferry. Just before the end there is a GOBA mooring on the edge of a camp site, but it’s only one boat long so we were very relieved to find it unoccupied when we got there.
The next morning was Bank Holiday Monday.  Kim, Luke and George arrived for a joint birthday celebration and we took a picnic to Downham Market to watch the Carnival Parade. There were some stalls selling plants where we finally found some dwarf French beans for the roof. Back at the boat, after smuggling George through the camp site (which, unbeknown to us before we got there, had a strict Adults Only policy)...
we went up to the limit of navigation at Stringside Drain where we turned round and started back downstream. After a lovely afternoon boating down the Wissey in the sunshine with Luke on the tiller we moored up again at Hilgay, where our sick car was waiting for us. We consulted the Haynes manual, phoned a couple of motor factors, and devised a plan. By lunch time the next day, with the help of Luke’s axle stands and kind offer of a lift to King’s Lynn, we were mobile again. As soon as the boys had scrubbed up and stowed the tools we did another car shuffle to Denver and set off once more. In no time at all Legend was making a big sweeping turn to tie up on the EA 48hr moorings outside the Jenyns Arms.
We wrapped up what was left of their fabulous three tier Mocca Chocca Laté joint birthday cake...
and waved them off.
A bit of info about The Denver Complex. Ever since the Romans dug channels hereabouts in an effort to make the huge delta surrounding the wash more accessible, humans have been trying to hold back the forces of nature in Fenland. Various local schemes were proposed and tried over the following millenia, rivers were diverted and drains were dug, but nobody looked at the big picture and addressed the fundamental problem of flooding in the area. It wasn’t until the seventeenth century when Sir CorneliusVermuyden - a Dutch engineer - was employed by the Bishop of Bedford that things started to look like we might make a difference. He realised that it was necessary to get water from the west side of the area to the sea as quickly as possible in time of flood while still containing enough to make navigation and irrigation possible. His most famous works are the New and Old Bedford rivers; two parallel artificial drains shortcutting the Great Ouse from Earith to Denver, nearly 30 miles long and over half a mile apart dug with a flood bank on the outside of each. Control sluices at either meant that excess water could be stored, by allowing it to flood land between them before being releasing to the sea. Some of Vermuyden's plans were a lot more ambitious than the technology or resources of the time would allow and not all were as successful as he'd envisioned, however this tidal by-pass must have relieved a lot of the problems. One idea; a channel taking water from the three Lower Ouse tributaries straight out to sea, eventually evolved, in the 1960's, into the Cut-Off Chanel, a revolutionary reversible 100 mile long link to reservoirs in Essex. The confluence for all these man-made dykes, rivers and drains is Denver. There are 5 sluices in the complex and two locks and, while we were there, work was going on to create a fish pass between the tidal and non-tidal river. The place is fascinating; no matter what the weather is doing or how much rain has fallen in the East Anglia catchment area, constant monitoring allows millions of gallons of water pass through there every hour with barely an inch change in river levels. Most of the Fenland is below sea level, some as much as a meter, so it is easy to see how important the Denver Complex is.
After a quick trip into Downham Market where we got some new planters for the herbs and beans, we did a car move to Brandon Creek where the Little Ouse joins the Great Ouse then walked back along the flood bank. On the way back we got to see the baby grebes again.

It was only a week since we’d first seen them but they’d really grown and were practicing diving. We watched while daddy grebe caught little fish and fed them to the babies. That could have kept us occupied us all day long.
The next day Diane came for another visit. Before she arrived we took the boat around to the service block and filled up with water. We also went to empty the loo, but the Elsan was out of order (to put it mildly!) so we swapped our cassettes and made a few enquiries. It turns out that the only reliable Elsan on the lower Ouse is at Ely, which is not a problem for us, as we’ve got the car, but it doesn’t make life easy for boats having a summer cruise.

With Diane on board we set off for the very nice EA 48hr mooring site just past the Ship Inn at Brandon Creek where we’d left the car. On the way we had another check on our baby grebes. We’ll not see them again till August so it was a bit sad to say goodbye, we’ve come to feel very parental towards them.
There were two boats already at the mooring, so we had to tag onto the end with the back of the boat hanging off the pontoon. Diane and Ann-Marie had an enjoyable crafty afternoon before we returned her to her car. In the morning we took our car to Littleport and walked back. It should have been a quick 3 miles along the top of the flood bank following the Ouse Valley Way, however after about half an hour of bashing our way through tall grass, cow parsley and nettles along a path that only existed on a map...
we gave up and braved the verge of the busy A10 instead. It’s not often that we’d chose to do that, but the majority of the motorists were well behaved and we really weren’t dressed for jungle warfare.

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