River Great Ouse. River Cam. Cambridgshire Lodes. Ely to Upware
We used two separate moorings in Ely. The first was by the park at Willow Walk, which was nice but there was no phone signal and we got covered in willow leaves. The second one was at the bottom of Jubilee Gardens, right outside the bandstand.
There was better signal and on Sunday the Ely Cathedral Brass Band took up position and gave a concert. We sat on the boat roof and had front row seats. Well, alright they were back row seats, but when it started raining we were indoors and drinking tea before anyone else had got their brolly up.
The next morning we took the car to Upware - where there was a very convenient EA car park - and cycled back to Ely along National Cycle Route 11. We had a quick Wifi session in the library, picked up some engine oil from Wilkinsons and set off up the Ouse to Pope’s Corner where the Ouse and the Cam meet. We took the left fork onto the Cam then, after a couple of miles, turned left again, went through a rather smelly lock and entered one of the oldest waterways in the country.
The Cambridgeshire Lodes were dug by the Romans, primarily for drainage, but almost certainly for navigation, and are still used by boats today. Until relatively recently they were used to transport brick making materials, which means that there has been water-borne freight on man-made canals in this area for 2,000 years. That makes Brindley and co. look like a bunch of plagiarising newcomers doesn’t it?
Upware lock provides a 6” rise from the River Cam to Reach Lode under normal conditions, however with a guillotine gate at either end it can cope with any amount of level difference on either waterway. There is also a substantial pumping station there; no doubt things can get quite exciting after prolonged rainfall. The lock is only about 60’ long, although you could probably get a 62’ boat in if you went diagonally. That might not be such a good idea though; we think you'd struggle to turn anything longer than 60’ at the end of the Lodes. At 58' we found there was enough of room at Wicken and Burwell, but we had a look at Reach and chickened out. It's a long way to go backwards.
Once through the lock we trickled past the permanent moorers to the visitor moorings just before the turn into Wicken Lode.
In the evening we had a very special guest on board. Three and a half years ago, when we were on the GU at the top of Hatton and just about to be frozen in for the first time, an American chap came walking by and struck up a conversation. He told us that he’d always wanted to move to the UK and live on a boat, so we invited him in to have a look and warmed him up with a cup of coffee. We swapped emails and we’ve kept in touch, and a couple of years ago he fulfilled his dream, bought a boat, took it to the Fish and Duck marina at Pope’s Corner and has been living there happily ever since. All the way over to this part of the world we’ve been looking forward to meeting up again, so it was with great pleasure that we had him round to dinner. We had a lovely evening with a delicious lasagne, lots of laughter and some blackberry gin.
By the time we walked Mike back to his car it was getting on towards dark; we waved goodbye and strolled back to the boat in the descending dusk. A beautiful end to a wonderful day.
The next morning Dave got on with Lister’s annual oil change. We haven’t got an engine-hours meter, but we reckon once a year should be ok. He’s getting better at draining it without getting it all over the bilges, so it didn’t take very long before it was all back together. Well it wouldn’t have taken very long if he’d not decided to give the diesel filter a tweak with a spanner to see if he couldn’t stop the occasional drip that was coming out of it. Unfortunately that was one tweak too many and he stripped the thread in the head unit.
There should be a thread in that hole.
A few phone calls resulted in us driving to Jones Boat Yard in St Neots. To start with it looked like a wild goose chase, the only filter/separator units they had on the shelf were for modern Japanese high revving water-cooled engines, but a chat with the mechanic had him rummaging round the workshop, where he managed to find an identical filter head on an old Perkins.
Identical, apart from the crappy blue paint.
‘How much do you want for it?’ we asked. ‘Oh,’ he said ‘Just put something in the RNLI box.’ Result!
On the way home we stopped off in Earith to have a look at the tidal lock and found this happy little chap basking on the lock landing.
He’s a good twenty-five miles from the sea, so we think he probably lives there full time and annoys the fishermen by eating all the fish. Back on board, we had our new filter fitted and bled in no time, and we were up and running again.
You can’t beat an old engine.
In the morning we carefully turned under the wooden bridge and made our way down the narrow Wicken Lode....
to the GOBA moorings at the end in the Wicken Fen National Trust nature reserve.
There was already one boat there so we tucked ourselves in right at the end. The moorings are actually on Monks Lode, which has its source in the chalk hills above Newmarket. The water was crystal clear and full of little (and not so little!) fish. Once we were tied up we walked up to the visitor centre and after four years of promising, finally joined the National Trust. We spent the rest of the day wandering round the reserve.
There are several hides overlooking the fen and the ponds, there’s a wind driven pumping engine and numerous information boards explaining the flora and fauna to be found. When Frankie was in primary school her class came here and Dave came along as a helper, but he didn’t remember any of it. He was probably too busy trying to stop small, bouncy children falling in the dipping pools to actually notice his surroundings. We also walked round the fens and meres outside the reserve, which are just as interesting; it’s almost as if the animals and birds don’t know where the boundaries are.
From there we went back down Wicken Lode to Reach Lode and turned left towards Burwell. The navigable stretch gets narrower and weedier after the brick works that used ship their products out by boat, and terminates in a ‘T’ junction just behind the village pub.
We turned round there and tied half of Legend to the short stretch of EA visitor moorings, leaving just enough room for someone else to tie half of their boat to the other three posts.
Later that day we cycled into Newmarket, mostly along NCR 51, which took us right into the middle of town. We found Newmarket very interesting and very full of posh-looking people in posh-looking clothes driving posh-looking cars. Apparently we’d arrived on a race day and the world and his wife were out rattling their jewellery. We had a cuppa in Charlotte’s Tea Room and left them to it.
The following morning Mum and Dad came for a visit. With perfect timing they arrived just as the scones were going into the oven, then in the afternoon we went up into the village and had a look at the Church Fete. Mum found a plant stall which she was very pleased about, but we won, because we found some lovely little coffee mugs and a game of Scrabble, which we’ve been on the lookout for since we moved on board. We’ve been putting up with a fiddly little magnetic travel version which has not been ideal. Ideal is Martin and Yvonne’s bigger travel version with a raised grid on the board that the letters fit into. The Scrabble Holy Grail in our opinion. We’d love one like that, and one day karma will find one for us; until that time a full sized one will do. Even though there is a Y missing.
We’d been looking forward to sharing the big skies and rivers with Mum and Dad, so in the morning we had an early start and headed off back down Burwell Lode to Upware.
past the brilliantly named ‘Five Miles From Anywhere’ pub and down the Cam to Pope’s Corner where we turned round.
There was an audible intake of breath as Legend’s 58 feet neatly slotted into a 57 foot gap, her front fender under the bow of a big cruiser and her back one snuggled up to the little narrowboat behind her.
Dave made it look very easy and nearly got a round of applause. Later on we went back and tied up on the now empty pub riverbank. Dad and Dave did the car shuffle, then after tea we waved them off and settled down to a cosy film.